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Posts Tagged ‘Government’

The Starbucks-isation of Tobacco

January 26, 2011 1 comment

Brand minimalism, behavioural economics and government regulations converge.

Earlier this month, Zeitgeist reported briefly on the impending change to the Starbucks logo. From all the editorial ink spilled in newspapers and online, around the world, you’d have thought something momentous had happened (involving Roger Federer). In said article, we linked to a page that discussed and illustrated concept designs of minimalism versus maximalism, for various well-known brands.

What if, however, instead of a client whim, the government stipulated that your product’s packaging had to be devoid of any colourful illustrations or wry epigrams? For the world of tobacco, the abstract implication is a very real possibility. We know from behavioural economics 101 that even the mention or depiction of a cigarette – no matter the context – will make the UK’s 10m smokers inevitably think “Oh, that’s right, I need a cigarette. Now.” So there’s a certain art to making those death sticks attractive, even when stripped down to its barest of bare essentials. From the creative people at design agency Build. Incidentally, The Economist this week features an article on suggestive mediums for tobacco.

GMP get busy on Twitter

October 15, 2010 1 comment

With the axe of austerity being wielded by the powers that be, all publicly funded bodies are praying that their budgets won’t be slashed too severely in the Spending Review on October 20th.

This will have been part of the motivation for Chief Constable Peter Fahy‘s decision to launch Greater Manchester Police’s social media experiment whereby they tweeted every 999 call they received over a 24 hour period.

Clearly feeling that much of their work passed unappreciated by the public and unrecorded in offical league tables, the exercise in transparency has helped change perceptions of the police more effectively and quickly than any boring spokesman or expensive advertising campaign could have hoped.

By the end of the show they’d tweeted well over 3,000 calls, gathered over 17,000 followers and arrested 341 people of whom 126 remain in custody.

They had also fallen foul of Twitters spamming rules meaning that they had to open several accounts after their original one was frozen due to excessive tweeting.

This forced GMP to set up new accounts to continue their campaign, going from @gmp24_1, @gmp24_2 and @gmp24_3.

Inevitably pranksters were quick to set up false accounts such as @gmp24_7 which included hoax reports in the style of the GMP tweets.

The campaign has been heralded as a success though hasn’t been appreciated by everyone. In what Zeitgeist feels is a slightly shortsighted view that fails to understand both the purpose of the campaign and the effectiveness of the channel, Fiona McEvoy of the TaxPayers’ Alliance complained that,‘The police should be catching criminals, not wasting time on social websites.’

Now that we know how busy the police are, dealing with issues ranging from reported sexual assaults to false alarms regarding four foot dolls near the M56 and burning hedges in Trafford, it could turn out to be an extremely cost effective exercise.

As one follower stated “They did more in the last five minutes than I thought they would in a whole day.”

With thousands of other followers reaching a similar conclusion the authorities may well think twice about making any drastic cuts to Chief Constable Fahy’s budget and dramatically reforming the structure of the Police service.

Turning the Screw

Increasingly, there seems to be an Orwellian slant to the machinations of the Internet. Last summer, early adopters of the Kindle and fans of George Orwell would probably have been rather frustratingly struck by the irony of waking up to find their library somewhat diminished. As one blog writes,

“In George Orwell’s “1984,” government censors erase all traces of news articles embarrassing to Big Brother by sending them down an incineration chute called the “memory hole.” On Friday, it was “1984” and another Orwell book, “Animal Farm”, that were dropped down the memory hole – by Amazon.com.”

Another blog notes that the Kindle is “basically a device that Amazon controls that you just happen to have in your hands.” The novels were removed after being added by a company that did not have the sufficient rights to them. This may be sufficient reason to remove the product from the store; it does not, however, excuse the way in which Amazon went about systematically removing copies that were on owner’s devices, who had already paid them. The incident was noted in a more recent editorial in the FT, evincing a mounting ownership creep on behalf of major corporations. Now, more than ever, when products are not only files on your desktop but stored remotely in a cloud, a consumer’s rights to ownership have never felt less tangible.

Apple, specifically its App Store, has recently come under fire again, this time for the removal of adult apps. Some adult-themed apps, such as the Playboy app, will remain available. It is the thought of Apple acting not only as moral arbiter, but also in an ad hoc manner with that responsibility, which should give consumers cause for concern. If someone creates an app or wants to distribute a book online in the future, will they hesitate to share their innovation and creativity for fear it could be summarily deleted at will by a fickle corporation? TechCrunch has a fascinating and well-written article here on the removal by Google of many music blogs that were deemed under the DCMA to be infringing on intellectual property. Again, as in the Kindle case, it is less the justification of the action (although this can also be disputed), and more the way it was done that is inexcusable.

In the Communist nirvana that is China, things are worse. Le Monde reports that though the country is on the brink of launching IPv6, allowing people to create and type in URLs using Chinese characters, the government is also imposing draconian measures for those wishing to set up websites. The government already restricts access to sites such as BBC News, Facebook and Twitter. In the past two weeks, they have also asked that anyone wishing to open a web site must present themselves before the authorities with their identity card and photographs of themselves, ostensibly to combat pornography. Not only is this measure entirely unnecessary and completely antithetical to the libertarian principles of the Internet, but from a practical standpoint it is wildly inefficient and will certainly stifle innovation. The UK government’s initial plans for censuring those who share files illegally have been, for the moment, stayed.

Conversely, these same bodies are not operating with impunity, even in situations where arguably they are not to blame. Three Google executives were convicted in Italy at the end of last month. The charge, Reuters reported, was “violating the privacy of an Italian boy with autism by letting video of him be posted on the site in 2006.” Quite how it was decided that those hosting the video – on a site that apparently serves a billion videos every day – could possibly have responsibility for it is beyond Zeitgeist. The New York Times writes “It suggests that Google is not simply a tool for its users, as it contends, but is effectively no different from any other media company, like newspapers or television, that provides content and could be regulated”. One of the accused, global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer, commented that if employees were “criminally liable for any video on a hosting platform, when they had absolutely nothing to do with the video in question, then our liability is unlimited.” Despite corporate overreach in some areas, sometimes the judicial system can be just as harsh on those same corporations. The insight is that what goes around, comes around.