The Case of Zuki and Tim Tim

I did not share a video this week and though is not a video in the real sense, I thought I would share the song nonetheless. To the non-Trinis who read this blog, this is a duo called Zuki and Tim Tim. This is personal branding at its creative best. These guys went from real life to animated fame, with corporate sponsorship deals, notably the Holiday Snacks endorsement, which is how I personally was introduced to Zuki and Tim Tim. Everyone knew Zuki and Tim Tim from these ads and their endorsements of popular Carnival fetes over the past couple years. The personas these 2 dudes have created are funny, bordering on ridiculous, but likeable and popular.

They have parlayed their animated success to the soca industry and have come out with their first Soca Monarch/Road March contender, "Red Over". By way of the Zuki and Tim Tim marketing machine in previous years, though this is their first real song, they had a built in audience already excited to see what they had to offer and willing to support.

I would probably pass the real dudes straight in the street, but their animated selves are all the rage and the potential to really market themselves is high. I hope they are in the middle of producing a video to match our expectations, but in the meantime...


Death of a Dream Salesman

Last week, while enjoying some much needed retail therapy, I happened to pass by an office - stark, empty, totally void of life, except for the one solitary human life form behind the desk, playing around on a mobile phone, clearly trying to stay conscious in the face of no customers. I was tempted to walk through the door and watch her eyes light up like a million fireworks but I decided that would be fantastically cruel, so I walked past. I kinda felt bad for her though. Then I saw an article on Yahoo this morning about the Top 9 shrinking jobs and guess who was at #7. My girl in the empty office.

7. Travel Agents


The internet now makes it possible for the public to schedule their own trips. While there are still many travel agents, incentives once offered by airlines, hotels and car rental companies make the occupation less profitable. Today's travel agents often book long or complicated trips, while the weekend getaway or quick business travel is scheduled individually online.
The same thing ran through my mind as I passed by the empty office last week because honestly, with the world at our fingertips now, who still uses travel agents? I do feel bad about it cause I have the most lovely travel agent but usually when she sees me now, it is because I just wanted to say hello, and not so much to give her business. I mean, I have not used a travel agent in a long time and I travel at least twice a year (work responsibilities and money limitations have kept me in bondage).

But how easy it is to log in to British Airways or Caribbean Airlines and book your ticket to freedom, scour through TripAdvisor and Frommer's looking for hotels, tours, experiences? Once you have a pc, an internet connection and maybe a printer, if your experience does not include mobile ticketing, you're set. Quite frankly I don't have the time to run down to a travel agent's office and getting to my beloved agent on a weekday is near impossible cause it then means having to leave work early, speed down the highway, negotiate a parking spot and beat it to her office before she closes. WHY? When I can simply look for a cheap flight online, book it, get my eticket, without leaving my desk!

And there are so many online promotions that lie outside the travel agency, who once upon a time, would rule the specials. I guess maybe the older folks, would be loyal to travel agents. Despite everything I tell her, my mother still uses our travel agent. The relationships that we have built with the people linger and still, they see the travel agent as that link in the event anything goes wrong or they need a quick change.

Now if they start using the social media tools available to give their businesses a much needed boost, then that's another story. For example, some travel agents operate solely out of their offices with no web presence whatsoever, like my girl mentioned before. FAIL. Others have websites but they aren't updated regularly enough to keep the savvy traveller interested. FAIL. Some don't understand that many people are on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and that these are great ways to offer specials and drive traffic to your website. FAIL. With airlines and hotels increasingly using social media to get closer to customers, without the middle man (that's you Mr Travel Agent), travel agents need to start getting creative about how they keep this business and keep you interested in using them, as opposed to going to the source. The travel agents still, in my estimation, have a strong customer service element on their side, which they need to use to their advantage while going 2.0.

Like anyone else, travel agents need to get with it because gone are the days when I would come sit in your office and open a travel magazine, close my eyes and randomly choose a destination. With so much information and resources out there, travel agents can no longer be content to sit in an empty office, hoping and praying that someone walks in. They have to make me want to walk in - be it through their physical office door or through the sexy virtual landscape that I encourage them all to develop if they intend to survive.

The other side of the brand

I'm sitting here just finalising my group's presentation on "Harmonising Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management". It has been a really good programme and I have said it enough times that Trinidadians and Tobagonians, just aren't fully aware of their rights as employees, and their rights in general. But that is an entirely different conversation that can go down a long road.

But from a brand management perspective, I am not sure that many HR people recognise just how important their role is in managing a company's brand. People hear "brand" and automatically think marketing or PR, but every person has a role to play in how a company is perceived in the outside world.

I have worked in various places - both private and public sector - and there will always be employer-employee disputes, but how one manages them and also how one works on ultimately preventing them goes a long way on how the company's brand is managed. Because the truth is, an annoyed, disgruntled employee or ex-employee just needs to go sit in a bar on a Friday afternoon, and start telling his friends, their friends, the bartender and anyone within earshot about his boss, the company's poor HR practices, the compensation, the policies, how overworked and undervalued he feels, how favouritism keeps him from moving up, how unfair recruitment is, etc and there goes the neighbourhood.

When I am scoping out potential places to work, I never go by what the employer has to say. You want to talk to a subject matter expert don't you? Someone who is currently in, or has been in the trenches so to speak. These employees, dear managers, are your brand ambassadors, who can either make you or break you.

Companies cannot now expect only to attract the best talent through snazzy websites and good pay  packages. Today's employees are looking for other less tangible but equally important, if not more important features.

  • Work-life balance - Employees want to have weekends, evenings with their families and friends. And please don't think only married people want personal time. Single people want to have a life too.
  • Great health plans
  • Flexi-time
  • Telecommuting - In an age of so much technology, driving long distances to work, sitting in an office all day, when you can probably do all the same things at home is just so played out.
  • Work environment/Good employer/employee relations - Noone wants a pill for a boss. I don't care how many zeros are on that pay slip. You spend most of your day with them, so who wants a butt biter?
  • Open door policies, without fear of reprisals - I have a problem, I want to know I can talk to you, and not be ostracised in the lunchroom the next day or victimised.

These are some of the things one wants ideally from an employer and if your current employees aren't feeling your brand, and aren't loyal to it, what do you think their communication message is going to be? How do you intend to attract the best of the best from the labour force? I have had people call me, as a former or current employee of an organisation to ask about the organisation in order to gauge whether it is a place they may wish to work. And though everyone's experience is different, and what I may find fantastic, another person may be miserable with, people still ultimately want to know. It's like buying a new car, where you get to drive it around the block a few times before you buy it. Those phone calls are akin to the test drive. It may handle really well at the dealership but when you take it home, it cannot start. It may sound good, but it may not be all that it's cracked up to be.

HR can no longer work as a silo. They have to work with managers and supervisors to get them on board the programme. They say people don't leave jobs, they leave people and I am sure many of you have left that bitchy boss, that biased manager, that uncaring company, where business came first, people came way after. What makes it scarier is how online tools can practically take that Friday happy hour rant to the masses until you have Facebook pages, tweets, YouTube videos slamming, ripping, shredding and totally destroying a company's brand. And once that happens, it's near impossible to stop.

Strong brands need strong HR. How can we expect employees to buy in to internal and external communications plans ? And HR needs to start thinking a little bit of PR and also work closely with PR when managing employee experiences cause really, there is only so much a PR team can do to save a brand that has been massacred by the people closest to it - the employees.

Holding the communications big stick over employees' heads


One of the challenges communications peeps have to face is engaging employees against a myriad of performance indicators - none of which include communicating. What I mean is, employees usually want information and in surveys they leave comments that while information from management is all well and good, they want to also hear from their peers - the average Jill and Joe in a cubicle, who they eat lunch with, who is not part of the hierarchy. And don't think we don't listen. We do hear. But then comes the issue of targets, performance, job description - all those yucky business terms that they bang into your brain while holding your bonus to ransom.

  • How does this fit in with productivity?
  • How does this help me achieve my KPIs?
  • Do they have time for this?
  • I don't want my staff on Twitter all day
  • I will get to it after I do this mountain load of work on my desk.
  • My boss does not think this is critical.

And the list goes on and on. Corporate social responsibility activties in many instances are part of the balanced scorecard/KPI type system. In a previous role, everyone had to get on board the CSR train, as it was ultimately tied to their performance and financial incentives. You would have persons at the end of the year scrambling to get on board the train when they realised that a couple thousand dollars would be left on the table if they did not. Is it the right way? Maybe not. I always believed that the company should work on building a more genuine culture of CSR but that's a moot point at this time.

Do we then incentivise communications - be it for internal or external purposes and practically force staff to get on board? That sure does not sound effective or fun.

The question recently arose of thought leadership and communications, and getting subject matter experts to weigh in on some of the issues which stakeholders are interested in learning more about. On paper it is easy to say that Paul or Bill or Brigitte will be roped in to lead social media discussions on what they know best. In reality, Paul, Bill and Brigitte barely have the time or the authority to make that commitment. It's usually always a "push back" when trying to get employees in the communications mix and to get them really talking.  And especially if management is not yet completely sold on the importance and value of it. "How will this affect Paul's work for me?" "Why can't you do it?"

I'm not sure where the whole idea that employees being part of the communications machine of an organisation is a time-intensive type activity that infringes on performance. Writing a blog post on a subject one is familiar with, with some coaching from the comms team, should not be a challenge of epic proportions. It should not feel like a chore either - one I have to do so you can release my salary increase from bondage. Managers recognise that employees should know what's happening, but not enough emphasis is placed on employees being part of what's happening. Managers also need to recognise that employees are the people who drive the mission and vision, and they do not stand apart from the rest of the organisational machine. So somehow we need to cross this barrier and it's up to us to work on building a stronger communications culture to get them all on board the comms train - and because they want to be, not because we push them on.

Missing: The Trini Hotspot


I mentioned before that I was a loyal fan of Tripadvisor, cause they have helped me plan many a vacation (cause you know I love to travel) and avoid many a hellhole hotel, save money on entertainment and has offered great suggestions on things to do. So of course, I get their weekly emails about new cities, bargains etc. And darn it, I want to work for Tripadvisor one day. I am a loyalist.

I got an email this week which said "Top 10 February Hotspots". If you are Trini, you kinda know where this is going. I did a print screen, so excuse the quality of the image below, but these are the Top 10 February hotspots.



When I first looked at it, Thailand looked a bit like Trinidad and I was pleased for a millisecond. But seriously, who's responsible for this? I shared a great video a couple weeks ago, done by British Airways about our Carnival - fab publicity from an international airline. True they are promoting their airline, but half of promoting your airline, is promoting the destinations and they did a bang up job promoting the islands, with OUR Carnival. So, I just want to know if the powers that be are maximising the tools out there to get US out there.

Cause "hot" here can mean hot - temperature or hot - lots of action. Can someone convince me that Toronto, Canada beats Port of Spain, Trinidad on both versions of "hot"? Seriously??? February 2010? Carnival time? 35 degree celsius weather? I mean, this is a plug right here - for free!

This may just be one case of the missing Carnival, and maybe we are hot on every other list (somehow my confidence of this is very low) but I felt I needed to share. Are we still only doing trade shows, taking bottles of Angostura Bitters as tokens? Are we not realising that tourism is global and changing rapidly in the face of all this new communications technology? Are we monitoring what people are saying about us on sites like Tripadvisor, or Frommers? Are we still just peddling brochures or have we gone social, using those tools out there that travellers like myself rely on? How many of the travellers we want are at trade shows??? They're on the internet, scouring sites like Tripadvisor, Travelocity.

I was trying to email Tripadvisor about this, but I have a day job and someone else somewhere, I don't know who, is getting paid to do just this type of thing and sadly, is not doing it.

5QRPD5RCUS7D

The 12th man


As I started to think about vacation, I fortunately remembered that I needed to plan around a block of time - June 11, 2010 to July 11, 2010.

You guessed it. The World Cup. Probably the most important sporting tournament in the world. I think life stops for myself and for millions of others during this time. STOPS!

And it is during this time that the world's most popular event will meet the world's most popular trend. I think the World Cup is the marketer's dream, and couple that with social media marketing done correctly and you're sure to have a winner hopefully both on and off the field. Especially when one considers how it stacks up with the expensive advertising which always comes with an event of this magnitude. Big brands as well as smaller, local companies can definitely maximise their marketing dollar via effective social networking strategies.

Sony Ericsson, a Tier One sponsor of the tournament has no plans to do any traditional television or billboard marketing. It's push is to reach the fan directly through social media. How successful they will be, time will tell, but it's a bold move from a company that has committed over $300 million to the South Africa and Brazil finals.

And besides the obvious business potential of this mammoth event, there is also the personal side. Already networking sites have started popping up. The English, not to be left out of any World Cup (they make sure everyone knows they're there, for good or bad), have established their presence already with a site described as "The Meeting Place for South Africa 2010" where fans can meet up with fellow football enthusiasts and arrange to meet in South Africa to support the Lions. Definitely there should be football tweet ups across the globe, niche marketing from the travel, not to mention the hospitality industry, WC apps, cause hey, if the Pope can have apps for the soul, FIFA and the various FA will definitely (hopefully) have 2010 WC apps for the zealous, ball crazy fans.
 
There is already the Twitter Cup from Sony Ericsson.

Project2010.co.za reports that Sony Ericsson has created a social networking representation of the 2010 FIFA World Cup that allows football fans to tweet their home countries into the history books.


The ’tournament’ is accessible to anyone with a mobile phone or an internet connection who wishes to use their Twitter account to support their side. The Twitter Cup kicked off the day the groups were decided. In order to give their teams the best chance of winning the virtual tournament, Twitter users will need to tweet #TWC, followed by the name of their chosen nation. The number of tweets received by each country is represented by a visual chart, with the various national flags growing in size as their popularity grows. The Twitter Cup will coincide with the 2010 FIFA World Cup final.


During the last Olympics, Facebook was a-flutter with status updates from my friends about their athletes. I myself blogged throughout the entire WC 2008, though will resist the urge to do so this time around. But yes, it should be a spectacle like no other. I can't wait.

Holy blog!


The Pope has recommended to his priests around the world that they blog. That's right! That they get to the blogging sites, set up a profile, and blog the gospel.

I was tickled brown to read this yesterday.

This Pope is bad-ass! (Is it sacrilegous to say that?) I mean, clearly he gets it. Clearly he realises that he is going to lose the youth among his global congregration if certain things don't get progressive and while we are not here to discuss some of the issues which generate so much debate among the brave who have a passion for debating religion, I am really very impressed with the Catholic Church, a body that on the surface seems so steeped in tradition, getting with the programme.

“The spread of multimedia communications and its rich “menu of options” might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the Web, or to see it only as a space to be filled. Yet priests can rightly be expected to be present in the world of digital communications as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, exercising their proper role as leaders of communities which increasingly express themselves with the different “voices” provided by the digital marketplace. Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.” (The Pope via Mashable)

And this is not the first foray into social media for the Church either. The Pope is on YouTube, peeps and the Catholic Church has "apps". I did say, there is an app for everything and yes indeed, there are apps for your soul. I am just beside myself and wonder where I have been to not be aware of these things!

BUT...there had to be one...but

The challenge for the Church is using the social media effectively. It is all well and good to post some videos on YouTube, or blog about the gospel, but is the Church willing to be more outgoing, communicative and interactive where their content is concerned, i.e. are they willing to meet followers and detractors head on through communication? Or is this push a one way street, with the Vatican doing most, if not all of the talking? Are these blogs going to be weekly sermons without room for questions, concerns and feedback? Who is going to manage all the inevitable "customer" feedback - the good, the bad, and the ugly, cause let's face it, YouTube, Facebook etc attract the nutters as well and are essentially secular sites. This is assuming of course that feedback is going to be encouraged on these sites, which I can only imagine would be "yes".  Cause in truth, and in fact, the Church is pretty much like a business serving millions and millions of customers. So how is the Church going to add value to the average follower's life via its new and commended social media push?

The Pope has said "priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ".

The Pope is right. We have already talked about how social media can often take the place of social interaction in some instances and I do not see an establishment such as the Catholic Church becoming digitized to the point that the essence of fellowship is lost - interacting with people in real life. It does not mean there will be cyber churches springing up anytime soon via the Vatican, for the purpose is not to replace Mass or taking the family to church or doing good works.

Priests should get though, that it's social media and not just "media" and understand that once they open the floodgates, there really is no turning back. The nature of things like blogs and Facebook and Twitter facilitate communication. So getting close to followers will ultimately take some effort and they will have to manage their dedication to social media with that other dedication. But again, it should hardly replace what we have grown accustomed to. Rather it should enhance it and make it more attractive.


The idea I would assume is to really get closer to its followers around the world and hopefully hear what they are saying. But it's a great step forward for a Church that still seems so  "old school" to some.

Hallelujah

I used to post a video on Saturdays. Have not done so in a while but this one, as recent as maybe 30mins ago. I LOVE this song. I LOVE Justin Timberlake. I was not totally feeling the telethon though I was supporting the cause for which it was organised. I hope people put their hands deep in their pockets and gave. Haiti may have been neglected for years and years but we can all do a little to help the survivors now.

Thank you Justin and guy I don't know for an awesome rendition of an amazing song for a really important cause.


Addiction

Last evening while channel surfing, I ended up on Dr Phil just at the point where he was talking to a guest who clearly has a problem. An addiction. One that has the potential of destroying her relationship with her children, with others, possibly affecting her health and which was clearly a sign of an underlying problem.


She was addicted to Farmville.




I watched on in amazement as her daughter's spy cam chronicled a typical day at home, where her mother woke up and from early morning to after midnight, she sat in her jammies, planted crops and lived her life as a virtual farmer on Facebook. She rarely goes out, her kids mostly are forced to eat cereal or tv dinners after school, she does not do the laundry, or pack away the groceries, hygiene is affected. Her daughter wanted her to get help. Help indeed.

I have never played the game cause I am not much of a gamer generally, save word games or games like Jeopardy (love it) but I know friends play it cause I see the annoying notifications about it, and games like Mafia Wars and what else exists and there are many I know. Farmville, among other is very popular among millions of people.

It shows though that as much as social networks can help build relationships, they can also adversely affect them if one does not have a grip on reality or if one does not use the tools to an healthy advantage.

The power and reach of social media has increased fanastically over recent times, and has totally revolutionised how we interact with each other. But there is also growing concern that our heavy reliance on these media will hinder the way in which we interact with each other in real life, i.e. social media may adversely affect our "people skills". Some people literally LIVE on the internet and like this woman, do not form friendships outside of their pc time, nor do they take the friendships they make online to the other level - the real world level.

The concern is also quite real among the very young. In many an after work discussion, friends and I have reflected on the childhood we all shared as compared to what some children experience today. I am not sure if little girls know about the games we played - hopscotch, tag, moral, "pea-say mash line" etc. In a world ever changing, children are more computer literate than we were at their age. They have access to so many things that we did not, and with the plethora of media and games out there, are they really getting out and living in the real world and learning the complexities of real life human interaction? In those instances where parents are busy and children are left to their own devices, the computer is the new television, the virtual babysitter.

Dr Phil asked the woman why she spent so much time online playing Farmville and she responded that she just had "nothing better to do with her life." I find that pretty sad, cause she was an attractive woman, with grown children, who should probably be out dating, going to yoga, going to dinners and plays. Dr Phil advised her to go out, do something - "plant REAL crops", start a garden...something. She said it was hard and thought of the whole thing as a joke but I found it rather alarming. Then when the next guest came on to talk about Four Square, she got excited - replacing one addiction with another, perhaps??

Her entire life is tethered to virtual crops and animals. And while she does meet other people through her addiction to Farmville, she does not take these relationships from the pc to the coffee shop and I think this is the problem. Not bashing the phenomenon, but it cannot be a replacement for real life. It can healthily facilitate real life interaction but goodness, it is up to us to take it there.

Social media is not meant to replace social life!

Knowing your audience...seriously

I earlier introduced you guys to the "racist" KFC ad and the implications of culture on the perception of this commercial. I mentioned that you really have to know your audience and understand their views, their backgrounds, their opinions or else what you communicate can escalate into controversy. The KFC ad, while a non-issue in Australia, only became an issue when it landed on the doorstep of US executives and became viral on Youtube, ultimately reaching those who WOULD take issue with the fried chicken implications.

Well, here is another example of not taking the time to understand your audience or maybe not caring about the audience. I would hate to think that they did not care about the audience but even from where I sit in the Caribbean, the implications of this were clear and I knew it would be a sore point among the members of the target group.



Essence February 2010 cover

Now, I see a good looking black man with a bangin' body. Reggie Bush, NFL star. What another woman, and in this case, thousands of black, single American and perhaps non-American women saw, is another black celebrity who is not settling down with a "sista" but instead is publicly dating a non-black woman. What makes it worse is that the issue is themed "Black Love" and for a good segment of the target audience, black love does not include the likes of Reggie Bush and his girlfriend, Kim Kardashian.

There have been a lot of comments, some indifferent but a lot, angry, from women who just are not amused by Essence's apparent lack of judgement in putting Reggie Bush on the cover of a magazine, targeted to black women, who on some counts, are tired of what they describe as the cliche successful, eligible black bachelor who settle down with everything that they are not.

Is it hard to imagine why seeing her man on the cover of Essence was not a feel good moment for many of us?

While Reggie Bush would be no more available to us were he married to a Black neurosurgeon, there's just something that doesn't feel right about seeing him on the cover of a magazine for Black women. The fact that it is the February issue and the words "Black Love" appear on the cover make the whole thing even more messy. With all the information we are getting these days about The Single Black Woman Crisis, I don't really want to see a brother who has removed himself from the single Black woman dating pool with (of all people) Kim Kardashian....

...I look to Essence to feel affirmed and inspired. The world outside is doing a fine job at telling me that Black women are not always 'in vogue'. And while I expect Essence to print stories that do call my attention to the more painful aspects of Black female life, I'd rather the men we drool over in between the pages of Essence could at least be the men who are more likely to lust after us back. Even if it's just a fantasy.
(read full blog entry here)

Other comments include (the last one is particularly scathing):
  • When she told me that Reggie was going to be on the cover, I incredulously asked why him? I thought then and still do; it was a bad idea to put Reggie on the cover because all it would do was create unnecessary drama since he has no relevance to black women.
  • If it was just this cover with Reggie on it, I could let that go, but, what I can't let go of, is the continuing decline of Essence itself and the contempt it holds for me, it's reader.
  • I am in a mixed marriage myself and my hubby concurs. I am not an angry black women. I am just one who is disappointed in what Essence chose to display as a Pillar for Black Love. If they were doing an issuse on interracial dating, I could surely understand but not for the subject of Black Love.
  • Why is there a white supremacist on the cover of Essence magazine? Because any person who thinks white women are better is indeed a white supremacist. Having this man on the cover is beyond offensive to me as an African American woman. He is just another crude reminder of all the black men who perpetuate racism against black women, by rejecting them and showing the utmost disrespect by choosing to date non-black women.
(read more comments from Essence readers here.)

Essence's readership has been dwindling in recent times and I am sure this cover will not be boosting their popularity any time soon. It's a beautiful cover of a beautiful looking man, but behind the man there is a story, one which you may or may not agree with or support. Though his photo was used as part of a Top 10 hottest black celebs spread in the magazine, his association with a non-black woman was clearly the overriding factor. Whether or not you agree with his choice of girlfriend is not the question. The question is does his back story support the theme of the February issue and is he the ideal person to have gracing the cover when in the past, and therein lies the rub, your readership has not fully embraced what he represents? In fact, your readership has time and again not been appreciative of black men who date non-black women. So it is not about him and his right to date who he wants, or about how interracial dating is not a big deal. A publication, trying to make money off a segment this angry about it, should probably tread carefully. It is a tenuous issue and some readers have demanded Essence make an apology. I doubt they will.

The question was raised, what if it were Halle Berry on the cover. She's dating a white model and is raising a daughter with him. But is your mostly FEMALE readership angry at Halle Berry, a woman?

I, however, don't really care who the man is dating. I just happen to enjoy the eye candy early in the morning.

Get back in your skinny clothes...at the click of a button


This morning I dug out a new jacket I forgot existed for work. Got it on - no problems. Time to do the belt and I was aghast. The belt was cutting off all circulation and creating a medical emergency! I rationalised from Sunday to Thursday why this tragedy had occurred. The most logical answer in my mind was that someone had switched the belts in the store. Yep. The scenario was clear - I had tried on the jacket in my size and it fit in the dressing room, and then since it was a looking a little abused and molested, I went back to the rack and took a fresh looking jacket, in the same size, from the back. This is where the switch happened. Someone took my belt and switched it with a shorter one and left the offending article on the jacket which I had now selected for purchase!

It had to be!

In any event, as hot as the look I was going for was, I am not a slave or masochist for fashion and dug out a not so hot belt to complete the ensemble. Twleve hours wearing a virtual death device was not my idea of a fun Tuesday!

Of course you may have other plausible and compelling reasons why this belt trauma befell me this morning but whatever...I am sticking to my story.

But yes, I am still one of those who is dealing with the severe consequences of December - with my birthday, vacation and the Christmas holidays all conspiring against my waistline... and winning!

Remember I made the comment that there seemed to be an "app" for everything? Well, you guessed it. Fat no more, not as long as Blackberry and iPhone have their way.

What are the best BlackBerry and iPhone tools to help manage your weight? We asked Nadine Fisher, registered dietitian and social-media and Internet entrepreneur, for advice.
The best applications combine the ability to track food intake (eating) and energy expenditure (exercise). They also may provide information on eating out, food preparation and food selection:
---BlackBerry Calorie Tracker by Livestrong: This app helps you with information such as how many calories are in your lunch and how many walking burns, and keeps a digital diary of your daily calories. ($2.99)
-- Calorie Counter by FatSecret: This is the essential app to simply find nutritional info for the food you eat and to keep track of your meals, exercise and weight. (Free)
-- IPhone Livestrong Calorie Tracker: Lets you calculate daily calorie intake and expenditure. ($2.99)
-- Edibles Diet Journal: A cool app that lets you keep track of your calorie intake. ($4.99)
-- Health Cubby: Lets you keep track of your weight-loss progress as well as your workouts and the amount of calories you burn each day. ("Lite" version free; full version $6.99)
(http://www.qconline.com/)

And not only are there crazy fat busting apps, but researchers - those dudes who just sit around all day, doing surveys and reading books and articles about random things - have found that social media is also another powerful ally in weight loss. So like the apps, social media seems to be a virtual panacea. I do admit though, the community from Facebook is awesome and even in my own fit kick, the comments, advice and support from friends is usually welcome. Gearing up to drop pounds or shed inches is never easy. In real life, you have to contend with rude people who constantly ask "You putting on weight?" as if you needed a reminder. It's a hard process that quite frankly is very difficult to manage on one's own. The support from friends and the feedback really is invaluable...once you get started.

Here, one woman describes how Facebook worked for her and her weight loss mission.

"We'd leave each other encouraging messages on our walls," said  (Tracy) Besek, referring to the public message area on Facebook pages. "Someone would say they had a good workout, or they resisted eating the brownie in the work break room. And we'd say, 'Hey, that's great!' "


Two months ago, she started a private group and invited 15 of her friends. There, they chat, share advice, recount workouts and cheerlead each other.

"It's helped keep me motivated because I felt I was getting support outside," said Besek, who has lost 30 pounds since summer. "I don't want to let them down."
(read the full article here)

Social networks allow persons to form those communities which are so vital in the battle against the bulge. I have friends who have started weight loss blogs, documenting what they do everyday from healthy eating to exercise, to social activities - outlining the changes they have made to faciltate changes in their physical and emotional well being. Facebook support groups, online forums and fitness websites, fitness trackers such as Fatsecret.com - all with the ultimate objective of providing support, an opportunity for feedback, tips and motivation. You have online weight loss programmes like JillianMichaels.com, and the dude from Celebrity Fit Club, Dr Ian. Both have forums and support systems, like videos, forums, blogs which allow persons to network and share experiences, challenges, tips and outcomes. Virtual gyms. Virtual nutritionists. Virtual trainers. With Wii Fit (which I have to get for myself cause it looks awesome), do you even need to smell the rank sweat of a gym? It's pretty darn amazing. With all this support streaming into our homes and our lives at the click of a button, there should really be no reason for weight loss not to happen for millions and millions of people, should it? One would think!

Still, there is much to be said for real life networking and interaction. I love my sweaty gym, and though I have not seen it in a few ummm...months, it still brings other elements to the table which social media and all these apps and tools just cannot bring. It brings a pretty damn good laugh in the morning and it's that 90mins of every day which totally belong to me!

Still...

I just want to know if there is an app, a forum or Facebook group to find out who switched belts on my jacket. Who do I talk to in Macy's to find out!?

Cyber chicken!

I often wonder how on earth we managed to live without the internet and all the sexy stuff that comes with it.


This weekend, I went to my neighbourhood Hi-Lo and as I stood in the meat section, I saw that there was no chicken. Aghast, I stalked the meat cutters in the back room until I saw them rolling out the trolley with chicken. To my horror though, there were only freshly packed and wrapped chicken breasts.

I am NOT a fan of the chicken breast. I have had many a bad experience trying to cook breasts and to get them all succulent and moist as they are in restaurants. I am a thigh girl, myself, cause thighs make this whole moist and succulent thing rather elementary, since thighs have fat and breasts have none. But I am also trying to eat healthily so I grabbed a pack of breasts and shoved it unwillingly into my basket.

I got home and there they were - the breasts - looking back at me mockingly, willing me to put them in the oven so they could get all tough and stringy and dry. But I was not willing to let my $25.99 go to waste either so I logged on to Facebook and posed the question on my FB status

(Me) wants to know how to get my chicken breast as tender and moist as the ones I order in restaurants. Somehow mine never comes out that way. Always dry and lethal and usually causes choking. I bought a pack of sexy boneless boobs and refuse to fail again!
Needless to say, I have some great friends and aspiring chefs in my life who all offered advice to aid my chicken breast mission. I also got a lovely email (thanks W.C) with fab-u-lous ideas for the breast and of course, nothing beats Google in times of dire straits, and I also learnt about brining said breasts.

I have decided that the internet, with its social media, search engines and the like, is one of the best ways to get feedback, ideas and all sorts of hoo-haas about everyday life that maybe 5 years ago, you would have been forced to painstakingly search around for, via relatives, television or dusty encyclopaedia. I have come to depend on it for everything and cannot remember life without it. Thinking...thinking..nope...can't remember. The internet has quite possibly saved the chicken breasts from a stringy death, my oven from a slew of curses, my jaw from overwork (trying to chew and masticate said stringy flesh) and my $25.99!

It is a great place to fuel what interests you and to find new interests. I have always loved cooking and still don't always have the time to do it but when I am caught, as I was this weekend, with the raw materials and not quite sure what to do with it, sites like Allrecipes.com, where I have a profile and a packed cyber recipe book, as well as linking with friends online, helps drive the need to create in the kitchen. And that is an awesome thing!

And though I decided on shrimp today, since I had some leftover from last week's Hi-Lo adventure, I will be sure to let you all know how good my breasts turn out - notice I said how "good" cause there is no other outcome this time around. But I have high hopes for the outcome and you can stay tuned for it right here.

Think before you tweet, think before you pay


In the wake of the Haiti tragedy, a lot of organisations have come forward to offer assistance in their own way and many people have been using social media to spread the news and make their friends aware of ways they can make a contribution. So here, people have been sharing info about where we can drop stuff off like water, clothing, nonperishables, or information about account numbers where individuals can make financial donations to the Red Cross etc. To say that Haiti has overtaken sites like Facebook and Twitter may be a bit of an understatement.

I was pleasantly surprised to read that American Airlines had offered to fly doctors and nurses to Haiti for free to lend their skills to the relief effort. I also heard that UPS had offered to ship relief packages free of charge once they were under 50lbs.
The trouble with this is that neither was true.


It's amazing how quickly you can get people to respond via these social networking sites and it speaks to the growing influence of the technology in today's society.

Yet for every status update and tweet which gave accurate information, there was always going to be the possibility of those updates which would explode and circulate rapidly within the social media universe, which bloomed from one person's idea of a joke!

Communication as I said before has evolved rapidly and continues to do so. But evolution does not always necessarily mean progress, in a social sense. Whether it was a misunderstanding, a hope that spreading the rumour would light a fire under the management of certain organisations, or whether it was just a lame attempt at being funny in the midst of tragedy, misinformation today can create more havoc than say, 5 years ago, for the mere fact that in seconds, misinformation can reach every nook and cranny in the world. The Haitian consulate was inundated with calls from medical personnel eager to get on a free flight to Haiti. In a time when the consulate is looking to identify ways to get people in, get food in, locate aid workers etc, having to deal with the consequences of a silly hoax is more than a bother. It is a total waste of valuable time and resources.

It is along these lines that even though we feel compelled to reach into our pockets and make a contribution to help the survivors in Haiti, we still should be guided by common sense and not buy wholesale the info circulating on the web. There will always be scam artists who, sadly, will look to profit from the tragedy.

If in doubt, stick with the Red Cross and they can tell you how you can make your contributions, be it via text, via banks or what have you.
---

To clear things up though, both AA and UPS have already made contributions, though not of the type circulated in the Twitterverse.

CNN: "We've incentivized our 62 million AAdvantage members to give cash to Red Cross and receive bonus miles from us. "We cannot fly any passengers to Haiti at this time and our efforts on the humanitarian front are as described above." (AA spokesperson, Tim Smith)

CNN: In a blog post Wednesday on UPS's Web site, a spokeswoman debunked the rumor and said that destruction of Haiti's roads and communications networks "means our own shipping services to Haiti are on hold."

UPS is donating $1 million to help the people of Haiti through relief agencies.

Photo: CNN

A true hero in a silent city


Google has decided it may soon have to take steps to exit China.

"We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognise that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China."
In their official statement, Google outlines why it was necessary to make this move now. The company, in order to operate in China, has had to abide my China's strict regulations with regard to information sharing, including requirements to filter any foreign content or search results which are pornographic, or politically sensitive, i.e. anti-China political/human rights sentiments.

It had to have been a very hard decision for Google to make, with China being a huge and rapidly growing market. I watched the news last night, as dozens of Chinese internet users came to the Google office with flowers and cards in support. But Google has indicated that they have "have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties."

The things we take for granted. With all the various social media out there, we have many opportunities and channels to voice our opinions, either publicly or anonymously. Sometimes, of course the freedom which we have can be used to degrade others and simply show the base side of humanity but yet it is still a freedom and I do believe we take it for granted. The Chinese policies and systems are aimed at perpetuating their own policies throughout Chinese society and effectively aims to circumvent free thinking. Where Trinidadians have flooded Facebook, the same site is blocked in China. I can almost hear the collective "OMG" around the room. lol. The Great Fire Wall, as this prohibitive policy is often called, also blocks sites like Twitter and YouTube and Blogger (OMG!), and government has increasingly put pressure on internet service providers to reveal customer information. Journalists and activists have also been arrested for not complying with the information policies of the Chinese regime.

Just Response, on its website states that
Fifty-four Chinese citizens have received prison sentences of between two and twelve years for expressing and exchanging opinions on the Internet.
Google in its statement says that this decison was made in the US without the "knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today." I do find that a bit harsh to completely leave out the people whom this move would directly impact, and hope Google will in the coming weeks treat with the sensitive human resource issues which will inevitably arise from this decision. I do not see the Chinese government budging and allowing Google to operate more freely, so their departure from a market of over 330 million internet users seems inevitable.

Today the Chinese government has responded to Google, saying "foreign internet companies are welcome" but must obey their systems of control.

It is a double edged sword in that I applaud Google for their decision - it sure took them a while though, but such a huge market must have been hard to overlook financially, huh Google? And it does raise questions about Google and how far they themselves were willing to go and for how long to tap into a market as huge as China, going against a basic human right to freedom of speech. How far was Google going to go for a dollar? But better late than never, Google and maybe this will be a lesson to other such organisations...

... and yet how does their departure now affect millions of Chinese internet users who have described Google as the "true hero in a silent city"? There are those who do not support Google, and believe the government is simply protecting the country. But there are millions who would be distressed if Google were indeed to exit the Chinese market for with their entrance in 2006, has come a new wave in the information age in a country seemingly hungry for information.

It is amazing that a country that is developing as rapidly as China is, with such a great influx of foreign investors, would still have these draconian policies with regard to freedom of speech and information. It seems almost paradoxical that globalisation has come to China and yet noone can truly, in essence, talk about it, or live it. It also begs the question, is the dollar really more important than supporting those whose freedoms have been restricted, because foreign companies are still going in to China, fully aware of these issues and not seeming to care until it affects them directly. And that is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.

I am personally glad I can macco on Facebook! I don't that that for granted.

Photo: Associated Press

Two Videos, Two Islands

Yesterday, British Airways tweeted about their new Caribbean destinations ad, which I have shared below.




I thought the ad was well done. It showed our people, our culture, in full colour and spirit. I made the comment that the ad was distinctly Trini, not just a little bit, but throughout, and could not truly be described as Caribbean.

Then there is this video which ultimately proves my point because this is another Caribbean altogether, one whose history was just yesterday dealt another debilitating and tragic blow.



No sophisticated editing. No polish. No brilliant colour. No spirit.


Tweets about the destruction in Haiti in the aftermath of yesterday's 7.0 earthquake have taken over Twitter, with photos and commentary being shared by those who can on the impoverished Caribbean island. One journalist has been keeping us all in the loop with what is going on, with his tweets and with shared photos. You can also check out tweets from this user, and also check here and these tweets as well from @troylivesay.

CARICOM, Haiti's own community, has so far only released this statement on its website. I could say a lot about this but I am giving CARICOM the benefit of time this morning.


The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is distressed at the initial reports coming out of Haiti in the wake of the destruction wrought by the series of earthquakes which struck its Member State on Tuesday. As it continues to monitor the situation closely, CARICOM will move quickly to mobilize its disaster emergency response systems in order to render assistance to Haiti.

"Church groups are singing throughout the city all through the night in prayer. It is a beautiful sound in the middle of a horrible tragedy." - @troylivesay, on his Twitter feed.

In much the same way we can search and find all this info on the tragedy, people have also been sharing info on how you can help relief efforts locally on Facebook and Twitter. I would be surprised if none of you has one single friend in you entire network who did not do the same.

I woke up this morning...and that's it. I woke up this morning and if you're reading this, so did you. So what are you going to do today? Are we still going to make a heap of noise about Beyonce today? Seriously? We are up there in that first video, beautiful and blessed. It could easily be us one day in the second.

So...what are you going to do today?

In Trinidad, you can drop off food, blankets, water, clothing at the corner of Broome St. and Tragarete Rd.  between 9am - 3pm. Label all bags.

Also donate at http://www.foodforthepoor.org/ or

In the US - you can use your cell phone to text “Yele” to 501501, which will automatically donate $5 to the Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund (it will be charged to your cell phone bill), or you can visit Yele.org, wherever you are, and click on DONATE.

In the US - The Red Cross is using their Twitter account to ask for donations: You can text "HAITI" to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti.
In addition, you can make a donation right on the Red Cross website.


If you're interested in reading Troy's blog you can HERE.

Telephone Love - But where is the Customer Love?



I hate business-related calls where the caller just starts prattling about what he wants, without taking a breath and worse, without identifying himself. So you want the key to the mansion and I should just give it to you despite the fact that I do not know who on earth you are or where you're calling from. It's a peeve - right up there with bad spelling and grammar.

Is it really that difficult to start a phone call the proper way?

"Hello. This is Barack Obama, calling from the White House. I am trying to reach Ms Trini Darlin."

Isn't that a whole lot better than...

"Hello. I want to get some information on blah blah blah blah blappity blah blah blah blah prattle prattle prattle."

Cause that is what I hear when you start going a mile a minute without introducing yourself. And then I have to take a breath and try my best not to sound annoyed and instead to sound sickeningly sweet and accomodating.

And to whom am I speaking?

I swear, we have come such a long way with technology but the simplest things we overlook. Simple courtesies. There are some people who call who can really test your sanity though and can go on and on while you sit and bear it. I once sat through a 32minute phone call (yes, I timed it) while the gentleman voiced his frustration with an issue, that had nothing to do with me. Sometimes we have to play the role of priest and let customers or clients give confession. It takes patience, it takes tolerance, it takes a strong spirit.

And with all the new gadgets available now though, it can often be a come-to-Jesus type experience when dealing with some businesses. Service industries (my special favourite) are notorious for their horror stories. I went to a store once, picked up what I needed and made my way to the cashier. There she was - on the phone. She could not be bothered that I, the customer, was standing there waiting patiently for her to ring up my items. She looked at me, and without batting a false eyelash, continued yapping it up on the phone. If it were a call related to business, I may have been a bit more tolerant, but it was clear she was talking to a girlfriend and she did not even make an attempt to end the call. I finally placed everything I had picked up on the counter in front of her and walked out. She then tells her friend to hold and has the audacity to ask me if I am going to come back. She had to have been joking to think I would come back after she clearly sent me a loud and clear message that her personal phone call about some party or some man was more important than running a business and building a customer base. And most importantly, her personal telephone call was just ridiculously more important than I was.

And I have seen staff doing the following when dealing with or ignoring a customer as the case may be

- Texting
- Playing games on the phone
- Browsing the internet
- Downloading ringtones using Bluetooth and a friend's phone
--Listening to music

Really?

It is sadly understood that customer service in Trinidad is horrendous and though this has been described as a "cultural" thing, I don't believe we are a rude people. We are friendly and hospitable everywhere else, so why can't we tranlsate this to business? There is clearly a market for trainers to host seminars for employers to properly train their employees about the power of the smile and etiquette. Looking for a job, anyone? lol.

Unless it is a life or death call or email, when dealing with a client or customer, ideally the phone should remain unanswered. What ever happened to the customer comes first? Yes, the technology makes us accessible and brings information to our fingertips, but is it worth it to ruin a business? Basically that is what improper use of these devices do - when used improperly and at the most inappropriate times, they are like cannonballs in the fabric of prosperity and good reputation. Just watch those dollar bills burn to a crisp.


At my very first job after university, in the financial services industry, we were forbidden from keeping our cellphones on during the 8am - 4.30pm period. And there was hardly ever a person whose phone rang during the work day because the culture of the organisation was strongly grounded in good customer service and it was just understood - no cellphones. I don't think all employers should have to go the route of banning personal devices at the office, but it says something about how important they view their brand and how they view their employees as brand ambassadors. If they don't bring their staff into the game, chances are they will lose it.

A Blast from the Past

Yesterday while  looking for something on my bookshelf, I found this. Don't laugh.




Okay, I know you laughed. I remember when I bought that cell phone back in 2002. That phone was the hottest thing on the market and there were ooh's and aah's when I bought my new Nokia. Now, it's nothing more than a paper weight. I never got rid of it because it was my first phone and then, my kids could probably laugh about it one day, the way we laugh about 8-tracks with our parents. I can hear it now.

- So ummm...what did this phone do? Could you take photos with it? Can you check email on it? What about blogging...can I send a blog post with it? What does it do?

- Ummm..you could call a friend and get calls and...oh...you could send text messages!

- That's all??

But it goes to show how communication has changed and keeps changing. 2002 was not that far off was it? But then, think even further back to when we used to put pen to paper and write letters. In high school, pen pals were all the rage, You paid like $5 and got 4 pen pals, and you would spend your weekend writing letters in your best penmanship to teenagers like yourself in Africa or Europe or North America. You would wait weeks for a reply and would light up like a bulb when you got home and there was your letter, waiting to be opened.

Then came email and the death of personalised stationery and the birth of the term "slow mail" which now described that fun activity of writing out those epistles to friends in foreign countries. But emails allowed not only faster delivery of your messages, but also allowed you to send photos and helped to foster these relationships on a deeper level since you could communicate more often, without any expense.

Chat came and the email was not the popular kid anymore. With instant messaging services like MSN and Yahoo, who needed to sit and write an email and wait for the person to check it and hopefully respond immediately? Now you could see if the person was online and talk in real time with him or her. With chat later came video chat and stuff like Skype, which signalled the near death of the telephone in our homes. I cannot tell you the last time I got a phone call on my landline.

Facebook became the ultimate relationship builder and social hot spot. So I had one of those slow mail penpals and after a while, we just sort of stopped writing and lost touch. After almost 20 years, guess where we reconnected? You guessed it. Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with dozens of people I just simply lost touch with and now it is where we all keep in touch, some simply want to macco and some like to be macco'ed (don't deny it!), share their opinions on stuff and meet new people.

And worse than me picking up the phone in my home, is me picking up a newspaper. Besides getting that yucky press ink all over my hands, the www world has made getting the news so much more convenient and accessible. And with newspapers going electronic and also with media gurus and just people with opinions on the news creating blogs and forums, feedback and discussion on current events is more prevalent and there is no longer that one-sidedness which news was all about in the past. Sure you had letters to the editor, but you had to hope your letter got chosen and then that in itself is limited cause noone can comment on your letter in real time, if anyone chooses to at all.

Blogging has brought so many different topics to so many different people. There are blogs about everything - sports, technology, food, fashion, travel (yaay), media, entertainment, sex, dating - you name it, there is a blog out there that hashes out the issues and has readers hashing right back. Isn't it fantastic?

And for the people on the move, who want to process info quickly, who want to not have to scour the cyberverse for details, there is microblogging. Twitter has really exploded over the past several months and Facebook also allows people to just simply answer the question "what am I doing now?" as well as share links to articles, news, videos, podcasts etc.

Businesses have come a long way too. The way we communicate in business has evolved as well. I always smirk when I have to print a memo in this day and age, but paper trails are still important, though I think cyber trails can work as well. Some businesses have harnessed the power of technology and employees are keeping in touch via email, Office Communicator, intranets, internal social networking platforms similar to the external ones like Facebook and Twitter.

And you were no longer slaves to your pc, but the mobility of communication changed too, with laptops and wireless internet almost anywhere you go so is it any wonder you see people sitting in airports, coffee shops, on the beach, in their hotels, typing away - getting things done, staying in touch, downloading, meeting people.

And then, coming back to the cell phone I dug out of the stone ages, there came the smart phone - which allows you to do everything discussed above, bringing you right at the edge of the action, 24/7. I sat in a room once and everyone was inflicted with BB-itis. Symptoms - dropped head, eyes locked on Blackberry screen, oblivious to life around them, fingers tapping away at keyboard frantically.


It's a serious ailment which has afflicted many people around the world, in addition to iPhoneitis and other smart phone related afflictions.

But it's immediacy on the go. You can now send an email or an IM and get a response faster than the time it takes to get a cup of coffee at your favourite Rituals or Starbucks as the case may be.

And to think, I loved that phone so much that I did not want to let it go. And to think, everything mentioned here is just the tip of the evolution iceberg as far as communication is concerned. If I had to talk about everything out there, my head would hurt. There is so much happening out there that soon some of these things may be as dead and archaic as that old Nokia, with its analog service. It's exciting find out though.

Bad guy of the day: The Dreaded Airline


I love travelling. I may not always have the time or the money (more of the latter than the former) to visit the places I want to visit, but I do pretty okay. So obviously I follow a few twitter feeds related to travel. Noone likes being stuck in an airport for hours waiting for flights, or being kept on hold indefinitely as one tries to get information about delays or cancellations. Airlines get a lot of bad ju-ju vibes for sometimes bad service, often totally out of their hands, but the hard blow of this can be softened by proper communication with passengers. I can be sitting in an airport, with my laptop and getting details about my flight without having to join a throng of disgruntled, weary passengers at the counter. That's hot.

I love what British Airways are doing with their tweets right now. With the weather over in Europe being as bad as it is and flights being delayed and cancelled, it's great for travellers to log in to Twitter and get some current info or assistance. And they do answer. I asked about fare sales between POS and LGW once and got a prompt response. It was not necessarily the answer I wanted (lol) but I got an answer nonetheless and appreciated the prompt attention to my query.

American Airlines, in light of security changes due to the recent botched bomb attempt,and weather issues in the US as well, has also been doing  a pretty good job at keeping customers in the know. As is Virgin Atlantic.

And the list goes on. I would love to see Caribbean Airlines doing a bit more. I am a rather loyal Caribbean Airlines customer. Some people may scoff at this and yes, they do have their moments but I have had my moments with other airlines as well. Their service has really improved over the past couple years, and unless another airline is significantly cheaper than CA, I would usually book with them once they fly to where I want to go. Thus their tweets or lackthereof are a bit disappointing cause I would be all up on that. I do get their e-newsletter and see their ads in the paper but still, they are missing out on a great opportunity to really engage their passengers, get some feedback on what we want to see from them and offer me some great fares, specials (freeness? lol).  They have 442 followers, who right now are following...well...nothing.

Oh... to be the tweeter for an airline. Or just a travel tweeter or blogger. Yes, I think everyone know this is a dream of mine. Travelling and getting paid to write about it! Sigh. In a perfect world!

Will talk about hotels another time.

Finger Lickin' Good or is it?


Yesterday I learnt about a KFC ad which was creating a lot of cross-continental drama. Check out the video below if you have not seen it yet. The video was created by KFC Australia as part of its WI vs Australia cricket series campaign. In it, a white Aussie cricket fan is surrounded by what the video refers to as "awkward black people" (???) and, well...you can take a look



Now KFC America managed to see this ad, and the ad was immediately deemed racist, heads rolled and the Aussies yanked the offending ad off the air and off its electronic channels.

I can see where KFC America would have an issue with the ad. The stereotype of black Americans and their perceived love for fried chicken is a long standing one and perhaps not the most pleasant. I am Trini, and as far as I know, we don't have such a stereotype here. I know I personally hate when Americans all think we all wear tie dyed shirts and drink from coconuts and lay on a beach all day, but not much fried chicken stereotypes. Aussies apparently don't understand the drama with the ad either, and saw it as just a guy offering some West Indians some KFC. An Aussie explained the ad would be relevant whether the Aussie was trapped alone among a sea of Englishmen, Pakistanis or South African fans.

They claim it aims to show that KFC is a crowd pleaser among people of any background. The West Indian fans did not seem to be hostile towards Mick, the dude in the ad. If the ad was a REAL depiction of West Indian fans then this ad would have worked and made some sense. That is, these West Indian fans look excited and happy to be in Australia supporting their team. When is the last time you saw an excited West Indian cricket fan? They should look DEPRESSED. The ad should go like this -

Mick sits in sea of angry, depressed looking West Indians and decides to bring out the ultimate crowd pleaser - some KFC. lol..

Now...though I personally as a West Indian don't find the offering of the KFC offensive, cause Trinis for sure love some KFC and are proud of the fact that our Independence Square branch is apparently a global leader in sales. There is a regional KFC Cup competition - not because KFC thinks black people loves fried chicken, but because KFC supports regional cricket. But I find it hard to believe that global marketers are so naive that they did not know about the stereotype and different things in the short ad also makes one question this alleged cluelessness. 

There is the depiction of the 2 parties involved - Mick, who seems frustrated by the loud, raucous West Indians. Why is Mick in the minority if he is in Australia and the West Indies are NOT the home team? Why couldn't the ad be the other way around - with Mike, a West Indian, offering the loud, raucous Aussies the chicken? Or a group of loud Aussies with a group of loud West Indians in a bit of cricket rivalry and some random peacemaker bringing out the chicken and both groups of fans eating the chicken and high-fiving over it?

The ad itself if looked at from an American concept is definitely racially insensitive, and though the notion that this clip would offend some people never occurred to the marketing team at KFC Australia, it just highlights the point that marketing cannot ever be generic. Yes, Oz is far away but really, with social media, television, email and all the technology you have, while I can understand whether some housewife sitting at home may not know about African Americans and this chicken stereotype, I cannot understand a global communicator, working for an AMERICAN franchise not being culturally aware. I highly doubt that one dude came up with this idea and decided to run with it. Story boards must have been created, concepts tested among a group of people, with people outside of the team. Seeing that it was supposed to be a "light reference to West Indians", were there any independent reviewers to determine whether West Indians would "ketch the joke"? So basically, KFC Australia is trying to peddle the story that noone on the whole team caught on that this ad may not go over well with the bosses in the US?
 
I am laughing over my Cheerios with that one, eh. So in the context - a white Aussie cricket fan offering West Indian fans some spicy KFC - is the ad racist? Aye, last cricket match I went to, the bucket of KFC was a hit with the crew!  But in a global marketing and marketing research context - definitely. Something is not right with the whole explanation from KFC Australia. Other things are wrong with the ad, from my West Indian perspective, outside of the poor misjudged chicken.

The various global contexts have to be taken into consideration when developing ads, promotions, even brand names. I recall a conversation where a Venezuelan gentleman, on work assignment in Trinidad, was adamant that he did not wish to lease a Prado,  I believe it was. When asked why, he said that "prado" was apparently a slang term for a man masturbating. I doubt Trinis ever thought of that because men puff their chests in the driver's seats of their Prados on the nation's highways. But the vehicle does exist on Venezuelan roads, just under a different name so as to not alienate the market for which the vehicle seems to be targeted. I doubt Toyota knew about this before, but they knew well enough not to try to sell the thing as Prado in Caracas.

And you would find that different companies do in fact have different products to meet the needs of different markets. The same goes for how we communicate with those we are aiming to interact with. As a global company, this ad was bound to reach America and cause the inevitable fallout. Let's get real KFC Australia. Did you think you could keep this only on Aussie television? Have you ever heard of YouTube? Thinking outside the box has to now mean, not just being distinctly creative, but also being globally sensitive and aware, especially if your brand is a global brand.

Though I really doubt that the strength of the KFC brand has been affected much by this incident. It has inevitably caused extreme embarrasment for the Aussies and I am sure there are video conferences and some finger pointing and maybe some pink slip writing going on down under, but Mick will still be handing out KFC chicken somewhere to someone else, though let's hope he is not plastered across the media while doing it.

How far do you go with the "You can't please everybody" adage?


Beyonce is one of the biggest names in pop music today, if not the biggest. And Ms B is heading to Trinidad and Tobago. And Ms B is creating quite an uproar before she has even stepped on the plane to Port of Spain. Unbeknownst to the lady, she is the centre of a media frenzy revolving around a myriad of issues

The last issue is the latest in the furor over Ms "Single Ladies". Now, while this does not personally affect me since my Carnival seems to have ended before it started (no HD!!! what??), I can see where cultural organisations have issues with the timing of the concert.

What makes it worse, from a CSR perspective, is that a TSTT-sponsored event for the Carnival,  the extremely popular B-Square series has been "blanked" this year and most people have indirectly shifted blame to poor Ms B for this unfortunate event.  The company attributes the cancellation to the absence of Mr HD this year (no HD!!! what?), the timing of this particular cancellation cannot help but add to the negative press surrounding the February 18 concert and creates a perceived notion that the company cares more about an American performer than our local culture.

As such an imporant corporate citizen, whose track record in sponsoring so many events, groups and causes is stellar, some may say the move to bring an American artiste so soon after the largest local cultural expo on our calendar is a bad move. But what about all the other events that the company continues to support? Does the fact that TSTT has supported and continues to support other local cultural events, including the capstone event for soca, the Soca Monarch competition, an event that broadcasts our culture internationally, and attracts thousands and thousands of patrons, count for anything? Or is the fallout from this one concert the day after our Carnival ends, going to be that thunderstorm in the teacup?

What will TSTT do in coming weeks? The fact of the matter is, for every person who is upset about the concert and take issue with all the supporting issues, there is another, or a few hundred, who cannot wait to get to the concert to see Beyonce perform. The rush for tickets so far has proven that there is indeed a ready and willing market for the post-Carnival performance from an American artiste, and hundreds had no hesitation in forking out their $1600 for their VVIP tickets to the show. So, does TSTT now then just subscribe to the adage that "You just cannot please everybody" and keep on truckin' or will there be strategic communications to the relevant parties and the public in coming days to counter some of the negativity coming out of the announcement to bring Ms Knowles to Trinidad and Tobago next month.

Never a dull moment in good ole Trini.

If anyone wants to buy me a VVIP ticket, you can leave a comment. (lol)

A Tale of Two Phenomena: Reality TV and Social Media


Last night, I was flipping through channels, trying to watch 2 shows at once - Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (I heart Benson and Stabler) and Lifetime reruns of Grey's Anatomy (McDreamy!!!). But the flipping stopped at 7.30pm when I hit VH-1 and there was the season finale of "I Want to Work for Diddy" which I had missed due to sheer exhaustion the night before. There are a lot of things one can say about this show - like, how can a grown man and a grown woman have Diddy treat them like a couple of school kids in a spelling bee? How does a grown man not know how to spell legitimate? How much public humiliation are these people willing to take for a bit of fame and maybe a job? Seriously. It's addictive! lol.

I admit it. I love reality tv. Now don't get me wrong, I don't see any deep lessons in these shows, besides "I am blessed to have common sense", and reality tv does not keep me up at night with burning questions about current issues, but reality tv sure is entertaining. And not only is it entertaining but reality tv is making these networks a whole lot of money and giving these wannabe stars their 15 minutes.

And I think if you want to go further, reality tv is akin to social media in its rapid growth in popularity and ability to transform an entity from nothing to something in quick time. How many people knew about Twitter a year or so ago? How many know about it now? How many people knew anything about the Jersey Shore? How many people are googling it now because of the controversial MTV reality show of the same name?

More and more people are usinng reality tv to further their own personal goals. You have the average Joe who wants to be a star. Noone can tell me these girls who go on shows like "For the Love of Ray-J" REALLY think they will walk down the aisle with him one day?

If you're good enough, and you create a character compelling enough, you can segue into something else that can bring real financial returns. "Flava of Love" and "I love New York" made Tiffany Pollard a household name because this girl worked her brand. It may not be a brand that most normal people may want to be associated with, but it's HER brand and it clearly worked for her, to an extent.

Diddy himself is a marketing machine. The attention his reality shows have garnered have gone a long way I am sure in ramping up his personal image and that of his Bad Boy/Sean John/I love myself empire. The same goes for Donald Trump, the Kardashians, and all the other people who are doing a pretty good job at establishing and strengthening a personal brand via reality tv and our love for it.

Diddy has gone a step further via his Twitter presence. He is the self-proclaimed "King of Twitter" and pushes everything from his vodka, to his music to himself via the microblogging site. With over 2 million followers, he is getting his brand OUT THERE!

And then let's look at reality tv and social media and the question of hype and relevance. MTV has come under fire for not living up to its name - Music Television. When is the last time anyone saw a music video on MTV? I mean...seriously! They have reality shows all day about everything under the sun, most not even related to music. Reality tv is everywhere. On every network. Starring everyone - from washed up celebrities to fame-hungry small towners. And while some of the shows have been around for a long time and may be around for even longer - The Bachelor, The Amazing Race, The Real World  (yes, I watch 'em) for example - a lot of the others crash and burn because they just don't have the staying power or bring anything unique to the table or are so ludicrous that even the usual reality tv fun of laughing at silly people becomes obscene.

What about social media? I cannot tell you how many new social media sites I encounter or hear about every day. If you were to sign up to all these things, you would not have a life! And while Facebook and Twitter have really made an impression on people the world over, how many of the others are relevant? Depending on where you are in the world, some tools may work more effectively than others in social media marketing. We all know how huge Facebook is here in Trinidad, and Trinis are also blogging, tweeting, Youtubing and Flickr-ing, but how many Trinis know about Ning, for example? In business especially, you really have to understand your audience and what they may be interested in. So while you may think the hot new tool is fab, trying to force your enthusiasm on a target group , who may be just catching up with the Twitterverse is not the way to go.

It would be like forcing me to watch "Frank The Entertainer in a Basement Affair" which is such an agonising thought that I don't know where to begin in describing how annoyed I feel about it. I can't. I just can't bring myself to think of it.

p.s. There's an app for that! - did you know there is actually an app for I Want to Work for Diddy??? My God! What's next?
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