Function and form

Great interview with Henry Rollins with BBC Hard Talk from January 2016. The interesting bit after 6:00 is how Rollins talks about his stage image that evolved from the rudimentary circumstances of being on the road.

The gym shorts and torso look was to cut down on the washing he needed to do in restaurant sinks post-concert.

I noticed that Whiskas had upped its packaging game. They added a bit of personality to the container design with ears. It cut through the tins, oval plastic trays and aluminium trays usual in cat food packaging. It acts as great brand signage.

Whiskas packaging

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Tencent, Baidu and Sina investigated by Beijing for their content | CNBC – likely to keep things buttoned up during the forthcoming party congress

Uber’s new in-app chat will help you avoid exchanging creepy texts with your driver – The Verge – interesting move – unfortunately treating the symptom of a problem

The Guardian reimagines media planning as a B2B bed-time story | The Drum  – Attracting more media planners like Claire would be the ideal scenario for Guardian Media Group right now, as it looks to balance the books by 2019. It reported a 2% rise in revenue last month, largely due to a climb in the amount of paying members and a 15% boost in digital spend. Meanwhile the Guardian’s print newspaper sales declined by 7.4% year-on-year in June to a circulation of 159,007, while its Sunday paper the Observer declined by 5.9% to 192,889, according to the latest ABCs. This is presumably why Claire is seen cutting deals in virtual reality and mobile, rather than in print.

Inside Facebook’s Institutional Policy of Copying Competitors | WSJ – pretty all encompassing embrace of user data – I wonder what Apple thinks about it given the privacy positioning of the iPhone?

Andy Rubin’s Essential phone startup gains backing from Amazon, Tencent – CNET – interesting that Tencent got onboard

Why Google can’t compete with what Apple is doing with ARKit – BGR – however if AR is going to take off cross-platform development is what’s really needed since the iPhone is a small (but lucrative part of the market)

One in three marketers believe ad tech “is broken beyond repair” | Marketing Interactive – quite possibly when also thinks that 85% of online advertising growth in Mann markets is split between Google

Buzzfeed and Breitbart at bottom of media trust list as Americans place trust in British outlets | The Drum – I do wonder about the methodology

WSJ City – Abu Dhabi Sovereign Fund Extends 1MDB Deadline – they really think that they’ll be getting that back?

Mirage World on the App Store – allows you to do ‘briefing’ but in the real world

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that have made my day this week:

Guardians of The Galaxy went post-disco with this video to promote the release of Volume 2 on Blu-Ray and DVD (presumably in the US).

DJ Pierre’s classic Generate Power has been given a remix, which isn’t half bad

In terms of listening materials, I have been celebrating Kurtis Mantronix’ return to hiphop style beat-making. It’s like 1985 called and decided to bring back the golden age of hip hop production.

Chinese internet celebrity Ms Yeah’s content is like a Chinese adaption of The Office with a healthy dose of MacGyver. It captures the slightly listless feeling you tend to get in mainland Chinese office environments and throws in some surreal elements. Anyway, don’t listen to me check it out

Christel pointed me in the direction of the new Singapore Airlines safety video. It doesn’t play for laughs like Delta or Air New Zealand have. Instead it embodies the brands values. I guess it fits into the genre of ambient television and there are some really nice transition edits.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

How This U.S. Tech Giant Is Backing China’s Tech Ambitions – The New York Times – the tricky path taken by Qualcomm (and Intel), what happens when China feels it can move forward without them?

Misunderstanding Apple Services – Monday Note – more clear-eyed view on Apple services than many people drinking the kool-aid

Fiction: Who Killed Windows Phone? – Monday Note  – Microsoft culture did it. Culture is dangerous; under our field of consciousness, it sneakily filters and shapes perceptions, it’s a system of permissions to emote, think, speak, and do.

CTA – Social Media Plays Crucial Role in Chinese Consumers’ Personal – But Not Professional – Lives, Finds New CTA Study – quite surprised by this, having worked with Chinese clients and colleagues where the main channel of contact was WeChat

Financial Times Returns to Apple’s App Store After Six-Year Hiatus – WSJ – HTML versus native app; HTML lost

This fast robot will make Adidas shirts cheaper – and kill hundreds of jobs | The Next Web – this pulls a drawbridge up on countries looking to industrialise and move from the 3rd world into the 2nd world

Harrods Bank sold to digital challenger Tandem | City A.M. – I guess that’s one way to get a banking licence

A Google employee’s viral anti-diversity memo shows America’s political divide has spread to Silicon Valley — Quartz – lack of dialogue in political and social life

YouTube in China is hard – Steemit may save my career — Steemit – interesting comments on the effect of the adpocalypse on YouTube creators

The Kronos indictment: Is it a crime to create and sell malware? – The Washington Post – interesting analysis of the charges agains Marcus Hutchins in terms of intent and level of proof required

The Secret Life of the City Banana – – amazing complexity in the supply chain

Vape Nation?

My exposure to electronic cigarettes (or vapes) was with seasoned smokers looking for a healthier opportunity, or a path to help wean themselves off nicotine all together. I had seen some research that suggested teen trial of vaping was growing – this was from E-Cigarettes: Youth and Trends in Vaping – Journal of Pediatric Health Care, volume 29, issue 6, pages 555 – 557 (November – December 2015)

Among youth in the United States, e-cigarette use rose from 3.3% in 2011 to 6.8% in 2012 (Grana, Benowitz, & Glantz., 2014). This increase resulted in an estimated 1.78 million middle and high school students having used e-cigarettes (CDC, 2013). The trial and use of e-cigarettes have been higher among youth in Europe and Asia. A recent study on Korean youth found the trial use of e-cigarettes rose from 0.5% in 2008 to 9.4% in 2011 (Lee, Grana, & Glantz., 2014), and among youth 10 to 15 years of age in Poland the rate of those who had ever used e-cigarettes was 62% in 2014 (Hanewinkel & Isensee, 2015).

Now what I don’t know is how good the research quoted actually was, or the factors in ‘trialling’.

You also have to remember that there is a big health research grant eco-system that depends on tobacco control which has sprung up over the past 40 years which will affect the framing of the data.

I am not saying tobacco isn’t harmful, but it is useful to understand the likely factors framing the presentation of information.

I was surprised by this video from the Shanghai Vap Expo in China. It was more like going to a skateboarding convention back in the day:

  • Lots of independent resellers from around the world for vaping liquid – mirroring the variety of skateboard parts makers. Many of the formulations on sale had no tobacco
  • Vaping tricks and demonstrations
  • Clear tying of vaping to sub-cultures: hip-hop, race-girl type outfits. Pretty much any ancillary activity would expect around a Red Bull event or the X-Games

Vaping is clearly being positioned as a central part of a youth sub-culture in China.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

What the Apple store has to teach us about the miserable future of the electric car — Quartz – I don’t even think Apple’s inshore customer service is a good model for Tesla

Jon Ronson on bespoke porn: ‘Nothing is too weird. We consider all requests’ | The Guardian – much of it isn’t ‘porn’ but ways of working through issues

Chinese tourists are everywhere, but why are foreign visitors shunning China? | South China Morning Post – would the Chinese government really want a tourist number increase? Also Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan give you everything the mainland can and more with less downsides. Finally I do think the country has an external image problem as being difficult to  travel in

The China Startup Report — The Information – interesting reading (paywall)

Christina Xu on Chinese user experience and consumer behaviour

I’ve been a big fan of Christina’s work for a while and this presentation is a great example of his work. Bookmark it; watch it during your lunch break its well worthwhile.

Great examples of online to offline (O2O) interaction in processes and services that are continually expanding.  Interesting points about the lack of social norms or boundaries on the usage of online / mobile service in the real world. I’ve seen people live their online life in the cinema there are NO boundaries as Christina says.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Two China Tech Titans Wrestle Over User Data – WSJ – WeChat owner Tencent Holdings Ltd. contends that Huawei is effectively taking Tencent’s data and violating the privacy of WeChat users, according to people familiar with the situation. It has asked the Chinese government to intervene, these people say – I have to wonder what they are doing to their western customers or what might happen to AT&T subscribers ‘lucky enough’ next year to have a Huawei handset (paywall)

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? – The Atlantic – technology demonised for behavioural disfunction. Some of the statistics are interesting, but the conclusions aren’t

Adidas has found that models and bloggers, not athletes, are the key to selling sportswear to women – this could have a huge impact on its sponsorship programme, which might be bad for top level women in sport

China holds drill to shut down ‘harmful’ websites | Reuters – interesting implications beyond censorship of illegal content. Could also have implications for command-and-control servers for malware etc

Digital listening surges closer to 50% | Digital Radio – interesting RAJAR data

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

It’s quite rare for someone who has had as as long a career as Mick Jagger to still do relevant material. His double A side single featuring England’s Lost is an exceptionally political track featuring Skepta. The last track from similar artist would likely be Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It wouldn’t sound out of step with The Stone Roses or The Charlatans and the video with Luke Evans performance is amazing.

Omega seem to have spent most of the summer dwelling on the NASA Apollo programme heritage of the Omega Speedmaster with launches happening around the world including PR people in faux spacesuits for photo shoots and socialite cocktail parties.  The excuse is the 60th anniversary of the Omega Speedmaster’s launch in 1957. They’ve supported it with a scripted film using brand spokesperson George Clooney talking with Buzz Aldrin. Aldrin as ever is awesome.

60 years of production makes the Speedmaster a design classic. At the time of the Speedmaster’s launch Omega would have been a more bankable name than Rolex. That seems surprising now given Omega’s move more towards the fashion end of the market. There is a great interview at The Peak Magazine; with Peter Chow the recently retired veteran salesman at The Hour Glass in Singapore. The Hour Glass is a famous watch retailer that has attracted the world’s richest customers.

“You could buy a manual mechanical watch with a fine Swiss movement for S$20 plus,” Mr Chong says. The well-known brands then were Titoni, Titus, Movado and Cyma. “Omega was the best, not Rolex.” Mr Chong quit his job in 1959 and with S$6000 from savings and loans, opened a shop in Bukit Panjang. But within three years, poor sales drove him out of business.

It was something I heard from my parents, though I had partly put this down to both of them having had Omegas – which they bought for each other when they got married.

Northampton’s most famous son, author Alan Moore Interviewed by Greg Wilson and Kermit – real name Paul Leveridge from the Ruthless Rap Assassins and Black Grape. Interesting dissection of modern counterculture and the general sense of ennui.

I am addicted to videos about mesmerising manufacturing processes and vinyl records. This video combines both of them. The hipster movement has done more than drive up the cost of avocados and gentrification. We’ve seen vinyl manufacturing plants revived and thrive. Over time the machinery has needed to be modernised, this has meant modern manufacturing techniques (like SCADA controllers) have been melted to post-war industrial technology. Anyway enough of my blathering check it out.

My week was soundtracked by this epic mix of Herbie Hancock tracks.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Line Again Tries to Crack U.S. Messaging… With a Times Square Store for Plush Toys? – this isn’t about LINE trying to crack the US market its about reaching an international audience for Brown and Co. Think of LINE as a ‘Sanrio’ analogue with a technology company attached when it comes to markets like the US. Think about the amount of Asian tourist footfall…

China’s newest trend: mini karaoke booths at shopping malls | South China Morning Post – Li said that at traditional karaoke bars, users have to reserve rooms in advance and there were usually extra charges such as service charge and for beverages and fruit served. – interesting because it moves KTV into a more family orientated area with no room for the ‘added services’ including drink and company at the shadier end of the sector

Ad Tech Firm Criteo to Launch Data Cooperative to Help Retailers Take On Amazon – WSJ – a combination of actors here. Criteo’s business is threatened by the all encompassing ad tech stacks of Google and Facebook – who between account for 85% of online advertising growth. The main insurgent online adverting provider is Amazon… E-tailers in many product categories are now dealing with Amazon as the number one product search engine and e-tailer. This won’t address the challenge of breaking consumer habit of ‘let’s hit Amazon and eBay first to see if I can get it’

Under Armour’s sneaker business has cratered | Quartz – not terribly surprised – when you think about how their basketball business relied on Curry, their football boots have entered a hyper competitive market and the brands historic relationships with college sports

WeChat Vs. LINE Battle Of the Merchadise Stores | China Channel – really interesting battle LINE sometimes looks as much like Sanrio as a technology firm, its character Brown is popular merchandise

The UK home secretary is wrong: ‘real people’ need end-to-end encryption | TheNextWeb – probably won’t help digital start-ups either

UK home secretary Amber Rudd says ‘real people’ don’t need end-to-end encryption | BusinessInsider – what would Amber Rudd know about ‘real’ people

Shanghai to build ‘brand economy’ | Shanghai Daily – really interesting. In general China isn’t the most marketing orientated business culture so having them talk about brand rejuvenation and brand building is a step change. Shanghai makes the most sense as historically it was the commercial centre of China. In the longer term this is a big move against global brands currently there. There has already been a move towards local FMCG despite past security scares, this seems to consolidate that move further

Fox Will Bring 6-Second Ads To TV During Teen Choice Awards | Media – AdAge – it will be interesting to see the efficacy of these ads as will have implications for online brand advertising moving forwards (paywall)

Google’s Push for Dominance Brings Big Change to YouTube | Digital – AdAge – working on media partnerships (paywall)

Tesla Model 3 Buzz Belies Tiny Electric Vehicle Market | CMO Strategy – AdAge – (paywall)

Fendi taps Hong Kong millennial consumers by featuring Taeyang and Asian hip-hop acts | Style Magazine | South China Morning Post – interesting that Fendi is further blurring the lines between streetwear and luxury

LVMH Tests the Notion That Brand Trumps Traffic in China – Bloomberg – going it alone in e-commerce in China rather than being on or Alibaba

A few design things

Whilst looking for the BBC’s new ‘Reith’ font – which they’ve done in-house to update Gills Sans and not pay licence fees, I came across this interesting specification on global web page design by the BBC.

Mark Ovenden talks about the new font as part of a wider appreciation of Gill Sans and Johnston (the London Underground font) in a BBC 4 documentary. It was interesting to hear how Neville Brody used it in City Limits magazine and the challenges these fonts faced in the move to digital – first of all for graphic design and then for online consumption.

Finally, from a font perspective, I found this video from Apple WWDC 2015 that Apple used to introduce its San Francisco family of typefaces as its system font (they also use it as their corporate font now). This was the first font designed in-house at Apple in 20 years. Apple keeps it tightly controlled and restricts access to it.

I looked back on Apple’s website from 10 years ago following the launch of the iPhone I realised how fad driven web design could be.

Apple's website circa 2007

In particular notice the reflection was very now at the time. Javascript had taken off with web 2.0 and someone came up with a block of code that did reflections on images a la the image effect you can get in PowerPoint. This then drove a wider trend to do this in code or in InDesign. You can blame the font gradient on a similar ‘cool Javascript hack’ to design trend meme as well.


Links of the day | 在网上找到

(3) Vic Gundotra – The end of the DSLR for most people has already… – ex Googler Vic Gundotra endorses the iPhone as a camera phone for structural reasons in the Android community, of course you could always use a third party camera software instead. What’s more interesting is the implications around system-level innovation and hardware support

Summer of Samsung: A Corruption Scandal, a Political Firestorm—and a Record Profit – Bloomberg – interesting profile of Samsung. Interesting that they don’t realise Huawei is the big bad wolf yet

The myths of the digital native and the multitasker – ScienceDirect – fits in with what I’ve seen in terms of empirical evidence, millennials are just as bad at technology as the rest of us (paywall)

Russia Bans’Uncensored’ VPNs, Proxies and TOR | Torrent Freak – interesting implications for China. I wonder how they would achieve all this?

Announcing Ghost 1.0 – possible WordPress replacement or niche player?

The ‘real’ reasons manufacturing returning to US – Yahoo! Finance – it depends how you measure costs. Automation requires more capital, upfront costs and benefits big production runs in certain industries. Automation more limited in batch contract manufacturing. Still barriers: ecosystems of suppliers, expertise, skills and access to critical raw materials (rare earth metals, cobalt and coltran). A crisis in shipping (such as the collapse of Hanjin Shipping) will hit both international long supply chains and Chinese finished products equally hard

Chinese Fintechs Use Big Data To Give Credit Scores To The ‘Unscorable’ – I wonder how this intersects with the PRC govt social scores?

Turn Off, Drop Out: Why Young Chinese Are Abandoning Ambition – interesting for the subtle differences between this and gen-x style slackers

Google Adds Autoplay Video to Search Results Page | The SEM Post – this will be terribly annoying

eBay Powers Searching and Shopping with Images on Mobile Devices – eBay Inc – interesting move turning every shop into a potential showroom for the eBay marketplace

P&G cuts more than $100 million in largely ineffective digital advertising | WSJ – (paywall)

Trending posts — Steemit – paid social network. Apparently digital payments of some sort are given per post. They are held in a blockchain database. I won’t lie, I’m sceptical to say the least

Hong Kong’s Lee Kum Kee Group to buy London’s ‘Walkie Talkie’ building in historic £1.3b deal | South China Morning Post – interesting that Hong Kong investors think that central London office property is cheap enough to make big deals like this. I think they might be disappointed at least from the short to medium term. It could be a play to gain a UK foothold well in advance of Hong Kong’s final assimilation by the motherland

Inside LeEco’s spectacular fall from grace | Engadget – I was reminded of an old client Enron, when I started reading about LeEco. Like Enron, LeEco started off in one business (video streaming) and then exploded into several other sectors at once before collapsing under the weight of its ambition. Like Enron, I was left feeling that LeEco just didn’t make sense, except in the mind of a megalomaniac with wicked Excel skills

What does a great email look like?

I often end up with my head in the data and need to check myself to ensure that the basics are happening. This was a deck that I pulled on getting a marketing email right.

Why email marketing? Because it still works and provides relatively good value in terms of marketing spend. We might be getting ever lower open rates over time in aggregate, but that means as marketers we need to be more focused on what makes a great email.

So what does success look like, what constitutes great? If you work in digital marketing you probably have heuristics in the back of your mind based on an article you’ve read or how previous projects have turned out.  The reality is that it changes by country and by industrial sector.

What does success look like

There are some interesting variations, such as the US / Canada or UK / Canada click to open rates for email.

What does churn look like

Or the comparatively high of churn rate in the UK vis-a-vis the US and Canada.

Getting to open

There are a number of factors that can aid getting to open. Some of them will be hygiene when the General Data Protection Regulations kick in across the EU next year.

Before opening

A lot of the basics seem obvious, yet there is a lot of unpersonalised, unrequested, irrelevant mail is still sent out. For business-to-business relationships in particular having a phone and online double opt-in is desirable. For consumer marketing an online opt-in followed by a confirmation email and opt-in link.

Before opening

In some ways we have gone back to the early web. Lean download sizes for email are really important. There have been so many times I have been deleting marketing email on the tube, as the mobile device and spotty wifi can’t download the image heavy communication in a timely manner. For some reason clothing and shoe e-tailers are really bad on this.


Back when I started in digital marketing, people laboured long-and-hard over crafting highly clickable message subject lines, but preview is as important now; especially in ‘three pane’ email clients like Outlook or on Mac and iPad.


Design is a key part of getting an email viewed. The design needs to be responsive because of the variation in possible device display sizes and the foibles between email clients, web email clients, web browsers and mail providers. Previously one would have worried about not being black listed (still important), plain text and HTML options. Business to business marketers used to get stressed over will the email work on Lotus Notes (historically no, unless it was in plain text).

Inverted pyramid approach

When you are thinking about content and design layout the inverted pyramid approach is a good place to start from. With the call to action what kind of behavioural cues would work best? This is where A/B testing can be employed. Marketers aren’t great at intuitively picking these.

Here are some examples of effective email design, notice the vertical alignment that makes them mobile friendly

Effective design examples

And here are some examples of effective personalisation (in both these cases based on previous behaviour on-site).

Effective personalisation examples

The biggest mistake that organisations fail to do is internalise learnings from previous campaigns. This isn’t just about improving numbers over time but learning what has, and hasn’t worked. Often this knowledge will disappear when the marketer responsible moves on, or when the agency responsible has a similar change on their side.

Constant learning

Thanks for making this far, here are my details if you want to find out more.

About me

You can find this presentation on Slideshare.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Great rambling essay by my friend and former colleague Audrey Li. Audrey’s family live in a small town / village in Sichuan province. Sichuan is in the west of China. The essay covers WeChat, payments, crime and the party’s fight against pollution. The battle against pollution has hard costs, which Audrey goes into – Smart Phone, No-cash Society, and Jobless — A Short Conversation with My Mother

Line loses users in 3 of its most important countries – interesting changes in Taiwan, Indonesia and Thailand

Dissecting the Jimmy Choo Michael Kors Deal | News & Analysis | BoF“I think Michael Kors is trying to build up a portfolio of accessible luxury brands. This development strategy is very similar to the one of Coach, rather than to LVMH and Kering which are focused on true luxury brands. Moreover LVMH and Kering are at a more advanced stage of development: they already control dozens of brands and have central structure to exploit synergies among them,” adds Mario Ortelli, European luxury goods analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein

Is Beijing getting serious about selling off state firms? | SCMP – Tencent and Alibaba buying into Unicom could be an interesting dynamic

Kaspersky’s stellar antivirus finally goes free | PCWorld – feature limited but powerful