Starship Articles

Apps and Advertising

September 12, 2019

It’s Tuesday afternoon in the office. There’s a disbelieving exclamation from the creative department: “Jeremy Renner had an app?”

Yes. Jeremy Renner had an app. He’s the actor best known for the archer guy in the Avengers, whose main purpose appears to be mysteriously surviving one apocalypse after another despite just being a vanilla human, while inexplicably being the best archer in the world even though he’s clearly unable to use a bow right. Renner developed an app that has since been described as Instagram but for Jeremy Renner fans (Rennites? Renneristas? RenHive?) called Jeremy Renner Official. It’s every bit as bizarre to me to imagine as it is to write this for you. In any case, Jeremy Renner Official trucked around quietly for years and was made by EscapeX, a startup company that makes self-contained apps for stars. These apps were naturally going to be filled by superfans of said stars. Via Wired, which interviewed EscapeX after the incident:

The 500 celebrities—in many cases, an admittedly generous description—who have launched apps through EscapeX have no suppressive algorithms to fear, and options aplenty to monetize. The Renner app, for instance, gave fans the option to purchase “stars,” which vaulted users to the top of some sort of leaderboard of Rennheads. (In his statement announcing the shuttering of his app, Renner declared a refund for anyone who had purchased a star in the last 90 days.) Other celebrity apps deploy a subscription model, or charge extra to unlock bonus features.

The idea is also to give the semifamous a safe space of self-selecting super-stans. Instagram has well over a billion monthly active users; some of them are bound to say mean things. On your EscapeX oasis, though, you can bask in, and profit from, unfettered adoration, even in your lowest moments.

Do people actually need an entire app to prop up their egos? If there’s a demand for it, why not? Besides, it’s hardly going to be the most weird thing that a celebrity has done. By all accounts, the app was pretty lively, with its own community drama, even before the Incident that got Renner to shut it down: for some reason, EscapeX had neglected to make it hard for people to impersonate Renner in the community. You can imagine what sort of trash fire this created, what with people starting to post ‘as’ Renner and talking about porno, among other things. This is why nothing good survives for long on the internet. Soon, the app was no longer a fun space where Renner’s superfans could wait to be told Happy Rennsday on Wednesdays (this was also in fact an actual thing) and it had to go.

That being said, the whole Jeremy Renner Official saga has a few teachable lessons for brands:

  1. Trolls will get to anything: In this day and age, it’s probably better not to put anything participatory out online unless it’s carefully moderated. Or it will go very wrong. Fast.
  2. There’s an app for that: An app could conceivably be made for any brand out there. If there’s the money for it. Whether it serves an ROI, however, is another thing altogether.
  3. The app has to be carefully designed. Assume that the worst could happen, and stand by to fix it if it does.
  4. People will still download apps that are relevant to their interests.

Some Good APPles

There have been cases where brand apps have gone viral. Here are some of the ways:

Offer Free Stuff

When I was in design school, one branded app spread like wildfire. It was Clemenger BBDO’s Hungry Jacks app. After launch, it hit over 265,000 downloads, was in the top spot for apps for days, and in the top five apps for a month. Those are huge results for a branded (read: not social media or a game) app.

For those non-Aussies who are wondering Burger King in Australia, which was renamed to Hungry Jacks due to corporate shenanigans that are too long to detail in a single blog post. You can read about it here though if you’re really curious. The Hungry Jacks app urged people to “Shake & Win”. All punters had to do was take themselves to a Hungry Jacks store, open the app, and shake their phone. The app also included things like nutritional information and calculators and such, but face it, the reason why it was downloaded so much was because of the promise of free stuff. In particular, free chips. You can look at all the social analysis from pundits about how the app gave people a constant reminder of Hungry Jacks and pushed them to go to a store and so on, but let’s get real. If free chips weren’t in the equation, we’re not sure that people would’ve downloaded the damn thing, which had an interface of brushed steel surfaces and red plastic textures.

Make It An Annoying Necessity 

Free wifi in Changi Airport is only available if you find and acquire a coupon from one of their goddamned kiosks, request for an access code through SMS (a data-gathering trap that hardly ever rewards you with said code in time for you to leave the efficient airport) or download the app. This requires a lot of preplanning, given many visitors might not be aware of / visit Changi enough to pre-download this app. Similarly, SingTel’s HiApp is pretty much the least annoying way you can top up HiCards, the popular SIM cards sold to visitors. Forcing people to download your goddamned app in order to access a service that could be easily rigged up to a proper website is not the best way to go, in our opinion, but it’s one way to go about it. After all, it’s not as though there’s a feasible alternative to Changi airport in Singapore.

Make it Actually Useful To Your Audience

In July 2017, the guitar brand Fender released the Fender Play app to critical praise. Via Guitarworld:

Developed over several years with considerable assistance from music educators as well as the developers of successful education apps for other endeavors, Fender Play allows users to choose their own path, including the songs, genres and instruments they want to play, learn at their own pace and track their progress. Bite-sized video lessons enable users to comprehend and master skills very quickly, and most users are able to play their first riffs within the first 30 minutes.

“With Fender Play anyone can pick up a guitar and start learning,” says Fender Digital General Manager Ethan Kaplan. “You don’t have to drive somewhere to take a lesson or have someone come to your home, which is very convenient, but it’s also a good supplement to lessons. Most people view lessons as a chore, but with Fender Play we’re promoting playing guitar as a fun lifestyle, which makes it a lot easier to keep people interested in playing.”

The effort that went into Fender Play was extensive. Mary Keenan, previously with Leapfrog and boasting an extensive background in online and digital education, assembled a diverse group of counsellors from the USC School of Music, UCLA, Cal State Fullerton, Musicians Institute, the Berklee School of Music and more to help develop the app’s curriculum.

“We also took a close look at trends in online learning as well as educational strategies,” says Kaplan, “like achievement-based learning and micro-based lessons, which are small lessons that are much more effective than longer lessons. We also got input from instructors that we hired to provide the on-camera content.”

It also provided access to an online community of Fender fans, access to instructors, and to Fender staff. As of the time of this article, the Fender app is on the favourite picks for the App store, and has been called the most comprehensive online guitar tuition course available. At $10USD per month, the app provides Fender with a continuous revenue stream, with 60,000 users as of 2018 with projected growth to 100,000 by 2019 with an aggressive marketing push.

Make it Fun

IKEA Push is IKEA’s fun augmented reality app:

This app allowed people to “virtually place true-to-scale 3D models” in your home, using your phone or iPad. Operating pretty much as a really high-tech IKEA catalogue, the app is beautiful, fun to use, and is sure to trigger an IKEA visit in its users’ near-future. It was an evolution of the company’s previous attempt at an app. Via Wired:

For Charny-Brunet, it was absolutely critical that the Place app didn’t just give a vague idea of what a piece of furniture would look like in a room, but came as close as possible to the real thing. “It’s about reducing the risk that’s inherent with any home improvement you make,” he says. Through a combination of room scanning and 3D modelling, each piece of furniture in Place is almost perfectly in proportion with the real world.

It wasn’t just the look of the furniture that had to be right, but the sound. When a piece of furniture lands on the floor in Place, it lands with a little thud and a touch of haptic feedback. Those thuds were designed by the Swedish sound studio Plan8, who recorded the sound of a foley artist hitting a wooden board and then edited them so they fit the size and weight of the piece of furniture being dropped in the app.

Making use of IKEA’s vast in-house stock of 3D models, the app was a critical success. It was the second most popular ARKit app in 2018 – an achievement, given that most ARKit apps are games. While IKEA Place is no longer the only AR app of its type out there, the app ties in to its core business in a fun and accessible way.

In Summary

Looking to create an app for your business? Keep in mind:

  • Do you really need one? Apps are expensive things to create, and getting people to download a brand app can be difficult.
  • Do you have a “hook” or incentive for people to download your app?
  • Do you have the budget to push it into the world with some targeted marketing?
  • Do you have a specific need in your business that the app will address, vs a well-designed website?

All these should be preliminary considerations for you before you get into the app business. Still interested? We can help you out. Get in touch.

The Disney Monopoly

September 7, 2019

When I first played Kingdom Hearts, I was still in uni. I wasn’t expecting much. It’s a game where you play a kid with huge shoes, big spiky hair, and unrealistic clothing called Sora. Sora wields a “keyblade”, and goes on adventures with Donald Duck and Goofy through different “Disney/Square Enix worlds” such as the world of Hercules etc. Which you fly to on a gummi ship. I know — it sounds ridiculous to me even as I’m typing it. Despite all odds, though, Kingdom Hearts turned out to be an unexpectedly entertaining game. The combat system was fluid and challenging without being annoyingly difficult, the storyline was extremely earnest (read: for kids) but coherent enough to tie the weird storyline together, and most of all — I kid you not — the gummi ship system was incredibly fun. The ship you build is fully customisable, and gummi ship space was fun to navigate.

That was in 2002.

As the game got bigger and more complex, Disney began to add in more and more of the franchises it owned.

In this year’s game, there was Toy Story and Monster’s Inc, on top of the wildly popular franchises of Frozen and Pirates of the Caribbean. I’m surprised they didn’t add worlds like Coco, Finding Nemo, and Moana. Or Star Wars, or Marvel. Playing through Toy Story beside Woody was a strange feeling, in between “I still can’t believe they own Toy Story” to “Why Toy Story 1 and not some newer Pixar property?” By far the biggest Disney flex in popular media so far, however, is probably that one scene in the second Wreck-it Ralph:

disney animation's franchises as per Wreck-it Ralph 2

This was meant to be a funny/triumphant moment in the film, but I mostly just found it scary. How much popular culture does Disney now own? What would this mean for entertainment in general in the future? Needless to say, this wariness isn’t exactly a popularly held opinion. When Disney finally ate 20th Century Fox for $71.3 billion, the news was greeted with joy from fans — despite the mass job losses that ensued and the inherent problems in creating a monopoly this big. X-men was now part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Magneto could meet Captain America! Nevermind the implications of Disney now owning the lion (king)’s share of pop culture. Star Wars, Pixar, X-Men, MCU, hell, even the Simpsons. The Mouse just needs to buy DCEU and Harry Potter to consolidate its dominance.

And it will. Maybe someday it will.

I Will Show You The World

This year, the Lion King’s live-action remake became the highest-grossing animation of all time, along with being the ninth highest-grossing film of all time. It was pretty much the same as the original, except with Beyoncé and some slight changes to the cast. Despite the uncanny valley part at the beginning, I actually rather enjoyed it. Just like how I enjoyed the mediocre Avengers: Endgame film, or the very average Aladdin live-action, or the kinda eh Spiderman: Far from Home. That’s the thing about empire. Sooner or later you get used to it. Isn’t it better to have some content than no content?

The problem is in the type of content that gets produced, now that Disney is the Master of the Universe. Via the Guardian:

It’s an almost cartoon-like demonstration of alpha-capitalism: diversity and differentness mushed together into a great big monopolistic blob. With each acquisition, the stakes get higher, as do the profit-opportunities – and, I predict, the numbers of ass-covering executives who will feel less and less inclined to take risky chances on new and different types of film from new and different types of film-maker.

It also has an impact in the way films are now experienced. Via the Atlantic:

The merger essentially confirms that a new age of entertainment has dawned in Hollywood, one where simply releasing blockbusters in theaters isn’t enough to give a company a healthy profit margin. As my colleague Derek Thompson wrote in 2017, Disney’s acquisition of Fox is its first shot in the ongoing streaming wars—a sign that the company is building an arsenal to take on Netflix and any other tech giant that’s muscling into the entertainment business. Disney is getting ready to launch its own subscription streaming service, Disney+, and the Fox assets will pad out that library nicely.

[…]

Disney and Netflix offer the two clearest visions of Hollywood’s future. The former is a media company that’s as old-fashioned as they come, trying to make movies that will pull audiences en masse to the theater. The latter is a tech company that’s largely uninterested in the theater business but has won subscriber loyalty by offering a wealth of viewing options. As the cinema business continues to evolve, perhaps only the biggest films will survive as in-theater experiences, with streaming becoming an equally profitable venue. By adding Fox, Disney has gained ground in that second sphere, but other studios could get left behind in the race.

It’s not so bad yet. At MIFF this year there was a host of diverse, interesting, small-budget films that were screened to mostly booked/packed film theatres. Festivals like Cannes and Tribeca still celebrate creative filmmaking. But it’s often hard for people to see small films unless they’ve caught them at a festival. Not even the number of hipster cinemas in Melbourne screen everything, only the most acclaimed indie films. Films that won the Palme d’Or and such still do get screened at mainstream cinemas, but for everything else, you can either catch the film at MIFF or wait for it to come out on Netflix.

It’s only going to get worse. R-rated films, for example, don’t fit into the Disney brand. And it’s already having trouble spacing out its content, as now it’s just competing with itself:

Disney is already having trouble spacing out their plethora of films and franchises across the calendar in a manner that will give each of them a fair shot at financial success; Dumbo will release in late March despite being completed in time for a late 2018 spot – it was only pushed back to avoid clashing with Nutcracker & The Four Realms and Mary Poppins Returns. And, generally speaking, Disney doesn’t release all that many movies. In 2019, they’ll only have around nine titles in theaters with major releases (not including Fox properties soon to fall under their umbrella). Compare that to Universal Pictures, who will have 15 titles come out this year, while 20th Century Fox has 13 titles scheduled for release in 2019, including the repeatedly-delayed X-Men: Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants. With that studio about to be consumed by Disney, the release schedule as we know it will be completely revamped. And that probably won’t be a good thing.

[…]

If Disney only has to compete with themselves for box office supremacy, then they have far less incentive to produce more or varied content. The Disney model of content is already one with surprising limitations. After all, this is the studio that has built a decades-long sustainable brand without releasing R-rated movies. These historically came under a different studio name like Touchstone, and so it’s unlikely they will entirely kill such Fox films post-merger, but they perhaps won’t be a priority, particularly if they’re bigger budget efforts such as the Alien movies. James Mangold, director of Logan, was one of many to express concern that the merger would limit such storytelling opportunities since they don’t fit with Disney’s brand.

With a huge share of the market, Disney can now enforce its already unprecedented demands on cinemas:

One way the schedule will be completely changed is in how it will affect movie theaters. Unlike most studios, Disney demands a far larger cut of ticket sales for their films and are also the strictest in terms of the conditions they impose on theaters, both independent and multiplex. For example, Disney demanded a massive 65% cut of domestic ticket sales from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Typically, studios ask for between 50 – 60%.

Other than new films, Disney has also started block Fox’s backlog of films from second run theatres:

Looks like the future’s in streaming, a handful of indies, or blockbuster fare — watched in huge cinema chains. Fun.

The Empire Strikes Back

When the Copyright Act was enacted in the USA in 1790, copyright duration was only 14 years, renewable for another term of 14 years if the author was still alive at the end of the first term. The law changed gradually over time, allowing for longer and longer terms, but it was only when copyright on the Mickey Mouse character was set to expire in 1984 that Disney started seriously lobbying in the 70s to have the Copyright Act changed. As such, when I was studying copyright law, we used to not-so-jokingly call it the Mickey Mouse Law — because it worked. According to the Art Law Journal:

In 1976, Congress authorized a major overhaul of the copyright system assuring Disney extended protection. Instead of the maximum of 56 years with extensions, individual authors were granted protection for their life plus an additional 50 years, (which was the norm in Europe). For works authored by corporations, the 1976 legislation also granted a retroactive extension for works published before the new system took effect. The maximum term for already-published works was lengthened from 56 years to 75 years pushing Mickey protection out to 2003. Anything published in 1922 or before was in the public domain. Anything after that may still be under copyright.

With only 5 years left on Mickey Mouse’s copyright term, Congress again changed the duration with the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. This legislation lengthens copyrights for works created on or after January 1, 1978, to “life of the author plus 70 years,” and extends copyrights for corporate works to 95 years from the year of first publication, or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever expires first. That pushed Mickey’s copyright protection out to 2023.

[…]

Not everybody has been happy about these changes due to our inability to use old work to create new artistic works. One author noted that we are “the first generation to deny our own culture to ourselves” since “no work created during your lifetime will, without conscious action by its creator, become available for you to build upon.”

The Empire has until 2023 to figure out how to change the law again — but even if it doesn’t, the copyright that expires is on the original black and white, gloveless iteration of Mickey Mouse as seen in Steamboat Willie. The modern version with the gloves and the red pants expires in 2025 — and Disney will probably still contest the matter with litigation. Disney’s aggressive use of litigation to protect its copyright and its repeated tendency to change American copyright law to suit its own purposes has a damning effect on popular culture and creativity. As the biggest juggernaut remaining in entertainment, its clout has only gotten bigger.

I still look forward to Disney/Pixar/LucasArts/MCU films. I watch many of them on premiere days. I buy the merch, play the games. Yet the more ascendant the company gets, the more depressing the outlook for film and popular culture in general. Massive monopolies like this will only get bigger, more hungry, play safer: we can only hope that something will change. All hail the Mouse.

Getting Television Messaging Right

August 31, 2019

Ask people what they think about advertising, and chances are, if they’re not in the industry they’d probably answer in the negative. Which, okay, can be well-deserved. Television messaging can be annoying. There’s a reason why adblockers are catching on, why some people prefer to record free-to-air TV so they can fast-forward through ads, why people pay for Spotify Premium to listen to music ad-free. Ads can be incredibly annoying. Worse, Australian TV ads can be extremely strident: there’s nothing that makes me reach more quickly for a TV remote than someone yelling at me through the screen that their carpets are super cheap. Or that annoying Coles jingle about prices being down. Cthulhu curse whoever wrote that jingle — it’s probably stuck in my brain forevermore. Which might be what they were looking for.

The Good

Annoying as ads are to people in general, ask anyone what their favourite ad is and they can probably name something offhand — probably faster than they can name their favourite movie, song, or book — and can probably tell you exactly why it’s their fave as well. That’s because ads are really very short films that can be cut down into 15, 30, or 60 second versions, and as with any short film, they can be extremely effective if they convey the right story, with the right script, in the right way. Think of a tv ad not as a piece of moving newspaper print, but as a very small film that must convey a certain message to your preferred audience, in a way that will stick in their mind, and that hopefully won’t put them off your brand.

It doesn’t have to follow basic story structures, and given the time constraints, it likely won’t. With that in mind, conceptual ads with no traditional storylines, no traditionally spoken scripts, but with a great song and imagery will also work. This is my all-time favourite ad, Discovery Channel’s “I Love the Whole World”:

As a piece of advertising, it works. The song is catchy, the imagery is amazing. Running at a minute long, the ad doesn’t cut down that well (though it’s possible), and only a channel like Discovery could make an ad like this without running into massive costs. That being said, it’s a perfect message — in this case, a great song — that runs through the whole ad, tying every popular Discovery show at the time together. It’s extremely shareable, people will watch it through to the end, and possibly rewatch it again on their own.

One great piece of advertising last year was Tourism Australia’s Superbowl ad, which ran originally as a “film trailer” for a new Crocodile Dundee movie:

Whoever had this genius idea in the pitch should be given all the awards. The cat was quickly out of the bag after wild speculation on the internet (also, isn’t Russell Crowe a New Zealander?). The actual, self-aware commercial:

The cost of using Australia’s most popular stars aside, the ad worked. It was a hilarious piece of guerilla marketing that showed off what it was meant to show off — the Australian landscape — and promoted it as a holiday destination. Even the “real” ad worked, if only because of Chris Hemsworth’s gift for comedic timing. Even the cringey salesy thing Chris says about how there’s cheap flights to Australia. Comedy tends to stick in the brain, which is why this low (not counting Ricky Gervais’ fee) budget ad for Optus/Netflix works so well:

Optus could’ve shelled out for a flashy ad using film clips, but this — this was so much better. It’s funny. People shared it, often calling it the greatest commercial they’d ever seen. Follow-ons were quickly filmed once Optus saw how well it worked. I do hope Ricky did get paid a “shedload” of money — him and whoever thought of this ad. It’s a prime example of how great “television messaging” often just needs to be a fantastic concept brought across to the audience with great execution. It does not need to be salesy (and if it does, get Chris Hemsworth to do it.)

Or a dog, with this great “Unskippable” GEICO ad that shows you don’t need star power to make an incredible ad:

Made specifically for YouTube pre-roll, the whole point of the GEICO ad was to stop people from skipping past it: with the whole message of the ad in the first 15 seconds and a payoff being an entire minute of the huge dog eating spaghetti. It’s a hilarious ad that quickly went viral, with some people saying they’d intentionally watched it over ten times (see the comments in that video). Again, the concept was the key to people liking and watching the ad to the end, a concept that was translated across a series of different ads.

There was also this hilarious “Your Man” Canadian breast cancer exam awareness ad, which quickly went viral:

Designed by agency john st., the ad, which features a variety of attractive topless men in the hopes of raising more awareness about self-conducted breast examinations, quickly went viral. The Your Man health app was downloaded over 38,000 times. Again, this app had the right message, with the right context, with the right production for the right audience.

For a simple message that just works, there’s also this incredible American gun-control ad:

The ad asks its salient question at the end: “Guns have changed, why shouldn’t your gun laws?” The delivery was fantastic, the concept great, the message simple and powerful. It’s memorable. It works. That’s television messaging at its simplest and finest.

The Bad, and the Ugly

Sometimes an ad annoys me so much that I make a mental note to never buy from it again. There have been a few over the years. Remember that terrible “beach-ready” controversial weight-loss ad by Protein World? Or the racist Dolce & Gabbana campaign? Brands often apologise afterwards, but the damage would’ve been done — particularly for D&G, which lost a huge part of its target market. Bad messaging no longer works. It’s no longer true in this day and age that any attention is good attention. At worst, it can permanently damage your brand.

Terrible messaging aside, there have been ads which weren’t controversial but which still annoyed me enough to add it to my mental blacklist. Like this one, by Clemenger for Perfect Italiano:

My Gods, it’s so annoying. I think this ad was what got me into the habit of muting ads on Australian broadcast tv. The brand bought a lot of ad space Channel Ten in between Masterchef Australia. I used to buy Perfect Italiano cheese before the ad, but now I stick to its competitors wherever possible. There was nothing particularly wrong with the messaging, but the sheer smarminess of the ad rubbed me the wrong way. There was just something weirdly offputting and condescending to me about the so-called “perfect man” in the ad. In comparison, Perfect Italiano’s Gordon Ramsay ad was hilarious:

A more empowering ad that focused on the number of chores that are often designated “women’s work” around the house, it also had a simpler message: perfect Italian meals, no celebrity chef required. It’s too late, though. The one bad ad from 2010 has already moved me to Mil Lel.

Television Messaging — Best Practices

Making TV ads is an expensive endeavour: if only because of the media buy. If you don’t have good television messaging, then you might have just wasted your money. Any message is going to have to have a great concept, fit into your brand’s overarching strategy, and preferably conform to meeting your pre-designated key performance indicators (KPIs). Some things to keep in mind:

  • Be respectful. Nowadays bad controversy that leans into racism/sexism/ablelism/etc will not help your brand.
  • Have a strategy. That includes having clear KPIs. What are you trying to get out of the ad?
  • Be realistic. Unless you’re very lucky, an ad will not push your brand to the forefront of your market overnight.
  • Spread your media buy. Don’t just blow it all on TV — there’s also YouTube pre-rolls, Instagram ads and more, all of which might be relevant to your target audience and product.
  • Be inclusive. It’s not the 90s anymore.
  • Have a good concept. A mere tagline won’t work. Great ads are memorable the way great short films are memorable: they’re punchy, resonate in some way with people, and are well-made.

Any questions? Get in touch.

Does Anyone Still Watch Television?

August 24, 2019

I stopped watching free-to-air TV long before Netflix even became a thing. It wasn’t just the ads. Other than Masterchef Australia, of which I remain a largely indifferent fan nowadays, there hasn’t really been much on Australian free-to-air TV that grabbed me. I’m not the only one: I don’t actually know anyone my age or younger who watches free-to-air TV. Hell, even my parents don’t watch TV — they have Netflix and ESPN. That being said, I’m keenly aware that I’m in the city-living, hipster, treehugger, brunch-eating, NBN-adjacent, young demographic. When you’re internet savvy and have a decent connection why would you even need television? The news? You can read that up over a bunch of different news organisations if you want to avoid Murdoch bias. Entertainment? You can stream or download that. Sport (namely, the football World Cup) is probably the only reason I might watch TV, and even then, that’s often not free-to-air nowadays.

An ageing audience and the rise of streaming services like Netflix has resulted in a “demographic time bomb”. Via the Sydney Morning Herald:

It’s only the rusted-on 50+ demographic which is keeping the figures from going into total freefall. The 18 to 35 demographic – the next generation of seniors – is looking for entertainment elsewhere. In the first quarter of 2017, Australians watched an average of 79 hours and 30 minutes of broadcast television on in-home TV sets each month – a 7% drop on the same time last year. This decline is accelerating, as the 2016 figure was only a 5% drop on 2015.

broadcast television

The 18-35 demographic is switching off broadcast television faster than ever, and chances are they won’t magically switch back to traditional channels as they get older. After all, it’s not like we’re going to abruptly forget how to login to our Netflix accounts. That being said, according to the Nielsen report compiled for Screen Australia, while broadcast TV is declining, it is still the king of content overall by a long mile compared to video-on-demand (VOD) stuff like Netflix and YouTube:

It also turns out that the “people I know” measure isn’t a great one overall. Surprise! People in the younger demographics do still watch broadcast TV (what the hell are they watching?), and even if they do watch more on-demand stuff, chances are a large number of them watch both — just that they likely watch more VOD than the other.

In other words — while broadcast TV is starting to die a slow death for the younger demographic, things aren’t as bad as they might seem. People do still watch broadcast television. Which means that if you have the budget for it, advertising on TV should still be a relevant strategic consideration.

Isn’t making a television ad bloody expensive?

Well yes. And no. As with everything in marketing, it depends on what you’re setting out to make. Is it a big, splashy, weirdly arty ad? Case in point: almost every car/perfume ad ever, like so:

That’s the full ad, made for YouTube and social media. There are shorter cuts for broadcast TV. That’s the thing that annoys us about “TV or not?” discussions. It isn’t one or the other. If you have a good piece of film content, designed to work both in full and in short cuts, it’ll be fine expressed through multiple touchpoints — not just in broadcast TVC 15s/30s/etc formats but in however long you want online. Great content has further use as stills, as background images for print and digital ads.

Film doesn’t have to be expensive either to work. Dollar Shave Club’s viral ad (over 20mil views on YouTube) reportedly only cost $4,500 to make:

Nosh 404, about a restaurant-rating app, was produced for about $300, and racked up over 600k views:

In many ways, you do get what you pay for. If you’re not willing to shell out money for quality, you can often end up with a dinky ad that’s a waste of everyone’s time. As with any piece of media, in a TV ad you need to be:

  1. Clear about what you want to do: drive people to a particular product? Raise awareness?
  2. Clear about the people you want to reach
  3. Have realistic expectations/KPIs
  4. Take some risks
  5. Do some research

A good team can make a budget go a long way. Just don’t expect miracles (and get angry when you don’t get them). At Starship, we try to be as transparent as possible with clients what they’ll get out of a budget when we quote. You’ll know where your money’s going.

What about the media buy?

Media buy is definitely going to be a large part of your budget. Regardless of whether you have a large budget, being tactical about how you spend it is the best way to maximise it. Yes, advertising on free-to-air/broadcast television is going to cost you. You can, however, consider:

  1. Geographic limitations: is this just a regional product? Do you really need to go national?
  2. Time limitations: does it really need to air during prime time?
  3. Television or cinema or both: consider cinema pre-rolls
  4. Social media: consider pre-roll ads on YouTube or short clips over Instagram etc.
  5. Consider how many times to run your ad.
  6. Target interest by show. Do you have a product that would pair better with Survivor? My Kitchen Rules? Bondi Vet?

These are just some tips you should keep in mind when considering your buy. Naturally, any agency you pick would have more recommendations. Agencies will often also have contacts within the media buy industry and/or at local stations. We often help clients negotiate packages where possible so that they can get the sort of visibility they need. Agencies like us can also often help clients buy “distressed space”, aka ad slots that have to go but haven’t yet been filled so they’re sold for cheap.

In Short

Despite what you may have heard, television advertising remains a highly influential medium. It may not always work for what you intend to do, depending on your brand or product, but when it fits and is managed as part of your overarching brand strategy, it can reach and resonate with a huge audience. The content you make will often also work across digital platforms – it doesn’t have to be one or the other. So the next time someone tells you that tv advertising is old-fashioned and a waste of time… they probably haven’t seen the stats. Want to know more? Get in touch.

Building Your Brand Quickly

August 22, 2019

Recently a UK leggings brand called Kukubird gained some notoriety over the local news/internet in Singapore. If you’ve ever lived in Southeast Asia and you’re familiar with the local argot, or if you understand Cantonese, you’re probably already laughing. If you didn’t, well. “Kuku” is part of the Cantonese slang term for male genitalia, and in Southeast Asia, “kukubird” is slang for the same thing. Fun thing for a brand to start trending for, isn’t it? The thing is, I don’t even blame the UK brand/the agency that branded them, though they probably should’ve checked Urbandictionary.

This is probably not how the leggings brand wanted to gain traction in Asia. After the news broke, there was some slight attempt at damage control:

TBH, we really doubt they picked the branding on purpose knowing what it meant. After all, local slang aside, Cantonese is spoken by 60 million people in China alone. That’s more than the total population of Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia combined. We recommend that they rebrand, but that’s just us. In any case, terrible and avoidable branding accidents aside, it is possible to gain traction quickly for your brand.

How to Build

A contemporary, consistent brand suite will definitely help to bring your brand together around consistent visuals and consistent messaging. Having a strong brand will help you put your best foot forward in a likely crowded marketplace. Word of advice here – use a pro. Don’t do the in-house thing with Comic Sans and dropshadow – not unless you know what you’re doing.

Where to Build

Building a brand is about building a consistent strategy that grants your brand increased visibility with the right audience, while driving this audience toward a certain goal. More purchases? More donations? More people asking for quotes or going to a place? Whatever your goal is, here are some of the usual touchpoints where brand visibility is built:

  • TV: Television is not a dead medium, despite what you’ve heard: but a national TV campaign will be expensive.
  • Digital Presence: Having a website is necessary. Having social media depends on your brand, though we recommend it. Responsiveness is key.
  • Digital Campaign: Influencers, ads, Google AdWords? Nowadays, you might need to pony up if you want a visible online presence.
  • Print: It may suit your brand to run print ads in both traditional mediums (like newspapers and direct mail drops) or something news.
  • Outdoor: Billboards? Bus stop shelters? Blanket Southern Cross Station with advertising for a week? All these can be ways of raising awareness for your brand.
  • Installations, Pop Ups, Hand-outs: All great ways to push certain kinds of products – esp FMCGs.
  • PR: Sponsored content and other forms of PR can be key to pushing new products.
  • Other: Publicity stunts, guerilla advertising and more.

Building Your Brand Quickly by Breaking the Bank

In a perfect universe, if you do have a huge war chest to spend on marketing and advertising, it’s easier to build your brand quickly online and offline. Film a great ad. Add someone like Keanu Reeves, or some equivalent A-lister with the capacity to make the things they star in quickly go viral. Carpet bomb your target audience with localised advertising across online and offline touchpoints. Buy a Superbowl ad. Buy product placement in a Marvel film. Pre-roll your ad in the expensive just-before-the-film bracket for blockbusters. Have a funny brand activation in real life. Buy sponsored content in the news. Hire celebrity influencers. Buy out Adwords on Google for your industry and for your rival brands. Do PR, get reviews on magazines related to your brand. The list goes on.

Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect universe, and the morning news reminds me of this every day. If you can’t do all of the above, but you still have a huge war chest, spending it on carefully considered media designed to appeal to your audience does work. A well-known example is the Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” series, which reputedly had a media spend in the millions but which rapidly went viral, becoming one of the fastest-growing video campaigns of all time and revamping the brand in users’ eyes.

Old Spice already did enjoy some viral success with its earlier ads involving Terry Crews and weird CGI, but with the Isaiah series above, the brand took off. Viral success is, however, a matter of luck — rather than creating campaigns that are so-called “made for viral”, it’s better to have an intriguing concept AND a good strategy behind it. If the ad goes viral in a way that doesn’t advance your KPIs… it might not have gone viral in a good way.

Going Viral in a Bad Way?

Oh, you’ve seen it. #KimOhNo is only the latest. We have so many stories. Basically, be careful about what you say in your advertising and how you show it. And always be respectful. It’s not a question of being PC (God, we hate that term), it’s good business. If you piss off people so much that your competitors’ brands get a lot of free traffic and advertising from angry people, you’ve just shot yourself in the foot.

No Money? No problem… Sort of

What if you don’t have the money? A smaller budget means having to be more tactical about strategy. Or you could just get lucky. One of the more eye-catching launches of last year was the Lion’s Share, which had none other than Sir David Attenborough himself, who reportedly offered to be part of the campaign:

With the ad by Clemenger Melbourne BBDO, the concept behind the Lion’s Share came from a “eureka” moment for the founder. Via Mumbrella:

Late last year, Christopher Nelius was watching TV when he had something of a eureka moment – and promptly rushed into his colleague Robert Galluzzo’s office to get it off his chest. Animals, he explained, don’t get paid to appear in ads. And in a world where up to 10,000 species are facing extinction every year, with precious little funding to stop it, those appearance fees could be a life-saving revenue stream. “I think you’re onto something,” agreed Galluzzo.

Nelius and Galluzzo helm Sydney-based production company Finch and after a few days’ thought, settled on the proposal that 0.5% of all media spend from campaigns staring animals should be donated to help conservation causes. The pair told friends and then friends of friends in the industry until Andrew Clarke, then global CMO of Mars, promised the confectionary giant would back their proposal but only if they could persuade the United Nations to get involved. “So I wrote to this guy at the UN,” says Galluzzo, talking in a giddy rush on the phone, “and told him I’ve got this idea that will change the world. But I need one hour in person with them.”

And then things went a bit Hollywood. Incredibly, the UN emailed back. Could the pair come to New York next week to pitch it, they asked? They hopped on a plane, made their case, it got approved and then things moved quicker then they could scarcely believe. They were invited to Cannes. The Economist signed up. Clemenger BBDO Melbourne helped turn it into a proper campaign. And then Sir David Attenborough offered to be the frontman. Fast-forward to the end of 2018, and the campaign is already lining up to purchase land, including a jaguar corridor in Belize; Elephant paths in Kenya; and orangutan and tiger habitats in Sumatra.

A great ad doesn’t have to be expensive. One of Nike’s most famous ads is pretty much just a guy jogging down a road:

Or even this New York Times ad:

But those were already extremely well-known brands, you might be saying. Is there an example of cheap TV done effectively for a new or lesser-known brand? Yes there is: Mount Pearl, a tiny Canadian town, recently released an ad that went quickly viral, as it was a hilarious and slightly unscripted rap video:

Lower budget? Completely improvised? That’s when things start getting difficult. We’d say it’d require a very particular sort of product, and it’d very likely need humour, like in this viral cat shelter video shot over 30 minutes that had adoption inquiries jump by 25% after it went viral:

There was also that whole ice bucket challenge thing… remember that? So, yes. If you’re tactical about messaging, approach, and strategy, you can still have a winner on your hands. Some things are definitely easier to market than others – given a choice between making an ad for a cat shelter or an ad for computer cables I’d know what I’ll pick (NOTE: if you do need an ad for computer cables, we are completely happy to work with you).

Some Quick Tips For Building Your Brand

  1. Have your KPIs in mind (key goals).
  2. Decide on a budget.
  3. Have a target audience.
  4. Think about which platforms are likely to work for your audience.

Want to know more? Or are you a leggings company that might be looking for a new brand name? Get in touch.

Small Budget Marketing

August 17, 2019

I’m in my mid-30s, which means I’m a millennial. Before I buy any product, I look up reviews. Competing brands. Lists such as ‘Best wireless headphones of 2019’ or even ‘Best robot vacuum cleaner’. I’ll often go for a known brand, but if I see a lesser-known brand with good reviews or placed on rec lists, I’d definitely consider it. As with many people in my generation, I don’t particularly feel loyal to any brands. If a lesser-known brand makes a better product, I’ll try it. This doesn’t always work so well — I’ve definitely bought the occasional dud — but as a whole, small brands have a fair go where I’m concerned. As long as they have some level of visibility.

In the age of Amazon and the global marketplace, brands can more easily carve out a niche of their own when they have to. They also face competition from all other online-savvy brands across the globe, all of whom would be offering about the same thing. You’d have to be able to stand out in the global marketplace, and deal with people willing to jump brands to similar alternatives at the drop of a hat. In this day and age, competing with everyone else can feel overwhelming. There are, however, ways for any business to have a workable marketing strategy even on a small business’ often shoestring budget.

Small Businesses and the Reason for Being

We always ask any business that comes to us for advertising / marketing work what their reason for existing is. Is it because your product is cheaper? Made ethically? Made in Australia? Recyclable? Do you support charities or a cause? Not every business has to have an easily-voiced reason for being, but having one that is laudable will make it simpler for you to stand out in your marketplace. People nowadays like to pick brands that align to their principles and lifestyles. Besides, why contribute to the recycling crisis in Australia if you don’t have to? Being seen as a more “green”, or more “ethical” company doesn’t drop you in the back of a hipster shop in South Melbourne nowadays.

If you have absolutely no reason for being — or can’t figure it out by yourself — get in touch. We’re always happy to consult with customers and help them find their place in the market. Chances are, however, you have some inkling. Why did you go through all the trouble of setting up your business in the first place? You must have seen some niche that you could fill. Amplify that, adjust, and put out the word. Unless whatever you’re doing is so wildly different that you have no competition, you’re going to need to be different. Especially if you can’t fork out the cash for a splashy launch or ongoing visibility marketing.

Small Budget Marketing and Other Stories

‘Traditional’ advertising is kind of a funny term nowadays. Technically, it refers to things like TV advertising, radio, outdoor (billboards etc) advertising and such. Fun as these things are to create, we recognise that our clients usually need some degree of digital advertising — depending on their product or service and the message they want to get out. The type of advertising or marketing you use is going to depend on your target audience and on your budget. The fact remains that a lot of businesses — big and medium — have a small budget for marketing and advertising. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, businesses that do less than $5 mil a year in sales and that have a net profit margin of around 10-12% should be doing about 7-8% of their gross revenue in marketing. Naturally, this varies by industry. Via Deloitte:

business budget marketing by industry

Consumer packaged goods spend the most on marketing percentage-wise:

Marketing budgets by type

This isn’t a big surprise, particularly for FMCG. If you’re a brand in this category, you likely already know how important it is to have up-to-date packaging, multiple touchpoints, and an active presence online and offline where people can be exposed to the existence of your products. Even brands that have a seemingly out there concept (coffee skincare anyone?) can, with a robust online presence, become a viral brand. Via CoreDNA:

Franky Body’s founders Jess Hatzis and Bree Johnson started this unique beauty brand when Johnson’s husband and co-founder of the business, Steve Rowley, noticed a number of female customers at his Melbourne-based cafes asking for the leftover coffee grounds to use as an exfoliator. With a small investment of $5,000, they created a single product, their coffee body scrub, and started to sell it on social media platforms – with no marketing budget.

Here’s what has happened since their launch in 2013…
They’ve grown an Instagram following in excess of 690,000 followers
Their website attracts over 80,000 visits a month (Similar Web)
Their branded hashtag strategy has generated over 100,000 user images
They’ve sold over 2 million body scrubs in 149 different countries
They cracked yearly revenue of over $20 million in 2017

You don’t have to be a cool new hipster skincare brand to go viral like this. And as you can see, the initial investment doesn’t need to burn up your budget. Frank Body began by identifying a nice market (Millennials and Gen Zs) and creating a very particular product (coffee-based ethical body scrub). They created memorable copy and products that their audience could identify with, and branding / an online presence that fit with their audience’s lifestyle.

They also created two hashtags for their audiences to tag themselves with (#letsbefrank and #thefrankeffect), incentivising people to use the tags with prizes. Their content doesn’t change much in terms of image choice and messaging. In other words, they’ve been successful with a small budget because they’ve been smart about how the budget has been used. They’ve had a clear focus, a clear market, and a clear strategy that they stuck to.

Don’t Panic

One of the worst things you can do when running a campaign — especially a small campaign — is to panic. Traction will take time to pick up. While you should have processes for testing, for identifying problems, and for adjusting to any problems that might crop up, throwing the strategy to the ground and running around like a headless chook if the results aren’t what you’re looking for will only hurt your cause. Some things that people do when they panic:

+ Changing the goalposts / KPIs halfway through a campaign: this will just waste the money you’ve already put into the campaign.
+ Suddenly overhauling all creative: this will be jarring to your competitor. Barring an issue with the creative (an error? it was insensitive?), stick to your guns.
+ Stapling on stopgap measures that can often make things worse.

Want to know more? Get in touch.

What else could I do? Why Marketers love their competition

August 12, 2019

I’m at a Networx function, sipping a beer and chatting with Frank Chamberlain, who writes for this esteemed publication regularly. We’re talking about the pitfalls of penning a piece without a decent brief, when I notice to my right a woman who is staring at me.

Being a well-brought-up boy, I put my hand out and we introduce ourselves. As soon as our names have been exchanged she asks me ‘What do you do?’. (I’d never start off with that question.) I say ‘I’m not sure, it depends what the time is and where I am’. She blinks, like I’ve kicked her in the shins. Then asks me ‘What does Starship do?’ (I’m wearing a name tag, much as I hate them.) I say ‘We’re an advertising agency’. She says ‘That’s it?’

So I stupidly play her game. I ask her this, which is a big mistake. “What does XXXX do?” (She has the name of a big headhunting firm on her lapel. Of course I know them.) She says “You don’t know? We’re a recruitment firm!” I say (third mistake) “Oh, I see”. She asks aggressively “What do you mean by that?” I know what I want to say but hesitate, searching for the right word.

“I’ve always found personnel people to be, ahhh, what’s the term? (I desperately think of plays, Oscar Wilde……) A bit earnest…’

“Earnest. You think I’m earnest?” (whites of eyes showing). “Would you say that if you knew I was the new marketing manager?” She says like she means “Hey, I’ve got a big budget and you better be nice to me, because all you ad guys want it.” And she storms off because I’ve been so offensive. Not exactly a new situation for me.

I didn’t mean to be rude, but there you go, in her mind, it’s obviously a major sin to not take yourself seriously.

Frank smiles, shrugs his shoulders. I sip another beer and wonder why people think their careers so matter so much, instead of just trying to enjoy themselves for their own sake. Why they literally live their job. So with the intention of making damn sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing instead of selling drugs, bad legal advice or second hand houses, below I’ve cobbled together a list of the ‘professions’ (I use the term lightly) you could have done instead and why you’re better off where you are, in career nirvana.

In order to not appear too discriminatory, I’ve listed them alphabetically. And in case you’re wondering, I’ve interviewed at least one member of each of these professions, to get the running on what’s the real perception from the inside. They’re all very necessary, except perhaps tax lawyers, so I don’t really want to insult their members, but be warned. This is an article which will offend anyone who isn’t a marketer, so don’t show it to your friends unless you’re sick of them.

Accountant

I had to start with the worst one first. Someone who thinks the word conservative means business-like. ‘Personality’ used as a contraceptive. People who make bankers look exciting. A profession filled with people who are so money-oriented they studied how to track it. And look backwards? They spend their life with their eyes firmly locked on the rear vision mirror. Accountants don’t know how to generate money, only know how to find where it’s gone. Even then they have the cheek to think they can manage businesses because they read Balance Sheets all day. That’s like a traffic speeding cop telling you because he sees people go fast all the time he’s by definition a good driver. The accountant is the enemy of the marketer, in the same way the pet door is the enemy of the fat cat. Something to squeeze past on the way to a good time.

Architect

7 years studying how to create unique living environments, 3-dimensional art, getting the physics, engineering, dimensions exactly right for a nirvana space where people can just ‘be’ in a pleasant existence, only to be told by a pimply kid doing work experience at the local Council they won’t approve it.

Artist

Yes, you get to drink and take drugs all day, slap some crap on the wall and make out you’re brilliant. The madder it is, the better you are. But if you ain’t into flagrant self-promotion, you starve.

Banker

See accountant, assume they have all the money and want all of it back, with interest. Plus want to charge you mega bucks for doing anything complex, like taking your own money out of your account. Then recognise that’s the good ones.

Builder

To be told what colour tiles, where they want the stove, why the window has to be double-glazed all day long, drives builders nuts. A good honest profession where you can clearly see what you’ve achieved in a day has its merits, but with many a downside too.

Chemist

Scores well on the public trust factor (we’d be pretty stuffed if they didn’t – imagine going to the chemist for Disprin and getting Heroine) but as boring as bat shit for the chemist themselves. Yes, you do get to meet lots of people who wander in the door, but the same four walls, day in day out? The same piece of carpet to stand on while you dish out the pills? No wonder lots of chemists start to tickle the till. Wouldn’t you take a sniff of something to make your day more interesting?

Chiropractor

Saving people from pain is a noble calling. But because the doctors and physios see them as a threat, Chiro’s are relegated to a position close to tarot card readers by many of the more conservative public. And this after 7 to 10 years of intense training. I ask you?

Dentist

Spend your time looking down people’s mouths all day, squinting, trying to see what’s going wrong behind a back molar. When the buggers have had garlic sausages for lunch…. And almost everyone you talk to can’t talk back (a mouth-full of instruments and suction tubes). No wonder they are all nutty. Nice people, overqualified, overpaid, but generally, quite mad.

Doctor

Take some of the highest I.Q people in the country, have their parents push them into a high paying job that will come in handy when Mum and Dad are old. And it’s great to brag about to friends  ‘Yes, John’s doing medicine at Melbourne’. Then stick them in tiny rooms, with bad light, get them to see lonely little old ladies all day. Doling out aspirins. Pay them shit per person, so they have to race through their diagnoses. What a waste. The smartest people in the country operating as distribution systems for chemical companies. Bored out of their minds. We’d be better off to train nurses to go on those diagnoses web sites and get the Doctors doing something better with their time.

Engineer

I could be an engineer. You get to invent things, design things, improve things. They are invariably decent people. Virtually un-recognised in Australia, this is a career that has merit and deserves respect. But gets bugger-all salary unless you’re at the very top. Also involves a lot of study in your chosen area and that could be tricky for a dummy like me.

General Manager

We need them. Many of us are doing their job already without knowing it. The work is as varied as Paris’s love life and you can control the lives of all around you, so it has a lot of plusses. But the down-side is a lack of focus, a lack of expertise and the sad fact that accountants often think they should be in this key role of business without any ability in the calling at all. General Managers vary incredibly in quality. They can be the worst entrepreneurs or the best. The worst marketers, or the best. There’s not enough training being undertaken at graduate level. I think most MBA’s should be spending their time doing General Management, instead of wanting to be experts at something. You could move to GM, many marketers do. But you’d spend a lot of time doing accounting or buying widgets, which you may not like.

Head Hunter

Called Slave Traders, Meat Marketers or worse behind their backs, and treated very politely to their faces, ‘cause head hunters can tip you into a good possie, or ruin your chances for one, many personnel operators can’t help taking life way too seriously. If you spent all day weighing people up or selling through your ability to sum people up, either way, you get judgemental and start not to see the funny side of anything. Especially when you’re trained up to the eye-balls, in what people who have no idea think is business ‘best practice’. I know head hunters who couldn’t laugh at their own funeral. There are some talented marketers trapped in headhunting companies, but they do bugger-all marketing, really. The bosses don’t believe in spending money and what do you say about a product (people) that obviously is always different, and when it goes wrong, it’s never your fault, but you have to wear it? Would you want to be one?

Journalist

Here you have highly entertaining, intelligent people. Interesting folk, drinking themselves to sleep because some bastards a hundred years ago allowed what is arguably Australia’s most powerful profession to be subjugated by rogue robber barons. Now there are only three or four sizable employers, so (outside of the specialist magazines and podcasting) you have few options and an awful union/class-based system under which to work. One decent, but despondent place is the ABC, where because it‘s starved of funds and not listened to by the public, you only earn a pittance as a journo. The rest, (while some are great organizations, with fantastic people working with you) ruin your career and your headspace. Many of these places force their main asset to sully itself like an old man shitting himself on the bus. Due to the need to attract audience numbers, they get involved in fostering plain bad entertainment (Big Brother, Biggest Loser) And what about the shoddy shock and sensationalistic pseudo-journalism that passes for news from News Ltd? The profession you study/enter, if you have the highest of moral drivers, is often the business you work in with the lowest morals of the lot. Irony? No wonder they drink.

Lawyer

While they may spend their time making up laws and hence control our lives and the rule this country, lawyers do so with a smug belief that they, and they alone, know what’s right. And they spend most of their time in battles with other lawyers. They can’t both be right. Usually, the kid at school who didn’t win the fights, they now fight all the time, as dictated by the adversarial system under which they operate. When they are uncertain if they’ll win, they go out and find more rules, often delving back centuries. And they out-right lie. Yep, they make good money, but have to struggle through a traction-like professional system; spending years as slaves to the partners. We as marketers have it one up on the lawyers in another respect too. The law is controlled by public opinion in the main, particularly legislation. And we can control public opinion.

Nurse

My heart goes out to the nurses, under-paid, caring, close as you can get to we sticky humans and they do it all the time, day and night, anything you can imagine, they have to do. With gusto and determination and pride. And our system ignores them. Treats them like second-class medical staff. Along with their even more down-trodden assistants, they are undermanned, under-appreciated and under-resourced. The system is overburdened, their lives are drenched with forms, the tedium is palpable and through all that Nurses have to be absolutely exacting in their delivery of medicines and co-ordinated like a machine to save lives. They are exhausted, depressed and leaving in droves. Would you want to be a nurse?

Physiotherapist

Close to nurses are physios. Less stressed and a great career if you like spending time helping people. Can live anywhere if you speak the language. Get to mix with sports stars. You’d have to like touching people I guess, (that rules out most of the lawyers) but generally, I can’t really knock being a physio.

Pilot

Can you imagine spending more than 10 years paying a fortune to fly and taking all sorts of exams? Being responsible for the lives of hundreds of people? But there’s a lot of up-side. Travel all over the world, have great accommodation. Get to wear snappy suits and a cap, whacko! Set up a spouse in several cities. Party yourself stupid for days at a time in exotic locations and go on holiday almost free. But with auto-pilot, between taking off and landing, you are bored to tears. You have to work for some real bastards, it gets highly political in the admin side, and the pressure not to fuck up (ie. smack into a mountain and kill the lot) is something you and I will never know.

Politician

The most sucked up to is also the most hated. I challenge you to think of any role more derisive. The pollies separate us. Tear at our psyche and our belief in truth and fairness. They cause great rifts in our society and do so for personal gain. But that power is at a terrible cost. Think how you’d feel being Kevin Rudd or Peter Garret at a Liberal convention? You are under people’s skin; changing the very fabric of their existence, on the one hand doing good for a few, on the other tipping the balance the wrong way for some others. Pollies are treated like Gods, but would you want to stand in a line and agree with stuff you didn’t for the good of the party? And invariably once you’re with a party, you’re with them the whole way. A marketer could do well to join. God knows they need better marketing of some pressing issues. But would you still be a marketer, or could you say they are all, already marketers?

Priest

I’ve listed the profession Priest to cover any religious role. I had many years of being indoctrinated by them. Nice people, but full of shit. Sell something I had no confidence in? I’d rather sell tobacco; at least you know for sure it’s certain death.

Public servant

Closely reined in by the politicians is their arch-nemesis, the servant of the public. Unelected, brimming with ultimate power and usually stuffed full of brains, the bureaucrats are an interesting bunch. Sometimes actually paid quite well, they must struggle through a system that would kill you of tedium, but thankfully awards profile, like ours does. Always being asked to fix something by everyone you meet, (like a doctor for our society, some are asked to fix a culture issue, others asked to fix the roads) many of my public servant friends invent other jobs on social occasions; a medico, a bikie drug smuggler, occasionally a Jedi Knight.

Real estate agent

Spend your days showing people through houses. Yes, you get to drive snappy cars and wear nice suits, but that’s it for the fun aspect.

Stock broker

Selling second-hand shares is slightly more fun than second-hand houses, as you can promise great returns and you can knock up all sorts of statistics to make it seem like you’re not really gambling. And you can sell one lot of shares to another of your own clients if turnover looks a bit iffy this month. And did I mention the nice suits and boozy lunches?

Teacher

You get good holidays. But could you stand there, spending days at a time trying to keep unruly, badly brought up kids quiet while you try to get them to absorb something they don’t appreciate, no matter how vital it might be for the rest of their lives? And get paid shit money for it? I’d rather jump.

Vet

Deserve sincere praise for what they do to look after those in our community who can’t look after themselves and can’t explain how they feel. I respect the specialists – horse, dogs, cattle etc. But I question the expertise of the general vet. I doubt the ability of anyone to be able to know much about a wide range of animals (birds, fish, lizards, cats?) when we can’t find decent generalist doctors for people who are much good, and we’re only one species. How much would a vet in Brighton really know about Gangrene in Galahs or Guatemalan Geckos? So you’re giving advice on something you know nothing about, much of the time. Sounds like a lawyer telling you about advertising.

Zoo keeper

See vet, assume almost no income. Dress up in a natty Steve outfit and perform like a trained seal for the public most days of the week. Glamour? I’d like to be the keeper of the eagles, or the panthers, for a week-end.

Marketers

What is good about being a marketer, you already know. The variety, the power, the pay, the intellectual interest, the moving sea of challenge living inside a competitive chess–game. But we have an image problem. We are not treated with the same respect as many of the above professions. Doctors, lawyers, pilots, engineers (the list goes on and on) all rank above us in public opinion, public respect. And we spend our waking hours in charge of public opinion. It’s beyond a joke.

Our profession must start to stake its claim as a complex balance of science, art, competition and calibre. I’m sick to death of being in the one profession that has absolutely no respect for itself. We have no visible promotional efforts made by our leadership. There are no CPA, AMA, ADA, Master Builders promotional campaigns going on for us. No TV ads. No public relations effort. No real public pride-building done for we humble Marketers. I beg you AMI, ASMI, AMSRS, DMA, fix it. One of you, please fix it. Or get together like grown-ups and do it jointly, but fix it.

Make us not just personally proud of what we do (many of us can only brag to head hunters and pissed colleagues) but please make us acknowledged for what we do, by our public. I’d be more than happy to contribute to the campaign.

Even the Free to Air TV stations run their own promotions. Why can’t we? Couldn’t we lean on the media? Surely they owe us something, we’re the bloody decision-makers, aren’t we?


Article originally published with Marketing Magazine. Updated August 2019.

Business Marketing Online

August 10, 2019

In this day and age, if you have zero online presence, you’d probably be suspected of being Too Hipster to Care, a Dinosaur, or of laundering money for some local mafia. Even a token webpage would do, one of those annoying one-pagers which contain a phone number and a picture and little else. That’s the bare minimum to at least appear credible, unless you really are going for the Too Hipster to Care angle. Websites aren’t hard to build, and they don’t have to be a trial to upkeep — if you want to know more, just get in touch and we can give you a rough idea of what goes into it and how much it’ll cost.

If you already have a website, congratulations. That’s just the first step. Was the website created in the days of Geocities? Is your hosting in a labyrinthine mess where you’re not entirely sure who you’re now paying for hosting and why? Do you even have access to your site? All these are common issues that our clients face before they even get around to whether their site is now mobile-friendly or security compliant. Moving past that, we get on to whether your site even looks like a modern website, or whether it’s a morass of copy put in place by a developer rather than a designer.

A website doesn’t have to be token in this day and age. For many businesses, it’s a vital part of their overarching brand strategy. And yes, it should work on mobile AND on desktop.

Business Marketing on Social Media

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recently released a long report about digital platforms, where they discussed 23 recommendations around their concerns about the dominance of Facebook and Google:

The ACCC says it sees no sign that Australians will slow down their use and engagement with these digital platforms. Though the ACCC says it has no concerns with growth and profitability, it does compel policymakers to consider the “extent to which important decisions about the dissemination of information, the collection of personal data and business’ interaction with consumers online, should be left to the discretion of certain large digital platforms, given their substantial market power, pervasiveness and inherent profit motive.”

[…]

“Discrimination may occur in multiple ways where a digital platform is active in related markets,” reads the report. The ACCC has also expressed concern over Google and Facebook’s near duopoly on the online advertising supply chain. “While the existing tools and goals of competition law and consumer law frameworks remain applicable to digital markets, the opacity and complexity of these markets make it difficult to detect issues and can limit the effectiveness of the broad principles.”

It definitely doesn’t look like Australians will stop using Facebook and Google anytime soon. That’s why — depending on the client — we often recommend that clients centralise Facebook ads and Google Adwords in their digital marketing strategy. It isn’t just a matter of slapping an ad together and shoving it onto the platform in question, though. It should be integrated into your general strategy as a whole. Naturally, we’re going to recommend that you leave it to the pros. But if you’re just trying things out, here are some quick tips:

  1. Be respectful. It’s no longer true that any attention is good attention. Negative attention on social media — especially if it goes viral — can be completely damaging to your business and to your staff.
  2. Have definite goals in mind. Do you want to drive traffic to your site? Raise the profile of a particular product?
  3. Make sure the goals are attainable. Don’t waste money on moonshots unless you have money to spare.
  4. Make sure the process you’re using is measurable.
  5. Know your audience — the wording you use and the platforms you use need to match them.
  6. Check out your competition and see what they’re up to.

Testing, testing

Don’t be afraid to test new strategies and campaigns on small samples of your audience to see how they’re received. In a safe, controlled environment, we’d usually work this out on focus groups, but if you don’t want to use them, you can segment your audience into groups to try things out. Testing is a key part of any winning strategy. You need to figure out what works and what doesn’t and learn lessons from both. As to the amount of resources you’re willing to devote to testing vs a workable strategy, that’s up to you.

Marketing Tactics for Business

You might have heard of the so-called 7 Ps of Marketing: Price, Promotion, Place, People, Process, and Physical Evidence. Basically, you have to be clear on where you stand on each point. What are you selling and are you selling anything more or new? How are you putting your product out there on the market? Where can your products be seen or bought? What sort of people make up your business? Do you have processes in place that ensure good customer service and delivery? Finally, what are the physical touchpoints that your customers encounter when they see your products, such as branding or packaging?

Having to nail all of those can be a hard ask, which is why people tend to get professional help. That being said, by having definite goals and careful testing, you can often figure out key goalposts on all 7 by yourself, which is a good place to move forward from. Many of our clients do come to us with these already in place — either because it’s what they decided or because of particular constraints.

Where it can get granular is usually specific to the type of business you run. Is it a tech startup? Retail? B2B or B2C? All these will have their own realities key to effective marketing. Not to mention that marketing has been increasingly evolving as technology and the world itself evolves.

New Technologies

In 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in his Google I/O keynote that 20 percent of queries on its mobile app and on Android devices are voice searches. We presume that number’s only gotten higher by now. What does this mean for businesses? We can see two things right off — that any search terms you now buy in Adwords for your business should probably be more conversational than technical, and the names of your products should be easy to pronounce. If you speak the name of your product into Google and it comes up with something completely different, you might be in trouble. These statistics, after all, are just confined to Google. If you add in the number of people with other home assistants like Alexa, it’ll be even higher.

There are also existing technologies out there that can streamline marketing for your company, especially on a customer relations front. Chatbots are proliferating everywhere, and although they can’t take the place of a well-trained customer service team, they can alleviate the pressure of having to respond immediately to customers, and can even resolve minor queries. Tech can make your stores easier to navigate, or even fully integrate online and offline seamlessly — what we’d call an omnichannel approach.

Technology does need to be carefully considered before use, so as not to annoy your customers. If properly integrated, it can be a fun part of your customer’s experience — for example, the Singapore Airlines app is a great way to keep track of your travels and check on your tickets. It’s beautifully designed too:

However, not every business requires an app. Given how difficult it is to get people to commit to downloading apps. According to comScore, 51% of phone users sampled in the USA don’t download any new apps every month. This behaviour is likely similar to Australia’s usage. Of the people who do download apps every month, 13% download just one app. Most of the people who download apps are millennials (18-34 years old). Before you commit to the high cost of app development, keep all this in mind.

Need more information? Get in touch.

Influencers: Nothing is Real on the Internet

August 3, 2019

In 2019, as the Disney industrial machine regurgitates a spitfire volley of dead horses in the form of Toy Story 4, a “live” action Lion King movie, yet another Avengers film, yet another Spiderman film, and whatever else they’re planning on inflicting on us once they open Netflix: Disney Edition™ in November, you’d think that the general public is so glutted of glossy CG and airbrushed foreheads that a little unreality on Instagram would pass without comment. In the light of a certain recent Vanity Fair article about surfer mum influencers in Byron Bay though, we feel compelled to say a few things about influencers and influencer culture.

Full disclaimer: Starship use influencers in our work for clients, either directly or through specialist agencies. As a whole, they’re highly committed, on-the-ball small business owners who often have an extremely quick turn-around on briefs. Understand things a little bit more now? Yes, influencers are merely a new(ish) possible extension of your media buy. For them, it’s work. Just like the photographers, public relations people, and artists you might use on a campaign. Do you really think Omega watches are the best after watching a James Bond show? Think that driving an Audi will make you more like Iron Man? If so, we have bad news: advertising and marketing campaigns are all about promoting a particular reality on behalf of our clients. In Starship, we’re firm believers in authenticity and encourage clients to stick to valid statements where possible — if only because it builds trust in your brand. However, all the photography and media that form part of the content of a campaign is always put forward in the best possible light. Blemishes disappear. The light looks warmer and richer. Products are always perfectly positioned. We think of it as HyperAdreality.

HyperAdreality and Influencers

Back to the Byron Bay article. We now know that surfer mum influencers are collectively known as ‘murfers’, a term that we wish we could scrub from our minds. Carina Chocano wrote a cutting article about the murfers in Vanity fair, titled “The Coast of Utopia“, containing gems like:

She still considers her feed her “personal thing,” but there’s something about the stream of photos—the uniform palette of beige and white, ochre and dusty rose, the coordinated clothes, the styled life, the sponsored content, the kids like modern-day Von Trapps—that looks like a massive ad campaign. But for what? Children? Good genes? Good taste? Good luck? In the comments, her fans want to know how she keeps the place so spotless with five kids in the house. (And it is spotless.) They want to know what product she uses in her hair. (Aveda is a partner.) They want to know where she got that dress, that paint colour, those shoes, that life. They want to know her secret.

Opinion naturally split a few ways. There were those who loved the takedown. There were the Byron locals who bemoaned the effects Instagram had on their town:

“Too many people come here thinking it’s some kind of Utopia, when in reality it has just as many negative or other issues as any place,” she says. “An egalitarian, inclusive image is given [by Instagramers and marketers] of a place where you can make your creative dreams come true, raise your kids in domestic beachy, linen bliss.”

And the actual reality?

“Yes, it’s gorgeous. But behind the facade, it’s a big old country town, with all the restrictions and issues to go with that. People come to live here with unrealistic expectations — and often land flat when the truth of life hits. Ask any health professional in town and they will tell you stories of the people who arrive with big ideas and end up suffering from depression because the dream has been shattered, or because Byron Bay wasn’t the answer to their problems. It’s undeniable that a Utopian image is continuing to be sold [and] projected.”

There were people concerned about parent influencers oversharing information about their kids. Which, I mean, I get. I’ve opened Facebook before only to be shown naked videos of my friends’ toddlers in the bath. Why??? Why is something like that even online? There are all sorts of terrible people on the internet. That being said, there were also articles that came out in the murfers’ defence, including a response on SMH:

I know I use Instagram as a place to post pictures I find pretty and share moments that I think my handful of followers might enjoy or relate to. It’s not really real though but, who really wants to see our trips to Woolies anyway?

As a photo-sharing platform with built-in filters, it was designed for us to appreciate each other’s pretty pictures, as well as a form of self-expression and entertainment.

An interesting counter-trend involves some younger influencers “going out of their way to make their photos look worse”. Still, I get why the article has touched a nerve. What I don’t understand is the hate.

Regardless of how you feel about the article (which does make some good points about Australian immigration and native title), I’m not sure whether Adamo and her friends really deserve all the anger, privileged as they definitely are. Why bother so getting angry at some mums who like to post touched-up pictures on the internet? For a lot of them, it’s just a business that they can run from home. Yes, HyperAdreality can be bad for some people — particularly people who have lower self-esteem, tend to hold themselves up to unrealistic body expectations and such. I do know people who feel that social media puts them in a negative place, and I know people who’ve begun to tie in likes and such digital affirmation markers into their sense of self-worth. Flaming other people isn’t the answer though, even if social media can be a corrosive space. It’s why I’m not on Facebook any longer, and why my Instagram is highly curated to contain design, animal photography, and food pictures only. I recommend it.

Cultural Differences

That being said, it’s true that there are influencers who misuse the power of their platforms. There was a recent trending hashtag, #couscousforcomment, deriding food influencers who try to blackmail restaurants for free food for “exposure”. This was both depressing (poor restaurants!) and hilarious in a sad way. As creatives, we’re often asked to give free or heavily discounted work for “exposure”, and we like to respond that this sort of argument won’t work in a restaurant. Turns out it does — for some:

In the UK Mick Smith, a chef who runs three successful venues in St Ives, Cornwall including the Porthminster Beach Cafe, told the Guardian that some approaches he gets from influencers can feel like “blackmail”.

“It’s like people try and blackmail us: ‘We want stuff for free or else we’ll write a bad review.’ It’s a big problem.”

Only this week, a customer who wanted a discounted glass of wine but was made to pay full price took her complaint to social media.

“Within 30 minutes there were hundreds of extra comments on the post, many of them negative,” says Smith. “You feel like you have to monitor every social media thing – people want to take you down.”

A sobering read for people like me and the creative director, who often judge a restaurant on its zomato score before deciding whether to visit. This influencer shakedown isn’t confined to the restaurant industry — it’s also a thing for hotels. The White Moose Cafe, a luxury Dublin hotel, banned all social media influencers after Elle Darby, a YouTuber, asked for a free 5-night stay. The hotel refused in a Facebook post that blanked out the YouTuber’s information, but when people figured out who it was and took to her videos with negative comments, Darby uploaded an emotional video where she broke down in tears. The resulting stoush resulted in the hotel’s decision. While the White Moose Cafe matter was perhaps dramatic in particular, enough to make the news, this issue has been troubling the industry recently:

“Everyone with a Facebook these days is an influencer,” she said. “People say, I want to come to the Maldives for 10 days and will do two posts on Instagram to like 2,000 followers. It’s people with 600 Facebook friends saying, ‘Hi, I’m an influencer, I want to stay in your hotel for 7 days,’” she said. Others send vague one-line emails, like “I want to collaborate with you,”with no further explanation. “These people are expecting five to seven nights on average, all-inclusive. Maldives is not a cheap destination.” She said that only about 10 percent of the requests she receives are worth investigating.

Influencers can be good for a hotel — if they’re professional, and managed. Just like any other asset in your team. Some may even provide extra value:

Zach Benson, who owns a network of travel Instagram accounts and who says he has gotten more than 200 nights for free over the past year and a half, touts his background in digital marketing when he approaches hotels. Along with the traditional Instagram posts and Stories, Benson offers to work with a hotel’s digital marketing arm to improve the brand’s in-house social media accounts.

“We really want to help people and make their companies and hotels better,” he said. “We know that just doing a couple Instagram posts for them isn’t really going to help them that much.” During his travels, Benson hosts boot camps for hotel social media teams, where he trains employees on things like Facebook ads and Instagram promotion.

“I just think a lot of the influencers have entitlement mentality,” Benson said. “A lot of them think about giving the bare minimum.”

Bedwani said that it’s critical that hotels set explicit terms in their deals with influencers. “I know a major brand that opened up and flew in a plane full of influencers,” he said. “Three-quarters of them didn’t even post. It was a major fail from their team.”

As we mentioned at the start, we do work with professional influencers, all of whom have produced stellar work for our clients. As with any contractor, employee, or external agency that a brand might use, there are good ones and not so good ones, highly professional ones and ones who might not add as much value as you’d like. Want to know more? Need help managing your next campaign? Get in touch.

Racist Branding and Sushi Pizza

August 1, 2019

When I sat down for lunch in one of Melbourne’s most popular fusion restaurants and saw Engrish in its branding, it felt like a kick in the gut. The most egregious, on the business card: “Sum-Ting-Wong? Let Mr. M know and we fix.”

I live in the land of the tastefully plated smashed avocado. As one of the most hipster cities in the world, Melbourne is politically also the most progressive city in Australia. During the vote for same-sex marriage, inner-city Melbourne electorates came out in force for equality at 83.7% in favour, compared to a 61.6% national average. There’s a good chance that our next mayor is a Green politician. Melbourne has been crowned the “world’s most liveable city” for seven years.

Australia isn’t a post-racial utopia, to say the least. You don’t even need to look beyond the last few months. Coverage of crime in Melbourne has been increasingly racialised, creating a ginned up scare about so-called “African crime gangs” rampaging Mad-Max-style through the city, even though the Victorian police has said that gang violence is not growing. Historically marginalised, Indigenous Australians die younger and at higher rates than non-Indigenous Australians–the life expectancy gap is 10 years. And don’t get me started on Senator Pauline Hanson.

And yet. This restaurant is in Windsor, a very hipster district even for treehugger inner-Melbourne, close to affluent residential zones. Despite its colonial-era name, the food that Windsor is famous for is diverse. There were a few other Asian people in the same restaurant. A Malaysian friend recommended it to me. And as I’ve mentioned, the restaurant itself is wildly popular. The last time I’d tried to get in after watching a film in the heritage cinema down the road, I was told the wait for a table was 2 hours.

Maybe I should’ve known before even sitting down. The restaurant in question, after all, is Mr Miyagi. A fusion restaurant owned by non-Asian Australians, it’s named after one of the most iconic Asian characters in 80s American cinema. The rolling effect of the legacy of the Mr Miyagi character has been variously documented, including within the actor Pat Morita’s own obituary in the New York Times:

“But still, it bother me Miyagi-san so wise, but find it hard use articles, pronouns when talk.”

Generations of Asian schoolkids outside Asia have grown up tormented by that “wax on, wax off” catchphrase. As someone whose grandmothers could not speak English, I hate it when others make fun of the broken accents of people who try. In 2018, in the most progressive city in Australia, why is racist branding not just acceptable but profitable? It isn’t even limited to the card. It’s on the menu too.

Maybe it’s something about Windsor. If you’ve been looking at the news, you might have seen the backlash against Sash. Sash Restaurant is a “sushi pizza” fusion joint in Windsor, again owned by non-Asians. It also has a racialised menu, and while its newly opened joint in Sydney closed, it’s still open for business in Melbourne:

Sash blamed closure on “overpaid” workers, among other things. This elicited the usual Twitter derision.

There’s also this place in Abbotsford:

Hilarious.

Racist Branding and the Wrong Sort of Cultural Tenancy

Thanks to glowing reviews on Eater, I recently got hooked on David Chang’s Ugly Delicious on Netflix. I binge-watched it. I even got my senior citizen parents to watch it. Though I don’t fully agree with some of the points raised in the show, I love it.

During the “Fried Rice” episode in the show, David mentions that Chinese people are the most food-obsessed people on the planet. It’s true. I’m Singaporean and ethnically Chinese. Despite being from a tiny country, I’m used to encountering Singaporeans in random restaurants around the world. I think Asian people, in general, are food-obsessed. Look at the recent #rendanggate stoush that consumed four different countries and several politicians. In some Asian countries, some recipes and chefs are considered national treasures. Once we were colonised for our strategic locations and/or our resources. Perhaps it’s inevitable that our flavours are now the most appropriated on the planet.

Take Masterchef again, for example. #Rendanggate aside, I do like watching the Masterchef format. In Australia, it’s feel-good popcorn TV fun. Yet as Asian food, in general, becomes more trendy, with each new season of Masterchef Australia I think I’ll play a drinking game. Every time a non-Asian person says they know ‘Asian flavours’, are going to use ‘Asian vegetables’, or love ‘Asian [insert noun here]’, drink up. Will the show be pulled off the air before I damage my liver? Stay tuned. At least I’d be able to unironically enjoy the show if I’m not sober. Maybe it’s the masochist in me, but I still religiously tune in every week, watching non-Asian judges smile and praise the Asianness of the contestant’s Asianly flavoured Asianish dishes while I grow ulcers. A previous non-Asian Masterchef Australia contestant, Matt Sinclair, even opened a fusion restaurant in Queensland that supposedly highlights their “spirit and passion for Asian cuisine and culture”, called Sum Yung Guys. I kid you not. At least last year’s winner was a Singaporean-born Indian man, Sashi Cheliah.

Don’t get me wrong. I like fusion food. Thanks to our countries’ often colonial past, some Asian food is fusion. Once, I sat down to lunch with my parents in Yet Con Restaurant on Purvis Street in Singapore. We ordered its famous, fragrant Hainanese Chicken Rice, as well as a side of Cantonese Pork Chop. Crowded knee-to-knee in the tiny shop, my dad laughed as the dish arrived on a plastic plate: pieces of pork breaded and stir-fried with vegetables. “Last time when the British came, they told local cooks, ‘I want to eat pork chop!’ But we Chinese didn’t know what they mean by pork chop. So we took a piece of pork and chopped it up into small pieces and fried it with everything. Hai,” he said, smiling, “we used to cook for [Westerners]. Now they cook for us.” Fusion was wedged into our cultures by the colonisers. Personally, I’m fine eating fusion food cooked by whoever. If it’s delicious, I’d probably be back.

Most of the time.

If fusion is so widespread within Asian culture itself, when isn’t it okay for others to “steal like an artist”, to quote Austin Kleon? In the fried chicken episode of Ugly Delicious, a white American fried chicken restaurant owner is asked about appropriation. He mentions having to be a respectful tenant of the (more marginalised) culture that you’re borrowing from. Is it respectful to have Engrish branding along with a menu loaded with kimchi and edamame, in a restaurant full of non-Asian staff? I don’t think so. There’s even an explicitly “borrowed” item in pride of place on Mr Miyagi’s menu. It’s a David Chang dish: his ramen gnocchi.

Stealing an Asian chef’s dish and featuring it on a menu that laughs at Asian accents? Hilarious.

Your English is Really Good

Fifteen years ago, while playing online MUDs (yes, I’m old), non-Asians would often say, “Oh, you’re from Singapore? Which part of China is that?” Nowadays, you’ve probably been to our beautiful and efficient airport, even if you didn’t step outside to get slapped in the face by the humidity. Singapore has an advanced, universal healthcare system, is highly affluent and developed, multilingual, is surrounded by large and less affluent neighbours, and sadly, has a zero refugee intake. I know what you’re thinking: in a way, we’re like an Asian version of Wakanda. (Not true, by the way.) Despite this, I still get “Your English is Really Good!” from well-meaning people who mean it as a compliment. “Well of course,” I want to say, instead of the fake smile I plaster on, “I grew up in a country with a world-class education system that has an English-based curriculum. I’ve published a novel and over 10 short stories with well-regarded magazines.”

Look, slang aside, Engrish is real, you might say. Some of you Asians don’t speak good English.

Hey man, we don’t laugh at your attempts to speak Japanese via Duolingo and put it into our branding. We endure your often terrible plot device attempts to speak Mandarin and other Chinese dialects in Hollywood films. Trying to learn another language is a good thing. Everyone’s going to be shaky at the start. To laugh at someone who speaks poor English when English isn’t even their first language is mean. Besides, look closer at who you’re laughing at and why. Do you laugh at European tourists struggling with English? Or do you think, in contrast, that French, Italian accents are ‘sexy’? Many Asians treat genuine attempts to learn and speak our languages with patience and delight. It’s a pity the sentiment isn’t always returned. It’s depressing when derision-bloated stereotypes are run for laughs and profit.

Confession: I’m not good at math. Dishonour on my ancestors.

Just Don’t Think About It As “Asian”

Once, when my father visited me in Melbourne, I trolled him by taking him to an “Asian” restaurant. It was Spice Temple in Crown, run by Neil Perry, a “Modern Chinese” restaurant focused on regional Chinese cuisine. Going inside was like descending into a gentrified opium den. It was dimly lit, with Asian-ish furniture, and the serving staff were all white, dressed in cheongsams. I took a sneaky photo at the severe frown on my dad’s face as we sat on plush red velvet and black furniture.

“I thought you said this was a Chinese restaurant,” he said.

“It is. Look at the menu. Sichuan pork rib,” I said, stifling my giggles, trying to sneak another photo of his suffering.

We ordered. The dishes weren’t that bad. In the end, in magnanimous recognition of this, my dad said, “If I don’t think of it as ‘Asian’, it’s all right.” Nowadays, before my family flies down to Melbourne, he’d often tell me to book specific restaurants. I don’t think my dad’s approach is the right one in this case. Sure, a restaurant like Mr Miyagi isn’t aiming to be Asian, but it isn’t aiming to be respectful either. It isn’t something I can easily ignore. Instead, I think of my mom. She likes to tell me, “Don’t get mad, get even!” Each time we speak out, we build a little more social capital. Maybe I can build enough to get a restaurant to change its branding.

Is Racist Branding Funny to You?

In the neighbouring land of many sheep and Lord of the Rings, a Western-owned fusion Asian restaurant in Christchurch called Bamboozle recently came under fire on social media. It had a menu that included, among other things, a dish called “Chirri Garrik An Prawn Dumpring”. New Zealanders declared that they wouldn’t go to a place with racial tropes on the menu. Heartening as that was to see, it looks so far like the restaurant probably isn’t going to change its menu. And unsurprisingly, it’s also had its defenders. A poll on Stuff.co.nz with 34.3k votes was 43% “Yes, it’s racist and insensitive” and 58% “No. Lighten up, it’s funny.”

So funny.

Not having racist branding is actually not hard. Serious talk here. We recommend thinking your project over each time and looking closely at where your humour comes from. Are you deriving “humour” by mocking an entire group of people or their culture? If so, maybe don’t do it. It isn’t called having to be PC, it’s called good business. When you own a business that lives and dies on reviews and word of mouth, do you really want to alienate whole swathes of your customers before you even get started? Think about it. Or maybe just employ an agency that isn’t rooted in the 60s. We can help.

Still, count me surprised if the owners of Mr Miyagi bother to issue an apology on their own steam, let alone change the branding. Other Asians have already tried complaining after a post about the place was spread on an Asian Facebook group. They hear us, but they don’t care, despite getting reviews on Yelp and other sites complaining about the language on their menu. That tonally ugly business card is still handed out at the end of each meal, beautifully typeset. I could have said something to the serving staff at the end of the meal, but it wasn’t their fault. To live as an Asian person in Australia, it’s sometimes easier to fake a smile when someone asks you how the meal was, in front of a tray of racist business cards.

I hope they change. I’d like to go back. The cheesecake was almost perfect.


Image from Sash Japanese, Urbanlist.

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