Ever fancied owning the Joker’s costume from Batman?

Image copyright
Prop Store

Image caption

The Joker’s suit, as worn by Jack Nicholson, was up for sale

Some film memorabilia fetches millions of pounds at auction, but it can cost nothing to start a collection.

A life-size replica of the Joker, as played by Jack Nicholson in the 1989 film Batman, leers down from a podium. His plum-coloured suit is unmistakable in its sinister glory.

A few metres away, a mannequin sports a coral and maroon-hued cowboy outfit that looks like it’s seen better days.

It once belonged to fictional character Marty McFly and was worn by Michael J Fox in the 1990 film Back to the Future Part III.

It’s the day of the Prop Store’s memorabilia auction and at the BFI Imax cinema in London, some of the film world’s most recognisable props and costumes are on display ahead of a sale that afternoon.

Image copyright
Prop Store

Image caption

A helmet worn by Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy

Also up for grabs are model miniatures of the Los Angeles skyline used in the making of Blade Runner, the 1982 sci-fi classic.

And there’s a pair of Garth’s “tighty whities” underpants from the 1993 comedy Wayne’s World 2.

While some items will go on to fetch relatively modest sums, others, such as a helmet worn by Chris Pratt in recent superhero film Guardians of the Galaxy, will sell for more than £100,000.

So what is it that compels punters to spend a fortune on film props and costumes?

As chair of the David C. Copley Center for Costume Design at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Deborah Nadoolman-Landis is well placed to offer an opinion.

She’s been a costume designer for more than 40 years and her work on Coming to America, the 1988 comedy starring Eddie Murphy, secured her an Oscar nomination.

Image copyright
Elizabeth Hotson

Image caption

Deborah Nadoolman-Landis designed the outfits for Raiders of the Lost Ark

In the industry, she’s affectionately known as the “Mother of Indiana Jones” for designing the outfits worn in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

“People are supposed to fall in love with the people on screen and when you fall in love with Indiana Jones you want something from the character. Memorabilia is an extension of falling in love with the film.”

It doesn’t stop at cinema, she adds. Ms Nadoolman-Landis also designed the costumes for Michael Jackson’s 1983 Thriller music video, which “everyone was obsessed with” at the time.

“Michael’s red jacket ended up being sold for $1.2m (£900,000),” she says.

But not everything in the world of memorabilia costs the earth, says Jon Baddeley, head of Bonhams auction house in the UK.

Granted, Bonhams New York sold the piano from the film Casablanca for $3.4m, and Mr Baddeley hopes to sell a Robby the Robot prop, used in the 1956 classic Forbidden Planet, for seven figures at an upcoming auction.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Bonhams New York sold the piano from Casablanca for $3.4m

But he says it is quite possible to start a memorabilia collection for free.

“The film posters and lobby cards made to advertise films in cinemas often get thrown away. So why not make friends with your cinema manager and ask for posters or cut-outs when you see a film you like?”

So could today’s rubbish be a future collector’s item?

An original poster for the 1933 monster adventure film King Kong can fetch around £70,000.

“Who knows?” says Mr Baddeley. “But remember, whatever you buy you’ve got to live with it. Have it framed and enjoy it. If it goes up in value you’ve got a double whammy, if not, you’ve still got something you enjoy.”

At the auction, Stephen Lane, the head of Prop Store, gives me a whistle-stop tour of the day’s top lots.

He won’t be giving anything away for free but says that, in amongst the stratospherically expensive nuggets of movie gold, there are some very affordable items.

Image copyright
Prop Store

Image caption

A creature costume from Aliens was sold for £50,000

“The lots start at £40 to £60. For that you’d be buying crew items or gifts, things like call sheets which were used in the production. It might not be quite as personal but it’s still something from your favourite film.”

That’s good news for first-time auction visitor and Blade Runner fan, Chris Dagger.

“I don’t have a big budget, the most I can spend is around £500,” concedes Mr Dagger. “I’ve got my eye on the Blade Runner crew jacket. I’ve always been a fan of the film and with the new one coming out, I’d love to buy it.”

The jacket in question is dark maroon satin with the name “Tim” stitched onto the front.

More stories from the BBC’s Business Brain series looking at interesting business topics from around the world:

The firms that donate as many goods as they sell

How do you like your wine – with a cork or screw-cap?

Are changeable heels the end to women’s sore feet?

Do the colours you wear at work matter?

“I don’t have much chance of getting it,” says Mr Dagger. “There are people here with a lot of money to spend, a lot more than I’ve got, but we’ll see.”

In the imposing auditorium of the BFI Imax the auction gets underway. Things don’t look good for Chris.

A single grey T-shirt, embossed with “Peace through superior firepower”, which was worn in the film Aliens, is sold for £3,000. And a full alien creature costume from the same film fetches £50,000.

Image copyright
Elizabeth Hotson

Image caption

Chris Dagger bid for a Blade Runner crew jacket

Chris holds his number “26” bidding card nervously, waiting for his lot to be called.

The auctioneer announces a starting bid of £250, and within seconds Mr Dagger is pushed to his maximum bid of £500 for the Blade Runner jacket.

There are no further bids in the auditorium, but there’s an agonising wait as the auctioneer checks whether other offers have come in by phone or email.

None have, and to his delight and astonishment, Mr Dagger gets what he came for.

Out in the refreshment area, he takes a couple of deep breaths and poses for photos next to a poster for Blade Runner 2049, the film’s soon-to-be released sequel.

“It’s such an iconic film and if you’re a fan you know all the trials and tribulations they went through to make it.

“And here we are, surrounded by posters for the current film. I’m just really happy, there’s not much more I can say.”

With the 22% buyer’s premium, VAT and shipping charges, the final bill is £700, which doesn’t make the jacket a cheap purchase.

But Chris says it was definitely worth it.

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41467963

Modernising female voice for Qatar

Image caption

Sheikha Hind represents a young, modern face for the blockaded Qatari ruling family

If the personal is political, then Sheikha Hind, a senior member of Qatar’s ruling royal family, gives a very direct answer to her views on the end of the driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia.

“I have two asthmatic boys and when you need to take them in an emergency at 02:00 – and your husband is on a business trip… We’re talking about safety.”

“It’s a great decision,” she says, as a parent as well as a driver, distancing herself from any suggestion that women should not have equal rights in such matters.

Sheikha Hind, 33, is the sister of the ruler of the wealthy state of Qatar – a country currently at the centre of a tense blockade and Middle Eastern power struggle.

If Qatar’s neighbours want to isolate the country, Sheikha Hind is on a mission to reach out and present a distinctly modern, young and female face to the outside world.

Image copyright
Adrian Haddad

Image caption

Almost two-thirds of students in Qatar are women

“When the blockade happened we were all shocked. We didn’t see it coming.”

And, speaking in London, she says she wants to counter perceptions of her country being an “ultra-conservative” Muslim state.

Her own background is determinedly international, having been a student at Duke University in the United States and at University College London in the UK.

This exposed her to some of the narrow views held by young Westerners about the Arab world.

“When I was in America, I got a comment that I thought you lived in tents,” she says.

“What I’d like people to understand is that we’re as normal as you are.

“We might have different traditions and cultures, but that doesn’t make us very different. We all want highly educated citizens. We all want to have opportunities for every single person in our country.”

Image caption

Qatar has a policy of investing in education for a future “knowledge economy”

Education has been a big deal for Qatar – including pouring huge amounts into building a campus for eight international and two Qatari universities.

Sheikha Hind is now chief executive of the Qatar Foundation, the vehicle created almost 20 years ago for an epic-scale investment in education.

It has the hard-headed ambition of turning Qatar into a “knowledge economy” built on a well-educated workforce – ready for when the income from gas and oil runs out.

“In the end, we’re a very small country. If we can make sure that the majority of our residents are educated so that they can be active citizens, then we’ll be satisfied. We still have a long way to go, but we’ve started.”

But education is about asking difficult questions. For instance, can students discuss the merits of democracy over an autocracy?

“I’m sure they have those debates,” she says.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

The Gulf state of Qatar has been transformed by the income from gas and oil

“That’s something we teach our students. You think for yourself, you listen to every side of an argument. We support that approach.”

“We have academic freedom in our campus and that encourages dialogue and any topic or issue,” she says.

Although she adds that in defining “democracy”, there is a wide “spectrum” of meanings.

In terms of women’s access to education, she says that 65% of students in Qatar are women – and the current challenge is to recruit more men into higher education.

She is from a line of strong women – daughter of the Sheikha Moza, mother of the current ruler and often described as one of the most influential women in the Middle East.

Growing up in the centre of the country’s ruling family, she says “work and personal life are not really divided”.

She is part of the next generation of Qatar’s royal family, redefining the next stage of the country’s development.

Image copyright
Education Above All

Image caption

Education Above All has been supporting education for refugees in Lebanon

This will mean investing even more in education – and finding better ways to motivate wealthy young people who have grown up without any hardship to spur them on.

Sheikha Hind says she is looking to develop different types of school to raise standards and to tackle the problem of motivation.

The blockade has so far not stopped one of Qatar’s biggest below-the-radar exports – education to some of the world’s poorest countries and out-of-school refugees.

Although Qatar has high profile “soft power” projects, not least hosting the World Cup, its extensive funding for education, including under the Education Above All banner, has often been curiously hidden away.

“It’s a very cultural thing. It’s also rooted in Islam. If you donate money, you don’t put your name on it,” she said.

“We’re not very good at taking credit. It’s something that we’ll have to change and we’ll have to talk about it,” said Sheikha Hind.

As with so many parts of this question of Qatar’s identity, she says “the perception is very different from the reality”.

More from Global education

Ideas for the Global education series? Get in touch.

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41470332

US business schools ‘hurt by Trump immigration policies’

Image copyright
Nottingham Business School

Image caption

Nottingham Business School – part of Nottingham Trent University – has seen international student applicants increase by 25%

Mention Nottingham in a conversation and for many people the first thing that comes to mind is Robin Hood.

I’ve had the Disney movie song “Robin Hood and Little John walking through the forest…” stuck in my head since visiting the city.

But the story being told here today is very different from the fable of old.

Instead of stealing from the rich to give to the poor, it’s students hoping to get rich who are flocking to this city two hours north of London.

Nottingham Business School – which is part of Nottingham Trent University – has seen a 25% rise in interest from international students this year.

That’s believed to be partially due to an unlikely source: Donald Trump.

While many Americans might have voted for the president partly because they valued his business acumen, an unlikely casualty of his immigration policies is said to be American business schools.

‘Exaggerated’ shift

“One of the things we noticed post the [presidential] election in the US last November was a change in students’ expressed intent to study in the US,” says Sangeet Chowfla, the president and chief executive of the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC).

The GMAC is the non-profit organisation that administers the GMAT, a standardised test most students around the world take to get into business school.

It published a survey of 1,000 global business schools this month, which found that international student interest in American business schools had declined by nearly two-thirds since the 2016 presidential election.

Meanwhile, international student interest in programs in Canada, for example, has increased by nearly the same amount. The same goes for programs in continental Europe and the UK.

Image copyright

Image caption

International students have said the US election result impacted their application decision

While that trend has been happening for some time, Mr Chowfla says he was surprised by the steep drop.

“The magnitude of the change was exaggerated this year,” he says.

Part of the decline was due to student concerns about immigration policies – most notably, the ability to get an H1B visa after graduating.

The H1B is typically given to “skilled” immigrants to the US, like computer programmers, and 85,000 visas are awarded each year via a lottery system.

It is often used by companies in Silicon Valley to bring in tech talent – but it has also been used by outsourcing companies.

Critics, including President Trump, have said those companies use the program to hire foreign workers instead of Americans – and he’s proposed reforming it.

That’s scared international students, particularly those pursuing business degrees, who use the programs as stepping stones to better or more well-paid careers.

A global degree

While the number of foreign business students in the US may be declining, for many American students, business remains a global enterprise.

Monica Kelly is one of those students. Though she hails from Seattle, Washington, she’s spent most of her career in Los Angeles.

“I was in a position where I reached senior management level and I was looking for a way to expand my global opportunities,” she says.

Monica decided that in order to seize those opportunities, she had to go abroad for business school. That’s how she found herself at Nottingham.

And she’s not alone.

At Nottingham, I spoke with two other students from India, and the program boasts a class made up of people from 104 countries.

Almost all of them said business was an increasingly global endeavour. Because of that, they fretted they wouldn’t be able to get international experience in the US, a country they feel has increasingly turned inwards.

Image copyright
David Baird

Image caption

NBS Dean Baback Yazdani said UK business schools suffered 5 years ago after new visa restrictions were introduced

That they’re attracted to a business school in the UK, however, is no accident.

“In the UK, we have gone through a period where the MBA [the main business school qualification] suffered quite a bit,” says Baback Yazdani, the dean of Nottingham Business School.

That was partially due to visa restrictions that were put in place five years ago, which limited the ability for graduate students to get post-study work visas.

Since then, Nottingham has worked hard to build its program around “experiential learning” – meaning that in addition to traditional classes, students travel abroad to work for companies in places like Italy and Rome.

The school also focused on helping students secure internships at companies that might sponsor them for visas, or that might be able to hire them in other parts of the world. Businesses close to Nottingham include Boots, which has merged with the pharmacy chain Walgreens in the US.

“Overall the MBAs are a saturated market – and it’s a global market,” says Mr Yazdani. “There are very sophisticated consumers for this market. So they know what they want and they know it’s everywhere. So they are looking for differentiators and value.”

Speaking of value – at an annual price of £16,500, or around $22,000 at today’s exchange rates – the Nottingham program is under half what most students at US business schools end up paying per year.

Lessons for the US?

Today, there are more than 5,000 students in its various business degree courses.

Image caption

Nottingham is known for Robin Hood, who hid out in nearby Sherwood forest

Nottingham’s administration says that their pivot could possibly help US schools.

“My guess is that’s probably happening now in the [US], and that the universities [there] will be going through the same trajectories,” says Nottingham Business School lecturer Phil Considine.

“We’re kind of five years ahead of them.”

In Nottingham’s atrium, banners are strung from the rafters welcoming international students, who start classes today.

Looking out through the school’s windows, you can see the beginning of the famed Sherwood Forest – where story has it Robin Hood hid out with his merry men.

For US business schools, who might not be feeling too merry, “stealing” a lesson from Nottingham might be a good way to make it through leaner times.

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41447884

Why big brand perfumes may be losing their allure

Image copyright

Image caption

Nick Steward is the founder of Gallivant fragrances

Corporate giants such as Estee Lauder, L’Oreal and Coty have dominated the fragrance market, but could that be about to change?

“Everything smells the same – people are getting bored of the big brands and want something different,” says Nick Steward, the London-based founder of a new fragrance brand, Gallivant.

He is convinced that there is a growing appetite for “something more personal that other people don’t have”.

Mr Steward decided to start his own company after several years as creative director of the trendy Paris house L’Artisan Parfumeur.

“I wanted to do something clever and interesting, avoiding all the froth, focused on the best materials,” he says.

He now sells his fragrances online and via specialist retailers in the US, Italy, Germany and as far away as Australia.

Image copyright

Image caption

Gallivant fragrances are smaller than the standard industry size

The Gallivant range of unisex fragrances are inspired by and named after cities such as Tel Aviv and London.

They are packaged in air-travel-friendly 30ml bottles – smaller than the standard industry sizes.

Mr Steward says that also makes them more affordable, reflecting consumers’ desire to have a variety of fragrances to choose from.

Reception from both consumers and retailers has been positive since the launch earlier this year, but he admits the road to profitability will be a challenge: “It’s a really tough business to make money in.”

He is seeking a slice of the fragrance market – worth about $27bn (£20bn; €22bn) a year globally – but it is dominated by corporate giants such as Estee Lauder, L’Oreal and Coty.

Image copyright

Image caption

Chanel’s latest campaign stars Kristen Stewart

These firms spend tens of millions of dollars a year in a bid to make their fragrances seem impossibly alluring to consumers, using celebrities such as Kristen Stewart, star of the latest Chanel campaign, or Charlize Theron, who features in ads for Dior J’Adore.

Seeing glamorous ads on TV, in the cinema or in magazines means consumers are more likely to try, if not buy, one of the hundreds of perfumes on the market.

Despite the daunting competition, Michael Edwards, publisher of global perfume database Fragrances of the World, says some consumers are favouring niche and artisan fragrance brands like Gallivant because they offer something special that none of their friends will have.

He believes that innovation in the sector is coming from smaller brands because the big players are afraid of taking risks.

The big brands want a new launch to appeal to as wide a range of consumers as possible, meaning they often produce something “bland”, he says.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Coty, behind brands including Gucci Bloom, reported a loss in August

“The future lies in bespoke – younger people want something of their own. While marketing is crucial, word of mouth is even more crucial,” says Mr Edwards.

The fact that some of the bigger names in the industry are struggling suggests he may be right.

Even Coty – the New York beauty brand behind famous names such as Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Hugo Boss and Chloe – has faced headwinds this year.

In August, it reported a surprise quarterly loss that was partly blamed on “materially” higher marketing costs for the launch of new fragrances, including Gucci Bloom and Hugo Boss Tonic.

L’Oreal, which sells fragrances under brands including Yves Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren and Diesel, also reported disappointing sales and profits for its most recent quarter.

Image copyright
Mike Masoni

Image caption

Michael Edwards founded the Fragrances of the World guide

But Roshida Khanom, an analyst at market research firm Mintel, says the industry giants are not taking the threat from upstart rivals lying down.

Chanel, one of the world’s most well known perfume makers, has revamped its range, launching No5 L’Eau in time for the Christmas rush last year.

The new version of Chanel’s classic fragrance – aimed squarely at younger generations – helped boost sales of the No5 range by a fifth.

At the same time, the French company also launched its first new fragrance in 15 years last month, Gabrielle, with a big-budget ad campaign.

Image copyright
Getty Images

What do people want from a perfume?

The experience of wearing the fragrance – not the bottle or the packaging – is still the most important thing for consumers, says Michael Edwards, publisher of global perfume database, Fragrances of the World.

Most people want a scent that is “pretty easy to like”, he says.

A fragrance has to entice at first sniff with a compelling “top note”, and convince the buyer that it will linger sufficiently long on his or her skin.

Above all else, he says: “It must make the wearer feel special.”

Retailers will be hoping that the launch will help return the fragrance sector to modest growth in the UK after two years of what Ms Khanom calls “disappointing sales”.

Mintel estimates UK sales will be worth about £1.5bn this year, making it the fifth-biggest market globally behind Brazil, the US, Russia and France.

As with other retail sectors, she says one of the problems is savvy consumers who try out products in a physical store but then go online to buy it for less.

Manufacturers are spending more on the bottle and packaging, as well as marketing, in a bid to get consumers to buy their fragrances.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Some consumers think celebrity fragrances are “tacky”

But the power of another popular trick – releasing a fragrance emblazoned with the name of a celebrity, such as Britney Spears, Beyonce or Jennifer Lopez – appears to be waning.

Mintel says that a third of consumers describe this approach as tacky.

“Celebrity fragrances are just not aspirational in the way they used to be,” says Ms Khanom.

Of course, for Gallivant’s Mr Steward this is good news.

But while some Gallivant buyers want it to remain a tiny brand only they know about for “bragging rights”, Mr Steward says that is not sustainable.

“I can’t live just selling five bottles a year.”

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41339121

Monarch’s rise and fall charts British holiday trends

Image copyright

Image caption

Monarch was originally part of Globus – which pioneered package holiday tours

Monarch, which has just gone into bankruptcy, was part of a travel group whose origins reach back 90 years, long before the days of mass air travel.

Through the heady 1970s and 80s, when foreign package holidays were the height of fashion, to the new era of relentless competition from budget airlines, Monarch still plied the skies.

But by 2017 fierce competition had made the business untenable.

And on 2 October it ceased operating.

A history of Monarch

In 1928 an enterprising young Swiss Italian, Antonio Mantegazza, spotted a gap in the market.

He realised tourists visiting his idyllic corner of Europe might pay to be ferried across Lake Lugano. So he bought a gondola and launched a tourism business that would eventually become travel giant Globus.

Forty years later in 1968 the Mantegazza family spotted a new way to ferry tourists their way. They decided to back a new airline being founded by British businessmen, Bill Hodgson and Don Peacock, that would bring British holidaymakers to Europe’s beauty spots.

Monarch was launched with just two planes operating from a hangar at Luton Airport, and a new era of package holidays took off.

Bill Hodgson’s daughter, Mary-Anne Hardie, remembers the airline in those days as “one big happy family”. While her father was managing director, her mother designed the first uniforms for cabin crew, in canary yellow. The family tested the in-flight meals at dinner time at home.

Image copyright

Image caption

Monarch introduced the British public to the affordable package holiday

By the 1970s package holidays had really taken off. Brits embraced the chance to take an exotic continental break instead of shivering with a thermos flask in Skegness.

Monarch was aimed, not at the wealthy, but at ordinary families: “The man who came home on a Friday and put money in a jam jar to save for a summer holiday,” says Ms Hardie.

In those days flying felt like a luxury, with coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon and free drinks on the menu.

But times were anything but easy. The oil price spike of the early seventies sent another big name in package holidays, Court Line, into administration.

Monarch might have gone under too; Miss Hardie remembers her father being “very stressed”.

But the attitude in the industry was of mutual support says Ms Hardie, “not as cut-throat as it is now” and Monarch survived. It even took on some of Court Line’s redundant staff.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Package holidays to the Med have become a summer staple for many British families

In the 1980s, while package holidays remained popular, there was a growing market for independent travel, with holiday-makers opting to mix and match their own flights and hotels.

Monarch responded by offering its first scheduled flights from Luton to Minorca in 1985. From then on it was competing directly with other carriers, not just as part of a tour operator.

Mr Hodgson had retired by then, one of his few regrets being that he’d bought the BAC 1-11 aircraft, that were so much noisier than the Boeing 720 “whispering giants” he’d bought before, says his daughter.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Benidorm became one of Spain’s most popular resorts for British visitors

In 1995 newly founded low-cost airline easyJet set up its own base alongside Monarch in Luton and the budget airline industry grew rapidly, taking couples on weekend citybreaks, stag and hen parties to ever more exotic destinations, to ski resorts in winter, the beach in summer.

“With the low cost airlines it was easier to book direct; that’s when Monarch started to struggle really,” says Ms Hardie.

The focus moved away from customer service towards those who offered the cheapest fare.

For a while there was room for everyone. And by the time of the financial crisis in 2008 Monarch had 32 aircraft flying to over 100 destinations in India, Africa, Caribbean, United States and Europe.

But it couldn’t last.

“The competition was relentless. It was expanding. It had very deep pockets even back when I was running Monarch seven or eight years ago,” recalls Tim Jeans, the firm’s former managing director.

“There were warning signs then and I think subsequently the market has only got more difficult.

“Competition is all fair and normally very, very good for consumers, but ultimately competition can be unsustainable. And the demise of Monarch is a direct result of that,” Mr Jeans says.

Image copyright
Gareth Cattermole

Image caption

In 2007 Monarch teamed up with record label Hed Kandi to offer less family-oriented holidays to Ibiza

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Monarch’s Managing Director at the time was Tim Jeans (L)

In 2011 the Arab Spring pushed up oil prices once again. Over several years the Mantegazza family poured money in to patch up Monarch’s balance sheet.

But finally with a gaping deficit in the company’s pension plan, in 2014, the family had had enough. They put a final £50m into the company they had owned for half a century, and sold it on to turnaround specialists Greybull Capital.

The company abandoned long haul routes and 700 jobs were cut. It turned out to be only a temporary reprieve. Even a hefty investment from Greybull wasn’t enough to bring Monarch up to fighting weight to take on the budget carriers.

Terrorist attacks in Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia, the migrant crisis in southern Europe and more recently the weakness of the pound following the EU referendum vote have all kept UK holiday-makers away from some of Monarch’s most popular destinations.

On 2 October 2017 the airline’s accountants KPMG announced the business would close and authorities launched the biggest peacetime repatriation of Brits to bring Monarch’s last 110,000 passengers home.

But the airline itself has run out of runway.

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41471291

What will stop these self-driving lorries colliding?

Image copyright

Image caption

Scania believes 5G could improve communications between “platooning” lorries

What impact could 5G – the new high-speed mobile technology being trialled around the world – have on the way we work and play?

Swedish transport company Scania believes lorries could use far less fuel if they drove much closer together, controlled by wirelessly communicating onboard computers.

But to prevent these “platooning” lorries crashing into each other, you’d better be sure your communications are fast and reliable.

So Scania is working with Ericsson on trials of the new 5G (fifth generation) wireless broadband technology, due to be rolled out globally in 2020.

It promises much faster data transfer speeds, greater coverage and more efficient use of the spectrum bandwidth.

“Platooning works very well with wi-fi, but in dense traffic situations with many vehicles communicating, 5G is designed to offer more reliable communication,” says Andreas Hoglund, Scania’s senior engineer for intelligent transport systems.

This is because 5G direct communication is designed to handle fast moving objects and congestion more efficiently, he says.

“Faster communication will make it possible to reduce the distance between vehicles in the platoon, which might further reduce the air drag and give positive effects on fuel consumption,” he explains.

This could help create “a more efficient, greener” world.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionWATCH: What is 5G?

5G is designed to accommodate the growing number of devices reliant on a mobile internet connection – from fridges to cars – and is 10 times faster than the highest speed 4G can manage.

“It will enable a lot of applications which were unthinkable before,” says Mischa Dohler, professor in wireless communications at King’s College London.

South Korea has plans to implement 5G for the Winter Olympics in February 2018, giving visitors access to virtual reality (VR) content on their mobiles.

One of the UK’s first 5G test-beds is in Brighton, where non-profit innovation hub, Digital Catapult Centre, has just completed a series of workshops for small businesses.

“Hypothetically, 5G is fast enough to download a 100GB 4K movie in two-and-a-half minutes,” says Richard Scott, innovation manager at Digital Catapult.

“But it isn’t just about speed – [5G] has specific features that will unlock and enable new technologies.”

Chiefly, these include fewer dropped connections and lower latency – the time it takes for data to be stored or retrieved.

More Technology of Business

Image copyright
Getty Images

“Wi-fi is fine if you are sitting with a few people in a meeting, or moving slowly around indoors,” explains Rahim Tafazolli, head of Surrey University’s 5G Innovation Centre.

“However, once you start to move quickly and the number of people increases to more than 10 – at Waterloo Station, for example – you need to have a system that can hand over connection between radio cells without causing a drop in signal, and which can accommodate several people simultaneously.

“Wi-fi can’t do that.”

This is because every wi-fi signal has a defined range, whereas 5G will be flexible, enabling mobile devices to switch automatically between the various newly available frequencies.

One frequency will be for long-range connections, across rural areas for example; one will be for urban environments, providing high numbers of users with high-speed connectivity; and there will also be a high-capacity frequency for densely populated areas, such as sports stadiums and railway terminals.

This flexibility will lead to “an ever-expanding array of new business services”, Mr Tafazolli believes, and could be critical to the success of autonomous vehicles and the internet of things.

Faster wireless connectivity should also give VR and augmented reality (AR) technologies a boost, argues Digital Catapult’s Mr Scott.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Faster mobile connectivity could greatly improve virtual reality experiences

“If you have a very detailed, immersive VR experience and you try to run it over a mobile headset currently, there is enough latency… that it makes you feel sick,” he explains.

So high-quality VR experiences rely on headsets being “tethered” to a computer, which provides the necessary computing power.

5G offers the opportunity to recreate high-quality experiences on the move.

“It could enable you to have an experience comparable with home gaming on your mobile,” says Mr Scott, “allowing you to compete or collaborate with other people in real time.”

Andy Cummins of Brighton-based digital agency, Cogapp, says 5G will allow his firm to create much more exciting AR and VR content for visitors to museums and galleries.

“Without [5G] these types of experiences… would at best seem laggy and unintuitive,” he says.

And Tim Fleming, founder of Future Visual, another Brighton company preparing to trial 5G, says: “We are very interested in in-store retail VR experiences, and creating a flagship VR experience that can be taken to any location.

“At the moment we have to use a dedicated PC, but with 5G you just need a headset and a mobile device. The heavy lifting is done in the cloud. That’s very interesting.”

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

5G enthusiasts say it could underpin smart cities and augmented reality services

Of course, 5G roll-out is not without its technical challenges.

Installing all the base stations and antennae is very expensive, and many of today’s devices will not be compatible with the new technology.

It is not clear at the moment who is going to pay for it.

But Ericsson’s head of 5G commercialisation, Thomas Noren, is confident that 5G services will be cheaper to run because the network will be more energy efficient and production and operational costs will be lower.

There is clearly still much detail to iron out, but research consultancy Ovum predicts that there will be 389 million 5G subscriptions globally by the end of 2022.

Users still struggling with patchy 4G coverage maybe forgiven for being a little sceptical about the ambitious claims being made for 5G.

But the potential to transform a number of businesses – and create many new ones – is clearly there.

  • Follow Technology of Business editor Matthew Wall on Twitter and Facebook
  • Click here for more Technology of Business

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41467871

Can ice structures solve a Himalayan water crisis?

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionEngineers in the Himalayan Desert are coming up with solutions which could help the world’s water crisis. Credit: Natural History Unit

It’s midnight at 3,500m (11,000ft) above sea level, the coldest time of the day, in one of the coldest places on the planet. In the middle of winter, temperatures here plunge to -30C (-22F).

A group of 10 volunteers are gathering; putting into place a plan to solve a water crisis in Ladakh, the northern most region of India, in the high Himalayas.

They are building manmade ice structures, more than 30m tall, that they hope will melt early in the spring and give villagers and their farms the water they need.

The ice structures are the brainchild of engineer Sonam Wangchuk. Born in Ladakh, he has worked for several years to find innovative solutions to everyday problems facing the local communities.

“We tend to get the solutions created in New York or New Delhi, but they don’t work for us here in the mountains. I believe mountain people have to find solutions for themselves,” he says.

Image copyright
Rolex/ Stefan Walker

Image caption

Sonam Wangchuk is the inventor of the ice structures

Villagers in Ladakh face harsh living conditions. Road blockages in the winter months mean they are cut off from the rest of the country for most of winter.

Mr Wangchuk says the effects of climate change are adding to the problem. He says there are signs that global warming is damaging the delicate climatic water balance in the Hindu Kush Himalayan range.

“We can see that the glaciers are receding, to higher altitudes. There is less water in spring, but in the summer months we have experienced dangerous flooding. The water flow in the valley has become erratic,” he explains.

Mr Wangchuk was inspired by a fellow engineer working in the region, Chewang Norphel. Mr Norphel had created flat artificial glaciers at heights of 4,000m (13,123ft) and above. But the villagers were reluctant to climb up to those levels.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Life in Ladakh has always depended on glacial melt-water

Mr Wangchuk says he was crossing a bridge when the idea for his ice structures crystallised.

“I saw that there was ice under the bridge, which at 3,000m (9,842ft) was the warmest and lowest altitude in the whole area,” he recalls.

“And this was in May. So I thought – direct sunlight makes the ice melt, but if we protect it from the sun, we can store ice right here.”


  • Remote villages at an altitude of 2700m (8860ft) to 4000m (13,123ft) above sea level
  • Population of almost 300,000
  • Winter desert temperatures as low as -30C (-22F)
  • Meagre rainfall of on average only 100 mm annually

And so, in 2013, he and his students from the Secmol Alternative School began to create prototypes of the ice structures near the village of Phyang.

They call the structures “stupas” because they bear resemblance to Tibetan religious stupas – elegant hemispherical or conical structures with pointed tops that contain relics, such as the remains of Buddhist monks.

The technology behind the ice structures is simple. Pipes are initially buried under the ground, below the frost line, before the final section of the pipe then rises vertically.

Due to the difference in height, temperature, and the gravitational force, pressure builds up in the pipe. The stream water eventually flows up and out from the pipe’s raised tip like a fountain.

The sub-zero air freezes the water to gradually form a pyramid like structure.

Image copyright
Sonam Wangchuk

Image caption

In late spring, the melting ice stupa provides water for the crops

“We are freezing water that goes unused in winter and, because of the geometric shape it doesn’t melt till late spring,” says Mr Wangchuk.

In late spring the artificial glacier starts to melt and water can be used for drip-irrigation of crops.

The BBC’s Innovators series reveals innovative solutions to major challenges across South Asia.

Ever heard of the concept of “jugaad”? It’s a Hindi term meaning cheap innovation.

If you have created a life hack or innovation that you are proud of, or spotted one while out and about on your travels, then share your picture with us by emailing [email protected], use the hashtags #Jugaad and #BBCInnovators and share your picture with @BBCWorldService, or upload your submission here.

Learn more about BBC Innovators.

As the ice structures look like the familiar religious stupas, Mr Wangchuk believes that this leads to a better sense of ownership amongst the locals.

After some initial success with one ice structures in 2014 the nearby Phyang Monastery got involved. The Buddhist monks asked the team to build 20 ice stupas. A successful crowd funding campaign raised $125,200 (£96,500).

This money funded a 2.3km (1.43 mile) pipeline which brought water down to Phyang. Mr Wangchuk claims this pipeline can support at least 50 ice stupas.

Mr Wangchuk is also now helping to build ice stupas near the winter sports resort town of St Moritz in Switzerland.

Image copyright
Rolex/ Stefan Walker

Image caption

The ice stupa team are working to made many more of the structures

After an initial prototype is built and tested, the Swiss want to expand the project to counter the phenomenon of fast-melting glaciers in the upper reaches of the Swiss mountains.

“In exchange for the ice stupa technology, the Swiss will share their expertise and experience in sustainable tourism development with the people of Phyang, to revive the dying economy of the village,” says Mr Wangchuk.

But he feels positive about the future.

“We want to train enthusiastic youth through our university, and eventually we are hoping to create a whole generation of ice or glacier entrepreneurs.”

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40404852

100 Women: Do women on boards increase company profits?

“Having women on company boards leads to better financial performance” came the headlines from report after report, highlighting a business statistic guaranteed to capture the imagination and prompt debate.

What better way to encourage companies to focus on equality and diversity than to make them think of their bottom line?

In the UK, the 30% Club was set up in 2010 with the aim of having women make up at least 30% of the members on every board.

In the US, the Thirty Percent Coalition – a group of people who are chief executives and chairs of their companies – was created to achieve the same thing.

Of course, there are many other – and some say better – reasons to argue for gender equality, but we wanted to look at whether this broadly accepted claim is true – does having more women on the board really mean the company makes more money?

Academics have warned against jumping to simple conclusions.

A report published by Credit Suisse last year said companies with at least one woman director received a better return on their investments compared with companies with all-male boardrooms.

They say companies where women made up at least 15% of senior management were 50% more profitable than those where fewer than 10% of senior managers were female.

But Prof Alice Eagly, at Northwestern University in the US, says many of the studies commissioned by corporations are “naive” as they don’t consider other variables.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Some European countries have introduced quotas for female board members

She explains that more sophisticated pieces of analysis carried out by academics have shown very small positive correlations between female board members and financial success. But this is an average – in some companies the relationship was neutral and in some it was negative.

And proving causation is far harder. It is difficult to say that it is having more women on boards that makes companies do better, rather than other factors – something corporate reports acknowledge.

This is because companies with more women on boards are different in other ways, too, according to Prof Eagly.

For example, firm size seems to be one of the most significant factors in determining profitability. And larger companies are likely to employ more women at every level.

More innovative companies were more likely to use their talent effectively, regardless of gender. And companies that were already more profitable may have been more able to focus efforts on diversity, she says.

A study looking at the gender make-up of the top management of the US’s biggest firms, not only their board members, found female representation in top management improves firm performance but only in companies that are “focused on innovation”.

‘Add women and stir’

And, interestingly, female board members appear to have more of a positive impact on their company’s performance in countries where women have more equal rights and treatment overall.

It looks like there is a relationship between more successful companies and those with more women in senior positions in general, but it’s not enough to simply “add women and stir”, as Prof Robin Ely at Harvard Business School puts it.

Another study from a group of German, Dutch and Belgian researchers found “the mere representation of females on corporate boards is not related to firm financial performance if other factors are not considered”. It relies on there being a good company culture too.

If women are in the minority in a room that is hostile to them, they are unlikely to be able to have a positive effect and that applies to other kinds of diversity too, the study suggests.

Focusing on numbers without also addressing structural diversity issues is not enough, according to Prof Ely.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

In the biggest US companies on the stock market, around 16% of board seats are held by women

Looking at how many spaces on a board are filled by women doesn’t tell you how influential the board is, and it doesn’t tell us whether those women are being listened to and allowed to have an impact, Prof Ely points out, as “not all spots on a board are created equal”.

There is some evidence that having three women on a board of 12 to 15 people is the tipping point for them to actually be heard and able to have an influence at all. So there are good arguments for the 30% rule – it just doesn’t necessarily translate directly to profits.

In fact Corinne Post, a professor of organisation management at Lehigh University, says that board members don’t have a direct influence on the bottom line of a company, but they do have a greater influence on corporate social responsibility.

She found that there was a five times stronger correlation between a company having female board members and stronger performance when it comes to ensuring they are environmentally friendly as a company, or involve themselves in philanthropy for example, than the correlation between female board members and profits.

Profitability is highly complex and there’s even evidence that chief executives might not have much of an influence on company profits.

“In companies with any women on their board at all, they tend to have between one and three – are you really saying the gender of three people on a board is going to have an impact on the bottom line?” Prof Ely asks.

For Northwestern’s Prof Eagly, the most pertinent question is why we would need evidence women bring in more money than men, before they are given equal status on boards.

“Why should you rule out 50% of the population from important jobs. It’s about social justice not about profits.”

Read more from Reality Check

Follow us on Twitter

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/41365364

The man who built a drinks empire… twice

Image copyright
Califia Farms

Image caption

Greg Steltenpohl was a pioneer of the whole foods movement

Greg Steltenpohl was a pioneer of the “whole foods” movement in the 1980s. But he almost lost everything after his first company faced a major corporate crisis.

After creating not one but two highly successful natural drinks companies, Greg Steltenpohl is “not one for regrets”.

However, the former jazz musician does rank the sale of his first business, Odwalla, to Coca-Cola back in 2001 as a “pretty big disappointment”.

He co-founded the firm, now one of America’s best-known juice and smoothie brands, with some friends back in 1980, simply as a way to support his career as a musician.

It became an early pioneer of the “whole foods” movement, priding itself on its all natural ingredients, quirky branding and independent ethos.

But after an outbreak of E. coli was associated with one of its juices in 1996, sales dried up.

Image copyright
Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures

Image caption

Mr Steltenpohl co-founded Odwalla, one of America’s best-known smoothie brands

The founders had to take on new investment to stay afloat and lost control of the board.

Within five years Mr Steltenpohl had quit, and Odwalla was sold to Coke for $181m (£134m).

“I’m not evangelising against ‘evil corporate empires’,” the genial Californian says over coffee in London.

“But these big firms tend to target smaller ones like Odwalla because they can’t innovate those ideas internally.

“The problem is they end up destroying what make those brands unique.”

The 62-year-old is trying to set the record straight with his latest venture, the plant-based food company Califia Farms.

Launched in 2010, its main line is in almond and coconut milks, which come either plain, or in flavours like matcha green tea, or ginger and turmeric.

Image copyright
Califia Farms

Image caption

Mr Steltenpohl’s new firm, Califia Farms, makes plant-based milks and cold coffees

The Los Angeles-based firm also sells bottled coffees and natural juices, with all its products low in sugar, dairy free and ethically sourced.

Whereas Mr Steltenpohl’s first company was launched at time when natural and organic foods were a novelty, the sector is now well established, with industry-wide sales of $69bn in the US alone last year.

Large food companies are also losing market share to smaller ones that offer more artisanal, niche products.

Califia already has sales of more than $100m a year, and is the number one premium bottled coffee brand in the US.

However, Mr Steltenpohl says big corporations have been “jumping into” the whole foods market, and smaller companies like his face competition.

“They have much better supply chains, distribution and marketing. At the moment we’re just a fly on the back of an elephant.”

Image copyright
Califia Farms

Image caption

Califia Farms makes more than $100m in sales annually

Mr Steltenpohl fell into the drinks business by chance after studying at the Creative Music Studio, a renowned music school in upstate New York, in the late 1970s.

He and two friends moved to Santa Cruz, California to seek fame and fortune with their “avant garde jazz” band The Stance. But they quickly ran out of money.

“We were broke and we weren’t that good! So I came up with this idea that we could squeeze fresh orange juice every morning, sleep during the day, and play music all night.”

The juice company took off, and the music tapered out. Under the brand Odwalla – named after a song by experimental jazz group Art Ensemble of Chicago – the trio started selling to restaurants and health food shops, but were soon stocking grocery stores across the US.

By 1996 Odwalla was listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange and sales were approaching $100m a year.

Image copyright
Califia Farms

Image caption

Califia’s cold coffees include a nitrogen-infused variety

Then disaster struck.

A child died and scores were sickened after drinking a batch of the firm’s apple juice; Odwalla had to issue a huge product recall, and its sales dived by 90%.

Jeffery Kline, editor of drinks industry website Bevnet, says Mr Steltenpohl has been “very open about how painful the experience was”.

Mr Kline adds: “People in the industry believe Greg acted respectably throughout the crisis. And he never talks about it in terms of what he went through, but in fact what an incredibly devastating impact it had on others.”

Within two years Odwalla had rebuilt its reputation, thanks in part to its loyal customer base. The problem, says Mr Steltenpohl, was the new backers wanted a “quick return” on their investment by selling the firm.

More The Boss features, which every week profile a different business leader from around the world:

“In hindsight I think we could have found investors who shared our values and stayed independent. But we had to move fast to protect people’s jobs.”

Not long after Coca-Cola swooped, and Odwalla soon “lost its ethos”, he says.

“We were a local brand, but Coke shut our plant and shifted the main staff to Atlanta. It also replaced the key managers with their internal people who all had two year rotations, and you can’t run a passion brand that way.”

A spokeswoman for Coca-Cola says it is keen to nurture new brands, and Odwalla remains an “important part” of its natural health drinks portfolio.

Mr Steltenpohl says he has learnt from the experience, as well as from several other unsuccessful ventures he launched after leaving Odwalla.

Image copyright
Califia Farms

Image caption

Califia’s plant in Bakersfield, California

He now wants to keep Califia Farms “independent” for as long as possible. But is that realistic?

Phil Howard, an associate professor at the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University, says that only a “small number” of values-driven firms manage to stay independent and be successful.

“As big distributors and retailers consolidate it becomes difficult to compete, so many smaller firms sell up to multinationals,” he explains.

“And a lot depends on the small firm’s ownership structure, for instance whether they need to repay investors.”

Califia Farms has already sold a minority stake to a private equity firm, but Mr Steltenpohl says the investor fully shares its values. Califia is also majority owned by the farm that produces its oranges, while Mr Steltenpohl is its boss and a founding shareholder.

Tellingly, he has hired people with experience of working in bigger firms to help guide the business.

These include a plant manager who trained at Danone, and a head of human resources who worked for Virgin boss Richard Branson.

Mr Steltenpohl says he is determined to strike a better balance between keeping the firm on track, and upholding his “starry eyed” ideals than he did at Odwalla.

That said, he hopes business culture is changing to accommodate different notions of success.

“It is partly the fault of the business media and business schools,” he says, “but we tend to celebrate a firm’s growth and quarterly reports above all else.

“But wouldn’t it be great if we were saying, ‘Wow, they managed to stay independent for 20 years, stayed true to their values, and they grew their sales too.'”

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41390704

How market research revolutionised advertising and shopping

Image copyright
Getty Images

In the early years of the 20th Century, US carmakers had it good. As quickly as they could manufacture cars, people bought them.

By 1914, that was changing. In higher price brackets especially, purchasers and dealerships were becoming choosier. One commentator warned that the retailer “could no longer sell what his own judgement dictated”. Instead, “he must sell what the consumer wanted”.

That commentator was Charles Coolidge Parlin, widely recognised as the world’s first professional market researcher and, indeed, the man who invented the very idea of market research.

A century later, the market research profession is huge: in the United States alone, it employs about 500,000 people.

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy highlights the inventions, ideas and innovations that helped create the economic world.

It is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can find more information about the programme’s sources and listen online or subscribe to the programme podcast.

Parlin was tasked with taking the pulse of the US automobile market. He travelled tens of thousands of miles, and interviewed hundreds of car dealers.

After months of work, he presented his employer with what he modestly described as “2,500 typewritten sheets, charts, maps, statistics, tables etc”.

Better adverts?

You might wonder which carmaker employed Parlin to conduct this research. Was it, perhaps, Henry Ford, who at the time was busy gaining an edge on his rivals with another innovation – the assembly line?

But no: Ford didn’t have a market research department to gauge what customers wanted.

Perhaps that’s no surprise. Henry Ford is widely supposed to have quipped that people could have a Model T in “any colour they like, as long as it’s black”.

In fact, no carmakers employed market researchers.

Image copyright
The Parlin Family

Image caption

Charles Parlin was charged with investigating markets to facilitate more effective advertising

Parlin had been hired by a magazine publisher.

The Curtis Publishing Company was responsible for some of the most widely read periodicals of the time: the Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies’ Home Journal, The Country Gentleman.

The magazines depended on advertising revenue.

The company’s founder thought he’d be able to sell more advertising space if advertising were perceived as more effective, and wondered if researching markets might make it possible to devise better adverts.

‘Constructive service’

In 1911, he set up a new division of his company to explore this vaguely conceived idea, headed by Charles Parlin. It wasn’t an obvious career move for a 39-year-old high school principal from Wisconsin – but then, being the world’s first market researcher wouldn’t have been an obvious career move for anyone.

Parlin started by immersing himself in agricultural machinery, then tackled department stores. Not everyone saw value in his activities, at first.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Department stores such as Selfridges also had a massive influence on the way people shopped

Even as he introduced his pamphlet The Merchandising of Automobiles: An Address to Retailers, he still felt the need to include a diffident justification of his job’s existence.

He hoped to be “of constructive service to the industry as a whole,” he wrote, explaining that carmakers spent heavily on advertising, and his employers wanted to “ascertain whether this important source of business was one which would continue”. They needn’t have worried.

‘Consumer-led’ approach

The invention of market research marks an early step in a broader shift from a “producer-led” to “consumer-led” approach to business – from making something then trying to persuade people to buy it, to trying to find out what people might buy, and then making it.

The producer-led mindset is exemplified by Henry Ford’s “any colour, as long as it’s black”.

From 1914 to 1926, only black Model Ts rolled off Ford’s production line: it was simpler to assemble cars of a single colour, and black paint was cheap and durable.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Henry Ford famously began by selling one type of car available in one colour

All that remained was to persuade customers that what they really wanted was a black Model T. To be fair, Ford excelled at this.

Few companies today would simply produce what’s convenient, then hope to sell it.

A panoply of market research techniques helps determine what might sell: surveys, focus groups, beta testing. If metallic paint and go-faster stripes will sell more cars, that’s what will get made.

Where Parlin led, others eventually followed.

By the late 1910s, not long after Parlin’s report on automobiles, companies had started setting up their own market research departments. Over the next decade, US advertising budgets almost doubled.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

George Gallup pioneered opinion polls in the 1930s

Approaches to market research became more scientific. In the 1930s, George Gallup pioneered opinion polls. The first focus group was conducted in 1941 by an academic sociologist, Robert K Merton.

He later wished he could have patented the idea and collected royalties.

But systematically investigating consumer preferences was only part of the story. Marketers also realised it was possible systematically to change them.

More from Tim Harford:

How department stores changed the way we shop

TV dinners: The hidden cost of the processed food revolution

How the barcode changed the retail world

How a razor revolutionised the way we pay for stuff

Robert K Merton coined a phrase to describe the kind of successful, cool or savvy individual who routinely features in marketing campaigns: the “role model”.

Manufacturing desire

The nature of advertising was changing: no longer merely providing information, but trying to manufacture desire.

Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays pioneered the fields of public relations and propaganda.

In 1929, he helped the American Tobacco Company to persuade women that smoking in public was an act of female liberation. Cigarettes, he said, were “torches of freedom”.

Image copyright

Image caption

Adverts began to portray smoking and smokers as liberated and modern

Today, attempts to discern and direct public preferences shape every corner of the economy.

Any viral marketer will tell you that creating buzz remains more of an art than a science, but with ever more data available, investigations of consumer psychology can get ever more detailed.

Where Ford offered cars in a single shade of black, Google famously tested the effect on click-through rates of 41 slightly different shades of blue.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Google carried out exhaustive tests on which precise shade of blue performed best

Should we worry about the reach and sophistication of corporate efforts to probe and manipulate our consumer psyches?

The evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller takes a more optimistic view.

“Like chivalrous lovers,” Miller writes, “the best marketing-oriented companies help us discover desires we never knew we had, and ways of fulfilling them we never imagined.” Perhaps.

Conspicuous consumption

Miller sees humans showing off through our consumer purchases much as peacocks impress peahens with their tails.

Such ideas hark back to an economist and sociologist named Thorstein Veblen, who invented the concept of conspicuous consumption back in 1899.

Charles Coolidge Parlin had read his Veblen. He understood the signalling power of consumer purchases.

“The pleasure car,” he wrote in his address to retailers, “is the travelling representative of a man’s taste or refinement.”

“A dilapidated pleasure car,” he added, “like a decrepit horse, advertises that the driver is lacking in funds, or lacking in pride.”

What should be the 51st Thing?

Image copyright
Getty Images

Tim Harford has discussed 50 things that have made the modern economy. Help choose the 51st by voting for one of these listener suggestions:

  • The credit card
  • Glass
  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Irrigation
  • The pencil
  • The spreadsheet

You can vote on the 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy programme website. Voting closes at 12:00 GMT on Friday 6 October, and the winning 51st thing will be announced in a podcast on 28 October.

In other words, perhaps not someone you should trust as a business associate – or a husband.

Signalling these days is much more complex than merely displaying wealth: we might choose a Prius if we want to display our green credentials, or a Volvo if we want to be seen as safety-conscious.

These signals carry meaning only because brands have spent decades consciously trying to understand and respond to consumer desires – and to shape them.

By contrast with today’s adverts, those of 1914 were delightfully unsophisticated.

The tagline of one, for a Model T, said: “Buy it because it’s a better car.” Isn’t that advertisement, in its own way, perfect? But it couldn’t last.

Charles Coolidge Parlin was in the process of ushering us towards a very different world.

Tim Harford writes the Financial Times’s Undercover Economist column. 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can find more information about the programme’s sources and listen online or subscribe to the programme podcast.

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41188463