Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Gun control is pointless. It’s time for bullet control.

In politics on May 6, 2013 at 8:54 am
John Malkovich from In the Line of Fire

John Malkovich mastered the plastic gun in 1993

The NRA are keen on the notion that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’. Well, they’re half right. Guns don’t kill people, bullets kill people (unless they are pistol whipped to death, of course).

There’s been an awful lot of talk about gun control recently following a speight of horrific mass shootings in the US, and if not for the spineless Senate, America might have a new, if insipid, gun control bill by now.

However, the firing this week of the first gun to ever be made on a 3D printer seems to suggest that the whole notion of controlling guns is soon to be rendered pointless.

It may be a crude and limited firearm, but a gun is a gun when it’s pointed in your face (I presume). This is also a gun that wouldn’t be detected by a metal detector, making it in many ways even more desirable for your day-to-day terrorist. And because it can be 3D printed, it can essentially be in the hands of anyone with an internet connection and the £1000 or so it currently costs for a 3D printer (you can get an inkjet for about £15 now, so you can see how the cost will come down over time).

So now guns join the ranks of music and video in being essentially impossible to control. However, thankfully, the bullet is a far, far more complicated beast than the gun, which is essentially a pin on a spring. Of course, you can also make your own bullets (or ammunition, as this disturbingly matter-of-fact Yahoo! Answers thread suggests) but would require a bit more precision engineering, tools and skill, and the possibility of losing several fingers on the way to mastering the technique, then simple 3D printing. They also have to made of metals, so unless you can somehow pull of the ‘keyring trick’ like John Malkovich in the 1993 film ‘In the Line of Fire’, airline security protocol should still have it’s way.

So really, the politician and policy makers both here and in the US need to start moving the debate, from gun control to bullet control. This way, when the next disillusioned teenager looks on the internet for a way to make to the pain go away, he’d be better off 3D printing a pea shooter than a gun.


Can Marketing Save Milk?

In Advertising, Marketing, politics, Uncategorized on July 20, 2012 at 8:02 am

I have a lot of sympathy for the current protests by farmers about the pressure on their bottom line. I’m sure it’s a horrible position to know that all your hard work – often built on years of knowledge and tradition – is essentially bankrupting you.

However, this is not a first.  This issue of supermarket price pressure has been rumbling on for years:

2004 – UK milk processors clash over prices
009 – Milk price cuts hit dairy farmers hard

Farmers aren’t very effusive people, and the National Farmers Union doesn’t seem to be a  protest organisation, so such protest really are a sign of desperation for these people. However, whilst raising public awareness may help a little, protest rarely wins out over economics. The public wants cheap milk. The supermarkets want to supply it. That won’t change.

But if protest won’t work, what will?

1. Refuse to supply

The obvious option would be to refuse to supply – en bloc.  I don’t know much about the logistics of importing milk, but it would seem difficult for all the UK’s fresh milk to come from abroad. Back in 2010 raw milk was only traded across the UK border from Ireland into Northern Ireland. It’s a hard option, and could be a long game, but sometimes a line has to be drawn.

The difficulty here, though, is the farmers’ own conservatism. As mentioned above, I don’t see the National Farmers Union as an effective Trade Union, in the traditional sense – at least, I haven’t heard from an NFU representative yet in the press (again, please comment and correct me if I am wrong – I presume they lobby behind the scenes in some way?). Without that power of unity, there’ll always be some bastard waiting to undercut the other.

So without that option, how can farmers solve the conundrum? Well, maybe marketing can help.

2. Move up the supply chain

The supermarkets may be taking all the public flack here, but as this graphic suggests (I have not researched the source data, but thanks to @OurCowMolly for the reference) the processors have a large part of the value chain, taking up some of that money the supermarket pays, which could go direct to farmers:

Milk production value chain

The Milk Production Value Chain

A standard tenet of marketing strategy is that is you are a manufacturer of a mature product, eventually your margin will disappear as your product becomes commoditised. When this happens, you either need to diversify (eg/ find something else to farm) or move up the value chain.

I cannot find a reference for this, but I was reading that in Sheffield milk processing was done cooperatively, with a fair price, until the processing plant was taken over by Wiseman, with resulting reduction in price paid to farmers (sources anyone?).

Economically, a bigger processing plant makes sense, as it can reduce overall costs of production. The problem is, however, exactly that mentioned above – you come onto the radar of the big boys.

However, from what I can find out, milk processing is not a particularly complicated process, and not reliant on the kind of advanced manufacturing processes that requires a large cost infrastructure. Machinery is easily available.

Perhaps farmers processing their own milk and supply directly to their local supermarkets is an option?  Sure, it will require change, investment, and negotiation, but cutting out the processors gives the potential to offer supermarkets an equal price, but with more money to the farmer?

Now, this is such an obvious solution, it must have been tried (and failed?) so I invite people to comment and let me know why this doesn’t work.

3. Build a brand

A bottle of Tesco body spray is about 99p. A bottle of Lynx is about £3. Both are smells in a can. The difference is brand value. It’s a hard and nebulous concept to understand and implement, but all you really need is a marketer, a budget, and a design agency (and a consistent taste – this bit may be the hardest bit. again, not enough knowledge to say.

This is already happening in the milk industry with Cravendale‘s irreverent adverts squarely aimed at generating demand through teenagers for a branded milk product. Cravendale is owned by Arla, one of the processors, and presumably helps them get more profit from supermarket distribution.

Competing against Cravendale’s budgets would be hard for farmers, but a ‘Fair Trade’ type brand may not.  This type of branding works similar to the ‘Intel Inside‘ style of marketing, where it can be carried by the users/distributors themselves to add value to their own products by guaranteeing the ‘fairness’ (in terms of price and condition) given to the producers.

This approach would seem ideal given the current scenario. Why is their a ‘Fair Trade’ icon for Kenyan coffee or Chilean wine, but not British milk?

Based on this graphic (again, thanks to  @OurCowMolly for the reference) Sainsbury’s, Waitrose et al would jump at the chance to get added social kudos for giving a decent price, and with supermarket wars as they are, if their ‘Fair Trade’ milk tempted consumers to pay a little more, the others would soon follow.

Milk prices

So what do you need to kick this kind of thing off. Well, will, really.

Maybe while today’s protests are going on, the farmers can discuss the minimum standards of production they are willing to commit to (eg/ adding some schtick in about treating cattle well will play well with liberals), come up with a logo, and start lobbying the public direct with the idea.

Supermarkets obviously don’t listen their supplier, but they do listen to their customers.  You’ve got the public’s attention – use it.

More money for more roads? Wrong solution to wrong problem.

In politics on March 28, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Should we build more roads, or reduce demand?

David Cameron announced recently his intention to use private cash to solve a supposedly urgent need to build more roads.

I suppose that’s one way to look at it, but it seems a little to me like solving the wrong problem the wrong way.

Certainly change is needed, but by acting in a different way the Government could help solve the problem from the other end – by removing demand on our nation’s roads by enabling people to move around less.

The Government’s other major infrastructure project involves highways of a different sort – information superhighways (for those under 20, that’s what the internet was known as in the 90s) – and strangely, improvements with this kind of highway could help ease congestion on the other.

Investing in broadband speeds and coverage is one thing (and welcomed) but as with all these infrastructure projects (roads, internet, HS2 rail) you get the impression the emphasis is well and truly on helping the businesses – the employers – and not the employees. It is a Tory Government, after all.

Lets look at the problem, though. Congestion. What causes it and why?

The fact that rush hour exists suggests that the bulk of congestion at peak times is from people getting to and from work, especially in large towns and cities. Yes, some of that is already non commuting traffic – trucks, deliveries etc… – but the impact of the jobbing commuter on traffic can be seen by how quiet (and usable and enjoyable) roads become during school holidays.  Clearly these journeys are ‘non-critical’ if they can be stopped for 2 weeks during the summer.

This is where the Government can help lessen the number of cars on the road – by encouraging employers to make work-from-home easier. Obviously this doesn’t work for everyone, but how many basic office jobs could really not be fulfilled in the same way from home?

Even when at work, the majority of my meetings these days are by telephone or video conference. The majority of interactions I have are by phone or email. Yes, I do need to see people in person from time to time – nothing beats a personal meeting to really get things done, but in my current Marketing role, probably one day a week would be enough for this.  For me and many like me, the option to work some of my working week from home would be advantageous – especially as my weekly commute costs me over £50 in petrol alone!

Let’s also look at other forms of ‘optional’ congestion.  Moving goods around in trucks and vans can’t be solved by the internet, yet (though 3D printer tech is coming soon) so who else is on the road in between rush hour? Businessmen, sales men, rushing from meeting to meeting.  Can’t you use Skype more? Using video links would be especially favourable for businesses in hard to get to rural areas and the UK’s extremities, such as the north of Scotland, East Anglia and the cornish peninsula, and here again the Government has shown positive action in trying to get more rural areas connected. But what about going a step further and giving away free or subsidised webinar packages to small and rural businesses? What would the cost be to the Government of a couple of cameras and mikes, and some subsidised high-speed internet?

The UK has adopted internet shopping in a big way in the last few years, and broadband traffic predicted to double year on year in the UK in upcoming years (, but has business – and the Government – really grasped the impact, the beneficial impact, this could have on society? They, like so many others, are still so locked in to the 20th century notion that the more fuel you burn, the more work you’re doing, and the more benefit you are having on the economy and society. Too many cars? Make more room so we can have more cars!  Well, how about clear ‘optional’ journeys off the road so that roads, and motorways in particular, are used solely by vehicles that do make the nation tick – trucks and vans.

And before you mention that the Government is naturally hamstrung by being behoven to big business, well, which is the ‘big’ business we would rather encourage them to take money from – oil companies that are killing the planet and driving us towards a Mad Max future (exaggerating for rhetorical effect, obviously) or telecommuncations companies, who allows us to do what comes natural to all humans – communicate?

Let’s have some vision, Cameron, that goes beyond straightforward economic policies from the 1950s and tries to look forward to the post-industrial internet age we will all be living in by the time this recession ends.