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Dark stores and coercive diplomacy

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I came across a couple of interesting terms recently: dark stores and coercive diplomacy.

Dark stores

Gartner for Marketing (formerly L2 Inc.) were talking about a new development at Amazon’s Whole Foods subsidiary. It was what Gartner called digital dark stores. The first one has been established in Industry City to serve much of Brooklyn, New York.

Amazon themselves called it a ‘permanent online-only store‘ on their blog.

So whats the difference between dark stores and the ‘last mile’ warehouses that Amazon uses for fulfilment in places like London?

  • Looking at the limited amount of photos available, this doesn’t feel warehouse-like. There wasn’t obvious automation in the pictures. Instead it feels like a supermarket that’s well stocked, but lacking price tags and shopper marketing accoutrements. Gartner describe it as ‘technically a grocery store’, which implies that there might be zoning or planning regulations that they might be working around
  • It is only for the Whole Foods brand; rather than fulfilling Amazon Fresh and Amazon Prime Now items

This isn’t just an Amazon thing. Gartner points out that American supermarket brands Kroger and Giant Eagle have also embraced the order-only store model. More at Gartner for Marketing here.

Coercive diplomacy

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute published a report on September 1, 2020 called The Chinese Communist Party’s coercive diplomacy. It was written by Fergus Hanson, Emilia Currey and Tracy Beattie. Hanson, Currey and Beattie analysed ten years of Chinese government diplomacy. In there words:

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is increasingly deploying coercive diplomacy against foreign governments and companies. Coercive diplomacy isn’t well understood, and countries and companies have struggled to develop an effective toolkit to push back against and resist it.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is increasingly deploying coercive diplomacy against foreign governments and companies. Coercive diplomacy isn’t well understood, and countries and companies have struggled to develop an effective toolkit to push back against and resist it.

This report tracks the CCP’s use of coercive diplomacy over the past 10 years, recording 152 cases of coercive diplomacy affecting 27 countries as well as the European Union. The data shows that there’s been a sharp escalation in these tactics since 2018. The regions and countries that recorded the most instances of coercive diplomacy over the last decade include Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and East Asia.

There seems to be an escalation of economic and non-economic measures deployed. Economic measures would include:

  • Trade sanctions – such as the recent ban on German pork products. This was rolled out just a few days in advance of a trade negotiation meeting between China and the European Union
  • Investment restrictions in strategic industries such as the ‘agreement‘ that Yahoo!, Softbank and Alibaba had over Alipay (which included what would now be Ant Group). Strategic industries like state security is notoriously (and deliberately) ill-defined in China
  • Tourism bans
  • Popular boycotts such as Korean corporate Lotte being driven out of China and the 2012 anti-Japan protests where the public smashed Japanese stores, attacked factories and burned Japanese cars

Coercive pressure is also applied at below state level on businesses. It may also be applied on individuals, based on the data leak provided from Zhenhua Data seems to imply.

Non economic measures include:

  • Arbitrary detention. The best example of this would be Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor detained as part of China’s dispute with Canada. Another example might be Australian citizen Karm Gilespie. China didn’t admit it had detained him for over six years, until they announced his death sentence in the summer
  • Restrictions on official travel
  • State-issued threats which are usually issued on a regular basis as part of wolf warrior diplomacy. (Wolf Warrior is a set of two films with a Chinese action hero, a la Rambo – but with less humour).

Some of the imputus for coercive diplomacy might come from the Chinese Communist Party’s continued rancour over Qing dynasty-era unequal treaties. More China related content here and more on retailing here.

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Jargon watch: orchestrated media

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I decided to revisit the idea of orchestrated media recently. I had been working on the SEO of a post from 2011. This post linked out to an article by BBC research and development on orchestrated media.

Picture of a test card from CCTV in Beijing
Test card from Chinese public broadcaster CCTV.

The BBC where aware that media consumption had become more complicated. Attention whilst watching the TV at one time competed with the occasional trip to the kettle; or flicking through a newspaper that was to hand but otherwise undivided. What became the TV changed with the advent of content distributed over internet connections to the web and mobile devices. But it wasn’t only about the proliferations of screens, but also how it interplayed with other media.

It doesn’t necessarily imply simultaneous consumption of content via these different media forms. Nor does it imply the consumed content is related across the screens (e.g. an audience member may be using Facebook or Twitter for a completely unrelated purpose, while paying less attention to the TV show).


Thinking in those terms is perhaps unnecessarily limiting in scope and misses the broader picture around the opportunities of social media, creating more seamless media experiences, and how these flow from home environment to beyond.

Jerry Kramskoy on the BBC R&D blog on ‘orchestrated media

This gives marketers a number of interesting things to think about. When is TV not TV. Think about live event programmes like The Apprentice or Britain’s Got Talent where social acts a ‘giant sofa’ as viewers share their opinions on what they see on screen. Twitter has tried to tap into this link between TV and discussion in its marketing efforts.

As broadcasters, the BBC started to think of the potential in a two-way conversation that was far more democratic than SMS polling, email or letter bags and phone-ins.

Orchestrated Media (OM)to refer to this experience of interaction, synchronisation, and collaboration of programme and companion content across devices. OM creates a new form of audience engagement with the broadcaster. Let’s start with some high level goals

• Enable interactivity around the content (voting, games) and synchronisation thereof, based on time and/or events (such as a producer-console triggered “button push”)
• Enable richer exploration of programme
• Enable social network interactions through sync-related information and content identifiers for replay purposes
• Migrate content between the TV and mobile devices (such as a load-and-go service that runs overnight to load the mobile with video corresponding to the unwatched portion of a program, or a resume-for-home service that picks up viewing on the TV from where it left off on mobile)

Some of the necessary components in reaching these goals include
• Visual feedback of shared interactions on TV screen
• Private interactions on mobile screens
• Support for not only live experience but also time-shifted and on-demand and pay-per-view ones
• A back-channel to broadcaster for interactions, behaviour etc
• Audio for different languages, directors commentary, clean audio etc, selectable per individual, synchronised to the programme
• Accessibility for all above
• Application life-cycle and runtime management

Orchestrated Media – beyond second and third screen (II)

This seems to be aimed to provide a seamless anytime, everywhere experience. Think of the way services work in the background as part of Apple’s ‘Continuity’ service layer. As marketers, if we’re thinking about an orchestrated media landscape, how do we hand off between channels and provide prospective customers a similar kind of seamless experience. How do we manage long term and short term attribution and feed these insights into proportion of media spend?

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Jargon watch: yellow economic cycle

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The yellow economic cycle has manifested itself as a positive boycott.

The anti ELAB protest movement in Hong Kong exposed the fracture lines between pro-Beijing (blue) and pro-Hong Kong sides (yellow). Some of Hong Kong business community came out and criticised the protestors. This resulted in consumers boycotting their business.

Maxim’s

The classic example of this was when Annie Wu criticised Hong Kong protestors. Wu’s father James co-founded Maxim’s Caterers Limited. Maxim’s is has a wide range of restaurants for all budgets. It also owns bakeries, provides catering for universities and businesses. Maxim’s even has a joint venture with Starbucks. Starbucks coffee shops in Hong Kong and southern China are run by this joint venture called Coffee Concepts.

Mainland businesses, especially Chinese state-owned enterprises like China Mobile and Bank of China were defaced by protestors. McDonalds restaurants in Hong Kong and China are majority owned by CITIC – a Chinese state-owned investment company.

Garden Bakery

Garden Bakery’s Life bread ended up becoming a yellow brand by default when it was criticised by members of the Hong Kong Police. Hong Kong protestors rallied around and even brought along loaves to demonstrations.

#AnywhereButChina Challenge

Consumers bought everyday products that weren’t made in China and shared the product and its country of origin online. This becomes quite tricky as products from western brands like Wrigley chewing gum or pair of Nike sneakers could be made in China.

It’s particularly interesting as it raises questions about long term perception of quality. Back before the protests when I was living in Hong Kong LG and Samsung smartphones being sold advertised with pride that they were made in Korea. It was a similar story with high-end Sony TV sets. #AnywhereButChina channels China’s political and quality related issues in one meme.

Solidarity with their customers

Many small businesses in Hong Kong started to do what they could for their young customers. And the customers paid them back with loyalty. By trying spend their money only in yellow businesses and avoid blue ones by creating a yellow economic cycle.

Yellow economic circle

Online assets were created to point customers in the right direction. Here is one of the posters that have been circulating on Twitter. The use of QRcodes is much more common in east Asia than Europe. The code takes you through to a Google Maps overlay of Hong Kong featuring Yellow businesses which would be preferable to shop and eat at. Green businesses which are preferable to blue businesses. Blue businesses will be avoided wherever possible.

Reviews of yellow shops and restaurants on review sites like Open Rice have been poisoned by pro-government supporters placing bad reviews and protestors piling in to defend their yellow economic circle members. At its worst, even the most hardened Wikipedia editor would be daunted by the pitched battles going on.