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.

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.

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.

Voters & Prospect Theory: Trump Lessons Part 3

This concept from Behavioral Economics is important in understanding why Trump won. Simply put, prospect theory posits that individuals are risk averse when facing favourable prospects but are more accepting of risks when faced with losses.

In the case of the US elections, a significant number of voters had negative feelings about their current situation and their long-term prospects. They also felt Clinton would be unable to fix these problems, which they perceived as been systemic to the American political order. This made them less averse to taking risks such a voting for a wild card candidate like Trump.

A new national survey finds that Trump supporters overwhelmingly believe that life in America is worse than it was 50 years ago “for people like them.” Fully 81% of registered voters who support Trump say life has gotten worse, compared with just 11% who say it has gotten better (6% say it is about the same).

Most Clinton supporters take the opposite view: 59% say life for people like them has gotten better over the past half-century, while 19% think it has gotten worse and 18% see little change. [Source]

Most voters consider Donald J. Trump a risky choice for president, saying he lacks the right temperament and values, but he is seen as more transformative and better at handling the economy than Hillary Clinton, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. [Source].

Prospect Theory in Political Communication

This becomes especially interesting from a political communication perspective as it offers guidelines for messaging. A voting block existed whose perception of their current economic and social prospects was negative. Trump correctly framed his messaging to them about losses. e.g. “Make America great again” implies a loss that can be correct.

This poses a challenge to incumbent governments. If a sizable voting block is in a loss mindset, a continuity message will not be effective for them, even if there is a consensus that the alternative is risky. Negative campaigning that carries anti-risk message will not be effective with these voters.

In a Sri Lankan context, there is a case to be made that this was seen in the elections of 2015, with the effectiveness of the “good governance” message of the then opposition. Poor governance under the Rajapaksa government (nepotism / attacks on judicial independence / ethnic biases etc.) were motivating factors despite the continued personal popularity of the incumbent President and what was seen as a positive economic trajectory. This meant that the electorate was willing to risk a coalition of disparate partners as an alternative.

Trump Lessons Part 1: picking your battles

The problem from a political campaigning perspective with the type of handwringing articles we’ve seen about Trump’s sexism and racism is that they focus on the wrong thing. This happens in Sri Lankan politics too. In the latter, there is a tendency in some circles to focus on the wrong aspects of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s popularity and vote base.

While it’s true that most if not all racists are Mahinda Rajapaksa fans, not all MR fans are racist. They vote for him because he represents a nationalist pride (including in economics and foreign policy) that is not perceived as being catered to by his opponents.

One of the many lessons from Trump’s victory is to focus on the correct issues when campaigning against ideologically strong candidates*. In Trump’s case, all the attacks on his sexism and racism were not relevant to voters who felt betrayed by the political and economic system. In hindsight, the focus should have been on relentlessly undermining the perception he was someone who could offer a fix for a broken system. With Hillary though, the Democrats picked the worst possible candidate for that message.

The messaging about sexism and racism, while it had its place in specific audience segment marketing, was not crucial to a large section of voters**. Note Hillary’s relative underperformance with certain female and youth segments.


*Ideology will be discussed in Part 2

**The fact that the size and enthusiasm of this segment of voters was underestimated compounded the issue.

Strict fathers, Trump and Appachchi

These articles quoting George Lakoff, one of the great thoughts leaders on political communication, about the influence moral frameworks and perceptions of parenting have on voters were very intriguing.

He describes the two models as “strict father” and “nurturant parent.” In the former, he says, “the father knows best, the father knows right from wrong, and the job of the father is not just to support and protect the family but also, with respect to children, to teach them right from wrong so they have the right moral views.”

Nurturant parents, by contrast, feel their job is to empathize with their child, to know what their child needs, and to have open two-way discussions with their child. – NPR

So far as I can discern, he always on topic, but you have to understand what his topic is. As I observed in my Understanding Trump paper, Trump is deeply, personally committed to his version of Strict Father Morality. He wants it to dominate the country and the world, and he wants to be the ultimate authority in this authoritarian model of the family that is applied in conservative politics in virtually every issue area.

Every particular issue, from building the wall, to using our nukes, to getting rid of inheritance taxes (on those making $10.9 million or more), to eliminating the minimum wage — every issue is an instance of his version of Strict Father Morality over all areas of life, with him as ultimately in charge.

As he shifts from particular issue to particular issue, each of them activates his version of Strict Father Morality and strengthens it in the brains of his audience. So far as I can tell, he is always on topic — where this is the topic. – truth-out

This was especially interesting from a Sri Lankan perspective, as it was a model that was explicitly (though inadvertently) followed by the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the elections of 2015. One of his campaign themes was the idea of him as “Appachchi” (අප්පච්චි ) which is a Sinhala language word that means Father. Interestingly, this Sinhala word is (with a disclaimer that I am not a linguist!) a very rural and traditional way of saying father.

The visuals cues in the video are fairly obvious, with Rajapaksa as a traditional and beloved father / leader who is responsible for national development and knows what is best for Sri Lanka.