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Book Review: The Samurai and The Sacred

The Samurai and The Sacred is a strange book. When I purchased it in one of my trips to the USA I did it for two reasons. The first was the topic, the religion of the Samurai. Being a practitioner of Japanese martial arts and some styles of Japanese sword techniques I wanted to learn more about the religion behind the stout warrior. The second reason was the delicate and exquisite design and layout, complete with maybe more than a hundred photos of old Japanese temples and landmarks.

The Samurai and The Sacred

The Samurai and The Sacred

The book is different though. I am not disappointed, since I enjoyed it a lot, but the author deals with the theme on a more academic level, focused on the development of the Japanese religious system and touching on the Samurai beliefs a lot less than I expected.

It is more a tale of the evolution of religious systems in Japan than a thorough explanation of Japanese religious systems. To the author it is clear that the Japanese rulers (Emperor, Shogun and Warlords alike) supported many changes in religion and introduction of newer ones simply on political whim. Buddhist and Shinto lived side by side. The Shinto system was more local, but aspects of Confucianism mixed with Buddhist Christians made the people more loyal to the State and easy to govern. Later, the Christians were allowed in exchange for cannons and guns, and afterwards dispatched when their weapons were no longer needed.

If the reader is new to the history of Japan, one can get lost among the many periods and eras, but for the most part the flow and evolution of Japanese religion is clearly explained as to make it more or less easy to follow.

The Samurai and The Sacred is a very nice book to own on a topic that ties the social – religion – with the historical without necessarily going deep into the aspects of religious systems per se. If I have one thing to complain about is the fact that the Samurai has a smaller role in the book than the title would indicate.

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Introducing Brand Prostitution

In my life it happens almost every week.

Ever since March 2011, the time when I took charge of my company’s sales department, I have been trying to clean our account portfolio. Every time that I travel with some of our sales reps, I see many examples of brand prostitution. I close accounts that do not meet the requirements of the brand, and the next week the sales team is presenting leads with potential customers who add nothing to the it. On the contrary, their effect on the brand is negative.

This is what I call brand prostitution. The term is rather common in my region of Latin America. Yet don’t look it up in any marketing book because you will probably not find a definition. It’s that sort of common term that everyone uses but no one has ever taken the time to define.

I am so fed up with brand prostitution that I thought it would make a great topic for a series of small blog notes. I hope to clearly define what brand prostitution is, why it has a negative effect on the brand, and how to control it. I have yet to see positive effects to any case, so I will forfeit the scientific method or any hopes of academic merits and limit myself to the core of the matter.

I want to start by explaining in simple terms what brand prostitution is. Think about a brand, a premium brand. A brand that invests a lot in building its positioning and unique proposition. One that has spent resources building a selective target audience. Think something on the lines of Hermes or Ferrari or Hugo Boss. Those are premium brands. Think Tous and the little bear, or think Tiffany’s. Those brands have spent a lot in cultivating a brand tone. It’s not Coke. Coke has a strong brand, but it’s not premium. Coke does not want to be premium. Coke needs to be everywhere, to all people. It’s a mass consumption item. But not Tous. You can’t just walk and find a Tous store, or a Louis Vuitton in the outlet mall down the road.

These are not brands that want to be everywhere. Being everywhere it’s not good for premium brands. You know, it’s marketing 101 and economics 101, if gold was as water it would be worth very little and when we run out of clean water, water will be worth a lot. So you have a premium brand and you want to keep it premium.

But let’s say one of your distributors starts to get lazy, greedy or maybe he or she is just a little stupid (it can happen and it does happen a lot in business…) They decide that they can sell your high-end product in those little mom and pop stores. And they do. And soon instead of 20 handbags you sell like 250, and you are happy because sales are flying (who wouldn’t?) But soon your high end retailer starts to complain that she can’t sell those expensive handbags to her usual customers because the same handbag is everywhere in the c-level neighborhood and those ugly mom and pop stores. And worse, since they oversold to like twenty of those awful mom and pop stores, and those people have the pesky habit of eating every day, they started this big price war and discounted the items by 40%. Hey, they make enough with the 10% profit, after all, rent is pretty cheap in the smaller neighborhood venues, unlike big retailers who have to pay big rents in malls, pay taxes, pay salaries, etc.

Sounds like a joke?

Sadly it’s not. This is the beginning of  brand prostitution. I have seen the same thing for sixteen years in Colombia, Venezuela, and Central America. Some brands change distributors. Some brands don’t see it until it’s too late and they start to lose share. Some brands detect it too late and have to pay hefty sums to recuperate their distribution and clean up the act. The fact is that brand prostitution is the effect of allowing commercial and marketing strategies that poise a negative threat on the brand’s positioning, target audience, goodwill, or values.

On the next article on this topic we will work on a more academic definition and offer some very tangible examples of brand prostitution.

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Nickel and Dimed: Book Review

Nickel and Dimed

Nickel and Dimed

I always held one precept to be true: if you are going to be poor, it’s better to be poor in Latin America as opposed to the USA. When I lived as a child in Long Island, our financial situation shifted with the tides of luck and my father’s ability to make best use of our money. My father was a family man, and I cannot recall any of my parents making poor use of the available resources, but I always felt those hard times would have been better spent in Argentina. In our country we always had family to rely on, ways to get around medical assistance and schooling, etc. But in the US, unless you were well-to-do, options were few and far between.

That is why I picked the book “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich. I wanted to read an account of what is like for people with limited salary incomes to get by in the United States. I felt I might get a similar account of what my life had been like in those years.

This is a good book, which might have been a great book, but never the less delivers on what the life of someone with limited resources goes through. In a nutshell, the author, a well-known journalist and speaker with advanced education, secretly undertakes several low-paying, entry jobs under the guise of being a newly divorced woman who needs to make it on her own. Without relying on her college education or past experience, her choice of jobs is limited to very basic ones: waitress for a restaurant in Key West, maid for a hotel, sales assistant in Walmart, etc. Relying on low salaries, and sometimes working two jobs to increment her pay, the anecdotes focus on how the poor struggle to get by, and how the America low-end work force is protected – and not – by the law.

The accounts are interesting. The major problem is always paying rent. Without the funds to pay for a deposit and a month in advance, most people are limited in what they can use as housing. The author walks the reader through the availability of monthly hotel rents, trailer houses, and economical cots. While she does not live in her car, many of the people working around her do, and their accounts add to the struggle of those out-of-luck and having to sleep in vans and pick-ups. The cost of food, laundry, and medical needs also make part of the story, but most of the prose is dedicated to the work environment itself, and how limited are the choices for those who wish to better themselves.

I liked the book, but at parts I felt there was a lot not told. Supermarket, for example. I remember my family resorting to many interesting schemes in order to give us ample and healthy food habits. I guess thirty years later, inflation in the USA makes healthy food an nonviable option for the poor. Housing seems also an issue where the author seems lacking. We lived in very economical housing, but it was always in very good condition and in very good neighbourhoods. There seems to be a lot of the details of day to day life which goes missing, maybe because the author prefers to speak about the realities of the American labour environment as opposed to a tell of how to get by on a few dollars per week.

All in all, this is a book that captures the reader (I read it in less than four days; I read a lot but my time schedule is limited.) There was a lot more I would have liked to find out about life under stress, but what we get in the book is enough as to satisfy and makes an interesting account on how the USA has another side of the story for those with restricted job opportunities.