Unilever isn’t being racist – but you are

Aussie blogger Melinda Tankard Reist has a rather misguided post on Hindustan Unilever’s controversial face-whitening Facebook app:

Playing on certain racial insecurities by telling dark skinned people that they can never really be beautiful – that’s what Unilever is doing… These products promote ethnocentric stereotypes about the superiority of white people.

Hmm. So in two sentences accusing Unilever of racism, she’s managed two rather irritating, patronising – and indeed, accidentally racist – mistakes.

The first is ‘non-white-European people don’t have opinions or make decisions’. So if Hindustan Unilever comes up with a marketing campaign, it must be because a white man in London told them to.

Great… except for the fact that Unilever’s Asian marketing operation is run by an Indian man in Mumbai, is locally devised and locally executed, and London doesn’t pre-approve campaigns.

The second is ‘the US-derived model of white-European versus everyone else is the only way to view prejudices and stereotypes based on skin colour’. So obviously if people in India are being told that lighter skin is better, that’s so they can be more like Europeans and less like Indians.

Great… except for the fact that the Indian preference for paler skin has absolutely cock-all to do with wanting to be European, and a great deal more to do with the fact that within India, long before the British invasion, the ruling castes have been paler-skinned than the workers (partly because they’re more likely to be of Persian descent, and partly because they don’t spend their time working in the hot sun).

Once you stop viewing non-European cultures through the prism of European race relations, playing on people’s desire to appear lighter is no worse than playing on their desire to appear less spotty or wrinkly. So if people from European cultures object to this campaign any more strongly than they’d object to a campaign for an anti-wrinkle cream, they’re basically telling Indians that they have to follow European values. Which is distinctly Not Cool.

No, the Old Spice campaign hasn’t failed

There seems to be a meme floating around the social marketing world at the moment that the super-notorious Old Spice mass media and viral ad campaign has failed to drive sales, despite grabbing mindshare and winning awards. This seems to be based on a Brandweek article that isn’t available on their website (w00t new media marketing excellence, not), but that has been excerpted here. It says:

[S]ales of the featured product—Red Zone After Hours Body Wash—aren’t necessarily tracking with that consumer appeal: In the 52 weeks ended June 13, sales of the brand have dropped 7 percent according to SymphonyIRI. (That amount excludes those rung up at Walmart.) P&G execs were not available to comment.

SymphonyIRI get their sales data direct from the tills in all major US supermarkets except Walmart (who figure they’re big enough that they’ve got more to lose than to gain from sharing their data with competitors), so it’s pretty reliable. I wish I had access myself – I have done for projects in the past, and damn it’s good, but a subscription costs millions of dollars…

However, even without access to the data, we can easily show that the Brandweek piece is absolutely irrelevant. First, a quote from Forbes last Thursday:

Total sales for Old Spice body wash at supermarkets, drugstores and mass market retailers excluding Wal-Mart were up 16.7% in the 52-week period ending June 13, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.

In other words, assuming both articles are accurate, a specific sub-brand of Old Spice has fallen in sales, but the overall brand has risen in sales. Since the campaign primarily promotes Old Spice as a master brand (I didn’t even know it was plugging Red Zone After Hours Body Wash, and nor did you), the Brandweek article is somewhere between misled and misleading in its selective data usage.

Even if Forbes has somehow got its numbers wrong, and the Brandweek data is representative of the brand’s overall performance, this still wouldn’t show the campaign had failed. The IRI data covers a 52 week period – it’s comparing Jul 2009-Jun 2010 to Jul 2008-Jun 2009. The interesting comparisons for a breaking campaign (the ads started in February, and the social campaign’s been building since) are week-on-week (wk20 2010 vs wk20 2009) and month-on-month (Jun 2010 vs Jun 2009), not averages for the whole year. If sales fell in the second half of 2009 and were gradually revived this year by the campaign, the 52 week data wouldn’t show this at all.

The most awesome thing about IRI data if you’re a marketing-stats-data-geek (guilty) is that it’s updated daily. So Procter & Gamble and its agency, Wieden & Kennedy, will know exactly, day on day how sales have reacted. They (well, they plus SymphonyIRI, Unilever, Colgate, and their respective marketing agencies) are the only ones currently in a position to say whether the campaign has worked. Until and unless they, or SymphonyIRI, or a naughty leaker working for a company with access to IRI’s database, tell us what the week-on-week comparisons are, we’ve got little idea whether or not the campaign has succeeded.

Well, except that Old Spice had been in decline as a brand for a very long time – so if there has been a 17% rise in 52-week sales as the Forbes piece suggests, then that’s a good indication that the rise in sales since the campaign launched in February is larger still.

Lesson: while everyone wants smug marketers to fail (yes, of course you do), a campaign that captures the public imagination to the degree that Old Spice has is bloody unlikely to fail to drive sales, at the very least in the short term. Relatedly, most people don’t understand data.

Small company woes

The office manager/PA/secretary at my current workplace is a thoroughly excellent sort, and is absolutely aces at office managing, PA-ing, etc. However, an IT procurement expert she is not – and listening to her on the phone to IT vendors is more than a little painful. The *headdesks* and *facepalms* on the other end of the phone are pretty much audible from here…

What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-07-18

  • These guys reckon Australia is top per capita at CO2 emissions: http://bit.ly/6YSl0V @ozcjr #
  • And always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom… RT @JuliaGillard We [are] shaping a better future, going forward not back. #
  • Great piece on the illiberal stupidity of banning the veil: http://nyti.ms/b62QYG (via @sunnysingh_sw6) #
  • Haha, Fresher's Week-tastic: http://bit.ly/cDsZj9 – yay representative democracy. #
  • Starbucks is moving into wine cafes, French-style: http://bit.ly/9KXb36 – interesting, but I wonder if American puritanism will tolerate it? #
  • Alan Johnson in "even more of a prick than Theresa May" shock: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk/10592123.stm #
  • In "googling at work with the filter off" news, I have just discovered that Teresa May != Theresa May. #
  • Re Jackie O pregnancy, getting knocked up at the age of 81 when you've been dead for 16 years is something of a medical first @fictillius #
  • "I'm not motivated by the money" says emerging recording artist Coco Sumner: http://bit.ly/9xXBNe #perhapstheycouldhavepickedabetterexample #
  • If all Tory cuts involved axeing pointless quangos like the FSA, then I'd be 100% in favour: http://gu.com/p/2tahv/ip #
  • Convo from FB: "What're the chances of anyone being at work in Spain today? Fuck all I'd have thought…" "So it's a normal Monday then?" #
  • It seems odd that people are citing the BSE scandal as a reason not to axe the Food Standards Agency. #
  • After all, the most notable thing about the BSE scandal is that *we didn't all die, because it all turned out to be nonsense*… #
  • …not that this stops the daft buggers in the Australian Red Cross from *still* banning Brits from giving blood, though. #
  • "If the Daily Mail's against it, I'm for it" remains a good rule of thumb: http://bit.ly/9fo1w1 #
  • Sensible comment on CiF on the FSA's abolition: http://bit.ly/aFsxQ2 #
  • NEWSFLASH: if you're fat it's because you're greedy and/or lazy: the only thing that causes obesity is consuming more calories than you use. #
  • You may have a medical condition that makes you greedy (e.g. Prader-Willi) and/or lazy (e.g. depression), but that's a second-order point. #
  • So far, Iran seems to be doing better than Texas as "not executing probably innocent people following outrageously unfair show trials". #
  • Therefore, we should invade Texas and install a liberal regime #canwe #pleasecanwe #
  • Re Polanski: the people to blame are the US officials who failed to file the paperwork, not the Swiss judges who followed the law. #
  • I know that under the UK's agreement with the US, paperwork's unnecessary, but the Swiss have higher standards… #
  • Loving the Barefoot Bandit. The world needs more hilarious, exciting, *fun* criminality… #
  • CROWDSOURCE: bag of sweets & ride in my car to whoever finds someone saying McKinnon verdict is EVIL while also slating Polanski verdict… #
  • EPIC FAIL: RT @j_freedland I stand corrected on my observation re non-singing of national anthem by Spain team: no words to it since 1978. #
  • This is a great post, with a great title: http://bit.ly/d7rX6p #evilplanninglaws #evilericpickles #
  • This is dead dead good: http://icio.us/yj2hlj #ww2 #satire, reminiscent of http://bit.ly/GkrEq #
  • I recognise this isn't really news, but Christ, Janet Street-Porter is an idiot. It's nice to be 17,000km from her: http://bit.ly/cDcE1z #
  • If I was accused of a serious crime I hadn't done, and was instead offered a plea bargain that kept me out of jail, I'd probably take it. #
  • And if the judge then said "actually, sod the plea bargain, I'm going to send you to jail after all", I'd feel justifiably pissed off. #
  • I'm not, incidentally, defending Polanski-the-man, and I have nothing but contempt for people who think his art exempts him from punishment. #
  • (I also have nothing but contempt for people who think his personal vices devalue his art, of course…) #
  • However, I don't think protection of law should apply any less to people accused of sex offences than to people accused of other offences. #
  • Finally on Polanski, it also riles me that testimony that was never tested by the court is unquestioningly accepted as FACT. No, it ain't. #
  • NOTE TO IDIOTS: in neither England nor California is "statutory rape" a concept. Unless you shag a stone icon of Mrs Thatcher, which [etc] #
  • US in 'seriously pathetic' shock & awe: http://www.tumblr.com/xrkdc8igt (via @johnhalton) – yes, of course we underage-drank, but THE CHILDRENS!!! #
  • Worst understanding of sexual offences law EVAH -> RT @coxar @johnb78 sex with a minor is by definition non-consensual. Do you disagree? #
  • Good rule to remember: "The pursuit of balance can create imbalance because sometimes something is true" #
  • Latest tweet from @BPGlobalPR (lame satire) rather gives the lie to "BP anger isn't just Americans being racist fucktards", doesn't it? #
  • Wow, I'm following @SarahPalinUSA. I must have been bloody drunk when I clicked that one… #
  • Incidentally, the fact that Twitter allows followees to DM followers without the ability to reply to the DM is an EPIC FAIL. #
  • If the French senate approves the ban on the burqa, anyone up for a mass burqa-wearing holiday to Paris? (via @beatniksalad) #
  • I did not know that residents of Phoenix, AZ, were referred to as Phoenicians. That's really rather cool. http://bit.ly/9gvoZ5 #
  • Apologies @bpglobalpr. I still think they're wrong about Megrahi, but not that they're mindless Brit-bashers. #
  • If you don't think Lockerbie was Iran's (evil) revenge for the US (evilly) murdering a plane of Iranian civilians, you're a silly person. #
  • Anyone who still has any belief in Megrahi's guilt should read this: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n18/gareth-peirce/the-framing-of-al-megrahi #
  • Fuck Tony Blair. Fuck him to death: http://ht.ly/2b810 (via @thabet1979) #
  • Ok, so the new UK government is just as petty and evil as the last one: http://bit.ly/aKiZpN – I'm retracting @chickyog's point-win… #
  • Best money-saving political suggestion EVAH: http://bit.ly/adNbK4 #crowdsourcingpolicyisareallystupididea #whodvethunkit #
  • In other news, don't copy and paste from Wiki, you cretins: http://bit.ly/bNeGhB (via @naomimc) #
  • Via Jamie, who's sadly only on web 1.0, this is aces: http://www.ctbto.org/specials/1945-1998-by-isao-hashimoto/ #
  • DAMN YOU, @fictillius!!! #
  • This is on the money, but terribly subbed. Almost like cost pressures compromised quality: http://bit.ly/9fHUp4 #yesIusedtoworkforMikeDanson #
  • Obvious, but needs saying: if you sympathise *at all in any way* with Raoul Moat, you are a worthless scumbag. #
  • I'm a fan of the word "c(ons)u(lta)nt". #
  • Who does more harm, woo-merchants or MI6? Not convinced the answer is necessarily the latter… @chickyog @dnotice #
  • The excellent @realdmitchell is right, of course: http://bit.ly/9ueufJ #pubs #
  • Either @sun has decided to destroy the world in fiery inferno form, or it's getting its temperature measures rather wrong at the moment… #
  • Wow, dressing as a sparkly-white version of Mrs T and quoting Kang and Kodos is, apparently, the way to win elections #ausvotes #twirling #
  • Inspiration for the PM's outfit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=840B27zYfOk #ausvotes #
  • One Last Knob Song #changelovetoknobsongs #
  • I haz messed up. Not entirely sure how I haz messed up, but pretty certain that I haz messed up. #

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What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-07-11

  • Great Jim Henley piece on 'high road' vs 'low road' policies (eg diplomacy vs war, or investigation vs torture): http://bit.ly/cokCqu #
  • Weird to watch people commenting on the Megrahi case as if he were the Lockerbie bomber. While, as a Libyan intelligence officer, he's… #
  • …doubtless a nasty piece of work, his (and, indeed, Libya's) lack of involvement in Lockerbie are both now almost certain. #
  • *Please* can we start a campaign to encourage the Daily Mail to go paywall-only? (concept via @gimpyblog…) #
  • Australia-press-wise, I'd be delighted if the News titles went paywall and the Fairfax ones stayed free. a) vile b) mediocre with good bits #
  • .@marshallw where's my fucking hoverboard? #
  • Fuck the WHAT? RT @sunny_hundal: The government is increasing the threshold required to dissolve Parliament from 55% to 2/3rds of all MPs #
  • Of course they're all straight; straight as a line. Joe Jackson FTW, Youtube him #ebz http://fallenlondon.com/c/141153 #
  • It's depressing that the UK'll have a referendum on 'completely uncontroversial ways of not being mad' that may still fail. #alternativevote #
  • Agree; worth preserving RT @sunny_hundal If Labour oppose AV now they'll just end up splitting their own base and looking very unprincipled. #
  • Reminded of this by a FB friend: Australia's finest son – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TN002ejgC6I #
  • For the Coalition. LD supporters count as the $50: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcdtVD8X1-A #
  • Thanks to @mudlarklives for reminding me of Mr Lehrer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frAEmhqdLFs is still the best piece of Cold War media ever #
  • Me-from-1995 likes the fact that in the future, I get to recommend satirical videos to @martincarr. That almost makes up for hoverboards. #
  • FIFA = morons. What possible commercial benefit do they gain from banning goal clips (ie 'more eyeballs for their sponsors') from YouTube? #
  • Struggling to work out whether this chocolate ad is awesome or a bit racially dodgy: http://mumbrella.com.au/hello-chocolate-lovers-29373 #
  • Today, like most Coalition days, is one of those days when I'm glad I live in Australia. Sorry, UK, you fucked up. #
  • Confused by @AdamBienkov here. The fact that you don't find nonce jokes funny doesn't stop them from being jokes: http://bit.ly/bQ4D71 #
  • Remembering 7/7 – very good Grauniad editorial: http://bit.ly/dbkxFd #
  • Wow, the "world's most complete and utter miserable dickhead" award has a strong new nominee: http://bit.ly/bJK6iS (via @dnotice) #
  • The Economist's former Charlemagne, now Bagehot, off to an excellent start on the BBC: http://bit.ly/9FMyAc #
  • Enjoying my brief status as minor Twitter celebrity. Not enjoying NSW's rugby form… #
  • Damn, this is good – an old dsquared post, grabbed from the memory archives by @stabprin: http://bit.ly/9WAKeD #
  • #ebz is less fun since I completed it, but that still won't stop me playing, dammit… http://fallenlondon.com/c/143763 #
  • Things I like about Australia, #1: @netbank aren't incompetent thieving bastards, unlike all UK banks. #
  • Things I like about Australia, #2: ordering my morning coffee with four adjectives. #
  • Random unexpected things I like about Australia, #1: @netbank aren't incompetent thieving bastards, unlike all UK banks. #
  • Random unexpected things I like about Australia, #2: ordering my morning coffee with four adjectives. #
  • Another US journalist sacked for not cravenly supporting Israel: http://yhoo.it/9Csr4f #freespeech #wossatthen? #
  • He might've turned out less of a dick, though -> RT @ebertchicago Rush Limbaugh wouldn't be where he is today if he hadn't been born white. #
  • Stock image FAIL: http://bit.ly/ck4HRe (wrong builder, wrong operator, wrong state, built 20 years apart, anything else wrong…?) #
  • Outrageous homophobic discrimination in Surry Hills ;-) – http://twitpic.com/23dlm9 #
  • Friday, woo. Four hours impending of boring and frustrating cut and paste, boo. #
  • Wow, Everton's away kit is impressive. #
  • One person here has a vuvuleza. Every time he blows it, 1000 fans boo him… #

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Supreme Court (UK edition) for the win

Lord Rodger, yesterday:

Just as male heterosexuals are free to enjoy themselves playing rugby, drinking beer and talking about girls with their mates, so male homosexuals are to be free to enjoy themselves going to Kylie concerts, drinking exotically coloured cocktails and talking about boys with their straight female mates.

Great ruling, though. And nice to see the government welcoming it, in a weird departure from precedent and stereotype.

Of course, the Sun had to spoil it: Gay illegals can stay. Err, no, you bigoted idiots, they aren’t illegals, they’re legitimate refugees – that’s exactly what the Supreme Court ruling has just determined…

Depressing but probably true

From the Rodent:

It would’ve been wiser and more useful in military and diplomatic terms; more humane, productive and billions of pounds less expensive if the US and Britain had responded to 9/11 by crashing two planeloads of US marines into the centre of a randomly-chosen Afghan city at 700 mph and executing 300 randomly-chosen British squaddies by firing squad.

Technical BP question, or ‘lazy crowdsourcing’

So, on BP, let’s assume that it gets so busted by compo claims that its entire US business gets liquidated and sold to Exxon (as seems to be the current, insane narrative: “we’ll pretend BP are evil rather than the same as everyone else, so we don’t have to stop the drilling and the oil greed…”. I don’t think it’s an anti-British thing, by the way – I’m sure that if Exxon had been the unlucky chaps, they’d’ve got the whole take-one-for-the-team treatment.)

At that point, the American liabilities are ringfenced, and BP can continue to do as it does in the North Sea, Asia and Africa, bringing quantities of money that are undeniably copious, albeit less large than its shareholders pre-spill might have hoped.

At that point, British and Chinese BP shareholders are perfectly safe in their holding of the company. But what happens to American shareholders? Is there a mechanism by which the US government could appropriate US-held BP shares, and is it an ‘unprecedented, practically war’ thing or a ‘yeah, we do this’ thing if so?

…which brings the technical question: is there any divergence between movements in BP shares on the LSE, and BP shares on the NYSE? That would be an interesting indicator, if so…

What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-07-04

  • Martin Amis & Shed #swapwordinfilmwithshed #swapwordinfilmwithmartinamis #
  • The Unbearable Shed of Martin Amis #swapwordinfilmwithshed #swapwordinfilmwithmartinamis #
  • RT @anattendantlord Bring Me The Shed of Martin Amis #swapwordinfilmwithshed #swapwordinfilmwithmartinamis #
  • "Tottenham Hotspurtable"? – http://bit.ly/9Ws52e – #typosthatsoundfilthy #
  • "equivalent of defecating on the steps of the Vatican" – no, defecating on steps of Vatican would be a *good thing*: http://bit.ly/a9DLJK #
  • Ooops, I did just kill SPSS #toomanydatas #
  • Shorter Oborne: 'buy tinned food, shotguns; move to mountains. PS I AM NOT MAD": http://diigo.com/0bk0y (via @mrpower) #
  • The ironically named James Cleverly: http://bit.ly/bcFIDN #transportfail #
  • Eep, I've finished #ebz – they'd better add some new content soon… http://fallenlondon.com/c/133374 #
  • $8.99 is GBP5.20. That's 97p a bottle… http://twitpic.com/20ppgd #
  • Martin Amis #rappersbetterthansouljaboy #
  • Martin Amis, Thongs & Perfect Snogging #swapawordinafilmformartinamis #eww #
  • This fits pretty well with my existing stereotypes about neighbours who make noise complaints: http://bit.ly/bNMesi #
  • Throw Martin Amis From The Train #swapawordinafilmforMartinAmis #yesIknowIneedtostopnow #
  • Anyone know how to find out who first used a particular hashtag & when? #
  • 100 elderly Japanese men in sailor suits #sightsfrommylunchbreak #
  • A teenage marching band from Mississippi #sightsfrommylunchbreak #
  • A busload of Chinese people in bright green anoraks #sightsfrommylunchbreak #
  • A gridlock of confused out-of-towner coach drivers, carrying signs in various non-Latin-script languages #sightsfrommylunchbreak #
  • Several elderly moustachioed clipboard-wielding Sydneysiders, trying to bring order to the chaos #sightsfrommylunchbreak #
  • Lady on Castlereagh St says she was sent by Jehovah to talk to the sinners. #
  • I know He works in mysterious ways, but I'd've considered sending someone soberer and more continent. Nice Jewish boy maybe? #
  • Can't see how someone can say socialism's a worthless ideology that's never done any good, and yet still claim to be centre-left @jachartuk #
  • Great piece from Peter Singer on cheating in football: http://bit.ly/c3oQEw – why were Neuer's actions any different from a drug cheat's? #
  • SPSS really is made of FAIL. More crashes than Air France… #
  • The New Yorker's profile of David Mitchell was briefly perplexing: http://bit.ly/bz7qOZ #
  • Blimey, I'm in the Grauniad: http://bit.ly/abysIH – eggs and euromyths, obviously… #
  • If the awful song from the AAMI advert doesn't leave my brain shortly, I may be forced to remove it through the means of amateur surgery… #
  • I don't get the point of free public wifi in urban areas given 3G, but Railcorp apparently disagrees: http://bit.ly/9XyQgA (via @squeakaz) #
  • Public wifi was a fudge by USA-ans to get round their woeful 3G rollout. It's of no use in countries with functional 3G (ie anywhere else) #
  • AU's 25 daftest ad complaints: http://bit.ly/9MlfTH – I've long believed that ppl who complain to ASB/ASA shld automatically be certified… #
  • Copyright theft doesn't exist: the word is 'infringement'. Theft requires intention to deprive; copying doesn't deprive anyone of anything. #
  • After a brief absence, #ebz http://fallenlondon.com/c/136775 #
  • "You can tell by the way I use my walk…", etc, only gender-reversed: http://dlvr.it/2CwWH (via @bengoldacre) #
  • Shorter Alan Kohler: "Westminster system? Wossat? Also, the govt should be banned from doing things I don't like": http://bit.ly/bzh9OV #
  • Haha, this is made entirely of truth: http://bit.ly/aId4Vy <- The Freelancer Lunch Game. #
  • Sheer genius – Diageo pays off its pension fund deficit in whisky: http://bit.ly/djHTDo – someone tell the government! #
  • RT @PlugInShowbiz: Dear Confused Teen Girls: someone who sparkles and won't have sex with you isn't a vampire; it's a gay guy. #
  • #ebz off to Brisbane, but first… http://fallenlondon.com/c/138598 #
  • The 400 bus takes a remarkably long time to not go very far. It is, however, free, which makes it better than cab/train to airport… #
  • Perplexed Ryanair's in the news again with the same bullshit, illegal nonsense it PR'ed last year. Lazy journalists are lazy. #
  • As usual, Nick Cohen talks ignorant crap: http://www.private-eye.co.uk/sections.php?section_link=columnists&issue=1265 #

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The idle musings of John B