31 January 2008

Til debt do us part

At Chancery Lane tube station, there is a large cross-track poster for CarGiant, a "car supermarket", that tells the heart-rending story of Chris, with a close up of Chris looking vexed. Poor Chris's missus wants him to buy a family car. But Chris doesn't want to blow his savings. So Chris goes to CarGiant, buys a great set of wheels for a low price. Now picture Chris looking very pleased with himself. So far, so ordinary.

But the payoff for CarGiant's cheeky-chappie ad is the final line - where we we learn Chris uses the money he has saved to take his girlfriend to Paris, nudge nudge, wink wink. Or "tweet tweet", as the rather bizarre copy style of the ad puts it.

It's a brave marketing move to clearly identify your market segment so confidently - not just young men who want a good deal on cars, but who also proudly commit adultery. One of the keys to successful advertising is, once you have identifed your customer, to project a selling proposition back to that customer whereby he has an affinity with the product because it shows him as he likes to see himself, not as he necessarily is in reality. So, for example, the demographic for sherry drinkers is OAPs, but you'll never see an ad for Harvey's Bristol Cream featuring an old person; they may be old, but they don't want to identify with a product that defines them that way.

So when I see the CarGiant ad campaign, I wonder who the target audience is that would identify with Chris as a figure to aspire to. What sort of relationship would you be in to dream of being Chris with a new car to pay for hilarious philandering? Maybe they could extend the campaign - Chris could also put those savings to good use on alimony payments when his wife finds the hotel bill in Chris's jeans.

Moving in mysterious ways

Mary J Blige, troubled R 'n' B singer, has been telling London-based free sheet The Metro about her struggles to give up narcotics. Clearly something of an ordeal, what with that cocaine being so moreish and all.

But apparently the event that gave her the final reason to quit was the September 11 attacks in 2001: "A few weeks later, New York City blew up and that was it – I was getting a warning. I was out."

It's a fascinating take on a complex event that has so far escaped even the most paranoid conspiracy theorists - that the Word Trade Center was taken out, with a loss of over 3,000 lives, in an attempt to cure Ms Blige of her fondness for the old Bolivian Marching Powder. God must have gotten out of bed the wrong side on that day.

But, of course, it had a happy ending as Mary managed to release a new CD and get through rehab. Certainly one in the eye for old Osama.

30 January 2008

An economist writes...

I think one of the reasons I read The Economist is because it cuts through political debate to explain positions with great clarity and concision. Not to mention the fact that, somewhat misleadingly, it is not solely about economics; I can skip lightly from the global political analysis to the obituaries without troubling the Business and Finance pages.

Occasionally they invade the letters page to trouble me, however. Take the following letter from a Washington policy wonk from this week's edition, in reply to a previous article about Chinese economic growth:

"You cited estimates of exports in value-added terms from Jonathan Anderson, an economist at UBS, that strip out the associated imports and then subtract inputs purchased from other domestic sectors. But this is only the direct value-added in China's exports: Mr Anderson excludes the "indirect value added" generated by exports

"In order to produce exports, intermediate inputs must be used, and the production of these inputs creates the second round of value-added. This process of creating indirect value-added can be traced throughout the economy, as intermediate inputs are used to produce other intermediate inputs.

Fortunately the letter below this one was about Bruce Forsyth, where I felt on slightly firmer ground.

29 January 2008

If they ain't got you one way...

Given the West's recent history of food overproduction, it comes as something of a shock to discover that demand is now poised to outstrip supply and is driving up food prices.

Part of this is demand caused by China's increasing demand for imported food, but part is also due to the sudden embrace of ethanol and other biofuels by the farmers of Europe and North America. In the drive to find alternatives to fossil fuels, a lot of hope has been invested in biofuels; taking produce away from the tables and into our fuel tanks means a higher price for your daily corn flakes.

But at least the increased use of biofuels must be better for the environment, mustn't it? Except this week the Brazilian government announced that deforestation of the Amazon reached a record rate in the last five months of 2007. This surge in slash-and-burn has been caused by an explosion in ranching and farming caused by - you've guessed it - high grain prices.

28 January 2008


As someone who works in advertising, I am aware of the perception that promoting products to children in our modern media-saturated society is the lower end of the scale of child abuse. The way OffCom is moving, there will come a day when the only thing one can advertise before 9pm will be fresh fruit.

And Donkeys. Because the combination of expanding numbers of TV channels and shrinking number of products fit for advertising to children means the air time between kids' TV shows is now filled with excruciating paeans to injured animals who need your help. Or, more specifically, need your children's help. Every Saturday on Channel 5's "Milkshake" - dedicated TV programming for the under 8s - the trailers for Transformers, Lego, Masters of the Universe toys and McDonalds from my childhood has been replaced by 120-second tearjerkers begging for cash to save donkeys and dogs from the knackers yard.

So now instead of a world full of junk food and superheroes, my children will grow up convinced the world is full of people hobbling donkeys and setting fire to pet dogs. I'm not sure how this is supposed to be helping protect them from the malign influence of my trade.

21 January 2008

My greed and I

If you are the sort of person who craves a "relationship" with your credit card, you should check out the new ad campaign for Goldfish. 'Me and my goldfish' has been launched as a series of posters, featuring one of four stories by different authors telling the start of an adventure with... err, a Goldfish.

Of course there is a supporting website for the truly tragic who actually want to read the rest of the throwaway drivel of celebrities who are famous enough to know better, and rich enough not to need the corporate shilling. According to the rather self-regarding website:

The ‘Me and My Goldfish’ stories explore relationships between people and their Goldfish. No doubt, many of you will have your own stories about your experiences with your Goldfish card. From the mundane to the spectacular, these stories tell us more and more about the relationships we have built with our cardholders over the last 12 years.

If you are a published author like Meera Syal, Anthony Horowitz, Ranulph Fiennes and Rik Mayall, I wonder how desperate for money, or careless about your craft you have to be to write a story starting "Me and my goldfish". Me would think it is a basic matter of pride, if me were an author, not to be caught publishing something that contains the sort of solecism my 5-year-old son manages to avoid.

17 January 2008

Iron my plants

Prize for most bizarre heckle of the week goes to two American men who stood up in a televised appearance by Hillary Clinton with signs saying "Iron my shirt". Presuming this was not a genuine cry for laundry help, it has been generally interpreted as a way of saying that Hillary's place is in the home, rather than the White House. Conspiracy theorists have been quick to suggest the men were plants by Hillary's own campaign to evince sympathy ahead of the Primary vote.

It is possible that, instead, they were concerned voters who wanted Hillary to demonstrate a common touch by performing an ordinary domestic chore. No doubt the two gentlemen were due to pitch up at a Mitt Romney event with signs saying "put up my shelves". Given the closeness of the race in New Hampshire, I reckon it would have been worth getting out the ironing board to gain two extra votes.

07 January 2008

This was the news

There are often a lot of repeats on TV at this time of year. Even so, to have the same programme virtually repeated within the hour on a competing TV station shows a systematic lack of imagination, even by the standards of contemporary television.

Getting in there first, at 8pm, was "Tonight" with Sir Trevor McDonald, warning us about the dangers of Internet paedophile predators, acting as a spoiler for BBC1's "Panorama" about, er, Internet paedophile predators not half an hour later. Either I have missed some big news story recently, or both of the main TV channels' flagship investigative programmes have simultaneously had the idea to broadcast a story that was considered hot about 5 years ago.

It seems it's not just the pederasts who are disguising themselves to perpetuate a deception. Panorama now seems to be content dressing up as a once-serious current affairs programme, peddling a story that astonishes no-one.