The unfair weather knell of democratic politics

Water rain - The Myndset Brand StrategyWe are in changing times (once again) and I must say that the picture reminds me of the grey and rainy may day (ie. help!) we are having in London (au Secours #RadioLondres), on this Monday, May 7, 2012.

As of today, we now have:

  • Hollande in France, voted in by 51.7%
  • Samaris of the New Democracy party in Greece with 18.9% vote, introducing  a very new form of democracy
  • Putin of United Russia with 64% of the vote as the returning President in Russia, ushering back in an echo of Russian democracy
  • …not to mention the weekend’s local/regional elections in the UK, Germany and Italy, where the incumbents were regularly whipped or wiped out of office.

A major year for elections

These elections alone have been rather momentous.  And, ahead, there are many more parliamentary and presidential elections to which to look forward including Egypt in end of May, India (in July) and USA (in November)… [You can view the entire list of elections in the world in this Wikipedia entry.]

It was a busy week of voting for me, too.  I voted in the mayoral election in London as well as the Presidential election in France (via “procuration”).  I will also cast my vote in the US elections.

For what purpose?

But, with all these elections, it leads me to pose two questions:

  1. how much do people expect the world to change thanks to politicians?
  2. how much productivity is negatively impacted in a country during the year of elections?
On the first point, I have long been a proponent of the Ayn Rand determinist school of thought, so I would much rather take matters into my own hands, whenever possible.  If you are in business, then I think there is no better state of mind.  I am more likely to believe that democratically elected politicians can negatively impact business, rather than positively.
On the second question, if voters spent their time on constructive debate and pundits (and the media) provided more reasoned and well-researched arguments, perhaps an election would be grounds for real debate and progress.  But, between media airwaves that are spent on unsightly negative political (and personal) attacks, flaring emotions in bar rooms and pubs and vapid political debates, there seems to be too much wasted breath (and time) during political campaigns.

The political cycle

The problem with democratically elected officials is that, by definition, they must over promise to get elected.  Yet, with clockwork predictability, unexpected events occur and plans are derailed.  By mid term, the electorate systematically becomes impatient and sanctions their elected leader, making the last half of the term a lame duck.  The arc of democracy consists of high expectations and dashed hopes.  Would that we all got down to the business of taking responsibility for ourselves rather than waiting for Godot.

The MSM Media Challenge — Some more ideas of improvement

Here are some more ideas for the mainstream media (MSM) to kick into high gear with their online community.

With media titles dying or falling fallow on a daily basis, the MSM crisis seems just now to be hitting full stride. The number of recent closures has been drastic. In August, Condé Nast closed Portfolio, followed in October by the announced closure of Gourmet, Modern Bride and Elegant Bride, as well as a parenting magazine called Cookie. As reported by WSJ, “Ad pages at 14 of Conde Nast’s 23 print publications fell by more than the industry average of 29.5% in the second quarter, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.” Of course, the more startling statistic is the -29.5% for the industry…

But Condé Nast is only amplifying a trend that started with Hearst and Time Warner. And as Strategy and Business suggested in their recent article, “McGraw-Hill is said to be close to a sale — or closure — of Business Week.

So, as mainstream media continue to tackle the issue of the right internet model, below are three thoughts that complement and/or update my other posts on the topic (see here: Mainstream Media: Recommendation from a reader’s perspective and The Future of MSM).

Hyperlink Finger Icon1/ Cross-referencing with links. How is that online media (newspapers, magazines. etc.) rarely, if ever, link out to help readers understand the references in their articles? Not even a site like Wired!

Take this BBC’s article randomly taken from today’s news about how Russia’s economy will decline by 7.5% in 2009. As is their custom, they wrote the entire article on line without any links whatsoever.

“Russia’s economy will shrink by 7.5% in 2009, President Dmitry Medvedev has said – but claimed Kremlin intervention had prevented a worse decline.

Russia, which is heavily reliant on oil exports, has been hit by the sharp fall in energy prices. Mr Medvedev said the decline was “very serious” and admitted the government had been surprised at how severely Russia had been hit by the crisis.

However the predicted slide in GDP was less than earlier predictions. “The real damage to our economy was far greater than anything predicted by ourselves, the World Bank and other expert organisations,” Mr Medvedev told Russian television.”

I have re-contextualized these first three paragraphs for how they might have done it differently:

“Russia‘s economy will shrink by 7.5% in 2009, President Dmitry Medvedev has said – but claimed Kremlin intervention had prevented a worse decline.

Russia, which is heavily reliant on oil exports, has been hit by the sharp fall in energy prices. Mr Medvedev said the decline was “very serious” and admitted the government had been surprised at how severely Russia had been hit by the crisis.

However the predicted slide in GDP was less than earlier predictions. “The real damage to our economy was far greater than anything predicted by ourselves, the World Bank and other expert organisations,” Mr Medvedev told Russian television.”

The links I have chosen for these few paragraphs are sourced from a variety of sites, including Wikipedia and Google Maps, of course. By choosing certain words to hyperlink and the source of the new link, there is a new form of editor to invent. Naturally, such hyperlinking takes more time, but in this research for links, two things are going to happen. First, the very act of researching the links to make sure the content is viable is a form of value-added research for the reader/consumer. Secondly, the outgoing links will create synergies and link-love, bringing in more readers over time.

2/ Get more knowledge of your reader, gaining trust and, therefore, more opportunities for engagement. Too often, when you read and/or sign up for a news site, there is no effort to exchange in a give-and-get (i.e. a win/win) approach. News organisations need to find ways to have readers impart their personal information which can be used to enhance the reader’s experience. For example, they should view their readers as word-of-bloggers… begat from the word-of-mouth era. This is being done by the New York Times rather well with the “which articles are being blogged about” section.

Just as Amazon has a section of “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…”, so readers of an article could have “Customers who read this article also read …” Better yet, as the newspapers ramp up their database management system and get to learn who their clients are (intelligent CRM), they can refine the recommendation and suggest even more aligned follow-on articles to read. I would like to see some adaptation of the iTunes Genius or the brand new Genius Mix, for example, which could provide an intelligent ‘playlist’ of articles to read.

Text to Speech

3/ Add the text-to-speech function… Every morning, I read the news online as I am surfing. Sometimes, I listen to podcasts or videocasts which allows me simul
taneously to continue doing my online morning activities. As per the Readspeaker service I have included in this blog, there are several — and fast improving — read out loud services which can help, not just the visually impaired, but also the ordinary iJoe… to provide an easier experience for reading on the computer screen for us all. A few examples of available services: ReadSpeaker (the one I use), Natural Reader, Ultra Hal, Odiogo and Talkr.

What do you think? What should online media be doing to improve the readers’ experience?

And does Murdoch have a chance with his pay-for news scheme (read this great November 2009 article in Vanity Fair by Michael Wolff)?

Film Review: Face cachée de la lune (Far Side of the Moon) by Robert Lepage

The Far Side of Moon Film JacketThe 2003 Québécois film, “La Face Cachée de la Lune,” — or “Far Side of the Moon” — by Robert Lepage (ingenuously written, directed, produced and headlined with dual lead roles) is a fabulous film that I highly recommend. Having just watched this film in the wake of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Mission, I thought I’d try to incite you to go out and rent it/download it…

Things I loved about this film:

  • the at-time very Gary Larson-like “far side” humour.
  • a reminder of the serendipitous nature of life and the many paths and voyages resident in one’s life.
  • how it showed the importance of your childhood in forming who you are.
  • the allegories played out by the different professions of the two brothers (Philippe and André): selling the Sun on the one hand and selling the weather on the other, all the while focused on the US-Russian race to the moon. Also notable: the links between the baby in the womb, the child in the washing machine, the goldfish in the bowl, and the astronaut floating outside in space attached by a technological umbilical chord.
  • the film within the film as Philippe, the missed Mad Scientist, records life on Earth for Extraterrestrials.
  • last, and probably least, the credits written with trompe l’oeil Russian Cyrillic characters (as in the jacket).

I found the text brilliant (I must own up that I watched the film in v.o. which actually means the version française) in the way that it treats the challenges of life and parallel universe of our thoughts. The film dances in and out of reality, playing with gravity and gravitas, Lilliputians and hallucinations.

Robert Lepage is a man of many talents, not least of which is that he also created the Cirque de Soleil permanent production of KA at Las Vegas. Here is a fittingly positive review of the film by Culture Vulture.

My final commentary on the film regards the “thesis” that Philippe develops in the film to explain why the Russians wanted to get to the moon. Philippe’s theory posits that narcissism was the driving force. The character Philippe says, “Before Galileo turned his telescope toward the heavens, we believed that the moon was a polished mirror whose darks scars and mysterious outline were in fact the reflections of the mountains and seas on Earth” [in French: "Avant que Galilée ne tourne son télescope vers le ciel, on croyait que la Lune était un miroir poli dont les sombres cicatrices et contours mystérieux étaient en fait le reflet des montagnes et des mers de la Terre."]. In his foiled thesis, Philippe explains how the brilliant Russian scientist Constantin Tsiolkovsky came up with the concept in 1895 of an enormous elevator building — inspired by the Eiffel Tower — which would take people up into space and where the cost would be $40/floor rather than $400 billion for each person to go into space. Tsiolkovsky was a remarkable man and, despite being closed off from the advancements outside Russia, came up with much ground breaking work including the multi-stage rocket and air cushion vehicle.

For me, however, the film sent me back to my days at Yale, when my wonderful Russian lit teacher, Professor Victor Ehrlich (1914-2007), justified that the evident jumpstart the Russians had in the race for the moon. Mr Ehrlich’s thesis was anchored in the “enlightened” thinking, promoted in the middle of the 19th century by Russia’s intelligentsia, surrounding the Philosophy of the Common Good (всеобщее благо). Initially introduced into Russia in the early 18th century, the cause of the Common Good stimulated the 19th century intelligentsia to galvanise scientific research and to dedicate themselves to finding a way to bring back to life their much respected ancestors. Ehrlich recounted how Alexander Bogdanov, the physicist, philosopher, economist and revolutionary, came up with a pioneering blood transfusion theory which, put into practice by himself, gave life to one of his own terminally sick students and subsequently caused his own death. In paralllel to this research to unlock the miracle of bringing back the dead to life, another branch of Russian thinkers considered the challenge of where to put all the resuscitated ancestors, should such a solution be found. The logical lebensraum was the moon. Consequently, a number of Russian scientists began to theorise on how to propel a man-inhabited rocket into space. Prior to the work done by Tsiolkovsky, Ehrlich refered to the pioneering work of the ill-fated Nikolai Kibalchich, who was an explosives ‘expert’ and, just before being hanged in1881 for his part in the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, wrote a letter in which he described in some detail a rocket propelled aeronautical system for the transport of men. It was not until 1918, however, that Kibalchich’s letter was published. His 1881 theory predated by 10 years the “groundbreaking” research of a similar nature by the German engineer, Hermann Ganswindt. Between Kibalchich and Tsiolkovsky, to mention but two, clearly the Russian scientists were truly ahead of the times in figuring out how to get man into space. [Incidentally, Alexander Bogdanov also wrote an utopian novel, Red Star, in 1908, in which the protagonist travels to Mars.]

Sputnik Space ProgrammeThus, Ehrlich’s thesis was that Sputnik and Soyuz were merely the logical conclusion to the century long obsession of how to get man (albeit in the form of resuscitated ancestors) onto the moon. Without doubt, we owe much of our knowledge of the Moon to the Russians. So, even if La Face Cachée de la Lune (Far Side of the Moon) did not refer to Kibalchich and Bogdanov, it is a very worthy film, especially for those of you who enjoy astronomy and astrophysics.

Entrepreneurship – Economist Special Report on Why and How…

Mind of an Entrepreneur

The Economist ran a special report (March 14, 2009) on Entrepreneurialism and there were several interesting and important points that I felt like writing about. The 16-page report discusses the state of entrepreneurship around the world. In some regards, the report contains an apologia for European entrepreneurship, at least as it pertains to the non-Anglo-Saxon countries. Denmark is cited as a standout example in many regards, and most of the Scandinavian countries, as well as Britain, have a good record in the promotion of and opportunity for start-ups. The United States generally retains its leader status for entrepreneurship and one of the articles, “The United States of Entrepreneurs” describes a number of reasons why the US has managed to continue its run of entrepreneurial successes.

The one reason that really caught my fancy was the power of the story. The notion is that, all throughout high school and university, American-educated children hear stories of inventors and entrepreneurs such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, etc. How on earth one can substantiate the positive benefit, I have no idea. However, the underlying concept is that icons and role models have no uncertain power and stories, etched into the young, moldable minds, have a habit of being converted into dreamed up business plans.

The article describes the usual suspects of freedom to hire and fire and access to venture capital. [If the notion of investing in a start up is considered a venture in the US, it is called capital risk in numerous European countries].

Another surprising point, as far as I was concerned, is the link with Academia. According to the Economist article, another advantage in the US “is a tradition of close relations between universities and industry. America’s universities are economic engines rather than ivory towers, with proliferating science parks, technology offices, business incubators and venture funds…” That the content and instruction in the “MBA” schools, borne out of the US, provides best-in-class business-training is probably unassailable. But, I would not have known about the comparative strength of the link between academia and business, as I am unaware of the strength of the link in other systems.

The final point I would like to highlight is the U.S. “immigration policy that, historically, has been fairly open.” A professor of Duke University, Vivek Wadhwa, is quoted as saying that “52% of Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by immigrants…” What is not said, but which I firmly believe, is that the reputation of America – all that is incarnated in the American Dream – attracts the entrepreneurially spirited immigrants. Immigrants who, at least in theory, have the choice of which country to which they will attempt to emigrate, will not select the USA if they are fearful of failure, if they are looking for protection and care for [a large number of] children. The reputation of you can “make it rich” in the US is inevitably accompanied by the knowledge of the lack of a safety net. In short, I maintain that the US has a habit of receiving applications from immigrants wishing to create and produce.

The final piece that is fascinating to observe is the propensity for start-ups in the US, not only to survive longer, but more emphatically to scale quicker. Witness the number of companies in the top 100 (based on market cap) that did not exist twenty years ago (Google, Ebay, Yahoo, Amazon…, but the list is not just limited to internet stories). The chart below is particularly telling, measuring the net number of people hired by surviving, new companies. (Source OECD)

Net Employment Gains

If you want to have some fun, look at this complete list of the world’s countries ranked according to the ease of doing business (source: the World Bank Doing Business database). There is no single column on mafia or corruption levels, per se, but the different categories are broad and quite fun to explore: getting construction permits, trading across border, enforcing contracts… Topping the listing is Singapore, followed by New Zealand and USA (with no changes in the top 8 from 2008). Among European countries, Italy comes in at an appalling 61st, while France is 31st (2 ahead of Azerbaijan) and Greece is 96th. Russia (120) and Ukraine (145) are at the “deep” end of the table. Below is the top 20, ranked according to ease of doing business (2009).

Ease of Doing Business Top 20 Countries

A parting remark: The word entrepreneur is a distinctly French word, n’est-ce pas? But, somehow may have been lost in the [bureaucratic paper] shuffle, if not translation.

State of the Spam Business: Spam Pollution

State of the Spam Business

How many legitimate (non junk or spam) emails do you receive in your inbox?

Stop Spam Sign

It may come as a surprise to you that only 3% of the world’s supply of emails are legitimate, at least that’s what a recent Microsoft survey says. On a personal level, I know that I have a spam-to-legit ratio that is more like 1:6, aided by (a) the never ending screening and hunting down of phoney addresses and cyber pirates by the various governing bodies; (b) the individual mail filters (I use hotmail mostly) which appear to direct with about 80% accuracy true junk into the junk folder; and (c) my attempting not to leave my email address in public spaces that are too easy for email bots to trawl and discover. In any event, in a recent BBC article regarding a recent Microsoft security report, “[m]ore than 97% of all e-mails sent over the net are unwanted… The e-mails are dominated by spam adverts for drugs [nearly 50%], and general product pitches and often have malicious attachments.” Other industry reports have the volume of junk mail somewhere between 75% and 90%, so this latest number takes the morass of spam to even higher levels.

A second source for spam information is the monthly Symantec State of Spam report (PDF – April 2009). According to the Symantec report, in March, the spam coming from the US accounted for 28% of the world’s supply (up from 25% in February and 23% in January). Coming in second, Brazil accounts for 9%, while India at 3rd fell back to 4%. South Korea leads the Far Eastern countries at 4%, ahead of Turkey, Russia and China (all 3%). Below is the chart courtesy of Symantec. Latin America is responsible for a quite surprising 15% of the total. As far as I was concerned, it seems that half of my spam relates to winning the jackpot and inheriting some African fortune, so I was surprised not find Nigeria up in there in the top 10.

Top Countries sending Spam

“The [Microsoft] report found that the global ratio of infected machines was 8.6 for every 1,000 uninfected machines.” I would suspect that Mac gets a less than market share representation…fortunately for us Mac users.

The only good news, if you read on in the BBC report, is that malicious software (aka malware) must increasingly be adapted country to country (see world map of malware levels), which diminishes the odds of an Armageddon style worldwide malware. The article states, “[a]s the malware ecosystem becomes more reliant on social engineering, threats worldwide have become more dependent on language and cultural factors,” [the Microsoft study] reported. In China, several malicious web browser modifiers are common, while in Brazil, malware that targets users of online banks is more widespread.”

In terms of where the malicious software is most prevalent, “the [Microsoft] report, which looked at online activity during the second half of 2008, also pinpoints…[that] Russia and Brazil top the global chart of infections, followed by Turkey and Serbia and Montenegro.”

On another level, from a report out in March 2009, I read about how much spam is said to pollute our world… A Carbon Footprint study from McAfee says that spam generates greenhouse gas (GHG — aka Carbon Dioxide or CO2) equivalent to 3.1 million passenger cars. This report says that “the energy [33 billion KWh] consumed in transmitting and deleting spam is equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million U.S. homes.” I love the notion of the life cycle of spam! If you want to download the McAfee PDF report, do so here. Another feature in the McAfee report is the estimated loss in productivity caused by spam: “If you have 1,000 workers earning $30 per hour, your company will suffer $182,500 per year in lost productivity.” It is very crafty to propose an ROI on their anti-spam software.

In any event, as I indicated in a prior post TV5 from Québec, Canada, there are also the unwanted communications from companies where you can no longer unsubscribe to their newsletters, as is the case with TV5. Another one on my can’t-get-rid-of-them list is www.seek-blog.com.  No way to unsubscribe.  I suspect such mail should be considered spam along with the other 97%! On the other end of the scale, kudos to Nick @ NickOnWine for sending out regular subscriber updates.

Like mosquitoes, I can think of absolutely nothing beneficial from spam. After the ERACE ‘EM Campaign (the Eternal Radical and Complete Extermination of Every Mosquito), comes the EAT SPAM Campaign, Eradicate All Toxic Spam. Sign up here!

Obamania Worldwide – The Dreams & The Reality

OBAMANIA & OTHER REFLECTIONS ON A SUNDAY MORNING

Barack & Michelle ObamaThe effect of the Obama victory overseas has been impressive. Much like the initial outpouring after September 11th, 2001, since November 5th, 2008, I have come across a newfound sense of support for the US from many different corners of the world, and the support is quite similar in intensity. For most foreigners with whom I speak, the sentiment goes along the lines: You, Americans (at least on the coasts), faced with the biggest worldwide economic crisis in a century, 2 long unfinished wars, an Osama Bin Laden still on the lam, the prospect of ecological disasters and the risk of more voter scandals (untested new urns), overcame the urge for a recidivist reactionary vote, to adopt and hail its base values by electing Obama.

What is driving this support around the world for Obama? In part, I detect an enormous feeling of hope, like the release of a good dream.Dream He represents hope that change is truly going to come. What is said can be done. That diversity is not just a buzz word. I also detect that many are putting their hopes on the shoulders of Americans to rebolster the world, a world that is increasingly rocky. Beyond the economic crisis and environmental concerns, the Western world is worried by the deeper, structural issues including the rise of China, the Russian renaissance, the continuing splintering of nationalities and ethnicities as well as the omen of global terrorism. I don’t mean to have visions of grandeur for the Americans, but we all need to dream and many people seem to have tied up their dreams with Obamania. Aside from the 66.7 million American voters, Muslim communities around the world, the African community (well beyond Kenya), even a town in Japan have identified or associated themselves with Obama. And in the “If the World Could Vote” site, 87.3% of the nearly 900,000 people (up from the 49,000 I wrote about in my September post) casting their online selection for Obama.

Few would doubt that Obama’s plate is eminently full. As a black Parisian radiologist, Maxim, said to me, “it is a poisoned gift.”

For Obama and the Americans, all the real work is now ahead and it will be important to observe (a) the level and effectiveness in the bipartisanship — I have been positively impressed by the effect of President Sarkozy had in bringing in several valuable Socialists into his government; and (b) how Obama manages against the oh-so-high expectations. If the Democratic party were to get a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate (3 seats still undecided) and with the strong House representation (between 255-259 seats), there is a chance that Obama will be able to put through a good portion of his vision. But, what happens systematically — it seems no matter the president, the party or the country — is that there is a boomerang effect some 12-18 months after induction into office. The dissatisfied electorate then “punishes” the standing leader, curbs his or her power and the result is a near lame-duck experience for the remaining years. I have started to think that this is just a natural cycle in democracy. More likely than not, an external and/or unexpected event will likely occur that will unbalance the apple cart and, whether or not his policies have had time to work, will have a material impact on his presidency. It does seem ironic that an unexpected event will be likely. But, this, too, seems to be a part of the natural cycle.

Four More Reflections

As I ponder this Sunday morning, there are four more things I would like to say about the past couple of weeks.

China Flag1/ Don’t you find it symbolic that the Chinese bailout plan at $586B is just below the US one in size ($700B)? Although, compared to its GDP (China’s is estimated at US$3-4 trillion versus $14 trillion for the US), the Chinese effort is far more seismic. You get the feeling that the turning point is around the corner. The burgeoning question for me is how will we, Americans, manage to alter our mania for consumption, so much a fibre of today’s US society?


Speed Limit = 50 mph 2/ Forty’s are in. Obama, at 47 years old, joins a healthy stable of “forty-something” leaders. Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili is the youngest I could find at 41 years old. Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev and Sweden’s PM Fredrik Reinfeldt are 43. Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, Ireland’s Brian Cohen and Spain’s Jose Luis Zapatero are 48. Canada’s Stephen Harper is 49. I am sure that I have missed out a few others — but these are all (with the exception of Harper) leaders born in the 1960s. [Note, among other notables, that Sarkozy (53), Merkel (54), and Putin (56) are, with the majority of other leaders, in their 50s.]

3/ Seeing that Obama is a Web 2.0 President-elect (he has his own Twitter, MyBarackObama blog, YouTube, etc), how far can he be a Sustainable Development-President as well? See here for a prior post on the relatedness of web 2.0 and sustainable development. Certainly, this article by Thomas Claburn at InformationWeek
would seem to back up the possible correlation. ADDED 22 NOVEMBER: I was turned on to this NY Times article, “Generation O get its hopes up” (Nov 7) after publishing this post. Obama communicated in a way that “spoke” to people. As the article writes, “Government under Mr. Obama, they believe, would value personal disclosure and transparency in the mode of social-networking sites. Teamwork would be in fashion, along with a strict meritocracy.”

4/ Did you realize that within two days of each other, Obama won the US Presidency, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won the Paris Masters 2008 and was crowned #1 for France, while Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever Formula 1 Champion? As both Hamilton and Tsonga are 23 1/2 years old, Obama at 47 is exactly double their age. And all three of them are métise (specifically a black father and a white mother). Rather remarkable, no?

Your thoughts?

Airline Advertisements – Who Can Afford to Experience Luxury Service?

Airline Ads — the good, the bad and the luxury

In these trying economic times, one of the industries that will inevitably be hit hard (again), will be the airline industry. Whether for personal or business travel, there is likely to be a good amount of seat-belt tightening. Some wise folk would say that NOW is a good time for the companies [that can afford it], to invest in attracting new business. In this vein, I took a look at some of the print advertising messages by airline companies around the world. While I certainly can’t say that I did a definitive and comprehensive search of all the ad creatives, I did find that there were certain patterns. When I take the NORTH AMERICAN companies, for example, it seems to me that the companies are communicating less about the experience in the plane and more about the “dream” of travel and the number of destinations serviced. In the creatives here (which I believe may be a bit dated) American Airlines (left) puts forward that it flies six times a day from NYC to London “via cloud nine.” A second American Airlines ad (right) presents the benefits of staring out the window. Implicitly, they are asking you not to look at the quality of service inside the plane, no?

More current, American’s billboard ad above is another curious statement. What are they selling? They are proposing planes that know how to land in water? Not going to rock my boat, if you see what I mean. The creative concept here is to show that you can have wifi internet access in flight. Dubious item to search if you are trying to encourage people to fly. To the right, you see Delta pushing its inflight entertainment (curiously promoting playing its Texas Hold’em game against fellow passengers). I would be remiss not to include Southwest, a true lovemark, which is proud of its advertising (historical creatives posted on its own site). But, even Southwest, in this output (left), is discussing the technology equipment (and while we haven’t heard the last about inflight telephone conversations), we are again not truly onboard.
And then Air Canada (left), is encouraging pedestrians to consider flying with its “People Working Above” humour. Again, not much content in the way of in-cabin service. Had they picked snow-packed scenery (there is a BIT) and miserably cold people, then the concept might have been to incite people to fly away to warmer climates? Bottom line, the North American companies seemed to be more prone to communicate about the concept of flying, rather than the experience itself. 
And as a sign off on the North American situation, the next step is to focus on on-board advertising to its passengers…as a way to gain extra revenue (see here in a USA Today article earlier this month).

EUROPEAN COMPANIES – THE “JE NE SAIS QUOI…”

After the North American ads, I took a look at the European companies. Mainland companies were not as “out of the cabin” as the American companies. Air France‘s creative (left) has been running for quite a while. It’s a nice image, but it leaves me wondering about the reality in the cabin. And their competition up north, Brussels Airlines (formerly Sabena), had decidedly the same creative air (below). Something about water as being part of the flying experience? The need to sit on a wooden board? I, for one, am absolutely horrible at sitting on the ground. Interestingly, both ad creatives use women.

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England‘s two primary airlines, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, have somewhat different approaches. Virgin allows for cheeky claims as well as innovative service concepts. On the left, you have an ad (9 inches) targetted presumably toward the female customer yet again. On the right, Virgin is going at the pre-flight experience with the offer of the limousine and a fast track check-in into the Virgin lounge. “Fastly Superior” and a cut above in terms of service proposition. Whether it is 9 inches of pleasure or the limo-to-lounge service, there is little humanity in this offer.

Moving to Virgin’s compeition, British Airlines is communicating in this creative on the onboard experience. Again, the focus is on the “mechanical” or physical benefits on board. With a cute creative (using the windows as eyes), the ad speaks to the ability to get a real night’s sleep in the plane (all good when you are flying overnight or on very long haul flights). Of course, in this creative by BA, you have to understand that you did not fly BA in your last flight. I have snuck in an Aeroflot creative just to say that they are more in the North American category…not much to sell onboard, unless you like the idea of doing wheelies and 360s. European companies are in for tough times, just as much as in the US, with lots of short flights, expensive personnel and intense competition (and regulation). Recently, European legislators have decided to go after the European companies for improper pricing advertising. Read here for the June 2008 article from the BBC.

ASIAN AIRLINE CLASS
Finally, moving to Asia. There are many examples that reinforce the notion that the battle is actually for in-cabin comfort and service. Here, we see much more of the human element. For example, Cathay Pacific (below) is not afraid to personalize the experience.

An Air India execution (below), in broad daylight, with the same romantic couple concept.

And the king of inflight, luxurious and personalized service, Singapore Airlines, in a veritable world of its own… Here’s the suite landing execution:

So, in summary, the Good (European) tend to be in the imaginary. The Bad (North American) largely ignore the onboard travails. And the Luxury (Asian) are vying for top dibs in terms of the personal and personalized onboard experience. In these difficult economic times, you have to wonder which airline companies are going to survive. Aside from ensuring that the fleet is uptodate and safe, are companies going to be cutting back on the little luxuries or, to the contrary, investing in the details?

[And then, if you are interested, there are the airline company slogans. I found this site (textart) from Russia, that regroups all the slogans for a host of industries. Here, Airline Industry Slogans it is just for the airline industry. A useful resource for us marketeers (although I can't vouch for how up to date it is)]
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