Archive for January 11th, 2011

Tuppence For Tweeting to be outlawed in Britain

From Britain, via the printing presses of The Australian, comes the news that the British authorities taking bloggers, tweeters, and presumably perpetrators of other online activities to court if they make a sponsored comment without noting the fact that it was paid for. The penalty, interestingly, is an “unlimited fine”.

CELEBRITIES who endorse products on Twitter without declaring that they are paid to do so may face court action, the Government’s consumer watchdog said yesterday.

Britain’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has already clamped down on one PR firm which was secretly paying bloggers to talk about products. Now actors, pop stars and TV presenters who “plug” luxury goods to thousands of fans could face similar action under consumer protection laws.
[..]
Although the OFT refuses to discuss specific cases, an official said research showed that people were “very concerned” about the “rules on blogging”, including paid-for adverts masquerading as personal recommendations.

“People shouldn’t be misled,” the official added. “If someone has been paid to advertise a product they should declare it. It’s not specific to celebrities.” If warnings are ignored, the OFT can seek an order that could lead to a criminal prosecution and an unlimited fine.

I’m not convinced that this should be a criminal act. I really think that this is a matter of personal ethics. If I was paid to promote a product, I would want to disclose that the promotion is an advertisement, either through a disclosure or through the nature of the promotion making it blatantly obvious that it’s an advertisement. To the same extent, a paid endorsement is something that I would only be willing to do if I actually liked the product enough to endorse it. As it happens, there are a number of things that I’m happy to endorse without payment…now if the people who are in charge of those things were willing to pay me, that’d be great, but I’d be endorsing their product mainly due to the fact that I like the product, and the payment’s only purpose would be to make the endorsement more regular.

That’s the way I look at it…but I don’t expect anyone else to agree with me or follow those standards. I’m also not sure where you draw the line on this if you do go down the route of regulation. For example, from the article:

Peter Andre, the singer with 669,000 followers, was paid by Costa Coffee to launch their Flat White coffee last year. “At BBC Studio,” Andre wrote in October. “Yeay [sic] they have a Costa Coffee here. Need an espresso.” A spokeswoman for Costa Coffee denied that the company had asked him to tweet.

In this case, the fact that he was paid by Costa Coffee is public knowledge, but tweeting was not part of the contract. That said, he was under contract at the time, so does the tweet count as an advertisement? And if so, how do you fit a disclosure in to a character-limited tweet?

What if Woolworths were to pay a group of shoppers to write on Facebook about the specials in the local store. Sure you’d expect a disclosure from them under these rules, but what if one of their friends notices that apple juice is being given away for one hour only at the local store and notes it on her Facebook page moments before the paid-for Facebookers note it? The unpaid one doesn’t have a disclosure on her page, but has written something which looks identical to the ad written by the paid-for people, so a nasty person goes and dobs her in to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and she, although completely innocent, gets hounded by OFT for days, maybe weeks, due to a coincidence.

And then if this is successful in the online world (note: OFT’s idea of “successful” may differ from mine), why stop there? Why not take the next logical step and apply it to the real world? It’s simple really…the people who absolutely fascinate Today Tonight, the walking-talking advertisement in the shops who recommends products to you as if he or she was a real customer…make them wear tags with fine print on them saying “I am being paid to talk to you about these products”. Defeats the purpose of hiring the person…in fact, it just killed a job.

And in the broadcast world, I’m reminded of the week that I filled in on the breakfast show on 2QN in Deniliquin and the Ford dealer had his live spot discussing a featured car of the day. It was painfully obvious that it was an ad, but it was unscripted and I saw it as my job to try and make it as interesting and compelling as possible, so I tried to have a brief chat with the Ford dealer…add some personality to the spot. As far as I’m concerned, it still seemed like an ad, and was quite obviously an ad, but was a tad more interesting as a result. Under these rules, if I added some personality to the spot rather than just letting the dealer rattle off some car specifications, then I’d expect that I’d have to top and tail the spot with disclosures such as “the following is a paid advertisement for…” and “a brief reminder the what you just heard was a paid advertisement for…” which not only takes up extra air time unnecessarily, but it as boring as the proverbial winged-creature’s droppings and seriously detracts from the effect of the ad.

It would also probably prevent the friendly chat because I wasn’t being paid any extra for it, and nor was the station, so it would be a waste of time and effort if it required the disclosure.

Now I’m not going to argue that people shouldn’t disclose that they’re being paid to promote something, but I believe it’s a matter of personal ethics and depends on the nature of the advertising. I’m personally sceptical of anything that a celebrity endorses unless the “celebrity” is someone that I trust enough to know that they are endorsing a product because they believe in it, not just because they’re being paid to endorse it. But despite this, I think there are times when a disclosure is warranted and times when it is not. The only time that I think the government should be involved is when the claims are fraudulent or deceptive…and ultimately in such a case the person who endorsed the product would have their reputation tarnished just as much as the product.

I just can’t see a good reason to regulate endorsements or advertisements, beyond the existing classification of advertisements such that they can only be broadcast at certain times of the day. But then again, I don’t really see a good reason for our onerous “cash for comment” regulations in this country.

Samuel

January 11th, 2011 at 02:06pm

The flexibility that public health care just can’t provide

The Australian Medicare system provides a rebate for visits to Optometrists for eye checkups, with a full examination being allowed once every two years, and a partial checkup more often (I think the rule for this is annually, but it might be more often).

Up until recently I was seeing my optometrist once per year in the week leading up to Christmas, with a full examination of my eyes taking place every two years, and a partial examination on the off years. In 2008 however, I completely forgot about my checkup as I was busy with other matters and didn’t see the optometrist until February 2009. Last year I saw the optometrist for my partial checkup in January, and this year I confused the last two years and thought I was due for my full checkup this month. Until today I hadn’t had a chance to make the appointment, so I went in today and found out, to my horror, that Medicare can not cover such a checkup until mid-February, due to my last full checkup having occurred in mid-February of 2009.

Well, that doesn’t work for me as I can’t book that far ahead with certainty due to the fact that my work roster, while somewhat predictable, may not follow the standard rotation through all the way to mid-February and, aside from that, the roster beyond this week was not published when I was at work late last week, and I’d be surprised if more than next week’s roster or, at a stretch, the following week’s roster will be finalised by the time I get in tomorrow.

I would very much like to get back in to the routine of seeing my optometrist in the week leading up to Christmas, and I certainly don’t want to wait until February to see the optometrist as I’m quite certain that I am due for a new prescription for my glasses, and I wish to discuss the idea of contact lenses, and would very much like to do this ASAP, in fact next Tuesday would be very good for me. Now I could, under Medicare, have a partial examination now, and a full one in February, but that seems like a waste of my time and my optometrist’s time, and would probably result in me not having a full examination until December, which would put me a long way behind in my eyecare.

So, on the spot, I decided that it was time to initiate some private-sector, free-market action. I enquired as to:
a) the price of a full examination
b) if the optometrist would be happy to see me as a cash-paying patient rather than a Medicare patient

Not surprisingly the answer to the second question was “yes” and to my surprise, the cost of seeing the Optometrist without the interference of the government’s red tape is a mere $65.

And so, I am now booked in for Tuesday. The entire conversation from the time of my two free-market questions onwards took about a quarter of the time that the conversation did while we were discussing Medicare options.

Now I could, if I am so inclined, return to having Medicare pay for my visits to the optometrist in December, or I could pay by cash and avoid the hassle of all of the government’s rules and regulations. I would also feel better paying on the spot as this money would then go directly to my optometrist, rather than him having to wait for it to arrive in the government’s intermittent bulk payments.

I expect that I will continue to pay with cash. In fact, I see no good reason to return to having Medicare pay for my visits if I can afford to pay for them myself. It is similar to how I did not take government payments while I was unemployed or intermittently employed as I was able to manage my budget to not need the support of the government, and it was my aim to remain independent from government funds for as long as possible.

I see this as an extension of this philosophy, and a way to liberate myself from government regulations which create an unnecessary complication in my life.

I honestly don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier.

Samuel

January 11th, 2011 at 11:39am

Another biased and factually inaccurate “documentary” on the TV

This time it’s SBS’ three-part documentary “Immigration Nation” which premiered on Sunday night.

The main aim of this show appears to be to make Australians feel inadequate or guilty for the actions of previous generations, and as usual, the method for achieving this is to re-write history in some rather bizarre and alarmist ways.

My favourite claim from the tripe which aired on Sunday was that the White Australia policy made Japan jealous because they saw themselves as a great power and didn’t like the idea of some insignificant little country stopping them from freely immigrating to said country (question: if Australia was so insignificant and Japan was so great, why would they have wanted to immigrate to Australia?), so over time their jealousy grew and then, as a direct result, World War Two occurred. Yes that’s right, according to this “documentary”, Australia’s immigration policies caused World War Two.

When this documentary, as SBS documentaries tend to do, gets shown in high school classrooms, it will be interesting to see the brighter kids pick up on its direct contradictions with the rest of the curriculum…and then be labelled as “inconsiderate” or “racist” by teachers (welcome to my high school experience, where it was “wrong” to believe anything that the “racist” John Laws said…although I did find one teacher who, whilst disliking John Laws, did agree with him on a number of things…I think he was a closet listener who wouldn’t acknowledge it for fear of alienation by his peers.)

I wasn’t expecting much from a “documentary” which has been running radio ads for some time now which have been doing their best to paint the country as racist…but even I was astounded by this complete revision of history.

There were a number of other pearls of tripe, including some nonsense about Australia being the same as South Africa (there were similarities in legislation, sure, but the two countries were far from being the same) and that restricting immigration from Asia somehow created more of it. There was more, but I can only think of so much of it before I want to start screaming.

I haven’t decided whether I want to watch it next week or not. It would be an interesting exercise in torture, so it will probably depend on whether I am in the mood for some torture by the time it airs next week. If it were on tonight, I’d definitely be giving it a miss.

Samuel

January 11th, 2011 at 04:22am


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