All about the base: Mahinda’s 40%

Pay attention to the numbers and this part:

In very general terms Rajapaksa and his party has had the support of around 45% of the electorate in the three polls. The most notable revelation is that he has a solid base of over 40% that his rivals do not have.

To defeat Mahinda (excluding a Presidential election), the question is how the UNP flips enough floating + disillusioned SLFP votes. Currently, the SLFP (non-Mahinda) faction is really only important as a source for harvesting votes by Mahinda or the UNP.

if both the TNA share as well as the JVP share are excluded from the Saturday vote the combined UNP-UPFA-SLFP share falls to 41.5% from the 45.7% that the same party combination polled in the August 2015 parliamentary elections. This is a serious loss of 4.2 percentage points. Some people not voting on Saturday as a mark of protest against the government that failed to fulfill its promises and some switching the vote to the JVP or the SLPP are the likely reasons for this. There is a two percentage point uptick in the share of the SLPP vote compared to the share in August 2015. These movements are sufficient to make a difference to the result when an election is close.

Maithripala Sirisena’s sensible election strategy

Stuck between the charisma and clearly defined ethno-nationalism of the Rajapaksas, and an invigorated UNP vote base, Pres. Sirisena did not have much room to define his and the SLFP’s agenda for the upcoming local government elections and for the future.

He seems to have chosen an agenda that is a culturally conservative (across ethnic lines)

and to place himself as the bulwark between two types of corruption – the nepotistic corruption of the Rajapaksas and the elitist corruption of the UNP (දූෂිත ප්‍රභුන්ගේ සංධානය).

He’s even linked the two

 “Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was not in parliament to vote for the no confidence motion brought in against former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake. The former President had said that he did not bring a no confidence motion against Karunanayake.”

Without access to polling data, I have no idea if this is a successful strategy, but it does seem to me to be the best option available to him to carve an identity for his wing of the SLFP.

Vegan Marketing & a fight in the Sri Lankan parliament

A vegan friend sent me a link to this article, with the comment that this shows how moral activism can work. We frequently debate the tactical effectiveness of making the vegan lifestyle a primarily moral issue is in converting meat eaters.

Aside from pointing out the irony of sending me a link to an NRA site, my reply to him is below (lightly edited for clarity):

Hunting is a terrible analogy for veganism. Unlike consuming meat, it’s an activity that is very remote to most people in the west (I suspect something that mostly the wealthy or rural people do). The opportunity cost of being anti-hunting is minimal. It is something your average American or Brit has little connection to and is culturally remote. They don’t feel bad about condemning hunting because they aren’t condemning themselves.

What I would suggest as a tactic is a mix of moral persuasion and making veganism an attractive lifestyle choice for health, taste and convenience. There’s a behavioural economics theory called prospect theory. That postulates that “People make decisions based on the potential value of losses and gains rather than the final outcome.” & “losses and gains are valued differently, and thus users make decisions based on perceived gains instead of perceived losses.”

Right now, IMO, the marketing from radical fundamentalist vegans is not doing a good job of showing the perceived gains (because they are wholly focused on the moral dimension) in comparison to the perceived losses.

I wrote a bit about prospect theory in a political context here

This latest farce in the Sri Lankan Parliament reflects well on no-one. However, I can help but feel that the anti-government faction missed a trick here. They should have let the Prime Minister make his speech. Every time he has to address the issue, he associates his brand with it. Instead, the discourse has shifted to parliamentary behaviour.

The reason for this conduct is obvious to me:

  • A defining characteristic of those MPs is their sycophantic behaviour to Mahinda Rajapaksa. Grandstanding behaviour as seen in the video is part of that — children clamouring to be noticed.
  • They are playing to their base who have no interest in seeing an actual debate. However, this is a very short-sighted move, as such behaviour is off-putting for undecided and swing voters.

Monopolies, Twitter280 & mixed campaign messaging: Sunday Note

Between being (sadly un-enjoyably) busy and being ill, my blog posting has temporarily ground to a halt. However, the increase in the character limit of tweets has been a blessing and I’ll leave the greatest hits of the last week here until I can blog properly.

Amazon vs. Walmart Omnichannel retailing

Monopolies, Big tech & Entrepreneurs

A pet topic of mine. The cult of the entrepreneur is something I have little time for and in Sri Lanka, there is no shortage of tech entrepreneurs who are willing to wax forth on public policy despite investing no time in educating themselves on the subject matter.

The main thrust of the article was regarding the increasing dangers of monopolistic forces, and this too was a good article:

While barriers to entry may be lowering, new barriers are being created. This something I will explore further.

Campaigns, Incumbency and Opposition messaging

I was very vocal about this the aftermath of the Sri Lankan elections of 2015, regarding the change in communication strategy required by the new government.

Amazon & Pharmaceuticals – Monday Note

A brief and belated note.

CVS deal for Aetna

This is something to watch closely. The disruption in the grocery industry caused by Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, would be mirrored by their move into the pharmacy business.

Amazon has received approval for wholesale pharmacy licenses in at least 12 states. They include Nevada, Arizona, North Dakota, Louisiana, Alabama, New Jersey, Michigan, Connecticut, Idaho, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee. An application is currently pending in the Maine. >>

Why this is interesting

This industry is an especially fascinating fit for Amazon given the amount of personal data that they have on consumers. Imagine using data analytics to sell anti-depressant medication to someone who recently purchased a book by…Sylvia Plath for example!

The play by CVS to buy Athena makes sense as a smart bit of vertical integration to provide protection from Amazon.

Such a deal would combine a health insurer that covers around 22 million people with a company that runs 9,700 drugstores and more than 1,100 walk-in medical clinics. It also processes more than a billion prescriptions annually through CVS Caremark, its pharmacy benefits management business. >>



Facebook Instant Articles, Big Tech Backlash, an interesting poll: Friday Note

Facebook Instant Articles

While I meant what I tweeted about the implications of the change by Facebook not being understood by publishers in Sri Lanka (whose knowledge of digital is rudimentary at best), clearly the implications are serious.

As I wrote here, Facebook’s favours come at a price. It turns out the price was a price —  pay to be seen. Those of us who work with brands on a regular basis know this all too well, with organic reach on a constant and steady decline.


This nicely illustrates the issues:

We are an in-depth investigative news source that does not build its audience on virality, and the bulk of our readership is quite loyal. In spite of that, we have come from weeks of high virality, given the political turmoil we live in. So users and traffic behavior has been very atypical in the last weeks. However, if we compare our current figures (after the change) with a typical week figures, we find we our referral traffic from Facebook fell by 48%, new users fell by 27%, but new sessions rose by 40%. While in a typical week new sessions represent around 32.5% of the total referral traffic by Facebook, this week it amounts to 45.9%. That might mean this week Facebook has undermined our reach to our most loyal Facebook subscribers.

Fearsome! Dreadful! Five!

Clearly, the zeitgeist is changing and we’re in a (belated but welcome) period of extreme scepticism about the major tech companies. Both Techcrunch‘s and The NYT‘s angle in these articles were a departure from the more common politicised angles and focused on the impact on innovation.

Start-ups are still getting funding and still making breakthroughs. But their victory has never been likely (fewer than 1 percent of start-ups end up as $1 billion companies), and recently their chances of breakout success — and especially of knocking the giants off their perches — have diminished considerably.
The best start-ups keep being scooped up by the big guys (see Instagram and WhatsApp, owned by Facebook). Those that escape face merciless, sometimes unfair competition (their innovations copied, their projects litigated against). And even when the start-ups succeed, the Five still win.

And finally, Political Typology Reveals Deep Fissures on the Right and Left was one of the most interesting US politics polls I’ve seen of late.

  • The classification of the political continuum. This seemed an insightful and logical in the US context and one that could be adapted elsewhere.
  • The power of partisanship is striking in the poll and how this is driven by a distaste for “the other side”.

Once the candidate is decided, from a campaigning perspective, this provides an incredible and possibly insurmountable challenge. The real battle during a campaign then moves to wooing the undecided or floating voter.

However, the really interesting decision comes before this, when deciding on the party candidate. How should these types of numbers impact on that choice? With an American system of primaries, this will inevitably be hugely contentious.

Branding in Sri Lanka, Facebook & publishing : Monday Note

Is Branding Losing its Relevance?

This was an interesting insight into marketing and branding in Sri Lanka.

I did find some of the statements generic and not very helpful. This may because news coverage did not give the full scope of what was discussed.

I’m currently reading Scott Galloway’s excellent book and he makes a number of salient points about branding in the digital age, referencing this study.

The top 100 packaged-goods brands collectively saw sales and market share slip significantly in the past year, according to a report from Catalina, adding to recent reports of woe for the industry’s biggest players.

While prior reports have showed the biggest manufacturers in CPG have been shedding share to smaller ones for years, it was natural to assume top brands, which get the lion’s share of management focus and marketing dollars, were faring better than the overall companies. Not so, according to the Catalina report, drawn from a representative sample of scanner data from 26,000 food, drug and mass-merchandise stores in company’s in-store promotion network.

Catalina found sales for the top 100 brands collectively declined 0.8% to $56.8 billion, even as overall sales tracked by Catalina increased 6% for the year ended June 30.

As Scott points out:

The digital age, with its transparency and innovation, has declared war on the heart. Search engines and user reviews are adding a level of transparency that’s starching much of the emotion from purchase decisions. Google and Amazon have signaled the end of the brand era, as consumers are less apt to defer to emotion when god (Google) or his cousin (Amazon) tell you to not be stupid and buy Amazon-branded batteries (a third of all batteries sold on the internet) vs. Duracell.

Does this mean the death of branding? No, but it does mean that the internet has made a far greater number of products vulnerable to substitute goods.

Facebook will give publishers 100% of revenue

I found the reports on this amusing because of what was generally not stated. The numerous indulgences that Facebook is bestowing upon publishers,

the opportunity to pay in order to retrieve the required content, with any transactions carried out directly on the publisher’s own website – from which they will retain 100% of all revenue. This control will extend to pricing and subscriber data.

will no doubt come at a price. Facebook users themselves will be part of this, with the data they reveal when interacting with the articles but publishers would be very naive to think that it stops there. Once Facebook becomes the audience delivery mechanism, the balance of power (such as it is) will be wholly tilted towards them.

Netflix, voting systems, eCommerce in Sri Lanka & food – Friday Note


A week of interesting numbers:

The drive for original content is likely to weigh further on Netflix’s cash flow, the company wrote in the July document outlining its content accounting. The main reason for that is that it recognizes the production expenses of making a show, while it’s being produced. That could mean Netflix will incur costs years before it can make any money on the content.

  • and speaking of numbers, Netflix is notoriously secretive about audience figures. A Nielsen claim to be able to track viewers was met with a stiff response:

a Netflix spokesman said the streaming-video company was not participating in the effort. “The data that Nielsen is reporting is not accurate, not even close, and does not reflect the viewing of these shows on Netflix,” the company said in a statement.

Mixed-member proportional representation (MMP)

Quite a mouthful! Even from my Sri Lankan perspective, New Zealand’s recent election and its aftermath were drama filled; and from that perspective, the formation of a government by the Labour Party in NZ was very relevant.


Sri Lanka elects a President as head of state and a legislature (Parliament). The current government is an uneasy coalition between the two historically dominant parties, with a Prime Minister from one party and a President from the other. Despite the considerable governance issues this has caused, my understanding is that many of those involved feel that the sheer scale of issues that have to be dealt with (including a foreign debt crisis and constitutional reforms) makes a cross-party consensus vital. An MMP system, which can lead to coalitions and minority governments, could be a means to build this into the electoral system.

This article by Sri Lanka’s Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government is worth quoting:

However, the Proportional Representation system also came with shortfalls. It required greater campaign budgets, and violence escalated between political rivals. There is also a racial stigma attached to it. As we have seen in the recent past, racial tendencies tend to rise under this system. The election expenditure is also significantly greater than under the First Past the Post system.

Therefore, the Mixed Member Proportional system was born combining the best of both Worlds. Most people are in favour of this system, and it is truly in the interests of justice and democracy that I believe this is the way forward.

Sri Lanka e-commerce legislation

A quick note on this important development:

This is a crucial part of ongoing reform program to improve the global competitiveness of Sri Lanka. In the 2017 edition of the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings, Sri Lanka slipped one spot to 110. However, a crucial issue remains with the inability to receive payments through services such as PayPal.


A quick run through a hot sector:

  • I started watching this with the sound off and immediately thought of porn…but that’s not what’s important.

As I’ve mentioned before, logistics and last mile delivery is a key battleground between Walmart and Amazon and this is the latest weapon to be deployed.

One reason food sector is so hot is that there are many points of entry and room for innovation.

figures cited by The Financial Times suggest that the two-year-old UberEats service — a standalone app separate from the main Uber taxi service — will record over $3 billion (£2 billion) in gross sales this year.

  • Facebook has launched a food order and delivery service in the US.

Facebook combines options from a number of food ordering services like EatStreet,, DoorDash, ChowNow and Olo, as well as restaurants like Jack in the Box, Five Guys, Papa John’s, and Panera, so you don’t have to search through multiple places to find what you’re looking fo

  • Amazon has been running a partnership with Olo since September.

Monday note – everyone is woke & against BigTech

A quiet weekend both professionally and personally.

Big Tech

I was amused by a number of articles that showed how the zeitgeist is shifting against big tech, on both social and economic grounds. Among the more notable ones were:

I’m all for this scepticism and this story – Airbnb’s home-hotel hybrid will open in Florida next year – did nothing to dissuade me.

I think this tweet captured my feelings best:

There is a long-running debate within a group of my friends on how to best to market vegan products and veganism. We have one vegan who I regard as quite militant, and a couple of others (including myself) who aspire to eat more vegan meals. My personal advice (based on my professional experience) is to focus less on the animal cruelty aspect and to incorporate more health and taste issues.

With all that in mind, and with the Silicon Valley scepticism I discussed earlier, this article was especially interesting – What Exactly Is Vegan-Mayonnaise Company Hampton Creek Selling?

It has a little bit of everything, from insights into marketing

to the cult of the disruptive entrepreneur

and the inevitable backlash