Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Baby Corn & Red Wine

Go to 1998 and think about two things - Baby Corn & Wine (any - white or read).
How many of us would have imagined that we would start buying baby corns every time we visited the vegetable wallah?
How many of us would have imagined conservative Marwari and North Indian families would begin putting this as a regular ingredient in their mixed vegetable preparation?
Leave aside baby corn. Think about wine. There is nothing in a bottle of wine that should qualify it as a great idea for a typical Indian drinker –
It does not taste great (pardon me wine aficionados)
It does not hit you like Old Monk & Bagpiper used to and still do
It is not cheap again like the Monk & the Piper

But still almost everyone is Wining & Dining Sula (or Ch√Ęteau) & Baby Corn

Did they achieve this feat by using the most celebrated celebrity?
Did they achieve this after understanding how the consumer is so much wanting to have wine & baby corn but no one is giving it?
Did they achieve this by developing the most creative and strategically correct marketing communication campaign?

Perhaps none of the above three comes close to describing the mystery behind this mean feat.
All that baby corn and red wine did was to become content in place of communication. Wine became editorial, there were magazine recipes that made a hero out of the tiny baby corn, national and international chefs dished out the ‘corn & wine logic’, a couple of research reports in the newspapers about how wine was healthy and good for liver & brain & kidney & lungs – basically everything that we have inside us and yes the wine warriors threw parties for those who anyway liked wine and ensured that the rest of the world who had been sleeping when the former were sipping the wine got to see in ‘the news’ morning after.
There you are. Corn & Wine are the new age food & beverage cult.

It is very difficult to make people do something totally new; it is very easy to make people do something totally new.
We pick what we believe!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Self-help Tsunami

When I got to know that a westerner was surprised to see the titles in an Indian bookstore I was curious. He was surprised by store’s extensive focus on business and non-fiction books. This is in sharp contrast to what a typical western bookstore is selling.
If Crossword is a good sample then I must confess that his observation was precise. The Indian book reader seems to be on a self-help & non-fiction spree.
A quick look at the sections and the titles being promoted reveals that we are reading a whole lot of business books. Be it finance, marketing, HR or operations; books on HOW TO sell, crack that job interview, grow faster, get that corner office, SPEAK ENGLISH and a lot more, the list is endless.

While most of the ‘non-textbooks’ have traditionally been bought for leisure reading, we have a new crop of readers who started reading books (other than text books) much later in life, They have not been brought up on the Famous Five, Hardy Boys, Enid Blyton etc as kids and have not read Ayn Rand, Sydney Sheldon etc. as youth or young adults. They started much later (late 20s or early 30s) and their decision to read books was a result of realization that if they have to get ahead in their profession/occupation – they need to know more than what their qualification (Engineer or CA or anything else) taught them. Thus began the journey of adopting a new habit – reading books that help.
You’d find these 20/30 something in suburban trains/buses, immersed in Shiv Khera’s You can win or Covey’s 7 habits or The 8th habit, while clutching the overhead handles as the laptop bag hangs from their shoulder over the crumpled blue shirt. I also see them in the long and winding boarding queues at airport terminals.
These are, as some consumer behaviour books and demo/psychographic surveys call, ‘the aspirers’.

Equally interesting is the attitude of these aspirers towards the reading habits of their children. Instead of focusing only on the textbooks (like they once themselves did) these parents want their children to read fiction. Why? Because they believe that a lot of English early in life, be it in the form of reading, talking, at school, or with a teacher, or interaction with a more well-traveled and proficient uncle/aunt has therapeutic properties. It prepares you for the world outside the classroom and the world beyond Indian shores.

I do not know why but I can’t help thinking about China’s one child policy in this context. Out there it was a Govt. regulation not have more than one child, in India, it seems, parents have self-imposed the ‘Must Learn English Language’ policy on their kids.

In this future full of aspirer households, I am curious about the future of light/leisure reading & regional and the National languages. We just might be moving to a non-Hindi urban India in another 10-15 years where the preferred mode of interpersonal communication becomes English and reading, among aspirers, becomes predominantly non-fiction.
For every trend there could easily be a niche counter trend and I won’t be surprised to see mushrooming of training institutes that promise to groom children or grandchildren of these aspirers in the ‘innocence and originality of our mother tongue’ be it Hindi or our native language.

Also, these hyper-ambitious adults might look at different leisure activities (viz. going out, doing something) in their free time, instead of staying home & reading fiction.

Again there could be a niche counter trend to this that could, well, be about staying home or going to a reading lounge (not library),, where you meet like minded people, discuss and debate ideas, concepts from what you are reading or what you are thinking..

Hyper-speculative I’d say but very likely.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Eco is Luxe

Environment consciousness is at best a luxury in a developing country like India.

We might shrug this off by calling it a shortsighted view but there is truth in what I just said. It is a luxury because
·We have a country where we need to reach food for living to a LARGE number of people and we can’t depend on flimsy paper bags to carry it, we need poly-film to help us reach it intact and reach it cost effectively.

·We have billions who need to be kept warm thus we need to burn fossil fuel & firewood

·We have millions who want to celebrate their festivals with all the fanfare and we can’t ban all the firecrackers

·We have innumerable thirsty throats that need clean and bottled water and we can’t deny it for there is a dip in the water table

We are a country that has an over-grown population & an over-developed democracy but an under-developed economy and stilted governance & public administration. This disequilibrium is that is at the root of many of the challenges that we are facing as a nation and an ecosystem!

Like the ecosystem maintains a dynamic equilibrium with itself so is needed an equilibrium between Democracy, Economy and Ecology.
Today, none of these is in harmony with the other.

The challenge is not limited to a developing nation like India. Even developed nations are facing it though in different ways. Let’s talk about the much talked about Organic Wave. Why is there a backlash to Organic food with questions being raised as to what is the real organic?
Is milk and meat from cattle that roams and feeds on ‘live’ grass (that is not grown with pesticides) and comes back to the cattle-shed in the evening to be milked, more organic than the cattle that does not have to leave the shed and feeds on similar pesticide free grass which is pre cut? Perhaps yes perhaps we do not know.
A more fundamental question to ask is that why can’t we afford to send the cow out in the fields? The answer usually would be “we do not have the luxury of time to do that because demand waits for no one” (not even till cows come home!). And what does this overbearing demand represent? This demand represents the large population that needs to have their morning cup of milk every day regularly and in good quantities. The large population (a species called humans) has grown ‘inorganically’ and has an inorganic agenda for survival, but it wants to live healthy – organically. It is perhaps a huge paradox of our times because a species that ‘lives’ inorganically (medicines/ vaccines/ surgeries/ implants/ augmentations etc.) cannot realistically have a ‘lifestyle’ that is organic (food etc.).

When these challenges are rampant in developed nations (US) with small population base (density 31/sqkm) how can we be surprised to see the adverse impact of this rampant population growth and the subsequent degradation of environment in over populated (density 329/sq km) & under developed countries like India.

Challenges facing a developing country go far and wide beyond over-population. We have problems to address as as rampant migration, lack of education and sometimes-even lack of regulations . Together all of them pose a much bigger challenge than what brands can realistically handle.

Eco friendliness is a luxury that brands in developing countries cannot afford, not at least in the short term!

The way to approach this challenge is to not just look at the responsibilities of brands and marketers but to look at what role does government have to play in solving these fundamental challenges.

For brands and marketers a more realistic target would be to create perceptions of eco-friendliness for themselves based on their activities, no matter how micro they are, and hope that this also leads to a larger set of people becoming conscious of their responsibilities towards environment in one way or the other.
No wonder we have public and private initiatives like the DTC Bus service in Delhi, which is the largest CNG, bus service network in the world. There are brands like Allen Solly and many others that promote only recycled paper bags. We even have hospitality chains like Ecotel Hotels that have been certified as completely environment friendly. British Petroleum has launched Oorja - a smoke free chulha for rural markets in India. The chulha burns the fuel optimally and reduces the smoke dramatically.

It is interesting to note that while eco conscious brands, products and marketing seems to connote luxury at the top-end, which in turn triggers adoption; at the bottom-end eco friendliness has to stand for efficiency and value to attract trials and adoption.
Though all of these might look like small steps but they are all in the right direction.

The long march to eco responsibility has just begun and we have a long way to go. The good news is that we at least know the direction we need to take.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The cusp runneth empty

A research agency is doing research and is perceived to be credible; but their insights & recommended ideas are usually bordering obviousness and general knowledge! Research agencies have always had the credentials but sometimes they miss ideas and insights.

A creative person is developing ideas but many a times his ideas are set aside under the pretext that they are ‘wild’, ‘super niche’ or too ‘edgy’ and not based on real consumer insightCreatives have the ideas but sometimes they are seen missing the insights

A planner is trying to turn the obviousness of the research agencies findings into insights, ideas & executable consumer knowledge.Planners are supposed to have both (at least the insights) but they do not have research agency credentials to stake a claim to consumer knowledge

Given this from the above three, Research Agencies are best placed to own insights because they have the consumer credentials and the research processes. What they need now are some people who can think creatively and generate ideas as well - people who are at the cusp of ‘logic-analysis’ on one side and ‘magic-creativity’ on the other. There is a huge opportunity in deploying resources to own this cusp of creativity and analysis.

With these people in, the last three slides (before the thank you slide) in research presentations would start looking much more actionable that they ever did in the past.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

One horse, many races..

You are a planner?

“So a planner makes presentations? “
“No, a planner is consumer’s spokesperson in any discussion about the brand.”
“Isn’t planner the category expert?”
“Actually planner is a client working in the agency.”
“Planner is a bridge between the creative emotions and business thoughts”
“Planner is there to engage the clients intellectually..”
“Boss, planner is just a sophisticated digital library”
“Think about it - planner is the new creative.”
“Planner is a lot of analysis and no action or direction..”
“Hello, planner is all about’ the direction’ dost..!”
“Planner is about the logic of that great ad which is actually beyond any logical explanation..”
“Planner is the agony aunt/uncle..”
“Planner is all ‘gyaan’ and nothing beyond..”

This is my ‘A’ list but I am sure there are many other roles that a planner is seen playing.. Are some of these better than others?
May be.
Is there just one definite role for a planner?
Is there something that a planner ‘has to has to’ do?
Yes. Know the past, present & future of the user and his world.

Thanks to my discussion with young Rithika, I once again was reminded of all the myriad roles that a planner plays. But this does not mean that any one of these is a lesser role. All of them have their own significance at different points in time.

With some clients a planner needs to be more creative and adventurous while with others a planner needs to be rational and measured.

With some creatives we need to discuss the brief while with others we need to co create the work.

With some account management friends we need to write the presentation while with others we just need to discuss the direction.

With some global clients we need to be the face of our country’s creatives while with others we only need to lead the thinking.

A planner needs to be childish enough to think innocently and matured enough to be figuring the right direction.
At any point a planner must bring freshness to the table. No matter where the table is – in a client’s boardroom or a smoke filled room echoing with creative thoughts at 2 am in the morning!