Is this Automobile advertising?

Wonder how many have seen the Toyota Liva communication and scratched their head to figure if the communication is for a mobile phone or an automobile!

I am sure the strategy planning team had come up with this great idea that the youth today are buying premium segment hatchback and we should connect with the youth. Now connecting with the youth obviously means the entire gamut of social networking (seriously is that all there is to youth today?) So here we have a commercial which has all the logos floating and the guy constantly connected on the mobile phone. Where is the Car?? This commercial actually reminds me of an international commercial I had seen for Samsung Smart TV. Pretty much the same approach but lot more relevant because it was talking about a TV which lets you do lot more apart from viewing your favorite channels.

Then there is this series of commercials for Maruti A Star. Can’t remember the tagline. But there is one commercial of woman dropping a guy off at his home (wow that is an insight! and a complete flip on guys dropping girls home). It doesn’t end there…. she blows the guy a kiss and opens the boot and another guy comes out… hmm any clues on what it means? Has the agency sold this film idea to the client about women emancipation?

There is another in the series about guy giving the woman a lift and she is checking out the car (subtle freudian look of the woman at the automatic gear and the guys hand on the gear knob) and this whole experience probably turns her on so much that she invites him into her home for a cup of coffee (and all of us who have seen this movie “Pyar Ke Side Effects” know what invitation for coffee means! So what is the TVC promoting… give a lift to a girl and the girl will invite the guy into her home??

I completely understand that the consumers for a lot of product categories are getting younger and brands need to connect with them. But are these the connection points? There are enough young people around me and yes social networking and mobile phones are a big part of their lives but you should here them talking about their future and their ambitions. Would be quite a revelation.

Obviously the strategy for both the brands has been done by foggy old strategy planners (someone like me) and have they got their deep-seated desires into the communication.

Oh while on this… there is a Hyundai Verna commercial which is about the guy driving through the streets to hand over a bracelet to his girl friend. Absolutely banal communication. The teasers had raised expectation for a great automobile communication but alas…

Automobiles are about passion and a highly involved buy and it is insulting a consumer’s intelligence to create such tripe.


The Maruti Mentality

Long back I had seen a Maruti 800 with the Merc 3 pointed star on the hood. Back then when 800 was still ruling the roost and people were still into buying a small hatchback, it stood for aspiration. When the D segment cars were still very premium and Mitsubishi Lancer made one drool, it made sense to talk about value and stuff.

Gradually the market changed. There were newer brands and the entry point into automobiles changed from 800 to premium compacts. It split the market into two kinds of consumers and mindsets.

First mindset – the Maruti mindset – People who were graduating within the Maruti fold from 800 to Zen or Swift… for them the ease of after sales service, mileage and low maintenance cost mattered a lot. There was an assurance and comfort in buying a Maruti (even a roadside mechanic can repair the car).

Second mindset – First car was not a Maruti or the quick upgrade from the first Maruti was not into Maruti Franchise. For them, the brand and what it delivered in terms of form factor and technology mattered. The mindset believed that all cars are good and low maintenance in the given segment. Speedy zippier cars obviously meant that fuel economy was not a primary concern.

But then a large population has been brought up on Maruti and believe in the benefits of Maruti so when Maruti did the communication about “Whats the mileage?” it really was talking to this large population.

But when over the weekend I saw communication about value and supposedly very high-profile people doing acts of saving on things, it made me wonder. I believe Maruti can see tough times ahead and is trying hard to retain its francise.

The profile of compact cars is changing and in metros it has changed already. The proliferation of i20s, the launch of Volkwagen Polo and entry of Honda and Toyota in the compacts is a sign of things to come. Sooner or later people are going to stop associating compact with everything Maruti stood for and there move from compact to bigger car will not be driven by mileage consideration etc. And that is where Maruti is going to hit a roadblock. Seriously, why would anyone want to buy a Kizashi when there is a Cruze or a Skoda or an Altis or a Civic are available. Brands that have strong equity in premium segment and have worked on building the segment while Maruti was working on Compacts. Schizophrenia is hitting the brand when it shows so-called premium people and the end frame of communication is a range of small cars. What gives?

Automobile advertising at first level is not about everything that happens after the car has been bought. It is about a desire to possess symbols of moving up in life. It is about showcasing “I can now afford luxury” and surely this mindset would not want connotations of fuel economy or maintenance. If I buy a car in excess of 10 lacs (approx US$ 20,000), am I going to worry about the mileage being 12 km/l or 20 km/l? Will I worry if changing the rearview mirror costs 10,ooo? Ok maybe a little concern but it wont be something that would involve changing my buying preference.

Yes Santosh Desai talks about the dhaniya mirchi to be thrown in (coriander and chilli) when buying vegetables but even Santosh will agree that the outlook is changing… specially when all these large retail stores are opening up and people have moved to shopping over there. so even the dhaniya mirchi mindset is changing too…

Here is to a new India where value is about what I get by way of quality stuff for the money I pay and not about Lx or Lxi or Vxi or Zxi. Let every purchase be fully loaded. We have caught up with the world where Airbag is standard fitment and ABS is a given and not comes only in top end. In fact let there be only top end and no bottom end. And there is no bottom end actually. Nano sales that are dropping are not so much the safety concerns but the fact that even a guy who is switching from a two-wheeler to car does not want to associate with a cheap car.

Whose country is it?

I feel like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show but with a difference. In the movie he has a perfect life… perfectly choreographed life where everything and everyone is happy and shiny and perfect.

Cut to my life (not me as an individual but every Indian who does not belong to any categories listed below) as the country has entered another decade.

Every New Year’s eve leads to hype about the year gone by and bright future awaiting us in the next year. This year of course has an extra edge to it…beginning of ¬†the new decade. A quick google search would take you through various trend predictions for this decade. And as predictions go, they will fall by the way side as the decade moves on because the environment changes so quickly today that any trend prediction has a life span of perhaps days and not a year or a decade. That by the way is my trend prediction! That trends would last for only few days ūüėõ

So here I am… not living in perfect world like Jim Carrey but living in an imperfect world perfectly choreographed by a lot of people around me:

Politicians – JPC or PAC… do I really give a shit?? Either ways truth will never come out as it never did in Bofors. But what this controversy does is to keep people’s minds away from rising onion prices, rising lending rates, rising unrest across many states in the form of insurgency. And no I have no sympathy for the maoists and various other groups… they can’t achieve anything and even if they do, it is all politics to grab all the available money which they can’t lay their hands on for the moment. Nor do I have sympathy for the government which is supposedly fighting battles on many fronts – most of them of their own making. But let me not rant further on this. All political parties are the same.

Corporates and Banks – Seriously… are we supposed to believe that Citi had no clue that fraud of this magnitude was being carried out right from the bank premises? And all these corporates who had ‘invested’ money? Money laundering I say… in connivance with the banks. Of course now Citi would now lean on its small fry – the credit card defaulters… and various loan customers who have probably missed couple of payments (bank needs to cover up the losses in the financial fuck ups done somewhere else) Actually you can replace Citi with any other bank and this probably would be happening… it is just that even as I am writing this post, there would be a witch hunt on for 1. the person who led to this coming out into the open or 2. the PR person who should have been aware of the likelihood of this shit hitting the fan.

Teenagers and Youth – Busy in their own virtual world of social networks and mobile phones and whiling away time at the various malls till they get into race for making obscene amount of money by applying for CAT and various firang universities. we talk about youth being the future of the country given the high % of them but seriously… take a good look around at the youth and you are left wondering if the future should be left to the Frankenstein monsters that we are creating or the monsters we have already created – the politicians. Now I got nothing against the teenagers and the young… they have a great life now as compared to the earlier generation or couple of previous generations. We are the ones who have made them what they are by providing them everything we could never have.

The Protectors – CBI or a local thanedar… it doesn’t matter.. they can’t find the clues even if they were shoved up their nose. It is always easy to blame the nearest person you can get hold of for the crime and close the case or keep the case hanging to see how much money can be made. Harry Bosch.. we need you in this real world. And while you are here.. can we clone you into a few million?

Media – The less said about media the better. Typical editorial meeting at any of the channels or even newspapers would revolve around which story has the possibility of being news and how long can it be juiced till the next story… nothing transformational.. Hell.. news is not about transforming.. it is about building personalities and like a business.. making money… One ¬†Radia is gone so what… there are 10 others around and it would be business as usual…

Cricket and Movies – Am sure both are funded by the government to keep our minds away from stupid little things like increasing expenses and dwindling balances and such other stuff.

So coming back to the question in the title… probably the country belongs to all of them and they have come together to create this perfectly imperfect world and just like Jim Carrey I don’t realise that I am just the lead in a reality show who is being manipulated in every scene to respond in a certain way. Of course his life is so perfect that it sucks…

Am waiting for that sail boat from the climax of the movie which can take me across the seas to that perfect world and meet Jim on the way and tell him to turn around and to tell him that his world is better than mine…

Enough of this depressing shit… belated but still… A HAPPY NEW YEAR… no… actually A HAPPY DECADE… make the most of it…

Reclaim your life

Since yesterday I been switching on the tv at 5.30 am in the morning to watch The Ashes (for the cricketically challenged population, it’s the series between Australia & England) and caught the Tata Safari Dicor commercial. It’s not a new one but one done year and half back… “what would you remember when you look back on your life”… Enough probably has been written about the campaign right from the first commercial in 2005. But this commercial linked with the conversation I was having with a friend yesterday. It was about the fact that when we grow old and we look back on our lives… what would we remember? would it be the many deals that made us a success in our professional life… would it be about how much money we made? would it be about how we manipulated at work to rise the corporate ladder? would it be about how many lives we trampled on to reach the top? We both agreed that nope we wont remember any of this… what we would remember would be the moments of joy which were not about professional success and would almost always be centered around the people in our lives… our family… our mother… our father… our wives… our children… our friends (that one friend who made a difference and not 589 people on facebook)… So then why do we chase everything that will not be remembered?

We chase them because we are driven. Driven by what society marks as success symbols. A degree… a job… a car… a house (make that the ‘right address’)… club membership… frequent flyer miles… business class… We are smothered by communication that tells us that if we don’t have any of this, we have not made it. Communication creates the pressure right from the time children become aware and follow what is going on around them. THE PRESSURE TO BELONG. But the point is… belong to what? the environment which promotes spend spend spend…. acquire acquire acquire…

Getting ahead is not about being a better human being. Getting ahead is about how much you got as compared to people around you. You must have the next big thing. The 3D LED TV… iPhone… connected lifestyle… how many followers do you have on twitter… Statistics about how many people would read this blog… Success is not a measure of what difference you have made to lives of people but what all you have…

Brands of today have a larger role to play. In the world of product parity, discounts and freebies, the product would always sell but empathy for the brand and thereby the ability of the brand to step out of the discounts and freebies and be bought for what it stands for would go further and stay lot longer in the consumer’s mind.

The brand should be bought for its beliefs and not the capriciousness it promotes. Of course in some cases… like Tata Safari… it has not been bought because users were reclaiming their lives but it was big and controlled the road.

“Reclaim your life” is a powerful statement and it should be continued because we are moving towards times when we would be craving to reclaim the innocence that has been lost… craving to reclaim the inner beliefs and values which we have let go.

There have been stray thoughts in the past and some new ones which are indicative of the changing Brand view…

AirTel back in 2002/03 about communicate… Asian Paints – “har ghar kuch kehta hai”… powerful communication. They evoked emotions which were not about “buy me now” but went deep into our sub conscious.

Idea Cellular with its continuing communication specially about language not being a barrier, is sending out a message… but is anybody listening in the flood of all the apps that can be used and the handsets peddling out ‘facebook key’?

Tata Tea with its Jago Re raised the consciousness to vote and while it probably did not make a difference in the current Bihar election but the return of Nitish Kumar is a sign that people are fed up of goonda raj…

Any brand which says that it is about pure technology edge or functionality has a very myopic view. Sure they will sell and will keep adding to the top line and bottom line but wont last because the world 5 years from now is going to look for reclaiming the life and it surely wont look at the brands which perpetuated all the reasons why the life was lost in the first place…

Brand evangelism is not a term which sounds good in advertising strategy presentation… it is what every brand needs to aim for. And evangelism is not rooted in the functionality of the product but a bond between the consumer and the brand. Would suggest reading ‘The Primal Brand” by Pat Hanlon.

And a coincidence… while watching cricket, I switched to VH1 classics and The Cranberries song – Zombies was on… and in the context of this blog sounded so apt. It’s just¬†¬†that the battlefield has shifted…

Another head hangs lowly,
Child is slowly taken.
And the violence caused such silence,
Who are we mistaken?

But you see, it’s not me, it’s not my family.
In your head, in your head they are fighting,
With their tanks and their bombs,
And their bombs and their guns.
In your head, in your head, they are crying…

The first link is worth a watch again

Convergence and Privacy(or isolation)

Two technology trends in three days are indicative of how technology is going to polarize how we are going to communicate or wish to communicate in the future. And a pat on my back for having predicted the trends a year and half back.

First of course is the big news about facebook and their intention to monopolize the mind of their users. If everything can be done through facebook… why login to any other website to email or connect. And not just connect on email but infiltrate every mode of communication. The facebook generation which spends endless hours over there… all the more reason to shift their entire life to facebook! Imagine the eyeballs and the money that can be made through advertising on facebook. But…

Am just wondering is it really such a good idea. To play a devil’s advocate… hack into a person’s account and you know every single detail about the person and everyone else who forms the eco system of that person. I think facebook is creating a monster which has the potential to invade a person’s privacy like no other. In my past posts on social media, I had commented how there is a darker side of internet which can take over a person’s life and identity theft would probably take an all new meaning. It is time Mr Jeffery Deavers penned another book. All the information about the person in one place so no need to even troll the net to get more. facebook has made things so easy for people with devious intent! I know one person for sure who is not going to put all his eggs in one basket for sure and that’s ME!

The other piece of news is tucked in the top right corner of page 21 of The Times of India today. Called John’s phone – its a mobile phone launched in UK which only makes calls… Thats it!… only calls and nothing else… not even a sms (now that I find a bit of extreme) but even more extreme is that the phone doesn’t even have a phone book (it’s¬†¬†got a note-book and a pen tucked behind the phone). But importantly, this is part of the trend I had predicted in one of my post last years “Privacy would soon be a new luxury”. This phone would increasingly appeal to people who want to ‘unconnect’. The pressure of staying connected will soon start taking its toll.

Just like with the environment… after having abused it for ages, we are now talking green and eco friendly. A hundred years back or maybe 150 years back… we were green and ecofriendly and then under the garb of development and progression we created products that made our lives oh so easy to live and took the toll on the environment… Now that we are done screwing it, we want to bring the green back and make this planet habitable for the future generations.

Same way… we went ahead and embraced technology and used every possible mean of connecting and putting our lives on display but like the environment.. there is a price to pay and sooner than later we are going to realize it. Technology is a fad and has always been one… It is always the next big thing that seduces us and takes over our mind and our lives. I have been guilty of buying into it too…

But this launch of the phone priced at US$ 50 I think is indicative of a trend that is going to catch on. Not because it is cheap but for the ‘features it does not offer’… And the first ones to buy this phone are the people who would indulge in reverse snobbery… the same people who had made snobbery an art by buying the best in technology are the ones who would buy the most basic in technology… And while Sarthak on Hit 95FM said that this would be the phone for technologically challenged, I think this phone would be the one for people who have been there and done that and want to forget it all…

Wonder if the brands are going to catch on to these trends and perpetuate them or continue to exist in here and now because it is all about the bottom line in this financial year…

700 million Telecom Subscribers and counting…

So read two days back ¬†we have touched 700 million subscribers for telecom services. Strangely enough, one didn’t see any excitement similar to what was witnessed when the numbers were rocketing from 300 to 400 to 500 million.

I think the pressure has started telling on the Telecom Operators. To service such huge numbers, they need to invest in support infrastructure and ARPUS being what they are per subscriber… they would claim that they are not making enough money to invest. It is a warped logic though. After all. strengthening the infrastructure can get them ready for more subscribers and with close to 90% market supposedly being pre paid, it is completely a volume game. And whatever theory I read back in my college days, in a volume game… number of units sold matter because the price is low. Anyways, this post is not about me trying to analyse and give solutions to experts on how to manage their business. I am curious about these numbers!

700 million subscribers and from what I read in the article… we have no clue about them! There was someone who was quoted as saying that the actual user numbers would ¬†probably be 40 to 50% less than 700 million because there are mulitple SIM card holders. PROBABLY?? We don’t know how many users have mulitple SIM cards??

From the time the TRAI or Government’s security regulation has happened, I am sure there is data available about users. Even if the Government cannot share the data with operators, surely it can be given to NCAER or another research body to do cross tabs and arrive at a number. Track incidence of dual or more than two SIMs per person and possible segregate areas where the number of single SIM users is higher. As usual, there is data but nobody is probably interested in analysing. And if that data can be tracked, it would probably make the term ARPU stand for what it really means – Average Revenue Per User. ¬†The data can be cross tabbed to segregate revenue for multiple SIM care users and singe SIM card users.The data can also let us know how much a user actually spends across multiple SIM cards and the consolidated amount would be revenue for that user.

Actually if this available data can be tracked and mined, the possibilities are immense for Telecom Operators.

E.g. here is one cut of the data and it comes from my belief that a post paid user is probably giving a higher revenue as compared to pre paid.

If there is a steady increase of usage and recharging for a particular consumer… can he be converted to post paid? After all a post paid consumer than becomes a steady and fixed return instead of fluctuating recharge by pre paid. And earlier there used to be an argument about cost of servicing a post paid user is very high. But in this day and age of e commerce, these costs can be brought down so I don’t ¬†buy that argument anymore.

And while the threat of MNP looms on the horizon, I do not think it is going to impact much… when it comes to service and connectivity, one operator is as bad or good as the other operator (after all they nowadays share the same infrastructure)

Also a post paid subscriber can be offered lot more value added services than a pre paid and it would hold true when 3G starts.

The second way of cutting the data would be – Like MHI (Monthly Household Income), can the data throw up numbers to give a handle on MHMR (Monthly Household Mobile Revenue)? If this can be done, there can either be 1. One operator giving plans that take the entire family into account or 2. This would be far fetched but a collaborative effort by the operators to give value added services to the family (when there is an incidence of more than one operator in the family.

Also more telecom operators today are interacting with a household in multiple ways – mobile telephony, broadband, digital TV or IPTV… Can a combined value added solution be offered? Me for instance – I have Airtel Digital TV, Airtel mobile connection and Airtel landline and broadband. Reward loyalty to a brand…

These are just my basic thoughts from my limited understanding of the telecom market. I am sure if one were to analyse the wealth of data that is now available because of Government regulation.. the possibilities are immense.

Leap of faith

The phrase as described by wikipedia:

A leap of faith, in its most commonly used meaning, is the act of believing in or accepting something intangible or unprovable, or without empirical evidence.[1] It is an act commonly associated with religious belief as many religions consider faith to be an essential element of piety, as well as scientists who take a great leap of faith when a new Idea is thought of, as well as the believing in the unprovable and the theoretical.

Why this post? While talking to someone this morning, the person mentioned this phrase. It’s not like I have heard it for the first time, but it kind of stuck in my head and got me wondering.

The phrase has its origin in religion.. there is even a movie by that title starring Steve Martin and Debra Winger… but that’s not what got me thinking… very unlikely that an atheist would think about faith…

The phrase today is about venturing into the unknown.. to run with an idea… to buy a new product… to buy a new brand… to hire a person. In arranged marriages it is perhaps most pertinent – Two people¬†who hardly know each other decide to get into a relationship of a lifetime because they decide to take the leap (there is another phrase which is used here generally… they decide to take the plunge :P). Somewhere a point comes in that whole process where everything else is kept aside and they just do it.

Strangely enough… when we go ahead and decide to bind our lives “till death do us apart”… why do we spend endless hours on deciding many other things. The research that goes into buying a LCD¬†TV… or rather LED TV… which handset to buy… (though in this case any brand other than Nokia is supposedly a leap of faith… I have a friend and have been telling¬†her to consider¬† Sony Ericsson Xperia but she is hung up on Nokia!).

Which car to buy… nowadays¬†all cars are pretty much the same if you remove the wrapping that is built¬†around by advertising and paid PR but nope… I have seen the amount of dithering that people do before buying the car. I for one always bought the car I wanted… never thought twice.. never checked through all the auto magazines… never asked people. Maruti¬†800 to Wagon R to Accent Viva to Xylo… have never regretted the decision.

There are films after films that talk about the toothpaste to buy… the detergent… toilet cleaner… and we have the herd mentality religiously buying the brands and spouting the logic given by advertising… We don’t give a new brand a chance… after all the millions spent by Unilever, P&G and Colgates¬†of the world have to account for something. Is their serious an impact.. using Colgate vs Pepsodent¬†(nope don’t want paid testimonials from Indian Dental Association)

Of course the argument¬†that would be doled out to counter my point would be – “But Samir… we have to spend money to buy these products so it has to be the a well researched decision… buying a car is like lakhs of rupees!” hmm right… for a person who decided on hitching with another person (an investment for a lifetime) is teaching about the value of money which as the saying goes is ‘easy come easy go’…

I think the problem is we get too stuck in the tangibles… black and white… cut and dry… our risk averse nature conditions our mind so much that unless there are enough statistics and more backing a product or a brand… we would not venture forth…

It’s the¬†same when recruiting a person… he should have the right industry experience… he should come for the price I am willing to pay… I don’t¬†want to know about the varied experience he can bring to my industry. I can’t believe what he is promising to deliver… to much of a risk.. what if he fails…

Relationships have a price today.. be it with a brand.. with spouse or a person being hired… and leap of faith is missing… Would Google do another Google? Would Apple to another Apple? Would Nike “Just Do It” now? Nope… because now they all are answerable to the their shareholders.. the bean counters… who are always wary that the leap might turn into a plunge…

psychological nudity

Can’t remember where I had come across this term but it had kind of got stuck in the mind so just googled it. And there actually is a term like ‘psychological nudity’! While there is no definition for it yet… here is what it means:

A state of mental and emotional honesty. When all pretense, prejudice, expectations, bravado, etc. are removed, and all that is left is the bare mind. Pure thought (not necessarily pure as in good) is more readily accomplished when one is psychologically nude. Note that psychological nudity has nothing to do with the amount of clothing one is (or is not) wearing; it is a mental state.
Psychological Nudity is a book by Michael Savage, a very radical talk show host in US. Supposed to have very extreme views about everything. But this post is not about Michael Savage. It is about psychological nudity as a concept.
I think the way we have been conditioned… while it is a strict no¬†no¬†to be¬†nude in public, we are even more afraid of being mentally nude in public. Because that entails showing our raw thoughts… good or bad and the repurcussions. It could possibly¬†be construed as a sign of weakness and leveraged or it could be considered as “this person is too emotional and perhaps not the right person… whether for a relationship, job or doing business with”. So we most likely put even more layers of psychological clothing to hide our nudity. It is that dark space of our mind far removed from our active mind that we don not want to venture into that space. Because just like physical nudity.. even psychological nudity can be ugly.
Now here comes the crux of the post. Every singular brand of lifestyle and accessories spends billions of dollars in wooing the consumer to look good and feel good and is the case with physical appearance… it is very shallow. Look fair… look wrinkleless… smell good.. have great hair… be fashionable. It is always about appearances. Now there is nothing wrong in that at all. In a 24 hour day, the only time we are likely to be psychological nude is when we are alone. That is perhaps the only time when our soul will be bare so there is absolutely no point in catering to that nudity to make it look good.
But inner beauty is the real thing isn’t it? It is a big time cliche but it holds true. It is a tag that is usually used when one wants to say the person is not so great in physical appearance.
I read a very powerful statement this morning in Santosh¬†Desai’s weekly column CITY CITY¬†BANG BANG. To quote – “We want to live as tourists in our own life; the rain forces us to participate¬†in the reality of¬†the world we live in”.
Brilliant insight into the world of today. Life for us has become a 3N/4Ds vacation where we want to cover everything in the iternary and head back the next holiday. And anything that becomes uncomfortable, is a destination that is given a miss.
I believe there is an immense opportunity for brands here. Brands that can help us uncover all the layers that we have put on to hide the psychological nudity and bring it out in the open. Take a break from the whistlestop¬†tour of life and stop for a moment or two to actually smell the roses. And no.. the spas and spiritual holidays are not the answer. Nor is the Vipassana¬†programs… though Vipasanna¬†as an experience that every individual must go through once in their life time. I have not been there but hell.. one day I will.
In this day and age¬†of total branding – head to toe plus all the acessories¬†and the trappings of so called¬†success, any brand that can help an individual unbrand¬†himself or herself is bound to succeed. Hold conversation with the individual¬†and not individual as part of the masses.¬†People may not agree but there is¬†that nude self in all of us that is craving to bare itself… go beyond the shallowness of the world we are in… Remove the physical appearance tags and what is left? your true self… not encumbered by what the world thinks about you.. but what you think about yourself.
This post is probably incomplete and would continue when the thought train leaves this station…

Innovation Culture

Yesterday while discussing something with a friend, the conversation veered to innovation and lack of innovation in India. Now this post can either be criticized for running down so many good things that India has done (and all criticizers are requested to name at least one Indian¬†innovation to prove the point… I will actually compile the list and put it up as my acceptance that I was probably wrong) or people would turn around and say its a matter of perspective and how innovation can be viewed.

A quick hunt for definition on Webster’s Online Dictionary throws up the following:

1. A creation (a new device or process) resulting from study and experimentation.[Wordnet]
2. The creation of something in the mind.[Wordnet]
3. The act of starting something for the first time; introducing something new.[Wordnet]
4. The act of innovating; introduction of something new, in customs, rites, etc.[Websters]
5. A change effected by innovating; a change in customs; something new, and contrary to established customs, manners, or rites.[Websters]

I believe that over a period of time these definitions have evolved. To me innovation is a product or a service or even a custom that was introduced for the very first time.

The very first radio was an innovation. The first ever TV was an innovation. Walkman was an innovation. First automobile was an innovation (though there is a conflict in my mind if it can be so or the first ever horse drawn cart was the innovation). The point here is something that happened for the first time. Everything else that followed was an improvement on the initial idea. LED TV today is the result of constantly seeking ways of enhancing the experience. The basic benefit is viewing images on a screen.

Now notice all the above examples. None of them happened in India. While talking about innovations, my friend mentioned Mr Narayanmurthy and Mr Premji and I was quick to differ. Infosys or Wipro did not invent anything. They took advantage of changing global dynamics and a dearth of qualified people and started addressing the service economy of the west at a cost which was ridiculously low in comparison to what the western world was paying their employees. Did they innovate? Did they come¬† up with an idea that impacted a mass market? I don’t think they did.

Aamir Khan’s character in 3 Idiots makes a very valid point when he talks about our education system. Our education system is geared to churn out worker bees. It is drilled into our head in every class that we must follow what is being taught. Any deviation leads to deduction in marks. As an aside, in US, almost every year the spelling bee contest is won by an Indian because we are so good at mugging! I have caught snippets of the contest and I wonder if those kids would even know the meaning of the complicated words that they are spelling out. More important how many people would use such arcane words in daily communication. I have heard enough of people mentioning that the intellect level and knowledge of Indians in US is way ahead of kids of american origin. And how our syllabus in India is so complete. And the point being?? Where does it lead us? Education in India like I mentioned is about producing worker bees. Emphasis is on “job oriented courses” or courses that can get a person to become an engineer, a doctor or an MBA. Where is the course or emphasis for a student to explore… to try out things… to break the convention and indulge in independent thinking?

And it is no wonder that we carry this very blinkered and rigid thinking into our work environment (stands to reason after the education we have had). We follow company policy… rules and regulation… structure and working culture of the organization. Because we all want to succeed and move up the heirarchy. (That is the whole point of our existence… to move up the ladder). Any employee who dares to think different or go against the stream… well there would be enough examples that can be cited by readers of this post. Conventional wisdom is held up as the way to go and woe befell anyone who questions that in an organization. “Not on our time or our money buddy”

Conventional wisdom says that Unilever advertising would strictly follow a certain format because it is well reasearched format. Hmmm anyone has ever tried to see how things can be if the set pattern was not followed? Conventional wisdom says that a telecom company looking for a certain position in marketing would only look at a telecom professional (supposedly you want a person who would hit the ground running and would have knowledge of the market… but hell.. that person would be like frog in the well who would not have any new ideas!)

Prime Time on TV is supposed to be 9 PM. Thats conventional wisdom. Now how did that come about. I know there would be tons of research to support the fact. So there we have every channel vying for that time slot to put up there best programs. I say break the mold! If you are good enough as a program.. you will get viewers!

If India needs to truly be a global leader… then there has to be transformation of huge proportions that is required in our mindset. We need to innovate rather than peddling minor improvements in technology or a process that already exists. And we have to understand that an innovation is truly an innovation which can impact a large population. Getting businesses to perform better or improve efficiency of an organization are small ideas aimed at benefitting that particular business or an industry for making more money. Think big ideas… and more importantly run with the ideas. Failures, if they happen… they happen because the people around you have not removed the excuse of conventional wisdom from their sub conscious.

Inception – Plant an Idea

So I will not talk much about the movie. Those who have seen Inception would know that the movie cannot be captured in words… it needs to be felt and needs to be internalized. Those who have not see it yet…¬† you know what to do.

With every movie that Christopher Nolan makes, he will be raising the bar and in times to come would be known as probably the best director Hollywood ever had. Mr Nolan take a bow. I hope you sweep away all the possible Oscars. Absolutely loved The Dark Knight and have to lay my hands on Prestige and Memento.

But this blog is not about Inception the movie or Christopher Nolan.

This blog is about planting an idea in our brains as consumers.

In 1957, Mr Vance Packard wrote a seminal book “The Hidden Persuaders”. To quote Wikipedia – ¬†Packard explores the use of consumer motivational research and other psychological techniques, including depth psychology and subliminal tactics, by advertisers to manipulate expectations and induce desire for products. It also explores the manipulative techniques of promoting politicians to the electorate. The book questions the morality of using these techniques.

Sounds familiar? It probably is the foundation of Inception. Of course Inception is about dreams but Mr Packard talked about planting ideas deep in the sub conscious of people who are wide awake.

Look around and you would realize that every piece of advertising is attempting to do that. Of course nowadays the subtlety is out of the window. Backed by huge media spends, the brands want to drum an idea into our heads. Case in point is the new Saif Ali Khan commercial for Airtel Digital TV. The day it was launched and couple of days after that… I must have seen that commercial at least 50 times in couple of days. It got to a point where I felt like throwing up everytime the commercial came on air. Media Planners wake up!

Anyways, the point is that what we buy today… what we consume and what we recommend, very little is actually what we believe ourselves. Everything is what the brand has taught us to say. Quick.. tell me why do you use Colgate… or Pepsodent or Close Up?? Or to move away from mundane… why Gucci, Prada, Tommy Hilfiger? Why an iPhone, iPad, Nokia… Why facebook? Why wordpress?

There are many people who would sit up and say “but Samir it is about the experienential aspect of the brand!” Right! Did you ever stop to think that the experience that you seeked and the experience that the brand fulfilled… were driven by the brand!

Politicians do it all the time. Media does it all the time. Read this morning that there are 89,000 vacancies to be filled up in Indian Railways. Media prompted by politicians is highlighting this fact as if it is Mamta Banerjee’s fault that the vacancies are not filled up. 89,000 vacancies!!! Surely there were other Ministers before her who could have ensured that they were filled up. Now I am no fan of Mamta Banerjee but give me a break!

Wonder how many of you would have seen this movie “New Delhi Times” starring Shashi Kapoor as the editor of the newspaper and how he gets manipulated by Manohar Singh as the politician. Same premise… the world would believe when they read it in newspaper (why also all the B2B businesses believe that PR is the way to go for building a brand).

In Swordfish – John Travolta tells Hugh Jackman that we believe what our eyes see and then towards the climax of the movie, he manipulates what Hugh Jackman sees. That’s another must watch movie by the way.

Brands over a period of time have learnt the art of manipulating us by constantly working on our herd mentality. I have always wondered about what is the difference in the detergent for top loading washing machine vs front loading!! But everytime I faithfully buy top loading detergent because I have a top loading washing machine. Now when I am writing this blog.. I am ready to burst out with laughter for getting conned like this.

Then of course there are subliminal ways to entice. Wonder how many of you would have noticed that when you walk into a movie hall… its only when there is a fair crowd waiting, the pop corn machine is started and the fragrance of pop corn permeates through the lobby and attacks our senses. And the urge to buy pop corn grows.

53 years down the line (after The Hidden Persuaders) Mr Nolan has again planted an idea in our brain and I am just wondering how many marketeers are thinking of ways to make the brand stronger by using such techniques. Fret not.. you would have read the book in college and thrown it away. If you still got it in your collection, dust the cover and start reading it again. Or go buy it.

As for me… It is Inception time again… have to watch it few times more….