The real lesson to take away from the US Presidential Election and the UK Brexit Vote.

I’ve worked in the marketing “industry” for several decades, and have been on the “buy-side” all that time. To those not in the industry that means I buy marketing services (creative and media) from companies who sell it. Those companies use very similar techniques as are used in politics to advise on the right message and mix of media, and I’ve found that the accuracy of those “techniques” has always been biased towards the exact services that those “sell-side” marketers are pushing.

During the election cycle we saw every single media outlet doing whatever they could to keep their revenue streams happy. On TV and radio this means keeping consumers watching/listening across ad-breaks, while in print and online it was to maximize their viewership by offering views that would be attractive to as wide an audience as possible.

So every issue was represented from both sides, every fact was questioned without facts and every bullshit idea was presented as equal to any fact. There was absolutely no interest in what any candidate actually was going to do, what was important was presenting every position as equal, allowing every party to just talk and talk.

Stolen information from emails, and candidly recorded audio was presented without any interest in its integrity and was presented as being as valid as formally recorded statements, creating a level of uncertainty around every piece of knowledge, facts and non-facts were melded, and it became hard to distinguish rumor from fact, so hard that most people gave up even trying to, “her lies” and “his misogyny, bigotry and bluster” was seen as equal, which I suspect in the cold hard light of history will be seen to not be so.

And then to support all of this, highly nuanced surveys and polls were continually captured and presented. I say highly nuanced, because polls and surveys always end up speaking to a small group of people who actually are willing to spend the time to answer questions. And when you pay someone to run a survey they quickly learn who they can rely on, and will go to the same people again and again, despite the clear data issue this generated, because that’s how they get paid.

The goal is to create content in support of revenue. Cheap content, presented as valuable beyond it’s true value. Low cost product generating high profit revenue is the dream of any business, including the media.

Polls, surveys, snippets of information then discussed by talking heads and bloggers, who then become the news source for more talking heads to discuss (just look at Foxnews, MSNBC, CNN, NBC, BBC News, Huffington post etc). The actual validity of the core data quickly gets lost in the process of generating “content”

In business the sell-side marketers are always pushing “facts” in support of the “buy-side” marketers case to spend more money. “buy-side” marketers are always under pressure to justify their budgets, and once they start to rely on the “sell-side facts” they are hooked into an addictive cycle that requires them to just double down on their committed plan, spending more and more.

This is exactly what the media do in every election cycle. The biggest measure of a campaign is seen as how much are they spending on ad’s. When in fact these adverts have almost no impact on the election, and yet every campaign buys into the bullshit. Every talking head, newspaper and blogger is writing about who has a bigger war chest, and who is spending more in this month’s cycle of ad’s. Every Ad is presented as a powerful new tool to swing the result, a tool that never produced the promised results, EVER!

The pain that businesses feel when they cannot see a direct relationship between their marketing investment and their business performance is EXACTLY the same as the pain that the electorate feel when the polls prove to be entirely devoid of reality.

The people who are marching up and down outside Trump buildings, should maybe think about marching up and down outside the “free presses” offices.

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Anti-Science Is Incredibly Dangerous

The GOP nominee for president has been talking about the burden of regulations on business, and screamed about the four thousand plus drugs that are currently undergoing the regulatory mandated clinical trial process. He has a simplistic view that if these drugs were sped through a simpler process this would in some way save lives. How does he know?

How does he know that these drugs are going to do what is hoped? How can he know that a new cancer drug won’t actually have some dramatic unexpected effect that could make the situation worse? How does he know that fixing one symptom won’t create other deadly symptoms for the patient, or worse for other people?

Does he understand the historical record of drugs that created unexpected (unintended) consequences, some of which were horrific?

Does he understand the historical record of drugs that had absolutely no effect, but were marketed as cures for everything, causing people to die earlier or less comfortably than they otherwise would have?

The answer (of course) is that he doesn’t know these things, but does know that people desperate for new drugs to help terminal or painful conditions may vote for a candidate who creates fear of regulations.

He also knows that drug companies looking to reduce their costs of development (and their costs of indemnification) would in some cases love to see the time required to meet regulations reduced.

Reducing costs is a good idea, but not by removing scientific rigor.

There are no simple answers to complex questions, history has shown that people who promote simple one dimensional answers are always dangerously wrong.

The science being done today in the fields of medicine and food creation are incredible. The knowledge that scientists have curated on how the mechanisms of life work has opened up entirely new avenues of research that is leading to incredibly complex solutions to previously untreatable conditions. But there is always a “but”. How do we know for sure that one change, or a series of changes that a treatment makes won’t create a situation that will be dangerous in other ways. The answer is we need to be very careful. Being careful means agreeing on a rigorous scientific process to confirm the validity of an idea through careful peer reviewable testing that always errs on the side of doubt. That is exactly what todays regulations aim to do.

The regulatory bodies in existence are always looking to improve their processes, but improving the rigor, efficiency or effectiveness of a scientific process, does not mean reducing regulations.

The scientific process may seem frustrating, but a non-scientific process is not just dangerous it’s would also be vastly less effective.

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Enhancing Shareholder Value a.k.a. killing business success

At some point in the 1980’s someone came up with the idea of shareholder value. The idea was that the ultimate success of a company was to maximize the value that the company delivered to shareholders. Seems like a pretty reasonable idea, until you start to see what people who use this term really mean.

What is often done in the name of “enhancing shareholder value” is totally the antipathy of the obvious definition of the idea.

Surely (you would imagine) that shareholders would want to see a company perform well over a long period of time. And you would imagine that performing well would be a simple concept, where the money a company spends on developing and selling its product would be less than the money it brings in from its customers. You would imagine that in the same way you balance your bank account every month a company would be measured as being successful if there was “profit” on the business they perform.

But you would not be correct!

The stock market and therefore the executives of large companies look for increasing returns not just profit. So if a company continually makes a 10% profit every year according to those who measure shareholder value that company is failing.

So the pressure is on to show increases in revenue, and decreases in costs, so that year on year, quarter on quarter the business “grows”, and so the company gets bigger and the shareholders are then told by the “experts” that the shareholder value is increasing.

This drives companies to off-shore their workforce, find lower cost suppliers, reduce their work force and consider unbelievably expensive mergers and acquisitions. In the very short term these things seem to drive down costs or increase revenue and so that’s a good thing. But they really don’t make a company healthier, they kill it.

I’ve seen company executive’s looks to buy a company at any cost, just to get a small increase in revenue this year. It doesn’t matter that the money spent can never be recovered, it’s about achieving a revenue target, not a margin target. It’s often inane.

A large number of acquisitions never make a profit, what they do in move huge sums of money and stock from a healthy company to the owners of a less healthy company. The two merged companies for a short time have increased revenue, but the cost and mess of merging the businesses often leads to reduced performance and so the growth slows down. Angry customers leave, and new customers question the value of entering this created confusion. So all too often the sum of the parts is less than the whole, and within a few years the revenue of the merged business looks like the revenue would have already been of the healthier if the two parts if they had not merged. To me that says that the billions spent on the merger were entirely wasted. At the same time all the changes demanded to streamline the two businesses cause the best and the brightest to leave and huge political infighting between executives takes place to grab the reduced number of top spots. Innovation slows and then the business is forced to go through more rounds of off-shoring and layoffs to reduce costs even further to have to pay for the debt created from the merger.

Of course there are winners from M&A, those who broker the deal, the CEO’s and CFO’s, the banks and the private equity firms all get lucrative multi-million dollar payoffs as part of their self-created wonderland.

And there are lots of losers, employees, customers, shareholders.

I’ve worked for a number of companies who have acquired large businesses over and over again, and I’ve seen the carnage it creates. Apart from the small number of execs and bankers who make the deal happen, I’m at a loss to see who gains, except maybe of course for India and China.

Maximizing shareholder value seems to be the modern euphemism for “Screw you I’m taking it all”.

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Airlines latest scam

Fuel prices went up so airline ticket prices went up.

Security issues became more common so airlines put up ticket prices.

Baggage is no longer part of your ticket price (for most flights) but an extra cost.

That seat you preferred, the airline noticed, and now charge you more for that specific seat.

You want to sit next to your spouse; well in that case it will cost you more.

If you want cold damp squashed sandwiches, that will cost you extra now.

You want to actually get on the plane, well do you want to get on before or after that family with six kids, oh before, that will cost you extra.

You want to get there without having to stop for six hours at another airport on the way, guess what they will cost you extra.

Recently there has been discussion to reduce the size of carry-on bags, allowing extra charges for that bag that you have used for years.

Some airlines have considered charging for an in-flight crap.

You can pay extra for a shorter check-in queue, access to a chair in a waiting room, curb side check-in, in-flight movies, tv and internet access.

Some airlines have tried charging for a pillow or a blanket.

And now there is a line item on airline tickets that just says “carrier imposed fees”. What are these you ask, well they are fees imposed by the carrier. If you call and ask they advise you that they don’t provide any more detail.

It seems that since fuel prices are falling, they can’t call these a fuel surcharge anymore, because there is no reason for a fuel surcharge, so now they are just undeclared “carrier imposed” surcharges.

Airlines are currently very profitable, but they are making these profits but fleecing their customers. With less choice, poorer services and using every chance to charge extra for anything that isn’t nailed down.

As airlines merge, and on most routes there is less competition, there needs to be an advocate for the consumer that looks at fair business practices. But right now this does not exist and the life of an air traveller is just getting worse and more expensive every month.

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Insurance is socialism

The concept of insurance is very simple, have a large group of people pool their investment in protecting against a risk, in the knowledge that the costs incurred when a risk turns into an event ,while great, will be manageable since the chance of many people being effected by similar events in low enough.

Everyone pays in enough to cover the costs of these who suffer an “event”.

Insurance works best when the group of people involved is very large. If everyone is involved then it works best of all. Insurance is about playing the odds, everyone joins in and all are protected. It’s the most social of all systems possible.

That’s how life insurance works, that’s how car insurance works, it is how property insurance works and yes, and it’s how health insurance works.
There is absolutely no socialist concept that is more socialist than insurance. In fact the most left socialist countries in the world today are less socialist than insurance. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were not as socialist as insurance (but they were naïve enough to think they were of course).

And in the same way that democracy is a flawed process of government, just less flawed than every other choice, so it is with insurance. No one likes paying insurance, but of all the possible choices, it’s the least flawed model.

And the issue really comes down to our ability to deal with a bad situation. If your spouse dies, or you’re sick, or you have a car crash or your house burns down, then you are at that moment in the least effective position to deal with the issue. Insurance is partly about mitigating a risk and a lot about helping those who are not in a position to help themselves.

No one likes paying for insurance, but no one has ever found a more effective model.

Whenever in history there has been insurance society has thrived (greeks, rome etc), and whenever there has not been insurance society has floundered (dark ages). It’s that simple, when people work together for the common good, everyone wins.
I’m sick of crybabies wailing about having to pay for other peoples insurance. If people are left homeless, sick, bereft of the ability to be a valuable part of society, then everyone loses.

But the other side of insurance is fraud and greed. The only way insurance works for everyone is if the costs are controlled as carefully as possible. Greedy bastards living on the backs of insurance, gouging prices and getting kickbacks from suppliers, and lying about services destroys society just as easily as having no insurance.

Simple rules for a good society:
1- Everyone pays for insurance.
2- If you make a fraudulent claim or you cheat on the costs the punishment must be draconian. I’m talking hung by your nut sack draconian.

Insurance is not nice, it’s just an essential part of how our society runs.

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Did anyone EVER recieve a call from a telemarketer at 7pm at home and actually buy anything?

There are many things I do to protest terrible behavior.

If I get bad service in a restaurant or shop, I am happy to spend the time to pass on my annoyance to the store manager.

I don’t shop at Walmart, having seen their terrible vendor management practices first hand, and heard the horror stories about pitiful wages I choose to boycott them.

When my usual limo service gives me crap service, I move to another of the plethora of available almost identical limo services.

When a airline acts crappily towards me (yes I mean you British Airways) I do whatever I can to avoid them in the future.

I don’t feel my choices are particularly unusual, most people have a choice of who they trade with.

So why do telemarketers act like such assholes, and keep calling and pissing me off?

There is absolutely no way I would EVER buy a product or service from anyone who is so annoying as to call me at home between the hours of 6pm and 9pm.. Of fax me an advert.. or leave automated messages on my answerphones…. In fact even if I was looking for exactly the service or product they were offering, I wouldn’t buy from them as I know they would green-light my contact details as someone who doesn’t hate their guts and is a target for every other seller.

Let me be very very clear. “To all telemarketers who contact me at home or on my private cellphone, I will never buy from you, and I wish you nothing but misery, when you call me I HATE YOU”

Yes I’m on the do not call register, and yet you still call.

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What the hell is going on! oh right the same as always.

What the hell is going on!

Like most kids around the world, when I was at school I learnt of the history of the Brits who travelled to America to find solace free from religious and social tyranny.

It was held up as the pinnacle of freedom. A country driven to see all people as equal and to allow each individual the freedom to live their lives as they wished.

Of course the next chapter in that children’s history book did explain that all wasn’t perfect, with oppression of native people, rampant slavery, racism and sexism issues and a history of political corruption and political cowardice that pretty much matched the rest of the world. I know now that this chapter is taught very differently in America.

It seems that maybe teaching the issues of the past more completely may have been a great way to help people to learn to stop repeating them.

The issues of today, seem to be all too familiar from that children’s history book.

Yes I’m looking at you corrupt Supreme Court, and you, paid for politicians, and you business owners who think you have rights greater than other individuals, and you irresponsible gun rights advocates, and you manufacturers who ship jobs oversees to save a buck irrespective of the long term social costs, and you climate change deniers who put your short term profits ahead of long term health and social need, and you union leaders who limit growth of your members to line your personal power bases, and you war profiteers, and you bigots who subvert the meaning of religious texts to support your bigotry…. Hmm it’s a long list when you think about it….

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Stop the bag madness

So what is the problem with plastic bags and supermarkets?

You go to the super market and buy a couple of apples, an onion, some carrots, a lettuce and a cucumber, but what you get includes a stack of polystyrene trays, 20 feet of plastic wrap and a bunch of printed stickers along with the fruit and veg.

But when you go to buy these items at the checkout and need a bag to put them in, the staff are shocked that YOU are single handedly destroying the planet.

It seems that that one plastic bag is (in their minds) causing landfills, and causing the seas to rise.

I suspect the reason for their consternation is that the plastic bag is actually a useful piece of packaging. When you get home you throw away all the crap that the groceries came in, but actually REUSE the plastic bag. And of course the reuse stops you buying a bag for whatever purpose it’s being reused for.

Next time the supermarket gives me shit over the need for a bag, I am goinf to ask them to remove all the superfluous packaging and just give me what I will be able to consume. Until they can do that I don’t want to hear another word about reusable bags that I need to purchase. That’s how they can help the environment.

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Brady, Belichick and the Patriots: Facts and Non-Fiction

As the NFL playoff frenzy continues to build approaching conference championship weekend, all eyes and ears seemingly turn to the Patriots and their coach and quarterback. A little Fact and Non-Fiction for consideration:

Brady and Belichick
Brady and Belichick
Fact: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick had an amazing and perhaps unparalleled run, winning 3 Super Bowls (without a loss), and following it up with an undefeated regular season.

Fact: The fact is that the previously unbeatable Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are 0-fer in Superbowls since they were caught cheating and the “When given 2 weeks to prepare, no one will out prepare Bill Belichick!” statement sounds lazy and uninformed today.

Non-Fiction: With media darling Peyton Manning out early in yet another highly anticipated playoff run, the beautiful and talented Tom Brady will now get the lion’s share of attention as the young whippersnappers Flacco, Ryan and Copernicus will be grouped together.

Vince Ferragamo: Hopeful heartthrob coming back from Canada
Vince Ferragamo: Hopeful heartthrob coming back from Canada
Fact: While the NFL’s leading supermodel impregnator has lost the Prince Valiant haircut, he’s also trying to prove he hasn’t lost his on-field big game mojo. Since his coaches were caught cheating (to give him and his teammates an unfair advantage), this “Guaranteed first ballot HOFer” with “the clutch gene” has reminded us more of Dan Pastorini or even Vince Ferragamo than Joe Montana. Barely over .500.

Non-Fiction: Pastorini, Ferragamo and post-Spygate Brady are all Good looking, physically talented QBs from unusual pre-NFL glory situations who had great regular season success and were average to slightly above average in the playoffs.

Fact: Brady and Belichick have proven to be above average at their craft since the cheating scandal and associated sanctions for said cheating.

Non-Fiction: There’s no shame in just being above average in crunch time, but please… Vince Lombardi should never again be invoked when talking about Belichick and Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw should never again be invoked when talking about Tom Brady.

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No I don’t want discounted electricity, please go to hell!

I signed up to the “Do Not Call Register” a long time ago, and while I’m sure some telesales organizations do adhere to the rules, far too many do not.

The one that annoys me the most, are a bunch of fu$kwits who call virtually every day to try and sell me discounted electricity. These a$$holes call with an automated message offering to lower the cost of my electricity bill. I continue to ignore them and they continue to call me.

Each time they call it’s a different phone number so blocking the number doesn’t work. I’ve reported them to the DNCR, and yet they keep calling.

One day I would love to meet these pri&ks and explain to them with a variety of household DIY tools the error of their ways.

Electric Meter

If there is one perfect way to ensure I will NEVER buy your product, it’s to call my home phone with an automated message.

Discount Electricity Company I wish you would FOAD

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