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Mediacom Marketing Digest 23 February 2006

Mediacom Marketing Digest 23 February 2006

The Price Of Freedom

It is a sad indictment of our modern age that the current furore about freedom of the press derives not from some courageous exposé of malfeasance in high places (à la Watergate) - but instead centres rather forlornly on whether Western media should publish some highly offensive (if poorly drawn) Danish cartoons or screen a particularly odious episode of a trashy American animated series.

With regard to the latter, CanWest can stake out the high moral ground for its past journalistic expeditions such as Corngate but the decision to screen last night's episode of South Park, in the face of universal condemnation from Bishops and Prime Ministers alike, has been condemned as arrogance - and a blatant effort to cash in on the publicity loudly generated by its critics.

Was it worth the backlash for CanWest?

Last night's South Park ratings: 6% of All People 5+, up from the previous week's 1%. A big number for C4, sure, but at significant cost. Advertising has already been pulled from the broadcaster in protest and at least some Catholics are vowing to continue the boycott indefinitely. Canadian papers are beginning to pick up the story and we suspect that the Roman Catholic lobby in Canada will be making its own representations to the Canadian parent company. The next New Zealand AGM just might make some headlines of its own - not all shareholders are likely to support the stance taken by CanWest.

Advertisers are also being sucked up into the maelstrom. A local protest website, "Stop The Offensive Programming C4", is now urging a boycott of advertisers who advertised in the programme, specifically citing Jim Beam, Telecom Xtra, Lynx toiletries, KFC and Burger Fuel. Okay, it's not riots in the street, but the matter may not quietly go away. It's not just that the South Park episode in question was deeply offensive to many; the CanWest response - "We believe the reality is a lot less than the perception" - was similarly unacceptable.

Freedom of speech and blasphemy (of whatever religious beliefs) have never comfortably co-existed. As far back as 1882, a British publication called The Freethinker included several anti-religion cartoons, leading to an indictment for "blasphemous libel" against its editor and its manager. In the end, the editor was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment with hard labour.

Blasphemy laws still exist in several countries, including Austria, Finland, Germany, Italy, Ireland, The Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and some US states. The penalties exacted for blasphemous offences range from death to a fine of a few hundred dollars.

Our own penalties are somewhat less draconian. The NZ Bill Of Rights enshrines the privilege of freedom of speech at the same time as it promulgates freedom of religion. The Broadcasting Standards Authority, powerless to act before the event, can in response to a complaint order the broadcast of a corrective statement (relatively common) or even require the broadcaster to stop broadcasting for a period (a power not used to date). On the face of it, complaints to the BSA are likely to focus on two possible breaches of the Broadcasting Act 1989:

a) The observance of good taste and decency;

d) The principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view, either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

The Catholic Bishops of New Zealand summed up their point of view effectively when they noted that "press freedom is not a licence to incite intolerance or to promote hatred or derision based on religion, race or gender".

On the other hand, however, the Washington-based Human Rights Watch (although referring to the Danish cartoons controversy) advanced a useful consideration of freedom of speech issues: "The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental one, necessary to protect the exercise of all other human rights in democratic societies because it is essential for holding governments accountable to the public. Freedom of expression is particularly necessary with respect to provocative or offensive speech, because once governmental censorship is permitted in such cases, the temptation is enormous for government officials to find speech that is critical of them to be unduly provocative or offensive as well.

The freedom to express even controversial points of view is also important for societies to address key political, social, and cultural issues, since taboos often mask matters of considerable public concern that are best addressed through honest and unfettered debate among those holding diverse points of view. Although international human rights law does impose certain limits on the right to freedom of expression, the important functions served by that right require interpreting those limitations narrowly".

Perhaps the best that might be said about this whole sorry affair is that yes, CanWest is indeed entitled to exercise its freedom of speech through the broadcast of programmes such as South Park. If in the process the broadcaster falls afoul of the Broadcasting Act, appropriate censure is available. But choosing NOT to air the programme - certainly not as capitulation to opposing forces but out of respect and in recognition of the provisions of the Broadcasting Act - would have seen CanWest praised as worthy citizen, not maligned as "arrogant, insensitive and confrontational".

PS If advertisers are to be held responsible for the content of programmes within which we place commercials - or for the channels through which we choose to place those commercials - then there is an urgent need for a much improved ratings regime, so that we are able to determine with absolute certainty the content of the programmes with which our advertising is to be associated.


***********

The Chrisco Of Booksellers Yesterday Borders, Inc. launched Borders Rewards, a new US loyalty programme for customers who shop at Borders and Waldenbooks stores throughout the U.S.

Ho hum, you think? Well, not quite. Distinguishing this particular loyalty programme from the many millions of others is its Holiday Savings Rewards scheme. Five percent of all qualifying purchases made by members throughout the year go into a personal Holiday Savings account, which can be used on purchases made from mid-November through until January 15 -- in effect, your own little Borders Christmas Club!

It's a nice idea and (at least till other booksellers send in the clones) a point of difference with other loyalty programmes. And, while we're considering such offerings, let's deal with a couple of longstanding questions on the matter of loyalty: does loyalty really matter, and do loyalty programmes positively affect the ability of companies to initiate and nurture longer and more profitable relationships with customers?

The answer to the first question, according to the Allegiant Group's Executive White Paper on Loyalty Programmes (available free from TheWiseMarketer.com ) is absolutely yes. Over the past decade there have been a number of studies that have helped companies to understand the financial leverage provided by achieving incremental loyalty. One Bain & Company study apparently demonstrated that companies that can improve the retention of their best customers by as little as five percent can increase enterprise profitability by as much as seventy five percent.

The second question doesn't have such a straightforward answer. However, while some companies are seeking to simply get their customers to buy more over a longer period of time, some enlightened loyalty marketers are raising the bar. They're seeking to transform as many of their customers as possible into "advocates" for their products and services - tapping into the persuasive power of word of mouth. Taking a customer to the "advocate" level in a commercial relationship is very challenging but it delivers enormous promotional and economic benefits to companies that are able to achieve it.

By its very nature, loyalty management is a long-term strategy and any program resulting from such a strategy will require significant organizational support, resources and emphasis from the most senior members of the management team. In a corporate environment obsessed by quarterly results, that's not always an easy sale.

Magazines By The Numbers If you find yourself on the receiving end of a flurry of emails, faxes and phone calls from magazines - not to mention a chocolate cake or two - don't despair. These convergent events simply mark a milestone for the numerically challenged, release of the latest circulation figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, for the year ending 31 December 2005. Next week stand by to be deluged with results from the latest Nielsen Media Research Readership Survey.

We'll let others overwhelm you with detailed reportage, but this is what caught our eye in this year's ABC circulation sweepstake:

* Most of the "trading" publications are showing declines as that activity moves inexorably online. In particular, Hamilton's Loot was showing a 28.83% decline, Otago's Buy Sell & Exchange was down 25.92% and Auto Trader was down 22.82%. * The three sisters - Woman's Day, NZ Woman's Weekly and New Idea - are all showing small YOY increases. On their behalf we'd like to thank Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes for making these results possible. * TV Guide has slipped below 200,000 copies - in our view, because of the increasing penetration of Sky Digital, with its handy dandy Electronic Programme Guide (not to mention the comprehensive coverage of Sky programming in print via SkyWatch, clocking an 8.89% increase in this latest circulation round). * In the farming sector, where most publications are supplied to their recipients at no charge, the leading agricultural titles saw minor decreases, except for NZ Farmers Weekly (up 6.33%) and Dairying Today (up 0.34%). The more townie title Lifestyle Block showed a YOY increase of 23.08%, but off a low base. * Foodtown Magazine is likely to be the happiest of the glossy mags, enjoying a 17.16% YOY boost.

For all the gory details, head on over to http://www.abc.org.nz


Reality Rules Only in America. The world's first reality rollercoaster, SURVIVOR The Ride, is due to open in April at Paramount's Great America theme park in Santa Clara, California.

Yes. that Survivor - the so-real-you'll-forget-you're-watching-television-yeah-right adventure show seen by almost 20 million viewers. The show comes to life (it says here) "in an interactive attraction that recreates the rugged SURVIVOR atmosphere. Surrounded by the sounds of tribal music and jungle drums, thrill seekers embark on a journey past fiery 40-foot tall torches, exotic tribal relics and tropical landscaping reflective of previous international SURVIVOR locales.

Those brave enough can participate in an endurance immunity challenge as seen on the Emmy award-winning show or relive SURVIVOR moments through memoirs of previous seasons".

Guests are divided into two tribes and challenged to demonstrate their enthusiasm through tribal chants and ritual dance movements that trigger a collection of native masks to spray water on the losing tribe. Watch and wince as tribes try to outplay and outspray castaways aboard the ride.

The adventure continues as tribes of riders board a giant circular vessel complete with a towering tribal mask looming at its centre. Guests sit facing outward and experience a thrilling rocking and spinning motion as the platform swirls along a wave-like track -- all while traversing through rugged terrain and ascending hills as high as five stories tall (wow). Guess it plays better than it sounds.

What worries us -- if Survivor is running amok in real life, can Apprentice: The Employment Agency be far behind?

We've Moved!! You'll now find us at Suite 7, Second Floor, 1 Cross Street, Newton. Phone, fax, email and postal stuff stays the same.


ENDS

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