Won’t be Fooled Again! Ha!

Please see this article from today’s Newser:

(Newser)  That whole “subprime crisis” hasn’t scared banks away from the lucrative world of subprime lending. The nation’s top subprime lenders—like Capital One, GM Financial, HSBC, and JPMorgan Chase—are all trying to woo back less-creditworthy borrowers, who tend to rack up late fees while paying rates as high as 29%, the New York Timesreports. “It’s clear that we are returning to business as usual,” said a former Federal Reserve regulator. But that’s not entirely true; the focus hasn’t yet shifted to mortgages, it’s on auto loans.

Auto loans were left largely unaffected by new post-crisis regulations, and the market for bundled auto loan securities is expanding—so much so that Moody’s last year issued a report that it was growing “too much too fast.” In the fourth quarter of 2011, 23% of new auto loans were subprime. But lenders are also eager to roll out credit cards: In December, 1.1 million new cards were issued to people with damaged credit, the Times notes.


Now see the post I wrote in 2008:

Where Were You in ’32?

December 5, 2008 — Stephen Brooks


Are you a big-3 American automobile manufacturer?  Are you suddenly faced with a huge inventory of gas-guzzling SUVs that no-one wants to buy anymore?   Are you asking your federal government for a $24 billion to save your skins?  Here’s the answer to your woes!


I wonder if they’re doing credit checks on the people who take advantage of this offer, or if it’s another sub-prime crisis in the making.  “Sorry about losing the house, honey, but look at this great new truck I got!”  Three months later: “Sorry about losing the truck, honey, but look at this massive federal deficit our children got!”

It took about 40 years for people to forget the lessons of the Great Depression and start using credit cards and other, progressively more inventive, ways to spend more money than they had.  That’s what fueled the roaring ’80s until the crash in ’87.  Then people did the same thing, except with tech stocks in the ’90s, until the bubble burst.  And now the present sub-prime fiasco.  It has always been a case of too many people buying something which is going to decline in value — with someone else’s money.  Which is exactly what Ford is offering you now.



What the Heck is That? Part V

In my continuing series 1, 2, 3, 4,  of stabs at advertising “professionals,”  I give you this:

I’ll grant you that anyone who lives in New Brunswick probably can decipher this.  But the region of Miramichi is presumably trying to draw tourists from afar.   And NB’s First Nations place names are already hard enough.  I’m thinking of Kouchibouguac and Magaguadavic (pronounced MACK-a-DAVE-ee), for instance.  Why throw in the inscrutable font factor?

Here’s the whole ad:

Is this man taking a dump?  Is he panning for gold?  Is he “discovering what ‘WE’ know”?  No, he’s FISHING.  That’s what Miramichi is famous for.  Why go to such great lengths to hide it?

So, my righteous self has a problem with this ad on many levels:

1. I know that written-word fonts are all the rage now, but if they become so “human” that they’re unreadable, what’s the point?

2. Print ads should NEVER have URLs in them.  If you want to provide a link in your print ad, include a scannable barcode like this:










3.  “Discover what we know.” is one of the most ambiguous (almost creepy) taglines I’ve ever heard.  What if  “what we know” is how to re-animate the dead?  Or, more benignly, how to pick up things from the water?

4. And the topper is that this ad appeared in the Moncton Times & Transcript, which serves a market where EVERYONE already knows that the Miramichi has the best salmon fishing in the world.  Whom are we trying to reach, here?  Visiting business people who might come back to NB because of a photo of an old guy grabbing something out of the river?  Sheesh.

I ♥ My Audi

First, I’ll tell you a story, and then I’ll tell you how it applies to marketing and product management.

Yesterday, the highway drive from my office in Saint John to my home in Moncton (about 150km) was a MESS. There was snow, rain, freezing rain, sleet, hail, and ice pellets. (Canadian readers will know there’s a difference between those last 4 items.) Most sane individuals had already abandoned any idea of driving through this crap, and those that were still on the road were going painfully slow – about 40km/h. And there were many motorists going nowhere, because they had slid off the road.

I, however, was gleefully cruising along at the speed limit – 110km/h. My Audi S4 has Quattro all-wheel drive. This is a suspension/computer system that dominated the European rally racing circuit in the early ‘80s because it was so good – Audi won nearly all the races. After learning in my youth how to winter-drive in conventional front-engine, real-wheel-drive vehicles; the difference in an S4 is shocking. In any road condition, at any speed, it feels like you are glued  to the road. My car probably saved my life yesterday.

Now to my point. Thirty/forty years ago, people expected  their cars to be unmanageable in snow, to break down periodically, to rust out after a few years, to be expensive to maintain, and to be sold by unscrupulous hucksters. Because of the entry of QUALITY vehicles into the North American market, all this changed. Now all vehicles are expected  to be well-made, easy to service, reliable, and available through honest distributors; whether they’re from Japan, Korea, Germany, Sweden, or Detroit.

Did the automobile industry increase their focus on quality, causing consumers to upgrade their expectations; or did consumers begin to realize that cars could be well-made, and start to demand it? Probably a little of both, but it was marketers who gauged the public expectations, and product managers who made the changes to their products. Chicken and egg, I know, but who cares? The lesson is that QUALITY became more important. I think this is a transferrable concept. Designing/making/selling/maintaining a higher quality product will almost always lead to success with your market.

I Made a “Top Ten” List!

Dan Martell, who is sort of a techie-entrepreneur-evangelist local success story, made a list of the, “Top 10 New Brunswick Bloggers Worth Checking Out.”  And I’m on it!

How Maple Syrup Was Invented (My Theory)

Yesterday, Derek had a post about a non-geotropic icicle at his house.  It got me to thinking about my own icicle story – it’s about icicles AND maple syrup.

While Québec is the largest producer of real Maple Syrup; here in New Brunswick, we have a pretty solid industry built around it.  Of course, maple syrup is only one of the products you can make with the sap of the Sugar Maple: maple butter and maple candy are also popular, especially in these parts. As a matter of fact, there is an annual tradition for most people to take their kids out to the “Sugarbush” to visit a “Sugar Camp” AKA “Sugar Shack.”  Here you see my daughter and three neighbourhood friends about to enjoy their treat of some hot thick maple liquid, which is kind of halfway through the refining process between syrup and candy.  Here it is being poured onto some snow, where the kids roll it onto popsicle sticks and it cools into a kind of lollipoppish thing.

For those who don’t know, maple products are made through a series of evaporations.  The sap that is taken directly from the tree is boiled until most of the water is gone and the sugary part dominates the liquid.  That’s syrup.  You get about 1 part syrup for every 8-10 parts sap that you boil.  Boil it some more, and pour it into molds, let it harden – that’s candy.  The technique was probably discovered by the Algonquin First Nation, but there are other theories.

Anyway, my question has always been, and the Web doesn’t even seem to know the answer, what prompted some nutcase hundreds or thousands of years ago, to boil tree sap and then eat it?  Did they try this with everything?  Was there some mad proto-scientist who went around boiling random things and feeding the results to people to see what happened?

For years I wondered about this, and then, last spring, I figured it out.

First, some physics about how maple sap is collected.  Or, more importantly, when.  It can only be collected in the spring, when the temperatures drop below freezing at night and rise above 0°C during the day.  As you know, water expands when it freezes.  So the night-time freeze forces the sap (which is produced by the roots) up the trunk of the tree to nourish the buds that will become leaves.  During the day, the sap melts inside the tree to become liquid again.  That’s when the taps that have been hammered into the tree trunk drip out the sap into waiting buckets.

But the question remains; who figured out it was worthwhile to do all this?  I got my answer one spring evening when I noticed an icicle, about 30cm long, hanging from a branch of the sugar maple in our front yard.  Nothing strange about that, but then I noticed that there were no other icicles on any other tree in our yard, or any other on this particular tree either.  I then noticed that this icicle was emanating from a place where that branch had been broken during the winter – probably by ice/snow overload or something.  Therefore, the icicle hadn’t been formed by rain or snow-melt — it must be frozen liquid that came from the tree.  I broke off the icicle (like people, including Algonquins, have been doing for millennia), and tasted it, and it was decidedly sweet.  Aha!  So I rushed inside and put the icicle into a pot and boiled it.

Now, bear in mind that the total volume of this icicle was only about 100ml.  But I did triumphantly produce about half a teaspoon of syrup.  Mystery solved!

I’m Not a “Gleek,” But…

I have become hooked on some of the Youtube versions of their performances.  As a not-very-accomplished musician, I can’t pretend to understand the ecstasy from delivering such joy to people, but I have been a comedian, actor, and director in my day.  And I can definitely relate to this director’s reaction as his cast performs:

To get the full effect, you’ll have to watch the whole 6-something minute video here, but it brought back a lot of memories of when I had folks out on stage doing amazing things.  BTW, I’m not saying that Glee is the best art on TV – probably on a par with American Idol.  But it does capture the fear/rapture of performing live…

Also BTW, the theatre in this clip is fairly similar to the Capitol, here in Moncton, whose board I am vice president of.  [Attention grammar police!]

Full Disclosure

I have been using a 12-year old photo of myself on this blog, because it’s the only decent one where I’m wearing a tie.  I decided to come clean today and substitute a recent one (3 months old) where I have significantly less hair:

It was taken at a friend’s cottage on PEI* in August, and while not as professional as the previous, it’s more HONEST.  And that’s my marketing mantra, right?

“Tell the truth.”

And that really is a Club Soda in my hand – I didn’t Photoshop out a Stella Artois logo.

* BTW, here in the maritimes we say, “on PEI” as in, “on the Island,” as opposed to “in” Ontario or other mainland provinces…