Thursday, March 16, 2006


For the many Sideswipe readers who strenuously object to parking double standards (Taken outside the Auckland District Court off Albert St last week).

By Ana Samways

Evidence you're getting old even if you're still quite young (From readers):

1. I tucked my shirt into my jeans because it looked cold outside.

2. Taking my knitting to the pub.

3. I'm on my second marriage.

4. Seeing young children smoking and being disgusted that they are starting even earlier than you did. Then being told that they are, in fact, 18.

5. Looking forward to the news.

6. I haven't argued with my parents in years.

7. Realising that the age range of women you fancy is between 16 and 50.

8. Drug dealers and prostitutes think I'm a policeman.

9. Sporadic sex with partner, rather than sex with sporadic partners.

10. My father is 67, and I consider him to be not terribly old.

11. Buying an automatic car: Why use two feet when you can use one?

12. I've started to refer to chart music as "noise".

13. When I was young my dad refused to buy a video recorder because "they'll never catch on", now I refuse to buy an iPod for the same reason.

14. I'm convinced that lollies are getting smaller.

15. Hangovers take two days to clear rather than half the morning.

16. I sometimes can't be bothered getting pissed.

17. Tagging is puerile and ruins park benches.

18. I've just checked most of these comments for spelling mistakes and then corrected them.

19. At work I responded to someone's suggestion that a colleague should get subwoofers for her car with the remark "it's a CAR, not a disco!"

20. I was having a drink and attempting to dance with young attractive ladies. Suddenly one of the girls grabbed my shoulders and turned me round to dance with her mother.

* * *

No one wants a "fun" school: Western Australia plans to ban students from wearing denim to school. "It is associated with weekend wear, with recreational time," said Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich. "It's just unacceptable at schools, and we are trying to lift the standards." (Source:

Editorial: Cullen's spark goes missing

What has come over Michael Cullen? He has been in Parliament 24 years and in that time the country has come to know him as a bright spark on the Labour benches, an intelligent, thoughtful politician always ready with a witticism that invariably would be delivered with bubbling good cheer - almost David Lange without either the x-factor or the dark side.

Not any more. It has been the best part of a year since Dr Cullen sounded like his old self. His contributions to public debate have ceased to be clever. He offers standard, political, retorts, such as this week's comment on Conservation Minister Chris Carter's veto of the Whangamata marina ("National put that power in the Resource Management Act") and the threat to retaliate in kind to National MP Judith Collins' continuing attacks on Social Policy Minister David Benson-Pope.

When intimating this year that his much-criticised "chewing gum" changes to the tax thresholds might not now be possible, he observed, perversely and with a twist of petulance, that that might make his critics happy. He sounds tired and irritable - not occasionally, which would be understandable in his job, but constantly. If he is weary, he has every right to be. He has been the Government's leading workhorse. Every Government has one - a senior minister whose conspicuous competence, political judgment and organisational drive causes all sorts of tasks to tumble into his lap simply because the Prime Minister cannot do them all, or even most of them in any detail, and trusts no other minister to deal with them quite as well.

Sir William Birch was the workhorse in the previous Government, Sir Geoffrey Palmer in the one before that. Like them, Dr Cullen has not only held a big portfolio and co-ordinated the Government's legislative programme, but taken on major ad-hoc political tasks as need be. Dr Cullen has led the Government's response to everything from the Air New Zealand crisis to the foreshore and seabed controversy. He is, of course, leading the parliamentary defence of Mr Benson-Pope and this week, as always in Helen Clark's absence, he was Acting Prime Minister.

Six years of that workload would wear out most people. If Dr Cullen is not already contemplating retirement at the next election it would be remarkable. But this term has barely begun and Finance Minister is not a role in which anyone can ease up. Dr Cullen's greatest challenge may come in this term as the economy slows after six fairly fortunate years. He deserves a good share of the credit for that record. Though never an acolyte of the Douglas reforms, Dr Cullen has preserved their essentials. Long before he became Finance Minister he held the Labour Party to a firm monetary policy and once he took charge of the Treasury he maintained reasonably tight fiscal control.

If any single thing has sapped his good humour it was probably the expectation last year that he would relax fiscal policy with substantial tax cuts. He ought to have worked harder to dispel those expectations before the Budget. Afterwards his spirits fell as rapidly as National rose in opinion polls. He looked wan and sounded frustrated in exchanges with National's finance spokesman and rising star, John Key.

After the election the Prime Minister not only retained him in finance but gave him responsibility for tertiary education too. Plainly, she does not think he is burning out. She would be reluctant, in any case, to make a change as major as the Finance Minister, which can always unsettle a Government. And there is probably no reason for Dr Cullen to step down from that role. But he ought to lighten the rest of his load.

He might consider that this is a good time to relinquish the job of Deputy Prime Minister, not only for his own sake and his attention to the finance portfolio, but to allow the party to nominate a possible successor to Helen Clark. That could give both Dr Cullen and the entire Government a new lease of life.

Garth George: Bungling of bloated state bureaucracy defies belief

It seems that the Government is finally waking up to something this column has been saying for years: that a bloated state bureaucracy is not only hugely and wastefully expensive, it becomes more inefficient the bigger it gets.

That most well-informed and perceptive of political commentators, John Armstrong, tells us that fiscal pressures have finally forced the Government to heed Treasury warnings and take not just a razor but a scalpel to public expenditure. I suggest what is really needed is a chainsaw.

According to the Treasury the number of public servants has increased by 27 per cent under this Labour Administration, while private-sector employment has risen only 20 per cent.

What is worse is that many of the extra staff have been put to work in expanded head offices rather than in the frontline delivery of services, and that while the increased staffing was intended to stop Government departments using expensive consultants, there has been no reduction in consultancy fees.

Which seems to indicate that the mandarins have inflated their little empires and egos by surrounding themselves with new legions of bean-counters and paper-shufflers while the country's vital services continue at best to show no improvement and at worst to deteriorate.

If you are in any doubt as to the chaos that reigns in Government departments, grab a copy of section A of last Friday's Herald.

On the front page is recorded the foregone conclusion of the trial of the farmer for manslaughter or, alternatively, criminal nuisance, after his 4-year-old daughter died when a farm bike rolled on her.

Common sense tells us that the case should never have been brought in the first place because it had no chance of success. But the junior policeman who laid the charges remained unrepentant and still reckoned the case might make farmers reassess the way they do things.

I doubt it.

There are two distinct societies in New Zealand - urban and rural - and among their many differences is an absence in rural society of the safety paranoia that afflicts so many urbanites.

But the policeman's views are typical of those with a bureaucratic mindset - hidebound tunnel vision and an inability to think outside the square coupled with an obsession with watching their backsides.

This is also illustrated elsewhere on Friday's front page. The Governor of the Reserve Bank refuses to lower the official cash rate in spite of mounting evidence that the economy is slowing, thus condemning tens of thousands of citizens to continued usurious mortgage interest rates.

Inside we have the story of the South African bloke who came with his family to New Zealand on a work permit to work in Whangarei, but moved to a better job in Auckland without informing the Immigration Service.

Immigration officials are demanding that the man and his family should be deported back to South Africa from whence they could reapply to come back here. I'm not joking.

There is no doubt that Gavin Penfold disobeyed the law, but the deportation penalty is out of all proportion to the seriousness of the misdemeanour. Surely a substantial fine would have the same salutary effect.

Trouble is the law, being an ass, probably has no provision for such a sensible course.

And yesterday, of course, we read of the Deportation Review Tribunal's extraordinary decision to let a convicted kidnapper and extortionist stay.

Then there's the story of the man who slit the throats of his 21-year-old daughter and two young grand-daughters, and who was found not guilty by reason of insanity, being employed to distribute Census forms.

And the story of police inaction in Dunedin after a 12-year-old girl was attacked by a knife-wielding 9-year-old. Two weeks after it happened the cops got off their bums after the Otago Daily Times got on their hammer.

And the story of the increase in the estimate for building four new prisons from $400 million to $890 million because a whole lot of obvious things were omitted when the initial estimate was made.

And the (continuing) story of the Child Youth and Family Service which has now been absorbed into the Ministry of Social Development because it cannot reliably report on the number and status of children in its care and does not know what works when dealing with at-risk children.

And the story of the irradiated fruit which is appearing in shops without stickers on the fruit to say it has been zapped.

Each and every one of these stories reveal bureaucratic bungling on a vast scale.

But for the most astonishing tale of them all you have to read Fran O'Sullivan's column in the Weekend Herald in which she relates her near-fatal experience with our health "service".

After being diagnosed as having gallstones and being dicked around for more than two years, suffering regular excruciating pain (I know, I've been there), she collapses and ends up in a hospital A&E department with a suppurating gall bladder which has to be removed - and fast.

But 20 minutes before she is due to go into theatre the surgeons informed her they had been instructed by "managers" not to proceed because the operation was deemed "elective surgery".

Fortunately for O'Sullivan, the surgeons more or less told the "managers" (who probably wouldn't know a carcinoma from a contusion) to get lost and operated anyway.

Which provides incontrovertible proof of my oft-stated conviction that the main reason the health service is in a state rapidly approaching chaos is that it is being run by lay businessmen and bureaucrats who haven't the slightest idea what they're doing, let alone what they need to do.

Bring on the chainsaws.

Brian Fallow: Imposing a payroll tax would be sheer Muldoonacy

Some propositions should be ruled out on first principles.

One is the idea the Labour Government could impose a new tax on labour in order to lessen tax on the returns to capital.

Yet Finance Minister Michael Cullen remains coy on whether a payroll tax is under consideration as part of the "big and bold" review of business taxation. Nothing can be ruled in or out yet, his office says.

But he confirmed in Parliament this month, in response to National's John Key, that the Treasury had, at his request two years ago, calculated that, on a given set of assumptions, it would take a payroll tax of 5.4 per cent to replace the revenue lost by cutting the company tax rate to 20 per cent.

If Cullen really is toying with this idea, he should stop and drive it from his mind with blows and curses.

Or his colleagues should do it for him. It is Muldoonacy.

One reason the 3.6 per cent unemployment rate is enviably low by the standards of other developed countries is that the tax wedge on wages - the difference between what it costs to employ someone and his or her take-home pay - is relatively narrow. Widening it from the low 20 per cents to the high 20s by an additional tax on wages and salaries would undermine that advantage.

While the tax might be paid by employers (all but the smallest if the Australian states' model is followed) the economic cost will largely fall on workers. Either their after-tax pay will be less than it might otherwise have been or there will be fewer of them.

Business Roundtable executive director Roger Kerr said that where labour was internationally mobile firms might be forced to increase gross wages and maintain after-tax pay to compensate for a payroll tax. All else being equal, profits would be squeezed.

"In this case, fewer such people would be employed over time as firms would make adjustments to maintain a normal return on capital."

Kerr said firms which exported or had to compete with imports would be unable to pass on higher costs to customers. They would also reduce their demand for labour.

Firms in the non-tradeables sector which escape such competitive disciplines might be tempted to pass on the increased cost, which would be inflationary and push interest rates higher than they otherwise would be.

A payroll tax would be a retreat from the sound tax policy principle of neutrality.

It would increase the incentive, wherever the option arises, to recognise income as business profit rather than wages or salary. That, of course, would be especially so if the company tax rate were slashed.

Policing that boundary, one suspects, would become a nightmare.

In light of these fairly obvious drawbacks, why might Cullen be tempted by the idea?

It may be that he sees it as a step towards increasing the capital-to-labour ratio in the economy - the amount of plant, machinery and software firms invest in a worker.

In some ways, a payroll tax is equivalent to a tax on consumption like GST, in that most people spend most of what they earn in wages. Indeed, the Reserve Bank estimates that the household savings rate is negative with people spending about $1.14 for every $1 of income.

But if you wanted to change the tax mix to encourage a shift to less consumption and more investment, why not just increase GST and cut income tax?

There has undoubtedly been a major structural shift in the economy in the past 15 years to a permanently tighter labour market. Unemployment has trended down from more than 11 per cent in the early 1990s to below 4 per cent now, while the participation rate - the proportion of working-age people in the workforce - has risen to internationally high levels.

Even the economic slowdown now clearly under way is only expected to push it back up towards 5 per cent, where it was earlier in the decade.

The problem is that most economic growth in the past 10 years or so is explained by an increase in labour use rather than labour productivity - more hands to the pump rather than investing in a more efficient pump.

With the population ageing, and on average three people leaving the country for every four who immigrate, that formula for economic growth won't work any longer.

The low-hanging fruit has long been plucked from the labour supply tree and it would require a costly cherrypicker to get at what is left.

The Australians are richer than we are not because they are smarter, harder working or more enterprising, but because they have about 50 per cent more physical capital employed per worker, boosting productivity and incomes.

So they can afford to inflate employers' labour costs with a compulsory superannuation contribution of 9 per cent and state payroll taxes of about 6 per cent.

But it would be putting a heavy cart before the horse to impose a payroll tax here in hopes that it would encourage firms to substitute capital for labour.

They have enough incentive to do that already, given the experiences of labour shortages in the past few years.

Substituting one tax for another won't do any good. Lowering the overall tax burden might.

Business investment has increased markedly in the past few years. That growth is tapering off now as the economy slows and a falling exchange rate makes imported gear more costly.

It has occurred at a time when labour costs have been rising - but for the right reason, as the normal lagged response to a boom and a particularly tight labour market. Higher wage costs which did nothing for wage-earners would be a different thing.

Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard last week sounded a warning about "unrealistic" wage increases, yet the bank's own research tells it that wages tend to follow inflation, and indeed struggle to keep up with it, rather than drive it as they might have in the past.

Bollard's concern is evidently more about expectations, that higher-than-normal wage settlements will erode price setters' confidence that they still operate in a low-inflation environment.

In any case, real wages will have to rise if the brain drain is to be reduced.

In that context, a payroll tax would be an own goal indeed.

Alfred Oehlers: Twin-pronged solution to our trade deficit problem

Efforts to encourage consumers to buy New Zealand-made have been around for at least 20 years. Business New Zealand has been the main organisation that has led such campaigns, but the Green Party and the Employers and Manufacturers Association have also got into the act.

This latest effort spearheaded by the Greens coincides with bad news for the economy. In this context, the revival of the Buy Kiwi Made campaign might be judged timely.

By encouraging consumers to buy locally made products, support is provided to local producers and jobs protected. If more local products are bought and fewer are imported, the trade deficit may be reduced.

On the surface, all this sounds fine. So, as patriotic New Zealanders should we rush out and fill our shopping trolleys with locally made products?

To answer this question we need to move away from mere political posturing, rhetoric and jingoism, to have a sober look at the causes of the problems confronting the New Zealand economy.

Let's take business closures and the resulting loss in jobs. Anyone following the news will know these businesses are not closing because there is no demand for their products. On the contrary, the demand is there, but they are finding it impossible to continue operations because of the uncompetitive cost structure of the country.

Switching consumer spending to these companies through a Buy Kiwi Made campaign is not a lasting solution.

To help these companies and save the jobs there is a need to address more fundamental issues affecting their competitiveness. These might include exchange rates, interest rates, compliance costs and so on.

Let's take a look at the trade deficit. Suggesting that the deficit can be reduced by switching consumer spending to locally produced products is perhaps simplistic.

Such an argument assumes that New Zealand-made products and imported goods are perfect substitutes, so we can switch easily. But the fundamental principle of international trade is that as a country we exchange what we have (exports) for things that we don't (imports). The reality of the situation might be that there are just no locally produced substitutes for the things we are currently importing.

Viewed this way, there might be another, deeper reason why the trade deficit is growing. As the New Zealand economy has grown and matured in the past 20 years or so, consumers may simultaneously have been changing their spending habits and consumption patterns.

Under the impact of liberalisation within the domestic economy, plus globalisation more widely, consumption patterns may have become more cosmopolitan, sophisticated or worldly. At the same time, however, the productive structure of the economy may not have evolved to a similar extent.

With some exceptions, the structure and composition of manufacturing has not changed much during the past 20 years. Unable to find the sorts of things they want to buy being produced here, consumers have looked towards imports which have grown as a consequence, leading to a chronic trade deficit that has widened over time.

If such deeper structural issues are behind the trade deficit, then buying New Zealand-made will likely only have marginal impact. There might be some benefits, but only to the extent there are locally produced equivalents to current imports. If there are none, the imports will still flood in.

To address the deficit, it might be more fruitful to encourage New Zealand businesses to switch into things that consumers want to buy, but which are being imported.

The term "import-substitution" springs to mind. This might draw flak from some quarters, warning of protectionism, rent-seeking and other economic inefficiencies normally associated with such policies. But there are other ways of engaging imaginatively in import-substitution without resorting to failed policies such as protectionism.

Well-targeted and designed industry policies, for example, coupled with skills and workforce training, have been shown to work in other OECD and Asian nations, while all remaining consistent with an open trading environment under WTO principles.

Surely with such positive examples available we should investigate the options.

Admittedly, it will still be difficult to achieve headway with such efforts, as competition in any market segment is likely to be stiff. But that brings us to a point raised before, that probably the fundamental issue at stake is the competitive structure of the economy, and not whether as New Zealanders we are supporting local businesses.

Until and unless competitiveness is addressed, the root causes of our economic problems are unlikely to be resolved. Deal with competitiveness and you will not only revive an import-competing sector but strengthen exports as well, thereby providing a twin-pronged solution to the trade deficit.

As an appeal to our nationalistic impulses, and perhaps as a marketing tool, buying Kiwi-made is okay. But let's be realistic about what such a campaign can achieve.

In terms of the problems besetting the economy, it at best can only have a marginal impact. At worst, it will distract us from deeper issues and provide an excuse for avoiding hard policy decisions.

* Alfred Oehlers is Associate Professor of Economics, Faculty of Business, Auckland University of Technology.

Graham Reid: Godfather you couldn't refuse

This may seem unusual - especially as I was born in Scotland - but it is true: my godfather was Italian.

And I say that hoping never to be troubled again by pesky creditors or door-to-door religious groups.

When I was born, my parents, who weren't especially religious, had me baptised and asked their good friend Dominic Valente - who we always called Uncle Dom - to be my godfather. I guess he was made an offer he couldn't refuse.

So here I am with an Italian godfather. Does that make me a made man?

Among other business interests, Uncle Dom had a cafe-cum-icecream parlour on Edinburgh's Princes St until the late 50s.

I am told he was well known and much respected. There is certainly a seat on the opposite side of the street donated by local businessmen in his honour.

My mum and dad loved him for his flamboyance and generosity, and his wife Aunty Meg for all kinds of reasons, not the least her ability to punctuate sentences with unintentional profanity and occasional lapses into hilariously inept attempts at sophistication.

"Was you really?" was one of her more famous clangers ... and I have edited out the profanity.

Stories about Uncle Dom were legion in our family, like the time he put signs up in a factory he owned which read: "If you are reading this you aren't working hard enough."

He didn't like to take time out from work, and his idea of exercise was to walk to the cinema next door and have a cigarette while watching a movie, as you could do in those days.

When my dad suggested this would kill him, Uncle Dom's reply was: "Maybe, but I'll be the richest man in the cemetery."

Dad later said he probably was.

Recently I met my two sisters in Singapore and for some reason - all that distance and time from the Scotland of our childhood - Uncle Dom came up and we swapped stories.

Like how - and we wondered why - he had bought the Shah of Iran's car which was bullet-proof and could hold an armed bodyguard in the boot.

And how he and a friend had some money-laundering scheme which involved boxes of bills to be smuggled to the States, which one of his cronies hid in an attic where they were eaten by mice.

And how he never did anything to a car but put petrol in it and would sell it after a year, believing that no one cared about the condition or cleanliness of a car, only the model.

There was a dark side to Uncle Dom which was seldom spoken about, but I remember my father being enraged by something he did to his employees who threatened to go on strike if he didn't pay them more. He said he would beat them to it and he would go on strike himself.

He shut out the workers until they came begging to have their jobs back.

Then there was the famous story: one day as a prank someone hung a pair of women's panties in the back window of his car parked outside his home.

He saw them, told Aunty Meg to pack their bags and that very day they left the house, abandoned the car and never went back. He never knew or cared about what happened to the car.

We exchanged these funny and slightly odd stories about my godfather that day in Singapore. It was as if a handbrake had been pulled on our lives as we remembered Uncle Dom and Aunty Meg, and an Edinburgh which has long since passed into our memories.

A week later I was remembering them as I sat in Malone's Irish pub in Brisbane killing time before I flew home.

I scribbled these notes beneath an old clock and a sign which read: "Time is a great storyteller."

Michele Hewitson: Desperate dearth of mirth

That was quite a good joke Jon Stewart, host of the Oscars, made about being able to see all the stars "and not have to donate to the Democratic party. And it's exciting for the stars as well. This is the first time many of you have ever voted for a winner."

Not many of the audience seemed to laugh. What a horribly serious, worthy lot they are with their earnest little speeches about how movies can make a difference and so on and on.

I may have nodded off, on and off, because the Oscars coverage goes on for an awfully long time. Actually, on E! TV it seems to go on until the next time the Oscars roll around again (presumably sans Jon Stewart. You can't be doing with a host who is actually quite funny.)

I do love the red carpet nonsense though. "Who are you wearing?" ask those hard-hitting E! Reporters. "I'm wearing Versace," or "I'm wearing Christian Dior," gush the stars.

Actually, I was wearing some indescribably tatty track pants and socks with holes at the time but nobody asked.

But what is this who? It's what. And wouldn't it be quite heavy to wear a bloke?

Anyway, it's all very silly and I really don't believe E!'s catchcry: "We watch the stars and the stars watch us." Everyone knows the stars don't have time to watch TV, they're too busy doing important, earnest, world-changing things like having frock fittings.

I've been very busy lately watching things like the Oscars and other quality television. The truth is that I haven't been at all busy which is why I've been watching quality television.

Wasn't Fred Dagg funny? Watching the Dagg Sea Scrolls made me think that those much-pilloried oldies who came up with the bizarre idea of petitioning to bring Gliding On back might have been on to something.

Nothing as funny as Fred Dagg has been made by us in a very long time - but little as funny as Fred Dagg has been made by many other people since, I suppose, The Office.

And here's an idea for a programmer with a brain and a sense of humour: to help alleviate the tedium of the viewing that will be the Commonwealth Games, we'd really like to see John Clarke again in a repeat of The Games. Thank you very much.

I watched a thing called Wild West which is supposed to be funny. It involves Dawn French talking in what is supposed to be a Cornish accent. She has a sidekick sheila who is ditzy.

In the first episode French's character ate a lot of chocolate. This is not the Vicar of Dibley, apparently, and it is about as funny as a political party convention.

Which, in turn, is about as interesting as Commander in Chief in which Geena Davis plays Hillary Clinton as a brunette.

If the theory that Commander in Chief is a ploy by the Democrats to get American voters used to the idea of a madam president is true, then the joke's on the liberals.

What it says is: put a woman in the White House and you'll end up with a soap opera with a bad script. This should be compelling viewing, but it's cringingly drippy.

It has a hard act to follow though. The last time Hollywood liberals voted for a winner outside the Oscars the result was a show nobody could have written a script for. And jokes too filthy to be told at the Oscars.

Talkback: Forget the joke, let's tell a story

By Mike Edgar

"Television," my grandmother used to say, "is a visual medium."

You'd think this might be self-evident to those advertising folk who make TV advertisements, but if you look at some of the ads you might think otherwise.

A commercial is screening now showing some teenagers in a sack race, with singing in the background. Having missed the advertiser's name, I have no idea what is being advertised.

Let's say it's for a high-energy breakfast food. Do teenagers in a sack race convince anyone that this particular breakfast food has higher nutritional value?

How could an ad agency conclude that a sack race has any merit in promoting a product or service? Yet the "concept" must have been devised and prepared by the agency and approved by its client. Did no one ask what relevance a sack race has to the product, to the prospects or to the world in which the rest of us live?

Another commercial features people driving in a car and singing a song. So far as I can determine the song has nothing to do with the product. We get glimpses of the car, but not enough to see that it has anything special going for it.

How on earth does an agency convince a car maker that happy drivers, singing a song, are better than product shots in his TVC? Or that a song is needed instead of product information? Beats me.

I have seen four commercials for "Working for Families". The product, I know, is free money, but you wouldn't guess it from watching the commercials. In one, a family enters a room and greets an older woman. In another, children are making breakfast.

It may be riveting television but in these commercials there is nothing about free money. Yet some excited copywriter had the temerity to suggest these were good ideas, perhaps a "creative breakthrough", and some ad executive agreed.

We hapless taxpayers, of course, paid the production costs and the telecast costs. On the other hand, the communication is so poor that we probably didn't have to come up with much of the free money on offer.

It may be that a TV commercial is doing all its selling in the soundtrack. The agency produces a radio commercial and then adds irrelevant pictures which distract the listener from the soundtrack's message. Even a blank screen would be better.

There are any number of examples on TV. Remember those funny animals that used to be seen in Telecom commercials? Does anyone recall what the product was? The pictures bear no relevance to the product or service being promoted.

In the old school I belong to, true creativity in advertising derives from examining and presenting quality in the product or service, in a manner which catches viewers' attention. This may be done with humour, charm, sentimentality or pathos, the message certainly doesn't have to be product sell from start to finish. But the emotional content, whatever it is, must be directly relevant to the product or service and add value to it.

Many advertisers have learned to their cost that irrelevant humour draws attention away from the product.

"Make your pictures tell the story," said legendary ad man David Ogilvy. He did not say make your pictures tell the joke.

* Mike Edgar is a freelance writer and advertising consultant.