Saturday, September 30, 2006

city by the river

One of the things I like about Singapore is its bustling river life. I used to live in Sao Paulo, and while there are many things there that I miss, the Tiete River is definitely not one of them. This is a picture of Clarke Quay, by the Singapore River, a nice place to unwind, to stroll by, or just to have a beer and watch the world go by. There is a curious mix of places that cater to different tastes, from family restaurants, to the hip Ministry of Sound, and even the decadent Crazy Horse.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cool Japan

There's a very entertaining TV show on Japan's NHK called "Cool Japan". Each week the show invites a group of foreign students who give their views on what they find cool in Japan. It's wonderful, because you get to see things from the eyes of foreigners. It's what anthropologists call a look of "strangeness". But don't expect to see any blond Japanese girl from Harajuku. They're interested in more mundane things, from the cute songs played in the train stations, to the zen atmosphere of a Japanese garden, to the samurai-like trousers used by construction workers. Most of these things are taken for granted by the Japanese but since the culture is so distinct, there is an endless list of things that strikes a foreign observer. It's really cool (or "kuru" as they say in Japan).
But what I find most interesting, apart from the "kuru" things themselves, is the "methodology". By bringing foreign students to comment on these aspects of the Japanese culture, the show highlights what we, as marketers and "experts" in consumer behavior, should practice more often: the "strangeness" look. What strikes you as odd that everybody else takes for granted?
Take a look at the show. Most of it is spoken in Japanese, though I think you really don't need to speak the language to understand the situations.


I love Wired's "Artifacts from the future". Every month they come up with a new clever tool. This month's feature is the "Tooth-Phone"; you hear via your bone conduction, and it's decay proof! Brilliant!
Take a closer look:

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


This is Mitsubishi's latest launch. I really don't know what to make of it.
Every time I see a brand named "i-something", the first impression I have is that they're trying too hard to be cool (which obviously has exactly the opposite effect on the brand).
I can perfectly understand if the product is an iPod accessory but it's hard to accept when even massage chairs start to adopt the "i" prefix.
There are quite a number of brands that have adopted the i-something name. These are only a few examples:
iriver (a mp3 player)
iWorld (an iPod accessory store)
iBlueTube (an iPod accessory)
iDesire (a massage chair)
iHub (an online specialist retail)
iMode (a mobile data service)
Oh, I know, it's because they're supposed to be personal. Right, but everything now is personalized (this has been a trend for like, around 5 years now). It's time people find more imaginative ways to name their brands.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Dress like a Mac

I think Apple's "switch" campaign is pretty funny (you should've noticed that I'm a Mac user by now). It's not just funny. I think it does a great job at reinforcing Mac's positioning by making a simple visual comparison between PCs and Macs. Macs are cool; PCs are boring nerds. The art (or science?) of positioning can sometimes turn into a very complex exercise by marketers immersed in stacks of research reports, but ultimately it is very simple, deceptively simple I should say. Compare your brand to something people know (but don't be obvious). Let people fill in the gaps. By opposition they'll create the desired meaning for your brand.
But the real testament of the positioning effort comes when popular culture embraces it. Lifeclever now shows us how to dress like a Mac.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Advertising: Attention or Meaning?

This campaign for Imedeen, a skin care brand, has caused quite a stir recently in Singapore. It shows Zoe Tay, a local celebrity, lying languidly as she says: "My secret to beautiful skin? I swallow".
Most of the comments focused on the appropriateness of the campaign and its sexual innuendos. I won't dwell on that. This whole polemic though reminds me that sometimes advertisers forget that ads are not supposed only to grab attention. Yes, they need to cut through the clutter and they need to be noticed, but they need to create meanings as well, they need to create a set of symbolic qualities that people will associate with the brand, and I think this campaign fails at the latter. I'd be mostly interested to know the impact of this campaign on the brand's sale (stripped off any other promotional activities, of course) as well as the impact on the brand's value.
Rule no. 1: Never compromise "meaning" for "attention".
Rule no. 2: Never compromise "attention" for "meaning".
It's the advertising conundrum.

Anonymous. 2006. What sexual innuendos? I do swallow. The Electric New Paper. 27/08/2006

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Instant Photoshop

HP cameras now have slimming feature. Instant Photoshop for all. See for yourself (via Street Life).
But what does it say about the state of our culture?
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Madrid Fashion Week organizers have banned models that were considered too thin, with a Body Mass Index (BMI) lower than 18, meaning someone 1.75m (5ft 9in) tall must weigh at least 56 kg (8st 11oz). Almost a third of the models lined up for the event have been barred!


Yeoman, Fran,
. Skinniest models are banned from catwalk. The Times, September 09, 2006.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

iTunes 7 bugs

Ok, I raved about the new iTunes 7 but it seems some users are having problems with it, as evidenced by some posts here. I personally haven't encountered any problems, but maybe it's better to wait for Apple to fix these bugs before installing it on your computer. Just being on the safe side, although The New York Times' David Pogue says many of these bugs are of the PBKC type (problem between keyboard and chair)... funny guy this Pogue (I believe you have to be a subscriber to read it though).

Restaurants and branding

While writing the previous post, it occurred to me that restaurants are another category deeply affected by the blogging phenomena. Bloggers can literally (pun intended) make or break the good reputation of a restaurant. Gone are the days when you went to a restaurant and shared that experience only with your companion(s), however good or bad. Now, armed with camera-phones, bloggers can share that experience with the whole world. Bad wine? Blog it. Excellent rib-eye steak? Blog it.
In Singapore, food is a national obsession (if good bread is hard to find, one can’t complain about the variety of restaurants here), and there is a number of good bloggers writing about their gastronomic experiences. Here are some of them, whom I visit frequently to peek at the review of a particular restaurant I’m planning to go: Nibble & Scribble, Chubby Hubby, The Skinny Epicurean, and The Travelling Hungry Boy, and this is just a few of them. The good thing about these blogs is that they don’t write only about the fancy restaurants. They can write about the small eatery just down the corner, as well as about some hidden specialty restaurant you wouldn't find anywhere else.
For restaurant owners long are the days when they could get away with lots of advertising to promote their restaurants. Now patrons are more and more aware of the quality of the experience, even before they enter the restaurant.
PS: the picture is of a delicious chocolate cake I had at Il Lido, in Sentosa Golf Club.

A good place for breakfast and lunch

This is a place I go quite often to have breakfast, lunch or simply to buy some bread. Singapore can be a hard place for bread lovers like me. There are not many good bakeries/boulangeries/bread shops, as I would like to. “simply bread” is an exception. They have a good variety of breads, some of which taste like some of the breads I used to eat in Sao Paulo. My favourites are the Sunflower Wholemeal and the French baguette. The service can be a bit slow during peak hours but the breads are delicious, with a home-made, almost rustic touch.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Electra Bikes

Ok, this is now definitely on my "wish list": Electra Bike. I took up cycling recently and bought a black Trek 3900, made of aluminium. Pretty good bike and I’m having tons of fun with it. But then, I saw this ad in “Bicycling” magazine.
You have to be really bold to ask “Tour de what?” in the “world’s leading bike magazine” as “Bicycling” calls itself. While all other bike brands are trying to make bikes that are lighter and faster, Electra comes up with the concept “slow down and meet more chicks”. The whole concept of the bike takes us to a point in time where life was slower: the retro cruiser design, the flat-foot-technology as the company calls it, the name of the models (this one in particular is the Hellbilly, which I found pretty neat).
The text says: "Don't speed past the girls. Wave a little, and give 'em a big ol' smile...see those guys that are all hunched and sweating, they've got it all unless you ride fast enough to get that yellow jersey - slow down altogether. And give chicks a chance to admire you, and your wicked wheels". Brilliant!
There’s a real lesson of differentiating yourself here. Can somebody please bring these bikes to Singapore?

Steve Jobs' transformation

Just continuing with the topic of changes/transformations. I saw the historic video of Steve Jobs at the launch of the Macintosh, in 1983,...

...and then saw his now famous Stanford commencement speech video in 2005 (wonderful thing this YouTube).

It’s amazing how time can turn a cocky, brash, young entrepreneur (sporting a very uncool bow tie nonetheless) into a sage (that’s what Jobs looks like now). For me, at least, he seems to be a much better person. Jobs, like Agassi, was insanely (to use one of his favourite words) successful when young, then got kicked out from the company he helped found. He was lucky enough to return to Apple as an iCEO (interim-CEO, title he held for some time before dropping the “interim” for good), in what must be one of the sweetest redemption stories in corporate history.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Apple has done it again! part 2

While I was giving my initial impressions on iTunes 7 (see previous post), Dan Hill of cityofsound had already posted a much more elaborate post about the subject. I've been recently "converted" to his blog (via Russell Davies), and he is excellent, with a profound knowledge of the subject and always with insightful comments. Make sure you read his "New Musical Experiences" post. It's a brilliant piece about the new ways we're consuming music, and all the broader context surround it. I couldn't agree more with his comments about "contextual information". In "brand-speak", we could translate that as clues that help people to create/recover meanings, making listening to music a much richer, meaningful experience.
PS: Don't forget to read his top 10 posts.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Apple has done it again!

Apple launched a bunch of new things yesterday. New iPods, movies download, a new set top box that will wirelessly transmit your dowloaded movies to your TV set. But the thing that I found the coolest was the new iTunes 7. There's nothing new really, and ultimately it's just another gimmick but it's fantastic. Now there's one feature called "Cover Flow" that lets you browse through your CD collection just as you would with actual CDs. If you happen to have an iTunes account the album covers will be automatically downloaded to your computer. In case you don't have an iTunes account, which is my case (Singapore still doesn't have an iTunes store), you can do it manually. It will take some time, a couple of hours maybe, depending on your collection size, and you'll be able to flip through the images, just as you would when looking for a CD in your physical collection.
What it does is change the way you "consume" your song (at least when you're listening to music on your computer). Before you would just look through you song list, only words and names. Now you have the images. And oh boy, it makes a whole lot of difference. For me, it brought a new layer of memories, places I went to, things I did when I bought a particular CD, and just plain little things that easily took me away from my work. Distracted as I'm, I spent countless hours, way too many, updating my cover images. You can find the images either in, or in my case,, for the Brazilian CDs, and for my Japanese CDs. Google also has an excellent music search that lets you view all the CD covers and the song lists for an artist. Then it's only a "drag and drop" process. Easy.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Agassi in Adidas

So Andre Agassi has retired. Many people have written about his career, his achievements, but one aspect in particular has called my attention. It’s the story of his transformation, from the young punk, a "rock and roll” tennis player to the bald statesman of the sport. Gary Smith, of Sports Illustrated, wrote a wonderful piece about it.
I love these stories of redemption, of people growing up, facing difficulties, but coming out better persons, with a broader perspective and reach.
Some examples come to mind. Tom Hanks, from teen comedy actor in “Big” to award-winning actor in “Philadelphia”, George Foreman from the fierce-looking boxer who lost to Muhammad Ali to the big-hearted, grill-selling grandaddy, "The Beatles" of “She Loves You” to "The Beatles" of “In My Life”.
For marketers and branding practitioners, Agassi’s transformation is even more interesting given the fact that he changed from Nike to Adidas late in his career, the change in sponsor seeming to highlight the person’s transformation. It’s as if the Nike brand (and the whole set of meanings conveyed by it) couldn’t fit with this new Agassi anymore.

Obviously there must’ve been very strong financial reasons behind this decision, not to say the family arguments over which brand his kids would use (the latter was his ultimate excuse to switch to Adidas given his wife’s long association with the German brand).
For me though, it still feels weird to see him wearing Adidas. Just a thought.