Andalucia Steve

...living the dream

Marketing Memories from the UK to Spain

Fondly remembering the days when marketers used to give stuff away!
 
Kids like me who grew up in the 1960s probably had one advantage over all generations of children before or since in that we were the greatest beneficiaries of the boom-time of incentive marketing. If you were born any earlier the economy wasn't quite so strong and so marketers were being a little more thrifty and if you were born a little later, well the bean counters kind of took over and clamped down on frivolous spending. But for about a decade and a half there was a period of unparalleled abundance where marketing folk were showering us with freebies.
 
My memories might be filtered through rose-tinted spectacles but I seem to remember pulling into a garage with my sister to buy petrol and coming out with armfuls of stuff. I got to choose whether we filled up at Shell or Esso according to which promotions were going on at the time, be it aluminium coins minted with the faces of the players of the world cup squad, to WWF sponsored 3D pictures of wild animals - I got the full set of those! We aquired so many free mugs that dad had to put a new shelf up!
 
These were the days of green shield and co-op stamps. Loyalty was a big deal and made shopping fun. Everywhere you went had giveaways of one sort or another. My dad built me a go-cart and before it was finished I'd covered it with stickers for Castrol and Motorcraft a relative had kindly picked up for me at the Earls Court Motor Show. Mum came back from the Ideal Home exhibition one year with two carrier bags stuffed with giveaways. It was an exciting time to be alive.

Somehow it all came to an end. I can't put my finger on when exactly. It may have been the economic mayhem of the 70's with the oil crisis or later Britain being so strapped it had to borrow cash from the IMF. Maybe it was the rise of Thatcher and a political class who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. I just remember going into a petrol station one day and seeing a promotion for a model Ferrari. I forget the exact nature of the deal but one had to collect enough coupons to give you the privilege of being able to buy it. The giveaways of my youth had given way to a vulgar catchpenny. I felt a chill in my heart, though I pocketed the coupons in case I changed my mind (I didn't).
 
That seemed to be the end of the line for free stuff. From then on if I saw anything that looked free it generally had strings attached if I looked closely enough. Some Madison Avenue executives had decreed marketing's freebies were now merchandise. Incentive marketing was dead. RIP. Then I moved to Spain. It was like stepping back in time. Suddenly I was in an agricultural community where everyone seemed to be wearing sponsored straw hats and T-shirts. It was heaven, but the best was yet to come.
 
I'd befriended some neighbouring farmers who belonged to the local co-operativa. Co-operatives are common in agricultural areas of Spain as they enable farmers to collaborate and get better deals on their produce. One day they said there was a coach-trip being organised to go to a trade show and they asked me to come along. It was free and a great opportunity to practice my fledgling Spanish so I said yes in a heart-beat.
 
The day came and we boarded the coach. It reminded me of the British Legion charabanc trips to Littlehampton my parents used to take me on when I was a kid, but instead of crates of beer being chugged it was botas of red wine! These are the wineskins that one holds overhead in order to pour the wine into the mouth, an aquired skill which I clearly lacked.  I was the only one stepping off the coach with red wine stains all down my T-shirt, much to the amusement of everyone aboard! We arrived at a big exhibition center in Torre Pacheco which reminded me of Earls Court in London. For about an hour or so we wandered around the exhibits. I mounted cabs of tractors and reverentially inspected chainsaws so as to feign some knowledge or interest in such matters in order to justify my presence to those who may have correctly surmised that I was really only there for a free lunch! 
 
Gradually we meandered to the end of the hall, exiting into what was the largest seated outdoor dining area I had ever seen. It hadn't dawned on me until that moment, but this event must have been the annual outing for all the co-opertivas in the province of Murcia, and there were clearly a lot of them! I counted the tables and worked out the number of covers was about 5000! There were articulated lorries coming and going with all the food, which was being brought to the tables by a small army of waiters and waitresses. At the end of each table was a container of ice-water the size of a plunge pool, full of beer and cans of soda to which one could help oneself. 
 
The President of the Region of Murcia was in attendance, so I can legitimately claim to have dined with a President! The food was top-notch and it kept coming all afternoon. The event was sponsored by a number of national and regional banks, La Caixa, BBVA, Banco Popular etc all of which seemed intent on out-doing the other, both in the number of posters on display and later in freebies given out. I copped for some pens, key-rings, the obligatory straw hat and a jolly smart ice-box courtesy of the CAM bank. As the alcohol flowed, speeches were made, presentations awarded, then there was a huge raffle, which I think was done by seat number. Well it seemed to go on for hours. I've never seen so much stuff given away. From plasma TVs to George Foreman grills there were hundreds and hundreds of giveaways. It was a 1960's incentive-marketer's wet dream!
 
This event took place a few years before the 2008 crash. I seriously doubt in the wake of it that events like that take place anymore. The bank behind my ice box (and my mortgage) the CAM went belly-up and were sold to Sabadell for a euro. Doubtless the bean counters have since stepped in to put a stop to all the fun, but I fondly remember that one sunny day in June that was for me, the Zenith of incentive marketing.
 
 

On the Virtues of Laziness

It's more a question of effective energy management!

Being lazy is often frowned upon by society but I'd like to argue here today that not only is being lazy a virtue, it's actually a personality trait that benefits wider society.

There are some great definitions of the word lazy such is this one from Merriam-Webster:  disinclined to activity or exertion : not energetic or vigorous. Most of them reserve overtly negatively charged terms, but when you look at synonyms for the word 'lazy' it's a different story. Try these out for size: apathetic, careless, dull, inattentive, indifferent, lackadaisical, lethargic, passive, sleepy, tired, weary, comatose, dallying, dilatory, drowsy, flagging, idle, indolent, inert, laggard, lagging, languid, languorous, lifeless, loafing, neglectful, procrastinating, remiss, shiftless, slack, slothful, slow, slow-moving, snoozy, somnolent, supine, tardy, torpid, trifling, unconcerned, unenergetic, unindustrious, unpersevering and unready. Ouch!

By way of proving the point I'm about to make, I've already used my laziness to my advantage in preparing that list of words. These similes all appeared in the thesaurus.com website in a list which, when cut and pasted, turned into 43 words on separate lines. In order to turn them into a comma-separated list I wrote a 'macro' in my text editor by going to the end of the first line, hitting delete, adding a comma, then running the macro 42 more times. Easy! It maybe only saved me a couple of minutes but time is money right?

I was first alerted to the fact that I was lazy back in the 1980s by my boss when I was working as a small systems developer, so called because our job was to shrink down programs from mainframes onto desktop computers. After I was handed the third really stinky job in a row after having seen my colleagues given much easier jobs, I pulled him to one side and asked him why he put all the tough, awkward jobs my way. He said "Because your a lazy bugger! I know you'll be guaranteed to find the easiest way to solve problems with the least amount of time and effort." I don't know if this was already a management maxim in the IT industry but years later a similar comment appeared in a meme being attributed to none other than Bill Gates! Anyway I smiled because I knew he had a point. I do generally look for the easy way to do things.

Don't get me wrong, I have no trouble sticking to routines for arduous chores nor attending to tasks that need to be done in a timely manner such as emptying a cat litter tray. I'd sooner just avoid arduous tasks by looking at the big picture e.g. having a small house or not having a cat! Making life easy for oneself is a pursuit worthy of more attention than people give it!

Do you remember those maze puzzles from comics when you were a kid? You know the sort, there would be like a mouse hole and three mice on three independent paths all tangled together and your job was to find which mouse was on the right track to get home and eat the cheese? Well the first time I saw one of those I immediately saw the easy way to solve the puzzle was to trace the path in reverse from the cheese back to the mouse. Simples! I soon learned this applied to academia too. I had an amazing history teacher for GCE O-Level who had a 100% pass rate. Everyone who took his class passed! His secret was he started from the exam questions and worked backwards! Instead of making us read a book from one end to the other, my hero Mr Martin would take a subject, say the 'Bay of Pigs Invasion' and he would highlight as bullet points, each of the questions that he thought were most likely to be asked on the exam paper. Then he would give us the story as an outline that answered each of those questions. It was just like fiddling the mouse maze. Working back to front saved so much time! It worked for his students year after year. It was genius!

I soon learned this worked with other subjects too. You didn't have to read the works of Shakespeare, just read Lamb's tales and you glean all of the salient points of the Bard's important stories in a fraction of the time. Math? Learn how to derive equations from 'first principles' which takes all the rote donkey work out of learning formulae. Physics? Similar thing. Instead of anguishing over Maxwell's equations, breaking them down into physical phenomena makes them easy to remember, e.g. upside-down triangle with an arrow over the top (vector for divergence) times B with an arrow over the top (vector for magnetic field) = zero.  All this really means is the magnetic flux lines always balance out because a magnet always has only two poles. You can't break a North/South magnet in half to get separate North and South poles because there is no such thing in nature as a mono-pole magnet. This makes the math so much easier to remember when you know and understand the physical effect underlying the formula! An ingenious shortcut for recognising which artists did which works recently appeared online https://www.boredpanda.com/how-to-recognize-painters-by-their-work/ I'd kind of developed my own version of this over the years from watching the Open University picture round until they irritatingly started showing pictures of book titles in foreign languages instead!

In the world of commerce then I found this approach to work served me well as employers generally don't want time wasters, they want time disruptors, people who can produce quickly, ship products fast, develop services that are 90% there but good enough to release. In the Civil Service I also found many kindred spirits, who, once they had made their way into higher layers of management, had discovered they can use their skill for work-avoidance even more effectively by delegating, especially if those being delegated to are given the minimum information to do their job so they don't get ideas above their station. Mushroom management my boss used to call it. 'Keep you in the dark and throw shit at you!'

In fact this blog itself is testament to my propensity for laziness. I never write anything too technical, historical or factual that need hours of research. I generally choose a topic that is personally anecdotal, spew it out into the page and try to brighten it up with a few gags. Anything more would take way too much effort and that would never do!

Anyway I feel the giant dormouse in me stretching away, begging me for a snooze. I could go on making my case but I've near enough hit my 1000 word target now and I can't be bothered to write anymore!

 

Why I prefer cats to dogs!

Relax, it's just a personal opinion!
 
I'll probably get slaughtered for saying it but I much prefer cats to dogs!
 
Not that I dislike dogs. Far from it. Some of my best friends etc... I see the pleasure people get from them but to me they're kind of like groupies hanging around rock stars. The relationship is a bit too easy and one-sided. Getting a dog to dislike you is really hard but cats can take umbridge with you for any number of trivial reasons, from buying them Salmon & Shrimp flavoured food instead of Oceanfish Entrée to being squidged along the couch a few millimetres to make room for you to sit there. This makes it all the more rewarding when they do deign to be your friend and approach you for a head scratch. Learning to speak cat is also a more fascinating challenge because cats can make about 100 vocal sounds compared to a dog's measly 10. 
 
There's also a weird gender fluidity issue with cats and dogs. I'm generalising a little here but I'd venture that a female dog appears more masculine and male cats seem slightly more feminine. I'm not saying there is anything sexual in my preference to cats, but I do look at a dog and, regardless of its biological sex I think 'muddy male roughty-toughty rugger player', where as without knowing whether a cat is male or female, I tend to think 'graceful artistic ballerina'. Aesthetically I'm just more drawn to the latter. Dogs strut about like British lager-louts abroad doing the 'we won the war' walk while cats clearly speak fluent French and seem to have done a term or two at a Swiss finishing school. It's a question of culture and deportment!
 
I never had a cat until I was in my twenties, nor can I remember too many from my childhood. My sister had one. The only thing I remember about her (the cat, not my sister) was giving her a tickle one day revealed a large flea crawling about amid her fur, which perhaps, given my previously discussed entomophobia, should have frightened me off felines for life. For some reason it didn't.
 
I had a couple of cats while still in the UK. The first was a rescue kitten from Battersea Dog's home. (Yes, they re-home cats too - imagine the fights!). The second was a local tabby called Sapphire. She belonged to a family down our street that had several young children. I think what happened was, as the kids got older and more rowdy, the ageing cat thought 'blow this for a game of soldiers' and started following my wife and I home from work in search of a less frenetic life. Often she would be waiting on our front-door step when we arrived home, meowing to be let in. We took her back to her original home several times, but she persevered until in the end her owner said it would be OK to keep her! She played nicely with Coco our rescue cat and I remember noticing that she was 'left-handed'. She was able to pull open a door with her left paw but if the door was hinged the other way she just couldn't do it, though not for want of trying! So cute!
 
Unfortunately Sapphire soon died. She was already quite elderly when we got her and after a few years her kidneys failed and the vet almost insisted we put her out of her misery. I was gutted. She was my friend.
 
Coco made the move with my wife and I to Spain. We got her paperwork sorted out at the vets and British Airways assured us she would be looked after on the plane and met by a specialist pet handler at San Javier airport. When we landed however, the pet handler was nowhere to be seen. I heard a bit of a kerfuffle at the carousel as I approached to collect our luggage and there was Coco on the conveyor belt going round and round in her pet-carrier, meowing her little heart out while all the passengers were going 'aww' and cooing over her!
 
Our new home was in the Spanish countryside, deliberately chosen so as not to be near any busy roads as Coco didn't do traffic. We 'inherited' two more cats and a mature German Shepherd called Leon. Leon wasn't a house dog.  He was a security guard with stripes on his arm and didn't take kindly to Coco when they first met (the fight was spectacular - Leon came close to losing an eye), so we made a firm rule - Leon outside only - Coco inside only. It was for the best. 
 
The other two cats got on fine with Leon and lived in the pigeon shed. These were farm cats and were excellent at their job. I lost count of how many times I went in for the morning feed and would find bits of rat, usually little more than a tale. Any vermin intent on trying to steal my chicken-feed were doomed to a grizzly fate.
 
Since we had the space we allowed one of the cats to have a litter, then did a bulk deal with the local vet to get all the animals sterilised. My wife had the idea of naming the cats after beverages. The two original cats were named Mocha and Java, then the litter became Expresso, Cappuccino,  Americano, Solo and Tea! I didn't realise how different their little personalities could be until I was surrounded by an army of cats. Some noticeably smarter than others, some lazy, some energetic. Expresso stuck out a mile as the best hunter and would be forever diving into the undergrowth and returning with grasshoppers, beetles, mice etc which he would munch away at in a shady spot under a tree somewhere. 
 
As they got older, numbers depleted. Some of the males went off never to return. I understand this is not uncommon with males cats, something to do with owning territory. One poor chap, Solo, a huge black panther of a cat and probably the alpha-male, was the victim of a hit-and-run. He didn't seem in pain, just unusually inactive, so we took him to the vet and an X-ray showed his pelvis was shattered, so we had him put down. Some died of natural causes. 
 
One day though we came home from shopping to find a tiny kitten squaring up to Leon. We assume she was 'donated' by someone local who knew we would take care of her. She was so cute and plucky, standing up to such a big aggressive dog that she immediately captured our hearts. We called her Decaf. She turned out to be a great mother though she only had the one kitten, Latte.
 
Years went by. The 2008 crash happened and my relationship broke down. I had to leave the house in Murcia and the remaining cats behind when I moved to Olvera. I'm not able to keep pets where I am living at the moment which is a bit of a shame but I often think back to my herd of felines and their unique characters. If money were no object I'd open a cat-rescue centre of my own, but meanwhile I amuse myself by following the cats of Instagram, of which there are many. My favourite trio by a whisker are Negrito, Merzouga and Tétouan, rescue cats in the care of a lady called Martina Bisaz, a travel blogger living in the mountains of Switzerland. Seeing her going for walks with her charges in the backdrop of snow-capped alpine mountains is a sight to behold. Her main insta-handle is @kitcat_ch and there are separate accounts for her black cat @negrito.the.kitcat and her Moroccan twins @poo.fighters. Follow these accounts at your own risk as they are a ridiculously addictive wastes of time!! 

Why isn't the world worshipping Elon Musk?

Some thoughts the Tesla/Space-X boss.

 

We all know who Elon Musk is, Tesla, Space-X yada yada, yet he seems underrated by the press and positively despised in the comment section of tabloid newspapers. I'd like to address that here by highlighting some of his thought processes. Normally I aim to blog about 1000 words for a nice bite-sized read, however to cover Musk's brain in such limited space will be a zesty challenge so please forgive if I overrun!
 
Musk is seen by some as a nutcase who smokes dope on the Joe Rogan show, makes unfortunate Tweets about the 'pedo guy' and who got into a very public altercation with rap artist Azealia Banks about acid-taking etc. Only last Friday (1st May 2020) he made a seven word tweet that devalued Tesla stock by $14 billion dollars. Yet despite his maverick social media profile he is capable of thoughts of the loftiest brilliance.
 
I can't for the life of me remember where I originally read it (and I've been unable to find a source - doing a weekly blog doesn't allow as much time to research as I'd like), but the thing I first heard about Elon Musk that really impressed me was the simple idea he had to validate the ownership of bank accounts for use with PayPal. I was a web developer back in the 1990s involved in building e-commerce websites. We used to do them from scratch in those days before generic e-commerce platforms had matured, so I was familiar with the problems involved in taking and making payments online. Systems soon evolved to take payments by credit cards since the card companies had a more modern infrastructure, expiry dates, CV codes etc. Banks however, with their systems rooted in the dark ages had no way to validate the ownership of an account online. Say a client sent you an email with his bank account and you needed to send him some money for the exchange of goods, how did you know the bank account was actually his and not that of some hacker? 
 
Elon came up with the simple yet brilliant idea of paying two micro-payments to the account, say $0.34 and $0.83. The client had to read these numbers from his bank statement and enter them in the PayPal website. Musk had therefore generated the equivalent of a PIN number to verify the account. At first I thought how dumb, to give money away to verify a bank account, but as I thought more about it I realised it was genius. The two numbers would never cost PayPal more than $1.98, an expense which would easily be offset by the reduction in fraud and that would enable PayPal to transact directly with bank accounts, which had much cheaper transaction costs than anything else. You could for example send cash via say Western Union, but then the Western Union agent, usually the post office, would need to be paid to validate the identity of the payee by physically checking the passport which is a costly process in comparison. So from then on, I hailed Musk as a genius capable of conceiving ideas the like of which I could not. 
 
PayPal was not even Musk's first multi-million dollar venture. He'd already founded an online city guide, Zip-2 with his brother Kimbal in 1995 which was sold in 1999 with Musk getting $22million for his 7% share. Prior to that, while in college, Musk has spoken about his musings on the essential matters which would most affect the future of humanity and came up with five things. These were:
 
The Internet
Sustainable energy (both production and consumption)
Space exploration (more specifically the extension of life beyond earth on a permanent basis)
Artificial Intelligence.
Rewriting human genetics
 
Clearly the guy thinks big. Unlike other students with big ideas however, Musk is realising them one by one. With the founding of Tesla in 2014 Musk helped create the first successful new car manufacturer in America in over 90 years. Right now, as CEO, Musk is on the verge of winning a 3/4 billion dollar remuneration payout as part of compensation plan that depended on the company achieving a six-month period of $100 million dollar market capitalisation. This would make him the most highly paid executive in US history. The incredible thing about this is that when Musk negotiated this contract, such a target was unthinkable. The company was only worth $60 billion at $250 per share back then. Musk made it happen, even though he's a part-timer dividing his hours between several other companies. The other somewhat unsung truth about Tesla's success is the way it is transforming the automotive industry away from the dealership model that has pervaded for over a century to a direct model where cars can be bought online. The low maintenance of electric vehicles is also challenging an industry that fed off consumers need for servicing and repair. Musk doesn't just compete in a market, he smashes it to pieces.
 
Musk also heads Space-X, the rocket-company he founded in 2002. In case you've been living under a rock, Space-X has been successful too, winning a number of private and public US defence contracts. By making as much of his rocket technology as reusable as possible, he has undercut the price of all competition for launching satellites. Musk has said many times he sees the future of mankind as multi-planetary. The idea is that by sticking only on planet earth, mankind could (in fact probably will) succumb to some sort of extinction event. Only by having colonies on other worlds can the human race escape such events and survive into the future. This is a lofty goal but one which Musk is edging towards. Again, one of the things that most impresses me here is how Musk is funding Space-X. One of the key planks of the strategy is the Starlink Internet programme, a network of satellites designed to bring Internet connectivity to all parts of the globe. As well as the much publicised plan to bring affordable Internet to poorer countries in Africa and so forth, Musk has another trick up his sleeve. The satellites will exchange data using line-of-sight lasers. Because space is a near vacuum and there is no medium in space to slow the light signals down, transmission of information will be even faster than the fibre optic cable used on the ground. This lack of latency is expected to be of extremely high value to certain commercial sectors that depend on timely information such as stock brokers. The premium service is expected to provide big bucks for Space-X to fund its future developments.
 
Somewhat crazily, these achievements in themselves would be remarkable enough, yet Musk continually applies his brain to disrupt other industries. Tesla's energy grid batteries are beginning to change the way electricity companies handle the storage of electricity, while boosting the future of fledgling solar and wind-power industries. The Boring Company is set to revolutionise travel by establishing a tunnel network that promises to reduce congestion and journey times. Tesla has recently entered the car insurance industry. By using the data from its own network of cars, Tesla can fine tune risk assessments allowing it to offer insurance at up to thirty percent less than its competitors who themselves are tentative about insuring Tesla automobiles because they have only been on the roads for a decade so the old school actuarial data they use is insufficiently mature. Neuralink is Musk's foray into the world of medicine, developing high bandwidth brain to computer interfaces. He also founded and Artificial Intelligence organisation called Open AI. (He's done all this and yet I have trouble finding something to blog about once a week!)
 
Doubtless in all these other industries, Musk has probably figured out the way to get them to pay for themselves, and has envisaged a sneaky way to undercut competition leading to a big disruption in an existing market.
 
The thing that most impresses me about Musk is that his innovations, which drive market change and arguably the direction society is taking, all take place from within the private sector. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool lefty who believes at some level, the state should be planning the future of society through policy, either with a totalitarian boardroom strategy like China or with a presidential "let's get man on the moon" approach like Kennedy. Musk is proving to me that isn't necessary. He's teaching this old dog (and many like me) new tricks!