Posts by Bobby Esnard - New York

India’s Tourism Ministry seeks to save image with badges

Ministry of Tourism IndiaAfter numerous headlines about rapes in India, including several incidents involving tourists, fewer female travelers are visiting the country. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India has reported that visits by female tourists dropped 35 percent year-over-year in the first three months of 2013. In response, as The New York Times reports, Indian states are forming police forces dedicated to protecting tourist-heavy spots, and the Tourism Ministry is opening a multilingual toll-free helpline to be staffed by women.

The Tourism Ministry’s latest idea involves badges emblazoned with the phrase “I Respect Women” in languages including English, Korean, Russian and Mandarin. Workers in the tourism industry, like drivers, guides and travel agents, will be encouraged to wear them. Skift has termed this effort to curb anxieties around sexual violence “2013’s worst idea in travel” on the grounds that it does nothing to actually change social attitudes and behaviors.

Photo Credit: facebook.com/Ministryoftourism

High-tech tools come to the rescue when keys go astray

As we have noted, with the move of 3D printing into the mainstream, companies have been thinking about ways to leverage the new technology to redefine consumer experiences. Belgian insurance company DVV has reimagined the problem of losing one’s keys with Keysave. The upcoming service lets customers make a 3D scan of their keys, which is virtually stored in a secure database. Then, if they find themselves digging through purses or kicking through sand with their keys nowhere in sight, they can download the 3D file and bring it to a 3D print shop (or anyone with a 3D printer) to get new copies.

Assuming that 3D printing becomes a widely available service, the program is an intuitive adaptation of the technology that eases an everyday anxiety—as long as customers can be assured their key scans are ultra-secure. Meanwhile, a somewhat simpler solution is now available via a free app from the startup KeyMe that enables people to scan keys using a smartphone. Once they’re locked out, users pay for access to the scan, and the company says any locksmith can re-create the key using instructions displayed on the phone. A handy benefit is that users can also digitally share keys with friends or family.

Perhaps most useful, Nokia will soon start selling proximity sensors that use Bluetooth and NFC to communicate with the company’s Lumia phones. Dubbed Treasure Tags, they can be attached to keys or anything else that people routinely lose track of, even cars.

keysave.be / Your keys are always here. from stuffcore on Vimeo.

With surgery or digital trickery, people prep for social media close-ups

Recently, there has been a lot of talk around a social media-driven “narcissism epidemic” and the global selfies trend. In fact, a study out of the University of Michigan suggests that social media tends to appeal to people seeking to boost their egos by eliciting responses to their curated image. The anxiety that results from the desire to put forward an enviable image is leading to a phenomenon termed the Facebook or FaceTime facelift.

Social-media driven cosmetic procedures were first noted in the U.S. last year, and in March a poll by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery confirmed that “social media is leading consumers to have a more self-critical eye,” pointing to a 31 percent increase in requests for surgery as a result of online photo sharing. Now the phenomenon has been noted in India, with one report observing that more 20- and 30-somethings are signing up for minor procedures.

For consumers who want to refine the way they appear without resorting to medical help, various tools are popping up to help them achieve photo perfection. The iLipo app alters photos to simulate the effects of going under the knife (it’s intended to help users decide whether to pursue surgery), while advanced image-editing apps, like PicMonkey, help users whiten their teeth, slim their waists and brighten their eyes. And Chinese mobile brand Huawei is even integrating such capabilities into smartphone cameras, adding “instant facial beauty support” to remove wrinkles and blend skin tone.

Skype illustrates how it helps people ‘Stay Together’

Today people are connected in so many ways, and yet in this globalized, fast-paced world, many people feel their interactions with friends and family have become more distant and impersonal. As we have reported, a range of brands (including Nestlé’s Abuelita in Mexico, Nescafé in Australia, the U.K.’s National Rail, and Tostitos in the U.S.) have responded to anxieties around losing connections to loved ones and missing out on family traditions by positioning their products as a means to get closer and reunite. Skype has joined in on this concept but from the digital perspective, emphasizing that online connections can help maintain strong ties when families are separated by long distances.

Skype’s “Stay Together” campaign illustrates that instead of breaking down family traditions, the Internet service enables people to maintain them. “Stay Together stories” show modern iterations of the family portrait, with Skype video from one end of the connection projected onto a wall at the other end, so the family can pose together; artist John Clang then creates a portrait. A 10-year-old in L.A., for instance, poses next to her cousin in Brazil to see how much taller the older girl has grown. The campaign also asks consumers to share their own stories about how they stay together with important people in their lives. There’s also a personal storytelling competition, and the most compelling entry will win an “Impossible Family Portrait” and a $10,000 travel certificate to bring relatives together in real life.

Fiat, Tesla and other EV makers confront range anxiety

Price cuts, in conjunction with federal, state and local government incentives in the U.S., have made some electric vehicles very cost effective, and so perhaps more enticing. But range anxiety, the fear of being stranded without enough power to reach one’s destination, a long-documented concern, remains a barrier to wider EV penetration. The obvious solution is to ensure that, as with traditional vehicles, there are sufficient stops along all routes to guarantee that drivers will be able to refuel, or in this case recharge. Indeed, Tesla, Nissan and Chevy have all opted to roll out new charging solutions, including faster chargers and expanded charging networks. In addition, a number of other innovative strategies have emerged.

To quell consumer concerns, Fiat, in a partnership with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, is including 12-days-per-year access to gasoline-powered vehicles that buyers of its 500e can use for long-distance trips. According to the rules of the program, drivers can redeem up to $504 per year at Enterprise’s companies for three years. And Tesla Motors, which has seen its stock soar, recently debuted a battery-swapping system that will allow customers to have their battery switched out for a fully charged one at Tesla charging stations, rather than wait 30 minutes for a free recharge. The process takes only 90 seconds, which the company emphasizes is faster than a fill-up at a gas station.

Mozilla fights for consumer privacy with ‘Stop Watching Us’ message

SpysAmerica’s tech giants have been struggling to explain their privacy policies after reports that companies including Google, Facebook and Microsoft gave the U.S. National Security Agency’s PRISM program access to customer records. Mozilla, the free software community best known for such products as Firefox and Thunderbird, is setting itself apart from the pack. The organization, which was not implicated in the scandal, has helped to launch a coalition of advocacy organizations and some tech businesses that has a simple request for the U.S. Congress: “Stop Watching Us.” The website is designed as a petition that consumers can sign—and to date almost 500,000 have done so.

The petition calls for “immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs.” As we have noted on this blog, anxieties around data and privacy are real, and consumers are increasingly looking for ways to maintain privacy in the social age. A longtime proponent of the Open Web movement, Mozilla is standing up for consumers by being proactive in its commitment to consumer privacy. Watch for more brands to emphasize privacy and security guarantees—Microsoft, for example, is running a privacy-themed campaign—and perhaps even tout a non-U.S. home base as a selling point, as Norwegian company Jottacloud is doing.

Photo Credit: Tony Fischer