Wednesday, 14 December 2011

ANZ STEALS NAB THUNDER;postID=9138180522800368092

The big winner at this years advertising awards shows, in the world of banking at least, was the quirky campaign by Melbourne agency Clemenger BBDO for the National Australia Bank. For those who were perhaps slightly baffled by some of the ads (a guy being assaulted by tennis balls on the tennis court, another guy being locked as a prank in a sauna) the reason the advertising community liked the campaign so much was that the creatives at Clems had finally found a compelling insight with which to crack one of the most vexing advertising briefs of the last two decades: how to distinguish four virtually identical banks from each other. Their solution? The NAB had decided to “break up” with the other three.

Having opened (and closed) accounts with three of the big four over the last twelve months, I can confirm that the preconceptions that they are - save the odd genuinely supportive individual staff member - all exactly the same is true. Or to put it less kindly, they are all as bad as each other. This didn’t come as a surprise to me. Having made ads for several banks, I can confirm that their marketing briefs bear an uncanny similarity to each other.

In all the tens of millions of dollars worth of TV commercials, print ads, junk mail, online ads and radio campaigns that are thrust upon us each year, there is only one strategic message that the banks are attempting to convince you of; getting you to switch from your current bank to theirs. Indeed, the idea of "switching" is one that the Treasurer himself keeps banging on about, as if it were a dire threat, little understanding that switching banks- or churn, as it is called - is the sole goal of all bank advertising.

The reason? Virtually everybody in this country already has a bank account. The majority are neither particularly happy nor unhappy with their choice of bank. Banking is an annoying fact of life. Bank-bashing is fun, but it takes a lot of carrot and stick to actually provoke people to take the plunge and switch. When consumers contemplate doing so, all sorts of complex emotions come into play; anything from a reluctance to change for the sake of it to a subconscious tie to where your parents banked or to the mob who you opened your first account with. Which is why the NAB campaign, with its explicit recognition that switching is akin to breaking up, struck a chord. Cleverly, the campaign not only tapped into that emotional insight, but it allowed the NAB to point out it's perceived differences ("it's not you, it's me”) with the other three, all in the guise of writing a "Dear John" break-up note.

In doing so, the NAB campaign achieved what the Commonwealth have struggled to do with their ponderous and sometimes downright whacky "Determined to be different" campaign. (Unsurprisingly, the Commonwealth - who for some years have oddly had their advertising account with an American, not an Australian, ad agency - are putting their account up to pitch again.)

Differentiation is the only way banks can grow their customer base. Which is why we've seen, over the years, every slogan from "Which bank?" to "Happy banking" attempting to persuade us that, contrary to the evidence of our own eyes, there does exist out there a bank that is significantly different to the others, and therefore worth the agro of switching to.

But if the NAB have won the ad wars, it's the ANZ who have finished the year with an absolute strategic blindsider, pipping the rest of them at the post. The decision by ANZ chief Mike Smith and his right hand man Philip Chronican to set their own interest rates "every second Friday of the month" is one of those game changing ideas that is as breathtaking in it's audacity as it is inspirational. I can guarantee that in the marketing boardrooms of the three other banks their strategists and planners are literally kicking each other - and themselves - under the table. Those that still have a job, that is.

“We are not going to play this game of having an RBA rate move and then people asking 'who is going to move by what amount'," Mr Chronican announced, thereby proving that his bank – unlike all the others – really is determined to be different.

Whether or not the bank is bold enough to genuinely separate itself from the pack in terms of radically altering its interest rates – up or down - remains to be seen. But from a marketing point of view, it is the ideal vehicle with which to demonstrate that this bank practices what it preaches, and is prepared to go it alone. Even a tiny fraction of an interest rate cut will be enough to generate untold free publicity, word of mouth and consumer attention.

Like all great, simple marketing ideas, its genius lies in the fact that it is so bleeding obvious. Why wait for a bunch of fuddy duddy tea-leaf readers at the Reserve Bank to every month make their Delphic pronouncements while you've got your own highly paid entrail-readers who can grab those very same headlines for yourself? From now on, all eyes will be on the monthly ANZ pronouncement, giving them a unique platform of authority from which to spruik their wares.

Expect to see the other three banks forlornly scurrying to catch up.

Come the first "second Friday of the month", the gentle sound of clinking champagne glasses will emanate from ANZ HQ. When you’ve got an idea as good as this one, who needs to waste money on ad campaigns?

Sunday, 11 December 2011

"TRUTH WELL TOLD" (Counterpoint Nov 14)

AN INSPIRED SOLUTION (Spectator leader Dec 9)

Finally, Labor has come up with an inspired solution for all the vexed issues that plague our nation. Gay marriage. The wide-ranging advantages that will stem from this momentous decision should be plain for all to see.

Take climate change. By far the majority of gay couples remain childless – despite the occasional Elton John style arrangement - thereby relieving the planet of the burdensome carbon footprint of all those horrible toddlers, the ghastly SUV’s required to chauffeur them around, and the carbon-emitting farting fast food farm animals needed to feed them. The goddess Gaia will undoubtedly breathe a sigh of relief. Indeed, who’s to say she and her ‘friend’ Mother Nature don’t intend to take advantage themselves of the new platform?

Similarly, gay marriage should put an abrupt halt to the ever-growing influx of asylum-seekers. Forget all the kerfuffle about where to process them. The current flood of boat people will soon dwindle to a harmless trickle. After all, what self-respecting, Sharia-abiding, homo-hating middle eastern father of fifteen is going to pay all that money in search of a better life only to wind up in the land of the Wedded Sodomites?

Inner city development and renewal will also benefit from this far-sighted decision, as married gay couples from the outer suburbs flock to build their future homes in Surry Hills and St Kilda. Expect an investment boom worthy of the 90’s as Paddo terraces lead the real estate recovery.

And let’s not forget – as a global recession looms - the spur this decision will give to such innovative industries as same sex wedding planning, gay honeymoon tourism, double-bridal fashions, groom’s dressmaking and so on, in which Australia can yet again lead the world.

Clearly, those myopic critics who dismissed this decision as an elitist, inner-city irrelevance missed the wider benefits entirely.

LOONEY TUNES IN CANBERRA (Spectator leader Nov 25)

As the parliamentary season draws to a close, the political landscape of Canberra is beginning to resemble more and more a Looney Tunes cartoon.  Every time Wily E. Tony sets one of his fearsome traps, the nimble Julia zooms straight past, and the leader of the Opposition’s elaborate contraption inevitably blows up in his own face.

For months, the Acme Bring Down The Government weapon of mass destruction has laboriously been constructed bit by bit in the scrubby wastelands behind Capitol Hill, ready to annihilate the Gillard government in an awesome puff of smoke. Early preselections put to bed? Check. Carbon tax to be repealed? Check. All systems for an early election ready to go.

The trigger? In Tony’s clever plan, all that was needed was one teensy weeny defection from the motley crew of Roadrunner's cobbled-together coalition and her whole creaky edifice would come crashing down.

Just one defection.

Would it be Andrew Wilkie and his pokie reforms? Or would it be one of the  NSW independents; a couple of Looney Tunes characters in their own right, who would stumble across the floor and set off the tripwire? Maybe it would be one of the whacko Greens, or the bloke in WA whose name nobody can remember? Rubbing his hands together in gleeful anticipation, Tony assured his eager troops that his latest plan could not possibly fail.

Just one defection.

BOOM! When the big bang finally happened, nobody saw it coming. Least of all Tony. As the dust settles, the leader of the Opposition stands dumbfounded with blackened face and singed eyebrows, blinking in confused astonishment. Yet again, her red hair glinting in the sunlight, cunning Julia has outclassed him, whizzing straight past and disappearing in a blur around the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, ready to fight another day. Meep meep!


“Anybody been misbehaving?” Kevin Rudd gleefully asked a gaggle of noisy Queensland schoolchildren the other day. Standing next to him, looking awkward and sheepish, Peter Slipper wisely decided not to raise his hand.

Which is a shame, because when you’ve notched up travel and other expenses that add up to nearly $2 million in the last four years alone, including $280 cab rides, you’ve got plenty you could brag about to impress the other bad boys sniggering away at the back of the class.

The occasion was the recent visit by local member Slipper and “local boy made good” Rudd to inspire the graduating Year 12 students of Kawana Waters State College about their rosy prospects for the future. An excited throng of teenagers, parents and teachers assembled to hear the former and would-be-again Prime Minister in their $3.2 million BER-funded school hall on November 18. Precisely six days later, Slipper would prove he really knew how to misbehave and turn federal politics on its head by betraying his party and these same people – the Sunshine Coast electorate of Fisher - in order to rosy up his own prospects and grab himself a bigger slice of the parliamentary pie.

“Follow your dreams! Follow your dreams!” Rudd proclaimed, attempting Obama-esque repetition in order to outline his stirring vision of individual opportunity and self-belief. Reeling off a list of highly improbable jobs that these high-school kids could aspire to, including running the worlds most successful IT company (a la Steve Jobs) or heading up Formula 1 (a la Bernie Ecclestone), the pragmatic and insightful advice on offer to these young people entering the workforce at the very moment the world teeters on the brink of global recession was that “whatever you want to be, whatever you would like to do, don’t think it is too big or too difficult to follow your dreams.” Reminding us of his own relentless ambitions, the current Foreign Minister also managed to slip being “the Secretary General of the United Nations” into his roll-call of potential career opportunities for Kawana or, er, Eumundi kiddies.

Apart from a nod to his sister who’s a nurse, there was no mention by Rudd of “bringing better conditions to the people.” No mention of life not just being about “putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket.” No mention of “if a depression comes there will be work.” 

The light on the hill, it turns out, is nowadays nothing more than the naked flame of personal ambition. Tailored expressly for the limited attention span of the me-generation, “Follow your dreams!” is Rudd’s and Labor's glowing new mantra.

Sitting, sweaty-palmed in the audience, Peter Slipper hung on his parliamentary colleague’s every word. The theme of individual success is one that has been much on his mind of recent. In September, at another school visit, he informed the kids of Conondale that: “We had someone who went to school here on the Sunshine Coast who became Prime Minister – what a wonderful country this is!” To the giggles and stifled yawns of a restless group of ten year olds he went on to promise them, in words that bear an eerie resemblance to Rudd’s own, that: “You can achieve whatever you want to achieve and what you achieve depends on one person – you.”

Himself a chronic underachiever in all but his expense accounts – in the last six months Slipper has slipped through an average of $1073 a day – Pete has now decided that he, too, deserves the chance to “follow his dream.” Putting nothing but blatant self-interest in front of the interests of his constituents and his party, he has grabbed the job he has long coveted yet has done nothing of obvious merit to deserve. With his promotion to Speaker comes a salary of $245,000 and a guaranteed two more years of gorging himself on the smorgasbord of publicly-funded perks and travel that he has so clearly developed a taste for.

“I support less taxes and less government, along with the principle that there should be reward for initiative, enterprise and hard work,” said the young Peter Slipper MP in his maiden speech in 1985. Worthwhile sentiments, but ones that he has failed to live up to in spectacular fashion.

The list of Slipper’s failings, alleged rorts, fiddles, and inappropriate and boorish behaviour reads like a Jeffrey Archer novel. Apart from the staggering dollar figures ascribed to airfares, taxis and commonwealth cars, office supplies, voguish magazines and so on, which have led to successive police investigations and much disquiet within Queensland LNP circles, there are the “colourful” episodes that he himself was quick to refer to in his speech accepting the Speaker’s job. Thumped in bars, kicked off planes, crashed out at all the wrong times and in all the wrong places, with comical interludes including an unfortunate episode in a disabled toilet, it is unnecessary to dredge up any specific “smears” to make the point. Slipper’s entire career is one long smear.

His most memorable recent speech (and that is being kind) was a re-hash of climate change scepticism clichés spun together with no fresh insights and little passion. Happy to oppose the carbon tax in word, his actions are nothing short of hypocritical. In one grotesquely selfish move, Peter Slipper has guaranteed the implementation of the carbon tax upon his hapless constituents against their express wishes at the ballot box. The very same tax he stood up and opposed in their name.

“The Labor Party will come to rue this day,” said Christopher Pyne. “They will come to rue the precedent that they have created.”

That the Labor Party of Rudd, Gillard and Swan ruthlessly rewards hypocrisy, disloyalty and greed in order to further its own ambitions of power will be the real lesson that the kids of Kawana take with them as they head out into the world.

Friday, 18 November 2011

LAUGHING UNDERWATER (Spectator leader Nov 18)

Perhaps they should include the video for Sexy and I Know it, by LMFAO, in GetUp’s 2050 “carbon tax” time capsule. This current chart-topping hit features a bunch of young men in their undies wiggling their tackle around, and will tell future generations all they need to know about the value of the contemporary popular music scene.

Also waggling their tackle around, metaphorically speaking, are Wayne Swan, John Hewson, Bob Brown and, er, Penny Wong, who have all agreed to “be a part of history” by contributing their very own “letter to future generations” to be sealed in GetUp’s time capsule to prove they “cared enough to speak up in an era when fear and cowardice almost won the day.” You don’t have to hang around to 2050 to imagine the earnest and unctuous words they, and others, will have penned. The air of self-righteous smugness will no doubt be as fresh as a daisy when the capsule is finally popped opened in the Museum of Australian Democracy thirty nine years hence.

Time capsules cut both ways. Although there is a faint possibility the Museum will be under water by then, there is a far greater likelihood that the prophesiers of doom will by 2050 have been shown to have exaggerated the scientific hypothesis of human-induced climate change in order to justify a reckless tax, and that without drastic and economically-suicidal actions by China, the US, India and others, the Gillard government’s carbon tax will be acknowledged as having been deceptive, unnecessarily expensive and utterly futile.

“Well at least we did something,” or “we thought we were doing the right thing” will be the awkward justifications when, and if, anybody ever bothers to open GetUp’s latest gimmick. Hopefully they include the aforementioned hit single. It might, in the end, be less embarrassing than everything else in the capsule.


"I have nothing to say, and I am saying it,” said Julia Gillard this week, as she invited her Labor colleagues to make next month’s conference a “noisy” one. Actually, it was John Cage, the American avant-garde composer who used those precise words, but in may as well have been our Prime Minister.

John Cage’s most noteworthy contribution to contemporary culture was a piece entitled 4’33”. Composed in three parts, it always features numerous diverse instruments, but it is famous because not a note is actually played during the performance. Instead, the audience get to listen to whatever noises (rustling of papers, someone coughing, a mobile phone going off etc) that haphazardly occur over that period of time. One would struggle to think of a more apt metaphor for the “robust debates… full of energy and ideas” that Julia imagines the Labor conference will usher forth.

To put it bluntly, this government and this Prime Minister are not only devoid of original ideas to put to the country, but are only dimly aware of what the real issues confronting us are. When a political party’s one big achievement is to introduce a policy that they had no mandate for, and which by their own admission can be nothing more than a hopelessly tokenistic gesture aimed at getting other nation’s to “join in” combatting a “belief”, then the avant-garde claim that we live in a world of surrealist absurdism starts to come uncomfortably close to being proven true.

Confusing “loving an argument” and “making a noise” with what she doesn’t mention – coming up with fresh and unconventional ideas – the PM poses a series of questions that come with their own in-built set-piece answers. “As Australia becomes one of the richest countries in the world, how can we ensure a fair share for all?” she asks. And “how can we ensure no one is left behind by accident of birth or circumstance? How can we combine prosperity with stewardship of the environment?”

Clearly missing from these carefully scripted, meticulously “spun” questions are the far more fundamental ones. Such as “how do we actually generate the wealth to pay for all the things we want?” And “how do we avoid the debt crises faced by the rest of the West when we keep going further and further into debt ourselves?”

Already, the Gillard/Swan/Rudd team have destroyed the surplus that protected us first time around, have bloated the bureaucracy, have imposed crippling restraints upon productivity, and have committed the country to massively expensive and wasteful projects such as the NBN. Will any brave soul in the conference actually put up their hand and say “how do we increase the size of our nation’s purse?” No, of course not. It is a given in Labor circles that wealth generates itself. It’s the magic Chinese pudding - Norman Lindsey’s Dim Sum - and everybody can gorge themselves on as much of it as they want.

Actually, I’m being extremely unfair. Julia does have an economic plan. It’s called flogging uranium to the Indians. “One of our nearest neighbours is India, long a close partner. The world's biggest democracy. Growing at 8 per cent a year. Yet despite the links of language, heritage and democratic values, in one important regard we treat India differently,” she informed the true believers, neatly popping India into the “good guys” basket, with a bit of “white man’s guilt” thrown in, in order to justify this obviously pragmatic decision. Forget sound economic arguments, such as “we need the dosh.” The reason for selling uranium to the Indians is now, apparently, to prove we’re not racist bastards. Oh, OK. That’s fine, then.

And the other big issue designed to generate heated and passionate debate? Why, (yawn) gay marriage of course! “My position flows from my strong conviction that the institution of marriage has come to have a particular meaning and standing in our culture and nation,” says the unmarried, living “in sin” Julia Gillard. Really? Or might it just be a contrived stance that allows her to look tough on an issue the polls are very clear on as others “make some noise” on the conference floor?

“Labor’s National Conference is our highest decision-making forum and Australia’s largest political gathering. National Conference has always played an important role in defining the future direction of our Party and our nation,” boasts the conference website. 

“A party able to hold robust debates is a party that's full of energy and ideas,” claims Gillard, but the evidence is not there to support such a worthy claim. There will be no debate on the success or failure of Fair Work Australia, the mob who haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory over the Craig Thomson shenanigans and have yet to prove themselves in the Qantas showdown. There will be no debate on the affordability of the ever-expanding health services, or education. Small business won’t get a guernsey. The size of government and the need to reduce it won’t get a look in, either. And then there’s the taboo areas of immigration, reforming aboriginal welfare, building new dams, deterring asylum seekers, energy resourcing and pricing and so on.

None of these issues – all of which require serious, considered debate and analysis - are on Julia’s mind at the moment. But there is one issue that keeps her awake at night. Presumably, this will be the subject of the longed-for noisy, robust and passionate debate.

“The second issue is party reform. I want a Labor Party that is growing - with an extra 8000 members as a first step,” Julia tells us.

Or, as John Cage saw it: “The highest purpose is to have no purpose at all.”

Monday, 7 November 2011


Attempting to jot down Mark Colvin’s interview with Luca Belgiorno-Nettis and Geoff Gallop last week as they launched their newDemocracy Foundation, an ABC transcriber described one of their ideas to improve democracy as “inaudible.”

Just as well. Not only is “demarchy” an ugly sounding word, it’s an ugly sounding principle, best muttered under your breath.

Transfield Joint Managing Director Luca Belgiorno-Nettis and former West Australian Premier Geoff Gallop are two of the newDemocracy Foundation’s guiding lights. Despite a lengthy interview, it requires a trip to their website to wade through the waffle and get a genuine understanding of what they have to offer.

Luca’s mumbled “demarchy” is an untried system of government where a “pool of individuals” chosen randomly from “those who nominate they are interested in a topic” get to run our lives.

This laughable proposal is one of numerous bright ideas put forward as an alternative to the “adversarial” democracy that appears to have got up the collective noses of newDemocracy’s lollybag of ex-politicians, for whom, clearly, the failure of the current political system can best be illustrated by the fact none of them are still in it.

Supporters of newDemocracy (no, it’s not a typo) include Cheryl Kernot, who has flirted with more political positions than she has… no, I won’t go there. Suffice to say the former Leader of the Australian Democrats managed to treat both her constituents and her party with a fairly cavalier attitude, which probably explains why they and she no longer wield any power. Fred Chaney, John Della Bosca, Nick Greiner and the late John Button all lend their names to the foundation, along with a collection of election-wary academics, philosophers and businessmen.

Excitedly, they offer us all sorts of “new” democratic models to choose from, such as Confucian Democracy, where “positions of leadership (are) distributed to the most virtuous and qualified members of the community.” That’s me out, then! Candidates sit an exam where “knowledge of the world, literature, language, arts, ethics and culture” determine who gets the top political jobs. Handy if you happen to be a travel agent or a curator - not so good if you’re a bogan dyslexic.

Then there’s “The Popular Branch” and the “Electronic Town Hall.” Or you might opt for “Deliberative Democracy”, which according to newDemocracy director Lyn Carson is where “150 people… randomly selected” are guided by “a range of experts to ensure that all perspectives on an issue are available” before telling the government what to do.
What all these ideas have in common, apart from their disdain for the adversarial Westminster system, is the desire to see committees – normally chosen by some kind of lottery – reach a “considered, collective judgment.” A consensus that relies on the knowledge and opinion of academics and “interested parties.” 
“Election contests should not be the only way in which representatives, or… issues are determined,” Luca tells us. Whether he got a taste for politics sitting on his famous father’s knee is something Colvin should have, but didn’t, pursue. Franco Belgiorno-Nettis, a blacksmith’s son, born in a poor Italian village, served in Mussolini’s army before being captured by the British, migrating to Oz, and making his fortune as an Industrialist and his name as a passionate patron of the arts. The Biennale, and the corporate giant Transfield, builders of the Sydney Harbor Tunnel, are his laudable legacy. After a bitter family feud, his sons now carry on his good work. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the newDemocracy musings, including Luca’s own, have a slight “corporatist” whiff about them. Before you leap out of your chair in high dudgeon, I don’t mean fascist. Corporatism is basically consensus government between powerful elites; unions, big business, culture and politics. Elections and robust debate don’t really figure.
Gallop seems to approve. Hesitantly, he informed Colvin that he favours “political parties that take up the cause of a different style of democracy which doesn't just rely upon elections.”
Geoff fantasises about a mythical era of bipartisanship, where “both sides of politics were basically onside… there was a cooperative arrangement.” He sees echoes of this glorious consensus style in today’s Independents, praising them for ‘sitting down with the Labor Government and saying 'Look, let's try and work these things through as a group, not just take the one party point of view'.” With Newspoll putting both Windsor and Oakeshott on the nose within their own electorates, this little insight of Geoff’s tells us more than he probably intended.

In essence, newDemocracy seems to be all about the big issues of the day being resolved by vested interests in cahoots with academic consensus, over-riding voter concerns and doing away with political argy bargy. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it basically describes today’s EU; a gigantic, undemocratic conglomerate ruled by elitist consensus, with scant regard for the views of the electorate. (And hasn’t it worked out well?)

Meanwhile, Gallop believes Australian politicians “have become frightened of big decisions, particularly those that relate to the future. I see the whole new democracy, deliberation, engagement movement as a means to better, stronger and more long-term policy making.” What on earth’s he talking about, I wonder?

Aha! Suddenly the smelly elephant sitting quietly in the corner of the room rears up on his hind legs. “For a brief moment in time with Turnbull leading the Liberals it looked as though there might be Labor/Liberal agreement on a long-term strategy to tackle climate change. However… adversarialism has again prevailed,” Gallop complained bitterly last July, proudly donning the Ruddbullist mantle. Sentiments he repeats to Mark Colvin as his goal for newDemocracy: “We got very close to bipartisanship on climate change of course, very close.”

So that’s Geoff’s drum. Fair enough. This is an oldDemocracy, and he’s entitled to bang it. Luca, too. Out of interest, I check up what Transfield, who made a few quid out of the BER, boast as top of the list of their current investments. Turns out it’s solar energy.

New Democracy. Who needs elections?

Friday, 28 October 2011


“Bringing Islam to the masses” is the goal of the new TV campaign from MyPeace, the organization that recently gave us the “Jesus: a prophet of Islam” poster. Clearly deciding they’d generated enough controversy for one year, MyPeace have now taken a softer approach; slo-mo visuals, mood music and a warm Aussie voice inviting us to “explore the real values of Islam.”

“Saving one life is as if you have saved all of humanity” we learn, as a bronzed Aussie lifeguard rescues a boy from the surf. You can’t quibble with that, particularly if you're a parent.

From an advertising point of view, the approach is similar to the current “Jesus-All About Life” campaign, also featuring visuals of sunburnt Aussies; along with a crème brulee, a dead pet goldfish, and questions about the meaning of life. Jesus himself even gets a chocolate-bar style logo.

Both ads - Muslim and Christian - offer a panacea to the “crisis of the soul” that supposedly afflicts modern Australia. Who could disagree with an ad that asks you to look after your parents in old age, reminding you that they looked after you as a child? Or who could not be moved by sentiments such as “How come the more you have, the more you want?” or the facebook-ish conundrum that ”we’ve got more friends, but less friendship"?

The role of advertising is to convert consumers to a brand’s point of view by finding its most salient aspect, linking it to a compelling insight, and allowing the brand to put its best foot forward. Both ads do just that. Were I currently in the market for a religious organization to join, I’d be saying “sign me up for either one of those, thanks. They sound great. In fact, I think I’ll take them both.” After all, you can’t have too much of a good thing. With all ads, however, it’s worth reading the fine print first. Just in case.

The Jesus ad is sponsored by a whole host of Christian organizations, so if I sign up I'll have to make the sort of mind-numbing decisions normally required for choosing a broadband plan. Should I go Baptist or United? Join the Salvos or Hillsong? Too hard - I give up.
The MyPeace campaign for Islam is much simpler, giving me chapter and verse of the Qu’ran to help me make up my mind. It invites me to look more closely at the Qu’ran, so I do. It only takes a few seconds online to check the veracity of the advert's claims. Yep. Chapter 5 verse 32 points out the benefit of saving every single life, although oddly it refers to saving the Children of Israel rather than the Nippers of Bondi. But the point is the same. Intrigued, I read on.

And that is, of course, the problem with selective quoting. Readers should judge for themselves the appeal of the Koranic verses either side of the one quoted, but as an ad man I would struggle to make either 5:31 or 5:33 as convincing a “sell” as the lifesaver scenario. One has to admire the chutzpah (if that’s the right word) of choosing as your major sales pitch a quote adjacent to one advocating “that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off.” Still, the Bible has more than its fair share of blood and gore. Selective quoting (and interpretation) is something all religions and advertisers are guilty of, so it would be wrong to single out this ad exclusively.

However, reading the rest of the passage felt a bit like a chocaholic being sold an amazing new flavour of Magnum ice-cream, eagerly biting into it, and discovering it's anchovy.

Will the ad “bring Islam to the masses”? No, but it will make many non-Muslims re-consider their attitudes towards the religion. Will it attract converts? Undoubtedly. Was it worth doing? Definitely. Taken at face value, it is a positive expression of worthy sentiments espoused by Muslims. Full credit to MyPeace and its founder Diaa Mohamed, who clearly recognizes the need for Islam to be seen putting its best foot forward and engaging in mainstream public debate about how its values are relevant to contemporary society. “We hope this campaign provides Australians with fact and insight around Islam,” Mohamad maintains. No problems there. Some consumers, however, may find themselves unconvinced when it comes to reading the fine print.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

SWAN"S GOOSE COOKED BY COMICAL ALI (Spectator leader Oct 22)

A week may be a long time in politics, but so is thirteen minutes when you’re up against Ali Moore, the ABC’s sharpest interviewer. With an amused twinkle in her eye, Ali slowly grilled Wayne Swan to reveal that underneath his shiny new cloak of “The World’s Greatest Finance Minister” lies… not very much at all.

“I believe there is a serious situation in the global economy,” Wayne informed startled viewers, before enlightening us that he personally sees his main role as “getting on with making sure that we strengthen the global economy.” Whew!

“Can you give us some detail?” Ms. Moore repeatedly begged, struggling in the face of a tsunami of bureaucratic jargon along the lines of “All of these things are part of the architecture of a comprehensive response” and “a sizeable facility to assist a European financial stability facility.” Until Wayne finally confessed: “it's entirely a matter for the European ministers to talk about what they intend to do.” And, er… that’s it.

As for genuine insights into the global debt crisis, Australia’s IMF role, cabinet leaks, the effects of onshore processing on the surplus and the legalities of the carbon tax – all raised by the determined Ms. Moore - Swan failed to deliver anything other than pre-rehearsed spin and obfuscation.

To the point where the interview tipped into satire: “I couldn't give you an update on that, but there will be an update on that in the normal processes through the mid-year review at the end of the year. That's the appropriate time to provide the update.”

By the end, our world-famous Treasurer was left floundering that: “I don’t know if those reports were accurate or not,” “I'm not ruling anything in or out,” and “I'm not going to speculate about what may or may not happen.”

Even the amiable Ali struggled to keep smiling.


‘Ruddbullism’ sounds like one of those infectious diseases such as botulism or toxoplasmosis that hints at much unpleasantness to come. First diagnosed by John Stone in these pages over eighteen months ago, the term describes an unhealthy merging of policy strains on climate change, work choices, boat people, the republic and other issues where supposed opponents Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull found common ground. ‘Ruddbullism’ has now re-surfaced in The Australian courtesy of Brit-journo Nick Bryant; not as a sickness but as a suggested panacea for the perceived problems that plague our politics.

Coined by Stone, the term is a piss-take of ‘Butskellism’, used to describe the philosophical meeting of minds between Conservative and Labor ‘foes’ Rab Butler and Hugh Gaitskell that paralyzed British politics for decades until being dismantled by Margaret Thatcher.

According to Bryant, who after several years as the BBC correspondent to Oz knows a thing or two about the place: "The message from successive polls is that Australians would… favour a return to ‘Ruddbullism.’ Indeed, they repeatedly show that Rudd is much more popular than (Julia Gillard) and that Turnbull has broader appeal than Tony Abbott."

This contrasts with how former Secretary to the Treasury and Queensland National Party senator originally saw it: “Our own political scene was firmly in the grip of ‘Ruddbullism’, (yet) it was already clear that the Coalition parties had little hope of regaining office in 2010 under Turnbull.”

Much like botulism, a bacterium that enters the body through wounds, ‘Ruddbullism’ can also be viewed as a virulent strain that gains access through self-inflicted wounds upon the body politic. Perversely, it was the desire by Rudd and Turnbull to work together and stitch up an emissions trading scheme that eventually saw the two of them both lose their leadership positions. Similarly, Rudd’s embrace of feel-good policies such as the apology to the “stolen” generation – which Turnbull was also strongly in favour of, going so far as to publicly criticise former leader John Howard over, maintaining that his former boss’s position on the apology "was an error clearly" – weren’t enough to save either of them from being turfed out by their own party-rooms. Both leaders lost their jobs not in spite of, but indirectly because of their support for ‘Ruddbullist’ principles. According to John Stone: "Malcolm Turnbull welcomed, literally within hours of its appearance, the Rudd government’s Fair Work Australia Bill, conceding to Labor ‘a mandate’ not merely to repeal John Howard’s Work Choices legislation, but also to turn back the workplace relations clock by 25 years. He… embraced with equal fervour Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme proposal, threatening to sacrifice Australia’s economy on the altar of global warming religion."

Where Stone saw a toxic threat, Bryant sees a healthy tonic.

"Rudd and Turnbull seemed to be leaders primed for a national moment pregnant with so much regional and international possibility," Bryant declares. Clearly he is a fan of both. Which is not all that surprising. Call it the British disease, if you will; that voguish longing for a touchy-feely centrist position that gave the world the original ‘Butskellism’, the brief flowering of Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ and the current ‘Camcleggism’ which seeks to marry severe budget cuts with trendy soft left causes such as gay marriage, renewable energy and bucketloads of overseas aid.

Lost in the enthusiasm for such a ‘compromise’ scenario is the awkward fact that in Australia the punters won't vote for it. The closer both Rudd and Turnbull came to agreeing with each other, the faster they both plummeted in the opinion polls. It was only under Tony Abbott, who by fighting Labor on border protection and carbon taxes and drawing a clear distinction between the two parties where Turnbull had failed to, that the Liberals finally managed to tap into the thoughts and attitudes of Middle Australia and regain their current dominant position in the polls.

All the evidence indicates that the blue-collar "battler" constituency in the suburbs strongly support tough border protection and fret about higher costs of living, most notably energy prices. These voters have no time for Turnbull and will never support the green tinges of the ‘Ruddbullist’ agenda. Kevin Rudd’s initial success and triumph were largely due to his pretense that he was “John Howard-lite.” The more he distanced himself from that position, the faster he fell out of favour with “struggle street.” Turnbull, too, foolishly mimicked Rudd’s distancing of himself from the policies of Australia’s second-longest serving Prime Minister, much to his own detriment.

Turnbull’s tragedy, of course, is that he’s either in the wrong electorate or the wrong party. Take your pick. His constituents are the one group in Australia who yearn for ‘Ruddbullism.’ A Labor party ticket with both Rudd and Turnbull together would be an answer to the sweetest dreams of the Wentworth crowd.

It’s easy to see how the ‘Ruddbullist’ philosophy came about. In 2008-9, Kevin, confidently shedding his Howard-lite clothes, and Malcolm, eagerly donning the cloak of Liberal leadership under the mistaken belief that his own constituents expressed the desires of the larger electorate, found themselves dressed like a pair of slightly embarrassed identical twins. The majority of Australians suddenly woke up to the fact that the two leaders were prancing about in a manner utterly alien to them.

Although Rudd has now bounced back in the opinion polls, his popularity is probably as much due to the unfair manner in which he was dumped as to the policies he espoused. Call it the Short Poppy Syndrome. As is well known, we Aussies love an underdog. Where Red Dog endlessly roamed the outback looking for his deceased master, Rudd Dog now ceaselessly roams the globe, refusing to believe that his leadership is dead. And the audiences can’t help but love him.

According to the online Medical Encyclopedia, botulism can lead to hyper-sensitivity, double vision, nervous exhaustion, nausea and finally paralysis of the entire system. It can be fatal.

Much like ‘Ruddbullism’ really.

Friday, 14 October 2011


The best way to read Rolling Stone magazine is with a joint in one hand, a goon of cheap red in the other, and Joe Strummer on the turntable, loud enough to wake the neighbours.
Today’s readers probably prefer Eskimo Joe on their iPods, but otherwise not much will have changed.
Or has it? In the past, RS founder Jann Wenner prided himself on the quality of his political musings, having introduced the world to awesome talents ranging from Hunter S. Thompson to P.J O’Rourke.
Rarely has the international edition (often labeled as the cultural arm of the Democrat party) bothered itself with Australia, other than to trot out the odd Nick Cave review. In the latest issue all that has changed.
Australia, startled readers from the USA to Europe now learn, is Global Warming Central. In his near-hysterical diatribe, climate change advocate Jeff Goodell manages to turn his recent (all expenses paid?) trip down under into a terrifying journey through a land where “the wrath of the climate gods is everywhere.”
Under the eye-catching headline “Climate Change and the End of Australia”, Jeff vividly describes a nightmarish Oz where “homes along the Gold Coast are being swept away, koala bears face extinction in the wild, and farmers, their crops shriveled by drought, are shooting themselves in despair.”
Yikes! What’s more, “dead kangaroos sprawl by the side of the road… Palm trees are bent horizontal in the wind… It's as if civilization is being dismantled…”
All because Australia “happens to be right in the cross hairs of global warming.” As this spellbinding yarn unfolds, and a bleak future indeed looms across Dorothy Mackellar’s sunburnt horizons, an apt metaphor springs to my mind. But the author beats me to it:
“Australia will look like a disaster movie. Habitats for most vertebrates will vanish. Water supply to the Murray-Darling Basin will fall by half, severely curtailing food production. Rising sea levels will wipe out large parts of major cities… The Great Barrier Reef will be reduced to a pile of purple bacterial slime. Thousands of people will die from heat waves and other extreme weather events… Depression and suicide will become even more common among displaced farmers and Aborigines.”
Pass the popcorn! Or even, better, pass the spliff.
I take a deep breath, and plunge on. As Jeff knows, no thriller is complete without a sinister villain or two: “Australia is home to Rupert Murdoch's media empire… Murdoch's papers fail to point out that the more coal the country burns and exports, the fiercer its hurricanes are likely to become.”
And not only your run-of-the-mill hurricanes, but “hurricanes of fire,” too. Jeff neatly weaves the Victorian bushfires into his tale of climate change woe. “Under a high global-warming scenario – essentially the track the world is on today – catastrophic fires will occur every year.”
And then comes a moment for profound moralising: “You might think that surviving such a harrowing encounter would make (Jane) O'Connor more attuned to the risks of living on a superheated planet, but it hasn't. "I think the jury is still out on the science of climate change," O'Connor says from the safety of her air-conditioned office.” Air-conditioning! We Australians really are the limit!
Nowhere, of course, do America’s equally wild weather patterns get a mention. Is it because Democrat Obama has basically given up on climate change? Suddenly, it’s all down to us Aussies.
“The reef is one of the wonders of the natural world – and (you’re) going to trash it just because (you) don't want to drive smaller cars or pay a little extra to put solar panels on the roof?" he ponders.
But it’s the climactic third act of his disaster script where Jeff really goes to town. Toowomba, as it happens.
“The fact that the sky can hold more water is precisely what happens in a warming world. Four inches of rain fell (and) what had been a manageable soaking turned into a catastrophe… The floodwaters continued down into the Lockyer Valley, bursting through smaller towns and sweeping buildings, cars and people away… Eventually, the floodwaters… all poured into the Brisbane River, which flows through Australia's third-largest city. The river rose 15 feet above normal, breaking its banks and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents.”
Gasp! Terrifying stuff. But I barely have time to pour myself another glass of red before Narrabeen, too, gets swept away in a raging torrent of melodrama and hyperbole.
"The beach, the hotels, the houses – the sea will cut right through to Sydney Harbor (sic). Manly beach will vanish. We walk for a while, watching all the happy people strolling along the boardwalk and drinking wine in cafes and surfing the waves. The sun is shining, and everything is lovely. Too bad that it all has to go.”
Defending the article against an online backlash, Australian RS editor Toby Creswell struggles to hide his embarrassment. The tone of this is probably a bit too alarmist and some of the minor details stick out to us Australians but the gist of it is pretty spot on.” Sorry, Toby, not good enough. Omitted from this racy account is the fact that the ferocity of the Victorian fires was largely due to a build-up of fuels thanks to a lack of burning off by Greens-dominated councils. ‘Yasi ‘was a classic strong “La Nina” cyclone of the sort that regularly pound the Queensland coast; it just happened to hit a town. The Brisbane deluge was caused by the ineptitude of the Labor party’s decision – driven by belief in climate change - to use the Wivenhoe Dam for storage rather than for flood mitigation as it was designed. Narrabeen and other such beaches were swept away in the 70’s and many times before that.
In the tradition of Al Gore, exaggeration and lies are being foisted by Rolling Stone upon an impressionable audience in order to create fear about climate change - and loathing for those who question it.


"I don't think I have ever been made so angry by anything published on the Drum Ever!" - Johnno

Having spent the past five years hiring and firing people, I know how difficult it is trying to get to the bottom of things when there’s a stuff-up. Especially when it’s a monumental one.

“Come in, Julia. Do sit down. Now tell me. What happened exactly?”

Invariably, Julia will start blubbing and I’ll have to wait several moments while she dries her eyes with a tissue. To cover the awkward embarrassed silence, I buzz my secretary and ask her to bring in a pot of tea for us both.

“I don’t know where to begin,” Julia finally says between sniffles. “I thought I had it all under control. But… I don’t know… it was a disaster right from the start!”

That’s when she’ll look up at me with imploring eyes. “It was Kevin who started it all you know!” she’ll finally blurt out. “It’s all his fault.”

“Of course it was,” I nod, leaning back in my swivel chair. Already I can tell it’s going to be a long drawn out meeting. I buzz my secretary again. “Better cancel lunch at Tetsuya’s” I say.

Bit by bit the facts dribble out. Julia shakes her head in irritation. “I always said it was a stupid idea. But Kevin insisted. He had this massive hang up about asylum seekers, right from the word go, so first thing he does is he goes and cancels the Nauru contract. Just like that!”

I nod sympathetically. “Not, in hindsight, such I wise decision,” I say, trying not to sound too judgmental.

She bristles. “But of course I told him at the time ‘what on earth are we going to put in its place?’ and he goes ‘don’t worry we’ll sort it out later’.”

I smile, and pour the tea. Julia shrugs wearily. “For about a year or so, it was all hunky dory. Nothing much changed. Everyone agreed that Kevin had done the right thing.”

“Sugar?” I say.

She ignores me, and carries on. “And of course, all that other stupid climate change stuff was going on and mining taxes and wotnot and next thing you know Kevin’s gone and those faceless men from Sussex street insist on giving me his job! Me?!? The next day all of his job sheets get dumped in my lap!”

“About the, er, stuff up?” I say, trying subtly to nudge her back on the track. She glares at me, and defiantly shakes her red bob.

“What was I to do? Suddenly there’s boats arriving left, right and centre! I tried East Timor, but they didn’t even bother returning my calls. Then I tried Manis, but no luck there either. So I got Chris to give the Malaysians a call and – hoorah!! - they were all up for it! So long as we did a bit of quid pro quo. You know, did a bit of ‘contra’.” She touches her (rather elongated) nose and gives me a wink.

“Chris?” I ask, puzzled.

She stares at me defiantly. “The podgy, nerdy little guy from Accounts. He’s my assistant now.”

I try not to show any emotion. “Really?”

There’s a long, awkward silence. “And, er, did you, and er, this Chris cover all the bases?” I ask as nonchalantly as possible

Again, the steely glare.

“Did you check it all out with the legal department?” I demand.

There’s a stifling silence.

I sigh wearily, and pick up my mug of tea. This is always the hard part. It’s not easy telling someone you had high hopes for that they have completely, utterly, irredeemably and – worse still - unnecessarily failed in their task.

“This is, um, kind of a monumental stuff up,” I say, preparing her for the worst. “You do realize that it’s now open season for people smugglers, don’t you? We’re going to be swamped. Inundated. From a business point of view, it’s not a good look. We are a laughing stock.” There. I’ve said it.

Julia starts to blub. I hate it when they blub.

“It’s all Tony’s fault,” she says, wiping her eyes with her sleeve.

I frown. “Tony? I thought you said it was Kevin’s fault?”

“Kevin’s! And Tony’s! And Chris’s!” she sobs, shaking her head in dismay.

I rub my forehead, then discreetly buzz my secretary. “Have you got the number for those faceless men in Sussex street?” I whisper as quietly as I can.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


Shrines from Shanghai to San Francisco are testament to the fact that, much like my iPod, Steve Jobs died way too soon. There is a cruel irony in this. More than almost any other person on the planet, Jobs embraced the ethos of built-in-obsolescence. Going to an early grave, sadly, appears to be in keeping with his core beliefs. Indeed, it was Steve himself who said back in 2005 that “death is very likely the single best invention of life.”

I only know Jobs through the endless array of devices that I have purchased from him. Going way back, I bought three Macintosh computers when, flushed with pride and optimism but not much cash, I first set up my own small business in the mid-nineties. Foolishly, I should have waited. It was only a few months later that, to great fanfare, the ultra-cool translucent iMac came out. Every advertising or film person worth their salt had to have one. Packing the old ugly boxes away, I excitedly splashed out on this wonderful new curvaceous plaything for our office.

Again, I should have waited. In an industry that values style and fashion, our young company had barely celebrated its first birthday when I realised its technology already looked out-of-date. The multi-coloured clamshell shape of the iBook had arrived on the scene, utterly transforming the way our industry worked. My proud iMac soon joined its clunky siblings tucked away in the company broom cupboard, and our daily business was now conducted exclusively on these stylish, portable new devices.

But not for long. For the next decade, like every other small businessman, I struggled to find the cash to keep up with Steve's never-ending, dazzling array of must-have products. The lolly-colours of the iBook range now looked embarrassing in the new era of the PowerBook, where almost annually a new design or feature superceded the last of these silver-plated miracles. Battling to keep up, I shook my head in disbelief at firewires that no longer fitted, connection ports that seemed to mysteriously change shape, functions that worked on older operating systems but not the newer ones and so on. The list of changes updates and new requirements has been endless. But it was worth it. To be cutting edge.

Meanwhile, as the products became thinner and thinner, so too did their maker.

I'm currently on to my seventh iPod. The first one proudly housed my entire CD collection of many thousands of songs; I was devastated when it abruptly kicked the bucket after about only eighteen months of service. It still sits forlornly in its handsome dock, as dead as the great man himself.

Nowadays, we have a variety of iPods (some for jogging, some for holidays, one for the car) as well as, of course, several iPhones. Some of them work, some of them don’t. Fingers crossed I get to the end of writing this article before my iPad decides to croak.

Beyond the style, the coolness, and of course the intuitive technology, we can also thank Steve Jobs for turning the marketing philosophy of built-in obsolescence into high art. Planned or otherwise, it’s certainly been my experience that too many of his products come burdened with a use-by-date that would make even the most fervent salesman blush. It’s feasible these days that an apple you buy from your local supermarket may well have a longer lifespan than the Apple you buy from your local electronics store.

The recent anti-climactic iPhone 4S release has been criticized for being yet another example of Apple’s addiction to planned obsolescence, along with tamper-resistant screws and other “innovations”, such as the fact that the price of a replacement battery for an iPod Shuffle is the same as a new device. Equally, the iPhone’s Lithium-Ion batteries have a finite life of 300 to 500 cycles, meaning with heavy use they may only last a year. Before the iPhone, mobiles without user-replaceable batteries were virtually unknown. Apple maintains that you can always pay to replace the battery (at the so-called “Genius” bar; what happened to the word “Repairs”?), but it costs more money, takes up to a week, and you lose your phone’s entire memory. So – hang on! – why not just buy a new one?
In 1954, Brooks Stevens, an American industrial designer, made popular the theory of "Planned obsolescence”, which he defined as "instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary."
Don't get me wrong. I'm a big Apple fan. (God forbid I should ever have to buy a PC.) Each new Apple invention has clearly enriched my life, and I'm grateful for that. It’s just that they never seem to stick around as long as I think they should.

In death, as in life, Steve Jobs stayed true to his brand.