BAT: Why they do it

I think I’ve cracked it.

A few days ago I made a lengthy post about how the British American Tobacco “agree disagree” marketing campaign made no sense to me at all, at all, at all. Since then BAT has launched a third phase of the campaign, which is even weirder and less likely to be convincing and what the hell what the hell didgeridoo noise what the hell.

And as I thought about that and tried, again, to work out what on earth the advertising company & BAT think they’re doing, suddenly I came up with an explanation that makes sense to me. It might not be the truth, but at least it puts a comprehensible motive behind this apparently nonsensical marketing.

Here goes: they’re trying to rebrand the tobacco industry.

The advertisements to the mass NZ public, the petition, the Twitter stream, the stunted website – none of these are trying to convince people of the merits of the plain packaging case. That’s what the campaign claims to be about, but it just ain’t true. They know the NZ public isn’t going to take up pitchforks and demand plain packaging be tossed aside. A campaign to actually get the public behind you looks more like the one they ran in Australia, where it was all about your tax dollars being misspent and your neighbourhoods falling into ruin.

Nope. The purpose here is bigger. Consider the detail of this campaign:

  • the name, “agree disagree” which suggests a willingness to engage and consider
  • the upfront admission that smoking is harmful (this must be the largest sum of money ever spent by a tobacco company to frontload the message that smoking is bad for you)
  • the technical nature of the arguments raised (IP ownership, international trade implications, legislative comparability between NZ and Australia)
  • the “sophisticated” tone taken – the word “CREATE” which is firmly the symbolic territory of the liberal arts; the wine industry, or more pointedly, bottles of wine which is still the drink of the social elite
  • the overall tone of restraint in voiceover, writing, general messaging – consider also the negative space where a more screechy, nasty campaign might be
  • the sheer size of the campaign, which suggests that this is an issue that genuinely matters to them

Look at what comes through: we are considered, honest, clever, sophisticated, restrained, sincere.
Or: we are not your daddy’s tobacco industry.

They’re trying to position themselves as reasonable actors. This is the *exact opposite* of what they were doing in Australia, which was hitting very hard all the notes that would push for public outrage without worrying about how it made them look. That didn’t work.

So, where’s the value in this kind of rebranding? If they do it right, it will make a difference to their lobbying environment. The broad push will hit a lot of people, and they’ll forget the technical detail of what’s up but they will remember this: “it sounds to me like those tobacco companies are actually being pretty sensible”. The decisionmakers and politicians will get this message from the community, as well as being caught up in the saturation marketing themselves.

That means, when a BAT rep makes a phone call to a business lobby group and tries to get them to carry water on their behalf, the person on the other end is more likely to agree.

It means when Campbell Live has a face-to-face on the issue between a Green MP and a BAT rep, the public give the tobacco person a better hearing and response.

And it means, when a BAT representative stands up at Select Committee to talk through why this is a bad idea, the people on the committee are better disposed to listen.

All of this counts. All of this makes a difference. It gives them a better shot at keeping plain packaging out of NZ, and that’s the big prize. That’s why they’re doing this.

I like this explanation. It brings all the weirdness into a single line that pushes hard towards the only result that matters to BAT. It justifies the amount of money spent and explains why none of the elements do what they claim to be doing.

There’s one sticking point: as I’ve noted, the three technical arguments made are actually not very convincing at all. How does that help them? Well, it doesn’t help them, but it also doesn’t invalidate this explanation. You see, the reason the arguments seem meritless is because *the arguments are meritless*. They don’t have stronger ones to call on. It’s a bluff, but not the obvious kind (“these are great arguments, honest!”). No, the bluff is to argue in the style of a considered, sensible person, so people conclude you actually are a considered, sensible person.

BAT are taking a gamble, and if I’m reading it right then it is indeed smart and perhaps it’s their only shot left. With that all said: I still don’t think it’s going to work. I think plain packaging is going to happen here. Our society turned against smoking years ago, and this is just another way to show that.

(That petition I was puzzled about is still hard to read, but I’d guess it’s for two purposes, private lobbying and message refinement. In meetings they can say “We sent people out to talk to ordinary folks. They got X many signatures in only Y days, and told us A, B and C. Obviously there’s no appetite for this change.” At the same time, they can improve the way they talk about the issues based on feedback from their people on the ground.)

Stuff’s “Ice Age” story has changed

Following up on this post: In response to a complaint from me (and presumably communications from others as well), Stuff has stripped the inaccurate material out of their “Ice Age” story and added an apologetic note at the bottom.

It can’t take away the effects of the earlier version, but it at least ensures that this isn’t another link that can be circulated through the climate change denier echo chamber.

The person I communicated with sounded embarrassed by the whole affair – as they should be, it is a humiliating failure. Here’s hoping the lesson has been learned. Journalism Fail

Main story at for the last hour or two: “Solar Minimum could trigger ice age

Check the article’s opening paras:

The world could be heading for a new ‘solar minimum’ period, possibly plummeting the planet into an Ice Age, scientists say.

Researchers say the present increase in sun activity with solar flares and storms could be followed by this minimum period.

The period would see a cooling of the planet, refuting predictions of global-warming alarmists.

The research for this comes from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences.


“Refuting the predictions of global-warming alarmists”? What kind of language is that? Completely inappropriate.

To google, and in moments I’ve found the abstract and ScienceDaily’s summary. From the latter:

…those findings cannot be directly transferred to future projections because the current climate is additionally affected by anthropogenic forcing.

So, from “climate is affected by anthropogenic forcing” to “refuting predictions of global warming alarmists” in one easy step.

This is UNACCEPTABLE. Where did it come from? A media release from one of the “climate sceptic” pressure groups? Heads should bloody well roll over this.

Too angry about this to say any more.

EDITED TO ADD: see also Hot Topic and The Atavism

How Wrongness Happens

The BBC:

Photos uncovered by the National Archives show how the police spied on the suffragettes. These covert images – perhaps the UK’s first spy pictures – have gone on display to mark the centenary of the votes-for-women movement.

Ninety years ago, a Scotland Yard detective submitted an unusual equipment request.

It was passed up the chain, scrutinised, reviewed and finally rubber-stamped in Whitehall itself. Scotland Yard duly became the proud owner of a Ross Telecentric camera lens. And at a cost to the taxpayer of £7, 6s and 11d, secret police photographic surveillance (in the shape of an 11-inch long lens) was born.

Within weeks, the police were using it against what the government then regarded as the biggest threat to the British Empire: the suffragettes.

Documents uncovered at the National Archives reveal that the votes-for-women movement probably became the first “terrorist” organisation subjected to secret surveillance photography in the UK, if not the world.

The BBC photo caption, written by a subeditor:

In 1912, Scotland Yard detectives bought their first camera to covertly photograph the suffragettes.

Nope. Scotland Yard had cameras in use by 1888, as anyone who is brave enough to google “Mary Kelly” will discover. A quarter-century later they finally began to use cameras for surveillance.

But, everywhere else:

In 1912, Scotland Yard detectives bought their first camera, to covertly photograph suffragettes. – The BBC

That subeditor’s error in the photo caption wasn’t accidental. The idea that an entire new technology was first brought to bear as a means of suppressing dissent and protest? That’s our current moment affecting their assumptions about what has happened in the past. Stories corrupt across multiple tellings in predictable ways; most obviously they change in order to fit with our expectations and beliefs. Even an instance as small as this is not entirely harmless – right now there’s someone out there forming the belief that law enforcement’s eternal priority is to crush dissent on behalf of the state. (And heck, they might be right, but they ought to be forming that belief based on some actual evidence, not misinformation.)

[edit: fixed that link to google search results. took about four attempts. finicky!]

Occupy Wall Street

(Sitting here in New Zealand, I am obviously well-placed to Give Advice to the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Here on my blog I address an audience of as many as TEN different people, and I’m sure the weight of these multitudes will carry this message to the people who need it most. You’re welcome, freedom.)

OWS does not have a list of policy and process demands (yet) and it houses enormous diversity. This movement, says the media and political establishment, is incoherent and without focus.

But the OWS protestors do have a clear single focus; an overarching unified goal of which they share pursuit. The goal is this: getting the powerful to admit there is a fundamental problem with the economy.

This should be the core message of the protests. Every time a camera gets turned on someone at OWS, we should hear this demand. (I’m sure someone has said these words, somewhere, but I haven’t seen it and that means it isn’t high enough profile.)

The protesters all know there is a fundamental problem. They say to the camera: “We are here because our society is broken”. But I haven’t heard anyone say “and we demand that the bankers, the politicians, the media pundits, admit this!”

If this was the message, then perhaps the TV cameras would spend a little less time asking protesters what policy changes they want, and a little more time confronting bankers and politicians with the realities of the system they have created.

(OWS is changing the discourse anyway.)


What about Dads? Can we have it all too?

Saturday’s newspaper had a magazine section with a big article heavily featuring our little fambly – Cal, Willa and myself. It’s up online here. It is actually quite a good piece, I reckon.

One message in there is how much we are relying on family for support, and on employers being flexible. We are blessed with much support in all those ways, plus plus a babby who is happy and not much trouble as babbies go. We are lucky people.

I am feeling the lucky today. Today (and the whole week actually but especially today) has been manic to the extreme. But I am getting by and well-fed (good healthy home-made tucker) and wee Willa has been adored by many people today and has lots of cuddles and food and poor hardworking Cal was super supportive tonight as I raced to get a piece of work done…

This blog is gonna stay low-frequency low-thinking posts for a while I guess. Capacity is low right now. But I want to record this here so I can’t argue with myself later: for all the challenges fitting everything in? I’m having an amazing time.

Anyway, enough ramble. Go read the article. You know you want to.

Crime Deterrence

July 2008: sports broadcaster resigns after it emerges he violently and viciously assaulted his then-partner.
April 2009: sports broadcaster pleads guilty to the charge
Jan 2010: sports broadcaster back on the air!
Jan 2011: sports broadcaster begins weekly on-air chats with the Prime Minister.

So there’s the lesson, people. If you are guilty of brutally assaulting a woman, it could be as long as TWENTY MONTHS before the Prime Minister jokingly tells you which celebrities he’d most like to have sex with. CRIME DOESN’T PAY.

Bar graph fail

On Twitter, Jack said this:

Good summary of o’seas film production funding. We aren’t giving them money, we’re giving some of their money back.

The link goes to an article by Chaz Harris called Taxpayers don’t pay for movie grants!

This piece insults the “journalism” behind articles like this one from the Sunday Star Times:
Taxpayers fork out big bucks to movie studios

I read that SST article while in holidayland, and while it was rubbish in all the ways Chaz mentions, it was accompanied by a big infographic that amazed me so much I carried it home with me to blog. (Yes, I have a problem. Shush.)

This is the infographic (click to enlargenise):

Have a close look at those horizontal bars. You’ll note that the orange bar denotes “estimated NZ production expenditure” and the red bar “estimated grant”, both in millions of dollars.

Look closer at those numbers, and how they relate to the lengths of the bars. Pick an obvious one, at the top of the second column: Avatar. See how the red bar is half as long as the orange bar? See how the numbers for each are ~72 and ~11?

The proportions are out of whack throughout – the red bars are all about three times as large as they should be. The reds and the oranges are all in scale to other bars of the same colour, but the reds and oranges don’t scale to each other, even though weighting the red against the orange is the whole purpose of the graphic.

This image is credited to this guy, but I am loath to land him with all responsibility. This is an editing fuxxup. Very annoying, particularly because there’s already a lot of nonsense being bandied about on the topic. At the very least get your bloody bar graphs right. They’re not that complicated, really.

Just back from the beach. Maybe someone already wrote about this. If they did I missed it because I was at the beach. It was good. This post excepted, I’m still on holiday from blogging this week. I haven’t even finished going through Jenni’s guest Friday Linky from two weeks ago or re-read the mall ninja stuff from Pearce’s guest the week before. I recommend both sets of linky to those who missed them due to holiday action.

(If anyone wants to volunteer to pull together a last-minute linky for Friday, give me a shout…)

Letters to the Irresponsible

I know reading letters to the editor is not good for my health. I know that letter-writers are not representative of the population at large. I know that letters are included because they are likely to be controversial and dramatic. But still, I can’t stop.

It’s because I think letters to the editor are *important*. They matter for the simple reason that they’re right there on the editorial page of the newspaper, and they’re presented in small bite-sized digestible chunks, and they’re delivered in a tone that speaks of personal character rather than impersonal journalistic machine. They are the easiest reading in the newspaper.

And so it bugs me when the same negative things turn up over and over again. Particularly, speaking of the DomPost, there’s racism against Maori. Hardly a week goes by without Maori described as selfish, devious, dishonest, stupid, or worse. (And, almost without exception, these charges are levelled at “Maori”, as if to describe the fundamental nature of everyone with Maori identity.) Sometimes this is delivered hand-in-hand with a claim that there are no true Maori left anyhow. It’s ugly, and it’s been prevalent as long as I can remember. Would it be a surprise to find that Maori feel they are misrepresented and unwelcome in mainstream media?

Almost as frequent these days is the culture war against Islam. You know the ins and outs of this one, it appears all over the world, and the NYC mosque controversy has stirred it right up. The claim that got me agitated this week was the old claim that “if Islam isn’t a religion of violence, then why haven’t Muslims denounced terrorism?” Of course, they have, Islamic voices have been plentiful in condemnation of terror attacks. Here’s one big list countering this myth; there are many others.

The reason this last one gets to me is that this wrong-headed belief exists in the first place because of the failings of our newspapers and other media outlets. The denunciation of violence has never drawn much presence in our news narrative, and so many people think it never happened. And now those same people use newspapers (and talk radio etc) to pronounce their misconception, to damaging effect.

Look at that again. The number of times newspapers, within their pages, print “why do Muslims not denounce violence?” must massively exceed the number of times newspapers have ever reported on Muslim denunciations of violence.

The media is responsible for the misconception. By then publishing these letters without answer, I think it is also responsible for its propagation.

What are the editorial responsibilities of newspapers? I know the DomPost editor takes the reader letters very seriously and personally checks each day’s selection. It seems to me this is a massive failure on her part. The responsibility to fairly present reader’s views does not remove the responsibility to correct an obvious factual misconception. “But our readers really think this” is an inadequate defence against the charge of spreading a damaging prejudiced myth, especially when the reason they really think this is your own failure to adequately describe the world.