Category Archives: Media

All Apologies: Germany’s #1 Newspaper Caught Up in #FakeNews Farrago!

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Always Take the Weather With You: What Fanny Agostini Tells Us About Product Premiumisation #Business

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Contemporary economies are characterised by a super-abundance of goods and services, and in these attention-scarce environments, one of the biggest challenges faced by manufacturers and providers is the simple task of differentiation: making their offerings distinctive (and, into the bargain, augmenting their essential appeal to consumers).

It is at this point that we at Mediolana wish to insert the unlikely figure of Fanny Agostini. Agostini is a weather forecast presenter at the Paris-based news network BFM TV, and at first glance would not necessarily appear to be a font of corporate wisdom on how to navigate competitive markets. But this exacting task is precisely what she has accomplished.

Agostini operates in an industry – the supply of weather predictions – which is notoriously crowded. People can get their forecast fix from a vast range of sources: newspapers; weather-related smartphone apps; and countless radio, television and Internet outlets, all of which do not stint on informing their audiences of the likelihood or otherwise of sunshine and showers.

But notwithstanding these relentless rivals, Agostini – an alumnus of Paris media college STUDEC – has become not merely a celebrity in her native France (her weather forecasts attract a disproportionately high number of viewers), but a minor worldwide web sensation. And after some contemplation, we at Mediolana think that Ms Agostini’s rise to prominence is no accident, instead owing much to her adoption of the following three market differentiation mechanisms which can turn generic into magic:

  1. Aesthetics and Apparel. Part of the reason behind the BFM TV icon’s success is doubtless linked to the fact that she is very pleasant to look at. But in the image-defined world of television, this is not exactly a unique attribute. What is more unusual is Agostini’s wardrobe and make-up, which emphasise her understated chic while skilfully accentuating her svelte shape; a lot of thought has gone into elevating this brand element.
  2. Artistry. However, where Agostini really comes into her own is in the crafted enthusiasm with which she brings us the climate conditions to come. In particular, her arm movements – smooth, direct and focused – are something out of a ballet theatre as opposed to a Paris television studio. The enjoyment that she derives from her work is palpable – and infectious.
  3. Attention to Detail. At BFM TV, Agostini has partnered with a broadcasting team which spares no effort in the animation studios: their weather icons, notably those representing rain and snow, are amongst the best we have ever seen, and help bring to life a slot which is generally treated as a prosaic appendage to other programmes.

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Transparency, International: Five Reasons Why Monocle’s Annual Soft Power Survey Needs Reexamining

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Firmly entrenched as we now are in the era of emergent big data, barely a week seems to pass without some kind of new rankings list – in areas from academic attainment to public transportation system safety – being published. Many of these are indubitably worthy, but one of the great recent additions to this panoply is Monocle’s Soft Power Survey (‘MSPS’). The MSPS orders countries by their performance in the arena of soft power, a concept that encompasses fields such as culture, education and innovation, and which deserves far greater prominence, particularly when contrasted with its costly and increasingly insane military counterpart.

This being said, for any index to carry a high level of authority, its rankings have to be both comprehensible and justifiable; on reading its latest iteration (Power Play, 12/16-01/17), we at Mediolana – after some contemplation – think there are at least five reasons why Monocle’s Soft Power Survey desperately requires reexamination (and quite possibly recalibrating):

  1. We’re Number One. The United States (position: 1) has been placed at the pinnacle of the index after a year in which its political system has – after decades of decline – well-and-truly jumped the shark, with much of the rest of the world looking on in much the same way as observers to a car crash. This choice alone jeopardises the value of the entire index, and begs the question: what exactly would the US have to do to rank poorly? In truth, Brand America has arguably never quite recovered from the humanitarian and fiscal sinkhole of the present series of Middle Eastern conflicts; how Monocle can attribute more weight to a Beyoncé album than to (unmentioned) deep structural problems is a genuine mystery.
  2. Oh, Those Russians. Almost as baffling as America’s ascension to the top of the MSPS is Russia’s non-placement – it does not make the cut of 25 ranked nations. Again, this seems scarcely credible: the Russian Federation has won the hosting rights for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, arguably the most potent soft power event of all; moreover, the nation clearly punches above its weight in the news media sector, even if not all its organs are necessarily outlets of record. And in sectors as diverse as fashion (think: Irina Shayk) and education (where there is a serious, long-term plan to propel its HE sector into the elite category), Russia is enough of a player to make its exclusion from a soft power index difficult to understand.
  3. Blood on the Beachfront. Similar to the United States, Brazil (19) enjoys an augmented ranking in this year’s survey – and only Monocle knows why. 2016 saw its elected president removed from office in a manner which can charitably be described as eyebrow-raising; correspondingly massive and bitter protests; and no end in sight to the plague of senseless urban violence which casts a huge shadow over this undeniably beautiful country – and which means that Brazil at ‘peace’ rivals war-torn Syria when it comes to its annual tally of civilian murders. The ‘games’ element in the bread and games formula – soap operas, footballers and an invidious Summer Olympics – cannot paper over these these chasms.
  4. Soft Power ≠ Skiing. Austria (21) is many things – tidy, well-administered, efficient – but twenty-first century soft power giant it is not. A generally stable and functional political system aside, it is in fact a real struggle to think of any heavyweight soft power assets in this Alpine nation’s possession, so its inclusion in the MSPS – just behind China (20), but ahead of India (24) – does little to dispel the idea that this index is, at least in places, borderline arbitrary.
  5. Our Absent Friends. As well as Russia, there are other absentees from the Soft Power Survey which do not inspire confidence in the index’s criteria. Unlike Brazil (with which it shares a number of similarities), Mexico is a rapidly-developing culinary superpower; unlike Portugal (15), Turkey has both a twenty-four hour English-language international news network and a world-class airline; and unlike Poland (25), the United Arab Emirates is a country that connects the planet via Emirates and Etihad, and also contains no less than three global or regional hubs: Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Basic computational errors such as these must be remedied if the MSPS – which surely merits a much, much wider audience – is to reach its full potential.

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Bloc Party: #ASEAN ‘Now Established #MissWorld Player’!

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New + Improved: 2017 Imminence ‘Inspires Mystery Makeover’!

As 2016 hurtles insanely towards its inevitable end, we at Mediolana are looking to the future – but with a bit of a twist. Our latest social media header is not only stylistically different from anything we have previously produced, but there is no customary advertising message – just a notation signifying the first half of next year in true corporate convention. H1/2017 may already be a meme worthy of its own fashion label, but what does it actually stand for? As usual, all will ultimately be revealed. Stay tuned!

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Explaining the Inexplicable: Why #Trump ≠ #Brexit

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In recent days, it has become part of the default news narrative to equate the election of reality television star and property mogul Donald J. Trump as the forty-fifth president of the United States with the 23rd June 2016 UK referendum result, by which European Union membership was narrowly rejected: both of these events have been depicted as popular ‘revolutions’ by ‘nativists’ or ‘nationalists’ against a distant and delusional ‘globalist’ elite.

However, on closer analysis of the dry facts, this makes little if any sense. Trump and Brexit are highly distinct phenomena; indeed, the differences between them strongly suggest some paradoxical conclusions:

  1. The End of the American Dream. As we have written about extensively on this blog – and as a handful of select commentators have also noted – the United States stopped being a fully developed country (on a par, say, with most of Western Europe or the more affluent bits of East Asia) a long time ago. At least since the early 1970s, it has experienced first relative and then absolute economic decline. This depressing reality has been reflected in almost everything – real wages, public infrastructure, purchasing power, quality of life – except standard media depictions of the US, which have struggled to keep pace with the systemic shift. Therefore, the elevation of Trump to the presidency can at least partly be explained as a reaction to crash deindustrialisation, inner-city impoverishment and extreme wealth inequality – a desperate measure for desperate times. The ludicrous and frankly implausible xenophobia which characterised parts of Trump’s campaign can generally be dismissed as a form of clever (if morally indefensible) marketing.
  2. The Empire Commits Suicide. Conversely, the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the EU – for all it may have represented – could not seriously be defended on the grounds of economic self-interest. Quite the reverse: the global public was treated to the spectacle of Wales – a European Union dependency – deciding to gnaw off practically the only hand which even remembered it existed. Leaving the world’s largest and most valuable single market with no legal arrangements in place to supplant existing trade deals is not a fiscally (or politically) coherent decision. Other explanations – the last manifestation of imperial hangover; an hysterical and constantly-stoked xenophobia; a staggering ignorance of world affairs – simply must be sought. And traditional evaluations about the true sentience of the respective electorates – which have often portrayed Americans as being unaware of broader economic issues – have rarely looked more fragile.

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Cartoon Character-in-Chief: Three Ways Donald Trump Has Changed Global Politics Forever

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As the seemingly interminable race to the White House enters its final hours, there appears little doubt that this has been amongst the most surreal elections anywhere in living memory: substantive policy discussions have taken a backseat to sexual intrigue, political corruption and atavistic impulses as a no-holds-barred race to the bottom has gripped much of the world’s media.

But stepping back from the soap opera – and notwithstanding the final result – the 2016 United States presidential election will have profound implications far beyond America’s borders, and not merely because of that country’s economic footprint or military ubiquity: the maverick candidacy of Donald J. Trump has probably altered our planet’s political scene forever. After some contemplation, we at Mediolana think that we’ve identified the three most salient ways he has accomplished this:

  1. Emotiveness. Trump has ramped up the levels of raw emotion within political discourse. In response to a single ‘event’ – the tragic shootings at a community centre in San Bernadino, California – he proposed shutting off the United States, at least temporarily, from 30% of the world’s non-US resident population. Trump has threatened to make real the spectre of mass deportations of undocumented immigrants. And he has made a serious play for the sentiments of certain religious communities – notably Catholics – on deeply divisive issues such as abortion. The fact that these positions are not necessarily consistent or even plausible matters not – he has tapped into the general population’s visceral need to feel something.
  2. Street Cred. The fact that Trump – a multibillionaire celebrity who was born into substantial amounts of money – is hardly a classical anti-establishment figure has not been lost on numerous commentators. What is truly remarkable is that despite this, ‘the Donald’ has successfully portrayed himself as an outsider, and with no little skill: he has underscored his status as a stranger in Washington circles, contrasting this with his rival’s near-total embedding in the political matrix. In an era where the perceived distance between the ‘elites’ and the ‘masses’ is significant, this represents a PR coup.
  3. Media Leverage. Donald Trump may not be the first, but he is certainly the most notable figure to transition from being a TV star (who happens to have a property empire) to being a major political figure. He has realised that – to use the phrase of former SAS CEO Jan Carlzon – all business is showbusiness; that many people are now essentially products of the entertainment industry, principally as audience members; and that giving these people – some of whom are genuinely disenfranchised and really have been let down by a corrupt and dysfunctional system – hope of revenge against the machine can put him within striking distance of unparalleled publicity. Trump’s blueprint could go on to spawn a generation of (quasi-)authoritarian populists across the globe.

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