Oh, that’s clever!

I noticed an advertisement at my local bus stop the other day that made me smile. It was a NESCAFÉ ad for its Blend 43 Black Roast.

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Their ‘most intense coffee ever’ has a terrifically clever tagline. ‘EATS OTHER COFFEE FOR BREAKFAST.’ It’s bold. Menacing, almost. And so is the typeset. A little research into this ad campaign reveals more clever copy in the print ad: ‘…a true blend of strength, because mornings are no time for weakness,’ and ‘all in the name of full on taste.’

I don’t usually drink instant coffee (oh dear, that sounds like I’m a coffee snob) but I might have to give this one a try. All because it claims to be Rich, Dark and Bold and I like coffee with a bit of attitude.

Some ads are so clever they make me want to be a copywriter. Just as watching L.A. Law made me want to be a lawyer. Or watching the movie Nadia about Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci when I was a kid led to repurposing the arm of our sofa as a balance beam and the corners of the carpet for final poses (minus the multiple backflips). Gymnastics and law were obviously short-lived dreams – my flexibility is restricted to bending my thumbs backwards and I find that slamming my hand on the table and shouting ‘Objection!’ doesn’t have quite the same effect as when Jimmy Smits did it in court. But copywriting, there may be life in that dream yet….

The best ads are memorable. The ones that have carved their way into my Advertisement Hall of Fame include:

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1. WORDPLAY: Vidal Sassoon’s 1980s slogan “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.” A simple play on words that worked for the haircare industry. The models looked good, because supposedly they used Vidal Sassoon haircare products. So the company looked good, because they’ve created products that work, can be trusted, and have an invested interest in you looking good. Simple and so effective.

 

 

 

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2. DIVERSITY: United Colors of Benetton‘s billboards and posters with models of varying ethnicities and skin tones wearing bright, colourful clothes.

Memorable because it was very rare in Malaysia in the 1980s or 90s to see darker-skinned models featured in local advertising, despite the make-up of the local population.

A welcome respite from all those Fair & Lovely commercials, these Benetton ads appealed to me even if no one really wore sweaters in 33°C Kuala Lumpur heat.

3. SHOCK: Pathway Project, a UK-based charity that supports adults and children affected by domestic violence, released an image that quickly went viral on social media just before the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It wasn’t pleasant, but it stuck. abuse

The statistic was based on a 2013 study by Lancashire University, looking at the number of domestic abuse incidents reported to the Lancashire police force over three World Cup tournaments from 2002 to 2010. The authors of the study called it ‘relatively small’. But still disturbing, and I was curious about the rest of the study.

When England lost: domestic abuse rates were 38% higher (than on tournament days when England were not playing).

When England won or drew a match: domestic abuse rates were still 26% higher. I hated the stats, but I loved this ad, and I hoped it had a positive effect.

Which ads, current or past, stick in your head?

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Eight ways to lose yourself in a bookstore

bookwormhole

One. Walk around aimlessly. Soak in the atmosphere of your favourite place to while away a few, blissful hours. Grab the first book you see on the New Releases shelf, sit on the cosy armchair in the corner and lose yourself in another world.

Two. Pick up the latest bestselling picture book, flick through it, laugh out loud, and then kick yourself for not thinking of that clever idea first. Of course farts are funny. Remind yourself to pay attention the next time your five-year-old laughs. Not for a story idea, but because his laugh is the best sound you’ve ever heard.

Three. Browse through the children’s section. Note that the famous cowboy and his astronaut buddy are still doing well on the shelves. Wonder if there will be another instalment to the series. Remember the day your daughter graduated to chapter books. Remind yourself to always read just one more story at bedtime.

Four. Before you know it, you’re in the Young Adults aisle. Suddenly your world is a supernatural, science fiction fantasy with a dash of romance. Potentially with vampires. Lose yourself in a parallel universe. Wonder why you never wore black lipstick as a teenager. Recall fondly that your father would have been amused, but secretly concerned.

Five. Time for a fully-fledged Romance. Greedily devour romance novels with impossibly attractive covers. Remember sneaking a peek at the Mills and Boon on your mother’s bookshelf. Remember the soft flutter of young love. Remember turning the pages of your own love story. 

Six. Right next to Romance is Music. Wonder why there are so many songs about broken hearts. Then find the books that tell the stories behind the songs. Remind yourself to listen to more songs about broken hearts, as well as songs about mended ones.

Seven. Head to the Travel section. Close your eyes and point to something. Open your eyes and smile. It is the city of your childhood. Decide this is a sign to visit the stories of your past, and the people who helped you shape your present.

Eight. Marvel that there are so many books on Parenting. Wonder if your mother ever had this much advice at her fingertips. Know for a fact that your grandmother didn’t, but they both survived motherhood, and so will you.

Look up from your New Release. Look down and be amazed at the contrast between the beige carpet and the colourful, stimulating worlds held together within the pages of the books that have absorbed you.

Know that it is possible to lose yourself and find yourself at the same time.

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

What’s news?

On my bus journey to work, I usually try to read something. Most of the time I succeed, barring occasional distractions. I either read a book, or an article that I’ve saved on my phone. Recently, I read a few articles that made me wish my bus ride was longer, but not all of what I read was pleasant. Certain stories just require more contemplation than a 15 minute journey will afford. Here are the three that stuck in my head and continued to work my brain long after I’d read them, much like those HIIT workouts that keep burning fat even when you’re sitting on your bottom. Or so I’ve been told.

Story #1: The Good

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The French postal service, La Poste, identified two modern dilemmas that needing solving – one financial, one social:

  • the decreasing number of letters being sent in today’s digital world, and
  • the increasing number of elderly people who live alone.

In a move that has received mixed feedback, they came up with a new service called ‘Veiller sur mes parents,’ or ‘Watch over my parents.’ This allows customers to pay for postal workers to check on their elderly relatives.

The uptake has been positive – about 6,000 elderly people (average age: 82) use the service, which includes weekly visits and a report sent to the family. There is also the option of a 24-hour helpline and alert system.

Critics say that friendly gestures of calling in on the elderly were already happening, for free, by postal workers. But La Poste claim this service is pioneering and much needed when many adult children live far away from their ageing parents. It provides human connection for the elderly and reassurance for their children.

The article made me happy and a little bit sad at the same time.

Story #2: The Bad

nobel face palm

Business news website, Business Insider India ran a story on the joint winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics. The piece quickly spread across social media for its choice of headline:
“Indian-American MIT Prof Abhijit Banerjee and wife Esther Duflo win Nobel prize in Economics”

So the headline tells us that Abhijit Banerjee is a professor at MIT, and that he is Indian-American. But all we know of Esther Duflo is ‘wife’. I get that there are different narrative voices in journalism, but this is one perspective that needs to change.

Esther Duflo is also an MIT professor. The article, in fairness, does mention this later on, and that she is French-American, but these details are in relation to a different endeavour, from 2003 (not the Nobel Prize she has just won in 2019), and is again tagged onto her husband’s achievements. The headline also neglects to mention the third member of the winning trio – Michael Kremer, professor at Harvard.

Consider the difference:
“Nobel Economics Prize Goes to Pioneers in Reducing Poverty – Three professors, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, both of M.I.T., and Michael Kremer of Harvard, were honored.” (New York Times)
American trio win Nobel Economics Prize for work on poverty.” (Agence France-Presse)
3 economists share Nobel Prize” (NHK World Japan)

Esther Duflo – professor, American, economist, youngest person to be awarded the Novel Prize in Economic Sciences – commented after winning the award: “Showing that it is possible for a woman to succeed and be recognised for success I hope is going to inspire many, many other women to continue working and many other men to give them the respect they deserve.”

Business Insider India – please take note because your bias is showing.

Story #3: The Ugly

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Tennis pro Naomi Osaka has been subjected to media scrutiny and controversy over her ‘image’ and racial identity due to her mixed heritage. (She has a Japanese mother and a Haitian father.) The Japanese press question how ‘Japanese’ she is, and often insist she speaks in Japanese, even though she grew up in America and has stated that she prefers to speak in English. Earlier this year, a Japanese noodle company was forced to remove a commercial in which Naomi was depicted with pale skin and light brown hair (so nothing like Naomi at all).

On the day Naomi won the Pan Pacific Open, Japanese comedy duo ‘A Masso’ joked at a live comedy event that Naomi ”needed bleach” because she was “too sunburned.” The audience was not impressed with the ‘comedy’ but Naomi maintained her cool.

Then in a powerful, classy return that has been hailed as a ‘masterclass in public relations,’ Naomi took to Twitter in response to the duo’s nasty comments and plugged Shiseido, for whom she is a brand ambassador, with this winner:
“Too sunburned” lol that’s wild. Little did they know, with Shiseido anessa perfect uv sunscreen I never get sunburned.

Game, set, match – Osaka.

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Breaking the ice, warming the soul

My most recent LinkedIn post on icebreakers and connecting at work.

icebreaker

Forging the way – The Polar Explorer Icebreaker in Rovaniemi, Finland

At a recent stakeholder workshop, I ran an icebreaker to….well, break the ice. The participants were not all from the same business area. Many were meeting for the first time. So, the icebreaker had to be suitable – nothing that required prior knowledge of one another, nothing too personal, something to forge common ground.

Armed with post-it notes and a list of A/B questions, we went through an activity called This or That? which involved me calling out two options for a number of categories, and participants holding up a blue or a yellow post-it note to indicate their preference. (Note: The activity was designed for everyone to stand up and move into A/B groups. We didn’t have the space, but we had post-it notes and creativity.)

We started out with everyday, ‘safe’ preferences – Coffee or Tea? Dog or Cat? Beach or Countryside? – to get everyone comfortable with the idea. Then we moved on to the more entertaining – Singing or Dancing? AFL or Rugby? Star Trek or Star Wars? Adele or Justin Bieber?

justinbieberIt was a simple exercise but allowed us all to look around and learn something about our colleagues. There were smiles, nods of understanding and some moments of surprise. We learned that within this group, there was a church choir singer, several Trekkies, and…..just one Bieber fan.

But we don’t need to wait for scheduled opportunities to form connections. These are usually few and far between. Just as RU OK Day should be a starting point for regular conversations, icebreakers can be useful to kick-start connections with colleagues. And why wait for a workshop?

Considering that we spend a lot of time at work, how well do we really know our colleagues? Let’s take the time to get to know the people with whom we spend a third of our day. Don’t just ask if they’re OK on one designated day of the year.

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Conversations over lunch or in the office kitchen, discussions of weekend plans, noticing a photo or a book on your team-mate’s desk – these can provide insights into someone’s life outside of work and open up beautiful opportunities for connection.

Small talk can have a big impact when it grows into something greater that can break through barriers and reveal what lies beneath. Take the time to ask, to share, to connect.

After all, “We’re all just walking each other home.” – Ram Dass

©Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Bloody awesome

Advertisements for female sanitary products have never been very realistic. A Google search on ‘vintage sanitary ads’ reveals that in the olden days, periods were very much secret business, and products were designed to facilitate your carefree, athletic life without you ever having to say the taboo word period, deal with any actual blood, or ever experience tiredness or cramps.

When I was growing up, the ads were also quite cryptic. Happy girls and women jumping, running, dating – and doing all of this in pristine, tight, white clothing. You wouldn’t know, the first time you watched these ads, what you were being sold.

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There might have been brief references to the ‘product’ but these were shrouded in secrecy. The packaging was meant to be ‘discreet’ and the theme was that no one would know.  There was also not a single mention of blood. The most daring ads had visuals of a sanitary pad being absorbency-tested with an odd, blue liquid.

Thank goodness, then, for Libra Australia, who have adopted the manifesto of their parent company, Essity, and decided that it is time for Australia to normalise periods, two years after the campaign was released in the UK. “Contrary to popular belief, women don’t bleed blue liquid, they bleed blood,” says the tagline of their campaign, #bloodnormal. “Periods are normal. Showing them should be too.”

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#bloodnormal

About bloody time.

The ad is controversial. It features real-life situations where girls and women deal with having a period. And yes, some of it is unpleasant. After being aired on prime-time Australian TV last month, there were over 600 complaints from viewers that the ads were inappropriate – the highest number of complaints for any ad in 2019.  The complaints used words like disgusting, offensive and confronting. But Australia’s industry regulator, Ad Standards, dismissed the complaints as not being in breach of viewing standards but in fact “promoting equality and the demystification of menstruation.”

Perhaps the controversy is precisely the reason why these ads need to continue. Libra aims to educate, not to shock. The more we see it, the more normal it becomes, and normalising periods is the goal of the campaign. The director of the #bloodnormal video, Daniel Wolfe, was inspired by a quote he saw on social media which said, “Can’t wait for the day when women no longer pass tampons to a friend like they are a Class A drug.”

period

Indian company NH1 Design’s award-winning campaign in 2017

If nothing else, this research from Libra Australia is reason enough for encouraging open conversation about periods:
“67% of teenage girls would rather fail a subject at school than have their class know they were on their period.”

Now that’s confronting.

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Let it go…

cache_heavy

This post is inspired by my first LinkedIn articleClear the cache, enhance the experience – where I found some parallels between a computer’s cache (storage) and the data in our heads. Could our minds to with a clear-out? Should I Marie Kondo my memory and keep only what sparks joy? Will this enhance my day-to-day experience?

The tech experts suggest it is worth doing a clear-out for reasons that strike me as relevant to our own wellbeing as much as our computer’s:

1. Capacity cache_overloaded

When we feel overwhelmed with all the bits of information we have to process, when there is too much to download, when our heads are bursting with busy-ness, maybe it is time to shed the excess and make room for the essential. Ever heard yourself, or someone else, say I just don’t have the headspace? Time to look at the storage facility in our heads and identify the things that are taking up too much valuable room.

2. Updated content

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Our behaviours and feelings are loaded with experience. Our own cache is full of what we’ve done, seen, said, heard, felt…..and what we have been. So, our responses today draw on and recycle our stored memories from yesterday. Holding on to fears, regret, anger, shame – this holds us back, slows us down, stops us from performing at our best. Clearing our cache allows us to create new responses and new feelings to the present moment without the baggage, pain or suffering of what has happened before.

It is true that experience is important – there are lessons to be learnt from the past and from those who have come before us – but only if we take the useful lessons and apply them well. Otherwise we repeat history, like a faulty link that we keep clicking on, hoping for a different result each time.

3. Corrupt/sensitive data

cache_known error

Sometimes things just don’t work properly if they are overloaded. We make mistakes when we are tired. Don’t let your cache become corrupted. A reset can be beneficial and provide clarity on the challenges we face. As Anne Lamott says, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

4. Malicious files 

cache_shark canoe

Viruses, toxic vibes, people who don’t have our best interests at heart – these can all attack our wellbeing, especially when we are overwhelmed and at our most vulnerable. How to install programs that will protect us? By ensuring we set ourselves up with enriching social circles and nurturing relationships, and commit to self-care. Be aware and intentional about the people we let into our lives. And finally, regularly work on ourselves by listening, learning, developing, and being open to the updates that are abundantly available.

Summary

The cache – ours or our browser’s – can inhibit optimal performance when it is overloaded, weighed down, in need of a reset, or under attack. Clearing the cache can be beneficial to wellbeing, and will hopefully lighten and enhance our overall experience…..of browsers and of life.

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

 

The Grieve Project 2019

Thank you, Hunter Writers Centre for the honour of being published in this year’s Grieve anthology.

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My Grandmother, searching for words

For Muthashi

She is searching for words set within a square grid in a book of puzzles. There is a list, next to the grid, of all the hidden words that need to be found. She circles each word as she finds it, ticks it off the list and smiles at me. ‘Never give up,’ she says. The words are all there, waiting to be found.

She is struggling to see the words as her eyesight worsens, so we get large-print puzzle books, and she continues searching. Despite this not being her first language, she does not give up until she finds the words. The words are all there, waiting to be found.

She is losing words. I know this is normal, because they warned me of her decline, but I am not prepared for the day I visit, and she has lost my name, and suddenly I am lost, floating in the confusion of her memory, drifting in the swirls of her mind. She is my base, my headquarters, my mothership. If she does not know who I am, who am I? Still, she doesn’t give up. I remind her, she nods, she forgets. The words are there, and we find them together.

She is no longer searching for words, but this is not because she has given up. She is fighting, and the fight consumes all her strength. The words are still there, but we know she can’t find them. Slowly, she slips away, and then the words are lost forever. Along with the words I wish I’d heard, and the words I wish I’d said.

Now it is up to us to search for the words. The soft, gentle words to inform family and friends of her passing. The correct, respectful words to write in her obituary. The weighty, healing words that fall from our hearts onto paper. The rich, evocative words to remember an entire life. We search for these words. There is no grid to contain the search. There is no list of all the hidden words that need to be found. There is no guide for grief. But we try. We don’t give up. We find the words.

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd