Monday, May 28, 2007

Speaking our minds

Just try recording a day-full of your conversations. The most commonly used set of words and phrases that we tend to use, have a story to tell..
Here is a quick sample..

·“24x7”(twentyfourseven), “ASAP”, “non-stop”: Expressing a sense of urgency

·“Rgds”(regards), “tks”(thanks), name initials like “S”, “J”, “P” etc as mail sign offs: Signifying early acknowledge of the slow demise of pleasantries

·“Rocking”, “kick-ass”, “buzz-off”, “Jet”: Symbolizing action orientation

·“Full-on, “Max”, “Awesome”: Signaling comfort with extremes

·“Guys”, “Dude” (for both boys and girls): Fading gender differences

·“Sucks”, “Fuck”, “Screw”, “Sexy”: Explicit & yet inclusive in mainstream

·“Cheers”, “That’s fun”: Symbolizing Revelry

·“Wicked” for something that’s good: Symbolizing the celebration of the dark side

·“Chill”, “Chill-pill”, “Cool”: Showing Relaxed, laid back attitude

·“Bandwidth”, “Airtime”, “Charge”, “Charger”, “Mobile”, “Hang”, “SMS”: Democratization of technology

·“Challenge (in place of problem): A dramatic shift in mindset. A change in approach to the way we look at obstacles

· “Whatever”, “Cool”: Multitasking words. These words acquire different meanings in different situations
If we now look at the themes emerging it has a lot to say about the times we are living in

1.Sense of urgency
There is a sense of urgency in everything we do want to do achieve

2.Demise of pleasantries
Time left is good enough just to be practical. Longwinded signatures and opening remarks belong to the last generation (that did not have e mail)

3.Action orientation
We are more result and action oriented than we ever were in the past

We sway between extremes – the all or nothing mind frame (the demise of compromises and middle grounds)

5.Fading gender differences
Girls becoming boys (attitude), boys becoming girls (appearance)

6.Explicit - mainstream
Much more comfortable with sexuality (though we still have a long way to go)

Enjoyment culture is the new second religion. Everything is a party. Work, home, weekend, drive, wedding, festival or anything else

8.Celebration of the dark side
Increased comfort with negative emotions (though again early days)

9.Laid back attitude
Desire to cool off, switch off, get away, distress

10.Democratization of technology
Everyone has a mobile phone and many of us have Internet and Personal computers

11.Shift in mindset
Not getting intimidated by problems or bottlenecks – taking them as a challenge and not a sign to give up. A very western approach to adversity

12. Multi-tasking words
Same word can have multiple meanings in different context. “Cool” could mean "nice” or “good” and at the same time it could mean “Ok” in another context. “Whatever” could mean, “fill in the blanks” or “etcetera” in one context and could be used to express “anger” or “disdain” in another.

It’s strange, sometimes words get in the way of that which just needs to be sensed and still sometimes words give out everything about that which would never be said..

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Visual vs. Visible identity

“This logo option symbolizes peace, prosperity and passion. The three green dots at the back symbolize harmony with different elements of environment. The design retains brands youthful exuberance and progressive attitude..”

“This colour and typeface symbolizes warmth and care. It has traditional roots and yet progressive in its orientation”

I am sure many of us have been part of or witnessed such discussions about brands and their visual identity. No doubt there is an entire stream of professionals who have their careers dedicated towards the ever-growing scope of brands & visual identity.
It is equally interesting to note that most of this art and science behind branding and visual identity is western in its origin.
This western emphasis on visual identity (stories behind mnemonics, colours etc) assumes

1.The audience/consumer is matured enough to understand these
2.There is high degree of involvement & interaction between the logo, brand colours packaging on one side and the user or shopper on the other
3.The purchase context is impersonal/self-help in other words a lot depends on what is written on the pack or the symbols and colours shown on the signage
4.Also, it assumes that the shopper is individualistic (the way western societies tend to be) and individualism manifests itself in the purchase habits viz. personal decisions and relatively limited resorting to referrals

Cut to the reality of Indian masses

1.Majority of consumers are not educated or informed
2.Role of branding is more to do with awareness and identification (be able to see it and identify it rather than cherish it or engage in the story of the colour)
3.Role of demonstration (dikhao), narration (sunao) and, music (bajao) is far greater than plain reliance on ‘signaging’
4.Personal interaction with the product (packaging, symbols, colours, signages etc) are important but subordinated by the extent of interaction with the retailer

The message here seems to be that in a market like India (esp. mass market) and at least in the foreseeable future notwithstanding the ongoing retail boom (see for yourself how even large format self-help stores have much more human interaction through the support staff, than what west would ever imagine) most of the mass brand logos would need visual identities that help the consumer in identifying the brand and not as much in making the customer feel in a certain way.
Also, design briefs for logos that are usually based on a western philosophy of ‘telling a story in your symbol’ might not be the driving mandate for logo or brand mnemonic designs for Indian market. Majority of shoppers in India are at a more basic level of ‘identifying’ the brand or name with the color or symbol or the shape.
This does not mean that one market is highbrow while the other is not; it just means that both markets are at different stages of development.
Thus brand mnemonics; logos; colours etc (and at least for mass brands) need to be more information oriented than story or perception oriented

In India we have enough retailers and one to one interactions that are warm, caring & human, let us not make brand colours, mnemonics, typeface etc. duplicate the effort. They can better deploy their energies by standing out and being visible than being visually rich with layers to their meaning.
New Indian mass thus need not sweat too much on the colour of the there dots at the back of the branding unit.. nobody is seeing or understanding it anyway.

Friday, May 18, 2007

script and sensibilities

Warning! This is totally speculative.

This is not a complete thought. In fact it is more of a question.
There could be a correlation between the way we write and the way we think. I am not referring to our handwriting but the script we write in.
For example is there a correlation between the Roman Script and the collective mental programming of all the cultures that use the Roman script for their language viz. Germans, English, Russians?

Could the layout or the shape of letters of the alphabet in different languages have something to do with the way people in these cultures think?
I do not know if there is any empirical evidence to suggest this but if you just observe scripts of different languages you see some connections (and these are broad generalizations and just about as robust as speculation is, so please do not infer that I am concluding anything about any of the cultures that I am drawing inferences about, here) also, needless to mention that exceptions are everywhere.
Having said that, here are some points of speculation

1.Linear logical thinking – Roman Script – straight lines (boxed and organized letters) viz. English, Germans, Most of the other European countries & Russia

2.Linear Logical Thinking – Dravidian Script – rounded symmetry or letters. Kannadadigas, Tamilians, Malayalis, Telugu (South Indian Languages)

3.Logical thinking with creative streaks here and there – Devnagri Script – all alphabets have a horizontal line on top – that’s the linear or logical part. Matras (solid horizontal lines on top) etc act as the deviations from the logic – they symbolize the creative side (Hindi, Pali, Sanskrit, Marathi etc.)

4.Process orientation/Performance orientation – Chinese/Korean/Japanese languages and communities – I do not know much about these or perhaps this observation does not hold good for these cultures or communities

Thoughts, points, counterpoints are welcome, as I has said earlier, this is not a complete thought..

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

If it is ‘Fucked’, it is in business!

I am borrowing this from a part of what Osho Rajneesh said, upon being asked about the word ‘Fuck’. Someone among the audience found it a little difficult to accept how a spiritual guru could use this four-letter word so easily. What was said in reply to this is very simple and yet truly potent I have outlined a part of his reply here.
Just step back and think, perhaps there is no other word in the English or any other language that is so versatile that it can be used in multiple contexts and yet make perfect sense.
In language it falls in multiple grammatical categories

Mary is a fine fuck

Transitive Verb
John fucked Mary

Intransitive Verb
Mary was fucked by John

Mary is fucking beautiful

As a word is so multifaceted that it can convey multiple emotions viz. Pain, Pleasure, Love & Hate just by the difference in the sounds that we make while pronouncing it.

I got fucked at the used car lot..”

“Fuck if I know..”

I guess I am fucked now
"Fuck you!"
“What he fuck is going on here..”

“I can’t understand this fucking job”

“He is a fuck off"
“What the fuck is going on here?”
“I had a fucking time”
“Get he fuck out of here..”
“I am going to knock your fucking head off..”
“How the fuck, are you?”
“Who gives a fuck”
“Get a bigger fucking hammer”
“Fuck, you scared the shit out of me”
“Today is really fucked!”

To sum it up here is, perhaps, what makes fuck rock!

1. It is self-propelled – do not need a reason to say it (it’s like air, that’s everywhere). So much so that when one is not saying it one is busy thinking about it. In fact unlike ‘Love’ that has traditionally been rated higher than ‘Lust’ (at least socially!), “Fuck you!” as an expression beats “I love you” hands down!

2. It is ‘sticky’ – It is like a post-it note that can be put and pulled off anything.
In fact the other word that comes close to our four-letter miracle in this department is ‘Sex’.

Sex is as good a post-it in multiple situations and it has a natural tendency to show affinity for suffixes. Here’s a small battery - Sexonic, Sexiting, Sextravaganza, Sex-on-toast, Sex-on-rocks etc.

3. Traditionally contemporary – No other word has been contemporary for so long as the four letter extravaganza

4. Easy to pronounce/ say – I have never heard any one stammering/struggling to say it. Del Amitri wrote in one of their beautifully written songs – “It’s hard to say you love someone and it’s hard to say you don’t..”. Well, fuck is totally free from any such ambivalence

5.It is unisex and ageless - Perhaps the only word that makes men and women feel equally powerful. The only word that two (or three) different generations can be using in different contexts and still getting to say whatever they want to..

6. It is short & always meaningful – You can’t misspell it and even if you did you’d still be seen to be meaning something FCUK, fkuc, fukc..

There are and can be many more ‘potent power-ups in expression’ that Fuck delivers and as readers you may please choose to add a few of your own to this list, but the point that I am trying to make is that if we as creators and marketers can deploy our skills towards creating universal expressions for our brand that can become the language, we stand to gain a lot.
There are a few (though not exact) examples that have come close to attaining some of this charisma in their own way – I’m lovin it (For Mc Donald’s), Wazzup (for Budweiser), Amitabh Bachchan’s favourite “Lock Kiya jaae!” (Let’s lock it!) Ghalat jawaab/ Sahi jawaab” (Wrong answer/ Right answer for KBC, the Indian version of ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire etc.. But unfortunately all of them faded away with time, or the communication campaign, they were introduced in.
The opportunity, is to create such a timeless, sticky and self-propelled brand vocabulary, that people feel like owning, modifying and propagating and the idea is to get the brand ‘fucked’, because if it is fucked, it is in business!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Nokia Charger

Your best friend comes over to meet you after a long time, and before anything else he asks you, “Hi! Tere paas Nokia ka charger hai (Do you have a Nokia charger?).”

You get a call from your friend and before asking, “How are you?” he asks, “Where are you?”

On one side I am intrigued by the changing nature of our pleasantries and on the other I am surprised by our growing and insatiable desire to keep in touch with people. Even if it effectively means ‘sacrificing our presence’ at a place (and this sacrifice is not necessarily for ‘work’).
Someone has rightly mentioned, “being always accessible, makes us inaccessible”.
In times of Continuous Partial Attention (CPA) in place of being committed to people or places ‘we are committed only to being communicated with’.

There are people who are self-confessed net addicts wedded to their web mail account. They keep checking their mails throughout the day, even when nothing urgent is happening; they are in a constant state of ‘updation’!
As Steven Johnson has rightly pointed out - Aimlessness is the price we pay for interactivity. This is what seems to be happening with the click-happy young folk.

‘Continuous mediation by mail’ or any form of communication, including mobile phone, also interrupts flow of thought. As people connect more, they tend to behave more like ‘nodes’. These nodes ‘expect inputs and can interact’ but are not much of a ‘hub’ that ‘generates output’.

Contrary to common perception that communication expands social circle, our people preferences are actually getting solidified into sharply defined groups and many of us are beginning to be less inclusive than ever.
No doubt there are virtual communities, that are giving an entirely new meaning to socialization in cyberspace, but for people who are not seeking to connect with strangers on the net– hi fidelity has brought about privacy of highest order and ended up defining interest groups much more sharply than ever before.
It is only ‘wonderers’, who seem to be drifting in the open cyberspace. These ‘wonderers’ are wanting to align with some group or individual and many a times end up extending their communities in real world into the cyber space. So they end up scrapping the same set of people that they are anyway writing and forwarding e-mails to and keep exchanging texts with. I am sure you’d have been accosted at least once by someone you meet everyday, with something like, “Hi, how are you? Did you read my scarp?”

‘Scrap’ is one more thing that has gotten attached to an already over-bloated list of things that a user needs to keep checking (Email – personal & official, mobile text, voice mail, home mail box, missed call list and so on and so forth).
With so much communication happening, so much more to be said and so many mail and message boxes to be checked, can you really blame your friend for asking for a Nokia charger? ; )