Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bivergence 1; Convergence 0

I have been hearing about Convergence since I was in my post-graduate programme. It has been over five years now but where is it? It reminds of the optical illusion created by the two seemingly converging but otherwise parallel railway tracks or better still the the horizon - where the sky and the sea seem to meet!
I am yet to come across any product that does it all. Many of us still say that there would be that one device that would do everything and it’s only a matter of time before it is made available & affordable.
I want to believe it. But till such time that convergence becomes a reality, Bivergence seems to be ruling. Bivergence is about a personal communication device or technology with two key driving features.
Most of the products that are available today are live examples of this. Most of these devices are best suited for doing one or at best two things. Look at i Pod (Music & or Movies, but still mainly entertainment), The new series of phones from Nokia boast of a twin feature - Mobile connectivity & Music which effectively communication & entertainment, Sony Ericsson with Cybershot is a Mobile phone with a Camera but it still continues to be predominantly a communication device. Even Blackberry - the iconic mobile business backbone - is fundamentally a mobile phone with arguably the best emailing application (connectivity).
Step away from mobile handheld devices & we see that IP TV continues to be micro niche and DTH platform persists to be predominantly a Television service.
Despite all the future gazing about convergence, we are still living with products that are at best a duet of two kinds of applications. One of these applications is primary and the other only an additional feature.
What is still not very clear is are we only a product innovation away from convergence or would we have to wait longer for a mindset change that would help us accept a more ‘universal’ convergence product. And thus give marketers a reason to introduce that one ‘product’.

Insights live in questions, connections & contradictions

My earlier post Monk Outside Maverick Inside (http://inquiringeyes.blogspot.com/2006/11/monk-outside-maverick-inside.html) that talked about a good qualitative researcher being very calm outside and a complete radical -iconoclast inside, missed one point.
A good qualitative researcher, actually not just a qualitative researcher but also anyone in the business of consumer needs and innovations, should ideally possess three key traits.

One, he should question things. What I mean by questioning is not random interrogation but an ability to look at the world from a different angle and try to break the status quo down and try to understand what lies behind what we see. In other words, going beyond what is or what can be seen.
Like the Sahlinsian lesson:
Notice everything and pay attention to things that puzzle.
Pay attention to things that demand your attention and then refuse your understanding.
Pay attention to the failure of attention.

Second, he should try to connect the reasons behind the seemingly unrelated occurrences. This helps build a better picture of what really is happening around. Connections help spin the web of possibilities around an unexplained phenomenon or a question

Third, he should be able to identify the contrasts & contradictions between things, people and across time or geography etc. Most of the ideas & insights surface through cracks of contradictions.
These three traits help in observing better, because now we are questioning things & not taking anything for granted . They help in analyzing better because we are trying to question and connect different phenomena. And finally they help in generating ideas and insights because the same contradictions help us explore new dimensions of a hitherto unknown phenomenon.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Coffee Machine Camaraderie

BMW did it really well. They identified the informal groups (friends) within the company and next everyone in those groups was working on real ideas for the next model of BMW.
This is a bloody good idea and a great way to break free from underperforming committees, sub committees & steering committees!
Companies can do a lot by identifying different ‘friend groups’ in the organization and then hand them a task or project. These tasks could be other than what all of them are anyway working on individually.
The logic is simple – these people meet often at and off work. They talk to each other about many things including work. They understand each other and most importantly like each other’s company.
There cannot be a better way of leveraging this bond than giving them tasks that they can work on together. It is a great way of stoking entrepreneurship, job rotation without any real rotation, helping people get a break from their formal teams or disciplines or departments and most importantly would lead to better results from the same set of people.
We can do this in any company, in any industry and at anytime!
Advertising anyone?

Careful-Carefree-Couldn’t Care Less

Avinash born 1972, attained puberty in 1985, was a youth in late 80s & early 90s. Avinash was one of the three kids in his family with one elder brother and a younger sister. His mother was a homemaker and his father was in service.
His parents always disciplined him and when they saw him misbehaving (at home or outside) he sometimes even got reprimanded physically.
It was only Avinash’s grandparents who indulged him.

Akash born in 1982, attained puberty in 1995, was a youth in late 90s and early 2000s. He was the elder of the two male siblings. His mother was a teacher and father’s an engineer working with a company.
Akash was groomed the soft discipline way wherein he feared his father but seldom took his Mom very seriously.
He was always told to be a good boy. Akash was at best shouted at but rarely ever got reprimanded and, almost, never physically.
According to his mother Akash was indulged, and even spoilt by his grandparents.

Aayush, born 1992, attained puberty in 2005 and is still a teenager. He is approaching his youth in late 2000s and early 2010s. Aayush is the only child of his parents. His father travels a lot and mother works from home. They have a full-time help at home that looks after Aayush. Both his parents and his grandparents, who come visiting once in 3-4 months, pamper
Aayush. Ayush’s mother believes that children who are brought up without too many dos and don’ts develop into a better and more balanced personality. She never scolds Aayush leave aside reprimanding him physically.
She once got to know that the one of the teachers at Aayush’s school punishes kids who do not behave in classroom. Ever since then she has been looking for an alternative school for Aayush.

Avinash (1972), Akash (1982) & Aayush (1982) represent three different kinds of child grooming techniques that typify many of the urban middle and upper middle class households from these three different eras.
I summarize these three child-grooming approaches into Careful (Avinash era), Carefree (Akash era) and Couldn’t Care Less (Aayush era).
These three grooming era’s also reflect the prevailing parental mindset. While 70s were typified by apprehension about the future and thus an extra careful grooming mindset that bordered sharp disciplining etc.
The 80s & 90s were more bullish. Parents of this era have age and money on their side and it is this that makes them carefree. The carefree attitude manifests itself in the style of grooming that these parents choose to adopt subconsciously. Marriages are getting delayed and so is childbirth. Linked with this is the fact about both mother and father being employed out of home and thus limited time for the kid. Double income translates into higher disposable income coupled with the parental guilt. Pampering the kid is a way of redeeming a lot of these guilt pangs.
It is this guilt-soaked parenting that is creating an entire crop of kids who couldn’t care less about anything or anyone including their parents.
What is more important for advertisers and marketers like us is, what kind of consumers would these three boys become. While on one hand Avinash would have been a more submissive child (at least overtly), Akash and more importantly Aayush would become more expressive and confident kids.
Though I am not aware of any Empirical study that suggests that there is a positive correlation between the degree of liberal grooming for a kid and the extent of the child being expressive & confident, but my observations suggest that there does exist a positive correlation between the two.
If that is the case then we as marketers and advertisers need to gear up for new breed of confident, demanding, expressive and fearless young kids who question and behave more like informed adults much earlier in their life than their predecessors.

The future of kid marketing looks more like marketing to teens & young adults.

K Serials could be ‘cheaper’ than History Channel & HBO

Today we pay a fixed amount every month to the local cable operator. These are called the monthly cable charges.
Enter Conditional Access System (CAS) and we would not be paying this way. We’d be paying only for the channels that we choose to subscribe to. Thus the monthly bill would be a sum total of the number of channels that we choose to subscribe multiplied by the subscription charge per channel. This is great!
Thank you TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India)!
I was discussing this with Rohit (my elder brother), who has nothing to do with marketing or the business of broadcasting. Rohit gave me a brilliant idea, which I do not think has been done anywhere in the world of broadcasting.
He said that ideally our monthly cable charges should come in the form of an itemized bill. Just the way we get our mobile phone bills today.
In other words we should only be paying for the duration that we actually watch cable TV.
He called it Hi Fidelity, I could not agree more.

Rohit’s simple idea made me wonder how much we as marketers, advertisers & business people can learn from some leading edge consumers. How I wish we were researching more among people like him.

Rohit’s idea also got me thinking that if we were to get itemized bills for our cable usage, who would be paying for the time that we are made to watch TV Commercials? After all we would not like to pay for watching ads! This gave me thought to take Rohit’s idea forward.

What if we could develop two kinds of programming content in the future?

1. Sponsored Content: This could be the content that is more or less like the content that we consume today. It has commercial messages interspersed with programming content. Presence of advertising on these channels would subsidize the subscription charges for these channels.
This is almost the way advertisers have subsidized newspaper printing. We pay a minuscule amount for those book-like newspapers today, thanks to advertisers!

2. Premium content: This could be the commercial-free content and could thus be priced higher than the sponsored content

The above segregation of programming would also take care of the itemized billing where in we could have with differential pricing for different kinds of channels. Channel content creators would be able to decide if they wanted to reach out to the Masses through the Sponsored Content or the Classes through the Premium Content Programming.
In such an event what would happen to the advertising of premium products and services? What media would they be using?
Well, most of the Class consumers are anyway migrating from mainstream TV viewing to Internet and Personal Entertainment (read home theatres etc.) In such a scenario it makes more sense for marketers of premium products and services to park their marketing & communication budgets with interactive media (http://inquiringeyes.blogspot.com/2006/09/screen-is-new-window.html) and rest could be spent on personal selling or better still in film marketing and public relations.

Monday, December 11, 2006


The proliferation of media has ensured that almost nothing can be away from the public eye. So Nike is not just what it advertises on TV or sells in its stores, Nike also is what happens in its factories.
Political parties are not just manifestoes and speeches but also embarrassments on spy cameras and revelations from tapped phone lines.
Brands are getting born (and killed) premature as the assembly line comes in the spotlight.
Network technologies like the one that is helping you read this text right now has ensured that people are able to know much more about companies than what companies are prepared for. It is not surprising that today, on the Internet, before you are even a product (solution), you already are a brand (image/perceived solution).
The power of collective thinking and personal broadcasting has democratized everything. Corporate thus need to do be a little (if not a lot) flexible. They need to accept the transfer of control to the consumers or at least accept them as a co-driver.
There are a lot of intelligent, constructive and enthusiastic people outside corporates and one of the first things that companies can do is to use the collective ‘wisdom’ and ‘influence’ of these folk for mutual interest.
Things like using people to test products in real life (not labs) - I call it ‘Podcasting the beta’ - are not ideas but imperatives in the future of business.

The future would witness the word secret acquiring an entirely new meaning and we would read about concepts like back-end in books to do with the historical evolution of technology & society.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Medicine not Mascara

The other big change that biomedical engineering could bring to our world is in the design of dressing tables that we have at home.
The future of cosmetics is about inner glow. It is more about internal beauty treatment and therapy and not as much about a beauty parlour or the many skin creams and packs. With the advent of medicines and medical procedures that help bring back & retain youthful skin and a lot more, we might not after all need so many things on the dressing table.
This along with the persistent desire to flaunt natural look would take people to beauty technologists and therapists rather than beauticians. (Read about multiple segments in medical care in the post ‘Is life saving different from life extending?’)
Beauty just might end up being more about what you eat and which medico-beauty procedure you can afford rather than what you wear or what you apply.

Is life saving different from life extending?

Is Spa a luxury and thus not meant for the ‘common man’?
Spas marry the ancient medical/healing texts from different parts of the world (Indian, Oriental, Western etc.) with contemporary symbols of comfort (a five star environment). What results is Healthy living wrapped in hi-tech hospitality, something that’s not for the ‘common man’.
But if you look at the kind of services that a Spa offers viz. natural oil ‘therapies’, Ayurvedic massage & ‘therapies’, hydro ‘therapies’, I would tend to think why not for the common man.
Most of these services are aimed at the stressed urban dwellers who are looking to relax their body & mind.
Does this mean that proverbial ‘common man’ does not get stressed?
What about the daily wage earners we see at all those construction sites or even an average office boy, an accountant etc who do not have a six figure salary? Do they not get stressed?
Well, I am sure all of us, no matter common man or individual extraordinaire, we do get stressed. But all of us do not get to go to a Health Spa to rejuvenate.
So what’s the big deal? Everyone can’t afford everything!
It is true that everyone can’t afford everything but it is equally important to define as to what qualifies as ‘everything’ and what is labeled as ‘something’.
Buying a very expensive dress or a sports car or perhaps a mansion on a island might be some of the things that could find a place in the ‘something’ list but could medicine be in the same list?
That precisely is the point.
I look at Health Spas and similar such rejuvenation centers as precursors to a new kind of medication. A medication that is natural, rejuvenating and an early sign of many more things to come. Like biomedical engineering.
It has been proven how a better health regimen, something that health Spas do, leads to a healthier life and more importantly a longer life span.
But can everyone afford a health Spa?
It would not be a surprise that in the time to come, despite the price control that govt. imposes on pharmaceutical companies, it would not be able to guarantee democratic medical care to the common man. Because in therapeutic concepts like biomedical engineering, where we would be synthesizing/cloning (and not manufacturing) cures like substitute organs for the aging, new skin for the damaged, better memory for that old man and fertility treatment for people marrying or remarrying late etc.

Today it is only Spas and some really complex medical procedures, tomorrow it could be life-extending procedures that would be available at a price.
Just like everyone can’t buy Sheseido, everyone would not be able to extend his or her life.

With the rise of super-expensive life extension medical procedures & multiple segments of medical care, life saving procedures and drugs would acquire an entirely new meaning.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Void of Belief

This is addendum to what I had written sometime back - ‘50 years of independence; 15 years of freedom’. Here is an ‘extenso-thought’ to it.
While India’s economic boom is filling many coffers - FDIs are up, we have a booming stock market, all the sectors of economy are showing vibrant growth, salaries are up (highest growth in whole of Asia!) and a lot more good is coming our way, there is another impact of this economic boom that is less talked about.
As a country, we have seen the demise of mainstream nationalism long time back -ask anyone other than the retired folk about nationalism or the national issues facing the country and chances are you’d draw a blank.
As a nation we can only vaguely remember Gandhain values as a distinct national philosophy.
Today, we as citizens are totally disjoint from each other for want of a shared belief. It would be difficult to answer if someone asked what is the contemporary concept of being an Indian?
As Peter Shwartz has mentioned in his work “Inevitable Surprises”, as a society we have been living with a void of belief.
India’s economic boom has filled this void to a large extent. This is especially true for the bigger urban centers where the fruits of economic boom can be seen and even tasted. As a nation a large part of our present day population is happy, hopeful and heading to the future with a belief that tomorrow would be better and there is a lot that can be done.
This is in sharp contrast to middle class India’s erstwhile ‘fear of future’ mindset. Our collective mental programming of yore was typified by an attitude that considered tomorrow a synonym for uncertainty.
India’s economic boom is a great example of the social impact of economic status of a nation.
May this new belief move from strength to strength and may the economy outperform the belief!

Ae meri Zohra-chubbi

The marketers love to see you FAT. I swear by French Fries!
Because fat women (and men) eat out more, have more medicines, consult more doctors, use more beauty aids than their not so fat cousins, work harder to not look their weight thus focus more on clothing and of course work hard to get back into shape.
With all these things going for marketers (and media), who would not want to have fat people around?
As India bloats (Add India today statistics here) the marketers are only too happy.
But why are we bloating?
Because we are eating the same that we used to in school & college but have stopped taking the bus (thus no walking to the bus stop), sit in air-conditioned environs (thus stopped sweating) burning, do not have the time to go home (leave aside a game of cricket or tennis), have more alcohol to consume (no need to pool for a bottle of Old Monk, just take a cab to the nearest pub & let the waiter be your saki) & eat more non-vegetarian fare than what our grand father would have ever imagined (over 65% of Indians are no-vegetarians today – Hindu state?).
No matter how much wellness is reported by media, the inches are not going anywhere yet. Statistics show that two thirds of working people joining a gym to lose weight, give up in the first 10 days.
While the nation ‘seems’ to be becoming a health freak the chances are that people are heavier rather than healthier.

Thin is in but fat is not out!

My Super Sweet 16

A look at the super successful primetime fare on the highly rated TV show My Super Sweet 16 throws open opportunity for TV programmers in India. If it can be tweaked for a little younger kids say between 8 & 14 it can work wonders.
The original show is about the excesses of privileged youths marketing the achievement of making through their 16th year. Parents sign cheques of USD 200,000 saying it’s worth it!
The parties, as the Time magazine recently said, are the equivalent of Hillary Duff’s MP3 videos. It is all about a celebration of self.
Growing number of urban middle class families, with fewer children at home, are already going overboard in ensuring that their kids get the best. I usually say believe that the socio economic classification does not apply to kids. Because every parent does more for his kid than what he can realistically afford.
Contemporary attitude towards parenting is like the average first date – we all go overboard!
What better way could there be to help parents see what really is the best that they can do for their kids than by showing them (and their kids) how people, who have the money, do it.
When the Mittal, Chatwal & Subroto Roy Sahara’s children’s wedding can give so many ideas to the Indian elite, why can’t a show for elite kids stoke middle-class aspirations.
Rarely would one have come across a kid who does not look forward to his birthday celebrations. A program like this would only make kid’s aspirations a little more specific and put parents under a little more pressure!
No matter how unethical or immoral it might make Television programming look, it would sure make parents, and more importantly kids, take note.

It sure is about self-centered greediness that gives infantile a bad name, but if people like it, let’s give it to them.

If the thought sounds rather too outrageous for kids it can very well be done for teens or youth. The idea is to make everyone in the program famous for a price and make everyone watching the program aspire for it.
There is a new industry taking shape that is devoted to re-creating celebrity culture for anyone who can afford it, fame is a commodity like any other. A show like this could gratify those who have it by helping them flaunt it & would connect with those who don’t by giving them what they love to read in tabloids and supplements of leading dailies.

Nu Uth One - Geography is History

Starting today I'd share with you learnings and observations on youth under the title - Nu Uth. You'd get Nu Uth udates regularly.

Here goes the first one.

For the urban youth of today, technology is an enabler and geography is a concept of the past.
This is manifested in their attitude towards of social networking websites like Orkut, MySpace etc. A quick glance of these websites indicates a sharply youth oriented user ship.
Most of these social networking websites are a life-sized illustration of the concept of 5 degrees of separation. Young boys and girls do not just interact with their offline friends but also get to explore a whole new network of offline relationships, online.

Apart from interacting with friends & friend’s friends and so on, a large number of young boys and girls registered on these sites are active members of multiple ‘communities’.
A lot can be understood about the Nu Uth from their community affiliations. Also, these communities bust the myth that Nu Uth is poorer in belief & is groping for a cause. Actually they have both and they are actively engaged in them too, just that the location of the community, cause & the belief has moved away from slogan shouting & striking down the classic broadways to scrapping and mass messaging on broadband data pipes.

For the Nu Uth, passion and principles are free of physical space.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Remixed TVCs

Though some companies like Exxon Mobil, Gap & General Mills are perhaps miffed with Hip Hop artists getting creative with their corporate logos & ads – I think this is a great opportunity – especially for youth brands.
Imagine if you invite users to come forward and create their own remixed versions of the corporate ad jingles or better still give an unusual twist to the TVCs!
With technology by their side and the desire to express themselves; an opportunity like this can only make the youth happy.
Imagine the kind of stickiness this act could have. It is a great candidate for a news story in itself.
While the ads try to ‘influence the users’ remixed ads could well be the way, as the original ad remixer Eric White said, “to influence the company right back.” Companies could learn a lot about their user and what they think and feel about the brand, from what they make.
With companies spending so much money to ‘bombard’ the audience with brand messages and still wondering if it did exactly what they wanted the message to do; it is time that they took a break and let the users do their own thing. Creative collaborating is another way to position their brands as unstuffy and open.
Remixing ads could almost be like turning the interesting whispers in an auditorium into something useful for everyone.
And if it is consumer’s, even a whisper can sound convincing!

An algorithm for everything!

Algorithm for Art
Computer programmers in companies like Platinum Blue (US) & Orixa Productions in Madrid are working on what they call “Music Intelligence”.
It entails developing software that would predict which songs would become hits.
The software uses a technique called “Spectral Deconvolution”. It isolates & analyses around 30 parameters that define a piece of music. These companies have compiled database of more than 3 million successful musical arrangements including data on their popularity in different markets.
They claim that they can reveal striking similarities in the underlying parameters of two songs from different eras - for example between U2 & Beethoven!
You are beautiful by James Blunt is one of the many songs that were predicted to be big hits by Platinum Blue.

Algorithm for ideas & creativity
A company called Icosystem has developed the Hunch Engine. The software explores characteristics of products, images or names that appeal to a client. It then applies those characteristics to the automated design of new objects that can be displayed on screen. The Hunch Engine can be customized for corporate clients. Icosystem is now experimenting with a version that will spit out striking original brand and product names.

Algorithm for daily needs

And Google, as some publication recently indicated, could be the World Brain in making.
It helps us search everything from Paper Clips to PDFs and Power Points. Now we can even create our own word spreadsheets that would be housed on a Google server. In many ways Goolle is leading the emergence of central & networked intelligence simultaneously. First it helped us find anything, anywhere & anytime and now it is prompting us to do everything that we do, at the one place. Google has been the guide map and Google could well become the final destination too.

I am not a scientist thus I can’t say this as an expert but as an observer I feel that what strings the above three together (Algorithm for art, ideas & needs of everyday life) is their reliance on predictive matrices. In other words trying to predict different things in future, basis all the things that have happened in the past.
If history repeats itself and if there is some kind of order in the chaos of business, economy & everyday life; a kind of Order that can be sensed only by a well-trained eye or a bloody-good algorithm, then we cannot be overestimating the enthusiasm of developer-entrepreneurs like Brin & Page (Google) and others behind things like Music Intelligence & Hunch Engine.

What surpasses my imagination is what role would instinct & intuition play in a world of predictive algorithms.
Would the meaning of creativity change?
Would we stop using some of our intellectual faculties (a lot of our thinking anyway has been reduced to typing search strings on search engines!)?
Would there be a counter intelligence that would emerge – intelligence that is less algorithmic and more intuitive?
Would there be a division of roles between Algorithmic Intelligence & Intuitive Intelligence in a way that the former would drive the maintenance of order in this world, and the latter would explore new frontiers of development?

More importantly who would control whom?
And most importantly – what role would human intelligence play in all this?

Friday, November 24, 2006

New Khosla Kunj - Compromise

One of the defining character traits of middle-class (and perhaps larger India too) is compromise. Compromise with the circumstances and situations comes to us naturally. There could not have been a better way of reflecting this in the film than the way it was done.
His friend, and confidante, Mr. Sahni, advises Mr. Khosla that he should not contest his son’s desire to change his name. Compromising with grown up kids was the best way to lead a peaceful retired life with one’s kids. He goes on to say that the “young boys these days have a very MNC kind of mind”, and we should not challenge the way kids want to live their life.
He then goes on to say that this whole country is running on compromise (“Ye pura desh hi pancho compromise pe chal raha hai..”).
Though lightly said but this statement has a lot of meaning in it. Come to think of it – as middle-class Indians we never put up a resistance for what we think is wrong. If roads are bad we compromise, if trains are over crowded we compromise, if the govt is corrupt we compromise, if power supply is erratic we compromise, if there is encroachment on our land we compromise, even if a part of our province is taken by another country we compromise. As a society and nation we do not know anything in the name of resistance. At best we talk and then settle down. Compromise is the mindset that drives the assimilative nature of our culture.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Long live Lehaaz

Look around yourself – don’t you observe a strange sense of urgency & aggression in the way people behave and go about doing their usual things. This is especially true for big metropolitan cities - be it pushing to make way in a queue to fill petrol or honking aggressively to psyche out the driver ahead of you at the traffic signal or grabbing service staff’s attention at a snack counter. All of us are really-really pushy.
We forget to give the elderly their due – ‘so what if he is unable to pull his car out of the parking lot as efficiently as perhaps you can.’
We are impatient with women – ‘why the heck she is taking those 8 seconds extra to draw cash from the ATM machine.’
We just do not think about others. Lehaaz and decency is an endangered if not extinct trait.
As social animals we are turning out to be more like animals than being social. Our restlessness could be a result of the governing variables for the existence of any species viz. Time & Space.
Shrinking public spaces or should we say swelling public in the same age old space
Paucity of time – thanks to our super loaded time schedules, which are in turn a result of having to travel large distances for seemingly small tasks. (It takes 15 minutes to get milk & vegetables from a neighbourhood market in Aligarh (UP) in Delhi it takes 15 minutes to just reach the market!)

At the end of it is Darwin in action - survival before social bonding.

Despite our perceptions about the improving living standards viz. AC, Hi-Fi Audio, Microwave, Washing Machine, Vacuum Cleaner, Electric Chimney etc., the living conditions that exist ‘between’ our office & residential complex are constantly deteriorating. It is in this zone that we behave like the urban animals and we do not even realize it.
While there is a economic imperative for a sound urban (and rural) infrastructure there also exists a big, if not bigger, social imperative to have a sound infrastructure to support evolving India’s emergent social landscape.
It is a little paradoxical that the next 8-lane expressway and a bigger parking space and a beautiful landscaped garden and a larger railway platform, and employment opportunities in hinterland (and some family planning!) have an equally big social impact as they have an economic impact.

Lehaaz after all is linked with landscapes!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Clever or clear

Every great piece of marketing communication rests on this delicate balance between being clever & clear. But it is inaccurate to assume that great creativity would always be clever. In fact creativity works at two levels – the lower of these two levels is about clever creativity that challenges comprehension. In other words great ads that we never understand. And then there is this higher level, which is the address for all the great ideas that we understand and yet are such that they always surprise us. I call these clear & simple because these are the ideas that make a difference to the life of the average consumer and the brand.

Unfortunately the first kind of creative ideas that pop up in any ideation session are those from the lower level of creativity. These ideas are good & very simple from the creative person’s point of view. But are like French to a Persian when it comes to the consumer.
Unfortunately many creative minds stop at this level. They try to get these ideas published because after all they are ‘good’ ideas. These are the ideas that keep the creative people away from all the great ideas that are yet to come.
What matters to us, as people in the ideas business, is to always strive & reach out to a higher level of clarity and yet surprise the audience.

Because good is the enemy of great & clear is far better than clever!

New Khosla Kunj – Sharafat

Izzat and Sharafat – the two defining middle class traits.
In the film, the moment when Mr. Khosla is shown expressing his concern about his elder son’s plans to help him get his land back, he tells Mr. Sahni “Cherry does not know these property agents. They can cause a lot of trouble to simple people himself and his son Cherry.” (Ye in logon ko nahin jaanta, main jaanta hun. Ek baar kissi service class aadmi pe koi daag lag jaae to zindagi bhar ke lene ke dene pad jaate hain.”) Daag, here is like a blot that one gets on one’s character - a blot that does not go away for the rest of one’s life.
All through their lives, middle class families try to minimize their risks and try to lead a simple life, away from any kind of confrontation. Mr Khosla’s statement reflects this fundamental aversion to extreme steps or aggression in any form.
The same simplicity reflects yet again when Bapu (Navin Nischol) walks away from a bag containing Rs. 35 lakhs. It is his middle class conscience that does not allow him to carry the money with him. Back home when all the young boys and girls are pounding on Bapu, it is Mr. Khosla who empathizes with him, offers him a glass of water and then goes on to say how what Bapu did, was what decency (sharafat) is all about. And that like himself, Bapu was also not a shameless, reckless man who could just dupe someone and walk away with his or her money.
It is interesting to note generational divide in mindset & the two diverse attitudes towards goal orientation. While on one hand Mr. Khosla’s children, Meghna, Asif Iqbal & Mani, the secretary, are ruthlessly vengeful and would go to any extent to accomplish their goal, both Mr. Khosla & Bapu represent the old school of adopting all the right means.
These two generations represent the middleclass values in transition.

New Khosla Kunj – Whisky is a bad thing

Mr. Khosla’s discomfort in carrying home the whisky bottles from the Wine Shop (Theka in Delhi), demonstrates Middle class India’s social discomfort with alcohol. Consumption of alcohol is seen to be a symbol of lowering one’s stature in society. And most importantly if one is having alcohol others should not come to know of it. I am sure some of us would recollect how regulars carry bottles from the shop – tucked under the trousers, wrapped in newspapers or veiled under black polythene bags.
Even empty bottles of alcohol speak badly of the person or family having them at home. Thus you would see that they are tucked away in some corner in the house & sold separately to the kabariwala, not with the regular ketchup bottles.

For Mr. Khosla consumption of alcohol is happening for a good cause – breaking ice with his elder son, thus the act is legitimate. But the world around him does not know this and hence he should hide the bottle as he walks home.
There is more to alcohol consumption and middle class households. Girls are always kept away from it. Mr. Khosla tells his daughter “Ja bete tu bhi kuch Coke-shoke khol le apne liye aur apni Mummy ke liye, shabash..”, (Go and have some Coke with your mother) as if handing over a consolation prize to her.

It is this pent up desire to have alcohol (& smoke too!) that drives many of the girls from middle class households to these two habits with a vengeance. This is true for girls living away from their families (for work or studies). These girls are almost making up for all the time that they have been kept away from it!

Working women from middleclass India, who are living away from their small town families, is a huge emerging segment for alcohol – ask any Brand Manager for a leading cocktail mix or a brand of Vodka!

Monday, November 20, 2006

New Khosla Kunj – Fathers are like tender coconut

Although a lot of contemporary advertising and other media messaging portray a very expressive, inclusive, overtly emotional and ‘democratic’ father, the reality of the middle class families is a little different. Fathers are still not as expressive; they are stern, and even now, in many families, kids communicate with father through their mother.
The film captures this Mom-mediated communication between the son and the father rather well, especially when Mr. Khosla is discouraging his son to not risk so much money to pose as fake NRI landowners.
Every time there is a conflict, it is the mother who mediates like a moderator. Be it name change, breaking news about son’s decision to go abroad to work or ordering pizza for dinner!
Fathers, in middle class households, have always put up this façade of lesser emotion, and greater rationality as a grooming technique – in order to discipline the child.
But as the child grows up, and father grows old, the façade does not disappear. It changes form as it becomes hollow. In other words fathers implicitly acknowledge the maturity of their kids, but their ‘I am the head of the family’ mindset persists .
But the power dynamics persists – where fathers expect the children to do things the way they want. (“You see Cherry I am your father koi phone nahi aayega”).
The film reflects this rather well. It shows father’s initial disapproval of son’s decision to go to the US and work, but when the family is faced with a property problem he expects his son to help him sort it out but never expresses his expectations. And yet he does not want his son to get into these matters at the cost of his career. He wants his son to still go ahead with the opportunity overseas and not spoil his career in some property dispute. Father’s discussions with his friend & confidante – Mr. Sahni reflect that the tough exterior that Mr. Khosla puts up at home is hiding a vulnerable and waning old man.

As they grow old fathers continue to boss around in the family, but deep inside they acknowledge the important role that the grown up kids are playing in the house. This is a tacit acknowledgement of having acquired a supporting role in family affairs. But when it comes to formal decision-making they would still like to be left in charge of the situation and made to feel that things do not move without their consent. This is reflected beautifully in the film when after convincing Bapu (Navin Nischol) to play the NRI businessman’s role, Cherry (Praveen Dabas) still has to get his father’s consent before moving ahead with the plan. (“Papa aap permission de do.” “Ek baar jail ja chukka hun main, dobara jaane ki taakat nahi hai mujhme.. aage teri marzi..”)
Finally when Cherry walks up to his father with the money and asks him to go and get the plot the next day his father asks him to come along. (“Tub hi chalna mere saath, ab ye sab akele nahi hota mujhse”) saying this Mr. Khosla hands over the keys to the family safe to Cherry and asks him to keep the money in. This is a big moment. It is symbolic of the transfer of control. Father is implicitly handing over the responsibilities to his son who has proved his worthiness to solve family matters.
This holds true for almost all the middle class homes. What matters is not just how educated the son is or how much money is he making but also how well he can handle family. Together these two help the son qualify as a decision maker in the household or earn adult-like treatment from the elders in the family.

Fathers in middle-class homes are like the tender coconut. They are hard outside and soft inside. It is for kids to know this and give fathers their due and it is for marketers to acknowledge this sfather type and build brand communication that captures the soul of middle-class India’s coconut fathers!

New Khosla Kunj - Native Frugality

Mr Khosla’s moments with his Chinese calculator and his daily practice of noting down household expenses in a diary represent a middle class man’s regular monitoring of his expenses. Almost all the families have this notebook – usually called the “hisab ki kitab” (book of daily expenses). A middle class man is very cost and value conscious. He understands the meaning of financial planning. No wonder Mr. Khosla is shocked when he gets to know that his son Cherry has spent Rs. 12,000/- to book a room in a 5 Star hotel.
Frugality is again in action while Mr. Khosla & Bunty (Ranvir Sheorey) are fixing drinks. Mr. Khosla points out how the whisky would not have splashed out of the glass (and wasted) if he had put the ice before pouring the whisky. Small symbols of middle-class India’s native frugality- try and save whatever you can however you can. Marketers that help the middle class strike this proverbial balance between value and price lead the pack in whichever category that they are in.

New Khosla Kunj – Religious but not spiritual

The film captures another social reality rather beautifully. Khurana as a big real estate agent is shown to be God loving, but not really God fearing. Throughout the film he is shown visiting pilgrimages as Tirupati and Vaishno Devi etc. He is an ardent follower of Mata Vaishno Devi (Jai Mata di, Mata ki marzi, Mata ka Hukum, Mata ka Prasad etc).
Khurana (and even Brijinder from World Famous Properties) represent a new breed of entrepreneurial Hindus who are very religious but not really spiritual. They practice the rituals and demonstrate the symbols of religion but little do they practice the real teachings. So the next time you see a car’s rear windscreen with stickers as Jai Mata di or some heavy-duty shloka – you know you are following one of those who are religious not really spiritual in their leanings.

New Khosla Kunj – Cultural Collision

The Khosla family is culturally challenged when they start interacting with Meghna’s (Tara Sharma) theatre troupe. Their discomfort with many of the things that they observe about the people in the troupe shows us the world that is alien to the middle class households in India.
It starts with Mr. Khosla’s daughter being amazed at discovering that Meghna lives all by herself. Her reaction upon learning this is full of surprise and desire. (You live alone here? All alone, by yourself? Wow!”)
The second surprise is when Mrs. Khosla asks Meghna about her parents. When she learns that they are living separately in Calcutta and Bangalore her first reaction is that Meghna’s father must have been transferred. It is a shock that she cannot handle (and thus changes topic) when she learns that her parents are divorced.
The third surprise is to see a girl smoking – once again it is Mrs. Khosla who is being exposed to the ‘extreme fringe’ when the 20 something young girl at her door walks in with a cigarette in her hand.
The third surprise is felt the most by Mr. Khosla – it is about food. When Cherry orders pizza for everyone at dinner-time. Ordering Pizza as a meal is a concept alien to most of the middle-class men. Thus when Mr. Khosla is offered a Pizza he says would we now stop having proper food in this home(“ab ghar pe khana bhi nahi banega kya”) seeing her husband distress, Mrs. Khosla offers to make sabzi (fresh vegetable) for him.
Though times are changing yet all of the above instances indicate the classic middle class aversions.
Fractured families, liberated young girls who smoke or are living all alone in the city ‘like boys do’ or something as basic as having western food (read as junk food by the middle class adults) as meals are some social concepts that are alien and mostly unacceptable to the adults/elders in the middle-class families in India.

New Khosla Kunj – Ambition & Santosh (Contentment)

The Hindu philosophy that glorifies santosh (contentment) drives the middle class mindset of the generation that is in their 40s to 60s. This is reflected in the exchange between Cherry & his father when Cherry breaks the news about his plans to go to the US. His father’s first reaction is to tell him to stop dreaming so big and keep the feet firmly on the ground else he would fall flat on his face. (“Zyada bade bade sapne mat dekho. Zyada uncha udane ki koshish karoge to itna zor se neechay giroge ki daant toot jaayenge tumhaare.. America mein tumhare liye koi red carpet le ke nahi baita hua hai..”) Father’s reaction is rooted in an aversion to being overly ambitious.

The father-son mindset diverges at a point where father thinks that a good job is good life whereas son’s view is that a good is not good enough. This is reflected yet again when Cherry is talking to his mother at the dining table and the mother is asking if his job in India is not good enough (“yahaan ki job theek nahi hai kya?” To which the son replies by saying that good is not good enough (“Sirf theek se toh nahin hota hai na ma.”)

These two sequences highlight the generational divide in the mindsets. On one side parents look at a good job in a good company as the epitome of success and on the other hand the son looks at success as a continuum where with no stopping or looking back.

Monday, November 13, 2006

New Khosla Kunj - Morning Sounds

Every Indian middle class family wakes up with some typical morning sounds. These could be the ringing of the Pooja Bell by the grandmother and sounds from the morning service of a MW Radio Channel - be it the local AIR Station or the language service of the BBC.
More recently we have also started hearing sounds from Astha, Sanskar or any other a devotional TV channel. Thanks to grand moms who tune in meticulously everyday.

There another set of sounds that are more people created, like loud gargling (as it was in the film Khosla ka ghosla) or clearing of throat at the top of one’s voice.
In many south Indian families one wakes up with the sounds of the mixie grinding the dal or rice in preparation of the breakfast.

These sounds, like the other dominant morning sound of alarm clock, are embedded in our memory and we never stop relating to them at any age.

As promotional content creators there is opportunity for us to use these sounds for communicating with our users better for embedding our message in the user’s mind better.

New Khosla Kunj – Social Fitness!

The strained MNC executive working overtime, who is trying hard to make it big in his/her career, is a very small fraction of the total consumer space. Belly of the middle class India is not as much stressed mentally or physically.

It is not surprising that the meaning of early morning group walks are more of talks, this includes laughter clubs (like we saw in Khosla ka Ghosla) is an excuse and opportunity to meet friends, neighbours or acquaintances.

In the film we see Mr. Khosla catches up with his long-time friend and chartered bus buddy - Mr. Sahni - every morning. During these walks happen long discussions about kids and family and work and many other things in general.

What this indicates is how the real reference group that the head of the family has is not his immediate family but close friends/relatives just outside it. Being the head of the family the male member has to show his commanding best to his family members. No one in family should get to his vulnerabilities. Thus the middle class male avoids discussing many of the things with his wife or even kids even if they have grown up.

This set of friends is the real reference group that plays a dominant role in determining many of the family decisions. Close friends are seem to be a kind of extended family in the middle class urban India.

New Khosla Kunj – Gas

This morning was the second time that I watched Khosla ka Ghosla (one of the recent Hindi films). And this time I could not stop myself from writing about all the things that I feel makes that film great and special to me.
The film is full of insights about the contemporary urban middle class of a certain kind. Starting today I would like to dedicate some posts to the great experience that I had while watching the film. This is the first in the series that I am calling ‘Khosla Kunj’.

The film opens with Mr. Khosla (played by Anupam Kher) waking up with some stomach gas caused by eating ‘heavy food’ the night before. This is so typical of an Indian middle class family where every adult member has a concept of stomach gas and has an undocumented list of food articles that cause this ‘gas’. These food articles (it was Rajma in the film) are to be avoided in certain meals to have trouble free digestion.
As far as my knowledge goes ‘Gas’ as a concept has never been endorsed by the western medicine and yet it exists in people’s mind. Almost all the middle class families have one or more of such body/health related concepts. For example naabhi utarna & the stomachache that you get because of that is another of such health related phenomenon that might not find acceptance in the western medicine but it still exists. A lot of gharelu (home) medication is even guided towards fixing some of these problems.
Health marketers and advertisers can only do better if they learn more about these medico-ethnic health concepts that reside in almost all Indian households.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Reality Radio

This though is from a dear friend & colleague – Prem.
I was amazed when he said how TV reality shows, designed around singing competitions, are actually as well suited for another media – Radio.
Imagine the difference that it would bring to the way the winners are chosen.
On Reality Radio performance would be judged by how one sounds and not how one looks. The focus would be on one’s ability to stretch his voice and not the streaks in his hair or the shimmer on her top!

This is no surprise because singers were originally ‘playback’. What is surprising is how radio stations missed this opportunity. Actually they can still do something with it – imagine a radio reality show that is designed to choose Real Playback singers for the next wave of Hindi Cinema.

The most expected block for this would be an argument – “but radio is not by appointment, so how can we have such shows?” The fact is that media is what you make of it. TV is big today (and much bigger than radio) because starting 1990-91 Cable and Satellite radio exploded TV as a media. Today TV has multiple segments of channels & thus viewers (see my last post on “Expression with a Vengeance”.
There is a similar opportunity existing for Radio too, just that no one is tapping it yet.
But I am sure one station would soon take the ‘risk’ and next you’ll see everyone talking and writing about it.

Radio is here, now let’s get some reality to it!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

50 years of independence and 15 years of freedom

What planning is working better than the five-year plans?
What food is better than mid day meals?
What is transporting better than Indian Railways?
What is helping communicate better than the age-old state owned telecos?

Nothing and no one is perfect. Private sector is first for profit and then a social cause. But I still have a lot of regard for people like Capt. Gopinath of Air Deccan, Late Dhirubhai Ambani for his telecom dream, Kishore Biyani and Mukesh Ambani for their retail plans and plazas, Tatas & Maruti Udyog for their vision of democratizing passenger car travel in this country, Bajaj Auto & Hero Honda Motors for bringing motorbikes to masses & ITC for bringing prosperity & pride to the Indian farmer through their E Chopals.

These are the entrepreneurs and enterprises that have brought about real change for the masses.
They have proven that despite an unfriendly context (read infrastructural bottlenecks) a better nation can be built. They have turned the glacial crawl of India’s economic development into a 100-meter race. They are good examples of the fact that Indians are not just great thinkers and planners but equally able executors.

Proliferation of better products and services for the masses has brought about a decisive shift in the way the masses think and aspire. Today there is more to look forward to, more to work hard for, more to bring home for your kids and dear ones.

Just visualize the magnitude of social change that has been brought about some of these products and services. More people are traveling thanks to cost effective air travel; more people are getting to buy better products in an environment that, till very recently, they could only see in the Bollywood movies shot in Singapore or London. More kids are in touch with their aging parents through cost effective mobile communication services.

Private enterprise is turning to be the real democratizers of the democracy that we are.

Despite many weaknesses – the private enterprise has begun shaping the face of the contemporary India. This social change, which has been brought about by the economic upswing, would transform the face of this society forever and for the better!

Monk outside Maverick inside

Less is more in qualitative consumer research.
Speak less listen more.
Be seen less but capture everything.
Be a maverick but play the monk.
A good qualitative researcher needs to stimulate discussion and yet not be seen as a catalyst.
A good researcher’s presence should not be felt. He has to paint the canvas without using any colours.
A good researcher needs to slow down the respondent rationally and stoke him emotionally!
For a good qualitative researcher being polite, powerless and perceptive is what works best.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Long is short

My thoughts were triggered by Rohan; my 8-year young nephew. Every time we meet he tries to show me his favourite ‘monkey eating banana’ video clip, on his mother’s mobile phone. He likes this clip so much that my sister has started using it to entertain Rohan while he has his milk. Once the monkey is on the screen Rohan forgets the ‘misery’ of having to have milk – so no more crying.
There are many more clips saved on my sister’s phone – most of them are shot at home or at work or during their outings.

Come to think of it, just two years back we could not think of video recording our films as long as we did not have a camcorder – a big, bulky, and an expensive device.
Video recording then was synonymous with Marriages.
Just couple of years later and even an 8 year old can record and play film clips and then play with these clips.
There is a difference though. From video films we have moved on to Video Clips. The operating word here is ‘Clip’.
We record (or should I say click) video clips like we used to click a camera. We are moving from video recording into ‘Video Clicking’. Video clicking is anytime, anywhere, any thing & anyone.
On one hand we are busy and do not have the time to shoot elaborately – how many of us use our camcorders anytime other than annual festivals or an exotic trip. And even on these occasions our shooting is a function of the enthusiasm of the person who is carrying the camera. Who wants to be shooting in place of being in the frame?!
On the other hand we do not have time to view very long content and thus short content is preferred – look at he way kids and teenagers flip channels! Almost as if snacking on entertainment content at different TV frequencies.
The luxury of entertainment ‘meals’ from the ‘lets sit and watch this 30 min serial’ together would only disappear as we move into the future.
The west has already started bridging the audience patience and TV serial duration gap by developing mobisodes and webisodes, the net and mobile versions of the popular serials.
Even games are trying to become episodic – in order to engage a larger audience that is time poor. Like video films are becoming short clips even gaming industry is changing. It is waking up to the perils of long development cycles for video games and high cost of development. They are toying with episodic games that can be finished in one sitting of 15 – 30 mins. The aim is to get more non-gamers in by making games easier to buy (cheaper) and play (shorter thus less time intensive). Game developers are gauging their productivity by comparing no of development man-hours that go into the one-minute of gaming experience!

Technology has also succeeded in liberating good music from the clutches of an average music album. The album is finally unbundled. Today singers have begun releasing singles that are truly great rather than bundling them with 7 other songs that are just filling the MB space on the Compact Disc.

While this kind of content is becoming shorter strangely another kind of content is doing well in an entirely new format. The BMW ‘films’ (and not TVCs!) are a good example of this.
But when you look at them from the film angle they are really short films.

The future, it seems is really short, and we are shortly going to be there!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Expression with a vengeance

It has been 5 months that I have been off the airwaves at my home. So when I finally checked into my hotel room in Kolkata I got to see it after a good- long gap.
I will not go into the details of why I decided to tune myself off from television. Let’s us keep that for some other post, but I would definitely like to share an ‘outsiders’ perspective on television of today.

Out of the, around, 85 channels that we pay for, from about Rs. 100/- to 275/- (depending on where we are living and how aggressive the cable operator is) the rough make up is thus.
About 15% are prime time channels, about another 10% are film channels (both Hindi & English), add another 20% as news channels (in different languages), to this add 20% of regional language programming, about 10% sports channels, 10% of channels for kids and another 10% channels for music loving audience (Hindi or English). The rest 5% or less can be put under the statistical ‘others’ (this includes Travel & Living or History Channel and a few more like these).

When you see the above approximations it is amply clear what the programmers think is selling:
1. 25%: Regional language programming sells
2. 20%: News sells (more on the ‘news making’ nature of news sellers later here)
3. 15% Prime Time Channels: Long and strange (to me) plots sell
4. 15% Film Channels: For lazy, cinema avoiding, husbands and non-working women
4. 10% Music Channels: ‘Watch’ music rather than listen to it
5. 10% each: Kid programming sells as much as sport (read Cricket)

Let us now try and look behind these percentages. I cannot say much about the regional language programming (except Punjabi music channels) because I do not understand most of the other languages. But I can sure hazard a guess that content-wise they are not very different from the plot-lines of most of the leading prime-time Hindi soaps. These regional language soaps, like their prime-time counterparts in Hindi, are about joint (but ‘fractured’) business families, where men work more on their marriage & family than in office, where mobile phones are more a way to create confusion among different relationships than to communicate, where clothes are worn as if one of the characters were getting married and others had come to attend their wedding, where background scores, over shadow the scenes in the foreground.
In sum an overdose of emotion, expression and mascara, laced with ornate settings and dominating sounds.

The second dominant group of channels is News. Be it business or politics, it seems that today we more number of reporters per citizen! For almost everything is reported.
On one side media enthusiasm has done many a good. Be is collecting aid for natural or man made calamites or helping people express their opinion on issues of everyday concern or even getting culprits to justice.
But in their enthusiasm to continue with their spoils and under the pressure to deliver the desired number of TRPs for the next round of Venture capital funding, news channels are turning into entertainment modules. This is a good way or breaking free from the classic ‘News for Information Paradigm’ but at what cost?
Today we have reporters going overboard on camera, getting emotional about the situation they are reporting – casually measuring the depth and width of potholes on Mumbai roads, or shouting loud into the camera about a dialer’s unanswered call at a customer care help line number, or worst still reporting everyday happenings as globe altering events!
News reporting mannerisms of today seem to be driven by a thumb rule – the viewer would be bored, if you do not go overboard!
Curiously even the News Channels serve an overdose of sound, emotion and expression.

I am not talking as much about kid’s channels because they have already been colourful and full of expression. But I would sure like to make point about the way cricket is reported. It is over analyzed, over hyped and grossly over rated by those who make a living out of talking about cricket! I sincerely hope that cricket continues to be as big a draw as it is made to be.

The bigger picture emerging seems to be that as a society we are going into an expression overdrive. Everything we feel or thin needs a loud expression. In many ways subtlety has been reduced to a marginal trait of the contemporary Indian. And marketers know this very well.

Try and recall the spicy and yet subtle Mr. Yogi that was a big primetime success of yore. Or even a Hum Log. Despite the fact that this serial for the then, urban strata that could be called the counterpart of today’s Himesh Reshmayya & Tere Naam fans.

Both of them were anything but over expressive. Try and recall the news reporting from the west (I am not saying that they are the best). But somehow they still have been able to retain the sanctity of the 30 minutes of World News on BBC. It is calm, composed, objective and rich. Not to mention the holding power of that rare smile from the news reporter. It is almost as if it were a window to their emotional side. But you only get a glimpse of it and that too only once in a while.

May be over expression symbolizes the contemporary urban (and who knows even rural) India. May be it is the media clutter that makes channels pump up the emotion and expression levels of the content in order to be heard better.
But one thing that seems to be certain is that audience & viewers like the one who wrote this Blog is a minority - a minority that is not being addressed on the Tube (leave aside Travel & Living, History Channel, BBC or NGC).

No wonder then the 35” LCD TV in my Kolkata hotel room still could not excite me about the content on it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Idea & you

I was talking to a senior colleague about the ideas we generate. It was an informal exchange on ideas and their nature. Their ability to make us feel in a certain way, their ability to make things happen & bring about change.
While still on the topic we realized how the best ideas that we have had, have almost always made us feel in a certain way; have intoxicated us while we willingly submitted to their spell.

Great ideas are like that, they are powerful enough to drive us as individuals and potent enough to convince and convert a larger group into a convert.
When we have a great idea that we truly believe in, it shows in our expressions, our voice, our gestures and almost everything that we do.
A great idea is almost like an organism in itself. It has a mind of its; it has the power to make people around do what it wants them to and most of the time it uses us as the medium to make it happen.

When we have a great idea we do not possess it; it possesses us.

Return on Emotion Invested

What happens when you get closer to the girl you liked in your first interaction?
Chances are that as you get closer, your relationship gets richer. As you would get to know new things about her, you would like her even more. From talking to walking to laughing and even crying together would become a unique experience.
For you, everything about that girl would be special, just the way you are to her.
No wonder as time would pass and you would get closer to her, the bond would only get strengthened and both of you would explore new dimensions of each other’s feelings.

Isn’t it how it should be with brands as well?
Ideally it should be but unfortunately our interactions with brands follow a path, which is just the opposite of the boy-girl love that I mentioned above. It is almost like a journey of Diminishing Return on Emotions Invested.
I can say at least about the ‘popular’ product and service brands in India – be it Indian or MNC,

I would like to illustrate it with an example.
What happens when we want to buy a car?

Emotionally Charged Stage 1: We prepare a mental shortlist of cars basis some TV Commercials or friendly recommendations or basis plain liking for some cars that we have seen moving around or have glanced at in parking lots. At this stage everything is as rosy as perhaps it can be.
Almost like the romance of a beautiful girl in the neighbourhod that we have been exchanging glances with.
Next we go to some web sites and incase we are not as net savvy then perhaps we head straight to a dealership.

Emotionally Active Stage 2: What happens at the dealership?
Well, a salesman tries to make us feel comfortable by executing his ‘protocol’ as he asks “Sir Tea or Coffee?” But beyond this nothing is as rosy as it was in stage 1. The romance begins to wane.
Our salesman asks us about the car we want to buy and little does he try and understand why we want to buy that car. May be has too many customers to look after or may be he just does not know what it means to sell people what is ‘right’ for them and win their confidence.

Emotionally Confused Stage 3: Once we have given him our preference he tries to get us a testdrive (if we ask for it!).
What happens in the test drive?
Our salesman is again too busy with other customers and he details a ‘showroom driver’ to accompany us for the test drive.
During the test drive we discover that the driver accompanying us has no clue about the car and that his only job is to park cars in the showroom & deliver cars on predesignated dates and addresses.
The driver himself makes a point about how the salesman should have accompanied us for the testdrive for he is not placed to answer things that we ask him about the car during the drive.

Emotionally Disenchanted Stage 4: By the time we are back from the test drive and assuming that we have liked the car we then start interacting with another set of below par service. These are the finance company representatives. They are masters of over-commitment and under delivery (percentage of loan they would arrange, the loan disbursement date on one side & lower percentage of loan and delay in disbursal).
By this time our initial love for the car has been replaced by stress and anxiety about delivery of car, availability of desired colour on day of delivery, disbursal of loan etc.

Emotionally Distressed Stage 5: The story does not end with the delivery actually it begins from there and how I wish that companies also realized this!
When we go for the first service of our car, we meet another set of executives that are even one step below in service delivery as compared to their showroom and finance company cousins.

What we saw happening is that the quality of interaction with the brand goes down steadily from the first interaction through TVC or the personal reference.
How then can we expect brand bonding to happen when every consecutive stage in brand interaction is a step lower in quality to the previous stage?
How can love linger if relationships were nurtured thus?
It is time marketers started focusing more on brand delivery more than brand promise.
The future of branding is in action, not abstraction.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


There is something common between Bandra Kurla complex in suburban Mumbai, Rajarhat in Kolkata, the Rave Multiplex in Swaroop Nagar, Kanpur and Vikas Sweets at Center Point in Aligarh. Something that -
1. creates an illusion of space & modernity where none exists..
2. is testimony to the fact that what matters more is what is outside than what is inside..
3. reminds us to refresh our the notions of beauty..

India’s urban landscape is acquiring reflective surfaces like never before. From shopping malls, education institutions, commercial plazas, all the way to satsang bhavans & even mithaai-wallahs. Suddenly our collective consciousness of the contemporary architecture is impressed by nothing less than what is reflective. Be it Glass in its different avatars - Dark glass, Mirrored glass, Coloured glass, Strong glass. Or the new breed Metal finish panels. These panels also come in different colours - starting with shades of gray, bright reds, yellows, blue and many more.

Remember the last time you stepped into a shop selling apparel or mobile phones. The shop would not have been more than double your shoulder spread in width, but it sure must have seemed much bigger than that, just because one of the walls was all Glass!
Or, better still, the swank new look at the neighbourhood mithaai-wallah (sweetmeat shop), who had been operating only from one corner of his shop for the past one month because of this ‘renovation work’ that was underway.
The shop with the mirror wall made you feel space and the new improved reflective façade at your regular mithaai wallah makes you feel good about buying sweets. Today it is as much ‘refined’ a place as the refined cooking material that it uses. The mithaaiwallahs are beginning to get more careful about their image in times of the doughnut, and the sizzling chocolate brownie, onslaught!

These reflective surfaces are accomplishing that which even the best of town planning has failed to.
The super-cooled liquid along-with the, matte-effect, metal finish surfaces are creating illusions of extra space which do not exist. They create perceptions of sanitized cleanliness, limited to the confines of the structure that one is in. They help us forget the failure of infrastructure elsewhere in the city. These reflective surfaces are the new age signifiers of modernity that is driven by the newness of the structures that bear these surfaces.
Beyond the general feeling of space & modernity, the predominance of glass in urban landscapes, is making people look at themselves much more than what they ever did.
Remember when you saw Mrs. ‘Afternoon Shopping’ (“shop till the maid drops!”) mending her hair in the one-way glass of the mall façade & and the, barely 21, Mr. ‘Relationship Turnover’ (”My girlfriend I have to be on my network & tariff plan, SMS is cheaper that way!”) looking at his Fossil watch in the mirrored interiors of a shopping arcade.

Narcissism in contemporary urban India is gender neutral & reflection nourished! The notion of beauty/look needs to be refreshed constantly. Sometimes even more than what we do while surfing web pages!

As a society we have never loved to look at ourselves more than this or may be we never got to. Remember how standing in front of the mirror, at home, longer than the 2-3 minutes allotted to boys for combing (which was almost all that grooming stood for) was considered not normal!
There is more to these reflective surfaces than this. They also have a bearing on the way we carry ourselves in impersonal zones.
Look at the way people begin to behave as they move into the vicinity/ inside of a structure defined by its brightly lit and beautifully reflective space. Be it a Mall, Multiplex or even a mercantile bank. Observe the way people instantly suspend conversations that require them to talk in a language other than English. They begin discussing other, more English language compliant topics! They talk and inquire about products and services and the medium is the English language.
Even gait turns into a careful and calculated one. As they attempt to display poise to go with the people and products that they see around.
People seem to turn into pawns on a chessboard that uses vitrified tiles for its surface. A surface glistening in the warmth of the spotlight staring from the top and in the chill of the air-conditioned, dust-free virtual weather!

Many a times there is a young boy or girl who accompanys his/her parent while they shop. This is not just to carry the shopping bags. More often than not these ‘young boys and girls act as the bridge between money earned the old economy way – Parents and the money spent on new age products and services – Products and the sanitized retail space.’

One wonders how many times these parents, and many more like them, who are a generation too old to gear up to the new ‘reflective reality’ end up not coming to ‘the modern reflective spaces’ out of the fear of looking unprepared for the products & services being offered there. Out of the fear of not coming across as the perfect consumers for the perfectly laid out these modern spaces.

Research has shown that most of the times they end up feeling under-dressed and under-groomed for these new spaces. Many of them have begun to dress up for a visit to these Malls and Mercantile banks. This is in contrast to the much ‘simpler’ putting on of a bathroom slipper and holding of a, homemade, bag of cloth to buy the monthly grocery or walking in sandals to the nearby bank branch.
On one hand reflective spaces create islands of virtual perfection, right in the middle of grave infrastructure inconsistencies. This in turn aids in suspending disbelief, as people are tempted to buy more.
On the other hand these reflective spaces also run the risk of blocking out a large chunk of prospective consumers.

Interestingly, while the new reflective spaces & structures face the possibility of having blocked out a section of consumers, the traditional shopkeepers are doing well for themselves as they successfully reinvent their retail spaces by deploying the power of reflectology alongside their age-old relationship skills - their personal touch.

Thus when Verma ji goes to buy mithaai (sweets) or the monthly grocery, he feels rewarded because the new Jain Caorner (as it is called now) wears a an imposing reflective look, yet it extends the same old personal service that Verma ji has known for the past over 10 years.

Notions of modernity, created by reflective surfaces, in urban India, are working as much for the marketers as they are against. While the marketers try and render an ever-improving experience to their consumers, they must constantly put their offering to the critical test of consumer’s psychological comfort with the degree of perfection in the retail space. They must know that the new look need not be new at the cost of isolating the larger group of consumers.
Smart marketers are always ahead of their consumer, but only as much ahead that they can see him in their rearview mirror…

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Rural Remixed

A sight caught my attention when I was traveling by train between Mumbai & Kota (in south Rajasthan). The number of miniature dish antennas that I saw on many rooftops amazed me. This was even more as we passed through smaller stations (where the train did not stop). Many of these dish antennas carried the Dish TV logo..
Upon checking I realized what could be happening. Companies like Dish TV and I am sure some other direct to home (DTH) satellite entertainment service providers as well, are focusing on smaller towns and semi urban markets. These markets have poor Cable & satellite (C&S) connectivity and thus ready targets for DTH services.

With DTH for entertainment and VSATs for communication rural & semi urban India is set to evolve into well a communicated and equally entertained population cluster.

It is not just media reach, but the cumulative impact of this clubbed with growing incidence of organized retail (Chaupal Sagar etc.) that would make rural remixed!

Rural remixed would directly impact marketing communication targeted at them. Life would become more exciting & complicated than the classic ground promotions, haats, van activity etc.

Imagine a young boy of 16 in a village near Mehsana getting exposed to the same fashion and entertainment as his counterpart in Mumbai.
Or a homemaker in close to Lakhimpur Khiri getting to see the same Slimming Tea promotion on TV as her sister in Ludhiana.
Visualize a rich farmer’s daughter |in Baitalpur, near Gorakhpur, watching the Fraknfinn Airhostess Academy TV Commercial on prime time just like a girl of her age sitting in Andheri in Mumbai.

Would this turn the rural consumer into another urban consumer? I do not know.
Would this lead to more homogeneity of markets? Likely, but not certain.
But one this is certain, as Nicholas Negroponte mentioned over ten years back, that social and cultural divide created by the rise of information rich and information poor societies is only in our minds.
The only divide that would remain is the generational and perceptual.
Increasingly entertainment is not just about recreation; it is also empowerment, for a viewer can be the next Indian Idol.
Similarly computing is not just about computers; it is about living, for a farmer can get the best price for his produce.
In future, the line separating the urban from the rural would be perceptual, not real.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Cocooned control freaks!

When was it last that your housing complex allowed entry to the kabadi wala (remember the signature sounds they made as they announced their arrival!)? Or the steel ke bartan wala that your mother used to haggle with while exchanging old clothes for stainless steel utensils?
What strings together the jamun wala, a regular to our Railway Colony and the sone-pappdi seller outside the rusted school gate, during lunch hour?

What connects the shakarkandi wala, at the bus stop under the overcast December sky in Delhi and the chholey kulche wala of Sarojini Nagar market?

Images like these represent a certain environment, an urban context that many of us have grown up with. Many of these images are so very Indian that you may not even find them in the Lonely Planet!

I do not know if nostalgia is making me say so, but I certainly feel that as urban sprawls become more organized; as lonely vertical dwelling units take over the horizontal social ground; as Hamilton Courts and Whispering Meadows replace the High Court Colony or the Shiv Mandir Market, these images of street and neighbourhood vendors would fade away from our collective memory.
Big cities are riding high on the wave of residential & commercial expansion. The plaza has all but replaced the paan wallah & the park has made way for the parking.

The rise of organized urban landscapes is giving a new meaning to living, and loving.
We live in residential complexes that boast of the state of the art security systems, 24 hr power back-up, Olympic sized swimming pool, fully equipped gymnasium, lush community centers, parks and even temples!
These residential complexes have names that could bring Manhattan condos to shame - Galleria, Hamilton Court, Malibu Town, Acropolis, Riviera and many more.
These are the new townships within the city. Townships that are Islands of infrastructural brilliance in the middle of an ocean of crumbling public administration - bad roads, poor street-lighting, lack of hygiene!

The growing urban infrastructures buffer us from the external inconsistencies. So much so that the price of a housing structure is a function of its ability to turn-off the larger city that lies outside its huge security gates.
We turn-off the city all the time. For example with a driver, an air-conditioned car cabin, power windows and a good stereo system, we are turning off the city.

This holds true for or offices too. They are increasingly disjoint from the city outside. Be it climatically, language wise or even basis things that we use while in the office. There are people working on cutting edge car design projects at work and commuting in the rickety trains and buses that cannot even be classified as outdated. In many ways our work zone is becoming independent of the conditions on the street- the common area.

Consciously and subconsciously we are turning off the common area and tuning in to a different, and more comfortable personal zone.
As people live, work and commute in ‘temperature-controlled cocoons’ that are dust free & sound proof they are turning into cocooned control freaks!

These cocoons create a feeling of order while simultaneously feeding on and stoking our instincts to control our living conditions. Our desire to regulate our surroundings - be it temperature, dust, number of people, noise, hygiene or anything else possible.

As the city landscape evolves, it is slowly morphing into a bipolar world. This world has two broad groups – those living in the area outside the temperature controlled cocoons and those living inside it.

The first group is growing up and thriving in the city that we have always known. A city with its bunch of street sellers, neighbourhood ‘uncle’s’ shop; meeting friends without appointment and spending time together.

The second group is living in vertical organized townships typified by power dressing, power lunches & power windows! They live in townships and towers that are guarded by the best private security guards and monitored by state of the art CCTVs. These are townships where aththi devo bhava has been replaced by a board announcing ‘No Parking for Visitors’!

This notwithstanding many of us would agree that a large part of our ingenious creativity stems from the ‘less structured’ environment that we as Indians grow up in. Be it the uncertainty of guests appearing at the front door or the unexpected power failure; be it our trek to the school, which happened in a cycle rickshaw or perhaps on foot; or having street food and drinking water from running taps; plucking flowers and even stealing fruits from vendors!
Many of these are still a norm for the people in the first group that we identified earlier. They continue to live in an environment that is not patterned; an environment soaked in multiplicity of forms, shapes, colours, sounds etc.

These kids still see street vendors making different sounds as they came in selling different things from ber and falsey (fruits), fullle (popcors), bhutte (corn) to ganderi (pieces of cane sugar) & gubbare (balloons), list is endless.

It might not be that obvious, but together all these street vendors and many of the street inconsistencies of the urban landscape have taught us a lot. Because ‘street’ is the essential ingredient that goes into street smartness!

But temperature controlled cocoons block out most, if not the whole set of these experiences. We run the risk of forgetting them all, some kids perhaps would never even get to see them. I wonder this knowledge and these experiences can be passed on to the next generation.

As we scale the heights of urbanization, we run the risk of losing the soul of our cities. I hope that noise of the Caterpillar Drilling Machines does not out-shout the warmth of a beating heart - something that our culture derives her identity from.