9 reasons why H&M’s website sucks

this sucks H&M was a relative latecomer to ecommerce; the fashion retailer only started selling online in September 2010. They’ve now been online for just over four years, which is probably ample time in which to have improved their website.

Despite this, the online experience is still pretty poor, partly due to the fact that the in-store experience doesn’t match up at all to the ecommerce site.

In this post, I’m going to take a quick look at H&M’s website and suggest ways in which they could create a seamless customer experience.

1) No click-and-collect option

As more high-street shops are adopting a joined-up, omni-channel approach to retailing, customers have increasingly high expectations. When services click-and-collect is offered by your competitors, then naturally, your customers will increasingly expect this to be the norm.

According to the Financial Times, click-and-collect is growing at a faster rate than home delivery options. Strategy consultants, OC&C forecast that the volume of products collected in-store will increase by 53m compared to a rise of 38m for home delivery.

Despite this, a 2013 report by Serco highlighted that less than half of the UK’s Top 50 retailing brands offer click-and-collect. An enticing offer of free delivery (via the click-and-collect option) can often make the difference between your customer shopping with you or with your nearest competitor. As well as increased loyalty and satisfaction, click-and-collect gets your customer into the branch or store, providing upselling and cross-selling options.

H&M are definitely missing a trick by not offering click-and-collect, as adding an additional delivery cost can be frustrating for customers. New Look, John Lewis, Debenhams and Monsoon are just some of the high street retailers who currently offer this option, while Argos has seen serious benefits from early adoption of this channel. Some 30% of Argos’ sales are through click-and-collect.

2) Mismatched product codes 

Okay, so you see a shirt you like in one of H&M’s stores, but it’s not in your size. So you decide to buy it online instead, by writing down the product code. However, when you get home and type in the code, the shirt is nowhere to be found…

That’s because H&M’s in-store product codes don’t match up to the codes online, making it quite difficult for customers to find an item online that they’ve seen in the physical store.

So what other options do you have? The product codes in-store do match up with the catalogue, so items of clothing can be ordered this way. It’s also possible to type the product code from the catalogue into the website to find something. Or thirdly, customers can use the Scan and Buy option from the H&M app on their mobile. 

Although there are a few options available to the customer, H&M could streamline the process and make it so much simpler by using the same product codes across all their points of sale; from the store, to the catalogue, to the website. This would make it far more convenient for the customer to find an item of clothing, regardless of the channel they buy it from.

3) The website crashes during peak campaigns

H&M often run lucrative collaborations with key designers. The most recent collection was launched with Alexander Wang in November 2014. Eager shoppers sat at their computers, poised to find a designer bargain.

However, the whole experience was pretty frustrating for customers, as the sheer volume of traffic led to the website crashing. Those customers that were able to access the site soon found that many items of clothing were already sold out.

This is something that H&M could have anticipated, given that they have run similar campaigns with designers in the past. The lesson here is that if you’re going to run such hotly anticipated campaigns, make sure your website can handle the traffic. It can be pretty annoying for your customers who want to spend money with you but can’t even get to your site in the first place.

4) Difficult to locate a product found online in-store

As above, if you see a product online, but you want to try it on before you buy it, it’s very difficult to locate an item of clothing in the physical H&M store.

A recent report from Business Insider Intelligence revealed that 69% of Americans have “reverse showroomed”. This means that they have gone online to research products before heading to the physical store to complete their purchase. There’s clearly an opportunity for H&M here to actively capture those sales, by adapting to customer behaviour and joining up the online journey to the in-store experience.

5) Sales staff can’t order items of clothing for you

There is no link between the physical retail store and the online shopping experience. In other stores, including rival fashion retailer, New Look, if you see a jacket you like, but it’s not in your size, the in-store staff can order the right size for you and have it delivered to your house. This is a great win in terms of convenience and customer service.

At H&M, the only way to have an item delivered to your house is to go home, sit on your computer and order it yourself. You could scan the item with the H&M app, but it’s not something the sales staff can do for you.

6) Sale items appear to be there and then sold out when added to basket

There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve managed to grab a bargain and then later finding it’s sold out when added to your basket. You seriously don’t want your customer’s experience to result in broken dreams, so don’t raise their expectations in the first place. If your site says you can buy something, make sure the customer is able to complete the transaction.

7) No free shipping option

The flat rate of shipping is £3.90, regardless of the size or weight of your package or regardless of how much the customer spends. This seems like a good option if you’ve got a big order, but most customers are now used to getting free shipping of some kind, even if they need to spend a minimum amount (e.g. £50) to qualify. Offering a click-and-collect option would also provide customers with the possibility of free shipping.

8) No next day delivery option

If you order from the website, you can expect to receive your order within 4-6 working days; not bad, but pretty lousy if you need to buy a present urgently, or need an outfit for that big party your friend told you about at the last minute (maybe she’s trying to tell you something…). If you were buying a last-minute gift, you’d be better off by purchasing from one of the many retailers who do offer an express service, such as Next, John Lewis or New Look.

Speaking of New Look, the high street fashion chain, which offers value fashion at a price comparable to H&M, even offers free next day delivery if you spend over £65.

9) Sold out clothes shown on home page

sold out clothes

There’s little point marketing clothes to your customers if they can’t actually buy them. The home page is valuable space for highlighting some of your best products, but if the customer can’t convert, then surely this is wasted space. Why not replace the images with products that customers can buy instead?

Do you have any examples of companies or brands who are providing a seamless customer experience and winning at omnichannel retailing? Please let me know in the comments!

Image credit: shaolin46 via Flickr

How Roses & Lipstick uses Instagram, blogging and Facebook for content marketing

r&lscarvesRoses & Lipstick is an online retailer, primarily selling headscarves to Muslim women on the internet. Okay, so how is that relevant to me, I hear you ask? Well, what they do really well is lifestyle marketing, creating a brand around quirky, modest fashion and giving out free tips and advice about how to look good and keep up with this season’s latest trends and funkiest colours.

This means regardless of whether you actually wear the hijab or not, you engage with them, you like their posts on Instagram and you read their blogs, because they provide interesting and useful content for fashionistas.

In fact, you really don’t need to wear a headscarf at all to find their content relevant, as there’s plenty of juicy tidbits about how to put together the boldest of fashion trends, at high street prices.

It’s something that big fashion brands as well as small businesses could learn from. Don’t forget that your audience doesn’t just consist of the people who wear your product. By creating engaging content, you become the go-to brand when say, someone wants to buy a gift for a friend. Or when a friend of a friend asks where they can buy a trendy scarf from. Effective content marketing amplifies word-of-mouth and increases brand awareness.

In this post, I’m going to look at what Roses & Lipstick does well, and hopefully provide some useful pointers for other small businesses who want to understand more about how to use Instagram and blogging to promote their brand.

1. You don’t need a big budget to do content marketing. You just need to be interesting.

When globally recognised brands think about content marketing, they might create a high-budget video or a specialised microsite or even a social game or app. This is fine, but it’s not necessarily something small businesses can afford to do.

Roses & Lipstick simply uses Instagram, blogs and Facebook to create engaging content. But before you write or post anything, ask yourself, why would anyone care about what I’ve written? Ultimately, your content needs to be relevant to your key audience. For example, the Roses & Lipstick website includes a lookbook, a simple but effective idea, which allows customers to see to to get the most out of their hijab purchases, so that they can pair the headscarf with stylish outfits.

Crucially, the team behind the company understands their audience; it’s the modern Muslim woman, the woman who wants to wear hijab, but also look good and keep up with the latest fashion trends.

2. Make sure you have something to say.

R & L - Blog - primary stripes beautiful messToo often, businesses will see others using Instagram, blogging or Facebook and think “this is something we really need to be doing!” without thinking about the why or the how. Think about your product: is it visually appealing? If your product looks good and photographs well, then by all means, use sites like Pinterest and Instagram.

Blogging can also be an effective tool, but it’s worth bearing in mind that you need to continually provide content for your readers, particularly if you’ve got something to sell. There’s nothing worse than writing a few posts and then finding you have nothing to say. And if you’re going to give tips about fashion, you need to be reading the latest magazines and blogs, as well as understanding the newest trends this season.

Roses & Lipstick has its own blog, aptly named Good Veil Hunting. As mentioned, you don’t need to wear a hijab to read this blog and find it interesting. For example, the blog provides tips about how to wear citrus brights, don a poncho effectively and go vintage shopping in East London.

3. Be aspirational.

R & L - Blog - white shirt- collage NEWThe fashion industry is constantly criticised for promoting images of unhealthy young women, and if you think about it, this really goes against all the principles of openness promoted by the internet and social media.

Roses & Lipstick is aspirational because it uses real images of real people wearing affordable clothing that you can buy on the high street. This shows that anyone can afford to look good; it’s just about putting together outfits in a unique way and being a bit creative.

This is something the big fashion brands could learn from. After all, who wants to see images of unhealthy models, setting unrealistic goals for young women? Be real, be authentic and make your product accessible to your audience.

Furthermore, Roses & Lipstick’s main blogger, Sarah is a mum, which is inspiring because it shows that having a baby doesn’t mean that your life is over or that you can no longer look fabulous and funky.

In an Instagram post, Sarah’s says she “refuses to look like I’ve jumped out of bed on the school run”. That’s quite inspiring to those of us who have just had a baby.😉

This personal styling blog post about rediscovering fashion after motherhood is a perfect example of how brands can grow with their customers and their changing lifestyles.

4. Make the most of the talents in your team. 

zaynab cool picRoses & Lipstick is run by three sisters, who each have their own role within the business. Sarah, a journalist by trade, runs the blog. Because the blog is run by an experienced professional, the content is well-written, genuinely interesting and engaging. The photographs featured in Roses & Lipstick’s lookbook are taken by Farah Mirza, a professional photographer. And the model featured in the majority of the shots? Well, that’s middle sister, Zaynab Mirza, who’s effectively the face of the brand.

It’s important to consider that the marketing tools you use need to be adapted according to the talents in your team. If you’ve got someone who genuinely enjoys blogging and can write well, then make the most of it. On the other hand, you may decide blogging just isn’t your bag. That’s fine. Don’t use a particular tool just because everyone else is. Use what works well for your product and your team.

5. Use events to create content. 

We all have rough days and writer’s block. But if you’re going to run a blog, think of innovative ways to generate content. Covering events is an effective way of finding something to write about.

For example, the team behind Roses & Lipstick have set up personal styling sessions, gone to bespoke shoe-making workshops,  and covered events such as the Hermès Silk Ball.

Finally… 

As a final note, remember that while social media tools are undoubtedly effective, there is life beyond Facebook. For example, the humble email newsletter is still effective for sending out regular updates to customers and brand advocates. And don’t forget, it’s not just about the internet. There’s a whole breadth of marketing tools out there, on and offline.

Check out Roses & Lipstick’s Instagram, Facebook page, and blog for more information. 

Five tips for photographers to focus their lens on digital

photography-socialBoom boom. In this post, I’m going to look at how photographers (professional and amateur) can use the internet to market their services and increase brand awareness.

After all, you might argue there’s no such thing as overexposure on the internet…ahem.

Why photographers you might ask? Well, I have a few photographer friends who want to know more about how they can use the internet for marketing.

In addition, I’m really interested in how to create a personal brand, and I think it’s something that almost anyone can do effectively; it’s just about being true to yourself. And, as most photographers are “one-man bands”, marketing the brand that is you is of the utmost importance.

So where to start? Well, sites such as Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram are really useful for showcasing images, but social media is just one part of creating a memorable online persona.

Ultimately, you need to think beyond just social. So whether you’re the next David Bailey, an up and coming professional photographer or an amateur with a camera phone and an awesome eye for detail, this is the post for you.

Ready? Ok. Lights; camera; action… 

1. Understand how Google works

A common query is “how do I appear on the top of Google search?” There might not be a simple quick-fix to search engine optimisation (SEO), but understanding how Google works is a great place to start. Search is too big a topic to cover in great depth in this post, but here’s a brief introduction with some links to beginner’s guides.

When you type a search query into Google, you’ll see different types of results:

SEO-PPC

Click to enlarge

The results in red are paid search ads. This is where the advertiser has paid a fee to have their web search results displayed at the top of Google, based on contextual key words. The associated cost can be based on the amount of traffic driven to the website (PPC or pay-per-click) or CPM (cost-per-impression; i.e. the number of times the ad is displayed). 

The results in blue are natural or organic search results. These are unpaid for, and are based on the Google bots crawling your website for key words. Where your website appears depends on a number (in fact, hundreds!) of factors taken into account by Google’s magic algorithm, and forms the basis of SEO or search engine optimisation. These are known as ranking factors. Search engines aim to provide the user with relevant answers to their queries and rank them in order of importance. That’s a very topline overview, but you get the picture.

So, what does this mean? Although SEO is a long-term, continuous process, the very first port of call is to understand that Google can only crawl your site if it can read the words on your website. Google understands text. It does not understand images. So if all the text on your site is presented in image form, then Google can’t read it. You’re not even speaking to Google.

The other thing about having text as images is that you cannot create web links for words used on your site. If the words are presented as images, you provide no opportunity for the user to click on a word which opens up as a link to a different part of the website. And don’t forget, if your text is presented as an image, editing it is a whole lot harder than simply going back and retyping the words.

So although images are obviously important for photographers, making the most of the words on your page is crucial for Google to be able to index your site. And I’m not saying you need lots and lots of text on your site; after all it only follows that a photography site will probably be mostly made up of images. But, crucially, any words you do include must be text-based to make it easier for search engines to read, and must be optimised to yield better search results.

For more information about SEO, check out these (free) beginner’s guides:

2. Use creative content to tell a story 

They say a picture tells a thousand words. Ultimately, photography is the art of story-telling. Sharing the story behind your photography is not only a great way to engage your audience, but also helps to generate content for your website.

Social media, like photography, is about telling a story. All this really means is “be interesting”. For Humans of New Yorkexample, the Humans of New York is a great street photography blog that generated a large following through social media. As of November 2014, HONY has 10.7M likes on Facebook.

The photographer behind the project, Brandon Stanton, aims to photograph New York residents and plot their location on a map. But what is really fascinating about the project is the short stories that Stanton collected along the way.

This is definitely something photographers can be inspired by. Whether it’s on your website or on social media, sharing the story behind your photograph can be a really effective way to engage your audience.

And stories can also be shared in the form of blogs on your website. If writing isn’t your thing, it doesn’t need to be in great depth. Content marketing provides a whole host of benefits. Not only does it help to build valuable relationships with your existing advocates, it can help search engines to find you, thus generating new relationships with potential clients. Crucially, it makes you appear personal and human.

Another place where you can share your story is on your About page. Take a look at street photographer, Matt Stuart’s About page, for example. On this page, he shares information about his photography experience, what inspires him, details of the cameras he uses, and much more.

3. Share your knowledge and expertise

Another form of content marketing includes how-to-guides and hints and tips for hobbyists who want to improve their photography. Everyone wants to take better pictures. And this is where you come in.

Obviously, you don’t want to give away the farm, but providing some useful advice can help position you as a thought leader or expert, and therefore enhance your credibility. If you’re known to be an expert in your field, you’re far more likely to be approached by PR and press to give your opinion on a particular topic.

In addition, it gives readers a reason to come back to your website and read your content. If writing is your thing, you could create a blog around photography tips. If blogging isn’t your bag, then sharing tips on social media about how to capture a beautiful image is a great way to generate interesting content. It just gives your audience a far more compelling reason for hitting the “Like” button on your fan page.

Alternatively, you could answer questions on third-party websites, such as Quora, for example. This is a great resource for readers to get tips about almost any subject; equally experts can go online to answer these queries. There are hundreds of queries relating to hints and tips about improving photos, both from in front of and behind the camera.

Yahoo Answers is another example of a question and answer site. Internet users will often type their questions directly into Google, which means that questions on Yahoo Answers often rank well in search.

4. Find creative ways to interact with your fans, followers, listeners

Okay, so you’ve got your Facebook page. You have Instagram. And you have Twitter. Now what next? Of course the obvious thing is to post your photos and get as many “Likes” as you can. But think beyond just “Likes” and think about how to interact with your audience and create meaningful conversations.

Photographs are essentially capturing a memory and it’s simple to get your audience to talk about their special moments or places they have visited. If you’re posting an image of a place you’ve visited, something as simple as asking your audience about their memories of that place can initiate a dialogue. It takes you a step beyond merely likes and helps you to reach out to your fans through meaningful interactions. It’s also a great way to show your human side and create a personal brand.

Competitions are also another way to get your fans to interact with you. For example, take a look at photographer, Max Barsness aka heretosaveyouall on Instagram. He has some truly beautiful images, and some 103,000 followers. He also happens to be friends with one, Mr Aaron Paul. Back in August 2014, Aaron Paul ran the following competition:

glassofwhiskey_on_Instagram

Click to enlarge

The offer of a Breaking Bad script inevitably led to Max garnering a lot of followers and comments on Instagram. Now you could question the value of these followers, given that many people were only lured to the page on the promise of Breaking Bad memorabilia. And although many people quickly unfollowed Max after the competition ended, many stayed for the beautiful images (myself included and I’m really glad that I did!). The point is that the competition created great exposure, and Aaron Paul did this because he truly believes in the talent of Max’s photography.

Now, in an ideal world, we would all be friends with Aaron Paul (yeah, bitch), but of course, not everyone can do this. But what this example does highlight is the value of running competitions as a means to get your followers to interact with you and create some buzz around your photography. And it doesn’t have to be on the scale of Aaron Paul superstardom.

The benefits of running competitions on social media are numerous, but they include increased engagement, creating incentives for people to follow you, and enhanced brand awareness and exposure.

5. Go back to basics and nail your website. 

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that while social media is a great platform for showing off your portfolio to your fans, your website is the primary place for showcasing your best work to potential paying clients. It’s likely to be the first place that your future customers will look for you.

A lot of small businesses focus on social media as a starting point for marketing themselves online, but it’s crucial to make your website a priority. It’s a given that as a photographer, you will probably be using high-quality images on your site, but have you taken into account the overall user experience?

For example, how easy is it to access and use your site on mobile? If you’re building your website using a free provider, such as Wix or Weebly, these sites now include mobile optimisation tools to create a version of your site that will work on phones.

Also, think about how your customer will find your website. If your photography company works under a corporate brand name, are they more likely to search for that brand or for your name? If someone doesn’t yet know the brand, they are probably more likely to search for you instead, as an individual who is the face, talent and creativity behind the photography. It takes a while to build a recognisable brand, whereas a name is probably more instantly memorable.

The functionality of the website is also important. It sounds simple, but for example, does your website allow the user to cycle back and forth on images, pause on certain pictures and forward others?

The user experience of the website is a whole in-depth topic in itself, but it’s worth thinking about your site from the perspective of your customers, and definitely making it a priority alongside other forms of marketing.

I hope this post has been interesting and informative, and I would love to get your feedback. It would also be great to get digital marketing tips from those working in the realm of photography. 

Image credit: https://flic.kr/p/biC1Rr by Mark J P on Flickr

So I’m back after a long gap in blogging…

Chemistry is, well technically, chemistry is the study of matter. But I prefer to see it as the study of change.
                                                                                                                                                                     — Walter White, Breaking Bad

caterpillar

Okay, okay so I haven’t posted anything on this blog for around six years. Well it’s no excuse, but life kind of got in the way. Since my last post all those years ago, I got married, worked for Econsultancy as a research analyst for five-plus awesome years, and perhaps most significantly, had a baby. Since then, I have decided to take a career break and take care of my son full-time at home for the time being.  Prior to this, I was mostly blogging and writing about internet marketing and digital trends for Econsultancy. This was a great experience, and I’ve covered many fantastically interesting topics, including email marketing, web analytics, digital innovation and change, social media, social gaming and how digital is evolving in emerging markets, including the Middle East.

Now I’m at home, the urge to write has been gradually creeping up on me again, and now, finally I have managed to find the time to actually sit down and write. Writing is my passion, whether that includes blog posts like this, or research reports, or simply expressing myself via social media.

For clarity, I’ve ripped apart my old About Me page and added an update. It seems that the things that were important to me back then were the bands I was into, the films I deemed important. But now as life has got slightly more serious, these things seem kind of trivial and I don’t feel that the About page really reflected who I am any more. Hmm… that’s what having children will do to you. It’s a cliché, but they change everything…

The overall look and feel of the blog has also changed as it was starting to look a little dated. Well, this blog isn’t called evolution for nothing.😉

In the past, I’ve used this blog to pretty much write about anything, but now I feel it needs to be a little more focused. So I’ve decided I’m going to focus on digital marketing broadly, looking at brands who are doing great stuff online and hopefully provide some useful tips. I hope to keep to this area, but occasionally you might find me straying off-topic. I will attempt to post as regularly as I can, so please bear with me.🙂

Image credit: https://flic.kr/p/e8uDwc by B Gilmour on Flickr

“Til Jihad Do Us Part” – Vote now!

The Big Pitch is a new, dynamic, UK-based film competition, where amateur film-makers pitch their film ideas, and are given the unique opportunity to have their film ideas made into a feature production.

Not only is this a fantastic opportunity for film-makers everywhere, but from my perspective as an avid film buff, it also means that slightly off-beat films can get produced that normally would receive little or no attention from Hollywood.

There are some great finalists, but my personal favourite is the very originally titled comedy “Til Jihad Do Us Part.”🙂 The film idea is accompanied by a great blog by film-maker and writer, Shai Hussain. You can meet Shai here.

The romantic comedy film is inspired by “So I Married an Axe Murderer,” but puts an original and very topical spin on the theme.🙂 The movie focuses on the story of Meena, and her growing suspicions that her new fiancé may be a terrorist…

“The best thing about The Big Pitch isn’t just the opportunity to get a feature film made – it’s the chance to go through the whole process in a really hands-on way, and not linger in development hell for years. Kudos to those who let a film with the title “Jihad” get this far.”

–Shai Hussain – Writer of Til Jihad Do Us Part

Taking into account the way that Muslims are currently portrayed in the media, “Til Jihad Do Us Part” provides a refreshing injection of humour, which is always welcome.😉 Consequently, I’d encourage you (you, blog reader…) to vote to get this film made. At the end of the day, it’s all up to you, Joe Public; you get to decide which film-maker gets this opportunity of a lifetime.

Voting officially opens at noon, on the 19th of November (i.e. right now! Go vote! Go on…!). Competition winners will be announced on the 6th of December.

Vote for “Til Jihad Do Us Part” here. Voting closes on the 6th of December 2008.

The Jewel of Medina: Nobody cares… Game. Over.

“It is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.” — Oscar Wilde

The latest controversy in the Muslim world appears to be furore over Sherry Jones’ latest work of fiction, “The Jewel of Medina.” However, like everything else reported in the mainstream media about Islam, things are not always what they seem.

“The Jewel of Medina” is our version of that truly horrific work of fiction, “The Da Vinci Code.” I should clarify my position here, as I’m offended by both books, but not because of their religious themes, but rather they are offensive from a literary and grammatical perspective.😉 Having had the misfortune to read the truly appalling trashy novel that was Da Vinci, I am simply staggered that the book has received the publicity, and widespread sales that it has, not to mention the kind of fame achieved by the bland and mediocre author, Dan Brown.

Both books have a number of commonalities:

  1. They both take religious themes, adapt them and fabricate some pseudo-history in order to achieve some controversy and subsequently generate sales.
  2. Both are extremely badly written. “The Da Vinci Code” mainly consists of chapters that are approximately five pages each, in order to retain the attention of its core audience, most of whom are probably finding reading books a new experience. Does that sound arrogant and patronising? It was supposed to.😉 Likewise, the excerpt of “The Jewel…” speaks for itself.
  3. Both claim to be “extensively researched.” However, anyone who has read an iota of Islamic history will know that “The Jewel…” contains no historical facts whatsoever. According to the BBC website (emphasis added by myself):
  4. “Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, as well as one of the great leaders of early Islam, is portrayed as conniving, hot-tempered and lascivious. The Islamic texts document him as a consistently staunch defender of truth and justice, an upstanding character.”

Given the fact that the book contains numerous factual errors, this should help to reinforce the fact that it is merely a work of fiction, not a historical account by any means. I don’t believe that any book should be banned, as censorship merely adds to the notoriety of the novel and simply generates more sales for a mediocre author, who otherwise would have slipped by under the radar, relatively unnoticed inthe literary world .

What is particularly interesting in this case is that Random House (the publishers) “banned” the book, over “fears it could incite violence” i.e. before there were any signs onf any reaction at all. It’s clear that a “ban” adds a layer of credibility to an unknown author. Having read the first chapter of the book, it’s apparent that the book is a trashy novel, an Islamic Mills and Boon” if you will, that will only appeal to people who don’t read books, much like Da Vinci.

So, for the record, Muslims don’t care. The Satanic Verses, this is not. It’s true that perhaps a small minority of people may be offended by this book, but the majority of Muslims don’t care about yet another bland author’s attempt to implement some savvy marketing and sell some fictional soap opera story masquerading as a historical and factual account.

Despite the claims by the media that Muslims want to ban this book, rather it’s the publishers who want people to think that Muslims want to censor it, in some desperate and rather tragic attempt by the author to achieve some credibility for what is none other than a poorly-written novel in the vein of aMuslim Bridget Jones.”

I would highly recommend reading a review on the BBC’s website by blogger, Shelina Zahra Janmohammed.

The bottom line is that Muslims must realise that they are being played, like puppets on a string.

The accusation that Muslims constantly want to ban “everything” is not only fallacious but also deeply divisive, creating an “Us Versus Them” mentality. However, rather than adopting a “victim” mindset, Muslims need to speak out, in order to put an end to the idea constantly perpetuated in the media, that they are in favour of censorship.

For more information, please read Shelina Zahra Janmohammed’s review of The Jewel of Medina, published by the BBC News Magazine, available here.

Are white middle-class men discriminated against? No, seriously.

Well, they are, if you believe one Mr Jeremy Paxman. It seems that race relations have progressed so far in this country, that beyond mere equality, bigotry in its latest form means that white middle-class men have no hope of making within the television industry.

At a pre-recorded interview at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Paxman said:

“The worst thing you can be in this industry is a middle-class white male. If any middle-class white male I come across says he wants to enter television, I say ‘give up all hope’. They’ve no chance.”

Pardon me if I’m perhaps just a tad sceptical.🙂

Don’t get me wrong; I love Paxman’s irreverent interviewing style on Newsnight (who doesn’t!?) Much to the amusement of the British public, Paxman has provided countless classic moments of TV gold, as many an arrogant, slippery politician makes yet another futile attempt to try to evade his aggressive and persistent line of questioning (“Did you threaten to over-rule him?”😉 ).

Afterall, only Paxman alone could ask Tony Blair whether he and George Bush pray together, for example.🙂

However, in recent months, Paxo has been prone to gaffes on more than one occasion. First, there was the rather sensitive issue of Marks & Spencer’s underwear (the less said about this, the better – I’d rather not elaborate😯 ). This was closely followed by a rather serious “incident” where Paxman managed to offend the whole of Scotland, by lambasting the work of celebrated poet, Robert Burns as “sentimental doggerel.”

And in his most recent error of judgment, Paxman appears to think that white middle-class men are the most disadvantaged when it comes to employability, in the television industry, at least. This is a comment that could only really come from someone who’s probably hasn’t experienced much prejudice and bigotry firsthand.

Needless to say, Paxman’s comments have received much criticism and ridicule. Channel 4 news presenter, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, said:

“I feel awfully sorry for white, middle-class men who went to Oxbridge… but I’m not sure they are the ones at the greatest disadvantage.

“Obviously, the people who really are facing the biggest struggle to make it into television are those from working-class backgrounds and people from ethnic minorities. If they are both working class and from an ethnic minority, they really are up against it.”

Whilst it’s undeniable that there’s been significant progress when it comes to eradicating discrimination, nevertheless, there is still a long way to go, and to claim that white middle-class men face a greater struggle than women, ethnic minorities, or the working class, is simply absurd.

Paxman’s bold, outlandish claims that white middle-class males are society’s most neglected minority group seems to indicate that he is completely out of touch with reality.

Despite this latest faux pas, to remember Paxman at his most memorable, check out this video that features some of his best moments:

Aah, that’s better. Classic Paxman at his finest hour.🙂

Street art at the Tate: bland, boring and no sign of Banksy anywhere

If you’ve read my About Me page, then you’ll know that I love street art. Monday is the last day of the Tate Modern’s iconic street exhibition, so last week, I decided to catch the exhibition while I still had the chance.

Whilst I acknowledge that the presence of a street art exhibition at the Tate is a milestone in allowing graffiti to be recognised as a genuinely credible art form, I can’t help but feel that the exhibition missed the point. Whilst it may have made urban art more accessible to a new audience, it failed to capture all that is fascinating and unique about street art.

Association with left-wing politics

Although urban street art has been popularised by British graffiti artist, Banksy (the Keyser Söze of the art world), it’s a global art form that’s long shared an intimate bond with socialism, radical politics, and the anti-war movement. Most recently, Orwell’s most famous works, (the visionary dystopian novel 1984 and the satirical allegory, Animal Farm) were reissued with visually stunning book covers designed by guerrilla street artist, Shepard Fairey.

Shepard Fairey, most famous for the iconic Obey campaign, recently created this limited edition print to show his support for Presidential candidate, Barack Obama. Not only did the print sell out in minutes, but also support from such a popular cultural figure did wonders for Obama’s campaign. As Fairey explained on his website:

”I believe with great conviction that Barack Obama should be the next President. I have been paying close attention to him since the Democratic convention in 2004. I feel that he is more a statesman than a politician. He was against the war when it was an unpopular position (and Hillary was for the war at that time), Obama is for energy and environmental conservation. He is for healthcare reform…”

Whilst the exhibition at the Tate (which also included an urban walking tour) mostly focused on Madrid street art, the lack of political messages meant that the exhibition failed to capture the revolutionary spirit at the heart of the guerrilla street art movement.

In addition, given that Banksy has popularised the art form and brought it to the mainstream, an exhibition where his work isn’t mentioned (at all) seems somewhat incomplete. Whilst the exhibition’s curators argue that they wanted to bring a more international flavour to the Tate, I suspect that the noticeable absence of arguably the world’s most famous anonymous artist may have been more to do with the anti-establishment nature of street art.

Anti-establishment art doesn’t have corporate sponsors

A particularly salient point to note about the Tate street art exhibition is that it’s sponsored by Nissan, ironic given the anti-capitalist nature of the movement.

The work of James Cauty, for example, is unlikely to ever receive a sponsorship from Disney, despite featuring its most iconic star in a variety of different guises.🙂 And, this piece from Banksy probably won’t do any favours for the marketing department of a certain American fast food chain. 😉

The epitome of freedom of expression

In 2005, Banksy sneaked into four New York museums to hang his own work. That’s the point about street art.  It doesn’t need permission. It exemplifies all that is beautiful about freedom of expression. And, it democratises art, rather than limiting it to a small, privileged elite, who may or may not get the chance within their lifetime to display their work to the general public.

In some ways, Web 2.0 shares many of the characteristics of street art, which rather aptly explains my fascination with both. Like street art, the social web has democratised information, through bloggery, and other forms of user-generated content.

Moving on from this, the internet has been instrumental in popularising street art and bringing it into the spotlight. Sites such as Wooster Collective, Art of the State, and Streetsy, as well as blogs dedicated to individual art projects (such as the Little People blog) have propelled the movement to spectacular new heights.

An exhibition that doesn’t capture the evocative soul of street art is short-sighted, bland and ultimately, “not so street.” Street art has long been dismissed as “graffiti” and criticised for its lack of credibility as an art form. Whilst displaying this art at the Tate is an important step in helping to give street art the respect it deserves, as this blog post points out:

“What does it mean to just choose a few street artists and paste work onto the side of an art institution? If it already exists outside on sides of buildings what makes this so special?”

…Although (it) gives street art the respect it deserves, it also tells us that it still isn’t as valued as other modern and contemporary art practices, by denying it the space inside the museum.

It is only as valid as its increase of visitors and sponsorship money. A friend answered my questions by saying, “They’ve had to bring the street art to the middle classes, so they can feel cool. Or they can feel cool by slating it.”

I conclude that this was a wasted opportunity by the Tate.”

In summary, urban art is about radical freedom of expression: anywhere, any place, any time. The essence of street art lies in the fact that it’s subversive, it’s controversial and most importantly, it’s not pretentious.

Displaying street art in a museum perhaps defeats its core purpose and message. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether such art forms belong in the Tate at all. Even if it’s possible to institutionalise street art, perhaps this exhibition could have been better executed.

Could it be that the Tate missed a genuinely exciting opportunity to bring underground art to an increasingly enthusiastic public?

Positive discrimination is still discrimination

It’s a tragedy that the ugly disease of racial and gender discrimination still plagues our society. Fifty years after the civil rights movement, one can’t but help feel that not much has changed, or at the very least, not enough. Rather than defeating the very core of racism, British politicians seem content to replace true notions of equality with the hard, shiny, plastic exterior of mere political correctness.

This is demonstrated no more clearly than by Harriet Harman’s plans to allow employers to discriminate in favour of women and ethnic minorities over white males. Whilst it’s true that on-white unemployment is overall higher than for white ethnic groups (as the following statistics from the 2004 National Census show), favouring women and ethnic minorities for the sake of a quota and for mere political correctness is not only highly patronising but also deeply divisive.

Stats and chart from the UK Office for National Statistics (2004)

Harriet Harman’s recent speech in the House of Commons is riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. For example, she talks about addressing inequalities through creating a “fair and equal society”, and that “no-one should have to put up with discrimination.” That’s all very well, but it seems our politicians have misunderstood the very definition of discrimination itself:

Discrimination: treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit:

Simply put, discrimination, whether in favour or against a particular group, is still discrimination. Putting “positive” in front of the word doesn’t make it a good thing! To quote Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,

“It’s not just that our color difference doesn’t matter to her. It’s that she doesn’t seem to think there is any difference.”

How can we expect to move forward and eliminate discrimination once and for all, if even our politicans have got it so wrong?

Addressing inequality in the workplace is imperative now, more than ever, in a period of economic instability, where employers need to have access to the best skills, to sustain competitive advantage.

Positive discrimination is highly patronising. The fact is, statistics report that girls consistently outperform boys at all levels of education. And yet despite this, National Statistics Online still report a gender pay gap of approximately 12.6%. Clearly, when it comes to salary, it pays to be a man. But, the point is that forcing employers to hire women just because they happen to be women undermines the fact that women are skilled and qualified and able to perform the job just as well as men.

It’s important to note, however, that Harman said firms should be able to choose a woman over a man of equal ability. In reality, however, I think one candidate always outperforms another, even if by only a slight margin, so firms should choose the candidate with the best ability, rather than using gender as a basis for a decision.

Despite all the doom and gloom, however, I firmly believe that change is inevitable, given that the gender pay gap is closing, though we still have a long way to go to achieving equality. And, more ethnic minorities are entering university and achieving the right skills that employers are looking for.

Looking at education levels, in terms of GCSE exam results, Chinese and Indian pupils are the most successful, whilst white males trail behind in last place. Even the focus on  the underachievement of Afro-Carribeans has been called “statistical racism”, as statistically, Afro-Carribean pupils do no worse than white British from similar economic backgrounds.

We need to get to a place not where we prefer to employ women or ethnic minorities over white males, but where we are blind to differences in gender and race and reward people on the basis of their ability alone. It’s obvious that deep racial discrimination still exists in our society; it’s just that positive discrimination is not the answer.

See the video of Harriet Harman’s speech in the House of Commons here.

Cool advertising: Trublood – the synthetic blood soft drink

So I’ve just come back to the UK after a two week holiday (“vacation”) in the States, where I visited New York and other parts of the East coast. As it was my first trip, it was pretty interesting to see the cultural differences between the UK and US, the most obvious one being that the Americans are a lot more friendly than the Brits. It’s a shame to perpetuate the myth of British people being more reserved and maintaining their “stiff upper lip,” but unfortunately, the traditional cultural stereotype is truthful to some extent.

Whilst in New York, I was intrigued by an advert, apparently for a bottled synthetic blood-flavoured soft drink called Trublood. Having a rather sick sense of humour, as well as a (perfect healthy?!) interest in human physiology, I was hoping to sample some of this interesting beverage during my stay in the US. Admittedly, I did find the concept of a drink disguised as human bodily fluids rather strange, but given that this was my first trip to the US, I guess I just dismissed it offhand, and thought “Only in America…”

It was only when I got home, that I got the chance to do some much needed Googling to find the drink online, only to find that rather than encouraging members of the public to drink your own blood, the ad was actually a rather innovative campaign for HBO’s new television show, “True Blood.”

As well as having to admit that I was gullible enough to get sucked in by American  advertising, I also have to take into account that I would have been willing to sample synthetic blood, if it had been readily available.

I’m not quite sure what this says about me, but this gets to the heart of why this marketing campaign is so clever.

  • The campaign understands its audience: people macabre enough to consider the possibility of drinking synthetic blood for fun are probably also the ideal audience that HBO is looking for.
  • Good understanding of the relationship between online and offline marketing: with little additional purchase info provided on the billboard itself, the ad acts as an effective driver of traffic to the website.
  • This also encourages users to visit trubeverage.com, a dedicated microsite for the drink, that “reminds vampires to drink responsibly.”

The microsite extends advertising for the drink in an inventive, innovative and realistic way.

I especially love that the Tru Blood apparently comes in four distinct flavours: Type O, (“Hearty and Satisfying”), Type A (“Light and Delicate”), Type B (“Aggressive and Energizing”), Type AB (“Smooth and Refined”).

I’m not quite sure what type would suit me best, but the Type Finder rather helped in that respect. After answering a series of questions, I found that I was “The Cultivated Aesthete – Type A” and apparently share similar taste in blood with Oscar Wilde.

And, apparently I wasn’t the only one taken in by the campaign: bloodthirsty consumers have apparently made efforts to purchase the product or locate a dealer.

To some extent, the tactics employed are similar to a campaign last year for Showtime’s Dexter, which fooled some viewers into thinking that they were the next victims of a gruesome series of murders by a notorious serial killer. Both campaigns use shock tactics to resonate with consumers and viewers, as they play on the sense of the macabre and sheer morbid curiousity.

Overall, the ad does a great job of standing out amid the wealth of advertising messages – whilst I might not ever get to find out what synthetic blood tastes likes, I’m sure I’ll be one of many bloodthirsty viewers checking out True Blood, the TV show when it’s broadcast later this September.

“TrueBlood,” the new series from the creators of Six Feet Under starts on HBO on the 7th of September.

Photo credit: “Comic-Con: Trueblood billboard,” Mitch Wagner on Flickr.