The Index »

  • The John Lewis Christmas ad gets cute with a loved-up snowman. There’s just one small problem…

    November 12, 2012 @ 8:30 am | by Laura Slattery

    This is the new Christmas ad for John Lewis. It’s called The Journey and the 90 seconds of snowy seasonal selflessness that lie within were created for the department store by the agency Adam&Eve DDB. According to the retail group, the ad “celebrates the extra mile we all go to at Christmas to find the perfect gift”. Well, that’s the power of love. Not that power of love. The other Power of Love.

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    Awwwww… right? It’s a snowman with a crush. Our hero got up early one morning and went all the way to the city, negotiating dual carriageways and dodging snowball fights, to buy his snowlady a rather flattering scarf-hat-and-glove set. Of course, a freezer would have better facilitated any ambitions for a long-term relationship, but still – so sweet.

    Except, if you’re in the habit of watching one of the most popular shows on British television, you might have another, rather less gooey take on this powdery pair:

    Don't blink! John Lewis goes all Weeping Angels

    And that’s just a small sample of the Twitter-people who have been uncannily reminded of the terrifying, heartless Weeping Angels. Originally created by writer Steven Moffat for the Doctor Who episode Blink and now a recurring villain, Weeping Angels seem like demure statues but have a habit of moving jumpily closer whenever you take your eyes off them, eventually getting near enough to zap you out of the present day with their raised fists and enraged stone faces. All very Christmassy, in other words, though after last year’s ad, which inspired this creepy spoof version, it’s almost as if John Lewis are doing it on purpose.

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    Naturally, you can buy a toy set of angels at John Lewis.

  • Photojournalist Paul Conroy: “Marie was so powerful and she summed up the brutality of what was happening.”

    October 22, 2012 @ 9:14 am | by Laura Slattery

    Paul Conroy isn’t a fan of crawling through cramped tunnels. “Potholing should be banned,” the British photojournalist joked. When you have to bend double as Syrian rebels illegally smuggle you into a combat zone through an increasingly airless 3 km storm drain, it helps to have a dark sense of humour.

    The storm drain, 4 ft high, was the route he took with his colleague, the Sunday Times foreign correspondent Marie Colvin, last February on their way to Baba Amr, a district in the Syrian city of Homs. Conroy was concerned about his friend’s sense of direction – a decade before, in Sri Lanka, Colvin had lost an eye. “She had a tendency to veer left,” he explained. That could be awkward in a pitch black tunnel, when you’re not sure what’s going to be waiting for you on the other side.

    Conroy was badly wounded in Baba Amr, as was the French reporter Edith Bouvier, in a shellfire attack on the unofficial media building where they stayed. The attack killed Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik. Conroy remembers the shells falling on one side, and then the other. He thought they had stopped and was reaching for his camera when a final shell landed. He reached down to find there was a big hole in his left leg, and shrapnel in his thigh. “I just felt like someone had hit me with a hammer.”

    He tied his wound with an Ethernet cable. “That’s when I went looking for Marie. I fell over her, in the rubble. I knew instantly that she was dead.”

    A fraught escape from Syria on the back of a motorbike – through the tunnel again – and multiple operations later, Conroy is now recovering. He owes his life to the Syrian field hospital that treated him – there was no anaesthetic, just the odd cigarette, and he hated being a burden on them.  “I didn’t get out for six days, which was a bit hairy, because they had our location and they were trying to bomb us,” Conroy recalled in a public interview at the Cleraun Media Conference on Saturday conducted by Irish Times photographer Brenda Fitzsimons.

    Journalists used to be seen as set apart from combatants – in the Balkans in the 1990s, he had been able to cross from one side to another, staying both independent and safe. It’s not like that anymore, which brings ethical challenges (the people who feed and house you become your friends) as well as immediate dangers. “Journalists are targets,” he told the conference, his crutch serving as visual evidence of this fact.

    The night before Colvin died, they had decided she should do live Skype reports for CNN and BBC World, in case this was her last opportunity. “Really that was the beginning of our end, the live transmissions, because Marie was so powerful and she summed up the brutality of what was happening,” says Conroy. “We must have irritated someone in Damascus.”

    After he returned home to Britain, he discovered there had been a $1 million bounty on his head, just for being in Syria. “I thought I was only worth £85 quid.”

    Some people seemed to blame Colvin for her own death, claiming she had become addicted to the adrenalin of war reporting. “They said, ‘why did you go somewhere so dangerous?’” But he doesn’t approve of the knee-jerk caution of editors since the events of February. “Let me put it this way, I don’t think it’s worth stopping what we’re doing in order to prevent a loss of a life.” In summary: “No one sets out to be killed.”

    Bearing witness to horrors that might otherwise remain undocumented is the whole point anyway. “If I see groups of photographers, I’ll essentially go the other way. Same with Marie, she hated bunches of reporters. That’s why we ended up in Baba Amr – 8,000 people trying to get out, two people trying to get in.” During the artillery barrage from dawn to dusk, they “experienced a tiny amount of what these people had been through for months on end”.

    Newspaper editors don’t always understand the logistical difficulties faced by foreign correspondents in conflict zones, Conroy noted. “Can you get a photograph of Gaddafi’s unmarked grave?” an editor had asked during an assignment in Libya. It’s the kind of question that answers itself. “But we did actually try, me and Marie,” he added. He used Google Earth to draw a line 50 km south of Misrata, where rebels had hinted to Colvin the burial site might be located. “We got a driver and a truck and we spent two days looking.” Eventually, the driver had enough of trying to find a dead dictator in a desert.

    In Libya, Conroy had been invited to photograph Colonel Gaddafi’s body in a freezer shortly after he had been killed, brutally, by rebels. “You could recognise the brand marks of the boots they kicked him with.”

    He doesn’t self-censor. “I’ll shoot anything, and the odd one or two make a newspaper. I’d say 90 per cent of what I shoot would never make a newspaper – they’re too graphic. We’re quite delicate little souls,” he said drily. But dead children are the reality of war: “I was once approached by a woman with a baby’s head saying ‘can you fix this?’ Those pictures didn’t make the papers.”

    The ones that do tend to be the bloodless “bang bang” pictures of rebels with guns. The photographs of mutilated bodies too macabre to print he keeps in his archive in the hope that they may become of use to future war commissions. Since returning from Syria, he’s been interviewed by the International Criminal Court and the British Foreign Office. “I had to come off morphine and be certified drug-free in case the testimony was challenged.”

    Conroy is back on pain medication and still needs physiotherapy on his leg. But he doesn’t quite believe he has seen his last conflict zone. “I don’t think I’m ready to start doing landscapes,” was how the ex-soldier put it. “I’m terrified of giving up in case I become a wedding photographer.”

  • Newsweek says goodbye to the printing presses. Who’s next to go digital-only?

    October 19, 2012 @ 9:44 am | by Laura Slattery

     

    No more Newsweek. Photograph: Reuters / Carlo Allegri.

    “As a former editor in chief of Psychology Today, I know how hard it can be to sell magazines,” begins a letter in the current edition of Newsweek. “But how do you get from a neurosurgeon’s report about his near-death experience to your cover headline?” A thumbnail opposite the letter shows the previous issue. It is emblazoned with the words “HEAVEN IS REAL”.

    Not even the discovery of an afterlife was enough to save Newsweek. The current affairs magazine, which had been due to celebrate its 80th anniversary next year, has announced that its December 31st edition will be the last time it rolls off the printing presses in the US.

    Editor in chief Tina Brown, who enjoys a near-Wintouresque celebrity status, put her spin on it (just as she did in July when she described suggestions the current affairs magazine was planning to ditch print as “scaremongering”). In a post titled A Turn of the Page for Newsweek, she yesterday admitted that the publication would “transition to an all-digital format” in early 2013. “We are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it,” wrote Brown and chief executive Baba Shetty in the co-authored post, placed on the website of Newsweek’s online sister publication, the Daily Beast.

    “Exiting print is an extremely difficult moment for all of us who love the romance of print and the unique weekly camaraderie of those hectic hours before the close on Friday night,” they write. But jobs, as well as romance, will be lost. “Regrettably we anticipate staff reductions and the streamlining of our editorial and business operations both here in the US and internationally.”

    Newsweek will “expand its rapidly growing tablet and online presence”, as well as that new must-have for media companies – an events business. The all-digital publication will be called Newsweek Global and will be aimed at “a highly mobile, opinion-leading audience who want to learn about world events in a sophisticated context” – and pay to do so, with just “select content” available for free on the Daily Beast.

    Newsweek is already available to buy via the newsagent app Newsstand for €2.39 per issue or an annual subscription of €19.99, which is how I read that letter complaining about its stretch of a headline. Now I happen to think Brown was indulging in fair editorial licence there – if you can’t pander to the mumbo-jumbo coma-convert crowd every now and again, we might as well all give up and go home. But the problem is that the wow-heaven-exists cover story is part of a pattern: Newsweek‘s “BUY ME” desperation has been writ large in recent months.

    Sure, a lot of people seem to get a kick out of knocking the British-born Brown, the former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. So much success so young – everyone hates that. But it’s hard not to agree with those who believe that under her tenure the magazine has ceased to provide a “sophisticated context”. Instead, it seems to have adopted a policy of trolling – the act of deliberately provoking an angry reaction (plus clicks). Controversial moments during 2012 to fit into this category have included a cover image of Barack Obama with the strapline “the first gay President” and a sensationalist cover story titled “Muslim Rage”. It might be eye-catching, but not in a way that’s edifying.

    Newsweek’s decision to “embrace the all-digital future” follows a series of similar moves by US newspapers, led by the Christian Science Monitor in 2009. But those were inky, disposable and mostly classifieds-dependent newspapers. Newsweek is a shiny, glossy magazine – for leisure, not commuting; for big brand advertisers, not local businesses. It turns out such magazines are not insulated from the reader trends that have seen the percentage of US people who get their news from online sources rise to 39 per cent. Newsweek‘s print circulation has halved since 2006.

    It’s been a rocky week for print believers, all told. On Wednesday, the Daily Telegraph‘s media editor Katherine Rushton published a story online claiming the Guardian had plans to dump its print edition. Not true, tweeted Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. “Plain wrong,” wrote its media blogger Roy Greenslade. But the Telegraph refused to backtrack, publishing the story including the company’s denial in its print edition on Thursday.

    I guess it all depends on your definition of “plans”. Crucially, the Telegraph didn’t hazard a guess as to when the Guardian might abandon print, which means the story has a good chance of proving right – eventually.

    It certainly wouldn’t be too shocking if it were to make like the London Independent and cease distribution in Ireland. I wouldn’t care. I no longer buy the Guardian in print, as I’ve signed up to its iPad edition. Why pay €13.99 a month when all that content is available on the web for free? It turns out I quite like the edited product in digital form, and the convenience of having downloaded editions available to read even if my device isn’t connected. The free trial, surprisingly, worked its magic. (I still miss the paper Indy though.)

    The other publication frequently mentioned in “online-only” dispatches is the Financial Times – one of the few news publications to have triumphed in the science of making money from its paywall. As a specialist affair, it has an advantage – its readers belong to a demographic that is affluent and iPad-friendly. But quite aside from the digital-only debate, this could well be a time of flux for the FT following the resignation of Marjorie Scardino as chief executive of parent company Pearson. She was on record as being an FT loyalist, where others in the Pearson hierarchy may favour a sale.

    Few media companies are blessed with enough scale and enough niche appeal to make a convincing go of it right now as an online-only entity – even if they weren’t still pulling in print advertising revenues too big to sacrifice just yet. But failure to figure out a viable digital model won’t preclude some companies from “transitioning” their print product. As with Newsweek, which was reportedly on track to lose $22 million this year, it may not be much of a choice. Printing eats money, as does distribution – Brown described such costs to Bloomberg as “incredibly archaic”. A struggling media company looking to rationalise its operations will inevitably look to the print side of its operation in any cloth-cutting exercise, on the basis that if it’s not part of the solution, then it must be part of the problem. That’s the thing about romance. It fades.

  • Kinsale Sharks advertising awards: watch the winning ads

    September 17, 2012 @ 11:03 am | by Laura Slattery

    The 50th anniversary Kinsale Sharks advertising festival took place this weekend by the banks of the River Bandon, with the event – a boozy get-together where the great, the good and the frantic networkers of the Irish industry rub shoulders with their international counterparts – seeing multiple bronzes, silvers and golds handed out under a starry-roofed marquee. Don’t fall in the river, was the organisers’ top tip.

    The number of delegates was down this year, and with the ceremony switching to a hotel near Innishannon because its regular Kinsale venue was closed for refurbishment, chairman of the judges Trevor Beattie dubbed it “the least Kinsaley Kinsale ever”. The English ad man, who created the infamous “Hello Boys” poster campaign for Wonderbra as well as various FCUK campaigns for fashion chain French Connection, kicked the ceremony off by paying mocking tribute to the Irish Daily Star for publishing topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge. “To make us feel at home, they put a picture of Kate’s tits in the paper,” he said. “Fifty years of Kinsale, and we’re still getting excited over a pair of girl’s tits.”

    Well, some of us may be, Trevor. So what unambiguously legal entertainments were there to get excited about?

    First up, Parisian agency BETC won several golds for The Bear, an ad for the French television network Canal+. It’s got humour, flair and craft. Just imagine if ad breaks were full of such greatness, instead of the lame, gender-stereotype crap and “is that supposed to be funny” confusion that really pads them out. Indeed, the festival’s creative speaker, ad / film veteran Tony Kaye, made a half-hearted Kanye West-style intervention at the end of the three-hour ceremony to suggest this ad should have been more richly honoured. I’m sure the Bear himself would agree.

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    Beattie gave the chairman’s prize to Leo Burnett Milan for The Beauty of a Second, a campaign for luxury goods group Montblanc that invited filmmakers (both amateur and professional) to send one-second videos to a very short film contest, the best of which were selected by Wim Wenders. The whole endeavour, an ad for Montblanc’s watch range, was “the most outstanding piece of work this year”, according to Beattie. Personally, I find the concept faux-poignant rather than genuinely moving, but if you’re fan of “oh look how amazing it is to be human” larks, here’s a sample.

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    Now, back to the laughs. AMV BBDO was given the title agency of the year by the Sharks jury and this ad for Doritos alone makes them deserving winners. Called Dip Desperado, it has an “interactive game” pack shot at the end, but don’t let any latent skepticism about social media engagement put you off. About 1m 5s in is my favourite bit.

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    I also like the storytelling in this ad for Martini a lot – much better than I like Martinis, in fact. It’s called Luck is an Attitude, and it won gold for editing for London production house Gorgeous.

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    This next piece of work, titled Mrs Bogg, won a gold for scriptwriting for McCann Birmingham. It’s a classic industry in-joke of an ad, not one you will have seen on TV, but it’s worth watching for its hilarious satire of a particular genre of television advertising that most viewers have now become inured to, but nevertheless continues to be used in campaigns seeking to modify behaviour.

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    And now, a downer. This ad is emotionally wrenching indeed – created by Ogilvy & Mather in Dublin, it’s a powerful demonstration of how children absorb abuse and believe all that they are told, made for the ISPCC. This also won gold for direction for the agency Blinder, presumably in tribute to getting such an amazing performance from so young an actress.

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    Meteor’s Your Social Forecast, stings for its sponsorship of TV3 Weather, counted among the many golds won by Publicis Dublin, which won more awards than any other Irish agency and by some distance. Its Fintan McCloud creation is more LOL than WTF, to be fair.

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    Dublin-based William Armstrong of Antidote Films won the award for most promising new director for his work on the test commercial Poem – a car advert without an actual car. Filmed in Connemara and Dublin, the Irish landscape is the star.

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    Finally, the London agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) won the Kinsale Sharks Grand Prix for Three Little Pigs, a spot for the Guardian that ran on Channel 4 in February and March and had the ambitious aim of redefining journalism by subjecting a fairytale to an idealistic view of the modern news cycle. Like some of the ads above, it had already been honoured at the prestigious Cannes Lions awards in June. Indeed, arguably this ad is more successful as a creative entity than the concept it advertises – the Twitter hashtag #opennews referenced in the ad has been a little infrequent of late, and you hear much less from the Guardian these days about their open journalism experiment.

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    And that’s it. There are too many winners to mention them all, but a full 16-page pdf of winners across television, cinema, radio, print, online and, er, integrated is available on Sharkawards.com. It just falls to note that AMV BBDO also won gold for best use of social media in a campaign for Masterfoods Snickers called You’re Not You When You’re Hungry, in which various celebrities were paid to tweet about unexpected subjects. The campaign hit the headlines when glamour model @MissKatiePrice chimed with the popular mood by tweeting: “OMG!! Eurozone debt problems can only be properly solved by true fiscal union!!! #comeonguys”.

    Seriously. Come on guys.

  • Advertising regulator backs Radio Nova’s “Addicted to Sex on Fire” posters

    August 31, 2012 @ 4:50 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Sex sells is one of the oldest axioms in the book, but should Radio Nova’s “Addicted to Sex on Fire” posters have been placed on billboards located near primary schools? No, says the principal of one Dublin primary school, who along with two other individuals complained to the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland about the ad.

    The poster, which references Kings of Leon’s ubiquitous hit Sex on Fire, was placed on the sides of busses and 48-sheet billboards around Dublin this summer.

    Pinpointing the cheeky comic device of the campaign, one of the complainants observed that the words “on fire” appear in a smaller font than “addicted to sex”, arguing that therefore the content of the ad was unsuitable when placed on a billboard located in “close proximity” to a primary school.

    The ASAI has rejected the complaints. “The Committee did not consider the content of the advertising was likely to result in physical, mental or moral harm to children, nor was the content likely to frighten or disturb them,” it has adjudicated.

    The advertising body also accepted the response of Radio Nova, which said the song, one of the most played tracks on its playlist, was well-known, “mainstream” in fact, having spent a long 42 weeks in the UK chart. (I’ve yet to meet anyone who knows any of the lyrics apart from the “sex on fire” bit.) To the best of their knowledge, the bearded rockers’ crossover hit had never been banned or restricted in any way. “This would suggest that both the authorities and general public felt that the track was acceptable,” it told the ASAI.

    “We pointed out that Sex on Fire had been a very well-known song and that it had been number one in 17 countries,” says Kevin Branigan, Radio Nova’s chief executive. “We hadn’t expected any complaints.”

     Three other ads in the campaign, designed to showcase the classic rock station’s “seriously addictive” slogan, read “Mark, 27. Addicted to Money by Pink Floyd”, “Ciara, 35. Addicted to Whiskey in the Jar”, and Brian, 41. Addicted to Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones”. The ads, which feature “real” Radio Nova listeners, ran in equal rotation and could be seen with equal frequency throughout the city.

    Promising to liaise with its outdoor advertising agency regarding future campaign placements, Radio Nova stressed that it did not choose the particular poster site and were not trying to target schoolchildren. The station, which is celebrating its two-year anniversary, is squarely aimed at 25-44-year-olds – people who are old enough to remember the, gasp, 1990s, or maybe even a time before sex addiction was a thing.

  • Rose of Tralee wins fewer hearts in Ireland’s living rooms

    August 22, 2012 @ 7:48 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Was this year’s Rose of Tralee the least watched in the history of its televising? According to RTÉ, it was “a big hit with viewers”, but the TAM Ireland ratings reveal that 16 years after Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan parodied the contest in Father Ted, the show’s popularity is on the wane. The final night of the contest, in which the winner is “crowned”, attracted the lowest television audience for at least eight years.

    An average of 688,500 viewers tuned into the final on Tuesday, with the show garnering the eyeballs of 45 per cent of the total number of people watching television at the time. This is still a grand old audience for a midweek summer night. But to put it in context, it’s only around 100,000 more than the typical viewership of an episode of weight loss lifestyle show Operation Transformation, which, unlike the Kerry hat-and-sash fest, is capable of being genuinely motivational without a surfeit of cringe.

    More pertinently, this year’s Rose of Tralee television audience compares unfavourably with the show’s undoubted ratings success, even in recent years. Average ratings reached 916,000 in 2010 (a 54 per cent share) and 829,000 in 2011 (a 53 per cent share). Looking at the figures reported in RTÉ’s annual reports from 2005 onwards, only 2008 was anywhere near as low, with 696,000 viewers and a 47 per cent share – this was the only other time during the period that the audience share dipped below 50 per cent. The show still managed to scrape into Ireland’s top 10 most watched programmes that year, however, coming joint eighth. It may not make the cut this time around.

    Perhaps 2012, like 2008, is just a blip – the result of warm weather, or the fact Celtic was playing in a Champions League qualifier over on TV3. Maybe 2013 will see ratings inexorably improve, as new executive producers are shipped in to “reinvent” the not-a-beauty-pageant personality pageant. Roses could be ordered to relay anecdotes from a Graham Norton-style red chair, while escorts could be required to pass a Ryan Gosling lookalike test before they’re allowed claim the honour of looking sheepish for Ireland. Maybe a televised game of Prince Harry-style strip billiards would help.

    But with any luck, the show will just slowly become more and more irrelevant, to the point that even “ironic” watching will eventually taper off. In the meantime, I’m going to take pleasure in the fact that more people (1.1 million, or 747,000 across the full coverage) watched Katie Taylor punch her way to an Olympic gold medal on a Thursday afternoon. This is 2012, and there are plenty of ways for lovely girls to compete with each other. Loveliness really shouldn’t be one of them.

  • Amazing Pathé Newsreel of Dublin Airport under construction

    July 26, 2012 @ 4:43 pm | by Laura Slattery
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    Take note, Ryanair landing jingle composer – this is how you do trumpets… You really can’t beat a Pathé newsreel for some good old-fashioned jaunt, though the narrator’s optimism with regard to Dublin Airport’s ability to link “all nations in peace” was ill-founded, sadly. This report is from 1939 – not a year that’s especially famous for the smooth passage of international diplomacy. After the airport’s official opening in January 1940, it spent the rest of the Second World War (aka the Emergency) effectively mothballed.

    Still, onwards and upwards. For the airport, obviously. And in terms of European diplomacy. For news reporting, anything with such a jubilant, brassy soundtrack clearly represents a peak of sorts.

  • Worker-directors make bid for survival beyond privatisation

    July 16, 2012 @ 2:17 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Are worker-directors good for business? Yes, was the unequivocal answer given by a focus group of chief executives, other company directors and corporate governance types to a study conducted by think-tank Tasc and commissioned by the National Worker Director Group.

    Worker-directors were “felt to be loyal to the company, trustworthy and diligent in their duties; their contribution was viewed as positive and unique by over three-quarters of respondents”, Tasc found. And, as Seán Barrett, the Ceann Comhairle, said as he launched the report this morning “there’s no State organisation that has gone down the tubes because there were worker-directors on the board”.

    Some argue that worker-directors are more independent and resistant to groupthink than other directors; others feel the advantage worker-directors bring to boards lies in their long-term commitment to the organisation, and in their insider knowledge. This is exemplified in their role in industrial relations, where they “act as a two-way conduit for information in times of conflict”.

    So why aren’t there more of them? And why are employee-directors almost always excluded from boards’ powerful remuneration and audit sub-committees? “I’m a qualified auditor, but I wouldn’t be allowed on my own audit committee,” said John Moore, employee-director of the Dublin Port Company since 2007. “I’m not saying you have to be an auditor to be on an audit committee, but it helps to have financial knowledge.”

    Indeed. There are times, it seems, when a little bit too knowledge among worker-directors is seen, by their co-directors, as a dangerous thing. Tasc’s report, based on interviews with nine worker-directors and 13 non worker-directors, found that “almost all” worker-directors felt excluded from audit and remuneration committees, “and in particular felt that CEOs would not welcome a worker-director on a remuneration committee”.

    No prizes for guessing why. The perception was borne out by the other interviewees, more than half of whom felt that worker-directors shouldn’t sit on remuneration committees “due to a potential conflict of interest”.

    UCD professor of corporate governance Niamh Brennan has previously written that conflicts of interest for elected worker-directors are “so systematic as to completely undermine their ability to carry out their duties as directors”. But, as Barrett suggested at the launch of Tasc’s report today, worker-directors are no more at risk of a potential conflict of interest than any other director. “Don’t tell me the other directors don’t meet at the Stephen’s Green club or the golf club.”

    Not everyone was happy when worker-directors were first introduced in Ireland more than 30 years ago. “In some quarters it was seen as a Communist takeover, if not of the country, then of certain State bodies,” recalled An Post employee-director Jerry Condon.

    Tasc has now recommended that the worker-director model should be extended across the public sector, with a minimum 25 per cent employee representation on public boards to ensure worker-directors are not isolated. There were concerns in the room, however, that in the State assets privatisation journey that lies ahead, the days of worker-directors at some companies might be numbered.

    Barratt insisted privatised and part-privatised State companies should retain their worker-directors. “The old fears of 30 years ago didn’t come to fruition,” he noted. Perhaps ominously for supporters of worker-directors expecting the Government to take the lead rather than just welcome new reports, he added that worker participation on boards should happen “automatically”, rather than needing to be backed up by legislation.

  • Sci-fi loving Samsung wins easy cool points from high court judge

    July 9, 2012 @ 4:20 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Spot the difference: a Samsung Galaxy tablet 10.1 and Apple's iPad. Clue: the one on the right is apparently not as cool. Photograph: REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak/Files

    Yes, yes. A judge has declared that Samsung’s Galaxy tablets don’t infringe Apple’s registered design because they aren’t “as cool”.

    In the seemingly damning point 190 of a 191-point ruling, the judge notes: “From the front they belong to the family which includes the Apple design; but the Samsung products are very thin, almost insubstantial members of that family with unusual details on the back. They do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design. They are not as cool.”

    But is this really the Pyrrhic victory it first seems? Can Samsung survive such a slapdown? Of course it can. Since when has a high court judge ever been regarded as the arbiter of cool? Since never. As a group, they are notorious for their tenuous grasp of popular culture, and as for their fashion sense, well, who really knows what’s going on underneath those gowns? (Other than a sneaky game of Words With Friends during the more boring witness testimonies, of course.) Consumer psychology suggests Samsung will now see its appeal in certain trend-conscious circles rocket in comparison to the court-approved iPad – an added bonus to the fact that it has actually won its case.

    In any event, Samsung’s relative uncool in the eyes of Judge Colin Birss wasn’t the only thing that helped the South Korean company emerge victorious from court. Its expert technical witness, Itay Sherman, also called on the science fiction canon to argue that Apple didn’t invent the tablet computer, and therefore all hands are legally on deck.

    Point 70 of the ruling reads: “Considering the design corpus generally, Mr Sherman explained that the idea of tablet computers has existed for a long time, and pointed out they had been imagined in science fiction, referring to Star Trek (from 1966 onwards) to 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968).”

    Sherman, on behalf of Samsung, asserted that the “optimal design principles for tablet computers had been commonly understood for a long time and by 2004 it was understood that any tablet computer should offer unfettered views of electronic media by means of a large display screen and that the screen would be the main element in the design of any tablet”.

    The judge accepted this evidence, though which episodes of Star Trek he watched in order to confirm Samsung’s argument is not recorded. Neither, sadly, is his verdict on whether Starfleet’s Personal Access Display Device is as cool, cooler or not as cool as the iPad’s model of “extreme simplicity”.

  • Essential oils may not always be so essential, say fragrant Davy philosophers

    June 22, 2012 @ 10:55 am | by Laura Slattery

    “Welcome to the world of flavour and fragrance,” a new Davy Research report on the flavour and fragrance (F&F) industry boldly opens. Written by John O’Reilly, Jack Gorman and Aiden O’Donnell, it’s easily my new favourite stockbroker research report – a heady mix of financial metrics and the philosophy of sensory pleasure.

    First, the history bit. Over the last 20 years, the F&F sector has thrived as consumers smelled the bath salts, wrapped their tongues around flavour extracts and sought out those top notes with an enthusiasm that, while not unique in history, “has never before been so dominant, at least as far as so many people are concerned”, Davy argues.

    “Nothing exemplifies this more than how the human body, as regards every sensory experience, has commanded centre stage as the means to self-awareness, gratification, emotional and psychological well-being, self-expression, self-creation, identity and personal happiness.

    “It has been narcissism writ large.”

    (I’m a Clinique Happy Heart woman myself.)

    “In the long historical contest… between stoicism (indifference to pleasure) and hedonism (that satisfying wants and the pleasure attainable is the only good), hedonism has been the recent winner,” says Davy. Its report goes on to discuss the ideal conditions for fragrantly rampant consumerism, and how these may variously relate to Romanticism, the Industrial Revolution and a scene from Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, before reaching the more grimly prosaic austerity versus stimulus economic debate of our times.

    “A regime of austerity will only endure if the belief system around it changes,” Davy observes. In other words, make-do-and-mend resignation won’t last unless we really, really believe in it. But if we do believe in it… then that has consequences for flavour and fragrance manufacturers like Givaudan (top shareholder: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), Naturex, Robertet, Frutarom and Symrise.

    These F&F houses fulfil the “here comes the science” role that L’Oréal used to talk about, buying raw materials like vanilla, menthol, sandalwood and citrus and transforming them into the chemical cocktails that make up shampoos, balms, perfumes, gels and detergents for consumer product companies – which then do the easy part and sell the stuff to us weak hedonists.

    Bicarbonate of soda is an effective cleaning agent, the report notes, but it lacks the sensory attraction of a fragranced alternative. This is why it is so hard to purchase a clothes detergent that has not been jazzed up with the smell of fresh mountain air or sea shore driftwood – “as if these could ever really be put in a package”. The irony is that with so much olfactory bombardment, our sensory neurons get a bit tired. Because everything smells, nothing much smells – or at least not in a way that stimulates us.

    This might not be a problem for much longer. If austerity overturns the existing order, then it’s curtains – in the West, at least – for what Davy calls “the excesses of a buy/discard/buy culture”. The “marketing bias towards engendering personal dissatisfaction” may have to be re-pitched; the “demand for novelty in sensory experience” will falter. The stockbroking house forecasts that industrial sensory experiences may well “be of lesser significance” in future, at least in the developed world.

    Or as it puts it: “The long-run contest between the stoics and the hedonists may enter a new phase.”

    So those essential oils might not be so essential any more. And that’s not great in an industry where new products can account for around 20 per cent of sales. Happily, Davy remains positive about the fundamentals of the sector – praise the lord of ylang-ylang for those developing markets.

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