Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Sainsbury's vs. Marks & Spencer - the battle for nostalgia

It appears that the latest marketing trend is to look back nostalgically at the 'good old days'. For example, Sainsbury's latest TV ad is all about heritage and history. The theme is "Trying something new for 140 years" and takes the viewer on a visual journey across the company's main milestones in these years.

Marks & Spencer, a competitor, have a very similar campaign out there also, celebrating 125 years. In this TV ad they have Twiggy going back in time on a visual journey across the company's milestones in these years... sound familiar?

I wonder what the marketing teams in both companies think about these very, very similar campaigns!! I also note that both commercials include the mention of avocados and the claim of having 'introduced' them to the UK...

The ads are so similar that I wonder what happened there - coincidence or something more sinister?

Which one do you like best?

Friday, 22 May 2009

Travels around the World (Showcase) - Japan

I’ve already taken you around World Showcase twice: Italy and France. In my long-awaited continuation of this series, we will go a little further away into the amazing country that is Japan.

As a pavilion, Japan has quite a few things going for it. First of all, it looks absolutely stunning, especially at dusk. It has a wide open courtyard and is surrounded by a pagoda and a large building housing the shops and restaurants that make up most of the pavilion. The open courtyard gives the pavilion a very airy feel, but it also has some secrets.

At the far end of the courtyard is a replica of a castle or fortress and inside there is a gallery. Currently I seem to remember there is an exhibit on tin toys (a must, and almost always quiet!) but it has housed other exhibits in the past. Another quiet spot is the garden in front of the Yakitori House (incidentally, probably my favorite fast food restaurant in all of WDW). This garden is a lovely Japanese garden, full of gorgeous plants and even a koi pond, a great place to relax.

But my absolutely favorite part of the pavilion is the Mitsukoshi department store, which is a shopper’s paradise and full of absolutely everything Japanese – from chopsticks and candy to expensive kimono and pearls, but not forgetting Hello Kitty merchandise, sake, origami, bonsai... well, the list goes on. This shop is also my favorite in all of World Showcase and I can happily spend hours there. Above the shop is the restaurant which is also an experience that must not be missed – the food is incredible and the service amazing.

Japan is a country I have always wanted to visit, for some reason. I guess it was the Hello Kitty obsession in my childhood or something but for some reason I’ve always wanted to go there. My interest was further ignited when I visited the Japanese pavilion in Epcot and the more time I spent there, the more I wanted to see the real thing. Fortunately my husband had also always had that wish so finally in 2002 a combination of factors meant that we could go to Japan and we spent around 3 weeks there.

We traveled in the spring (and got lucky enough to see the cherry blossom) and stayed with a very good friend in Tokyo and also with other of our Epcot friends. This gave us a great opportunity to not only see the country but see how people really lived and we had a mixture of accomodations: from the single girl’s city appartment to a family home in the suburbs of Tokyo, a grand house in the country, and even a mixture of Japanese B&Bs and the most amazing hotel I’ve ever stayed at.

We spent some time in Kyoto and Hiroshima as well and the beauty and emotion we experienced there is of course much more than what visitors to the pavilion can even imagine. The tiny garden in front of the Yakitori House is a symbol of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of gardens all over the place, each one more beautiful than the next and tended to with meticulous care and a love of nature. Even the torii gate that stands in front of the Japanese pavilion is a replica of a real one, which we got to see in Miyajima.

We even went to Tokyo Disneyland and of course I loved it! The comparison between the US parks and the Tokyo park is probably another blog post in itself but suffice to say that it was incredibly busy, even though it was a weekday and not a holiday and everything was very familiar but still had a certain exotic touch that constantly reminded us that we were not in one of the US parks. I guess Disneyland Paris has a little of that too... but Tokyo Disneyland has many more "American" touches than the Paris park so sometimes it was easy to forget where you were - then you'd see a huge queue for gyoza sausages and you'd be reminded of exactly where you were!

I quickly fell in love with Japan (and to this day I dream of returning someday, with the kids) and there wasn’t a thing I didn’t like: the bustle of Tokyo, the amazing punctuality of the trains, the warmth of the people, the incredible food, the fantastic shopping... I could go on. We even spent a few hours in the real Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo and I can say that the Epcot version is of course smaller but it does the real one justice as the variety of items available is dazzling.

One thing that I did with my Japanese friend in Kyoto is get a “Geisha makeover” which is a much more elaborate version of the princess makeovers already available at WDW. We spent a couple of hours (yeah, hours) getting dressed and made up to look like Geiko (a sort of Geisha-in-training), then having our photos taken and then proceeding to remove the heavy makeup and finally getting to see the photos. It was a great experience and I’m glad we did it, for we got some very unusual photos at the end! I think this would be a great addition to the Japanese pavilion but they would probably have to find a way to make the experience not take hours but still end up with great results.

My time in Epcot’s Japan had made me aware of the warmth of the people and we experienced this in droves in the real thing. I even knew that they gift wrapped all purchases in the most detailed way and when in Japan I wasn’t disappointed! I just think that the pavilion needs another way of conveying just how wonderful this country is and that it is so much more than just food, shopping and gardens. But at least this pavilion, in my opinion, does a very good job of giving Epcot visitors a little taste of what the real country is like.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

All about (my) running skirts

As I've said before, I have now discovered running skirts and this is probably the best thing to have happened to my running. Not only are they very practical, they make me look cute (at least I think so), come in great colors and are something a little bit different and more modest than running shorts. I love wearing them so much that sometimes I go out on runs even when I don't feel like it, just so that I can wear one of my lovely skirts! So I am a total convert and would urge anyone who hasn't tried them to do so.

I actually only have five running skirts (well, six really but more on that later) and I love them all for different reasons. Lots of people have been asking me about my running skirts lately so here is the quick guide to all my skirts and the different reasons I love them.

One of the first skirts I bought was this navy/aqua from runningskirts.com:

Runningskirts.com have athletic skirts and running skirts - the difference being that athletic skirts have compression shorts underneath, while running skirts have spankies (yes, that is what they are called!) or briefs. I prefer their running skirt style because it makes layering easier. I tend to wear the skirts over capris or tights, and my favorites come from Thoosa.com. The top I'm wearing is one of my favorites and is from Under Armour. These skirts all have side pockets which are great for carrying keys, gels and even MP3 players so no more armbands for me, which is another great advantage.

I find that running skirts from runningskirts.com are available in lots of great colors, so I just couldn't resist buying a few more. So I got the navy pumpkin (above) which I love to match with my Thoosa v-neck tee in this fantastic shade of blue (I think they call it ocean). This top is one of my favorites and I like it so much that I have two and I wore this when I ran the WDW marathon in 2008.

A lot of my running wardrobe tends to be blue for some reason - I didn't plan it that way but there is a lot of blue and black in there... but what about pink? It is one of my favorite colors so of course I had to get a pink skirt!

Again from runningskirts.com, this one is the pink/sunset skirt, no longer available. You can just about see that the skirt is pale pink with a light orange panel on the side. It is a lovely combination and when paired with that pink top (an ordinary cotton top) it looks very nice. Still, I think I could do with another pink skirt someday, something a bit brighter... but anyway.

I also have one skirt from skirtgoddess.com - the very amazing commitment skirt in carbon/orange:

This skirt is hands down the best skirt I run in. You will notice it has compression shorts underneath (in a fab shade of orange) and this is the one skirt I can actually wear without layering over tights if the weather is right, and not feel uncomfortable, chafe or have the shorts ride up. It fits so well and is incredibly comfortable, it is well worth the money. It also has pockets for essentials, one on each hip. Here I am wearing it with an ordinary cotton t-shirt in orange but it also looks great when paired with my long sleeve pink tech shirt from Thoosa.

You may have also noticed that there is something of an orange theme emerging... well, I have always liked the way blue looks with orange, they contrast very well together, so it is natural to have that color in my running wardrobe. But a bigger reason is that the folks over at disneyrunning.com
have chosen orange as the 'official' color so when t-shirts were created, they were in a VERY bright shade of orange! So of course I had to get a few skirts to match... The DR t-shirt looks fantastic with the carbon/orange skirt and with the navy/orange and also the pink/orange but it probably looks the best with my last skirt:

I told you the shirt was bright! It's great for being spotted when running outside, though. Anyway, the skirt is a New Balance one I picked up for almost nothing in the Sports Authority sometime last year, on one of my trips to the US. It has compression shorts underneath and even a small pocket on the hip, although as it's on the shorts (and not on the skirt as the others) it can be a bit uncomfortable when using it to hold my MP3 player because the cable gets a bit twisted with the skirt. But out of all my skirts this one is my favorite color and I love the fact that it is even a little 'flippy' when I run - makes me feel cute!

Those are my five skirts. There is, as I mentioned before, a sixth skirt - the very useful and highly recommended Fit Momma from runningskirts.com. This maternity running skirt was the most useful garment in my wardrobe for months and even now I still use it once in a while, as the extra-wide band can be folded down and provides some much needed support to my post-partum belly. In fact, this skirt is the only item of maternity wear that I have kept now that the baby is here and I plan to keep it for a little while longer. The only downside is that this skirt is only available in all black and I prefer my skirts to be bright colors.

So there you have it - everything you ever wanted to know about my running skirts. If you are a runner and haven't tried one, I suggest you do because once you run in a skirt you will never run in anything else!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Who does she look like - 2.0

I've done this before but it's time to play the game again: who does Jessica look like? Because I'm biased and I think she looks like her brother, here is my evidence.

This is what Jessica looks like right now, at 3 months:

And this is what Samuel used to look like at the same age:

Very similar, don't you think? The same chin, same mouth, same nose and very similar eyes but Jessica does have bigger cheeks and her eyes look a bit more scrunched up. Also Samuel had bright blue eyes by this age whereas Jessica's are already turning sort of hazel (but they look brown on this shot). And of course Samuel was growing new, blonde hair by 3 months while Jessica still has her mop of brown curls.

Unfortunately there isn't a photo of me at that age (not that I know of anyway) but trust me on this one - Jessica looks like her brother! Or what do you think?

Friday, 1 May 2009

Swine flu - perspectives

I've been meaning to write about this for a little while, then I would change my mind because I am not an expert in this so have nothing really to add. But the topic occupied my thoughts so much to the point that I can't think of anything else to write about so in an act of desperation... here I go.

I guess my only qualifier is that I'm from Mexico and have come back from there relatively recently (but long ago enough that I'm not really at any risk). I still have lots of friends and family back there and I get lots of information from them on what things are really like at ground level. So when I see the news here in the UK, I have those filters in my mind.

At first I even thought the whole thing was relatively funny - the media taking a small story and blowing it up, causing other people/countries to panic. Why was the story picked up in the first place? I thought that it was perhaps a diversion from the economic situation, or maybe some political move from the Mexican government (to cover something else up) or maybe even some sort of conspiracy, which I won't even write about here.

Stories got more and more serious and I even wondered if things really are as bad as they said. Basically the country is shutting down for a few days in the hopes of containing the flu virus - but isn't this weekend a long bank holiday weekend over there anyway? (1st and 5th of May are bank holidays) So in a way it is good timing to close things down, as schools would be closed anyway. True, people still would have had to go to work but the timing of the shut down seems very good. The bind is that people are being advised to stay at home instead of being able to get out and enjoy the days off. I am sure that this is driving a lot of moms crazy, having to keep the kids at home!

All deaths (except one and technically the little boy is from Mexico but happened to be in the US) have been in Mexico. Elsewhere it appears that people that catch the disease report mainly mild symptoms and respond well to drugs. At least in the UK, it appears that the result of having swine flu is to become famous and to have media fighting for their story. But this couple doesn't seem to have any serious illness other than greed - they have now engaged Max Clifford, the famous publicist, to sell their story. This for me has now been the tipping point: they have turned a flu into a money-making enterprise!

So far there have been hundreds of suspected cases and a few hundred deaths. While I'm sure it is very sad for the families concerned, in terms of numbers they are relatively low - outside of Mexico there are less than 200 confirmed cases (according to the BBC). To give this some perspective, malaria kills 250,000 children evey year in Nigeria alone! But this doesn't get broadcast on prime time on TV every night.

I'm not trying to say that this isn't serious because it probably is, but I'm just asking for a little perspective. The media love to whip us up into a frenzy because it sells more papers (which is good in these tough times) and make us thing the end of the world is nigh. It's a shame that Nigerians can not afford the services of Max Clifford, then their story would get more exposure and malaria would be erradicated by the 2010 deadline.

(To make a donation to the UNICEF and help the children of the world live better and fuller lives, visit this page.)


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