Obsolescence Makes VCR Manufacturers Press Stop

The news that the world’s last manufacturer of Videocassette Recorders (“VCR”) will manufacture its last VCR has gone around the world. 40 years after the first VHS video cassette recorder was manufactured, Japanese consumer electronics company Funai Electric – the last known company making the devices – is ceasing production of its VCR products. The company cited declining sales and difficulty in obtaining the necessary parts as reasons to cease production. At its peak, the company sold 15 million VCRs per year, which has since dwindled down to 750,000 units in 2015 (Frankly, still an astonishing number! Who knew that three-quarters of a million people still bought brand new VCRs?!).

The news caught my attention for a couple of reasons.

Recorded Nostalgia

First of all, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia. When I was growing up, we had limited screen time (television, not tablet). My mother would record our TV shows during the week and we’d watch them during the weekend; after homework and revision, of course. Or that time when my friends discussed the first time they saw what was on the tapes dad had hidden away. 😉

I also remembered the “accessories” industry that sprouted around the VCR and VHS tapes. Who didn’t have some sort of VHS tape rewinder placed near their TV stand?

Remember these?!

Fast Forward To The End

Secondly, I was impacted by the fact that obsolescence has claimed yet another victim. Very specifically, it reminded me about the following clip from the movie, Other People’s Money, starring Danny Devito.

The bit when “Larry the Liquidator”, talked about obsolescence with the example of “the last company around […] that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw” is especially powerful for me.

This company is dead.

I didn’t kill it. Don’t blame me.

It was dead when I got here. […]

You know why?

Fiber optics. New technologies. Obsolescence.

We’re dead, all right. We’re just not broke.

And do you know the surest way to go broke?

Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.

You know, at one time there must have been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw.

I turn to this scene time and time again whenever I think about my career or the brands I am working with (see: “Brands Will Last Forever… Right?” and “A truly innovative agenda and prepping for jobs that do not yet exist“).

Sometimes, it’s not just about product excellence or an endearing (even enduring) brand. Or, if you think about it from a career perspective – it’s not about your productivity or your personality.

It’s about whether you can successfully adapt to defend your place in this world.

Or, as General Eric Shinseki, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff puts it: “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

News sources:

Can Video Games Be A Spiritual Experience? Short Film “Player Two” Answers

When I came across this video on social media, it hit me right in my geeky gamer feels!

This short film, called “Player Two“, was ostensibly based on a true story.

In response to a YouTube video titled “Can Video Games Be a Spiritual Experience?”, one commenter shared the story of how he had lost his father at a young age and reconnected with his ghost via a shared video game.

Here’s the video:

As a marketer and corporate communicator, I cannot help but note that this inadvertently serves as a great ad to the Microsoft Xbox. It’s a powerful, emotional story that does a great job humanizing the brand, video gaming, as well as the technology. Not a bad achievement in just under 2 minutes!

Now, Adweek has published an interview with John Wikstrom – the filmmaker behind “Player Two”. It’s interesting to note that Microsoft – the owner of Xbox – had nothing to do with the video.

Read the full Adweek story here: Here’s the Story Behind the Moving Xbox Video That Microsoft Had No Hand in Creating.

Shell We Move? – Suumo

Image Credit: Suumo

This was making its rounds on social media – clearly, as a testament to the viral nature of project.

Suumo is the biggest real estate information agent in Japan. Suumo was looking to build brand leadership when its agency HAKUHODO Kettle Tokyo challenged the company to meet the needs of a very unusual customer – the hermit crab.

The resulting initiative was called, “Shell We Move?

The initiative was a collaborative between Suumo and Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology to develop the perfect house for hermit crabs; especially since suitable seashells for hermit crab use were dwindling in Japan due to environmental degradation. The resulting solution was not only effective for the brand (increased purchase intention for the brand to 120%), it was also a useful and impactful, environmentally-friendly solution.

The alignment to the brand proposition was perfect – hermit crabs are famous for being the “masters of living,” who keep seeking the comfortable houses throughout their entire lives. Suumo was then poised to provide new comfortable houses for some of the most challenging customers in the world – and even turn them into unwitting brand advocates.

A short version of the case study (in English) can be viewed here:

A more comprehensive video case study (in Japanese, with English subtitles) is available here:

 

Thriving Amidst Disruption – What I’ve Learned Since Joining The Oil & Gas Industry

When I joined Shell, I came in amidst some of the most disruptive times in the industry.

Global oil prices were in free-fall: on my first day of work, I learned that the price of oil had tumbled by 50% – from US$110 per barrel to about US$55 per barrel. Today, as I write this, it is hovering at about $30 per barrel – a dip of over 70%.

Imagine having your bank account shrink by more than two-thirds, without having any ability to mitigate or effect change. And now, “the experts” are talking about prices remaining “lower for longer”, with this potentially being the new normal. For the industry, this has been a seismic shift.

And yet, there has been no better time to be in the industry. Amidst every crisis, there’s an opportunity.

Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed to have front-row seats for transformation.

When I was in banking and finance – I led branding and communications amidst one of the longest-drawn, contentious mergers in corporate Malaysia’s history. When I was at Microsoft, the company was going through a transformation from its previous business model of selling enterprise licenses to selling devices and cloud services. Now at Shell, here I am again, finding a way forward to thrive amidst disruption yet again.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1) Be agile

This means being able to learn quickly, pivot strategically, and execute effectively amidst a constantly changing environment. It means being able to quickly identify and understand the industry, the forces of change, what’s happening, what makes your business viable, and more. Then taking all of that, to formulate a strategy that may involve dramatically and creatively pivoting from familiar terrain into a completely new scenario that becomes “the new normal”. Finally, mustering forward by executing against your strategy effectively (execution is everything, IMHO).

At Shell, this took the form of exploring new forms of energy beyond the traditional “oil and gas” model, which included exploring new frontiers in deepwater and integrated gas. It meant pursuing new and creative engineering solutions to extract more value more efficiently. It has even meant taking what some perceive to be gamble in order to preserve our place in the future of energy.

2) Prioritize ruthlessly

When things are being disrupted, you often don’t have the luxury of time or options – massive change is happening to you, whether you like it or not. Consequently, you need to prioritize ruthlessly – figure out what’s really important to propel things forward. This may mean taking a sober look and making hard choices regarding your budget, people, and even strategic priorities. It might even mean sacrificing your sacred cows.

At the same time, prioritizing ruthlessly means not getting distracted by the noise of everything that is happening. Think about it this way: during an earthquake, even if your valuables or sentimental possessions are crashing down around you, your priority is to ensure you and your loved ones remain safe.

For Shell, this has meant revisiting initial investment opportunities and even enacting divestments. I’ve even been challenged to consider, “What if we did nothing?” – which, admittedly, is an intriguing challenge for someone whose job function requires him to be proactive in “doing something”. And yet, that is the hallmark of prioritising ruthlessly: being laser-focused on what must be done and foregoing anything else that could distract and detract you from your objectives.

3) Stay Positive

When the world as you know it is tumbling down all around you, it can be difficult to remain positive. I hesitate to refer to pop psychology tropes, but I really do think that “tough times never last, but tough people do.” Having a positive outlook – call it hope or even being “cautiously optimistic” (as is the corporate-speak) – is strategically essential for survival.

Having a positive attitude can be underrated or overlooked, amidst all the other more business-like strategies. However, your “invisible” internal resources (whether it’s your own energy and state of mind or whether it’s the company’s morale) is often what fuels your “visible” external achievements.

If you’re going to navigate your way (your business, your organisation, your team, etc.) through disruptive times, you need to see be able to see the world that exists once you’ve been through the disruption and emerged successful at the other end of this journey. In doing so, you keep up the morale and energy to execute effectively.

This was where I was truly grateful for the leaders at Shell. Folks like my immediate supervisor, the Country Chairman, as well as other leaders throughout the organisation (locally, regionally and even globally) were great examples of how to remain positive during tough times. For some of them, they were the final decision maker when it came to making tough calls for the business – which included impacting thousands of jobs. It was tough and sobering, and I was humbled to see that they were indeed affected by the choices they had to make. Even so, they could still see the end-game and kept us all inspired for a world when all of this had passed and we emerged as a stronger organisation that was fit for the future.

 

The Shell Eco-Marathon Asia 2016

Shell Eco Marathon 2016

I just came back from my favorite initiatives Shell has when it comes to engaging young people for the future of energy: The Shell Eco-Marathon. This is my second tour of duty for the Eco-Marathon – a unique race about going farther, not the fastest; using the least amount of fuel.

Held in Manila from 3-6 March 2016,  over 100 student teams from 16 countries across Asia, Middle East and Africa, in the Philippines, from 3-6 March 2016, at a specially designed street circuit on the city streets of Manila.

It’s a truly unique and inspiring event – I’ve met some of the most passionate and intelligent young people Asia has to offer when it comes to science, engineering, innovation and technology as they stretch the boundaries of fuel efficiency in a real world urban environment.

I was especially impressed by Team UiTM Eco-Planet, who emerged as champions of the UrbanConcept Hydrogen Fuel Cell category for the third time in a row. This year, they debuted a 3-D printed car that was assembled from 120 individually-printed parts, with each part taking approximately 10 hours to complete. They told me they only had a small, office-sized 3-D printer, which meant that they spent over 1,200 hours printing the individual parts which was later assembled together when they arrived in Manila!

The other fun bit about the Shell Eco-marathon is the Energy Zone, which allows visitors to experience activities and games that explore the future of energy, cities and sustainability.

 

It was a really fun time in the Philippines, this year. I was very proud of our Malaysian students who swept four top awards – congrats to Team UiTM Eco-Sprint and Team UiTM Eco-Planet from Universiti Teknologi MARA (“UiTM”) Shah Alam; Team Eco-Voyager from Universiti Malaya; and Team Eco-Chaser from Monash University Malaysia!

I often say, when it comes to marketing and communications, it’s better to do “more showing, less telling.” Hence, I really think this initiative showcases Shell at its very best – especially when it comes to inspiring hope and challenging minds about the future of energy and mobility. I look forward to the next iteration of the Eco-Marathon in the next year!

More pics available here.

More info: