Black Friday and marketing conformity

Black Friday descends once more on the UK and the world. Frenzied crowds pushing and shoving, fights in the ailses as literally millions of people pile into Asda, Tesco and other stores promising slashed price bargains for the first few through the door.

Riots ensue, store are closed within minutes, police called out, ambulances called out.

I like a bargain as much as the next person but this mindless crowd mentality baffles me, it’s not logical.

I am brought to mind of a figure entitled Doing what is expected: the power of the situation (from Investigating Psychology by Brace and Byford). The images shows three pictures, one of a WWI trench charge (ordered into a hail of bullets), a football crowd (following the referee) and a crowd by a zebra crossing (obeying a traffic officer). Seems to me the mayhem pictures in the news stories linked below would fit well in there.

But who is the authority figure here? Where is Milgram’s ‘experimenter’? He’s there, hiding in plain sight, innocuous, passive – insidious. He’s there when you turn on the TV in the corner and the bold adverts promise to make YOUR Christmas special with a 40″ screen slashed by 70% in price. He’s there when you open the paper and similar offers lure you. You turn on the computer and web pages bombard you from all sides of the screen. You think to escape to the pub or the park for walk and a friend or neighbour will ask if you too are going to Asda for the Black Friday bargains…

What makes a rational, normal person, fall for an advertising campaign like that – to the extend they will attack others (and be attacked in turn) to make sure THEY get the bargain. They MUST have that cheap LCD or ‘Frozen’ bedcover.

One has to wonder how many psychologists turn to the dark side and join Lord Vader, working away in the marketing departments for the multi-nationals.

Similarly for those feverishly watching bargains on-line, credit card at the ready, heart racing as the big clock times down the minutes and seconds.

… to buy old stock that the manufacturers and major stores have spun your way to clear stock for the new products to be released shortly. Black Friday, as far as I can tell, is inventory management tottering in high-heels and a black dress before the gullible masses.

Black Friday, Asda 2014

I got a Dyson but I don’t even know if I want it. I just picked it up, Louise Haggerty, a 56-year-old hairdresser and waitress, said of her 1am trip to the Black Friday sales. It was mental in there. It was crazy. It was absolutely disgusting, disgusting.

Black Friday article by the Guardian, 2014

Yet they still conform!

Daily Mail : Black Friday mayhem: Police called to dozens of supermarkets as shoppers fight over bargains in hunt for Christmas deals

BBC: ‘Black Friday': Police called to supermarket crowds

So it’s a new thing, right? Not like anyone really gets hurt, right?

NY 2008 : Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede.

One person from the crowd, interviewed by police, justified his part in the pushing (and trampling) by saying "I was in line since Friday morning!" (For 20 dollars off a PS3.)

Another, more shocked witness at the scene said that the "shoppers acted like ‘savages’ ", while one of the dead man’s colleagues asked, "”How could you take a man’s life to save $20 on a TV?"

How indeed.

Sorry About The Terrible Mistake

This post isn’t mine for a change, it’s something I read in one of Michael Heppell’s emailed newsletters that struck a chord with me, so I wrote to him and his team and asking if I could "steal" the newsletter and share it here. They kindly allowed me to reproduce it below.

If you don’t already know about Michael Heppell, he’s a greatly sought after motivation and success coach, an international speaker and a best selling author with a number of thoroughly recommended books, such as ‘How to be Brilliant’ (now in it’s tenth anniversary edition) and ‘Flip It’.

“It’s my bad.”

As in the quirky expression our American cousins use when they admit to doing something wrong.

I’ve made a few mistakes recently and thought I should explain myself.

I used to have my newsletters proofed 3 times before they went out. The odd mistake would occasionally sneak by, but not too often.

Now they get proofed once at the writing stage and that’s it. It’s a time vs productivity thing. Of course (after the proofing) it still has to be cut and pasted, sometimes we add the odd graphic and then it’s released to tens of thousands of happy readers.


Well not quite.

There have been mistakes in my last three mailings. Not big ones, just daft typos.

But that doesn’t deter the grammar police. They’re in there like a shot. Pointing out that I wrote ‘word’ instead of ‘work’ and ‘Start’ instead of ‘Star ’.

That’s fine.

In fact I wish they would read my books and point out the mistakes. At least my publishers can fix them in a revised edition.

But with a newsletter, when it’s gone it’s gone.

Here’s the thing. In my last newsletter there were 258 words which were perfect. But did they get a mention? No, just the one word that was wrong. Easier to point out what’s wrong than what’s right.
It’s like your work, especially if you’re the boss. You end up focusing on the one thing that your team member got wrong rather than the 258 things they got right.

Let’s Flip It

I remember when I first read the One Minute Manager, being struck by the simplicity of ‘Catch people doing something right’.

So here’s my challenge to you.

Thank 5 people today for what they are doing right.

Simple, but is it easy?

Let me know how you get on.

Be Brilliant!

Michael Heppell (signature)

Michael ‘Thank You’ Heppel

Michael Heppell logo

There are a couple of reasons I particularly wanted to share this one. For a start I’m one of said grammar purists that can spot a missing apostrophe (in someone else work!) at 100 yards and always find at least one typo in any book. Sometimes whole sentences repeated (or cut off) and once a chapter upside down (but that’s a binding error). It does throw you off, if you’ve that sort of a mind.

It’s another reminder to focus on what’s write, sorry, what’s right in your world – and not let one insignificant typo or error ruin your day! A computer consultant friend gave me some business cards to hand out and my first reaction wasn’t, Sure mate, happy to help, it was to blurt out, You are doing upgardes now? His printers should have picked that up as well, but that’s the point, really. Most people wouldn’t even notice it, ever, while others will blow it all out of proportion.

Doctoral candidate: "How did you find my paper on economical cold fusion, Professor?"

Nuclear physics professor: "There was an error in chapter 3, you wrote ‘fission’ instead of ‘fusion’"

Doctoral candidate: "Yes, Sir, possibly, but the technology actually works. It’s been powering the lab for the past 5 months."

Nuclear physics professor: "As I was saying, chapter 3, page 47, fourth line. 5 words in if I recall."

Doctoral candidate: " ! "

( If you are a grammarian you could do worse than follow Grammarly on Facebook, where I got the apt picture below. Now I just need to leg it over to Shoebox Blog and get permission for using their wonderful cartoon!)

Blogging typo effect

How many English words do you actually know?

I managed 26/30 (Vicious Vocabulary Viper) and had to guess more than I’d like to admit. It’s not everyday you see some of the words listed and nearly a third of them I have either never heard of or was looking at wondering if it was archaic and out of use, or some numpty word that found it’s way into the dictionary in the past few years, along with ‘lol’ and ‘innit’. (I actually swore out loud when I heard “innit” (isn’t it) was now officially part of the English language.)

Google ‘cheats’ UK and Europe out of billions in tax. Same old, same old!

In a recent article by Ars Technica entitled After moving money around, Google paid tiny amount in European taxes

Basically the company created a shells company in Ireland to be its “European headquarters” and then set up a series of other shell company around the world – notably in Bermuda – and then charges its subsiduaries for its services and claims it all back. Officially it is "technical legal", but of course morally reprehensible. But what do billionaires care about morals, especially where money is concerned. (that’s rhetorical).

So, last year, on $22.8 billion in sales (of $60 million worldwide) they used exploits to claim all but $37.2 million back. Sounds a lot but it’s a paltry 0.16% of profits – when really they should be paying 40% or so. The report, taken itself from one in the Irish Times (Google pays €27.7m tax at Irish subsidiary on €17bn revenue only goes to raise awareness in my eyes of seemingly unstoppable power of these vast companies, often with turnovers rivaling that of many country GDP.

Amazing how much richer the rich can get by using tax loopholes – and how convenient that despite being widely known and widely and shamelessly exploited by big multi-nationals they are never closed, so the carousel goes on. The understanding is the big companies have a duty to their shareholders (and mostly themselves, of course) to use such tactics. You’d think – worldwide – that governments would have a duty to their electing citizens to stop this – but voters don’t directly line their pockets with back-handers, jollies and a myriad of other incentives to amend – or not amend – the laws to line their own equally greedy and self-serving pockets.

Google’s effective tax rate in the United States has fallen dramatically from 21 percent to 15.7 percent in recent years as the company has broadened its use of overseas tax benefits.

Perhaps when they perfect the art in their ‘home’ HQ in The United States (or elsewhere for other corporations) and all of a sudden the president has to tell congress and the nation how the one mighty country is officially bankrupt – because Google, once paying 21% on its billions in earnings, dropped them to 15%, to 1.5%, to 0.15% – and all the others, like Starbucks, like Apple, like Amazon, followed suit.

How can this have happened, they will lament – as civil wars break out because of the state of the economy. How can this happen? No, how can it not…

Irony is lost on cold callers

I’ve just spent 6 minutes on the phone arguing about irony!

The first couple of minutes to the initial telesales contact, the rest to her manager who was quibbling pedantically and accusing me of being hostile. It goes like this:

Them: Can I speak to …

Me: What’s it concerning?

Them: Removing you from nuisance call lists.

Me: Then talk to me, the phone’s in my name.

Them: We see you are on a lot of lists and are offering a service to remove you.

Unsure about this Smiley toon is quite unsure what to make of this.

What the? Please explain yourself! Smiley toon tries to get it.

Well this is frustrating Smiley toon keeps trying anyway, he know’s they’ll get it, eventually.

Well this is vexing Smiley toon’s patience reaches and passes its limits.

Them (manager): What don’t you understand, Sir?

Me: You presumably have a mortgage to pay, your sales girl obviously will have bills to pay, food to buy. You clearly are not part of BT offering me a free service, so how does this work?

Them (manager): Well there’s just a debit charge, you give us your card details…

Me: Do you not see the irony here? You are cold calling us, offering to remove us from a lists like the one you’ve bought with the intention of ringing people, then you skirt around asking me for money to prevent people – like you – calling me again. Whereupon, presumably, my status on said list is upgraded to SUCKER and sold on to the next company to call me and I get even more annoying calls.

Them (manager): Fine, you must enjoy nuisance callers. We’ll remove you from our list and not call you again. CLUNK!

I did 1471 and the number was 0845 2411525, which I duly Googled and found rafts of sites mentioning the company, some equally amused (and irritated) by the irony of the call, others going into details about the company behind it, listing directors and claims they were involved in other scams. I neither know nor care whether they was true, nor am I going to waste time on such matters, but it’s a useful observation. If it sounds dodgy, then it’s in your own interest to be cautious. I did however look at their website and rather that simply wanting ‘a’ payment, as they claimed, they wanted a subscription. That said, the ‘subscription’ is a one-off payment of £45 for the first year. Hmmm.

It’s worth pointing out that within half an hour of this I received a couple of other unsolicited tele-marketing calls originating in the Bournemouth area. Coincidence?

It gets better though! On THEIR web site they proudly inform you: (my bold):

TPS is a government based service with over 70% households are registered with. Registration is free of charge and can be done online. This should be the first port of call you try when attempting to prevent unwanted sales calls being made to your telephone number. Telemarketers are not lawfully permitted to make unsolicited sales calls to any numbers that are registered on to the Telephone Preference Service central opt out register. This includes charities and political parties. Unfortunately, there seem’s to be a rise of telemarketing companies ignoring these rules & not cross referencing data-bases so customer’s may still experience a high level of nuisance cold calls. Here at Stop These Calls, we aim to give you a greater control of your privacy by eliminating these calls directly from the source.

Does a telesales company cold calling and asking for money to end cold calls sound like a scam to you? It does to me!

As I AM registered with the TPS and THEY DID make an unsolicited call to me, does that amount to an admission by them that they are knowingly breaking the law? A salient point, eh. The observant may notice a numbers of errors in the blockquote above (e.g: "seem’s to be" "so customer’s may"). Hardly inspires confidence, but given I think they are confidence tricksters…

Here’s what one commenter wrote on Bad Numbers: A UK Reverse Telephone Lookup Built By You
"This company is preying on the old and vulnerable. They have just phoned my mum who gets very distressed about cold calling anyway. They are now taking the money from her when she can’t afford it and refusing cancel the policy on my instructions."

Another, on CAllerRR, warned:
"Received call regarding paying £5 for a service which I get for free from BT i.e. TPS – Naz (sales person) offered me the service for £2.50. She then quoted me last 4 figure digits of my debit card. When I told her the number was wrong she then asked me for the long number on my card – I refused point-blank to give her any details she became quite indignant. Obvious scam."
(Note how he claims they had the last numbers from his card as information.)

Another, on Narkive, looking into the company, observed:
"Nature of Business (SIC):
95210 – Repair of consumer electronics Hmmmmm!!!"
Not up on corporate law but if so I suspect Companies House might have questions if their Articles of Association and Memorandum of Association wholly neglect their telemarketing activities.

My sister has done a similar job, as has my cousin and another friend. I was even obliquely involved with a few such companies in the 90’s so I understand the industry a bit, the money involved and I’m not without sympathy for the poor sods doing the initial calling. I understand they are just doing their job, but I do tend to get a bit abrupt at times, especially if they are overseas based and cannot pronounce my name!

I already have a phone that offers call control and blocking* and am registered with the toothless wonder of the TPS (Telephone Preference Service)

*(International, Number withheld, no Caller ID and payphones and by individual blocking).

It is equally worth pointing out, quoting directly from the TPS website’s FAQ, that:
"Who pays for TPS?
No money is received from the Government to run the Service, the direct marketing industry pays for it."

It’s – possibly – better than nothing but at the same time there is once more the irony that the cold callers and direct marketers are funding a service to supposedly stop them making money. Okayyy! Yes, I accept it’s not that clear cut and in reality they want to clean up the market – but ultimately they want to remove the rogues so they themselves can clean up. If you see my point.
(If you are not familiar with the expression, ‘to clean up’, in slang, is to to make a large profit, often in a short period of time.)

Again, in fairness to the TPS and the job they do cleaning up their industry they do include on their web site a list of Bogus TPS Calls companies And yes, you guessed it, these clowns are on that list. The TPS warn:
Unregulated commercial suppression services, those making exaggerated claims and those operating fraudulently are not limited to the companies listed below.

They go on to add:

Beware of Unregulated Companies Charging For Their Service!
There are other companies that are not necessarily scams but they are not TPS. They usually claim to offer a similar or even an enhanced service to TPS.

They make exaggerated claims about the effectiveness of their service and may even suggest that TPS does not work.

Some of these companies are listed below: (It’s a long list!)

Stop These Calls

I take this view and recommend you consider it: I block as many unsolicited calls as I can. Anything that gets through is automatically considered a) definitely an unsolicited, unwanted and intrusive nuisance call and b) as such considered a scam.

See also :

OfCom: Live Marketing Calls

BT’s services to Stop unwanted calls

Particularly so if you are already registered with the TPS as not wanting to receive such unsolicited contact such as this, you can report them to the TPS,

You can also report companies like this to the Information Commissioner’s Office and, if enough people complain, they will take action. This can result in large fines for them.



Horseplay (©1987, 1989, 2011)

Horseplay is a board game I developed in the 80’s with the intention of turning it into magazine puzzles, computer games and even a television game show. It is a blend of Scrabble®, chess, draughts and even far older games like Chaturanga, an Indian version of chess for four players.

As an interesting aside, chess is said to have been invented by Wu-Wang of the Chou Dynasty, 1122 B.C. In China is was the "Elephant Game" and it travelled via Korea to Japan to in turn become Shogi, "The Generals’ Game". However, it goes far further back than that as excavations in Egypt have traces of a version of chess dating to back thousands of years B.C., though some of the relics proved to be from Senet, a board-game akin to draughts.

Anyway, I’ve decided to put it on the Net and see if it generates any interest. If not, maybe one day I’ll code it into a web game myself, xbox live perhaps, or, like as not, a phone app.!

Bear in mind I’m copying all this up from something I did back in 1987…

Horseplay Board game:

History and ‘future’ plans:

Horseplay computer game (early notes)

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Horseplay game show idea (early notes)

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Horseplay based puzzles

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Equestrian game (draft)

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