Jun 072013

By Duncan Harley.

Product placement, or embedded marketing, is as old as the hills.  When, in 1873, Jules Verne published the adventure novel Around the World in Eighty Days in serial form, shipping companies seemingly queued at his publisher’s door in order to be mentioned by name and brand in the next episode.

The Marx Brothers films were full of intended placements with items as diverse as Life Savers Candy in Horse Feathers (1932) and of course Harpo Marx’s famous escape from the villains in Love Happy (1949) on the old Mobil logo, the “Flying Red Horse”, following an exciting rooftop chase around billboards promoting General Electric, Fisk Tires, Bulova watches, Kool cigarettes, Wheaties and of course Mobil Oil.

Even Fritz Lang was guilty of the use of the genre and his film M (1931) includes a 30 second prominent banner advert for Wrigley’s PK Chewing Gum.

Coca Cola, BMW, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and FedEx feature in many movies. Oreos, M & Ms and Hershey Bars feature in many books. The Oreo Cookie Counting Book for example features a cover write up which says:

“Children will love to count down as ten little Oreos are dunked, nibbled, and stacked one by one…until there are none!”

TV of course is not immune to the product placement intrusion. In The Bill, which of course has nothing whatsoever to do with that old creaky duck joke about Donald and Daffy running out of condoms and asking for a supply of prophylactics to be sent up to their hotel room and put on their bill, features all the villains driving about in old fashioned Jaguar cars with the all the cops riding about in fast, sexy, souped up Fords.

The tobacco industry has long used Hollywood as a vehicle to market their wares with the Coen Brothers The Man who Wasn’t There being one of the most talked about recent offenders. In this 2001 classic, the lead character, Ed Crane played by Billy Bob Thornton appears to get through around six packs of Marlboro during the films 1 hr. 57 minutes running time.

The BBC reported as far back as 2001 that:

“Cigarettes are still prominently displayed in films, despite a voluntary ban on “product placements” a decade ago”

A study of the top 25 US box office films each year from 1988 to 1997 found the use of actors to promote cigarette brands had increased ten-fold.

Little may have changed with Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Katherine Heigl all portraying the weed in a flattering light, despite the proven health issues and the criticism from anti smoking groups who view the actions of role models in promoting smoking as blatant advertising on behalf of the tobacco industry via the back door.

According to a recent World Health Organisation study, tobacco is also portrayed in 76% of Bollywood films; India of course being a fast growing market for an industry intent on portraying its products as cool and very western in nature.

All that may be changing however and we might actually have UKIP’s Nigel Farage to thank for this.

Nigel, who is of course NOT an MP, is a keen smoker and is also very well known for holding his political meetings in pubs. He likes to portray himself and the UK Independence Party (membership 27,000) as a people’s movement led by jolly and jovial free thinking lads just like the man next door.

He recently held such a meeting in an Edinburgh public house and had to be escorted from the premises by the local constabulary after being hounded by protesters chanting phrases such as “Ukip scum, off our streets” and “Immigrants Welcome Racists Not”.

So why is the UKIP leader so unpopular? Could it perhaps be to do with policies? I asked several folk in the shire’s pubs if they knew anything about what the UKIP and Nigel Farage actually stand for.

His stance on smoking is of course well known. Smoking rooms in pubs they felt were a great idea though! One local man went so far as to say that if Nigel Farage were to walk into the pub that night and buy him a pint then he would give the man his vote! Another drinker felt it was worth a pint and a nip at the very least!

However on issues such as UKIP’s stance on the compulsory abortion of potentially disabled foetuses, the banning of gay marriage, zero immigration, reduced taxation, leaving the EEC, cutting the UK budget spending to 1997 levels, the building of more prisons, increasing the defence procurement budget, the scrapping of the Crown Prosecution Service in favour of allowing police alone to decide on prosecutions, the doubling of the size of the Territorial Army and increase in total armed forces numbers by 25%, the building of three new aircraft carriers and 50 more Lightning fighter jets, the building of four new submarines equipped with US nuclear missiles and the banning of schools from showing Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth they were somewhat less clear.

The membership of political parties is at best a very rough indication of popularity, but at the last count the Monster Raving Loony Party had 1,354 members, Labour had 60,000, Lib Dem 48,932 and the Conservatives 177,000. UKIP appears to have a mere 27,000 members in comparison.

Back in 2006, David Cameron branded Ukip members as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. In early 2013 the Monster Raving Loony Party’s Lord Jug wrote:

“As the official party of protest, we the Official Monster Raving Loonies strongly object to use of the terms ‘fruit cakes and loonies’ when describing Ukip. We who seek the Holy Grail of Loonyism strongly object to the cavalier use of these terms.”

The product placement marketeers must be shaking in their boots right now at the thought of decades of money and hard work spent creating a suave and sophisticated image for tobacco being destroyed at one fell swoop.

As for Nigel Farage, he will be nodding sympathetically while sipping from a pint of beer and puffing on his trademark cigarette.


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Mar 092012

With thanks to Mark Beresford.

Canny fashionistas will be in their element on 15 March at Aberdeen Forward with a chance to trade unwanted and unworn garments for something fresh and new.
This free event is open to anyone with clothes to swap and fashion professionals will offer advice on nails, jewellery and makeup to help complete your new outfit.

The Swishing event will run from 6-8pm on Thursday 15 March at 2 Poynernook Road. All guests will receive a free glass of bubbly on arrival.

Aberdeen Forward is an environmental charity and social enterprise supporting local waste minimization and sustainability projects.

Its Volunteer Manager, Gillian Marr, said,

“This is a great fun way to refresh your wardrobe and get some top tips on how to accessorise your new look. We’re running the event as part of our Zero Waste Club and it’s a really great example of how we can encourage people to reduce waste whilst having fun and saving money.”

The event is supported by The Body Shop and Saffron Settings who will have a presence at the event. Zero Waste Scotland, which works with businesses, communities, individuals and local authorities to reduce waste and use resources sustainably, is funding the evening. www.zerowastescotland.org.uk

Anyone interested in coming along can call Aberdeen Forward on 01224 560360 or e-mail admin@abzforward.plus.com and should bring along at least one item of clothing no longer wanted but in good condition.

Swishing events are gaining popularity across the country and are best described as clothes-swapping parties for women. More information about swishing and other events around the country can be found at http://www.swishingparties.com/

Image credit:  © Jordan Tan | Dreamstime.com

Jan 272012

In these bleak and pessimistic economic times, it’s always heartening to hear of a thriving business looking to expand. All the better when its success is built on an alternative business model which genuinely appreciates its staff, rewards and motivates them appropriately,and involves them at the core of decision-making. Surely this can’t work in the cut-throat commercial world? Jeremy Miles, MD of the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative has proved it can. David Innes cruised alongside him in high gear (definitely NO Lycra though) to ask him how it works.

Expanding? In the current economic climate? 

What looks like a sudden announcement of expansion is really a plan we have been quietly executing for just over ten years. For 25 years we only operated in Edinburgh where we built up a £3m store. We decided to expand in 2001 and acquired Cycling World in Aberdeen’s George Street.

By 2011, turnover increased to £12m, with stores operating in Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield. We were developing our online presence at the same time. Our aim was to double in size in each of the two five-year periods – every self-respecting socialist-minded business has to have a five-year plan!  These are among the most challenging times traders have ever faced. Our business is no different. Customer spending on discretionary items is down, on bicycles as much as sofas and flat screen TVs. We’re seeing growth, but its hard work to keep that going, although it’s very positive in current conditions.

Our optimism and our ambitions are based of a number of factors. Cycling is enjoying a very positive momentum at present with concerns over health, transport costs, congestion and the environment all helping the industry to grow. We also feel that our co-operative structure presents an alternative to discerning customers who want to spend with a company with real values as well as a genuine focus on high levels of service delivered by owners of the business.

  we work within our general vision of doubling turnover every five years.

Look how the Co-op has positioned itself against the corporate strength of the major supermarkets. The Co-op has heavily engaged with its local communities to help fund projects. It projects an image of being off the beaten track in terms of their offer.

Since we face similar challenges as our competitors become more organised and supported financially by private equity, we must also target a particular market where the growth in cycling is focused – in family leisure cycling and commuting.

Our previous expansion plans were about big stores in big cities with the right demographic spread; a fairly rigid plan which worked well for us in good times. The bike market is changing, however, with the development of some huge internet players in Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles. Significant retail chains like Evans and Cyclesurgery are expanding rapidly and bicycle retail is very different from even five years ago. We’re also seeing more established brands such as Specialized and Giant opening branded stores, whilst the government-driven Cycle to Work initiative has also helped change the landscape.

Expansion opportunities are broader and more flexible as the customer base widens. Business-to-business relationships develop through government-funded initiatives and the internet offers new ways to market and support the bricks and mortar business. We look to capitalise on these opportunities when they emerge. We don’t have plans for x stores in y years, but we work within our general vision of doubling turnover every five years.

This co-operative structure – how does that work?

Within the spectrum of employee-owned businesses we are a traditional workers’ co-operative, so as hardline as it gets!

We have around 180 employees, full-time and part-time, of whom 135 are co-operative members. Members are invited to join after 12 months service by purchasing a single £2.75 business share. Around 75% of our workforce are owners of the business.

Having secured membership, they’re entitled to receive a share of profits, free shares awarded annually, a single vote on issues put to the membership and the opportunity to be elected to the Board. They have access to communication mechanisms allowing information to move freely from top to bottom and vice versa, ensuring that opinions and ideas are fully utilised. It’s an open and consultative approach to management and operations.

Aside from the ownership model, our business structure is fairly traditional with a board of directors, including an executive management team where I am MD, a group of elected employee directors to represent the membership, and an external non-executive director to provide guidance and expertise. I manage the staff in a conventional manner via Divisional and Department Managers.

This obviously works – tell me why

We’ve always been structured this way. We started out in 1977; seven hippies fixing bikes in a small repair centre in Edinburgh. Two of these hippies are still with us today!

The central philosophy was always to have an alternative view of how a business was structured, but I don’t suppose your readership is all that interested in very deep philosophical musings about the prevailing mood of the 1970s and detailed Marxist rhetoric!

We are very much a business which values its people. We see them as the key asset of the business, so it makes sense that they control the business.

We spend 10% of our targeted profit every year on supporting grass-roots cycling projects

A prime retail challenge is delivering an all-round quality customer experience. To be effective at this, you must ensure that customer-facing staff are heavily engaged with your business. Many retailers struggle, paying minimum wage rates and providing a fairly uninteresting working environment.  They turn staff over very regularly.

As a co-operative, we put owners in front of customers in most instances. This makes it much more likely that customers are speaking to someone with a deeply-vested interest in making sure the experience is positive. The fact they are almost always very passionate about the product they are selling helps too!

We see ourselves as much more than just a shop selling bikes and bits. We’re all about added value and the wider customer experience. Promoting cycling as a leisure activity and a genuine alternative mode of transport is at the heart of our vision and mission. We spend 10% of our targeted profit every year on supporting grass-roots cycling projects, from school fairs to individual charity rides through Vietnam. We support key charity-focused cycling events which also promote cycling, for example the Edinburgh to St Andrews Ride and the Great North Ride in Newcastle.

We don’t just write a cheque. We’re hands-on involved, with starting line presence, repair services en route, food stops, and finish line presentation. We’ve run a range of hugely-successful maintenance and training skills classes for customers for years, and have a real commitment to providing repairs services to a high level. Our workshops are prominent in our stores rather than tucked away in a back room.

We see our engagement with customers as a vital part of the character of our business and put huge effort into getting feedback from them. Customers contribute to the content of our catalogues with family photos, and will soon be helping with blogs and social media content.

We have a very loyal base who are genuinely interested in our values and want to be part of our success as a genuine community co-operative.