Branding, Business, Internet, Journalism, Marketing, Promotions, Social Media, Trends

On the topic of topicality!

This has been one of the more severe summers we have faced. Over 800 people in the Southern states of #Telangana and #AndhraPradesh have died due to the killer #heatwave. (As reported at the time of writing this!) Across the country an estimated 1400-1600 people have died due to the excessive heat. Surprisingly, no brand has come to the rescue of these people.

For all the social media agencies out there, I would like to say, if it’s trending then it must be shallow! People, this is the real world and there are real issues. No! Not for a moment am I suggesting that this human tragedy should have been taken advantage of. But had a brand come to the rescue of these hapless people it would have done itself a great service and possibly could have gained tremendous mindshare! Yet, none of the water brands, beverage brands, supermarkets, food brands, or any other brand that has a half decent Corporate Social Responsibility programme taken any initiative in alienating people’s misery.

There is an unwritten rule in journalism to put “a human story /tragedy” above all. So any newspaper, TV channel worth its salt, will always put people stories above all. I suppose, there’s a good reason for this and it’s called empathy. People relate better to human emotions and human stories best. This is also possibly the reason why melodramatic movies, (read as ‘love stories’, ‘romantic thrillers’, ‘family love stories’ etc., etc. will never ever go out of fashion!) We all know social media is about stories. If a brand tried a little hard to understand these emotions and stories, it could create wonderful experiences for its consumers. But alas, where do brands have the time and inclination for such experiments. It takes a brand with a large heart to see beyond the tactically mundane and the mechanical metrics to create share worthy experiences. This is possibly why most brands in the space end up capitalising on shallow trends and a few others that go on to create memorable experiences for consumers!

We also know, today, in the social space there are many examples of brands creating ‘unbranded’ yet very relevant content that have helped people discover many truths about those brands. So in the context of the heatwave, even if a brand had done it’s two bit to educate people on how to stay hydrated, or on effective ways to stay cool, how to avoid sun strokes etc., this in itself could have helped built ‘a connect’ with consumers! The #IPL was on when reports of the heatwave began to hit us. Did the brands, associated with the biggest cricketing spectacle in the world miss out on an opportunity to build connect with consumers suffering the heatwave? Did #Pepsi miss out on an opportunity to build that empathy? Could other brands have made use of players who endorsed their products, to reach out to the suffering people? Well, the jury is out there!

I think, the problem with most brands in the country today, is they can’t think beyond cricket and Bollywood. Open your eyes people, there a million possibilities to connect with consumers, especially through social media. Merely making seasonality or topicality a bullet point in a monthly discussion doesn’t build empathy. Brands ought to give it a good shot, identifying every opportunity, every half chance, keeping their eyes, ears and what not open! Because, if done correctly, this is a sure shot to a consumer’s heart.

Cleanliness, Culture, Humour, leisure, Norms, Politics, Promotions, Satire, Trends

The Great Indian #Litterbug

Don’t you dare call me that without knowing what a great service I am doing for the country! For everybody’s good.  I take great offense to this modern, western idea of cleanliness where everything is so sterile and smells so monotonous that even the disinfectant wants a whiff of something different. Also we have grown in a culture of being one with nature, even if it happens to be our own shit or the poorly digested dung of our domesticated and sacred animals. We have always lived like this, since time in memorial! To live like this, is to live like how our forefathers preached and practiced. That makes me a great follower of tradition as well.

How dare anybody, define hygiene for me and tell me what I can do or can’t do on the free streets of my own free country? I am a tax paying citizen of this wonderfully, smelly country and the fiscal well being of society is paramount to me. Besides, I also think there a great deal of utility in me throwing garbage on the streets, peeing on the roads and not to forget, in indulging in the country’s most favorite pass time, Sssppiittt-aaa-Ttthhoonnn.

This is where your imagination comes into the picture. Don’t mind the pun aa? Now imagine, copious amounts of blood-red colored, paan flavored, love laden saliva, being freshly dished out, in super slow-motion, with great panache towards a recently painted wall by a man sporting wavy but well oiled hair and a thin moustache reminiscent of a pot bellied 70’s movie hero! BTW, for your information, that’s very close to what I look like. This scene may be absolutely common, but yet it is delightfully refreshing, every time you see it, right?

Let me now illustrate with a few examples of how I am contributing to the nation’s GDP by throwing out garbage and peeing on the streets. Clearly, this is besides, my limitless energy to participate in the open coughing, sneezing and the rich-sputum-Spit-a-Thon Championships. Much to the disgust of cynics and possibly to the delight of the champions of animals, planktons and other single celled organisms rights groups, let me just remind you and society at large, that by participating in such events, I am greatly contributing to the overall ecosystem of the Influenza Virus. I am nature loving you see! For record, I’m talking about the virus that causes ‘the flu’ and not an online community of influential people who help spread messages like viruses. I call them the ‘Influenza me-toos’. Pathetic copycats!

Let’s talk garbage first! And like every other good citizen, I collect my garbage, all together, no separating them. Why waste money on another waste bin I say? Then, of my free will and accord, I walk up to my front door and I sssspppiiilllll it all out on to the street. Remember the routine, paan chewing man with wavy, but well oiled hair, in a very colorful beach shirt, also sporting very bright trousers walking up to the street in super slow-motion  and exhibiting his devotion to the country,to the neighbors and the single celled organisms by throwing the garbage onto the streets. Right?

By admitting to this, you can see I am also an honest man. But in defense, by me spilling the garbage onto the street, I am supporting a whole bunch of people and Ecosystems. Don’t look so shocked. Let me explain; our neighborhood milkman, the poor man, barely makes enough to support his family of 8 people is forced to look at other means to enhance his revenue. So he gets into cheaper additives that can be added to the milk. At times, he even tries adding the municipal tap water when the complaints become too many. The extras that come along with that water act as natural ‘emulsifiers’ to make the milk look and feel thick. Now in such a scenario, how can the poor man afford quality fodder for his cattle? That’s where my garbage comes in handy. Milk man, opens gates to his cattle-shed very early in the morning; cattle sneak out in the darkness, follow the scent of the garbage, find it in front of my house, eat it and feel very happy because they now believe they are truly a part of the community because they are eating what the community is eating!  Sometime, the only drawback, as my children see it, is after eating they also poop there. Now how can we teach these gentle cows that you don’t poop in the plate you eat in? I don’t yet speak Moo-lish na? Maybe that’s the problem.

But my wife has a fantastic solution to that too. She uses the freshly pooped dung as a natural insecticide by spreading it across the road. Sometimes, our neighbors complain about the smell, but they will get used to it. If we can get used to phenol, they can get used to dung as well!

Look at another scenario; garbage is in front of the house, the cat is inside the house and where are the poor mice? Having a feast in the midst all the garbage, of course! They make hay or rather bite into leftover cheese, when the cat is away. Very cheesy fellows! They then go back to fat and healthy, which makes them lazy. Which is when our clever cat comes back to catch them with ease. For me this is ingenious, because I don’t need to spend on buying expensive cat food now. Who said there’s nothing like free lunch?

But this is not it. I also help Dr. Dubey’s medical practice in big way. Though I don’t get any cut or commission from him or the rich pharmaceutical companies. Maybe I should ask them for a cut in sales from now on. What do you think? See I have just now even created a simple business plan, on the spot! Anyways, coming back, have you noticed, how people, I mean, us normal people, how when we see garbage, a strange pleasure that almost feels like one induced by the release of sufficient amounts of serotonin in the brain, creates a compulsion to spontaneously spit on the garbage. It’s almost, like an involuntary action that condemns the garbage that’s there. So with the garbage in front of my house, people with colds, without colds, with illness, without illness, straight, gay, black, white, oh sorry; wheatish, yellow, brown, tall, short, basically any size, any color, any creed, paan chewing or not, will spit on the garbage. Because a lot people walk around, they may pick up the ‘real’ influenza virus, which will make them unwell. And then who cures them? Dr. Dubey of course! Yes. Our friendly neighborhood Doctor Saab.

With the cows, the mice and rag pickers clearing most of the garbage; sometimes in a few days, I am also reducing the job for the municipality. This way, the ‘pourakarmikaas’ or people who clean up our garbage have less work to do and don’t have to bake in the hot sun. So what are they doing now? They are chilling and getting drunk at the local bar, which incidentally opens early eh! This way, the cost of transportation of garbage to the landfills by municipality too comes down many notches as there isn’t much to transport. It has all been consumed within the community you see. An almost perfect recycling system! The other big benefit is a dramatic reduction in the pollution levels that could have been caused by the transport vehicles ferrying the garbage to the landfills. Now the municipality uses fewer vehicles that make fewer trips. If there is not enough garbage to dump, the government too needn’t worry about acquiring land for landfills or displacing people from their villages for the landfills. So you see my small, selfless act of throwing garbage onto the streets can contribute to overall the fiscal well being of society!

I am the Great Indian Litterbug and I think it’s my birthright to litter.

Film making, Films, Internet, Journalism, New Media, Social Media, Trends

Is social media trivial? Or have we trivialized social media?

A quick glance at Twitter trends this morning showed an ‘aspiring’ starlet, a promotion for an upcoming movie with a ‘mega’ star, a much hyped ‘Taxi Company’ which is desperately trying to defend its myopic thinking by blaming government policy for its recent troubles, as trending! Even before I could finish my thought on where are we headed as the social media community, my thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a colleague who said “Don’t even go there. We are fine the way we are, not everything needs to have a cause, not everything needs to be intellectual and definitely, not everything, needs to be grandiose”. Boom! Your thought went that a ways; out of that window, many floors below. I could hear a sniggering nerve cell thinking exactly that, somewhere deep in a crevice, in the right half of my brain.

I could see frantic efforts from the logical side of my brain cells, trying to put up arguments. Of course, all this happening, well within the small, limited and cozy confines of my cranium. I could see through my mind’s eye, the logical side was trying to put together, a battery of highly experienced nerve cells whose arguments went something like this. “Aren’t we a community of progressive, sensitive and intelligent people? Aren’t we the ones who wanted change? Aren’t we the ones who want to inflict societal change by our thought and actions? Weren’t we the enthusiastic ones who jumped on to the bandwagon because in the real world we probably didn’t wield too much power? And the real world power mongers haven’t discovered this utopia called social media?”

Yuk! That sounded so lame even to me. What that’s horrible taste in the back of my mouth! Ok granted, not everything needs to be intellectual, not everything has to have deep insights or meaning which one can ruminate as intellectual conversation over a couple of pegs of well made single malt whiskey. But then “in my mind” I was clear the media had to evolve. Perhaps, in the absence of a credible fifth estate, we the people need to take over the mantle and play the forces of influence.

And for that to happen, we can’t trivialize and belittle information and news. I remember my conversation with the editorial team of a leading newspaper who at that point in time, were in a quandary over whether or not to follow social media stories as a part of news in their newspaper. After all, the trending stories in social media, in many ways represented popular sentiment, right? I remember telling them that the big difference between worlds of print, television or even radio and social media was that in other media you have a bunch of people with a sense of propriety and a good sense of what’s right and what’s not. For the purposes of this piece, let’s call them editors. These editors play such a crucial role in scrutinizing what goes into the public domain. As a result, a lot of what we see, read and hear in the public domain is not ‘sensational’ or ‘disturbing’ enough to cause trouble.

But on the other hand, with social media that’s not the case. You and I, my friend, we are media in ourselves. Through our comments, through our blogs, through our complaints, raves, rants we are influencing people, especially friends and family. They take our word a lot more seriously than perhaps, that of an editor of a newspaper. Each one of us needs to play a role of an editor. We need to figure, decipher and then share with people what is good, what is sensible and more importantly stuff that’s ‘intellectual’, stuff that opens the mind. This is important, if not we will hit the abyss sooner than we think. We owe it to all the people around us. After all, there hasn’t been a piece of technology that has unified us or empowered us in manner like this, ever!

This is where I give you the license to pull out your daggers. Imagine if our filmmakers had taken a stance, say a few decades ago, not to plagiarize or rehash trash in the trashiest fashion, what a society we could have been! Imagine if somebody had put the portrayal of women over commercial gains, imagine if more filmmakers stood by quality of writing, quality of songs and everything else, I dare stick my neck out and say we would have been a much, much better society today, who wouldn’t have spent time reading about how women have to fight gender biases every day or see them doing unnecessary things to trend on social media.





When a computer salesman was not a computer salesman!

It did take a lousy Tuesday to bring out the ‘protectionist’ in him or it did take a lousy Tuesday for me to understand a computer salesman was more than one? This lousy Tuesday began like most other days, packed with the usual things most of us in the ‘working class’ do for a living. A couple of meetings, a few brain storming sessions on how to improve this and that… mostly that, which included, scheming plans on how go one up on colleagues and other devious ways of manipulating people into thinking your way.

Anyways, a meeting of the morning seemed to go on and on, forever. After a point in time, which was about 28 minutes into the conversation, it all seemed as if two out of the three men sitting on the other side were suffering from verbal diarrhoea. Everything they said was so loose and insipid that it didn’t hold water, or was it only that. Putting up with that was one hell of a task. Naturally, things got delayed and most of all, lunch was delayed. That caused a lot of burden on the thinking process, as an already stretched system was now working overtime to compensate for the wants of a modern day working class professional.

Post lunch, post the scheming, post the bitching, post the posting on my favourite social network I realised my ‘brand new’ laptop, only about a couple of weeks old was persisting with its non-cooperative movement, by making sure the most crucial part of my interface with it, the track pad, acted in a manner that could easily be described as non cooperative. The cursor would get stuck at all the wrong places, at the most inopportune moment creating what in these days is popularly called, #awkwardmoment. Believe me; I have had plenty in the past couple of weeks.

I went down to remind my IT Manager about the issue. Since I had already told him several times about my frustration with the silly track pad, I was now a little upset because no service person had come in to take a look at it. When he expressed his inability to get the service person over, I said I will throw my weight around a little and make sure he lands up in the office, ASAP! I dialled his number; he was not reachable. I dialled his number again and again, he was not reachable! I could see Murphy ROFL in the corner of my eye. This infuriated me even further, as a ‘conspiracy theory’ flashed through like ‘Breaking News’ across my over burdened synaptic pathway. Could it be an ‘inside job’ where somebody told him about my call and he ran to the basement to cut off any chance of connecting with him?

Not the one to give up, I quickly picked up a landline dialled his number again. Connected! #Awkwardmoment number? Don’t know, don’t care! Nevertheless, this is when I was to be enlightened about this new avatar of our friendly computer salesman. The moment the phone connected, I ranted furiously as to why nobody was there to check on my ‘bloody’ system. My childhood Anglo-Indian influence was beginning to show.  Abruptly, I was cut off by the salesman, saying what did you just say Saar? I was taken aback momentarily; I thought he didn’t understand so I repeated myself again, “Why isn’t anybody here to check on my ‘bleedy’ system? Hoping a little more of the local accent would perhaps, make him understand the seriousness of the situation. What he told me after that came as a big surprise, to say the least!

He actually said, “Saar, don’t call yany systems yany names, please! What do you think, if you have a dog, will you allow yanybody to call it bleddy dog? Tell tell, I was dumbstruck! Here was a champion of a system! A system of the down! Another flash appears on my hapless brain cells which read, “Democracy isn’t a great thing”. This was followed by images of thousands of abused computers, laptops, tablets, even some smart phones taking out a morcha led by this ‘topi clad’ laptop salesman holding a placard which read ‘Prashant Murdabad’ hurried through my mind. I slammed the phone, looked up and saw complete shock and surprise on my colleagues’ faces who apparently had been privy to my conversation with the salesman.

As expected, the evening went quiet, mostly because I never ever recovered from that conversation and decided not to say anything against anybody, or anything!

*Red Herring – No keys on the keypad, no extra charging of batteries, no excess use of the monitor or computing power or for that matter nothing in excess on this computer was ever used in writing this article.   

Cars, leisure, New Media, Promotions

Conquers more than the roads. Captures more than your imagination.

I am no off-road maniac. I am no big automobile junkie either. At best you could call me an armchair critic, especially of our foreign policy, cricket and South Indian food. So what is a retard like me doing in a beast of vehicle like the Pajero?

Well to begin with, it partly has something to do with a condition that I often find myself in and for which my friends no longer have any sympathy for. I am often at the receiving end of two conditions which are contradictory in nature; diarrhoea of words resulting from a constipation of thought.  Anyways, to come back to the story, this happened on one rather unusually hot summer evening in Bangalore, when a bunch of friends and I, after a few exhilarating rounds of conversation over beer and seekh kebabs realised that as our domestic lives had taken precedence; our enthusiasm for the unrehearsed, impulsive spur of moment decisions had indeed deteriorated making us nothing more than compulsive creatures of comfort. It looked ominous to all of us that our zing for off-road adventures had taken a detour for the worse.

That evening I also realised alcohol and adrenalin don’t make a great combination. In that gusto to rekindle the passion I called up the good people at Mitsubishi for a test drive of the Pajero. By the time the fun, frolic and passion was over and good old slumber had restored some amount dignity
to my senses and my overworked grey cells, I found myself standing in front of spanking new dual coloured black and silver Pajero. A thousand thoughts crossed my mind in that blink of second, ranging from the totally deranged to what else can I do with this monster. Initially, I did contemplate taking the sales guy back to my apartment, offering him a cup of authentic South Indian filter coffee and politely excusing myself while appreciating him for all the trouble that he had taken. And then I looked at the four wheeled wonder again.

Suddenly, as if I was possessed, there was a rush of adrenalin that surged through my veins energising every single cell in my body, I was there behind the wheel in a flash. I knew, the soft leather on the seat was just the skin of a monster that was about to bare its fangs. Though the dash-board and the ergonomics looked a bit dated, reminiscent of an era when the focus was beneath the boot rather than cosmetics, the front dual airbags and the 3 point Emergency Locking Retractors or ELR seat belts more than made up for the lack of any flamboyance.

The high seat on the road was taken and I was on my way to conquer the highway to hell at least that was the feeling that hurried through my already overloaded synaptic connections as I turned the ignition on. The familiar sound of an all-conquering machine now reverberated through the apartment complex almost bringing everybody and everything to a standstill. Little ‘Ronaldos’ froze in their dribble; little girls seen licking their lollipops were hypnotised, birds stopped flying and it seemed as if the other vehicles were trying to hide behind the pillars much against the wishes of their drivers. Such was the overwhelming presence of the Pajero.

The drive through the streets of a crowded city was a breeze thanks to the beautifully synchronised 5 speed manual gearbox and gear ratios. The 2.8 litre turbo charged inter-cooled diesel engine generates enough torque to handle the toughest city needs; a handy thing given the state of most roads in our cities today. Actually, I was fortunate enough to preview the ‘off-road’ capabilities of the vehicle well within the city itself when I had to wade through half a feet of filth flowing though the lanes of an unfortunate populace. Come to think of it, some of the potholes on our streets could well challenge the craters caused by meteors and perhaps, even win hands down.

In such conditions, the front double wishbone torsion bar with stabiliser bar suspension and the rear 3 link coil spring rigid axle with stabilizer bar suspension proved to be more than adequate in cushioning us inside. But that wasn’t enough of a cushion for my angst against certain despicable authorities for the sad state of our roads. The chassis of the Pajero is the famed reinforced ladder frame which is capable of withstanding the demands of the toughest terrain and believe me, I just happened to witness one such terrain a moment ago. The body roll too is minimised thanks to this solid frame working in tandem with solid suspensions. The result, a smooth ride irrespective of the terrain!

As we drove away from the city, I decided to put the monster to its ultimate test, or at least what I thought would be its ultimate test. Small thinking from a small-minded person you could say. I decided to go off-road when I saw this endless mass of rough country, much to the surprise of our friendly Mitsubishi sales person. There it was; boulders, sand, rocks, a hillock, ditches carved out of the Earth by the elements and a path at best for a road. I thought this is it, let me throw this uncharted terrain at the brute and see how she handles it. Much to my disdain, the Pajero handled it all with maximum ease. The multi-meters including the altimeter, barometer, inclinometer acted more as hindrance to my abilities making me conscious all the while of what I was doing, defying the very purpose of my rather spirited attack on the mean machine.

After a gruelling 30 minutes of pure adrenalin rush, I conceded defeat and also much to the delight of the Mitsubishi sales person, called it quits. The beast had conquered more than just the roads.

Business, Internet, Marketing, Promotions

Simpsonize Me!

Simpsonize Me! Wow, what an idea. In fact this is one thing that has always fascinated me about the Internet. The engagement that one is able to build with consumers is mind blowing. You pick a photograph, choose the colors, the style, and everything else and presto, you have Simpsonized version of yourself. Then you choose if you want to use it as an avatar or as an icon. Amazing isn’t? And as a consumer, why on earth would I not want to be a part of this wonderful engagement?

Many times, we marketers miss to make this connect. Engagement equals brand recall. Sure, this engagement can come about in any relevant manner or means. But as long as you get your consumer to do something that captures his attention or imagination, brand recall or recognition will remain a distant dream. Sometime ago, in these virtual pages, I also had written about the rbk experience. There too, if I remember right, it was the engagement that caught many people’s attention.

So to check out your Simpsonized version here:

Business, Cinema, leisure

You can’t afford to miss out on this Boss!

Thalaivar is here and how. The last few days saw perhaps, the biggest ever phenomenon of Indian cinema open to packed houses across Tamilnadu, Andhra, Kerala, Karnataka, Mumbai, Japan, USA and the Far East. In fact that is an understatement. People, sorry read as devotees of Rajini, thronged cinema halls. Every show, in nearly every cinema hall in Chennai, has been booked for over 20 days. Ever heard of something like this? This can happen only in Tamilnadu and perhaps, only for Rajini.

Depending on how you look at it, the experience of watching a Rajini movie in the first few days can be completely exhilarating or absolutely boisterous. But never dull. Seeing the adoration people have for the man can be quite a moving experience. The processions taken out by hundreds of thousands of his fans carrying his cutouts through the streets can put to shame any seasoned politician’s ability to mobilize crowds. Billboards of politicians dwarf in comparison to these 60 feet or more cuts outs of the superstar. Milk by the liters, is poured over these cutouts. This kind of adulation was hitherto reserved only to the Gods. But hey, he is no ordinary man either. Thousands of rupees worth garlands then adorn these cutouts. Pujas are performed and then the crowd sweeps into the cinemas.

Every little move, every dialogue, every scene is cheered, applauded, hooted. In short, there is very little that you can see or hear. That’s why I suppose; so many people go back the second time and the third time to watch the movie ;) By the way, just for the record, his earlier movie, released about 2 years ago, is still running at a cinema, grossing over Rs. 60 crore!

The other amazing thing about Rajini is the fact that his off screen persona is as affable as his reel life. He is not pretentious, neither is he to perturbed by his reel life glamour. He is the way he is and people just love that. It perhaps, adds to the “savior of the needy” image that he so deservingly carries.

On the day of release of Sivaji, I casually asked my driver, what would happen if the movie bombs? After all about Rs.100 crore was riding on it. Without even batting an eyelid, he said “no chance of flopping sar”. When I quizzed him a bit more on this, he told me “ Sar, AVM is involved. They will not make bad movies, they check, story, dialogues, screenplay all that, then, we have Shankar sar… He has made only a few movies but all of them are very good. Anniyan, you must have seen no sar, the hero had hair like yours, that movie also was Shankar sar’s… than we have AR Rehaman Sar’s music, which has to be super hit, then we have Rajini Sar… This combination has come together before. So no chance of flop sar. Ever heard of pre release rationalization? If you haven’t, well this is it, and remember you read it first here. Anyways, going by the reports, it is going to be a while before this mania comes to an end. But while it lasts, lets enjoy.