Monday, February 27, 2006

Naturally Ridiculous - 100%

Natural, man-made,
advertising, promotion,

For quite some time I've been ruminating about why we have become so fixated on things which are "natural".

Yesterday, at the Music Festival in ViƱa del Mar in Chile, Tonka Tomicic was selected as the festival's queen on a platform of being a 100% Natural Model.

Now, I'm not in the least bit criticising her, and even find what I've seen of her personality most appealing but 100% Natural is ridiculous!

Like almost all uses of this phrase that we see today, it is liberally interpreted to apply to the subject in the way which the promoter finds convenient, but other aspects are completely ignored or considered irrelevant.

However attractive and delightful this woman is I would not be the least bit surprized if she had had orthodontic work done sometime in her life, if she had died, tinted or colored her hair (it certainly was cut by someone), had depilated her body, and either performed or been subjected to any number of processes or practices in her lifetime that are anything but "natural" in the purest sense of the word.

In fact, I'd dare to guess that if any person, man or woman, were to be presented to the public who was truely and completly natural in every possible way the result would not be pleasing at all.

The other day I noticed on a packge of peanuts and raisins the sticker "Oil-free, 100% Natural" and had to ask myself, what is natural about finding salt on raisins and peanuts wrapped in a plastic container?

Why are natural shampoos supposedly better? In nature, cavemen washed their hair with nothing more than water -- if they washed it at all!

I think we can find in our daily lives many examples of things, from foods to medicines and various practices where not only do we prefer a man-modified version but might even find that the result we desire from it is better in the artificial, synthetic version that the natural one.

Why have we fixated on this idea that anything man-made is less desireable than what is found in nature?

In practice, I think that many combinations of man-made and natural things end up producing the most desired and attractive result. Man has a capacity to "improve" on what nature provides. Sometimes, perhaps too often, he errs or doesn't notice his incomplete understanding of some natural phenomena, but that doesn't mean that it is better to drop everything that he has done and return to a natural state.

We have the capability to learn from our mistakes, so if we discover some instance where a natural version seems better than a fabricated one, let's use that as a opportunity to learn more about what we might improve on, instead of rejecting the natural intelligence which we have been given.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Half a Century Old -- Almost!

Visa, Credit Cards,
Mickey Mouse

I recall that many people were shocked when they learned their favorite cartoon character, Mickey Mouse, was 50 years old. That was in 1978.

That didn't bother me much since Mickey had been around before I was born, but now I've been given a jolt by realizing that another icon from my life is nearing it's 50th anniversary.

The icon I'm referring to is the VISA CARD which I've been using almost since it's beginnings, except that when I was first introduced to it I knew it as CHARGEX.

The event that brought this fact to my realization happened just a few days ago. I had parked on a public street in Pucon, Chile and had to pay for my parking fee when I discovered I had no change and the parking attendant only received CASH.

That I didn't have cash wasn't unusual, for many years I have formed a habit of having little or no cash, using a credit card for virtually all my needs. This habit was developed through acquiring a Visa Card which paid me a percentage of every transaction which I made and the fact that most everything I used to use cash for was available through using a credit card.

Well, that habit has continued even as I wander around in places like Chile where almost everything can be purchased using a credit card, but this one event started me thinking ....

Here I am, using a payment system almost all of my adult life -- nearly 50 years -- and yet today in places like Chile (and I'm sure many other countries) there are adults who have never had a credit card. In fact, I know many people in this country that don't even have a bank account!

What's the point? Simply this: there are many areas of our lives that we take for granted and consider totally normal, but if we were to step back and look around us we might be surprisedd to learn that what is sooooo normal for us, is not necessarily normal for others.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

More escapes from reality

tourism, entertainment, spectator sports, movies, television,

Recently I wrote a blog entry in which I wondered how the world would be affected if the escapist nature of tourism were refocused.

In further thinking about this theme, it is easy to see that the tourist trade isn't the only area where tremendous time, energy, and money is directed toward escaping from a dreary reality.

One might easily say that most entertainment, spectator sports, the movie industry, much of television, radio, the music business, a great deal of magazine, newspaper and book publishing activities are all offering to differing degrees different ways of escaping from a daily routine.

Now I can imagine someone bringing up the old refrain "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," but I think it is a pretty poor justification for not attempting to consider the possibility of trying to turn a substantial portion of our diversions into efforts which will do more than simply distract our attention for a few moments from a reality which we don't find agreeable.

Play, at one time, was used as a way of instructing children (and possibly others) skills and lessons which would serve them in the future. There still are some games around that intend to do this, but I believe that probably the majority of the toys, games and diversions which are sold and used today don't even pretend to begin to consider what, if any, educational value they might be to the user or participant.

Many of the professional, spectator sports that exist today, have their roots in activities that were originally used for training soldiers and keeping them in good condition, but what value does a spectator gain? The answer to this is one of the principal reasons why Gadafhi chose to ban spectator sports in Libya. (I'm not necessarily endorsing all of Gadafhi's ideas, but this is one which might be worth thinking about.)

If we were to examine the history of art, music and literature I'm sure we'd discover that many of the great inspirational classics were created (or at least became classics) because they gave the observer, listener or reader something more than just a brief period in which they might forget about their dreary lives. How much of what is produced and popularized through radio, television, motion pictures, magazines, etc today, have any residual value except for wrapping fish?

When one starts to add up the millions of people who work directly and indirectly in activities which might be considered diversionary, and all the resources which are consumed every second of every day to produce something which has absolutely no lasting value to anyone the numbers would be overwhelming.

As I stated when I was wondering about tourism, I'm not judging anyone who is participating in any aspect of these activities as being bad or even with evil intentions. But when one takes into account how much of the time effort and energy used in the world is directed toward useless ends, it becomes difficult to even begin to imagine how much to world would improve if even a significant fraction were redirected toward ends which would help better everyone.

Here are just a few hastily-thought-of suggestions of how the satus quo might be improved:
  1. Every animated cartoon were created with the idea of educating the audience with something useful
  2. Every songwriter chose to leave his listener with some attitude, information or skill which would help them live a better life.
  3. Every person who attended a sporting event as a spectator were required to participate in some physical activity as part of their entrance fee.
  4. Every paperback novel and magazine article introduced a new term, or useful idea to the reader.

Of course I'm dreaming if I believed that this would become a reality in my lifetime, but, in the meantime by raising these thoughts, perhaps I might encourage a few individuals to look at their own lives and activities and perhaps start asking themselves: "How can I change what I do to either improve myself, or improve things for others?"

Monday, February 13, 2006

The dark side of light

light bulbs, consumer fraud,
scams, Westinghouse,
Eco Light, Ecolite

If you were to set out the requirements for a perfect scam, I think you'd come up with something like:
  1. Must be easy to find victims -- almost anyone could be one.

  2. The victim would not know they'd been scammed and,

  3. If a scam were suspected, the victim wouldn't come after you.

If these were your requirements, I think I've discovered an ideal candidate for you, except that it's already being run: Long life light bulbs That link, by the way isn't the scam, it's simply to inform you about the product which is being used.

Why is this such a good candidate for a scam?

  1. Almost everyone uses light bulbs.
  2. The cost is relatively low, even though the Long Life Economic Light bulbs cost at least 5 or 6 times a normal light bulb.
  3. The projected life span of 3000 to 6000 hours or more is such a long time span that it is almost unlikely that anyone would track their usage.
  4. If someone did discover that there was a shorfall in the life span, the actual value which might be recovered is so little that for all the time an effort required the victim wouldn't be likely to even attempt to make a claim.

I happened to stumble across this because I recently moved into a new house and installed several of these low cost long life bulbs. Because there was a large surface at the base of the bulb I noted the date of installation.

Two of these bulbs (different economic brands "Eco Light" and "Ecolite" )went into an area which were used a maximum of one hour daily.

The first was rated at 3,000 hours life and by my estimates received no more than 330 hours of use before it needed to be replaced. The second, was rated at 3 years life and need to be replaced after 7 months.

I have another bulb, a Westinghouse bulb, which is rated at 6000 hours life which is still operating, but at 1 hour useage a day, it will be more than 16 years before I know whether or not it has lived up to it's rating. Chances are that even if I live that long, I'm still not going to have the original proof of purchase which may be required in order to request a refund.

Although the first two bulbs obviously didn't live up to their claimed ratings, the one which lasted 330 hours would have only needed to operate a few more than 400 hours for it to work out as being more economical than the standard 60 watt bulb it replaced if you take into account it's higher initial cost together with the 15 watt power consumption it had.

So, perhaps these long life bulbs are still a better value than their counterparts which they replace, but it seems that the low cost, unknown brand varieties are certainly not living up to the claims which they make on their labeling.

Whether the big reputable brands like GE, Philips, and Westinghouse will fare any better is still in doubt to me, and since their initial cost seems to be about 3 or 4 times more than the cheaper versions, it still seems risky to believe that they will result in any substantial savings to the user.

So, if you're going to try these long life low power bulbs, be forewarned that you might not get what you are expecting.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

A really dumb promotion

Marketing, promotion, loyalty rewards, GNC,

I've been involved with marketing and promotional efforts for many years but I've yet to see a stranger, non-sensical kind of promotion than that being used by the vitamin brand of GNC .

There are two types of loyalty programs in broad use, one which rewards loyal and frequent customers with prizes or benefits (like frequent-flyer programs) and the second which aims at increasing a customer's use of a product or service regardless of their prior history.

It's really difficult to understand what GNC is attempting to achieve with their Gold Card program which, in short has the following characteristics:
  1. You must pay $15.00 a year for the card.
  2. It can be used ONLY during certain days of the month.
    The US version allows the first 7 days. A Chilean version is more restrictive and convoluted: it permits just the first Monday, Tuesday or Wednesay of each month.
  3. The benefits are subject to change at any time.

While GNC products are generally perceived as being high quality, they are not bargain priced. In fact, they may be among the higher priced in their category. The card offers holder (initially) a 20% discount.

Simple math shows that a person must spend at least $75 to simply break-even BUT what happens if they need a product which GNC sells a day before or after the limited time span which the card provides the discount?

Chances are, that a client, who might have every intention of purchasing their brand, would be annoyed at not being able to get the expected discount unless they were willing to wait till the following month. Would they buy the GNC product anyway, or would they wait til the next month?

My guess is not. I'd expect that a significant number of consumers would be inclined to see if they could find an alternative product at a lower price and might even vow to NEVER use the GNC brand again.

A good incentive program needs to be simple for the customer to use unless there is some kind of exclusive, highly desirable benefit that a client is prepared to suffer some inconvenience to obtain.

GNC's card program seems to fall short and, in my view, runs the danger of actually costing them more in lost sales than they might gain from those who don't mind the limtations imposed by it.

Of course, my perceptions might be wholly off base and I'd be delighted to have someone explain to me the benefits which a program such as this can bring both the customer and the company which uses it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Will we have any privacy left?

Privacy, liberty, civil liberty, big brother, government surveillance.

Almost everyday it seems I run across a new report or example of ways in which our personal lives are being laid bare to others.

Perhaps some of these intrusions can be justified, but I've yet to be convinced that the end benefits to the individual outweigh the costs to him.

Usually most of the arguments, on closer examination, reveal that the real benefits go to narrow interest groups or, in some cases, other individuals who wish to control other's lives.

The latest example I've seen is a humorous piece (turn on your sound), showing what might happen when you order a pizza. It's funny, but it also scares me to think that to some extent this may already be happening.