The Index »

  • News of the World flight of the advertisers can be replicated by any pressure group

    July 8, 2011 @ 6:40 pm | by Laura Slattery

    News International’s surprise decision to close the News of the World has meant the natural life of a consumer campaign was stopped in its tracks. We will now never know whether advertisers’ decision to abandon it this weekend would have led to a more permanent distancing, or was merely a temporary response to a public outrage that may have lost its currency over time.

    The early, speedy success of the campaign has been attributed to the Twitter users who consulted lists of the paper’s major advertisers and tweeted versions of “dear @advertiser, will you be reconsidering your advertising spend with #notw given that we now know they hacked Milly Dowler’s phone”. Registering their feelings was as easy as pressing control + C, control + V. And indeed most advertisers who pulled the plug cited the contact they had received from customers, proving that advertisers’ values don’t exist in abstract, but are like a mirror, reflecting the views of the society in which they operate.

    The News of the World’s flight of the advertisers differs from that of celebrity endorsements gone wrong, where sponsors linked to scandal-afflicted individuals such as Kate Moss and Tiger Woods will more likely cite brand image incompatibility than direct customer contact as the reason for their P45s. In 2009, Associated Newspapers’ Mail Online division removed ads accompanying a column by Jan Moir on the death of Stephen Gately, following a public outcry about her comments, which were judged homophobic. However, the closest comparison comes courtesy of the US television networks.

    Here, the loss of advertisers’ support is a fast-track to cancellation. But it’s not just the Twitterati who can form a fast-mobilising ethics police. As MTV’s recent dropping of the Americanised version of teen drama Skins indicates, Christian lobby groups retain plenty of edge when it comes to orchestrated campaigns to impose (their) principles on the creative industries, via the seemingly easy manipulation of advertising dollars. News of the World campaigners took a stance against illegal activities that any right-thinking person would also deem horribly unethical. But it follows their victories in persuading advertisers may be replicated by any well-supported group hostile to political philosophies or lifestyles, legal or otherwise, with which they disagree.

  • HMV lines up tablets, festivals and paraphernalia

    July 1, 2011 @ 1:52 pm | by Laura Slattery

    “You can’t wrap a download for Christmas,” HMV Group chief executive Simon Fox noted yesterday, as he signalled that it will not completely abandon the CD format. But you can slip an iTunes gift card into an envelope, which HMV accepts well enough, as it stocks them. Is there any product on its shelves so representative of its capitulation to the imminent end of the physical entertainment product?

    By Christmas, a quarter of the floor space in 150 HMV stores will be dedicated to consumer electronics, from high-margin accessories like headphones and iPod speaker docks to rising markets like tablet computing devices. Racks devoted to CDs and DVDs will be scaled back as part of a grand re-fit – the Dublin Grafton Street store already resembles HMV’s blueprint for future stores, with Dixons-like tables of electronic paraphernalia in the prime ground floor area where once the music A-Z was located.

    There will be mitigating factors in this evaporation of the physical entertainment market: gifts, the penetration of Blu-ray and 3D and sales of pre-played games all help counteract the trend. But it is technology products, which currently account for 8 per cent of HMV’s sales, that are its future, Fox has decided. One in five pairs of headphones bought in the UK are purchased in HMV, though its current market share of MP3 players and speaker docks is a less impressive 5 per cent.

    By 2014, HMV wants 32 per cent of its sales to come from consumer electronics. By this point, it expects CDs, now a quarter of sales, will decline to 15 per cent, while sales of DVDs and other visual entertainment units, now 44 per cent of turnover, are expected to drop to 30 per cent. It also plans for a greater focus on links with live music events – festival shops, in-store performances and ticket deals are all lined up in its calendar.

    Electronics retailers have not been having a wonderful time of it lately either, of course, and HMV Group’s presentation to investors effectively sought to assure that HMV is not and has no plans to become Harvey Norman. Its stores will not be located out-of-town, nor will they have “counter-only” service, the group said. Instead, they will have a “fun, young, ’buzzy’ urban store environment” – which is more or less code for hipster staff, softer lighting and more of those handwritten staff recommendation notes.

    HMV has attracted plenty of criticism for not waking up to the download reality fast enough, but it remains the last specialist CD/DVD retail chain standing, for which it deserves some credit. But after a downbeat year in which it lost share in various declining markets, it will be hoping that the tempo of sales quickens pretty fast. If it doesn’t, its pink lettering and red sales balloons will disappear from the streets for good.

  • Is JobBridge, the national internship scheme, an excuse for cheap labour?

    June 29, 2011 @ 7:30 am | by Laura Slattery

    Carnage in the labour market has been so complete during this recession that employers are no longer employers, but host organisations. At least, that’s what the companies who take on temporary workers under the Government’s internship scheme, JobBridge, will be called. But is the National Internship Scheme an excuse for cheap labour? That’s one of the questions posed in a Q&A attached to the Department of Social Protection’s press advisory on the scheme, launched by Joan Burton at Facebook’s Dublin offices this morning.

    The Department’s answer to its own question, unsurprisingly, is no. “The National Internship Scheme provides an opportunity for those seeking employment to gain valuable work experience in a host organisation. The scheme aims to keep participants close to the labour market with the goal of improving their employability so that they enhance their prospects of securing employment upon completion.”

    Places will be advertised on from Friday.

    Internships, it would seem to me, are a good idea in principle, but in practice the exploiting devil often lies in the exploitative detail – the pay, or lack of it; the length of scheme (too long on little or no pay and clearly the host’s motivations lie solely in cutting its payroll); the quality of the training and experience provided; and the resulting employability potential (whether at the “hosting” company or at another employer who likes the look of an internship on a CV).

    In this case, the pay is just €50 a week above social welfare entitlements and the term of the internship is six to nine months. It’s impossible to know what the resulting employability potential will be, partly because it’s impossible to know what the state of the labour market will be in six to nine months’ time, which just serves as a reminder that 5,000 places in JobBridge, however advantageous it may prove for some individuals, isn’t a substitute for a job creation policy.

    Indeed, the Department is obviously concerned by the risk that the scheme may actually deter employers from recruiting at full pay. One of the conditions for employers is that the internship can’t be provided to displace an existing employee, nor should the intern carry out work for which a vacancy is being advertised. The organisers say they reserve the right to review the participation of companies where these practices are alleged.

    The level of interest from companies in JobBridge is described by Burton as “strong”. Some 320 small businesses have committed to 590 places, while the larger companies to have signed up to the scheme include Dawn Foods, KPMG, Arthur Cox, Mercury Engineering, Hertz, ESB, Bord na Móna, Tesco, PricewaterhouseCoopers, A&L Goodbody and Aer Lingus. And why not? With the Department paying the €50 per week payment, there is no direct cost to playing host.

    Burton, whose job it is to be optimistic, says she hopes that some of the employers who “find talented and motivated interns” will then offer them an actual job: “In other words, the period of internship would be a job interview for a longer period of employment.”

    The pressure that this thought will put interns under will undoubtedly be immense.

  • Feminine, sexy, fun-loving Jane Norman has gone into administration

    June 27, 2011 @ 4:25 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Jane Norman has gone into administration, the latest casualty of recession-related fashion fatigue, the result of which 1,600 jobs in the UK and Ireland are at risk. The British women’s clothing chain has been struggling with debts of £140 million and a depressed retail sector at a time when input costs are rising. However, it’s not too much of a stretch to also blame its woes on the twin spectres of Primark and the obesity epidemic.

    Jane Norman specialises in the 16-25 age group – with the emphasis on the sweet sixteen end of the scale – which means its dresses tend to be doll-like confections of viscose and elastane, with a fondness for jewel embellishments, netted underskirts and an abnormally high frequency of halternecks. Where a mother-daughter shopping phenomenon was embraced by the likes of Topshop and its profitable ilk, body-conscious styling more or less ruled that out at Jane Norman.

    “While our core market falls into the 16-25 age bracket, our style is more about a state of mind than a specific demographic,” the 59-year-old company claims on its website, to which the obvious reply is “your demographic is all too specific”. Today, Twitter is awash with tweets lamenting that Jane Norman’s stock didn’t fit a) anyone over the age of 21 b) black women and c) anyone of any race who isn’t anorexic. Only its employees will miss it is the tenor of an unhealthy chunk of the online reaction.

    “The Jane Norman girl is feminine, sexy, fun-loving and confident,” declares the company website, to which you can add “broke”. Though its stock has improved of late, traditionally its dresses looked and felt unnecessarily cheap – as if life was a permanent hen night for petites – which would be fine, except it wasn’t cheap, it was significantly pricier than the Primark / Penneys trading round the corner, to where its customers have presumably long since departed.

    The fate of its 90 UK stores and a similar number of Debenhams concessions – plus seven standalone stores and six Debenhams concessions in Ireland – now hangs in the balance. It’s been suggested that the administrators, the accountancy group Zolfo Cooper, will be able to swiftly sell it on in what’s known as a “pre-pack administration” to either Debenhams or Edinburgh Woollen Mill, saving its workforce, or most of it.

    UPDATE 28/06/2011: Edinburgh Woollen Mill has purchased 33 of the 94 Jane Norman stores, saving 396 of the jobs. A further 740 jobs related to Jane Norman concessions are still at risk, but 390 jobs have unfortunately been lost across the UK and Ireland. Five of the Irish stores are to close, though the Sligo store is to remain open. Apologies to any employee offended by my comments about Jane Norman clothes in this blog, which is meant as an analysis of just some of the business/market factors behind the company’s difficulties.

  • The light at the end of the media tunnel

    June 18, 2011 @ 10:33 am | by Laura Slattery

    “There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Independent News & Media chief executive Gavin O’Reilly at the company’s recent agm.  At this point, my mind turned, as it tends to do in these situations, to a song by relentlessly sardonic indie perennials Half Man Half Biscuit. It’s called The Light at the End of the Tunnel (Is the Light from an Oncoming Train).

    Then it switched to The Thick of It’s spin doctor Malcolm Tucker explaining to Westminster hacks that he’s invited them around for a curry because he thinks they should have one big square meal before they end up living off their own faeces. “I know that these are hard times for print journalists, yeah. I mean, I read that… on the internet.”

    Meanwhile, O’Reilly qualified his tunnel metaphor. “It’s not a blinding light – we’re not going to emerge blinking into 2012.” But all his publications were profitable, he assured shareholders. “There is a light.”

    In the end, the INM agm was so overshadowed by corporate tensions – a fist-fight expressed via proxy votes rather than actual punches – that anything positive O’Reilly tried to say about his underlying business just became a shield in his battle with Denis O’Brien. That was a shame. Selfishly, as an employee of a newspaper I am more interested in the uncertain fate of traditional media companies than the latest tit-for-tat between millionaire-billionaire businessmen – though, of course, the two have been historically intertwined.

    This week, I met Alan Crosbie, chairman of Thomas Crosbie Holdings, which as the publisher of The Irish Examiner and The Sunday Business Post is in direct competition with INM and, to a lesser extent, The Irish Times. Speaking in TCH’s corporate HQ on Cork’ s South Mall, there was some similarity between his views and the comments O’Reilly made at his company’s Aviva Stadium agm.

    Alan Crosbie said this: “I think the biggest problem in Irish markets is the UK papers. They pay no VAT over there, there’s no VAT on the bulk of their circulation. Then they publish here and pretend to be Irish… The only other place this happens in the world is a little bit on the border between Austria and Germany… I respectfully suggest that if it happened in any other democracy, people would be jumping up and down. It’s treating newspapers as if they were any other industry. They’re one of the pillars of democracy as far as I’m concerned.”

    Faced with an assembly of not-angry-just-disappointed shareholders, O’Reilly didn’t invoke any pillars of democracy. But when asked a delightfully optimistic question by the representative of a South African shareholder about when circulation would start to grow, the INM chief executive said this: “You are right to observe that circulation figures have come off. At the time we have had increased competition, particularly from the UK titles, all of which are loss-making I might add – all of our competitors are loss-making.”

    Only recently the INM board of directors had observed it was “remarkable” that no titles had gone out of business this year (apart from the INM-funded The Sunday Tribune, of course), O’Reilly noted. “It’s a fairly unreal market,” he sighed. “If dysfunctional competition in Ireland continues, it will be hard to see volume increases, but I suggest [such competition] is unsustainable.”

    The loss-making UK publications that O’Reilly and Crosbie say are creating an unreal, dysfunctional market can’t pull out of Ireland without taking an unpleasant hit on their all-important circulation totals. Still, the idea that they might to do so is a flickering light of hope for the newspaper groups that compete with them. If the bid to keep circulation up by vanquishing physical competitors is the short-term battle, however, the longer-term, more serious threat of total eclipse comes from online.

    From INM’s Independent Woman micro-site to TCH’s decision to brand its main news website as, Irish newspaper groups are following the Daily Mail and The Guardian path of differentiating the tone and style of their websites from their newspapers, in order to preserve the perceived worth of the latter. In recognition of changed reader patterns and in preparation for a print-free future, The Guardian has already reached the stage of signalling it will remove some of the space devoted to “straight” breaking news reports in its print edition – making it more Newsnight rather than News at Ten was how editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger phrased it. Some £25 million of cutbacks from the print operation will be reinvested in its digital activities.

    Faced with plummets in advertising and circulation deemed likely to be irreversible, the Guardian Media Group has calculated that the risk of doing nothing is greater than the risk of banking more of their business on still revenue-challenged online models. But as Alan Crosbie said to me this week, “nobody really knows… No one knows how to make money out of online”.

    It’s either time to stop listening to Half Man Half Biscuit, take down the copy of the Future Exploration’s Newspaper Extinction Timeline on my office wall, and pretend none of this happening, or it’s time to start sucking up to some Malcolm Tuckers for a dinner invitation.

  • Would-be entrepreneurs shun the great shake-out

    May 31, 2011 @ 8:00 am | by Laura Slattery

    Enter the dragons... with presenter Richard Curran. Photo: RTE

    So it turns out the Chinese word for crisis is not actually opportunity.* For some employees facing redundancy this has nevertheless happily proved to be the case. In certain sectors, at certain times, mass layoffs have historically swelled the ranks of start-up firms. Once handed their P45s, redundant workers discovered it was the perfect chance to realise long-held desires to be their own boss. They scrambled through contact lists and made now anachronistic appointments with bank managers – ideally armed with a redundancy cheque as collateral.

    It happened after the 1993 closure of the Digital Electronics Corporation in Galway, which led to the formation of a cluster of indigenous tech firms, sucking in new investment. The still-thriving, Oscar-winning creativity of Ireland’s animation sector was born from the ashes of Sullivan Bluth, the multinational animated movie producer that shut its Dublin doors in 1995. And the demise of aircraft leasing company GPA in the early 1990s is survived by a generation of aviation finance firms.

    New figures from Vision-net suggest that this phenomenon isn’t repeating itself – not yet. The number of people choosing to become a company director for the first time has fallen by more than 40 per cent, according to the business information service company. Its study of Companies Office data found that 4,883 people registered as first-time directors in the first quarter this year, down 31 per cent from 7,062 on the same period in 2010. Since then, the sharp decline – described as “telling” by Vision-net managing director Christine Cullen – has accelerated.

    Timing is everything. Redundancy is a bitter blow at the best of times, but it is during the best of times that such bitterness can be channelled into productive outlets. Digital, Sullivan Bluth and GPA all closed at a time when the only thing on Ireland’s economic horizon was a massive boom. These were skilled workers freed from their contracts during a time of rising employment and nicely surging wages. But post-bust, start-up business models that would have seemed like simply marvellous ideas in 2001 now look like naive fantasies. Where once customers would have lined up, eagerly contributing to the top line, there is only a vacuum.

    Critically, this recession has also been accompanied by a dearth of the one thing even the most innovative of entrepreneurs with the most solid of business plans requires – finance. These are the days when securing a slot on Dragon’s Den is seen not only as a valid strategy, but – for consumer-facing businesses at least – vaguely sensible. It’s a television show, an entertainment. But the banks, after all, are out.

    Starting your own business has always been a risk, but in today’s dysfunctional economy it looks suspiciously like a folly. People who do, against the odds, manage to make their debut as a company director face a business climate that is still very obviously in the throes of a vicious shake-out. In May, companies were declared insolvent at a rate of eight per working day and liquidated at a rate of six per working day. Once it was the construction sector that led the implosion, now it is retail and wholesale firms that are hitting the wall with the greatest haste.

    Vision-net’s figures show that more than one in every two companies are showing signs “consistent with business failure”, by which they mean a decline in profits, tighter cashflow and an over-reliance on bank finance. Companies failing to meet their daily trade and finance commitments are, according to Cullen, having a “real domino effect” on the cashflow and debt repayments of other companies, exacerbating the crisis. The bulk of liquidated companies’ creditors are unsecured, meaning they’re unlikely to be paid what they are owed. It’s a form of contagion that’s hardly conducive for a fledgling start-up to thrive or even survive.

    *Sadly for motivational speakers, the Chinese word for crisis isn’t quite a combination of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity” either.

  • Why are the Irish not more like Spain’s Indignados?

    May 27, 2011 @ 10:01 am | by Laura Slattery

    The “Spanish revolution” saw thousands of young Spaniards embark on a week-long series of anti-establishment demonstrations, with tactics including Twitter calls-to-action and the setting up of a “tent city” in Madrid’s central square, Puerta del Sol. Spanish protesters, dubbed “los indignados” (the indignant), want jobs (Spain’s youth unemployment rate is around 45 per cent), better living standards, fairer political processes and changes to their government’s austerity programme.

    This sounds familiar.

    And yet despite the parallels in the economic plights of both countries (overheated property market, youth-concentrated unemployment), sustained and co-ordinated protests, youth-led or otherwise, have yet to take place on the same kind of scale in Ireland. This is much to the dismay of Irish activists, who wish their compatriots were more visibly angry about the extent to which external, unelected bodies have assumed the power to dictate social and economic policy here (via the usual method of debt enslavement).

    Independent TD Richard Boyd-Barrett, doing the loudspeaker thing at a Spanish solidarity protest in Dublin last Saturday, declared that Irish activists “want to see the Spanish revolution imported into this country”. But why do we have to import it? Why can’t the Irish be more like the Spanish? Without degrees in psychology, sociology, economics and European history - and a field study in both countries – that is not a question I am going to attempt to answer in a mere blog post. Oh no. But here are some possibilities.

    1. The answer lies in the numbers: Some 27 per cent of workers aged 20-24 in Ireland are unemployed (as of the end of last year), while almost half of 18-25-year-olds in Spain can’t find work. Could it be that somewhere in between lies the tipping point between tolerable and intolerable?

    2. The Irish media are innately conservative, promoting political consensus and a heads-down attitude to life… On the other hand, there’s nothing a home news editor enjoys more than a mass protest, what with its reliable capacity for producing a bumper crop of page-filling pictures of crowds bearing strong, witty placards – some of which manage not to be Father Ted references.

    3. Irish people are lazy.

    4. Irish people are not lazy; they just don’t feel very much like marching for an hour, then waiting at the bus stop for the same length of time.

    5. Irish people are not lazy, just waiting for the summer. Boyd-Barrett has named July 16th as the date on which “the spirit of Spain” will be brought to Ireland by way of demonstration, which gives Ireland’s Indignados plenty of time to figure out how to erect their tents.

    6. Irish people are righteously indignant, but it’s much easier to RT an online petition than it is to mobilize.

    7. Irish people are more cynical than the Spanish about the effectiveness of political protest when it comes to changing law and government policy, and are less likely to value benefits such as the fuzzy feeling of solidarity, post-chanting catharsis and the opportunity to flirt self-deprecatingly with fellow protestors.

    8. The Spanish protesters were partly objecting to Spanish government austerity measures and its all-round handling of the economy, while Irish people are resigned to the idea that the Irish government has already ceded control of both of those things to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

    9. The Spanish political establishment isn’t as good at divide-and-conquer as its Irish counterpart.

    10. There aren’t any encampment-friendly open spaces in Dublin city centre that are equivalent to the Puerta del Sol… on the plus side, for “boutique” demonstrations, the Spire is a foolproof meeting point.

    11. Media coverage of protests focuses disproportionately on incidences of violence by protesters, putting people off attending.

    12. Media coverage of protests focuses disproportionately on incidences of violence by Gardaí, putting people off attending.

    13. Media coverage of demonstrations makes protests look boring and protesters look cold.

    14. Media coverage of demonstrations is all about logistics such as road closures that might possibly crimp the extremely important day of people who are not actually marching and have no intention of ever marching, while giving comparatively little attention to the “ishoos”.

    15. Television news coverage of protests patronises protestors by constantly congratulating them for being “peaceful”: You know, it’s almost as if they’re disappointed when there isn’t a massive rumble followed by an all-day kettling.

    16. Irish people don’t know any good protest songs. “This is what democracy sounds like”, indeed.

    17. Young Irish people would prefer to rant about the state of the nation from the comfortable distance of Scruffy Murphy’s pub. Which, last time I checked, was in Sydney.

    18. There have been plenty of decent-sized protests in Ireland, including the snowy outpouring of November 27th, 2010. Where have you been?

    19. A combination of the above.

    20. All of the above.

    21. None of the above.

    22. Other _________________

  • Analogue age set to expire amid economic gloom

    May 16, 2011 @ 6:43 pm | by Laura Slattery

    Ireland’s urban-rural screen divide has been neatly highlighted in a report by Behaviour & Attitudes on TV viewing methods in Ireland - my own preferred method being the time-honoured 4-3-3 of three cushions, three remotes and four minutes for the DVD player to reach its main menu.

    Living in set-top box land, it’s been easy to dismiss the import of Ireland’s belated switchover to digital terrestrial television (DTT) and just assume everyone in Ireland is by now familiar with such eclectic digital delights as, say, BBC Four quiz Only Connect, on which contestants regularly announce “we’ll have the Twisted Flax” in reference to Egyptian hieroglyphics, and ITV2’s The Only Way is Essex, where if a twisted flax ever did come up, it would probably mean something else entirely.

    However, the survey of 1,100 households, commissioned by the Department of Communications, extrapolates that a significant 16 per cent of “TV homes” – an estimated 254,000 households – rely solely on terrestrial television, while some 10 per cent have access to Irish terrestrial channels only. Two thirds of terrestrial TV homes are located in rural areas, with just 1 per cent of Dublin homes having access only to Irish terrestrial channels, compared to 28 per cent of “Munster Rural” homes.

    Behaviour & Attitudes also finds that heads of households relying on Irish terrestrial services are more likely than average to be in receipt of the Household Benefit Payment Scheme (which includes a free TV licence), are more likely to be working in manual occupations and are more likely to be retired.

    Given the high numbers of households involved, it’s clear that the Department and its Minister, Pat Rabbitte, still have a lot of work to do on the information side of DTT’s troubled advent. Presumably the survey result that only a third of Irish terrestrial TV homes were aware of the pending analogue switch-off is already a little out of date – it was conducted last November, while the marketing campaign for Saorview, RTÉ’s free-to-air DTT service, only began in March.

    However, the socio-economics of Ireland’s analogue demographic will be potentially costly for the Department to negotiate. Analogue-dependent viewers upgrading to Saorview will need to purchase a Saorview-compatible television or a set-top box. The latter are currently available for a not-so-free €100, according to the Department, though prices are predicted to fall by the analogue switch-off date at the end of 2012.

    One Behaviour & Attitudes survey finding that didn’t make the Department’s press release is that 77 per cent of TV homes said they would “definitely not” be buying a new television set within the next six months. “All in all, it seems likely that between no more than 3 and 5 per cent of all Irish TV households will invest in a new TV set over the next six months or so, regardless of reception type,” the research firm concludes.

    “With roughly a third of all TV householders (regardless of reception type) admitting that they are struggling from a financial perspective, it is clear from all of the survey data that many TV homes would find it difficult to invest any significant amount of money in new TV equipment as part of the analogue switch-off process,” it warns. Well, that’s the economy for you.

    The researchers go on to stress: “It is important to note that very low numbers of TV households (including analogue households) are planning to purchase a new TV set in the immediate future, suggesting that the adoption of new technology alone cannot be relied upon as a means of empowering households with new TV reception systems.” Ouch.

    Rabbitte has indicated that “practical measures to assist in the switchover” are imminent. Leaflet drops will not, by themselves, be enough. A subvention scheme for analogue households will have to be implemented in the next 19 months – otherwise the screens of thousands of older people living in sparsely populated areas will simply fade to black, while ratings for the 2013 Rose of Tralee contest and a raft of other RTÉ jewels will plunge.

  • The Kahlúa question

    May 6, 2011 @ 11:40 am | by Laura Slattery

    Coffee-flavoured liqueur in a lonely bar. Photo: Pernod Ricard.

    It’s a blend of sugar cane spirit, 100 per cent Arabica coffee and vanilla bean that’s been hand-crafted in Mexico since 1936 – though it may be better known to Irish drinkers as the non-Baileys part of a Baby Guinness. But the decade has not been kind to cocktail-friendly Kahlúa, the coffee-flavoured liqueur brand owned by Pernod Ricard, the largest distributor of spirits in the world.

    A trading update from Pernod has shown that it was the only one of its 14 “strategic” brands to show a reversal in sales in the nine month period to the end of March – while Pernod’s whiskey, whisky and cognac volumes powered ahead with double-digit growth thanks to swelling sales in emerging markets, the value and volume of the Kahlúa shifted sank back 3 per cent. Pernod’s last annual report shows that the company wrote down the value of the Kahlúa brand by some €100 million. That’s a lot of bottles of seasonal Kahlúa Peppermint Mocha left languishing at the back of the storeroom.

    In an industry that depends so much on marketing, is Pernod weaning itself off Kahlúa? It has only owned the drink since 2005, when it was one of a batch of brands it acquired in its takeover of Allied Domecq. That deal also saw Pernod inherit Tia Maria, another coffee-flavoured liqueur (and Baby Guinness ingredient substitute), but this was later sold to Illva Saronno, maker of Disaronno (amaretto), in 2009.

    Since then, drinks sales in the US and Canada (the biggest markets for Kahlúa) wilted in the recession as new orders gave way to wholesaler destocking. Pernod, reporting year-on-year growth of 5 per cent in its total underlying sales in the first quarter, indicated yesterday that the US was “gradually recovering”. Fans of Black Russians are yet to join in the party.

  • Painting the town Celebration Red

    April 22, 2011 @ 12:55 pm | by Laura Slattery

    The Let's Colour Project reaches St Mary's Pre School, Pearse St, Dublin. Photo: Dulux.

    As someone who tends to have at least one skirting board in the house permanently lined with masking tape, the Easter bank holiday offers an exciting four-day opportunity for DIY-related procrastination, of which writing this post is just one small part. It’s a good thing I don’t live in Main Street, Moneygall, Co Offaly, where Dulux is providing free paint to houses and businesses ahead of President Obama’s visit, but is not actually doing the painting. Dulux could drop off as many tins of Pacific Breeze or Intense Truffle as it liked – if it was my doorstep, poor Barack would still end up averting his eyes from the faded, peeling remnants of whichever vomitous shade I had thought was a good idea five years earlier.

    That’s not to say that I think Dulux’s global Let’s Colour Project, launched across Ireland this week, is anything less than a genius idea. As a marketing campaign, it comes in a shade of pure brilliance.

    Here’s a summary: A Dulux-commissioned Ipsos MRBI poll finds that 72 per cent of Irish people believe the mood of the nation to be low, or very low, while 80 per cent agree that Irish communities are badly in need of an uplift. Step forward Dulux with colour charts, free paint and the endorsements of Volunteer Ireland and psychologist/broadcaster David Coleman. A “Dulux paint reservoir” has been formed to cater for the rejuvenation needs of up to 200 community projects – schools, sports clubs, parish halls, etc – who apply via The successful applications will be “transformed by colour”, with “neglected” public spaces brought “back to life”. It’s community spirit, with a bottle of white spirit on standby. 

    Cue quotes from Coleman about post-Tiger social involvement, the soothing potential of pale blue and the energizing power of yellow. Here’s where the on-the-page gloss of the campaign may be dulled by the real-life negotiations of taste though, as yellow, of course, is not just yellow. It’s Sunflower Symphony, it’s Tuscan Treasure, it’s, er, Banana Dream. One man’s modish “gallery” grey is another man’s drab prison; one woman’s joyous orange is another’s tangerine outrage. Remember Sarah Beeny’s Channel 4 show Streets Ahead? It was paintpads at dawn.

    Regardless of how genuinely transformative a few days of roller action are for the community projects who take up the offer, it seems pretty clear that the campaign will work out very nicely for Dulux itself. It’s an easy, eye-catching reminder of what its products do – other paints are available, apparently. As for my own desire for wall metamorphosis, there’s a tin of Pale Peacock in my hallway ready to be prised open. I’m still hoping to find an saviour for my latest patchy ceiling quandary and resurrect the spare room in time for Easter.

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