Friday, July 31, 2009

Why Being Quirky May Be Better

Nobody does it quirkier than Richard Branson!

In the past, one sought to conform as much as possible to the IT crowd.

"Be part of this cool collective!"

"Hop onto our great brandwagon!"

"Join in the revolution! (along with a million others)"

If you were seen to be a geek or a nerd (as opposed to a hunky jock), you were despised and looked down upon. Anybody who is obsessed with something other than his or her own looks were seen to be dowdy outcasts.

In the past, everybody does want to be an investment banker, drive a Porche, have a five-figure paying job, and own a house with a private marina.

The question though is whether such a business strategy will work anymore against such monumental competition in this day and age. Can you possibly outslick, outhip, outcool and outfunk the huge juggernauts? After all, they invest gazillions in hiring the greatest and meanest designers, advertisers, publicists and social media evangelisers on this planet?

Well if you can't, here's what I would advise you to do. Be weird. OK, maybe not weird as in truly lunatic but weird as in quirky, eclectic and just plain unforgettable. In a good way.

Create something that is unique and unexpected. Something that will make people talk about you and share your stories with others. Something that nobody expects from a business like yours.

Being positively quirky (as opposed to just being plain nuts) entails creating an air of intrigue and mystique about one's business. It is the sort of thing which both shocks and awes, leaving one's customers (and competitors) slack jawed and wide-eyed.

It means creating a ritual or a custom (like shaking martinis instead of stirring them) and cult-like practices that only believers can identify with. It means having a male CEO appear in a bridal dress when launching a bridal business (Virgin Brides). It means creating scarcity when demand is great - like cooking every bowl of bak chor mee painstakingly by hand when the queue snakes from here to eternity. It means being so zealous about one's customers that one is willing to accept returned goods without question, and to pay for postage one year after the sale (like how does it).

In an age of ultra-efficiency, ultra-quality, and ultra-cheap (not to mention ultra-connection), excellence is no longer the imperative for success. Exquisiteness and exoticness are the new buzzwords because nobody is going to remember another stick-in-the-mud business that looks exactly the same as its neighbour.

The next time you think about launching a new project, product or business, consider how you can break away from the monotony of the mass market. And when others zig, you should zag.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How To Write Like a King

One of my lifelong dreams is to write and publish a book. As a purveyor of the written word, I relish opportunities to create a polished piece of prose that can influence others or contribute to the body of knowledge in the world.

This penchant for penmanship led me to read Stephen King's excellent non-fiction title On Writing. Partially autobiography and partially self-help book for aspiring authors, the book provided lots of useful insights into how King pursued his craft, as well as tips on how one can become an accomplished writer. While the volume is admittedly more useful for writers of fiction than nonfiction, it still provided revelation on the tricks needed to engage and excite using the written word.

Done in his breezy and highly readable narrative, On Writing (published in 2000) provided a quick tour of King's life and the incidents which made him who he is today. Born to a poor family and raised largely by his mum (his dad ran away when he was two) in Portland, Maine in 1947, King rose over the years to become one of the bestselling authors in the world, with 32 novels, five collections of short stories, one non-fiction book, nine screenplays and several movie acting roles to his name.

Much of the credit goes to his wife Tabitha. A writer herself, she provided a pillar of strength for the writer during his early difficult years washing sheets at the laundry by day and writing by night. The greatest breakthrough came when King wrote Carrie - a story modelled after girls he met in school who were considered social outcasts. The cheque of US$400,000 for that initial story set the tone for a lifetime of writing success as one of the world's most prolific and profitable writer.

The centre section of the book covered the techniques and methods of writing - what King considered his toolbox for writing. Topics like vocabulary, grammar, style, the use of adverbs (King hates them as they tend to distract from the main thrust of the story), paragraphing and dialogue. In his words, "Writing is seduction. Good talk is part of seduction. If not so, why do so many couples who start the evening at dinner wind up in bed?"

In King's world, the first draft of a book should be written with the door closed, and the subsequent drafts with the door open. An author should strive to get the first draft down in an environment that is minimally disruptive - no television, radios, computers, mobiles, and if possible family members. A writer should also think about one's ideal reader, in other words, who you are writing for. King's muse has always been his wife Tabitha, and he writes with her in mind.

Certain parts of the book were a little serendipitous in nature. For example, King suggests that the process of discovering a good story is to dig it up slowly when stumbling upon it like a fossil on the ground. I suppose this would work if you have a naturally curious outlook in life, and are bursting with ideas on how to weave these perspectives into a compelling yarn.

What's the great commandment to becoming a good writer? King exhorts one to read a lot and to write a lot. Doing it from four to six hours a day, every day (except for his birthday, fourth of July and Christmas), King is a voracious reader and writer. To help wannabe fiction writers along, King even shared his own reading list of close to 100 books which he read in the last three to four years.

Other aspects of writing covered by the master author include the role of plots. King doesn't believe in having one most of the time, preferring instead to throw his characters into a scene and "let them work themselves out of it". The use of themes and the role of research - as finishing touches (the icing on the cake) - are similarly discussed. The administrative aspects of writing like finding a publisher and getting an agent are also covered in this slim volume.

Towards the tail end of the book, King touched on a particularly painful (and fateful) time of his life when he was knocked down by a blue van and broke his leg in many places while taking his usual afternoon walk. Describing the scene in fairly acute detail, King shared that it was his writing that got him back to where he was today. The process of rehabilitation reinforced the importance of his wife of 26 years in his writing life.

King ended the volume by providing a real-life example of how he edits his first draft by taking advice from William Strunk Jr - "Omit needless words" - and to use the formula of 2nd Draft = 1st Draft - 10%. Another immortal word of advice was provided by King's mentor Elmore Leonard which is to kill one's literary darlings: "kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings". The example given was quite heartening to folks like me - even the great Stephen King has to edit his stuff!

On Writing is more inspirational than instructional. It serves a better role as a persuasive tool to nudge (or kick) one along to begin putting fingers to keyboard and to create, rather than a reference book on style and penmanship. While some of King's musings appear to work better for naturally gifted writers - not everybody is blessed with his talent in uncovering raw gems of story ideas for instance - the book is still a good read for anybody who loves to read and write.

Like me.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why Alcoholic Ads Are 'Belly' Funny

Click Here For Funny Images at Funny Beer

Being one who don't mind an occasional tipple (or two or three), I have always wondered about why alcohol advertisements - particularly those touting beer - have always set the benchmark in terms of humour and hilarity.

Targeted at largely men, alcohol ads often tackle the lowest denominators of male desire. It is little wonder then that sexy scantily clothed females, outright sillyness and football/soccer/footie (or any combination of the above) are often used as themes. Somehow the idea of having a good time, getting a beer buzz and laughing till you drop seems to flow beautifully together. Oh and of course celebrities like the sensational Jessica Alba and the whimsically whiskered George Lam, amongst others.

Let us look at some examples of funny beer commercials. The first is one of my favourites which is currently running on cinemas and TV screens in Singapore.

Heineken Beer has always been known to create comedic commercials and the one above simply rocks. It has all the elements of a good advertisement - parody, a good twist, contextual relevance, and positive brand positioning. The classy contemporary setting of the advertisement starred by chic good looking urbanites helps to reinforce the brand properties of Heineken which claims to be "The Best Beer in the World" (humility obviously isn't one of them!). Notice that while there appears to a hint of a battle amongst the sexes, it is done in a tasteful and un-demeaning manner.

A similar approach is taken for the next commercial by Budweiser, which takes a snipe at the whole sunbathing experience.

Notice how the protoganist above behaved in a way that is less masculine than one would normally imagine - which is quite similar to the one above. In Budweiser's case, it is slightly more low brow with a stronger tongue-in-cheek component.

The next commercial from Stella Artois has all the flair of a French ad, and is tasteful and witty, and perhaps a little subtle until you get to the punchline. What I like about it is that it conveys the character of Stella Artois as a smooth brew that is debonair yet whimsical.

Funny alcohol commercials can also be found in Asia. An example is the Thai one below which uses a possible scenario in a household when a husband had one too many bottles of whiskey. Personally, I found it a little risque and mildly insensitive if taken in the wrong way, but perhaps there may be some who could identify with that scenario. It is quite obvious that this brand of whiskey isn't targeted at the suits in the executive suite.

Next, we go all the way down under to sunny Australia with an expensive epic-style effort by Carlton Brew (which hails from Victoria where I am currently in). Its an interesting play on various themes like epic fighting movies, grand choral performances and perhaps an alcoholic delusion of grandeur. The ad is starred by actors resembling your average Aussie bloke, complete with their unmistakeable sense of humour and fun.

Let me finally end by going to a slightly older example which is probably on the lips of any student in viral marketing or effective advertising - Anheuser-Busch's Budweister Frogs. The Bud Frogs spawned (pun unintended) so many variants that its accompanying screensaver (that notorious budsaver.exe file!) was even labelled as a virus (which isn't true apparently). Well, here's the 14 year old original commercial for fans of the cold-blooded critters:

There is apparently a whole series of these amazing amphibians and their duel with cunning chameleons here.

What I liked about these classic commercials - which incidentally never aired in Singapore as we were too small a market for Budweiser - are that they did not show a single can of beer throughout the commercial. There isn't any sexy blondes in bikinis or hunky guys kicking an air-filled leather bag around the field. Probably the only thing demeaning about this ad is the way amphibians are given an anthropomorphic twist.

But then again, so was Kermit the Frog.

For more barrels of laughter, do visit this blog which compiles all manner of beery fun.

PS - This post does not promote drinking per se and readers are advised to use their own discretion. Those under 18 years of age should seek parental consent if they feel that viewing these commercials will stoke their desire to drink!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Most Precious Resource in the World

Courtesy of ToniVC

What is the most precious resource in the world?

Is it gold? Well, if you dig hard enough or visit enough pawn shops, you are apt to find some.

Is it money? Well, money can be made with the right innovation, entrepreneurialism and business savviness. If the economy is short of cash, just continue to mint fresh new notes like what the US Treasury is doing.

Is it water? Certainly, the long-term drought in many parts of the world have made water conservation a critical issue. The lack of clean, fresh, and safe water supplies is a major problem in too many regions of the world. However, that can be resolved through science, political will and philanthropy.

Is it oil? Energy resources are certainly vital, and the world is still heavily dependent on fossil fuel to power practically anything and everything on the planet. But I suspect that life will still continue even without our cars, our air-conditioners, our mobile phones and even without this notebook computer that I am typing on.

So what is the answer? Well, the most important, most precious and most irreplaceable resource in the world is time. Or perhaps more accurately, time as measured in your life.

Every second, every minute and every hour that ticks by is gone. No amount of riches in the world can turn back the clock. You can't relive the last 10 years of your life, or change the circumstances which you have settled yourself in. The good, the bad and the ugly.

The inexorable passage of time is something which affects all of us. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor, weak or powerful, beautiful or ugly. It doesn't matter if you are a social activist, a nondescript average Joe, or an intellectual.

Everyone of us have only 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. How we choose to live each minute and each moment of our day will be a decision that is etched forever in eternity, never to be changed. How we make our choices and how we react to situations and circumstances will leave a permanent non-erasable mark on our lives.

What does this mean then for each one of us? How can we make the best use of the rarest resource in the universe?

In my mind, maximising time doesn't mean stretching every day to breaking point with loads of activities, projects and appointments. It doesn't mean trying to juggle all the different balls up in the air while trying to spin plates, cups and saucers on the ends of sticks. It also doesn't mean that we have to be constantly on the move, or constantly meeting people.

What it does mean though is that you have a choice of what you want to do. It is no longer a good idea to simply go with the flow and follow the wishes of the crowd. Convenience, habit and routine are poor excuses for wasting one's life away.

To make the best use of one's time, one should look deep within and ask yourself what are the most important persons or things that matter. It could be spending time talking to an elderly relative whose days are numbered. It could be spending time playing with one's kid, kicking a ball around or building an imaginary castle with a 6 year old. It could be reading a novel which one has put off for the longest time, a literary classic which you know that you should not miss. It could be trying that recipe which you often wondered about, but never had the time to experiment with.

It could also be slowing down one's life and one's career in preference of the things which matter most. And this may mean logging off, unplugging the cable, and escaping from the Internet, email, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, Plurk, Blogs, Forums, Youtube, Flickr and a million other online distractions.

The social media universe is always alive and kicking, 24 by 7, and never sleeping. I seriously don't think that its gazillion online users will miss your absence that much.

At the end of the road as one lies on one's deathbed, what are the things which matter most? I doubt that the size of one's bank account, the number of medals or trophies on one's display cabinet, the seniority of one's titles at work, or the number of friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter will matter that much.

Rather, it is the little acts of love, kindness, care, joy, patience and consideration that will remain deep within our heart of hearts. The interactions with the ones who matter to us. The time spent on seemingly unproductive tasks which touches the heart, emboldens the mind, nourishes the soul, and enlivens the spirit.

Life is short. Seize the day and pursue excellence. Work hard, play hard. However, don't neglect the vital things in life which are precious beyond compare.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Choose Your Own Cartoon Adventure

Hey kids (or parents of kids)!

Ever thought of directing your own cartoon clip but can't draw for nuts?

Ever long for the brand new HP TouchSmart PC but can't afford to purchase one for your home... yet?

Ever felt like changing the ending for your favourite 'Ben 10: Alien Force' or 'Chowder' cartoons?

Well you can accomplish all three and more with the Toon Creator Awards, a collaboration between Cartoon Network and HP. Happening between 13 July and 30 September, children and their families can visit Toon Creator Awards and create their own 25-second ending after viewing a five-second mini-cliffhanger using characters from two well-known cartoons. They are:

Ben 10: Alien Force (available now)


Chowder (to be released in mid-August)

Open to both individuals and schools, this regional competition - its open to contestants in Australia, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand - will involve online voting at the Toon Creator Awards website. Winners from each category will be decided by both the public and professional judges from HP and Cartoon Network.

Those good enough stand to win attractive prizes of a HP TouchSmart PC. You can also qualify for the regional competition to win a HP connected home grand prize.

Even better is that the ultimate regional Toon Creator Awards winner will see their dreams come true. Their winning project will be broadcast on Cartoon Network in November 2009.

Now is that cool or what!

Schools can also benefit from this. The school with the most registered entries will win three HP TouchSmart PCs for their computer lab. Now having used one recently at VivoCity, I know just how easy and fun they are to play with.

With so much in store, what are you waiting for? Go ahead, click on this link and start animating today!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Want a Dream Job? Blog, Tweet or Youtube It!

Here's a riddle.

What job allows you to drink endless quantities of fine wine, live in a Victorian mansion, and do all the blogging, facebooking, twittering, and chatting that you want?

Give up?

Well, the answer is the 'Really Goode Job' provided by the Murphy-Goode Winery in Sonoma County, Calif. And unfortunately, they already have 10 finalists in the running for the six-month stint which pays US$10,000 a month. One of them is Hardy Wallace who runs a wine lovers blog and did this video to secure his job application.

He has also created a Twitter account (with a modest 1,130 followers which I am sure will grow), a Youtube channel, and a Flickr photostream. The only thing he didn't quite do yet is create a Facebook page, but I am sure that would be coming.

Of course, social media pitching for jobs isn't new.

The best known example is that of Tourism Queensland which enjoyed phenomenal success in its global campaign for the "Best Job in the World". It has reaped some remarkable returns in terms of awareness, mindshare and tourism visitorship with an estimated 3 billion people around the world exposed to it. The latest feathers on its cap was winning a few awards in the prestigious Cannes Lions Advertising Awards.

Essentially, one has to submit a Youtube video and prove beyond a shadow of doubt one's suitability for the sweet reward - a six-month stint as the caretaker of sun-kissed Hamilton Island off the Great Barrier Reef which pays a handsome A$150,000. What they didn't mention though is that the entire campaign costs A$1.7 million in total. Still pretty modest considering the mileage that they get.

Here's the ad on Youtube for the coveted career.

Hotly contested with more than 34,000 people from 200 countries applying for the job (and you think your interview is hard!), the dream career allows one to feed the fishes, surf, dive, dine on fine cuisine, bring some visitors around, blog about it, take some photos, shoot a couple of Youtube videos and so on.

The winner, Ben Southall from UK, now runs the Island Caretaker blog, and is probably having a whale of a time even as I blog.

Ben Southall delighted at his win! (courtesy of bestjobben)

Would this be the future of destination (local or international) marketing? It would be interesting to see if other tourism authorities follow suit with a similar "caretaker" type vocation although the lack of novelty for the idea a second time running will mean considerably less international media interest.

I can imagine though that there will certainly be people keen to embrace six-month stints as Culinary Connoiseurs, Streetsmart city guides, or maybe even Animal Tamers (in the real sense!).

What's more significant though is that the days of looking at a paper-based CV and conducting straight interviews for job applications are going to be over soon. Especially in positions which require creativity, innovation and perhaps the need to have a wee bit of fun.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

World's Biggest Rocking Horse and More

Have you ever wondered how the Greeks defeated the Trojans in Homer's epic tale? Or marvelled about the excesses of childhood fantasies?

Well, we had a chance to find out the answers to these questions recently when we visited the Biggest Rocking Horse in the World. Located close to the fertile wine producing Barossa Valleys of South Australia just north of Adelaide City, the wooden (or was it concrete and steel?) wonder was billed as one of the must-sees in the festival state. While the object in mind was certainly mind-blowingly colossal, the record according to the Guinness Book of Records belonged to a much smaller albeit truly rocking variety from Japan. I suppose if one takes out the need for motion, South Australia's colossal artificial equine would win hands-down.

Here's a photo journal of our journey in the South. Enjoy!

The humungous horse came with its own specs sheet, right down to the length, breadth and weight.

This interesting sign points the way to different leading cities around the world and the approximate distances. Now all you have to do is walk in a straight line...

The monumental mare (or stupendous stallion) awaiting our exploration. We decided to split up, with me taking the photos while Tina and Ethan venture into the Homer-inspired contraption.

First stage of ascending the gigantic rocking horse...

...getting higher while standing on its broad back...

...and finally up on top. Wait a minute, is that a junior rocking horse standing beside it? Also, where is Tina and Ethan (not Wally)? Let's get closer...

There they are, on the head of the horsey!

After that climb, I decided to blow up the kid and the wife. Attack of the 50-foot woman anyone?

This little wooden playhouse provided lots of fun for the kids at the Toy Factory.

The attached retail shop was full of wooden treasures, with toys that come in all shapes and sizes.

I don't think these trucks can transform into alien metal robots, but they look sturdy and safe for tough toddlers.

After horsing around at the toy shop, we took a drive to explore Barossa Valley's verdant vineyards.

This was followed by imbibing some fine wines along the way.

Our next stop was a charming steakhouse and cafe which offered afternoon tea.

Over there, we had delicious scones with fresh cream and jam, washed down with cafe lattes and capuccinos.

As the Southern Sun started to set, time was of the essence.

We quickly scrambled to take some photographs at some of the vineyards along the way, like this one here.

Striking a pose with rows of palm trees and grape vines as backdrop.

A smiling face painted on a huge barrel of wine. I bet I would be smiling like this too after drinking that much!

A shot outside the legendary Penfolds vineyard, one of our favourite brands of wine. Unfortunately, its office was already closed and we couldn't sample any. Sniff...

Finally, a long drive in the twillight back to Adelaide City, in preparation for our next trip to Kangaroo Island.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How HP Marries Art with Technology

Through the kind invitation of HP and their PR agency Edelman, I was privileged to attend a special experiential showcase of HP's 'Touch the Future, Now' technologies last Saturday night at VivoCity (11 July 2009). Its great to see technology companies focusing on enlivening the complete user experience beyond just the features and specifications alone, and HP has done a good job doing that.

Part of their "Touch the Future, Now" Campaign, HP partnered with five local illustrators (or artists as I prefer to call them) – Brian Chia, Soh Eeshaun, Ben Qwek, Neo Ann Gee and Michael Ng – to construct and share their visions for the future around music, art, communications, gaming and the cityscape in Singapore. Their works were projected within the visual of an HP TouchSmart PC on the fa├žade of VivoCity as part of a HP ‘Touch the Future, Now’ Light Show Extravaganza.

First, I made a trip to the “Touch the Future, Now” Experiential Zone at VivoCity Central Court B. Featuring HP's TouchSmart Technology, it allowed one to interact more engagingly with the PC beyond just the usual mouse and keyboard interfaces.

Here, you can see some members of the public having an hands-on experience with the various HP PCs and notebooks on display.

This giant screen shows the future of gaming becoming an almost cinematic experience.

Here's a shot of the wannabe race car driver burning virtual rubber on screen.

With a huge 22 inch or 25.5 inch hi-definition touch screen, HP TouchSmart certainly brings the entire computing experience to a different league.

I dabbled with its Webcam software and wrote a wish for myself for the future, which is pretty self explanatory as you can see above.

With so many families and kids around, it was natural that other forms of "3 D" entertainment had to be conceived to keep them happy and engaged. I wished I have brought my son here though...

The next part of the programme required us to move outdoors to view the large-scale multi-media artworks displayed on the facade of VivoCity. Each digital artwork was lovingly rendered and slowly took shape on the wall, courtesy of a large format projection by HP. A total of five futuristic themes (in line with the upcoming National Day celebrations in Singapore) were developed for the artists to stretch their imaginations over the digital canvasses:
1) The Future of Music
2) The Future of Communication
3) The Future of Art
4) The Future Cityscape
5) The Future of Gaming

The first display called "The Future of Music" came from Brian Chia or Brick as he calls himself. Featuring pulsating movements of sound, inspired by the digital displays of musical players online, it utilises multiple elements of patterns, rhythms, shapes and colours to express the experience of music.

Apparently a crowd favourite, "The Future of Communication" by Neo Ann Gee (who incidentally is a fellow schoolmate currently studying at the University of Melbourne's Victoria College for the Arts) was a whimsical light-hearted piece with unique characters that conveyed a comical touch. I thought many of them were inspired by medieval jesters, with their pointy hats and colourful red and white costumes.

Taking on a psychedelic twist which appears to portray a coral reef like environment in an oceanic paradise, Soh Eeshaun's "the Future of Art" called Futura-Psychedelica responded to the concept of 'future', through an experimental and abstract animation, using an explosive array of colours, lines, form and movement. These bright and vivid splashes of colour were guaranteed to send one's eyeballs twitching!

Michael Ng (Mindflyer) did another light-hearted portrayal in the "Future Cityscape" where floating spherical and smiling "cities" in resplendent colour assail one's visual senses. Its certainly not a bleak "Blake Runner" post apocalyptic future, but one which is more cheery and light-hearted without that cyberpunk darkness.


The final piece by Ben Qwek (MR.B) on the "Future of Gaming" seeks to glamourise the whole gaming experience, where it is portrayed as a professional sport complete with celebrities and stars. I can't help thinking of Sheylara (a celebrity blogger and gamer girl) in this piece for obvious reasons.

Finally, here's a short clip for you to relive the experience together with the rest of us who were there. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Of Tribes, Leaders and Heretics

I just completed marketing maven Seth Godin's book on leadership titled "Tribes - We Need You to Lead Us".

As a long-time fan of "Sethology", I have always marvelled at his cutting edge ideas and thought provoking approaches to marketing, lapping up past works like "Purple Cow", "The Big Moo", "The Dip" and "Meatball Sundae". I am also an avid reader of his wonderfully written blog, which is a must-visit site on my list of must-visit sites.

Unlike other more academic authors, Godin embraces a more anecdotal story-telling approach as opposed to prescribing templates for others to follow. Tribes, a light 150-page volume, is written in Godin's simple and engaging narrative style. It offers useful nuggets of advice and inspiring stories aimed to move leaders and potential leaders in any commercial or non-profit field. However, it stops short at offering specific formulae, encouraging readers to search for their own holy grail of leadership success.

According to Godin, leaders should be like heretics who are "engaged, passionate, and more powerful and happier than everyone else." They should aspire to start movements, whose followers can number anywhere from "10 to thousands".

As initiators of tribes, leaders should never be satisfied with the status quo. They can create revolutions as huge as the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square or one as focused as a worldwide collection of tattoo lovers. Tips on doing so include publishing a manifesto, making it easy for your followers to connect with you (using largely social media tools), making it easy for your followers to connect with each other, and tracking your progress.

In Seth's book, the best time to start a movement is now. Risks are also a given in this game. Unlike rule-following, policy prescribing managers, leaders are seen as debonair entrepreneurs, cowboys who are willing to take off from the word "Go" with nary a concern about what others think about them.

Peppered by stories of "deviants" like Jerry Sternin who started a movement to save starving kids in Vietnam, and Nathan Winograd, who prevented the rampant killing of stray dogs and cats, Tribes isn't Leadership 101 in a nutshell. Readers hoping to learn the nuts and bolts of leadership will be sorely disappointed as the book steers clear of the systems, structures and skills needed to helm organisations.

Serving more to provoke than to instruct, the book is heavy on preaching but short on equipping. While it purports that people of any rank or organisation can be a leader, the finer points of leadership skills such as motivating and encouraging one's followers are missing.

Most of the sections also read like disparate blog posts. While they are fairly self-contained individually, they somehow fail to build upon each other to prove a point. I suppose this is intentional on the author's part as it makes it easier for the ideas contained within the book to be further built upon by social media communities and fan groups.

Overall, Tribes is a highly recommended book for anybody who needed that kick in the pants to get them going. If you nurse a burning desire to change the world (or maybe your neighbourhood or workplace), this book is for you. Readers who want a prescriptive "How To Do It" text however are probably better off looking elsewhere.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Irreverence Or Irrelevance?

An extreme example of sex selling in NYC (courtesy of lickyoats)

The unassailable growth of consumer clutter has led to two things for marketers to consider.

The first is the need to conceive increasingly innovative and creative ways to attract attention. Most of which are so "In Your Face" that your senses have to be incredibly inured to ignore them. Witness how the outdoor advertising environment has blossomed significantly in the past few years, as well as the rise of online ads that not only pop up or pop under, but also animate themselves, generate annoying noises, and just plain irritate the hell out of you.

Just so that you know of their existence. Whether you like it or not is another matter altogether.

The second phenomenon? The increasing propensity for marketers to embrace anything that is naughty, saucy, controversial and sensational. Sexual innuendos and double-takes have become so prevalent in advertising that one wonders if its possible to be a moral marketer in this day and age. Just witness the leading topics in this community oriented blog aggregator to see what I mean.

What does this mean for marketers? Should we simply go with the flow and pander to the lowest common denominator?

Here's what I'd do.

1) Be willing to push the envelope as much as possible, but be mindful of the cultural contexts in which you operate in. Humour is a funny thing - go one way and you'd end up pleasing one group but raising the ire of another. Certain jokes may be appreciated by a more liberal crowd but frowned upon in conservative societies. This really depends on who you are reaching out to and what their preferred moral positions are.

2) See if there is a way to approach a taboo topic with sensitivity and ingenuity. I like the way MCYS has done it with the Funerals advertisement by auteur Yasmin Ahmad. The ability to balance between generating attention yet being sensitive to age-old cultural traditions is an art that few could master.

3) Invest in forging strong and enduring relationships with your customers in every which way, paying special attention to their needs and desires. Build a community and let them be your mouthpieces and advocates, rather than attempting to out-sensationalise the next marketer in the street. Over the long-term, such an approach helps to endear your brand more strongly to both current and future customers.

4) Stretch the boundaries of your brand promise and corporate values, but don't overdo them beyond the point of believability. Trying to do a Richard Branson stunt when your CEO is just plain fuddy duddy wouldn't quite cut it (however, even nerdy billionaire Bill Gates can be cool when he tries). However, don't be surprised by how far a seemingly "boring" product can be repositioned. Just look at what the Public Utilities Board (PUB) in Singapore has achieved marketing plain old water from the tap!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Transforming Critical Failure to Box Office Success

Courtesy of wintan29

Like almost everyone else who doesn't don a skirt, I have watched Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen recently. The action was fast, furious and catered specifically for hot-blooded males of any age. After all, gigantic alien robots and Megan Fox is sure to draw the attention of the Y chromosome.

What's interesting though is that a movie which is panned and "demolished" by numerous critics both overseas and at home, has taken the box office by storm. It became the first movie in 2009 to breach the US$300 million mark globally, achieving a massive US$109 million taking in the first weekend alone.

How does a movie which is given an average of one to two out of five stars continue to trump record after record? Is there such a sea change in consumer behaviour such that what the critics have declared no longer matter?

I believe that there are three factors which lead to this phenomenon.

The first is related to the decreasing influence of media professionals in parlaying opinions that matter. Through chats (online and offline), emails, SMSes, blogs, facebook accounts, tweets, plurks and numerous other channels of influence, the man-in-the-street (yes, that's you) can exert more impact over his or her circle of friends and family members than ever before. Word Of Mouth is so prevalent and ubiquitous that its impact can no longer be discounted by any professional marketer.

This doesn't mean that the words of journalists no longer matter. They are still credible sources of information in most cases, and they have access to facts, figures and interviewees that is denied to the average citizen publisher. However, their views in less "life and death" matters like leisure, recreation and entertainment appear to wane compared to the voice of one's own circle of contacts.

The second factor is related to the whole business of creating hype and pre-publicity. Transformers 2 has cleverly leveraged on targeted marketing and advertising campaigns, release of "preview" snippets, insider scoops, and photographs of cast and sets to generate an extraordinary amount of hype and hoopla prior to its opening. It has also built a huge tribe and community of robot fans around the world, who have invested so much time, effort and energy into following the enterprise that they want it to succeed - despite what the experts say.

Its just like planting a flower. After investing so much time and effort in watering the seed, fertilising it, potting and repotting it, I want to believe that the flower which blooms after several months down the road is beautiful despite what a horticulturist may say.

The final factor for Transformers 2's overriding ticket success is probably linked to the business of holistic marketing. Through licensing, publishing, merchandising and a whole gamut of commercialisation tools, the Transformers franchise has managed to gain a tremendous foothold in the world of toy robots. Go to any Toys R Us store and the first thing which strikes you is a huge model of Optimus Prime staring at you in the face. With such a prevalent presence in numerous retail platforms, the movie appears impossible to fail.

Of course, one shouldn't be too hasty in concluding that the same applies for all products and services. In certain industries like the arts, a critics' view may sometimes become a life or death matter for a performance or exhibition. New products and services also depend heavily on the views of experts in determining its initial roll-out success.

However, it does appear that sometimes quantity may matter more than quality. By investing in building a huge legion of fans, one can become fairly impervious to the vagaries of media opinion no matter how devastating they are.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Marketing Nuances (or Its The Little Things...)


Have you wondered what differentiates hits from misses? Or why you prefer to purchase a particular brand of toothpaste over another despite their qualitative attributes (taste, fluoride protection, breath freshening, tartar control) being equal?

The answer - like God - is in the details.

Its the smallest and subtlest touches which separates mediocrity from greatness. The attention to colour, design and packaging. The way in which the salesperson greeted you at the store. The cleanliness of the washrooms. The scent (or smell) of the outlet.

Nuances aren't just found in the physical layout or details though. It can also be found in one's sensitivity to cultural preferences, traditions and morals. Choosing the right ethnicity in the models represented in one's advertisement makes a huge difference. This is why an award-winning campaign in one market could end up becoming a major disaster in yet another.

Paying attention to the littlest things doesn't mean disregarding the broad, sweeping strokes of an awe-inspiring or breakthrough marketing idea. Ingenuity and innovation are still needed to stand out from the crowd.

It does however mean that one pays attention to how one's brand is experienced through every single customer touch point, from perception to consumption and beyond.

The next time you decide to launch a Great Big Idea, do remember that unlike life, marketing does involve sweating the small stuff.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

More Than Meets The Eye?

Spy movies have always held a certain glamour, romance and intrigue, but most appear to paint the protagonists as super slick agents of the state. Witness how this common premise is oft-repeated in the 007 James Bond franchise, as well as movies like the Bourne Ultimatum and Wong Kar-Wai's Lust, Caution. Taking a slightly different tact, Tony Gilroy takes a more light-hearted look in Duplicity, which sets itself in the cut-throat commercial world of New York-based MNCs.

Helmed by A-list Oscar winning Julia Roberts and Academy Awards nominee Clive Owens, Duplicity has more twists, turns and double-crossing action than a pretzel store in New York (which is where it is set). Former CIA agent Claire Stenwick (Roberts) meets ex-MI6 agent Ray Koval (Owen) as corporate spies acting on behalf of two feuding MNCs. The object of their affections (other than each other) is a secret formula which is fiercely guarded by Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and his cronies, much to the chagrin of rival CEO Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti) who appears to be the main perpetuator of this commercial spy-versus-spy tale.

The plot goes like this. Former CIA officers Claire Stenwick (Roberts) and MI6 agent Ray Koval (Owen) have left the world of government intelligence to cash in on the highly profitable cold war raging between two rival multinational corporations. Appearing as undercover agents on both sides of a corporate espionage mission, their mission was to suss out what hyper-secretive Tully is up to. Part of their mission is to secure the secret formula for a product that will bring a fortune to the company that could roll it out to market first.

Opening to positive reviews by most of the major movie critics, Duplicity is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise blockbuster-saturated Summer Season. It takes a light-hearted dig at the normally sombre business of corporate intelligence, and exposes the flaws of the spying profession in a delightfully charming manner.

While the romance between Stenwick and Koval may lead one guessing at times ("So are they truly in love?"), the way in which their brewing relationship intermingles with fresh developments and discoveries by the agency was masterful in execution. At times, Roberts and Owen appear to be sitting on opposite ends of the fence, while at others, both appear to be hopelessly head-over-heals in love with one another. While the way in which they "cooperated" professionally appeared to be well orchestrated, their love scenes were unfortunately less convincing.

Kudos should go to both Giamatti and Wilkinson playing the head honchos in the game of corporate survivor, each trying to outwit, outlast and outplay each other. One could easily detect the sense of greed, ambition and cunning prevalent in both characters, and the ending sequence where smug and "triumphant" Giamatti addresses a capacity corporate crowd is unforgettable - annoyed and irritated moments before appearing on stage but oozing with charm the moment he took the stage.

The way the plot twists and turns also reveals the foibles of humanity - everybody seem to be both a pawn and a player in the complex game of commercial intelligence. Overall, a highly recommended movie and a breath of fresh air for those seeking to tickle both their funny bone and intellectual muscles at the same time.

Special thanks to for inviting me for this movie preview.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Rolling Hills, Chocs, Cheeses and Vineyards


Standing at 727 metres high, Mount Lofty Summit is the highest point of the Mount Lofty Ranges which is 15 km east of the City of Adelaide. It forms part of the ranges called the Adelaide Hills and is adjacent to the Cleland Conservation Park area. Offering breathtaking panoramic views of the city (on a clear day), it contains television transmission towers operated by the Adelaide Television Station, as well as the Mount Lofty Fire Tower. Naturally, its also an excellent place for picnics and just hanging out in the beauty of nature.

The first order of the day is to get our carpark tickets sorted as fines are hefty here!

Ethan learning that a large-sized rodent-like creature here is a Bandicoot and not a rat.

Like any self-respecting attraction, Mount Lofty summit had a decent-sized shop and restaurant.

I like the caption behind this donation box - see if you can read it here.

Mount Lofty is a great place for picnics, and we had our lunch basking in the glorious South Australian Sun.

Here's a shot of the view offered by the summit, fringed by the luxuriant green vegetation encircling the peak.

Naturally, we had to take some "Kodak" moments here.

The fireman's tower at the summit was a favourite place for photography.

Kids like this one here loved to walk around its circumference and strike a pose here.

From Mount Lofty Ranges, we next drove through the yellow brick road region and stopped by the Melba Chocolate Factory.

These giant tubes contained lots of yummilicious gooey chocolatey stuff.

A view of the production shopfloor. Was that a chocolate loving pig at the far end of the table?

Giant white and milk chocolate creatures like dinosaurs, "gingerbread" men and other beasties could be bought.

Some of the chocolates during the Easter period even came with certificates of authenticity.

Cow "dung" (called cow pat here) never looked so sweet. Sometimes good sh*t happens!

From sweet and sticky chocs, we next ventured to savour saltish and sharp tasting cheeses.

Here's a spread of the cheesy dairy delights for our sampling.

I was the first to leapt forward for this rare opportunity...

...followed by Tina. While Ethan did some tentative tasting, he was more interested in...

...the drawing and colouring corner of the shop.

We next hit the road en route to the Barossa Valley, the famous wine-producing region of South Australia.

And took some photographs of the rolling vineyards like these.