Bruce Stainsby's Blog: Muttering from the mo

A good dose of comedy might cure the spread
of boring advertising.

April 16th, 2014

Last weekend we went to two different shows that were part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival.

I had forgotten just how well a comedian can hold a mirror up to society and reflect our silly side.

Good advertising can do the same thing, only with a commercial message attached.

If we laugh at a joke in an ad, and that joke is relevant to the product, then there is a far better chance that we will remember that ad and therefore the product.

One of the acts we saw was Ronny Chieng, a Malaysian comedian who was educated in Melbourne. Ronny had that wonderful ability to be both self deprecating and an astute observer of human nature.

He could poke fun at himself while making fun of his audience.

Many advertisers take themselves and their brands too seriously. This results in boring, predictable advertising that tries too hard.

More ad men and marketers should learn the art of comedy. Maybe they might produce better ads, that sell more products, without boring us senseless.


Ronny Chieng

Ronny Chieng

I want to ride my bicycle.
I want to ride it where I like.

April 1st, 2014

Over the course of our travels in Asia, North Africa, the Middle East and Europe, I have come across bikes in all sorts of environments.

Being relatively cheap to buy, easy to maintain and requiring no fuel, except the rider’s sweat, they are the the world’s most popular mode of transport.

These bikes aren’t owned by lycra wearing, latte drinking, road racing followers of the Tour de France, but simple people who need their bikes for everyday living.

There are over a billion bikes in the world – here are a few of them.

Sapa, Vietnam

Same, same but very different.

March 17th, 2014

Automobiles really haven’t changed much in the last 100 years.

A box on 4 wheels with seats, lights, windows and something to steer the whole thing with.

It’s what the designer does with those elements that sets each car apart.

Take these two for example.

On the surface they look very similar. It’s only when you look closely that the quality of the design shows through.

The designer of Hyundai has integrated all the elements – the curve of the lights blends into the boot and bumper.

While the same features in the Lexus seem to be thrown together, with little regard for harmony or aesthetics.

Admittedly I am only looking at the surface features and not the build quality or engineering.

On face value the Hyundai, at $36,390, is better value, at least visually, than the Lexus at $91,138.

Automotive design

A different view of Melbourne.

February 8th, 2014

For my most recent birthday Thea shouted me a joy flight over Melbourne.

It was booked through RedBalloon and was in a vintage Tiger Moth.

The de Havilland Tiger Moth is a biplane that was first built in the 1930s and was primarily used as a trainer. This one had a six-cylinder Gipsy Major engine.

The one I flew in was painted in PMS300, my favourite shade of blue.

Lionel, a local Bayside character, was my pilot and he took me on a wonderful 35 minute adventure over the city and the bay. We left Moorabbin Airport at 8am, the sky was a little hazy but the air was warm and still, so the flight was very smooth.

Our flight path took us north to the city, via Flemington Racecourse, then over the Melbourne Sports Precinct and the MCG. From there we went to the top of the CBD, and over St Patricks Cathedral, the Exhibition Buildings, then across to the Queen Victoria Market.

Flying west we then headed over the Docklands Stadium and out towards Williamstown. Dropping from our cruising altitude of 1,400 feet to 500 feet we flew down the bay and past the Tasmanian ferry terminal. Then hugging the coast we flew south past the Bayside suburbs of Middle Park, St Kilda, Brighton, Sandringham, Black Rock, Beaumaris and then circled back to Moorabbin.

I managed to take 107 snaps as the wind rushed through the cockpit and my moustache.

I am not sure how those ‘Flying types’ kept a stiff upper lip and their mo in control, back in the day.


Melbourne Now.

February 4th, 2014

We recently visited the Melbourne Now exhibition.

The exhibition is running concurrently at the Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia and NGV International.

It’s a huge display that showcases the latest in art, architecture, design, culture and performance, across the creative landscape of Melbourne.

It’s so large that we spent 2 hours at the Ian Potter Centre and only managed to see two thirds of what they had on offer.

What both surprised and delighted me was the Design Wall that made up the Melbourne Design Now presentation of the exhibition.

There are nearly 700 items on display, by 21 Melbourne design studios, covering the disciplines of industrial, product, furniture and object design.

It’s great to see that we can still design and make products in Melbourne but sad to see that there were only 40 actual designs.

The 700 items were made up by duplicating the 40 designs.


Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

January 27th, 2014

Increasingly companies, organisations and governments are entering into CSR programs. CSR is primarily an attitude that can be implemented in many ways.

It’s about being a good corporate citizen.

The customers or consumers can benefit from the CSR program of an organisation, as they are rewarded by choosing an ethically and socially responsible product or service.

Look how the Nike brand was damaged by using Sweat Shops to produce their products. The garment factory fires in Bangladesh has also had repercussions on retailers here and around the world.

CSR benefits the brand and its reputation, by giving the consumer another reason to chose it. When all else is equal, a brand’s reputation can make the difference.

There are many benefits in developing a meaningful CSR program, the obvious one is the associated good-will that is generated towards the organisation. However a ROI is also counted as a primary objective and benefit of the program.

The second day of the New Year’s cricket test, at the Sydney Cricket ground, is traditionally a day given over to the the McGrath Foundation and is known as the Pink Test.

This was the sixth Pink Test and to-date over 5 Million Dollars have been raised to provide Breast Care Nurses throughout Australia.

This year, as the major sponsor of The Ashes, the Commonwealth Bank were involved for the first time.

I watched it on TV and it was a fun day, with the involvement of both the Australian and English cricket sides, the Chanel 9 commentary team and of course the spectators.

The biggest surprise to me was that the Commonwealth Bank actually changed their logo for the day.

It’s a brave company that messes with their corporate identity, but it paid off.

The pink logo would have been noticed more in this test than any of the four that had gone before.

 The Pink Test players

Why does a video go viral?

January 18th, 2014

On Wednesday January 15, during the Melbourne heatwave, my son Evan posted a video on Vimeo.

It was a simple time lapse shot of a Lindt Chocolate Ball melting in the 42°C heat.

In just 3 days over 150,000 people have viewed it and it has been syndicated by news agencies around the world.

It was even aired on the Channel 7 News here in Melbourne.

For years advertising agencies have been trying to identify the formula that makes videos go viral. There are many theories but no real answers.

It simply comes down to the right idea at the right time, viewed by the right people.

But that’s easier said than done.


The best way to position a brand
is to reposition the opposition.

January 14th, 2014

Last year I worked on an advertising campaign for MAN Trucks .

MAN (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg) are market leaders in Europe but are trailing behind in Australia.

Through desktop research and general observation we discovered that many Australian buyers chose MAN because of its fuel efficiency. As fuel is the single biggest expense in operating a long-haul truck in Australia, it wasn’t surprising.

Fuel efficiency is taken for granted in Europe, where diesel prices are high and MAN are regarded as leaders in fuel efficient technology.

This is understandable considering that in 1893 Rudolf Diesel worked with MAN to develop the first diesel engine – with fuel efficiency being a primary objective.

We developed five ads in the campaign, all with the express purpose of promoting the MAN fuel efficiency story.

By simply talking about fuel consumption we challenged the consumer, and the industry, to reassess their thinking.

This simultaneously repositioned the others manufactures as being less fuel efficient.


The madmen behind Mad Men.

December 9th, 2013

Since our return from Europe and more recently South Korea and Japan, we have decided to catch up on some of the TV series we missed in 2012.

Not surprisingly one series I have always enjoyed is Mad Men, a period drama about the New York advertising industry in the 1960s’.

New York was at the centre of what was called the Creative Revolution during these halcyon years.

The ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) developed ground breaking campaigns for clients like Volkswagen and Avis during this time.

Mad Men was created and produced by Matthew Weiner, an exceptional screen writer who was also involved in the highly acclaimed HBO series The Sopranos.

Having been inducted into advertising at the end of that amazing era and being a student of the ads of that period, I was intrigued as to how Weiner got his material.

It turns out that one of his main consultants was Bob Levenson, a veteran ad man from DDB. Levenson, together with Bill Bernbach and art director Helmet Krone produced some of the most well know and enduring campaigns of this golden age.

It’s not surprising that Mad Men has become such a hit, as it offers the viewer a real insight into the lives, work, frustrations, faults and foibles of the men and women of Madison Avenue in the 1960s.



In Tokyo it’s always peak hour.

November 8th, 2013

Tokyo is big.

It is regarded as a Megalopolis and one of the three command centers for the world economy, along with New York and London. It is also has the largest metropolitan area of any city in the world.

Tokyo has over 13 million inhabitants and each day a further 2.5 million people commute into the city centre.

It’s a city that never seems to stop yet there is no road rage, raised voices or even looks of annoyance.

The Japanese are too polite for that.

In the mornings and evenings it’s the people from the ‘City’, with their black suits and white shirts, that stream through the railway stations, single-mindedly heading to the office.  Trying to walk in the opposite direction was described to me as, “You feel like you’re a salmon swimming up-stream”

The business people of Tokyo work long hours and they will never leave the office if their boss is still there.

The crowds don’t stop once the business people are at work. Then the groups ‘Nanas’ are out with their friends, visiting shrines and sites of historical importance. The older women are not alone as, in equally large numbers, school kids are also out on excursions to the same places.

Late in the evening, after business shuts down, Tokyo again fills up, this time with young ‘Hipsters’ heading to the bars, clubs or whatever is the most trendy place at the time.

We were told that a Hawaiian pancake shop had just opened and that was the current hot spot. The proof of its popularity were the hundreds lining the streets just to sample this latest fad.

On our first day we had arranged to do a morning tour of Tokyo.

The rain was back, a result of our fourth or fifth typhoon, we had lost count. The new camera was relegated to the hotel room.

It’s easier to take snaps, while holding an umbrella, dodging puddles and chasing a fast moving tour guide, with the much smaller RX100.

Our first stop was the Tokyo Tower, where we were whisked up to the observation deck to get a ‘special’ view of Tokyo. It was very special indeed, as the windows were either obscured by the condensation, or scaffolding and netting from the current renovations.

Tokyo Tower is 333 meters high and was built in 1958. It’s just slightly higher than the Eiffel Tower, which is 320 meters. After the war the people of Tokyo wanted their tower to be taller than the one in Europe. That post war sentiment is still in existence today, hence the line:

“The Tower makes you happy.”

Tokyo Tower is very similar in design to the one that Gustave built back in 1889.

“The Japanese are copycats” was a quote from our guide on the morning tour.

The rain continue and so did we.

Meiji Shrine was next.

After the emperor’s death, in 1912, the Japanese Government decided to build the shrine to commemorate his part in the Meiji Restoration. Construction started in 1915 and was finally completed in 1926.

It was destroyed during WW2 and rebuilt by public funding in 1958.

The final stop of our morning tour was the East Garden of the Imperial Palace. This is the only area of the palace that is accessible to the general public. Except on January 2nd, for New Year and December 23rd, for the Emperor’s birthday. Then the public can enter through the Nakamon, or inner gate, where the current Emperor usually gives a short speech.

The palace is built on the site of of the old Edo castle and the area, including the gardens, measures 3.41 square kilometers.

During the Japanese property boom of the 1980s, the land was said to be worth more than all the real estate in California.

In the afternoon, free from the umbilical cord of the tour guide, we went into Tokyo city.

The Ginza is regarded as one of the most luxurious shopping strips in the world. That’s easy to understand when you see the big brands lined up shoulder-to-shoulder along this wide boulevard.

It was Saturday and the road was blocked to traffic, so we were able to meander from side to side.

Ironically this mecca of luxury was a former swamp that was reclaimed in the 16th century.

Trying to master the complexities of the Tokyo Metro, we headed down to Kaminarimon Gate, Asakusa Shrine and the 5 storied pagoda. The shrine was constructed in 1649, during the Edo Period.

It was dusk and the shrine and pagoda were illuminated against the deep blue evening sky.

In the same area, just near the Sumida River, is the Asahi Brew Hall.

This was designed by the French architect and industrial designer, Philippe Starck. Completed in 1989 it is one of the most contemporary pieces of architecture in Tokyo.

The main building is a black cube with illuminated glass steps on all sides. It is topped with golden styalised beer foam.

The locals call it the ‘Golden Turd’.

We had booked another tour, this one was an all day affair, called the Nikko World Heritage Tour.

It involved a reasonably early start and a long drive to Nikko, which is to the north west of Tokyo in the middle of Honshu Island.

We did get our one and only glimpse of Mount Fuji as we were driving out of Tokyo.

Unfortunately the main gate of the Nikko Toshogu Shrine was being renovated and was surrounded by a huge temporary construction.

It was Sunday and I am sure that half of Tokyo’s 13 million inhabitants were out on the road after a wet few days. Many of them had come to Nikko, so the shrine was awash with day trippers. It was difficult to get a clear view of anything, let alone a good shot, as there were so many people.

Our time at the shrine was cut short as we had been held up in the traffic jam coming out of Tokyo.

Our guide, Yasushi, told us the Japanese are very liberal when it comes to religion. Ninety percent of the population follow Shintoism, eighty percent Buddhism and fifty percent get married in a Christian church. However when they are asked, they deny having any religion and most of them only visit the shrine as a tourist.

There were a lot of tourists there that day.

We then went to Tamozawa Imperial Villa. The villa was constructed in 1899 for Prince Yoshihito, who was later to become emperor. It was used by three emperors and three princes until 1947. The current emperor was evacuated to the villa in 1943 and spent about a year there as a young prince.

There are 106 rooms in the villa and many of them overlook a beautifully crafted Japanese garden. It is only one third of its original size but still very impressive.

It was opened to the public in 2000 after extensive renovations.

Kirifuri Falls, just out of Nikko, was our final destination for the day. It was late in the afternoon and the low light illuminated the Autumn leaves that surrounded the 75 meter drop.

It had been a long 12 hour day, with half of it sitting on a bus.

I think I am over escorted tours, well at least for the time being.

On our third day we took ourselves south west of Tokyo to the Miura Peninsula. Firstly to Hase to see the Big Buddha and then to Kamakura.

In the past few weeks we have been warned several times about the problems that deer and monkeys pose to tourists, here it was kites.

In Hase they were constantly circling the shrine and wire had been strung across the garden to deter them from swooping on unsuspecting visitors.

Hasedera Temple in Hase has its origins dating back to 721 AD when the monk Tokudo Shonin commissioned two large statues of Buddha from a giant camphor wood tree.

Just up the road from the shrine is the Great Buddha Kamakura. Construction of this national treasure was started in 1252 and continued for ten more years. It is truly great, measuring 13.4 meters high and weighing 121 tones.

Hase is a fishing village and the beach was full of fishing boats with fishermen mending their nets.

We then took the train back a few stops to the the seaside town of Kamakura. This was the capital of Japan from 1192 to 1333.

After a couple of false starts we found the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine that dates back to 1063.

Here there were many children, with their families, celebrating either their third, fifth or seventh birthdays. They go there to be blessed for a lucky, healthy life, dressed in traditional costume. Most struggle up the steep stairs, unaccustomed to wearing the classic Japanese sandal, a style of thong that is worn with socks.

On our last day we tacked the morning metro rush and headed to the Tsukiji Fish Market. This was our first real experience of the metro crush. The carriages are so tightly packed that you can barely move and when the train jolts to a stop, there is little fear of falling over, as there just isn’t enough room.

This is the largest fish market in Japan and the variety on offer was amazing. Frozen Tuna is a specialty of Tsukiji and cold carcasses are everywhere. They are so large that the wholesalers cut them into manageable pieced with a bandsaw.

In between the siteseeing we had a great lunch with our nephew Mike, his lovely wife Natsumi and their delightful children Manami and Josh.

It was a good opportunity to get a bit of insider information about the workings of Tokyo from Natsumi.

I have always loved Japanese woodblock prints, especially the ones by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) so we headed back to the Kaminarimon Gate.

Buying the real thing was out of the question but I did manage to find a well made copy, ’36 Views of Mt. Fuji [The Great Wave off Kanagawa]’ actually done as a woodblock and the same size as the original.

Then back down to the river to get a few shots of the Asahi Beer Hall in daylight.

One last trip on the subway took us to the Tokyo Railway Station.

Opened in 1914, the station is said to be based on the Amsterdam’s main station, however the architect, Terunobu Fujimora, denied this.

Its other claim to fame is that the Prime Minister Hara Takashi was assassinated there in 1921.

We were set an ambitious four week itinerary, by Mina from Japan Package Tours and despite the typhoons, we managed to tick most places off the list.