Monday, December 3, 2007

It's that time of the year again.

Wow. What an eventful a year it's been. So much growth, so much surprises, upturns, downturns, whatever. Just got back from Bali and had to immediately recuperate to catch up with the load of work piling up in my inbox, sigh. As cliched as it sounds, I need another break. Gone are the days where work winds down at year-end. Clients stop chasing after you and everyone prepares for a jolly good break. But it's okay, it's a 'happy' problem as many have told me :) And I am thankful. But you know, I wish I was chained and shackled here instead -->

This picture reminds me of an awesome book I have, a lovely birthday gift from Koichi two years ago. Christmas in Quebec. I can't wait till January when Sparks will be off to Greece :D Co-company trip, that's what it is ;) Just like the one in Bali and it's gonna be good. Hopefully, I'll have more chances to continue my travel writing. By the way, if you haven't picked up a copy of this month's PYO Holiday from MPH, you really should. Check out the penwork of yours truly. Maybe if I become famous one day, I can hire an MD to takeover my place, get real fancy and scour the globe for stories fit for Conde Nast. Ha ha. God willing :)

Anyway, Sparks is closed for the holidays (at least for this blog!). I don't know if I want to post anything till after Greece. That's because I really need a break. These couple of months have been a real challenge and I've been stretching so much, I'm beginning to have holes. So, happy holidays if you don't hear from me and have yourself a very very extremely drink responsibly merry Christmas ;)

p/s: Not being mushy mushy here, but I think this IS the season to tell all my dearests and buds that I'm sorry for having neglected you guys for the past couple of months and sorry also to shove all of you in the back seat. Appreciate your patience because you're still hanging out with me indiscriminately although so many times I have put work before you. I promise you my new year resolution will be to resolve that ;) Let's have a good Christmas yea?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hyundai is 'Inspire'd.

Got this photo from Paul Tan's blog. The front reminds me a lot like Honda's Inspire in Japan, no? Except Inspire's headlight juts out a little giving the entire front a more muscular jawline.

But I thought the commercial was really well done though. What's with the whole world Transforming? Optimus really made his mark huh. Very nicely executed and very nice soundtrack. I don't remember Koreans looking like this though...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Gollywog! It's a G-phone!

Says it all. JY suggested the killer duo (which I'm sure is also highly speculated by now) Google + iPhone. But it seems like it will be going beyond that. Any phone can be a Gphone which is basically (drumroll, get this) a user-generated phone. Already, in my previous study done, I found that Malaysians' new best friend is called Phone, Mobile Phone. Can't leave home without it. Or hang on, scratch home and I mean LIVE. Malaysians rely so much on their mobile phones, they won't be able to live without it at all. It's beyond the superficial of connecting you to another human, I'm talking beyond human connection! Your phone 'talks' to you when you're unhappy using music. 'Plays' with you when you're bored using games. 'Makes life easier' for you when booking cinema tickets. 'Get things done anywhere' through WIFI. 'Manages finance' through mobile money and banking. 'Keeps you entertained everywhere' through mobile TV. And here's something really grassroot: 'Helps you remember stuff' through its camera. How? Here's how.

Man comparing price of a furniture he saw awhile ago using a snapshot he took using his mobile phone

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Wait no more.

Awhile ago, we talked about foodie blogger turned do-er. And were hoping to see more Malaysians 'do' instead of just 'talk talk talk talk talk'. I guess there's no need to duplicate a local webbie just to get people into the action. Newly launched imcooked does just that. Cook it, film it, share it. Now it's up to videocam makers to consider how to create vcams that can stand all that heat in the kitchen. I mean, it isn't easy to grind, chop, fry with your right hand and record all these actions with your left. Hmm. That just opens up a whole new can of... spaghetti, doesn't it?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Malaysia doughnut craze?

On November 1st, The Star published an article (photo) on the absurd queue of Malaysians, all waiting for a bite of the new craze in town - J.Co Donuts and Coffee. At first glance, KL-ites might think that they're having a slice of something ala Krispy Kreme. But what they didn't know is behind the all-premium facade of J.Co lies a proud Indonesian heritage. Same goes with the newly established Big Apple in The Curve. You think Big Apple = NY? Heck, no! It's owned by a proud Malaysian who actually cared enough to learn the art of doughnuts in the REAL Big Apple. I guess his hardwork did pay off as people were queuing up for doughnuts like there was no tomorrow! But. My question is. What's the sudden biggy with these buns with a hole huh?

Dunkin Donuts have been around for yonkers and they were either happily resting on their laurels or were about to go under, till these two donuteers came to save the day and pretty much revived people's craving for these little sweet things. Well, I think it's because if you're in the food industry. No, scrape that. If you're in ANY industry for that matter, it's about the ripest time it can get for you to introduce new ways of living. Awhile back, the craze was cupcakes. I don't think it has died down completely but people fancied the idea of having these cute little diabetic-inducing cakes as a replacement for our usual 1kg chocolate cake or whatever have you. Heck, did you know these little cuppa cakes can be a hell lot more expensive than the normal cakes if you count cost per gramme. What are Malaysians doing, wasting their hard-earned money like that!?

That's what happens when you have a sizeable percentage of the population laced with new money. In other words, young professionals who don't need to contribute anything to the household or double income earners who don't need to contribute anything to kids or double income earners who willingly contribute a whole lot of cash to their kids because of, well, what else but guilt. Well, whichever way you're seeing it, it makes perfect sense. New money earners have found this new sense of liberation from their income. Here stemmed the roots of narcism and incessant pleasure gratification. As in, the automatic habit of constant self-reward. There isn't a need to put a value to how much they are earning or how much the reward cost. The fundamental of this behavior doesn't change whether it's a new shirt or a new phone or even an overpriced piece of dough, ultimately it is because 'I now can'.

This phenomenon (although I know most of you would hardly call a donut fad a phenomenon) really intrigues me, which is why I'm gonna pledge some time to concentrate on a new research to find out the changing lifestyle of these urbanites (by the way, 70% of Malaysia is urbanised yea?) and what are the implications of various products and brands, and subsequently how these brands can meet the real needs of people in the midst of all these changes. Looks like I've got my work cut out for me this Christmas...

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Today's imagination: Taboo goes mobile.

Last night while doing some catching up with some friends, a wild idea came out - Mobile Taboo. For those who are not familiar with the game (where on earth have you been?), it's a game where your team members have to guess the word you're trying to describe without mentioning some key words stated on the card. Believe me. I've seen people shouting 'Donald' frantically when the word on the card is 'TRUMPet'. Ha ha ha. Hilarious.

Listen here mobile games provider (or Facebook app developers :), here's an idea which you can plagiarize :) Imagine, having taboo in your mobile phone with these specifications:
1) Each card will appear on your mobile screen with an in-built alarm which will go off if the card is not guessed within the time limit
2) The player's mobile will track highest scores between teams so that they can pause and continue whenever
3) Unlike the actual game where after a few rounds, Taboo-ians would be able to easily describe and guess every single card, the one on the mobile is update-able online. There could be millions of words out there categorized from Level 1 to infinity, or even according to categories such as verb, noun, famous people, animals, most wanted, you get my point. Great way to improve our puny little Malaysian vocab if you ask me.
4) Also, there could be many versions of Taboo in Malay, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, imagine the possibilities!
5) Two mobiles can be sync for a game so that Team A and B, each have their own screens

Now, translate all of the above into web application language. Instead of 'saying', you can 'type' the description within a time limit. Mention any taboo words, and you're forfeited. Wee~

Go on, plagiarise me!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Back to Earth.

It was a whirlwind trip (literally, as we came face to face with a passing typhoon) but was all worth it. The Tokyo Motor Show was a spectacular showcase of the finest class of automotive innovation, not a single maker did not take this opportunity to flex their muscle and brain power for that matter. While this year, the theme seems to center around saving earth, most frontrunning makers also showcased powerful concepts and queer designs straight from the idea factory. The event itself was something to be learned by KL Motor Show organisers - the event revolves around the visitor, propagating each maker's value and optimizing individual experience around that very same core value. Even the models were carefully chosen and tastefully dressed to evoke different emotions - sporty, luxury, sensual while Malaysia lags far behind in this area, exploiting 19 year old college girls from Ipoh, dressed up in pieces of cloth she wouldn't dare show her parents is not cool. Shame on you guys (meaning, you Auto magazines too!). Anyway, these models are far less than 'accessories' but real brand ambassadors who could hold more than just a few questions. They can anytime double as a salesperson if you ask me. I really do hope to see similar execution in Malaysia.

If you want more visual bite, click here. Please forgive me if I mixed up some while some are not in sequence. I was too bewildered and still am.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Tokyo Motor Show

I will be leaving for Japan tonight. Half excited, half anxious. Will be dropping by 甲府 for a night before heading to 東京, meeting up with the team for Tokyo Motor Show. To be really honest. Like really really honest (I mean this is what blogging is all about right?), I was never really into cars. A car is a mode of transportation for me to get from point A to point B. Only till recently, I've ventured into the world of automotive - Men's fantasy world - and I'm intrigued at times, and bewildered at other times. I still don't get it, what's with cars and women? Body talks? Some magazines really know how to cheapen themselves. However. On the other hand, there's so much to learn. One for instance, I've learned how to appreciate car designs even more (hence, my new found obsession for the five series, few cars can muster that kind of emotion in people y'know). Two, I've learned so much about the thinkers behind these wheels and their obsession in putting each and every screw together to form something I've always taken for granted. And three, I've learned how cars have changed the world, the impact they made on planet Earth in the last century and how automakers are now desperately trying to innovate themselves out of this pollution sh*t they've innovated themselves in (as we will see in the upcoming Motor Show). And there will be fourth, fifth, sixth, and so on and so forth. And that bit I'm really excited about. I mean, honestly honestly honestly speaking again? I've never gelled well with telecommunications too but today, it has become one of my more intimate passions. God has a very weird sense of humour. He knows exactly what I suck at and puts me right in the action of it. Thanks Big Guy :)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Projek Kami.

Earlier this year, I presented an ethnographic cultural study entitled Indie Revolution after months of going undercover as an indie chick in headbanging gigs, having the privilege to interview some of the most passionate bands ever and being exposed to some of the most enlightening notion of individualism which lacks in this oh-so-homogeneous country. The study was shared with one of the Big Three telcos (yea, if you realise the Big 3 doesn't just exist in automotive) and due to the edgy-ness of this study, it was arguably difficult to digest by the clients. Although I may not agree but I do understand their apprehension. Here's a young punk telling them Indie is the way to go to hit youths where it hurts most - to discover their passion and express it in their own individualistic and creative manner spearing through the noise of their ever-chaotic environment. One of the most frequently asked questions was "Show me the numbers". How do you share a definitive number in such a highly qualitative research employed with almost zero funds? That's always been my frustration in presenting ethnography work, that the purpose is to discover insights through long-term observation and participation which isn't to say can't be done through research proper, but trust me, it's a Ringgit dynamite just to check for example, "How many people actually draw the curtain to mimic/improve the cinematic experience in their living room?". You should shoot your researcher if he ever proposes this kind of questions.

Anyway, I don't know if this is only happening in Malaysia or it happens more in Malaysia. That clients need to be pacified by numbers to such extent because there are a lot of great ethnography work being employed overseas just so they have a tab on what's really happening in the world beyond the boardroom. Data provides knowledge but true understanding comes from being with people. I hope one day, everyone gets that.

Back to Projek Kami. I must really applaud 8TV and Nokia for taking this stance. I think it's a brilliant and refreshing projek and speaks right through to the hearts of creative individuals. The film is raw and real and although I haven't the luxury of following it every week but every time I did, I enjoyed it. I think it's very courageous for an international brand like Nokia to take this stance because not all foreign brands can blend into local culture in such a meaningful manner. And for those brands who are afraid of jumping into the indie bandwagon because of the absence of those precious numbers or the endorsement of a world-established research house, well guess what? Here, have them all.

Please give me your feedback on this if you have any. I want to hear different opinions about this subject and I definitely want to improve.

p/s: The Kami series is a brilliant product, but guess what? It's not the only needgap in this whole Indie culture. If you're ready for your bit of creative expression, mail me and we'll bounce ideas and off walls :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It's an obsession.

Doo. This is no one series. Go do your homework.

This is my obsession. The most muscular body in its class. Scratch that. I meant in every class.

"Some people are blinded by their own vision, unable to break free from the fetters of their own visual limitation. But this one defies everything."

If you haven't seen the new 1 series films, then please do.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

KSU strikes again!

I think I've posted Michael Wesch and his KSU kids' video on Web 2.0 sometime back. Today, they strike again. Personally, I'm really encouraged with the advent of the web. Although it's been around for more than a decade (maybe two?), its full potential remain much untapped. Today we're flooded with millions of web apps, similar but always with a difference, no matter how insignificant the nuance seems. What goes on in our head at this very second, is being created in another time, another part of the world. Wow.

Honestly, watching these two videos really made my butt itch. There's so much we can do! I mean, the question is not whether we can. It's how. Sparks is open for collaboration. Let's rock the net!

Information R/evolution - explores the changes in the way we find, store, create, critique, and share information

A Vision of Students Today - thinks about how students learn, what they need to learn for their future, and how our current educational system fits in

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Honda Myth: The Genius And His Wake

Many would have mistaken the Japanese car maker, Honda as founded by one person. Perhaps, it was even succeeded by Honda’s pure blood lineage. 476 pages later, not only I discovered that was untrue, in fact, it was a total opposite. I also felt as though I’ve just finished one of the world’s most interesting automotive sagas. If anything, I think this book – The Honda Myth: The Genius and His Wake, shed immense light unto the true DNA that runs in the blood of this young Japanese maverick. Be warned. This book is no bedtime story (certainly took awhile to digest) but it certainly is one of the better translated books around. I’ve personally found Japanese translated English books a little woozy at times because sometimes the words may be clearly deciphered but the nuance is simply lost, leaving a lot of fluff in between two covers. Well, in this case, I must say Masaaki Sato who is a renowned automotive and business journalist, himself, did a great job in maintaining the momentum which leads to a perfect climax in narrating the golden history of not just Honda but also the circumference of the entire automotive industry up to recent times.

First of all, Honda does not condone hiring family members simply because it isn’t a family business to begin with. If at all, its family consists of all employees and shareholders. Secondly, contrary to popular myth, Honda was founded by two legends with poles-apart-personalities. Soichiro Honda was a highly meticulous engineer who could build anything if only he could see it once while Takeo Fujisawa was the shrewd businessman whose management skills and strategies reverberated through the decades, both making Honda a grand exemplar of a Japanese automotive empire. Because of them, the early Honda was a company which strived on differences and thus was born the practice of waigaya, a closed informal discussion of anything and everything amongst executive directors with concern to Honda’s every step whether it was an internal or external issue, in engineering technology or business strategy. In this way, I could see why Honda was deemed as a unique automaker right from the beginning. It wasn’t just about cars. It was a cult – the Hondaism, the corporate belief that they are not here to sell cars but dreams. The notion of ‘We are not drivers but believers’ really stemmed from the fact that Honda started out as a dream to conquer racetracks because it was racing that inspired continuous product and corporate advancement which automatically generated publicity. Such was Honda and Fujisawa’s unique management style which was dubbed the way of Honda. Although each had their own area of expertise which boundaries were clearly respected respectively, they also had the courage to admit each other’s shortcomings and lean on the other for advice and know-how. In today’s world where autocratic capitalism and dictatorship rule, I’m not so sure if such management style still prevails.
What I found highly captivating about this book is the highlights of both Honda and Fujisawa’s management ideals which can be priceless lessons to any business managers. The list is endless but the few which really stood out (and which I think Sparks can learn from) are:

1) When you achieve a great milestone, it should help you to churn higher quality products and not the excuse to command a higher price tag – although I’ve only spent a measly 6 years in business and communications, this line appears to be a real myth to me. The trap of successful businesses has always been (and will always be) greed. That is when executives decide to compromise quality in an attempt to decrease production cost to subsequently improve margins or simply to jack up the price with a famous brand name but with no real substance. However, in the case of Honda, following the above direction set by Takeo Fujisawa, Soichiro Honda with his team of engineers subsequently invented the CVCC technology which encompassed a great 230 patents in Japan and abroad, with design specifications and engineering know-how that has even the most powerful makers (GM, Ford, even Toyota) to come begging for knowledge impartment. This to me is a clear sign that when you concentrate on your passion and what you do best, the mechanism of the universe will somehow miraculously click in your favour.

2) Honda believes in sangen-shugi which translates to The Three Actualities, which is the principle of going to the actual site for firsthand knowledge, focusing on the actual situation with firsthand understanding and making decisions based on actual facts which are prevalent at that moment. A lot of big corporations I know tend to skip any one of these three steps citing lack of time or manpower as a reason. This really reminds me to keep focus on the essence of Sparks and its ethnography work because understanding comes from finding out what’s really happening out there in people’s life instead of relying too much on impersonal data.

3) When you’re in the slumps, sometimes you’ll be forced to make important and strategic decisions all at once such as to increase cash flow, upgrade production and pump up the company morale – All. At. Once. Honda’s advice would be, “When things are at its worse, you need to project the highest and by hook or by crook achieve it” which to me is quite true. When things are at an all time low, the only way is up. The question becomes how high do we aim for?

4) Honda is committed to producing the finest people and needless to say only the finest people will get poached, which is how Hondaism, like a virus will infect the world. Talk about guerilla tactics.

Honda has a tradition to choose those who do not seek to lead, to lead. After the reign of Honda and Fujisawa, there were a string of successors who sought their advice from time to time on many corporate related issues. Both ‘masters’ took the time to plan and groom their successors; two to take after engineering genius Honda and business guru Fujisawa. The heritage of dual management continued until the reign of President Nobuhiko Kawamoto, who was also nicknamed ‘Hitler’ for obvious reasons. I can’t help but wonder where Honda would be today if the dual management style still exists. The one person whom I felt was highly overshadowed, a true gem within the rubble was Shoichiro Irimajiri. He was the person who oversaw the building and first production line of American Honda, which is also the first Japanese automotive production on American soil. Dubbed as the ‘Prince of Honda’ by many, I can’t help but muster great respect for Irimajiri because of his undying passion to be part of the automotive industry even after being forced to leave the company. As a boy, he was first inspired to build planes but due to unfavorable circumstances of post World War 2, he decided to channel all of him into auto-racing instead. And because of this enduring flame in him, he’s still committed to lighting dreams by giving lectures to science and technology students whom he hopes one day will continue the legacy of what Honda is all about, which is to show the world that it can be the world’s greatest car maker not just on civilian’s road but on every racetrack as well. Such is the power of dreams.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Looking for a young bright spark.

Part-time and Virtual office. Field and desk researcher. Reader and Writer. Resourceful and Go-getter. Apply here.

New malls, new way of life.

Malls. Malaysians don't seem to have enough of them. I finally managed to squeeze some time to visit the new Gardens. Although occupancy wasn't 100%, I like the smell of it already. Somehow, it just doesn't feel like Malaysia in there.

Anyway, while I was nosing around, I stumbled into this shop called Pavillion (no, nothing to do with the one downtown) which sells really cool (and expensive) kitchen utensils. Yes, the rustic tin colander you see on Jamie Oliver's show? That's RM113. That's right. Now we're talking. A walk, a hop and a skip away, welcome to the world of expensive kitchenware in Robinson's. Just a blog back, I was talking about preparing ourselves for a sudden kitchen makeover. At least in the homes of the young and affluent. Single Income No Kids, Double Income No Kids, Double Income New Kid, whatever you call them, looks like this overseas educated England speaking bunch will be playing 'masak-masak' in a very fancy way. Alessi is not cheap but it says a lot sitting on the table top, doesn't it?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Foodies unite!

Calling foodies of the world, let's converge in and share your family heirloom recipe with self-proclaimed chefs of Tom, Dick and Harriette.

I've been venturing into the kitchen of late, thanks to Jamie O's influence, who's probably one of UK's most renown celebrity chefs right now. I think why the Jamie Oliver brand is so appealing is because of his down-to-earth style of cooking and sharing of his homemade creations with viewers and fans. Needless to say, he's role in social innovation within the food industry also drew a lot of media attention worldwide.


The surge of food blogs in Malaysia over the past two years suddenly made everyone seem like a professional food critic. Some of these blogs are followed by a legion of fans while some are drawing thousands of ad Ringgit per month. Now my question is, will these blogs ever reach a saturation point? I mean after awhile, everyone would have blogged about a certain certain makan place at some point. Then what happens after that?

I think there is a great opportunity for foodie blogs to evolve into something bigger and more communal like, locally. When every self-proclaimed food connoisseur in Malaysia have tried and tested every possible dish in Klang Valley (or beyond) (and I'm exaggerating), then the time is ripe to move into food creation (from thought creation). Although statistically speaking, the numbers of men cooking is still small but there is a visible trend of young singles living alone or young married couples without kids venturing into cooking - as an interest, not as a chore. They may still opt to eat out on a weekday (I mean, who wants to be near the stove when you've already felt that much heat at work right?) but on weekends, they may possibly go shopping and cook at home. I've had newly wed friends who are still trying and testing their hand in home cooked food. There's definitely something warm about it - men cooking for their ladies and ladies cooking for their men.

If this is a trend, then there will be huge opportunities for:

1) Kitchenware designed with masculinity in mind, using super sturdy and tough steel material that works like a Bosch tool rather than mom's favourite pot. That is IF more men are venturing into the kitchen, even if it's on weekends. While it is sweet and thoughtful to invite a lady over for a weekend dinner, Man would want to look impressive and not pretty in mom's apron.

2) More food communities like this one to inspire bloggers to do more food and share, and foodies to blog about their original culinary experience.

3) Recipes are no longer given like in the good old Kuali-days. Nowadays, people don't even need measurements! If you watch how Nigella cooks or how David Rocco prepares a meal, everything is according to the cook's guesstimate. There are no recipes and measurements on supers. So expect to see more similar videos floating online, produced by amateur cooks.

4) More social dinners amongst the young singles and/or young married couples who have their own place. A time to catch up with friends and strengthen bonds at home instead of outside.

5) More specialty shops selling suave and imported kitchenware from Europe due to the growing appreciation in product aesthetic of new home owners. The best time to showcase these products would be during the social dinners mentioned above.

These are just some of the related microtrends that could be fueling the new food phenomenon, should kitchen be the new hang out place. Now if you don't mind me, I have to go back and cook up a storm at work :)

Friday, September 21, 2007


Due to the overwhelming response :) I'm afraid I have to make some slight ammendments to the services Sparks has promised to offer. We will still do trend tracking and insight researches because that should be the basis and foundation of all strategies. However, we will not put a deadline to it if there's the slightest possibility that we won't be able to commit to it. But we will, share the information with our clients as and when our in-house projects complete :) So please hang in there and click here for the mentioned updates on Sparks' services.

And. We're proud to add another category into our portfolio.

We've been getting quite a few enquiries on being part of Sparks' trendspotting and STT (short for Sparks Teen Troopers) teams which is simply awesome. Thanks guys. For you who have applied, please be patient and continue to check back. We want to make sure the framework is ready and good-to-go before getting you in.

We're expanding - someone's coming on board :) But our recruitment still stays and we're always happy to have interns. Who knows when you'll meet a bright spark.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Collaboration with Brand Factor.

We scoured the globe and finally found the right research partner. From today, Brand Factor and Sparks will share research knowledge and resources as well as collaborate on a few exciting insight projects.


Headed by Siew Poh, Brand Factor was established in January 2004 as a total solutions provider in market research. Siew Poh is a specialised qualitative researcher with over 13 years of hands-on experience in moderating groups and conducting in-depth or business interviews. She is highly familiar and comfortable with various methodologies, approaches, areas of coverage as well as projective techniques commonly employed in qualitative research. She has accumulated a wealth of market, category and consumer knowledge through her immersion and handling of countless qualitative research projects from a diversity of product and service categories over the years.

She has a lovely family of four and is very much actively pursuing the key to her 14-year old son's blog.


This small but significant step aims to propel both Sparks and Brand Factor into providing more relevant research and insights with strategic input to their growing pool of clients, especially what's happening on the internet.

Check back for more news to come :)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Why isn't the Matta Fair more singles friendly?

What does traveling mean to Malaysians? Do Malaysians ever travel alone and if they do, what are the cultural implications to that? Is it weird for a Malaysian to travel alone? Or is it seen as an achievement? Why isn't the wristband more singles friendly then? Does it tell us something?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sparks Teen Troopers

Enough is enough! Stop telling us, stop selling us, stop selling TO us. Teens have a mind of their own okay?


Sparks Teen Troopers is a special research division that is teen-centric from the beginning to the end. I must thank the guys at The Lab for the inspiration. I think it's an extremely good idea. Teens are not lab rats. Sorry, I mean Malaysian teens are not lab rats. It's time for them to don the coat and tell marketers what to do.

More on the mechanics soon.

Invitation to blog in KM Talk.

First of all I would like to thank Naguib for the invitation. Already I think it's a good idea to expose Malaysians to thoughts about K-economy and management, and now Sparks is invited to be part of the project! It's definitely in line with what Sparks is about which is knowledge sharing and networking. I am pleased :)

(Thanks again!)

And by the way... GREAT NEWS. We are now... official!!

Sparks Sdn Bhd (586958-H)

(Thank you everyone (and God) for making this happen!!)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 6, 2007 - posting by Alcatel Lucent Teenlab

Are they telling us the truth?

Market research isn’t really a mystery. Usually, you can pretty much guess what results you’ll get. Sure, there are surprises but more often than not, you can see what’s coming. So to mix things up – and get to “real truth” researchers are now using Ethnography to see if what people report is really what they do.

In a recent article from The Economist, the reporters describe some interesting ethnographic findings that show how telecommunication technology is really being used by people around the world. If you are responsible for products or features, we think you’ll find the article interesting.

At The Lab, we strive to understand the user experience from our kids’ perspective. We aren’t watching them as they do their assignments, but our “diary method” of gathering data gives us interesting insights into their attitudes and behaviors. Most recently, we asked them to tell us about Social Networking with regard to their phone and computer. I bet we can guess what they will say – or can we?

We’ll have those results to share shortly.

(Posted by Chief Alchemist)
Notes from the Teen Lab at Alcatel-Lucent - The Teen Lab is an innovative primary research program focused on soliciting the end-user experiences of kids and technology from all over the globe.

Sparks Lesson: Marketing research is important; quant, qual and the works. But there will still be gaps on the real why people do the things they do. And for this reason, we need to be part of their life. Observe what they do, participate and understand. Like a friend. Brands always talk about being a friend, building a lasting relationship yet when they want to suss someone out, they get a middle person to do the job, they sit behind two-way mirrors, they deduce personalities from numbers. Is that how you make friends? Such an odd advertising world we live in.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Thought-to-ponder Day.

"As our jeep stopped, a cacophony of children ringed us, and our dubhashiya or interpreter led us to the Wanghem, the Angh's 'palace'. The'palace' is an outsize hut, 150 feet long and about 30 feet high from the ground to its ridge pole, built on the same design as the other huts but about four times larger. The Angh needs the extra elbow room as he has a wife (Wang chu), fifteen concubines and forty children." - excerpt from Where on Earth am I? by Jug Suraiya, pg 20.

p/s: bold mine

What makes a king king? The palace or the luxury to have 16 wives (or misfortune, depending...)? Would a king still need a palace if he didn't have such a big entourage? Or was it customary to 'fill up the space' since he could afford it?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Monday, September 3, 2007

Tai chor laa~

I'm sure most Chinese in Malaysia who are Astro subscribers are already familiar with the above video - the story about the magnificent shiny disc hero. Everytime I watch it, it cracks me up (like totally!). I think our hero is well on his way to becoming Malaysia's Golden Horse winner next year.

Anyway, what struck me as strange was the outcome of the ad. Its purpose is quite obvious which is to introduce Astro On Demand and make known that it's now available for subscription. I checked out the rates which, I must say, aren't cheap. I wonder how's the subscriber numbers coming along.

Then came one eventful afternoon when I went out lunch at a nearby kopitiam. And guess what? I finally met the real magnificent shiny disc hero selling the EXACT same titles to patrons. Strange. I don't remember TVB series coming in DVD formats. Not until after the series of commercials (above) was shown. I had this real urge to say, "Tai chor laa~" (translates: Watch already lar!) but I was afraid of suffering the consequences later, so I kept my mouth shut. He sounded like a Chinese (as in China Chinese) mafia although I managed to sneak a shot over his goods. This brings a huge question over my head. I'm pretty sure the last thing the commercial intended to do was to indirectly produce real life copycat shiny disc heroes. Instead the ad serves as a reflection of true Malaysian culture. But whatever it is, yea, it caught our attention and told us what we need to know except the pennywise aunties and housewives don't need to be a genius to figure out the difference between RM18 and RM55. One thing that the commercial unfortunately can never surpass, I guess, is delivering real life testimony.

Aunty 1: Eh clear or not wan ar?

Shiny disc hero: Of course la, 'pau ching' (confirmed clear) if not you come back change.

Aunty 2 (who doesn't know Aunty 1): Don't worry, this one very clear wan. I also got!

I think it will be kind of cool if Astro followed up with an on-ground guerilla campaign that really sent out these SD heroes to kopitiams and mamaks. Not to sell pirated DVDs of course, but to induce subscribers, or at least trials. It will surely be fun to see the real mccoy coming face-to-face with the copycat, no?

I'm afraid the concept of piracy in Malaysia is so well-entrenched that it probably takes decades of re-educating our children to get it right. Or. Not unless, movies and videos come for free online - by that I'm not exactly refering to YouTube videos but the On Demand kind. Then, we'll finally be able to say, "Tai chor laaaaa~"

Important disclaimer: Sparks does not condone the support of piracy!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

What's in a clan?

Birds of the same feather, flock together.

This isn't exactly anything new, right? Right. The formation of communities go way back since Adam and Eve went forth and multiplied. People of the same language, religion, race lived, worked, ate, socialised together because they all had a common binding point. Fast forward to future, a new marketing buzzword was form - peer group participation. Within these communities, subgroups were formed according to demographic profiles. And within these subgroups, even smaller nuclei began to develop. Amongst campus students alone, we see people conforming into different fashion styles and hobbies and what have you. I still remember one of my very first encounters of such peer group formation is when cybergames hit the town. Overnight, there were young people recruiting friends into their little clans. A really popular one which I can remember was called Atomic - according to them, they were atomic - quick and deadly in the world of Quake. Subsequently, they formed their own chat channels on the then super popular mIRC - Microsoft Inter Relay Chat. Most of the time, 'outsiders' were allowed to hang out in the channel. Not unless they don't like you, then obviously they can turn you into an instant social outcast, barring you from their chatroom. Such vehemence! I heard someone exclaimed recently that it was IRC which really brought the kids in Klang Valley together. Everyone knows everyone in #mamak and #happyhours. You'd know what I'm talking about if you were born somewhere between 1975 and 1985 :)

Online communities have since evolved into more complex social groups spanning infinitely beyond age, gender, ethnicity and nationality in the virtual world. If you can name a cause, a life dilemma, a social status, even a product which binds people together, add a dotcom and chances are you'll find 'the others' with similar interests. As Gary Marshall puts it, we're lonesome no more :) Check out BMW owners club, local opportunist Tumpang-ers, made in Malaysia indie bands, DiGizens and their friendsters, the albeit small but purposeful Norah Jones fans and something really grassroot, our own footie supporters. The list is growing as more and more people realise the power of a community and the wisdom of the crowd. Even marketers realise the importance of web. But while they still lag in building corporate-oriented homepages and/or ad hoc promotional sites, the real people are starting to evolve beyond those prehistoric usage of the net.

Okay. I'll take one question now.

Your question: Yea, but since broadband penetration is so low in this country and most users are still on dial-up, is there any point building such sophisticated web content and community at all at this point?

My answer: The difference between dial-up and broadband is the amount of time you spend waiting for YouTube to stream (when it starts to stream). Not really on the way you interact with other netizens or communities. You'd still be able to access Wikipedia on the slowest dial-up, no? You just have to wait 10 decades for it to load :) Besides, do you really need to learn how to row before knowing how to steer... a motor boat?


I took this photo while on my recent visit to Mid Valley. I saw a dad and his kid having a ball (literally) on this motion-sensing video game. I guess this proves that video gaming is no longer an addiction men can't seem to grow out off but a legitimate-women-won't-understand hobby that will bridge stronger relationships between new age dads and juniors.

With young families getting all wired up, can video gaming fill the relationship gap between generations? Will kids grow up experiencing a kind of closeness with dad whom the latter never had the opportunity to? The problem with many Malaysian families is the absence of similar interests that help strengthen bonds - parents and children not spending enough time together doing things both parties enjoy. How many of us remember our childhood when we involuntarily tag along to anywhere our parents go? Instinctively pursue what our parents approve of? (With the exception of the few of course... baa baa~)

Fathers of yesterday may lock up the keyboard to force their children to concentrate on other 'worthier' hobbies while dads of today probably enjoy a certain closeness with junior thanks to Sony Playstations :) Since men aren't the world's most natural nurturers, can then game creators design game software that help dads to tutor sons and daughters? Can games be more than just games? When children beat dads in an educational game, will the latter feel elated over his child's obvious improvements or will he feel as though he has 'lost face' because he is after all, Dad?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Facebook bollocks or none?

"Some 50 percent of workers are blocked from accessing Facebook by business owners worried about the site's impact on productivity and security." Marketing Vox, today.

I know some friends who are increasingly disconnected from their friends for not checking their Multiply and Friendster enough. In this age, whoever talks about issues and problems face-to-face anymore? Everyone is updating everyone else through their social networking sites. I didn't know one of my best friends' rabbit died until I read her blog. And appropriately, I sent my condolences to her in her comment form. We've never talked about it in real life. Ever. Not that it's a sensitive subject but it just didn't seem important enough that it should crop up in our conversations. Maybe people are learning how to segregate their live or problems or happiness? There's no science to determining what stays on the web and what doesn't which reminds me of a really cool website Adeline shared with me (while we're facebooking :) now, how can that be unproductive?)

Whenever and wherever we are connected, I believe there're two 'start-up' actions before we start browsing and combing through the internet for content. Checking emails and checking messages/updates on our social networks. It is inevitable for desk employees to do that if you ask me. But the question of reduced productivity is still valid although I may not fully agree. The extra half an hour used to check my wiring doesn't necessarily translate to an extra half hour of productivity. I could be hanging out near the coffee machine. I could be hanging out at the mamak. I could be distracting my colleagues. I could be using it for anything but work!

However, in this age of multitasking where people are amazingly able to complete more and more task in the same minute, allowing facebooking and the sorts at work seems like nothing more than mere quick exercise of the mind. Multitasking does not only confine to 'doing' but also exercising the attention of the mind. It should if anything, improve employees quick thinking.
There's no stopping technology although we can control it. Like how some employers are doing it. Rather, I'd use it to my work advantage instead of going against the current. I am thinking of creating a facebook for Sparks. For business networking, yea, but honestly. It's really to show off how many friends I have :) And that I can facebook during work as well!

Increase your knowledge: "Based on a popular college and high school Web site, the term "facebooking" has emerged as a verb to describe the activity of logging in to in order to create a profile, share personal information, and meet other members." Netlingo

Friday, August 24, 2007

Why cover up?

At first glance, nobody really bothers about what lays beneath. The (grandmother) lace is after all, quite unattractive. On closer inspection, we suddenly notice a very polished, smooth surface of a very very very sexy flat screen Samsung. It makes one ponder about the objectives of great product design and aesthetic value to certain households, doesn't it?

It doesn't matter if it's the latest pearl black LCD screen with a 7000:1 dynamic contrast and high definition multimedia interface. All it serves as is. A TV. What matters is what's in the display. And not the display itself. Or is it? Are there any reason for people (very possibly the older generation) to cover up and hide such a sweet baby when its was gracefully engineered and destined to be shown off on the centre stage of all homes?Practicality and problem avoidance. Now, there will be no need to dust the furniture if they're properly covered, right? Yes and no. Yes, you don't have to wipe them but no, you'd still need to dust the 'cover' somehow, no? Strange how one goes around to avoid going the extra mile when by going around it is already the extra mile.
Well, there's hardly any hope for in-home product advertising when friends and family come over (unless of course the TV is turned on). Maybe innovators should explore creating materials for furniture and electronic goods' casing that somehow miraculously repel dust? Then all problem solved. At least the design and aesthetic value will still be intacted. All the time.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Web 3.0

Just shortly after I blogged about Sparks being a staunch believer of everything Web 2.0, my friend announced that Web 3.0 is here. It's no surprise because personally, I feel that the lines are blurred. 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, the web does not carry a distinction such as how our mobile offerings (WAP, EDGE and 3G) did. Some say, Web 3.0 will be the merging point of communication portals. It's meant to support all forms of platform creating a truly seamless wired community.

Quoting Wikipedia - In August 2007, the Brazilian digital agency CUBO nominated Web 3.0 as the ability for the customers to communicate with the corporations, either in a direct manner using blogs and other Web 2.0 tools or indirectly, as being the holders of psychographic data analyzed by the Semantic Web and marketing tools such as Microtargeting / Silent Marketing.

This is crazy! Because I've stumbled into the 3.0 mindset without even knowing that Sparks and a community of Norah Jones fans have done it. Although the platform is simple and ancient (yes, blogspot is ancient), but the whole point of garnering active consumer voices to direct corporations where they should focus their attention on is amazing. The whole idea is to encourage netizens to be active participants of consumerism. No more watching ads passively which advertisers still believe in to prime audience into actions. That's quite primitive if you ask me. I think this whole she-bang of user-generated content and people empowerment has become the driving force of the web - community and content. It's like the sign of evolution (go take a look at the trible graphic featured on the poster of The Last Mimzy, and you'll understand). You can read the sign clockwise or anti-clockwise but it's actually a never ending spiral. Everything that starts from one point will stretch out, spiraling out infinitely but when reversed, it will bring us back to the very same point. Consumerism starts from us. And it will end with us.

For those of you who are still blur with what Web 2.0 is all about. Watch this video and all your questions will be answered. Michael Wesch is the brilliant author of this brilliant video. As for the next big bang of the net. Your guess is just as good as mine and the experts'.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Show us the money.

Sparks charges a standard fee for all services offered whether it is on consultancy or support basis. A retainer contract is possible if we're happy working with each other and most importantly, if you want to keep that spark ;)

Mail us and we'll talk.

About us.

Jae Sern is a multi-disciplinary graphic + web designer, art director and illustrator currently working in Auckland, New Zealand. He is inspired by most everything he sees and experiences, especially people, culture, art and design.

A Graphic Design graduate from Curtin University with a major in Digital Media, he worked for various web agencies in Malaysia for 5 years. As a digital art director, he worked on a host of major clients. Heeding his call to go Middle Earth, he pursued his post-graduate diploma at AUT in New Zealand before being hired to lead a design team at an Auckland-based studio.

He keeps himself busy indulging in his favourite past-time of books, music and football (the one with the round ball). He tries to catch all his favourite bands live in concert before band members get sick of one another, break up and disappear into oblivion. He also helps local kiwi bands by designing their gig posters and record covers. He enjoys graphic novels and beautifully illustrated childrens books.

He wishes he spoke more languages, had more bookshelves and that people looked better after one another and the beautiful planet they inhibit.


Jin-Wy is a graduate from APIIT, Malaysia in Computing, majoring in computer system architecture and web development studies. He has been on business development and strategic marketing in the printing and imaging (P&I) industry for 5 years, having had the opportunity to work with some of the top business leaders. He is currently leading the sales force of one of the fastest growing companies in the P&I industry.

He has spent a year and a half travelling to international trade shows for research and development to further capitalize on the billion-dollar imaging business and is in the midst of exploring hidden opportunities for greater growth. Subsequently, in his free time, his passion is put into work in pioneering Asia's first innovative Central Lab Operation for photo service providers which essentially enables consumers to preserve memories eternally at the convenience of their homes.

Jin-Wy is very much both an outdoor and indoor activity junkie. His next target is to conquer Mt. Kinabalu (South East Asia's most prominent peak of 4,095m), which will be a test of endurance and determination - the much needed values to drive his dream for the first Central Lab Operation.


Sue-Anne graduated from RMIT Australia in Creative Advertising, distinction class with background in cultural and societal studies. She has got a total of 6 years experience in strategic planning, insight digging and trendspotting, mentored by various native and imported gurus (to whom she is eternally grateful for) in both local and international advertising agencies. Some of her insight studies include Hip Hop Youth Nation, Women and the Growing Need to Buy, Indie Revolution, Virtual World and Sticky Web Content. And most recently completed, The Green Chronicles.

Her insatiable appetite for travelling has egged her on to 6 different continents, 20 countries and close to a hundred cities. She is happiest when spending time with the natives; exploring local semiotics and semantics, observing human interactions, absorbing the history and cultural context and identifying inevitable social changes. She also spent two years participating and observing the way of the Japanese, breaking down the many old myths the world has construed on the society.

During her free time (if she has any), she buries herself in books from business science to children fantasy. She also crawls dozens of blogs, social networks and communities every day for trends and inspiration. She sometimes contributes an article or two for travel magazines and has very interesting weekends.


Jacq is a Public Relations and Journalism graduate, and has a total of four years in corporate communications and publishing. She is currently contributing to a male magazine and splits her time between writing and doing the blog-jog. It keeps her fingers slim.

She has spent one year immersing in trends and attempting to foretell them when she got her first taste of playing The Editor of an interactive magazine. It was the most laborious role-play she has ever experienced but she’s glad she got the part because it sparked a deeper interest in music and the cultural phenomenon inspired from it. Outside of music, she fascinates herself by tracking sites on literature, food and advances in design. She believes that knowledge on trends will help us make more discerning choices (read: no more bubblegum pop) and instigate a life beyond the ordinary.


Sparks Fourteen Twenty Nine Sdn Bhd (836164-M)
Mail here please.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The concept of Sparks.

Sparks is conceived because of multiple business reasons which I am pretty sure I'll be sorely sorry if I don't do something about it now. I've learned my lesson well from Faith Popcorn and Malcom Gladwell. And this time, I'm not going to let these opportunities fly by. Some of the issues that have been bugging me for quite awhile which eventually lead me to form Sparks are:

1) The importance of knowledge.

Now, more than ever, businesses in various industries are searching to capitalize on existing knowledge and upcoming trends. Yet strangely enough, not everyone knows where to find knowledge and even what to do with it! Although my measly less-than-a-decade experience in the advertising industry does not measure much to all you advertising gurus, I did and still do witness a lot of work produced based on best guesswork or through tried-and-tested-fool-proof methods.

I think one way to break those rules is to be well-informed on what's happening around us. Knowing trends keeps us abreast with people outside our own four walls - at work or at home. Understanding them helps us to see beyond our current business scope and leads us to sparkling breezy blue oceans. Applying them propels us ahead of the competition and into an era of profitable innovation.

Sparks believes that having knowledge without application is just black and white information, as much as we can't manage what we don't know. We focus on social researches that will spark a culture of understanding and innovation.

2) The business speak of the future is profitable social innovation.

It's true when they say, "We have innovated the world into this mess. Now we must innovate ourselves out of it". Businesses need to be more aware of the current impact they are creating in the society and how they can innovate to meet the REAL needs of people. I'm talking about BIG needs that keep people up at night - whether it's that persisting worry or a new found dream. Not just social needs of the less fortunate. And certainly not any artificial desires created by traditional ad campaigns.

Sparks believes that ethics and profits can co-exist and aims to put them back into business.

3) Web 2.0 and counting

Needless to say, Malaysia is one of the ultimate laggards when it comes to internet business and marketing. Everyone is still shivering from the horrible cold of the dotcom era and is blaming everyone else for bad infrastructure and low broadband penetration. But really. What are you doing about it? Businesses in Malaysia are highly equipped to help 'sophisticatize' local internet users but they always use the same old excuse of '3% broadband penetration is not viable'. Really?

Sparks is part of the net revolution and speaks web communities and content because Web 2.0 is borderless and waits for no man. Or woman for that matter.

I truly believe that if Sparks continously check itself with these three issues, the journey from now on will be an exciting and thoroughly unbelievable one. Imagine the possibilities - the innovations - that can be sparked with the true knowledge and understanding of people, culture and technology.