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Archive for December, 2005

December 28th, 2005 • Posted in Uncategorized

Meme of four

Concept from Our Girl in Chicago and Terry Teachout, via Alex Ross, music critic for the New Yorker:

Four jobs you’ve had in your life: stock boy in the toy department at Sears, city labourer, vice president business development, writer/broadcaster
Four recent movies you could watch over and over: American Beauty, Y Tu Mama Tambien, The Hours, Gladiator
Four places you’ve lived: Channel Islands, Croydon England, Saskatoon, Sask., Ottawa ON.
Four TV shows you love to watch: Cracker, The Sopranos, Charlie Rose, NFL Football.
Four places you’ve been on vacation: Negev Desert, Prague, Drakensberg Mountains, St. Petersburg

Four websites you visit daily
: ebay books, New York Times, addall books, British Council arts
Four of your favorite foods: Strawberries and Vanilla Ice cream, grapefruit, tapioca pudding, rib eye steak (medium rare)
Four places you’d rather be: Capetown, interviewing J.M. Coetzee, Le Sport St. Lucia, kissing Julianne Moore.

December 27th, 2005 • Posted in On Collecting

Nudes on Dust Jackets

Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin Books, once explained that if you wanted big sales, you needed “bosoms and bottoms” on the book covers.

Just picked up a First of Evelyn Lau’s Fresh Girls and other Stories…with pubic hair on the jacket…design that is :)

December 21st, 2005 • Posted in Uncategorized

ADVERTISERS SHOULD ACCEPT MORE RESPONSIBILITY

By Nigel Beale

If we accept the assumption made in an earlier column that ad agencies are as clued out as the rest of us about the direct impact of advertising on sales revenues, the question arises: How can they speak authoritatively about where or how many ad dollars should or should not be spent to sell a product?

Sure, the relative strengths, weaknesses and costs of each type of media are well known, and CPMs and GRPs do serve as useful comparative guidelines, but are these the only criteria used?

On the surface, the answer is yes. Media plans have to make sense. They have to cover off all the right target audiences and they have to meet with client approval. But when agencies are charged with both media buying and creative production, they are put in an awkward position.

Suppose an agency makes x number of dollars placing an ad, and five times x dollars producing it. If the firm is at all interested in maximizing revenues, it will recommend and emphasize media placements which generate the most production work. Reams of print ads can, for example, be designed and placed for the same money it takes to produce one television commercial. Could this be one reason why TV as an ad generating medium wipes the floor with all others?

In other words, legitimate money making objectives may well bias the media selection process. As a result, self respecting, revenue driven agencies, playing the role of ad dollar gatekeepers, often tend to make life difficult for those not selling the medium (usually television) of choice. Hence the experience, familiar to many a magazine publisher, of having to elicit enthusiasm from apathetic, arrogant, often junior placement personnel whose most frequent refrain is that they have just met with six hundred magazine reps during the past eight hours, all selling exactly the same product that you are.

Thankfully scenarios like this one are becoming less and less commonplace. Savvy clients are no longer turning over the keys to their cars and meeting agencies at the finish line. They are hiring small firms with specific expertise (design, copy writing, etc.), and are themselves paying much more attention to media and other potential partners.

One such client is Ken Lambert. Following this path he has, over the past several years, enjoyed considerable success. Former marketing honcho with Canadian Airlines, more recently president of the Ottawa Tourism Authority and most recently head of Hong Kong tourism for North America, Lambert was a pioneer in the kind of partnership marketing that is now common place.

Here`s how he put it during a recent conversation, “Partnerships are the future, not media buys. And in partnerships, we (meaning the client), have got a lot more leverage to get media. For instance, media for me might mean getting my brochures in Eatons stores across Canada. Well I, the client, have a lot more influence sitting at the table than the agency. The days where agencies take all the requests, filter them through a budget, and say okay here`s the media plan we`re going to follow, I think are gone, or at least going. Traditional, conventional advertisers may still do this, but not people who are on the cutting edge.�

****************

Several months ago, in these pages, commentator George Walton took a very entertaining and I think quite appropriate swing at the practice of focus group testing. Globe and Mail editor William Thorsell recently followed suit by comparing the 1996 Grammy Award performance of Alanis Morissette with that of the “grotesquely overwrought ensemble� of Mariah Carey and Boyz ll Men.

“Carey/Boyz was like riding in a 1959 Cadillac with softened springs, sloshing down the freeway with the windows up,â€? he wrote. “ It’s music by marketing, and profitable to be sure, but it doesn’t matter a whit or endure except as sentimentalism – not like Morissette`s Jagged Little Pill.â€?

“Ms. Morissette said what everybody with any creativity says when they get an award: Thanks to so-and-so for taking a risk. This, of course, is the real secret of successful marketing – embracing risks based on the creativity of special persons. Goethe said “the condition of freedom is risk,â€? just as any shrewd capitalist knows that risk is related to reward. “Passive marketingâ€? — taking orders from consumers through multiple questions research — can carry you along for a while, but without creative risk it will serve only to enlist your customers in your own demise.â€?

***

Despite the shellacking Thorsell sometimes takes for his prose, nuggets like these, I think, make the sifting worthwhile.

This article was first published in Strategy Magazine in 1996

December 21st, 2005 • Posted in Uncategorized

Ad Agencies Rarely know what they Produce

By Nigel Beale

A rarity the other day…I read something of interest in Marketing magazine. Written by Michael Pearce, a business prof at Western University, the article was excerpted from Canadian Advertising Success Stories -Cassies 11. eviewed a selection of ads touted by the industry as being particularly “successful”.

The Dean’s conclusion: today’s agencies are as clued out as ever about the impact of advertising on the bottom line, and this better improve.

Such an exortation recalls a passage in Michael Schudson’s Advertising: the Uneasy Persuasion, which suggests that agencies rarely know what they produce. They do, thanks to accepted (but flawed) practice, know which of their ads are memorable, and whether or not their clients are pleased; but the likelihood that they or their clients will know much about how their ads have affected sales or profits is pretty slim.

To quote a widely attributed line on the subject: “I know that at least half of my advertising budget is being wasted. I just don’t know which half.”

Despite the millions that have been spent trying to establish scientific truths about advertising and consumer behavior, the practice remains shrouded in uncertainty. Which makes working in the field so great. If sales go up, the agency takes a bow. If they don’t, the economy, socio-cultural shifts, demographics, politics, the Pope, the product, the weather…all can be used to explain failure.

Creatives in agencies frequently dismiss research as “obvious”. Focus groups serve in the main as comfort blankets to reinforce and justify decisions that have already been taken. No compelling psychological theories exist. There are no fool proof cause-and- effect formulas. Experts will always bicker about the relative effectiveness of different types of media, the importance of saturation and the requirements of frequency. Despite all the smoke and mirror work behind CPMs and GRPs, 1-800 responses and clipped coupons, there are no reliable test tubes here.

Hunches, epiphanies, blinding intuition, transcendent common sense, familiarity with human nature, and a bit of witchcraft (in short: creativity, compatibility and intelligence, is what sets agencies apart. And despite all the analysis, and the Dean’s wishes, this will remain the case for as long as society is not static and consumers are at liberty to exercise their own free will.

December 21st, 2005 • Posted in Authors and Books

Book Review: How To Watch TV News by Neil Postman

By Nigel Beale

Television news is a cash cow. Business considerations often dictate story selection. The format and content of news shows are designed with the primary intention of keeping viewers tuned during commercial breaks…No revelations here. Stuff that most in the media biz are aware of. Rick Salutin knows. He writes a column on "media culture" each week in the Globe and Mail. It’s often fresh, provocative, at odds with the paper’s editorial position. Occasionally, however, he loses it. As in a recent piece on TV, ethics and Sheila Copps. His point, if I understand it, was that by overdosing on the private aspects of politicians’ behaviour, "Did she lie?", "Should she quit?", the media does us a disservice. The focus is on niggling personal dilemmas when it should be on the larger social implications of public policy. He notes, for example, that by failing to ask large context questions about its own highly concentrated ownership, the media and poisons the moral health of our polity. Call me a cynic, but I think it, at best, pleasantly naive to get exercised about the failure of commercial television to ask serious questions and provide serious answers.

Neil Postman, the best writer on this topic, does as good a job pillorying TV news as anyone. Based on, and perhaps motivated by the fact that more Americans than ever now rely exclusively upon television for all of their news, his recent book "How To Watch TV News," cleverly dissects the news making process, giving insights into the operations of America’s (and Canada’s) network news rooms. The nature of news itself, the roles of people who produce the news, and the language, pictures and commercials that are used during the news, are all examined. Much of the book turns on the irony that despite having greater access to information than ever before, American’s are now among the least knowledgeable people in the industrialized world. Television, because of time constraints dictated by the profit motive, rarely explains issues in depth or puts them into context TV news is little more than a form of entertainment designed to deliver audiences to advertisers.

TV news programs have exactly the same objectives as sitcoms, cop shows and hockey games — plus they’re usually cheaper to produce. They’ve got glitzy graphics, dramatic music, cool, credible, in- control leading men and women, and lots o’ action, blood and guts. In fact, you usually get better violence on the news than anywhere else. If you believe Marshall McLuhan, this is because bad news is an excellent foil for good news (read advertising).That’s why Peter Kent barges into your living room between commercials to lighten your day with word that 11 year-old boys have been charged with rape, and 17 year old girls have been stabbed to death. Pictures at eleven. Anchor men are brands competing for the title of "most trusted" in the marketplace. Announcers are celebrities. Serious discussion is nowhere. Commercial television addressing important socio-political issues is, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, like a dog trying to walk upright – amusing and short-lived. As long as everyone understands this, nobody gets hurt. The scary thing is that many consumers don’t see the news beast for what it is: just another platform for advertisers.

This said, accusing commercial TV news programming of being shallow, while appropriate, is not particularly fair. Its main objective is not to inform, but to generate revenue. No less than Walter Cronkite has said that television cannot be relied upon to inform the citizens of a democratic nation. Unless they read a healthy cross-section of magazines and newspapers, viewers are left incapable of understanding their world. To help viewers develop a sense of what’s important and a knowledge of the context within which news stories occur, How To Watch TV News should be required reading, not only for adults, but for every high school student in the country. As for working within the existing television system: the CBC main network news, while purportedly a private-public hybrid, is virtually identical to commercial alternatives. It should offer something different. It should go completely non-commercial, free itself from the need to appeal to big audiences, dump the glitz, the brand names, and the high priced talent, merge with TVO, go no-name, and start providing intelligent Canadians with something, within the limits of the medium, worth watching. Introducing BBC World to our cable system wouldn’t hurt either. 

Copyright © Nigel Beale.

December 21st, 2005 • Posted in Uncategorized

LYING IN ADVERTISING AND POLITICS

By Nigel Beale

copps

SCENARIO #1
POLITICS:

Sheila Copps during the 1993 federal election campaign:

“I’ve already said personally and very directly that if the GST is not abolished, I’ll resign. I don’t know how clear you can get. I think you’ve got to be accountable for the things that you’re going to do and you have to deliver on it.”

SCENARIO #2
ADVERTISING:

Golden Horseshoe Auto Leasing advertisement:

“If you lease a jalopy from us, we personally and very directly promise that we will pay the GST. If we don’t, you keep the car and we quit the business.”

Some might say that advertising and politics are both forms of lying, or, at any rate, of bamboozling audiences into partisan positions. Advertising certainly exerts great power over the mind. But there are limitations. In some cases its useless and deceives no one.

As Walter Nash in Rhetoric, The Wit of Persuasion points out, “No rhetoric [read advertising] in the world will support or subvert a manifest, absolute, unconditional truth…I cannot rhetorically establish that grass is green, nor may I discolour it with rhetoric. No rhetoric in the world can break a logical chain or fracture a mathematical consequence…Rhetoric only begins to come into its own when the ‘truths’ it invokes are complex and conditional and require interpretation: in short, when there is a case to be made.”

Politics and advertising both dwell in this ‘conditional’ realm, but they’re not identical. Its easier to lie in politics than in advertising, because advertising contends on a daily basis with market discipline. Politics, on the other hand, is controlled merely by the “integrity” of politicians, and the four to five year inconveniences of “democracy.”

Which brings us to scenario #1 and Sheila Copps. Given that the words “abolish” and “resign” enjoy widely accepted definitions, it was reasonable for Canadians to conclude that if the 7 per cent GST were not eliminated, the Honourable Member, as promised, would give up her seat. This promise was, after widespread pressure, reluctantly kept.

Did Copps lie? In the realm of the relative, a case can, and has, be made to say no. “Circumstances have changed…I honestly believed at the time….” “Nonetheless, I will resign.”

The fact that Copps, under duress, took the only decent action possible, merely confirms that the Liberal party as a whole has not lived up to its promise; for, if the “scrap the GST’ pledge has not been broken, why did Copps feel the need to bail in the first place? Because she’s the ingenuous fall gal.

After two years, what recourse did the hapless non-believers amongst us have? Damned little, other than blowing off steam in the media and petitioning the Prime Minister to fire her. Now we can only hope that Hamiltonians aren’t so apathetic and jaded as to re-elect her. As for the GST, it’s alive and well, thriving harmoniously amongst all the other taxes we have to pay.

Under scenario #2, the hapless aren’t so helpless. Say that, based on Golden Horseshoe’s ad, you bite, and lease a vehicle, and your first invoice arrives with the GST on it. You confront Golden. “Oh, we didn’t mean “abolish,” we meant “harmonize”. Sorry for the misunderstanding. It was an honest mistake. If it helps, we should mention that one of the people who leased you the vehicle has been fired (read: transfered). Now, will that be cash or credit card?”

Your options: Withhold payment. Sue the bastards. Hire a kid to picket their premises. Contact your local consumer watchdog. Go to the competition. Tell all friends, neighbours, relatives, colleagues, vagrants, that this Golden Horseshoe means bad luck;
then sit back and watch market discipline work its magic for you.

Canadian politics needs market discipline.

December 21st, 2005 • Posted in Authors and Books

IS ADVERTISING ART?

 

By Nigel Beale guru Oh Grand and Glorious Southern Guru, I am perplexed. What ails thee, my peabrained little grasshopper? My sleep has been short, my walls have been climbed, my hair has been pulled. I must know the difference between advertising and high art. Oh Great Creator, please give me the answer. Stir no longer little vacuous one. Art is in the eye of the beholder, and yes, advertising can be high art. But Holiest of the Holy, whilst I acknowledge there is a role for subjectivity in the appreciation of art, and that art and advertising similarly use form, colour and symbol to convey messages, and that both can be aesthetically pleasing and accessible, and that both share the goal of changing behaviour and attitudes, and that both often highlight the tension between reality and ideals and can shape aesthetic tastes, does not an adequate answer to my question depend upon a precise definition of the term art? Are there not different degrees of creativity and originality? Are there not different types of art? Surely Majestic One, advertising is not "high" art, but rather popular, propagandistic art? Not so, little inchworm. Art is a function of apprehension, ergo, there is no difference between "high" and "low" art. But Mighty Aphrodite, do not ads see the world only through a blinkered lens: as products and services, as target markets and audiences? Do they not promote only consumerism and uphold only the status quo? Are not their motives restricted by budgets and deadlines, and by the necessity of pushing product? How can ads experiment with ideas for their own sake when fettered by this capitalist manacle? Do ads not craft specific messages for specific audiences at specific times? Is not their goal to elicit singular responses? Do they not aim to please, to arrest the intelligence and to allay our fears with easy solutions, and are they not primarily concerned with positive reactions? And does not the prerequisite of mass appeal demand mediocrity? Does not art allow for a delight in, and the free play of, ideas for their own sake? Truly outstanding art rarely secures immediate popularity, n'est-ce pas Mon Dieu Seigneur? Does not art frequently encourage many ways of looking at the world? Is it not often purposefully ambiguous and open to conflicting interpretation? Surely, oh Towering One, artists do not worship audiences in the way advertisers do? Do they not intentionally break boundaries, counter the status quo, and question accepted beliefs? Many spend decades deconstructing society, transcending political, economical and religious systems, do they not? You listen not, my pint-sized parvenu. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Hence an advertisement, even if it's only one in a million, can be high art. But Lord of the Rings, is it not the sale that motivates the creation of advertisements. Does this not put advertising solely in the realm of the shallow and material? And thusly, are not ads only original in the context of commerce? And furthermore, did not that great Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye suggest that ads are farcical, ironic, and trivial (and that their prodigious power rests here precisely because we view them as a joke, without analyzing their bountiful effects)? In short, Monsieur Le President, are not advertisements viewed primarily with scorn? And does not true art inspire awe? And does it not create new ways of looking at the world and increase our depth of understanding about the meaning of life? And as such does it not reside squarely in the realm of the deep and spiritual? And does not great art burst forth with such stunning originality that it changes the way we see the world and ourselves? And are great artists, those rare geniuses, not moved by more than the simple desire for coin, and do they not dwell deeply on the profound questions of man's universal condition? And is not the equating of "high" art with advertising symptomatic of decadent, hollow, bankrupt, violent societies, which value material goods and facile solutions above all else? And as such All Knowing One, is this not an equation we should actively oppose? Get not thy knickers in a knot wee Gordian. Your philosophizing incites me to slumber.

December 21st, 2005 • Posted in Uncategorized

Ads in the Classroom

tv

Mention “classroom” and “commercial television” in the same breathe and school teachers within listening distance are likely to come after you with a cane.

Perhaps they are justified in the desire to protect their charges from the influences of commercialism, but my sense is that they, and their supporters in the media, are overreacting. Several years ago, the Ottawa Citizen ran an opinion piece by an exercised educator who objected to efforts made by Youth News Network’s Rod MacDonald to introduce news casts accompanied by advertisements into the classroom.

My response at the time, in the form of a letter to the editor (amazingly it wasn’t published), went something like this:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Of course the news is biased, and commercial television is in the business of delivering audiences to advertisers. Of course YNN’s Rod MacDonald isn’t out to educate school children about television. From what I can tell, he is simply an ambitious entrepreneur pursuing a business opportunity. His agenda seems quite clear.

So why is [Ms. Smith] going on about him potentially having more power to influence our youngsters “than any other single person in our history”? I can only assume it’s because she feels that her students are incapable of protecting themselves against advertisers, and that any material not developed by and filtered through the existing education system is unacceptable for consumption. This is both paternalistic and unrealistic.

It is virtually impossible to remove commercial TV from the lives of our children, and therefore silly to ban commercial television from the classroom based solely on a fear that it might somehow subvert them. How does Ms. Smith propose teaching media literacy anyway? By turning off the television?

In rejecting YNN’s proposal, school boards are missing out on what appears to be a pretty decent opportunity. In exchange for the right to show sponsored news broadcasts in the classroom, schools receive monitors, satellite dishes, and internal networking systems, which give kids hands-on TV production experience,

In addition to these goodies, media literacy teachers receive a daily supply of up-to-the-minute news and hot commercials for dissection. What better way to teach youngsters how to protect themselves against the influences of TV than to hold daily, teacher-led discussions about YNN material. Neil Postman, a highly regarded American media critic, has suggested that this approach be taken with Channel One, YNN’s U.S. counterpart…..Yours sincerely etc., etc.”

While I`d neither met nor talked with Rod MacDonald, I did feel some sympathy for his position, and was irritated by the pompous, elitist manner in which the guy was being demonized.

Move the clock forward two years, and again MacDonald takes a pummelling, this time at the hands of Lesley Krueger, the Globe and Mail education columnist. Krueger as much as calls MacDonald a liar, claiming that he misled her and several education boards about the involvement of Proctor and Gamble as an advertiser in his commercial newscast pilot project, and about the number of commercials that would appear in each 12 minute newscast. Ironically, in response to questions about discrepancies in his stories, MacDonald responds with a media illiterate “no comment.” Krueger highlights this gaff no less than four times in her piece, once in the headline.

Regardless of whether or not MacDonald stretched the truth in pitching his proposal (great…another black eye for advertising), it is clear that established education holds the advertising business in high disdain. Clearly, unfettered, unsupervised commercial television in schools is undesirable. But given the opportunities which exist here for both relevant learning experiences, and access to free equipment, the stance seems somewhat shortsighted and paranoid.

What this whole incident highlights, in my opinion, is that our education system, in order to remain relevant and effective, should not shun commercialism. Rather it should strive to help students to understand and take advantage of it. As such, serious media literacy training should assume much more prominence in school curriculums. I’m with the formidable literary critic Terry Eagleton who calls for a return to the study of “Rhetoric”, the received form of critical analysis from ancient times to the 18th century.

Rhetoric (in its old, positive sense) sought to determine the most effective means of pleading, persuading, inciting and debating, and rhetoricians studied such devices in other people’s language in order to use them more productively in their own. To quote Eagleton, “It saw speaking and writing not merely as textual objects, to be aesthetically contemplated or endlessly deconstructed, but as forms of activity inseparable from the wider social relations between writers and readers, orators and audiences, and as largely unintelligible outside the social purposes and conditions in which they were embedded.”

Educating children to recognize legitimate, reasonable claims made by advertisements helps both the capitalist system and the ad business. Anyone seriously interested in successful mass communication would do well to take up the study of rhetoric.

December 21st, 2005 • Posted in Uncategorized

Shell Oil’s “Truth about Nigeria”: Advertorial Review

by Nigel Beale

shell

"Brilliant," "Intelligent," and "Courageous," were the bloated
superlatives used by Barry Base (Strategy, December 11) to describe
Shell Oil’s recent "truth about Nigeria" advertorial.*

He’s off base. So far off in fact that he’s not even in the
ballpark. Here’s a review of the drivel that inspired Base to reach such
eulogistic heights, and a suggestion on how it might better have
been crafted.

"In the great wave of understandable emotion over the death of Ken
Saro-Wiwa, it’s very easy for the facts to be swamped by anger and
recriminations. But people have the right to the truth.
Unvarnished. Even uncomfortable. But never subjugated to a cause,
however noble or well-meaning. They have a right to clear thinking.
The situation in Nigeria has no easy solutions. Slogans, protests
and boycotts don’t offer answers. There are difficult issues to
consider."

The only clear thinking we get here and elsewhere from Shell is
that the situation in Nigeria is complex, and that trying to do
anything about it is futile. By using the non-words "right and
"truth," Shell also intimates that what its opponents are saying is
false. Base calls this langauge eloquent and direct, and as such
courageous. I call it just too cute, and as such, an insult both to
my intelligence, and to the practice of public relations and
advertising.

According to every report that I have read, Ogani writer and anti-
Shell crusader Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight other human rights
activists, were hauled up in front of a kangaroo court on false
charges, condemned to death and hanged. The Washington Post called
this "the most obscene act yet by a disgusting regime." Saro-Wiwa
was killed, says The Manchester Guardian, because his defiance
posed one of the most serious challenges to Nigeria’s power
structure since the Biafran war.

His…" was an example of effectively organized resistance that
could not be quelled with money or threats…and it touched one of
the army’s rawest nerves – its source of cash. Saro-Wiwa channelled

Ogoni anger at three decades of exploitation of their lands by
Shell with little to show for the billions of dollars made by
polluted fields, gas flares and pipelines scarring villages. The
company was callous in its treatment of the Ogonis despite its
belated efforts to clean up its image."

In one of his last television interviews Saro-Wiwa accuses the oil
companies who prospect for oil in Ogoni (ie. Shell) of encouraging
genocide against the Ogoni people. "I appeal to the international
community who buy oil from Nigeria to come to the aid of the Ogoni
people and stop this genocide…Because if nothing is done today in

10 years time the Ogoni people will be extinct."

This from a man whose protests, according to Shell’s advertorial,
failed because he may not have understood the intransigence of the
authorities, may not have known the risks he was taking, and may
have been more interested in the campaign than the cause.

The suggestion is also made that Shell’s pulling out of Nigeria,
would only hurt the Nigerian people. Given that under the current
authority’s rule, greed and corruption continue unbound, democracy
is laughed at, and, as the Washington Post puts it "[a] nation of
100 million has experienced its worst anguish since the Biafran war
ended a quarter-century ago," it seems to me that the people have
little to lose. The dictators who have been butchering them for so
long are the ones who would be most hurt.

Saving its best for last, Shell’s message concludes with the deeply
profound comment that "The world where companies use their economic
influence to prop up or bring down governments would be a
frightening and bleak one indeed."

What refreshing naivete! I guess Shell is just too innocent to
comprehend that corporations are by their very nature amoral; that
they don’t have consciences, nor should they; and that they are
beautifully predictable because they will do anything and
everything legally permissable (especially influencing governments)
to minimize costs and maximize revenues.

The possibility of losing revenues motivated Shell Oil to hold
forth on Nigeria. Their effort to explain the situation was,in my
view, disastrous. The first mistake was not to have stated publicly
their opposition to Saro-Wiwa’s unjust trial prior to the verdict.
Had they done so, they would have had something to crow about. As
it stood, they had nothing.

In the aftermath of the hangings Shell obviously felt compelled to
say something (nothing would have been better). It should have kept
things short and sweet, along the lines of "Shell Oil abhors the
barbarous manner in which an intelligent and creative human being,
Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight others were executed by the Nigerian
authorities. Period.

No bullshit about truth, facts, clear thinking or frightening
worlds. Just a dignified, concise, well-considered, humane
statement.

In its advertorial Shell implied that its opponents are overly
emotional and accused them of being more concerned with the
campaign than the cause. It should have resisted the temptation,
not least because, as The Economist recently put it " much consumer
activism has been fostered by big business itself." Politically
correct behavior used by some to gain market share has forced most
others to respond and act in kind.

Tomorrow’s successful company, as The Economist continues "…can
no longer afford to be a faceless institution that does nothing
more than sell the right product at the right price. It will have
to present itself as if it were a person – as an intelligent actor
of upright character, that brings moral judgements to bear on its
dealings with its own employees and with the wider world." While
ShelI clearly understands this, its presentation stinks.

Corporations will not, and should not act morally until it is in
their best interests to do so. Consumers must speak in a language
companies understand. I had no intention of boycotting Shell over
Nigeria. Then came the advertorial. Now I’m spending my
$1500-a-year elsewhere. Leslie Nielsen, are you listening?

* Here is the full text of the Shell advertorial:
Clear Thinking in Troubled Times
19/11/1995

ln the great wave of understandable emotion over the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, its very easy for the facts to be swamped by anger and recriminations. But people have the right to the truth. Unvarnished. Even uncomfortable. But never subjugated to a cause, however noble or well-meaning. They have the right to clear thinking.

The situation in Nigeria has no easy solutions. Slogans, protests and boycotts don’t offer answers. There are difficult issues to consider. First, did discreet diplomacy fail? Perhaps we should ask instead why the worldwide protests failed. Our experience suggests that quiet diplomacy offered the very best hope for Ken Saro-Wiwa. Did the protesters understand the risk they were taking? Did the campaign become more important than the cause?

There have also been charges of environmental devastation. But the facts of the situation have often been distorted or ignored. The public – who rightly care deeply about these issues – have too often been manipulated and misled.

There are certainly environmental problems in the area, but as the World Bank Survey has confirmed, in addition to the oil industry, population growth, deforestation, soil erosion and over-farming are also major environmental problems there.

In fact, Shell and its partners are spending US$100 million this year alone on environment-related projects, and US$20 million on roads, health clinics, schools, scholarships, water schemes and agricultural support projects to help the people of the region. And, recognising that solutions need to be based on facts, they are sponsoring a $4.5 million independent environmental survey of the Niger Delta.

But another problem is sabotage. In the Ogoni area – where Shell has not operated since January 1993 – over 60% of oil spills were caused by sabotage, usually linked to claims for compensation. And when contractors have tried to deal with these problems, they have been forcibly denied access.

It has also been suggested that Shell should pull out of Nigeria’s Liquefied Natural Gas project. But if we do so now, the project will collapse. Maybe for ever. So let’s be clear who gets hurt if the project is cancelled.

A cancellation would certainly hurt the thousands of Nigerians who will be working on the project, and the tens of thousands more benefiting in the local economy. The environment, too, would suffer, with the plant expected to cut greatly the need for gas flaring in the oil industry. The plant will take four years to build. Revenues won’t start flowing until early next century. It’s only the people and the Nigerian Government of that time who will pay the price.

And what would happen if Shell pulled out of Nigeria altogether? The oil would certainly continue flowing. The business would continue operating. The vast majority of employees would remain in place. But the sound and ethical business practices synonymous with Shell, the environmental investment, and the tens of millions of dollars spent on community programmes would all be lost. Again, it’s the people of Nigeria that you would hurt.

It’s easy enough to sit in our comfortable homes in the West, calling for sanctions and boycotts against a developing country. But you have to be sure that knee-jerk reactions won’t do more harm than good.

Some campaigning groups say we should intervene in the political process in Nigeria. But even if we could, we must never do so. Politics is the business of governments and politicians. The world where companies use their economic influence to prop up or bring down governments would be a frightening and bleak one indeed.

December 21st, 2005 • Posted in Uncategorized

Quebec Referendum Advertising

By Nigel Beale

oui

Samuel Johnson, the great 18th century English lexicographer, once
commented that “Promise, large promise, is the soul of an
advertisement.”

What we got from the Oui side in the 1995 Quebec referendum was
huge promise; pie-in-the-sky, un-keepable promise. And from the Non
side: don’t worry, be happy…no promises. The 64,000 loonie
question is why.

For answers it’s useful first to turn to a prescient little book
called “The Question of Separatism” written 25 years ago by Jane
Jacobs. “It’s hard even to think about separatist movements or
secessions because the idea is so charged with emotion,” she says
in her first sentence.

Emotion here refers to the profound attachment to community and
nation that most of us hold. Attempting to alter these feelings is
as fruitless, says Jacobs, as trying to argue that people in love
ought not to be in love, or that if they must be, then they should
be cold and hard-headed about choosing their attachment. It doesn’t
work that way, she says. We feel; our feelings are their own
argument.

In other words, in the face of love, advertising is useless.
Perhaps this is why, paradoxically, the federalist Quebeckers
(francophone and anglophone) I have spoken to found Qui side
advertising confused, frivolous and ultimately deceptive. They
aren’t in love with the concept of Quebec as a nation. Hence floral
and harmonic symbols (appearing in place of the “O” in Oui),
conveying emotionally charged “promised land” messages come across
as farcical; and idyllic economic and employment motifs appear
laughable, if not blatantly dishonest.

Superficially at least, the loonie image in the “O”ui
advertisements spoke of security, stability, and continuity . The
flower: of happiness, freedom, love (Freud, who saw a penis in
anything even remotely resembling a free standing object, suggests
that flowers symbolize human genitalia, and that gifts of flowers
represent sexual gestures or advances…but we digress), and
cheerful revolution. The peace sign: of harmony and tranquility,
presumably between Quebec, Canada and aboriginal peoples. And the
arresting men at work image: of new employment (assuredly not all
of the ditch-digging variety) and the building of a positive
future. In total, a land of milk and honey where fear is
non-existent.

This emotional imagery, while providing a fascinating peak at what
separatist strategists must have surmised were the key dreams and
nightmares of their audience, didn’t register with un-besotted
federalists.

On the other hand, the sea of fleurs de lis and “Qui” icons that
waved late on referendum eve after Jacques Parizeau’s ethnic
cleansing speech must have proved deeply moving for many Quebec
nationalist supporters.

This largely “pur laine” segment of Qui voters did not, however,
need convincing. They were already sold. Despite this, separatist
advertisers found it impossible to lay off the powerful emotional
elixir that country building offers. Had they used a more rational
presentation, they might well have won over enough wavering
“ethnic” voters to capture victory.

Instead, relying on extensive polling, they hoped to say something
convincing to everyone. This resulted in large promises that said
nothing to those voters on the margins who might well have been
swayed by more level-headed overtures. Oui supporters were already
pumped with euphoria, and didn’t need persuading. Oui opponents and
the uncommitted were sceptical and wanted sound, logical
reassurance. What they got was creative confusion.

Non advertising also fizzled. It’s images were dead boring, failing
to convey even a hint of emotion. It said nothing positive or
compelling about why Quebec should stay in Canada, no doubt
disappointing many supporters. More importantly, it surely did
little to stir the undecided. In desperation, the Non side did
promise late in the game that ‘things would change’, but there was
obviously no time, and little enthusiasm, for this to be reflected
in any advertising efforts. With Jane Jacobs, the Non side seemed
to concede that trying to alter feelings about nation is a
fruitless exercise.

Celebrity endorsement, the entrance of Lucien Bouchard’s powerful,
charismatic persona, is what turned things around for the Oui side,
not advertising. Advertising in the referendum merely exemplified,
once again, how Canada’s two solitudes fail to communicate
effectively with one another.

***

For what it’s worth, here is the solution to all of Canada’s
political problems: Abolish the damn provinces. It’ll work. I
promise.