Red Bull is a tobacco company

A scary article in the NZHerald on how a Brooke Robertson lost 55 Kg of weight by abandoning foods and solely drinking Red Bull.

“I managed to wean myself off it by being in hospital for that long but I had severe withdrawals – sweating, nausea, shaking. It was an addiction. The doctors stated that.”

We get the occasional odd story here in New Zealand, but I want to concentrate on the quote from a Red Bull spokesperson who

denied the drink was addictive and said there was “scientific evidence that caffeine is not addictive”.

That’s exactly the sort of disingenuous statement that the tobacco companies made for years about nicotine. There may be scientific evidence for one side and the other of an issue, but the overwhelming preponderance of evidence is that caffeine is addictive.

I don’t know whether this was a misguided spokesperson, an external lawyer or whether the Red Bull organization truly believes there is a chance that caffeine is not addictive. The fact is they are selling stuff which contains an addictive ingredient, and they should have acknowledged that, say that they recommend one can a day as part of a balanced diet and move on.

They didn’t – instead they tried to infer imply  that caffeine is not addictive – according to ‘scientists’.

But even without the scientific evidence we all know that Caffeine is addictive – it’s not even a debate in society. The world consumes about 120,000 tonnes each year of caffeine, and it’s consumed in the full knowledge that it is a stimulant and it is addictive. It’s like alcohol and tobacco – a legal way to send a mind altering substance to your brain.

So I’ve purchased my last drink of Red Bull, will not support their crazy sports events (which are brilliant way to do marketing) and will sneer at the Red Bull and Toro Rosso Formula 1 teams.

I also recommend that Red Bull spokespeople read Wikipedia – the Caffeine article is excellent – well written and with plenty of footnotes for those in denial to follow.

Withdrawal symptoms—possibly including headache, irritability, an inability to concentrate, drowsiness, insomnia and pain in the stomach, upper body, and joints[71]—may appear within 12 to 24 hours after discontinuation of caffeine intake, peak at roughly 48 hours, and usually last from one to five days, representing the time required for the number of adenosine receptors in the brain to revert to “normal” levels, uninfluenced by caffeine consumption.

And now I’ll go make myself a coffee. I forgot to this morning and I can sense a headache coming on.

Posted in Business, media, NZ Business | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Let’s deliver mail once a week

From this great illustration of the average US Postal Service residential customer’s mailbox we can glean some interesting facts. Amongst them is numerical evidence as to why I don’t check my mail very often.


There are almost 200 billion pieces of mail delivered to the (and Wolfram Alpha couldn’t deal with any of this) 111 million USA households each year. That’s an average of almost 1,800 each, or 5.7 items a day* or 34 a week (with 6 day delivery). I recall it was around 24 in 1999, so times have been strangely kind to the USPS.

Here’s the problem – 5.3 of those 5.7 letters each day are “unwanted”, and the only 0.5 are not. I’m including bills in the unwanted, as nobody really likes getting them. Moreover in the USA in particular, bills are used as just another way to deliver you junk mail.

Meanwhile the average household is getting about 1 personal letter a month, and  1 card or invite a week – though many of those cards will also be junk.

<update – the legend is wrong – red is not wanted etc.>

It’s really hard to define the size of the junk market in the USA, or anywhere, as companies for some reason get really defensive about their mail being classified as ‘junk’ or ‘unsolicited’. Also in the USA the junk mailers get around ‘no junk’ signs by personally addressing much all of their materials – those are the catalogs, direct letters and so forth in the graphic above. Moreover it is often difficult to distinguish junk (‘get a pre-approved credit card’) from bills (‘Here’s your credit card bill – with a pre approved offer!’) – and sometimes that is deliberate, so you will open the junk.

Sadly, no matter what you call it, it is all just so much wasted paper (the occasional beautifully crafted wedding invitation aside.) What is particularly strange are the 15 Billion catalogs sent out each year. That’s a whole lot of paper in the internet age.

We all belong to the internet age – paying bills online (usually automatically), sending and reading thousands of emails, twitters, blog posts and so forth each year and reading our news online. We only use snail mail (the name says it all) when we deliberately want a slower and more classy process, such as for those elegant wedding invites.

I last sent a personal letter when I was in Pakistan. In 1998. Or was it Europe in 1996? Either way – it’s long past the time when the mail was something I cared about.

Yet we still have the Pavlovian instinct, much like when a phone rings, of checking the mail when it arrives. I often do as well, but what could be in my mail box of any importance?

Well – the only things that matter to me at the moment in that box are The Independent and The Economist, which as newspapers have a time element to them. (I should also get the NBR but they make it a bit hard.)

Everything else can wait. I’d prefer to do bills in batches (I usually wait until the 3rd letter then overpay for a few months) as it is more efficient, and junk gets binned. (Powershop wins awards here – no paper is involved in the purchase of electricity)

So why do we as a society insist on a service to deliver our mail every day? Can’t we reduce it to once every 2 or 3 days, or even once a week?

Businesses can perhaps have more frequent deliveries, but they can pay for it, and besides – this will prod them into going fully online.

How about we offer a dual service – one service that will get me The Economist yeserday (e.g. by print on demand and hand delivery) instead of Monday/Tuesday and that will  deliver the Independent to me before I wake up on Thursday and another service that delivers letters once a week?

We can take the savings, and use them to contribute somehow to the roll out and maintenance of decent broadband infrastucture. We could even give the ownership of that broadband infrastructure to the NZ Post, just like it used to be.

Posted in Business, NZ Business, Politics | Tagged ,

It’s a long way down

If you have not already subscribed or started following Boston Globes‘s Big Picture – then go ahead and do so. They are a newspaper that has carved out a photographic niche that reaches worldwide.

Here’s a recent stunner:

Posted in NZ Business | 1 Comment

A friend has chickens


Posted in NZ Business | 1 Comment

Why are Harcourts not yet on Trade Me?

There’s a fun discussion happening over on the Unconditional Blog – which if you have not found it yet is well worth following. I commend Alister Helm for not only his writing, but also for balancing the real estate industry (and their archaic ways) and the dot com approach to things.

However Alistair write a post on Harcourts that was just a wee bit too fluffy for my sensibilities – so I asked the question “.. are these change leaders <Harcourts> even on Trade Me yet?” (I knew that they are not – and they are missing out on 600,000 browsers each month)

If you go to that post now then stop reading – I’ve just copied and pasted. Indeed join the conversation over on Alistairs blog raher than starting s new one here.

To his credit Alistair gave a comprehensive reply, but it does not fly with me.

1. – the most comprehensive single property portal in NZ – 95% of all listings by real estate agents are featured, the site receives 370,000 unique browsers per month with over 120,000 of these from overseas. This single portal provides the most comprehensive source of real estate – test it on Google which is were the majority of real estate searches start – type in “property in …” on Google NZ.

2. – the number one company website with over 160,000 unique browsers per month, close to double the web traffic of any other company website.

3. Google adwords – the opportunity to promote property online with pinpoint accuracy and cost effective visitor traffic.

Harcourts have never used Trade me property for all of their listings, they are not alone. At this time would have over 20,000 more listings than trade me property. As well there are over 200,000 unique browsers a month who go to who do not visit trade me property. (these are all Nielsen Stats)

Harcourts judge that their clients properties would not be presented in the best manner on a website that focuses on second hand goods auctions after all do real estate agents in Australia or US use eBay? – certainly not. Harcourts have adopted this strategy and it has not effected their market share – their share is growing.

I would judge that Trade me is not the sole answer to advertising anything in NZ – just look at jobs, Seek is still the number 1 jobs website – some high value items like jobs and houses may not long term fit the image and profile of trade me – cars, beds, shoes, CD’s and mobile phone – certainly core for Trade me.

My reply was as follows: had 354,357 UB’s in April, of which 145,000 odd also went to Trade Me. Another 621,080 went to Trade Me and not to had 161,891 UB’s in April, of which 83,500 also went to Trade Me. Another 679,945 went to Trade Me and not to Harcourts.

These are total traffic figures- I should have used domestic, but actually from memory the total numbers make look better. I would say though that the impact of those overseas browsers is pretty minimal – after all how many houses are sold each month to overseas buyers?

While UB’s are over-counted (e.g. I have multiple browsers and computers so count many times) this is still a pretty compelling market that Harcourts misses out on. There must be more to it.

And there is – is partially owned by Harcourts, and the Harcourts CEO is the chairman of Isn’t this a more likely reason for them not to list on Trade Me?

Almost every other real estate agency on is on Trade Me. The last hold outs were/are the shareholders in

I have no problem with Harcourts holding out, but the reasons are clear, and they are not based on statistics but on ownership.

There are 365 Harcourts listings on Trade Me right now – placed, I understand, by individual agents. If I were a Harcourts agent I’d be pretty annoyed that 600,000 Kiwis were not able to view my listings, and I can understand why they would do an end-run behind the corporate policy.

Meanwhile Barfoot’s have over 2000 listings on Trade Me. Do we think that Harcourts are looking at Barfoot’s recent success in Auckland and wondering just how much of that relates to their presence on Trade Me? Remember that Trade Me attracts sellers, not just buyers.

Actually I’d love to see a chart of sales by agency versus number of listings that month on each of the sites. It would make interesting reading for the entire industry. I suspect you’d better be on both main sites to maximise your chances of a sale.

I do believe there is a place for both Trade Me and, but if Harcourts are really scathingly positioning Trade Me as a 2nd hand goods market then they show a very poor awareness of what exactly Trade Me is to Kiwis.

eBay is a poor cousin to Trade Me – they never figured out how to do Motors or Property, and certainly not Jobs. In Australia the market for cars is pretty fragmented, but is mainly on independent listing sites. Similarly the market for property is all over the place, without one dominant player (it varies by region and is pretty good).

Not only are 40% odd of Trade Me’s items on sale new, but Trade Me is the marketplace for cars and bikes (due to poor online competition back in the day), getting close to the same for property (where is good competition), and still in progress for Jobs (where Seek was a very strong incumbent).

As an aside (and red herring) – what happens to the other 5% of real estate agent listings that are not on Are they listed anywhere?

Disclosures: none – I have not worked for Trade Me for quite a while, and I know both Alistair from Realestate and Brendon from Trade Me Property, and they are both good guys.

Posted in Business, Internet Business, Trade Me | 5 Comments

Let there be light

A simple idea – cover a 55,000 sports stadium with solar panels, and use them to power (75% of) the lights. This is in Taiwan, ready for the World Games, and, more importantly, Rugby sevens.

When there is no match then the power is fed into the grid – to the tune of 1.14 Gigiwatt hours per year. New Zealand uses about 42,000 GWh per year, so it isn’t a huge amount of electricity – but it is wonderfully sustainable. (I guess in wellington we could use windmills instead)

They built this with no recordable accidents – which is also a stunning achievement.

Plenty more photo goodness, and even a video, at deputy-dog and at the Worldgames09 site.

Posted in Business | Tagged , ,

Make it easy for me to leave you – unsubscribing

Like Rowan, I’ve been unsubscribing from a lot of list emails recently. Let’s see what we can learn from the process.

The Good

The best email subscriptions are easy to unsubscribe from – requiring a simple click from inside the email, which bounces to a web page with a confirmation message.

This is exemplary – at the bottom of each WSJ news alerts message is a one click “stop this now” link. (There is also another link where you can go to the website and manage all of your emails)

Next best is a return email to unsubscribe – something like this from the OECD.

Less good but still ok-ish are email lists that give you a unsubscribe link, direct you to a page and make you hit a confirm button on that page, sometimes answering a question while you are there. This is painful, but I guess you can spend a few more seconds to help them understand why you are leaving, and you don’t have to remember a login or password.

I had to laugh at this “why did you unsubscribe” pick-list from a sporadic email list that I signed up for some client research.
This drop down list actually made me feel a lot better about the particular organisation, even though I never read their spam. I’m guessing that the information they gather isn’t really  that valuable, but it is clear that the list owners understand the state of mind of people that have resorted to unsubscribing.

This is an important lesson – by the time you want to unsubscribe you are annoyed with the cumulative impact of all the messages, and therefore you don’t really like the senders. You are not happy, and want out.

It also means that email senders don’t want the customers anymore either. The recipients  are not reading, and if they are reading then they are not enjoying – so advertisers will get negative vibes.

Therefore it is important to do three things as an email sender:

  1. Make it really easy to unsubscribe, so messages will never annoy customers again
  2. Try, even, to make customers enjoy the process – so the last taste is a good one, and they will consider signing up again later or for something else now.
  3. Ask for feedback – so you learn and customers feel they have their say. Do make it optional though.

The Bad

The bad unsubscribe links aren’t what they advertise – they send you to the website, make you do something and then send a (one or more) “are you sure?” email, which is doubly annoying as you’ve just told them never to send me messages again.

The worst offenders are links that direct you back to the originating go to their site, require you login and then ‘manage your email options’.

This is simply unacceptable today. I’ll often be on a computer (e.g. the iPhone) where I don’t have my password for that site stored, or maybe I’m simply too lazy to go through the process so I won’t unsubscribe.

While some ’email marketers’ may want to keep expanding their email lists, I say “NO – you do not want me on your list”, and here’s why:

  1. The cumulative annoyance directed at your company will continue to build up until I am mad when ever I see your contemptable unstoppable spam
  2. I will desperately try to consign your crap to oblivion in my junk mailbox, and thereby never see any of your messages again. Your email list is vapour.
  3. I’ll get really mad and tell people about it, and maybe even blog about it…

So let’s name and shame, and I’ll direct this to a company that actually does know better: Trade Me, and specifically OldFriends.

The Old Friends emails have been getting spammier* and spammier, and I am getting really annoyed*, angry even at the spambot* that keeps sending them* – so I want to remove them.

*refer to above three points for linguistic context

However to remove myself from the OldFriends spambot requires a login:

OldFriends is not a site made for constant hanging out – so chances are that the login screen will draw a blank when it comes time to remember your details:

Of course we know the email address – it was just spammed – and so we can ask for yet another email to send you your password. Umm – no thanks – that is going to take too long.  (and I won’t mention the giant page-long “do you know these people” brick wall after you log in)

It’s the same with FindSomeone**

so I’ll keep getting spam from Findsomeone as well.

**(are you single, cute, smart, ridiculously weathly and have low standards? – get in touch :)

Trade Me can do it right though, as you’d expect.

Here’s how easy it is to unsubscribe from Mod’s Motors. First – click on the unsubscribe link in the email:

and that’s it – done.

Trade Me also make it trivial to sign up again for the email – which I quickly did.***

***I hope I never have to do this for real – Mod is leaving Trade Me but I trust that the appeal of 250,000 righteous readers will keep his classic quotes coming:

The thrill of fettling a neglected beast and turning it into a minter is special. Some people try to do this with the opposite sex and get disappointed when they fail.


So what have we learned?

  1. Make it easy to unsubscribe
  2. Make it easy to subscribe
  3. Make it fun

To me the best unsubscribe approach is:

  • a link that unsubscribes me instantly
  • lands me on a professional, branded and fun page
  • that thanks me, tells me I’m now unsubscribed and offers me an optional one to three question survey to fill out.

Which is just common sense.

Posted in Internet Business, Trade Me | Tagged , , | 1 Comment