Nokia, ai Jumala! (Nokia, oh God!)

At the end of the 2011 World Rally Championship season, the WRC had a global promoter: North One Sport. All seemed reasonably well – Nokia had been signed as title sponsor, and surely more sponsors would follow soon. Not so long afterwards, all fell to rack and ruin. North One Sport’s parent company, Convers Sports Initiatives, went into administration (this followed the arrest of company head Vladimir Antonov on suspicion of fraud related to the collapse of Lithuanian bank Snoras, and the seizure of many of his assets). North One Sport, having tried to make out that all was AOK, had to admit that without Antonov’s money they were struggling. The FIA cancelled North One’s contract as WRC promoter.  A lot of folk involved in TV production for WRC through North One Television found themselves instantly out of a job. It was all a big ol’ shame.

What had North One left the WRC with? Well, there was that title sponsor, Nokia. Now, I’m going to start off by being fair to Nokia. They seem to have helped the FIA to maintain media coverage of the WRC – and not only through their own app. When World Rally Radio and iRally reporter Colin Clark found his contract with World Rally Radio and iRally producers Crown House Media terminated, just before Rally Sweden, it was Nokia who took pity on him and engaged his services to present video clips for the website. A couple of rallies later, and the website had its own live streaming radio service (with the original World Rally Radio lineup of Becs Williams and Colin Clark), and judging by the mentions of “powered by Nokia” and “WRC Nokia app” this was instigated and funded by Nokia.

So, a nice big company has come along and saved us, and they will see us right, surely? Or maybe not. See, Nokia weren’t actually doing all that well, even when the contract was signed. Remember the infamous “burning platform” memo issued by new Nokia CEO Stephen Elop back in Feb 2011? The WRC deal was done in June 2011 – could things really have improved that much in a few months? All that had happened was that Nokia had taken a big decision to use Microsoft Windows Mobile as its main smartphone platform. Nokia promised at the time to continue supporting their waning but successful platform Symbian and their Linux-based platform Meego, but soon chucked both out the window. This decision has been described by former Nokia internal analyst (now freelance analyst and utter fucking genius) Horace Dediu as pretty stupid. He suggests (in episode 34 of his podcast The Critical Path) that a far better option would have been to use Windows Mobile for the North American market only (where it suits carrier requirements), keep Meego for the European market and continue supporting Symbian for emerging markets.

Since the Apple iPhone disrupted the mobile phone market, rival manufacturers have been left scrambling to keep up; with Nokia struggling badly. It’s important, but difficult to get and hold a footing in the crowded smartphone market, as Horace Dediu pointed out in this piece on Finnish broadcaster YLE’s English news site from December 2011. Nokia’s Windows Mobile phone, the Lumia, though good, may not be good enough. Mobile industry blogger Stefan Constantinescu, in the same YLE article just linked, said that Nokia have no plan B. Essentially, if Nokia don’t sell enough Lumia phones, they’re up the spout.

Guess what? Nokia have not sold enough Lumia phones. Not nearly enough. And the latest figures, preceded by a profits warning, suggest they are approaching, if not entering, the spout: see some charts of Nokia sales figures on Asymco. Nokia, once number one mobile phone manufacturer, overtaken by Apple in Q1 2011, have been pushed into third place by Samsung. These charts of Samsung units sold and Nokia units sold, from guess where, Asymco, show an important contrast in smartphone growth between the two. Samsung have successfully sold more smartphones, converting “featurephone” ownership to smartphone ownership. Nokia haven’t.

Microsoft are funding Nokia, to the tune of $250 million a quarter in “platform support”. Horace Dediu’s calcuations show that, even if Nokia Lumia sales grow as fast as iPhone sales, by the end of 2014 Nokia will still owe Microsoft nearly $2 billion.

As this Business Week article puts it, Finland imagines life without Nokia. One ratings agency have downgraded Nokia to junk bond status (Reuters). Yikes!

And this is the main title sponsor of the WRC. What kind of horse did North One Sport hitch this cart to? OK, so the Nokia sponsorship worth only €3million over “multiple years” – I’m guessing three years. It’s not much compared to the billions of dollars that Microsoft are throwing at Nokia – but remember, Nokia aren’t close to being able to make that money back.

There’s a problem in that sponsorship works not just in terms of cash money, but in terms of brand cachet. Get yourself a fancy blue-chip sponsor, and other sponsors are more likely to get on board because you look like you’re going places. The WRC needs to attract manufacturers as well as sponsors: if the financial situation and media promotion of the sport appears to be improving, manufacturers will be willing to invest the big money (far, far, far more than Nokia’s million euros a year) needed to run a full factory team. When the championship has few sponsors, and the title sponsor has been given the sad trombone by ratings agencies, the future does not look rosy, and manufacturers will be reluctant to invest. It’s a simple positive feedback loop of confidence. When the WRC/Nokia deal was announced, manufacturers could easily be thinking the best of Nokia. When North One Sport collapsed, everyone with a concern for rallying did what they could to keep the championship alive. Now, though, everybody knows that Nokia are not at all healthy.

Essentially, there are two outcomes for Nokia. Either they go tits up, or they merge with Microsoft. In the event that Nokia ceases to be a going concern, the terms of the WRC sponsorship agreement would obviously be looked at. It’s possible that the deal would be cancelled, and then where would we be? Back to square one, and with our cart not even hitched to a lame old horse. I do hope this doesn’t happen.

With Volkswagen entering the championship next year, and Toyota looking certain to follow in 2014 or 2015, the sport genuinely does have a bright future. It would be great to have that positive feedback loop working the other way: flowing from manufacturer confidence, to get not only more sponsors on board, but to get some strong commitment to global media promotion. Let’s hope that the FIA received a good response to their call for promoters, agents or investors issued in February. That way, we won’t need to worry about what happens if Nokia do go to the wall.


Update (May 28 2012) Nokia continue to make losses. The sponsorship deal is cancelled. See my new post.

They just want our butter, the lazy Viking tarts.

I’m way late with this post, which is in fact little more than an excuse to share some jokes I made on Twitter.

First, I need to lay you out a little backstory. You may or may not be familiar with the story of Tom Martin, a student of Gender Studies at the LSE who undertook to sue the college for gender discrimination against him, as a man. Having had his case dismissed from court, Mr Martin set about continuing his campaign against feminism. Stunning hilarity ensued, as he responded by calling his critics whores, continued to refer to feminists as whores, and claimed that women owe men a bunch of stuff, including five years pension, some National Service and some inventions. In the comment thread, which rivals longcat for length, things got more hilarious. The ridiculousness metric hit “totes ridic” when he asserted that Saudi men are oppressed because in Saudi Arabia, two men must give up their seats for one woman…

“But when it is men being forced out of their seats, and by economically inactive Saudi whores – professional whore feminists just laugh it off or make BS excuses” – Tom Martin

… and then brazened it out, with a comment asserting that “Islamic states are whoriarchies”, whatever the hell a “whoriarchy” is, because a strict gender binary encourages women to stay at home.

“Secondly, Saudi Arabian women are the laziest whores in the world, with just 22% of them in even a part-time job” – Tom Martin

OK, so on the same day all this was a-going down, in the news and on t’ Twitter there was some discussion of Saudi Arabia possibly not sending women athletes to the London 2012 Olympics. Some folk wondered what Mr Martin would think of this, given his characterisation of Saudi women as lazy whores.

“Further to being warm-legged WHORES, the Scots owe the English a lot of whisky and some herring. And it’s not just you lot. What about the Norwegians! Up to their ears in herring, the whores. And who are Norway sending to the Olympics? Lazy herring-hogging whores with their Statoil. Instead of proper sport, the Norwegians drive rally cars and ski and get PAID for it. WHORES.

I’m getting  a little giddy. It’s only a matter of time before I tweet at a Norwegian rally driver, call him a whore and demand herring.

They just want our butter, the lazy viking tarts.” – me (@badhedgehog)

And so it was only by application of rare self-control that I did not approach Mr Petter Solberg, Mr Mads Ostberg, or Mr Eyvind Brynildsen, accuse them of living by prostitution and harangue them for herring.

Market segmentation and gender: a tale of fail

We’re market segmenting ourselves to destruction.

It’s been going on for a while. Marketing experts and consultants generally advise that market segmentation is an improvement to any market strategy. You can take a database of your customers, and in the parlance of the marketing dweeb, “drill down” into it and turn your market into various different segments.

If you’re not segmenting your market you might as well slit your throat. And if you don’t have much imagination, or can’t be bothered faffing about with any database themed bullshittery, what might you do? Let’s see… Erm…

Boys and girls! That’s it!

Cos nobody’s got any fucking imagination. Boys and girls. Even though it’s not relevant to the product.

Look, I suggest we take the whole idea of marketing back to a tautology. We’re marketing this product to the sort of people who like this sort of product. THAT’S IT. Either think a little bit about the sort of person that might be, or just say what the product is. I’m thinking of a television channel that shows The Avengers, The Saint, and motorsport. That your sort of thing? Course it is. Welcome in, we’re itv4. Instead, it’s MEN’S TELLY, and marketed in MEN’S MAGAZINES and that, where I don’t see it, so what happens is I FUCKING WELL MISS THE MANX TT.

This is not acceptable.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have seen blogs and mainstream press on the topic of gender specific marketing of kids’ toys and clothes. Here’s a quick aside, though; based on the hidden object and puzzle adventure games that my (male) partner likes.

They’re marketed for girls, in a subtle way mind you, rather than by having the protagonist dressed in pink and searching for pink objects on a pink background. They have, so he says, better stories; as if girls have an innate sense of story, and boys just want explosions and guns and fast cars and, when they’re old enough, titties. Michael Bay to the white courtesy phone! MICHAEL BAY TO THE WHITE COURTESY PHONE, BEFORE IT EXPLODES.)

Stop being so damn lazy. Sell the product to the kind of people who might think the product is good. And if you can do it without putting us all on the train to Tweesville that would be fan-ruddy-tastic. (Read that last link: it’s by Dorian Lynskey who is a better blogger than I am). Hedgehog and out.

Posh hedgehog restaurant menu

To begin:

A single Vietnamese white woodlouse
poached in a delicately flavoured broth.

A plate of earthworm charcuterie

A piquant selection of South American ants

Finely shredded carrot, coriander and chervil, topped with an earwig

Main courses:

Roast water beetle with its own pond water reduction

Scrambled pheasant egg with shaved black and white truffle

Whole Hungarian millipede, served in a coil with paprika sauce

Scorpion prepared in the meerkat style

Live Cabbage White caterpillars on turnip and beet leaves

Baby mouse stuffed with a cashew nut paste

Moth larva en croute


Melon quartet with crispy ants

Bee in honey

Silverfish pudding

Sugared spiders with a flotation of webs

An Encutment Of Hair: male rock stars go long to short

Long hair on a man. Yeah, we know all about that. Let’s revise what we know in a brief burst of self-indulgence. Back in the 1960s, when long started at the lugholes, it was all about rebellion: a conscious decision to reject the cultural norm of a good short neat haircut kept in order by regular visits to the barber. It served as a marker that the long haired young man might also reject other cultural norms of mainstream society and might prefer a self-defined youth culture to mainstream culture. Long hair, youthful rebellion, rock music. We know where we are. We’re at the good old stereotype (and bless him, he’s verging on an archetype) of the Rock God: a long haired fellow, tight of trouser and commanding of pose, hollering songs about women, drink, mythology and life in general. It’s a stereotype built up in the 1970s and then really put to work in the 1980s. In the early 1980s, days of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, it was dangerously wrong to have short hair and be a metaller. Same thing with the American glam metal scene except with added hairspray and frosted highlights, to the point that it became known as “hair metal”. Everyone, but everyone, in those subcultures made an effort to grow their hair; whether it suited them or not.

So, the long hair on the male rock artist was a pretty easy to read label. It rooted (dyswidt) the artist to a subculture, and because of the serious hard work that the long haired rock stereotype had been put to in the 1980s, it rooted him to that particular time as well.  The long hair read 70s and 80s rock as clearly as it read rock.

At some point, generally agreed to be either 1990, 1991, or, following my own law of pop culture decades, 1993; the 1990s began. A cultural badge specific to the 1970s and early/mid 1980s would no longer be entirely appropriate. (Worth noting that the pace of change in fashion was quicker then than it is now).  Three questions, then:
1. Which male artists would part ways with the old long hair look?
2. How long would it take them to do it?
3. How would any shorter hairstyle decisions play in the two most important courts of public opinion? (Namely, what I think, and what I think other people think.)

Example Haircut One: Jon Bon Jovi.

Classic 1980s Jon Bon Jovi first there. Hair frosted and teased, plenty of product on the go. After a period of solo projects and management-firing, Bon Jovi made a comeback in 1992-3. They had bit of a new sound (They had some drum syncopation! Drum syncopation was a very late 80s early 90s thing to have!) and a bit of a new look. A lot of a new look for Jon Bon Jovi. A haircut that made everyone I knew say “Wow, I really like Jon Bon Jovi’s hair now!” It was a revolutionary haircut. It said “Hello and welcome, new fans! You do not have to be a member of the rock/metal subculture to like me,” and “My name is Jon Bon Jovi and I am a very good looking man, which you may have not noticed before,” and “we have been there and done that with the 80s hair metal thing: we are up to date and with it!” This is probably the best haircut in rock music. Maybe just about in a tie with example 2…

Example Haircut Two : Bruce Dickinson. Him out of Iron Maiden.

Ah, Bruce Dickinson. Fencer, rock god and airline pilot. Is there any better resumé? Bruce Dickinson, of Iron Maiden, England, and the Universe, cast off his old NWOBHM hair in late 1995. Initially, it was a simple “curtains” style bob, then he got it done properly.

Bruce is also looking pretty good. Once a bloke gets past “a certain age” by which of course we mean an entirely uncertain age which we aren’t willing to define, long hair is not so flattering. Tends to drag the face down, which action a feller might prefer to leave to gravity. A shorter cut with softer edges tends to be more pleasing to the eye. Bruce was not yet 40 when he chose an encutment of hair. The decision’s done him well as he’s got into his 50s, but I’d like to be all judgemental and objectifying and state an opinion that he didn’t want to leave it any longer than he did, and might not have gone wrong to get the hair cut a bit earlier. Jon Bon Jovi was only 30 when he went for The Haircut. Quite the early adopter.

Example Haircut Three: Francis Rossi. Him out of Status Quo.

Old man Rossi had a ponytail. Slightly different animal, the ponytail. It’s the long hair, but on a leash.  Status Quo were very, very strongly defined as old fashioned, unfashionable rock for old fashioned, unfashionable people; so it’s no surprise that Francis Rossi took a long time to get rid of the ponytail. Hair receded; the ponytail stayed. The face got old; the ponytail stayed. Hair thinned; the ponytail stayed. Eventually, in March 2009, at the age of 59, Mr Rossi decided that the ponytail would have to go. It made the tabloids, and rightly so. When interviewed on the radio this year and asked what became of the ponytail itself, Francis replied, “a couple got it, and they wash it and take it out for walks and everything.” The long hair, but on a leash. Indeed. Top bloke. (Unfortunately, I did not note down when, where, and with whom the radio interview was. I’m thinking it would have been with Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 2.)

Example Haircut Four: I’ve forgotten. No, wait, I haven’t. Metallica.

By this point, I can no longer be bothered to look for images. Metallica: all long of hair until 1996, then short of hair, with initially a whole new selection of looks incorporating goth/emo eye makeup. After that, they did what Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Dickinson didn’t: they went back on the encutment of hair.  Indeed there is now a division in the ranks. Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield have stuck with the short hair (Hetfield with a selection of exciting beards), but the long haired Robert Trujillo has joined the band, and Kirk Hammett has gone back to long. I’m not going to ignore ethnicity — Trujillo is Hispanic and Hammett is Filipino, so there’s a question of brown men’s hair/looks versus white men’s hair/looks here.  Long hair reads as particularly ageing on white men, and I see Ulrich and Hetfield’s decisions to stay with short hair in the light of age and thinning hair as well as in the light of wanting to appear “with it” rather than tied to the 80s. Robert Trujillo’s hair is very much what’s seen as “good” Latino hair — it’s thick, it has lustre, it’s smooth.  The choice to keep this kind of hair long and therefore demonstrate its natural tendency to flow and shine; that’s going to be seen as a “good” hair choice, at least when it’s a choice made by a rock artist, a man who isn’t constrained by norms of “businesslike” personal presentation.

Example Haircut Five: Me. Not a rock god or indeed a bloke at all.

I always had the long hair, and for a terribly long time laboured under the delusion that by choosing the right kind of conditioner I could get my hair to be all shiny and silky-like. I wanted Jennifer Aniston hair. At the age or 33 (older than Jon Bon Jovi at time of encutment, younger than Bruce Dickinson at time of encutment), I realised it wasn’t working. Long hair was dragging my face down, and I was always tucking it behind my ears, which is never a great look especially with a face like mine. It wasn’t smooth and silky and I looked nothing like the Aniston. Cut it. Cut it a lot. Lopped it, layered it. Layered it some more. Got new glasses and put a fringe in. Currently sporting a Professor Brian Cox look. Suits me. I would like to nominate my own encutment of hair as the third best encutment in rock history since Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Dickinson, and I have absolutely nothing with which to back up that claim.