Friday, December 15, 2006

Talking up Sachin Tendulkar


You’re watching an F1 race. Michael Schumacher is 50 seconds ahead of Alonso, with 8 laps to go and no pit stops due.
Common sense would tell you that the race has been won and lost, and you could go back to your knitting or needlepoint or whatever. But you don’t. You stay riveted.
Because of the commentators.
They remind you that anything could happen in a F1 race. That, perhaps, there’s a suspect sound emanating from Schumi’s engine. And would his tyres last the course? The left rear looks like it’s wearing out? Can Schumi last? Can he? Can he?
Of course he can. And he reaches the chequered flag almost a minute ahead of his competitor.
And you got suckered by the commentator, waiting for Schumi’s engine to blow, waiting for the tyre to destruct.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the responsibility of the commentators and experts: to make the game more interesting.
We’re seeing it with the Ashes. Where every wicket Panesar gets converted into an increased likelihood of England winning the third test. And there are four days to go.
We’re seeing it with the India-South Africa series. Where, pre-first test, all the channels talk about how test cricket is very different from one day cricket, and Indian fans could erase the 4-0 one day whitewash from our collective minds.
Because, contrary to the pessimistic view each of us holds, we believe all the optimistic pronouncements of the commentators and the experts. That Sachin will come good, that our bowling is good enough, that test cricket is a whole new ball game. We believe.

Because belief gives us hope.
And it's hope that will make all of watch sport. Whether F1 or the Ashes or tennis or golf, who wants to watch a one sided contest? And without hope, where will ESPN Star recover the $1.1 billion that has been invested in cricket from?

All you doomsday prophetic commentators, get out of there!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Internet is in the heartland


Thanks to the weightage accorded to the eight top Indian cities by TAM and by NRS and IRS, a lot of us in the media space fail to see a world beyond these eight cities.
In the case of the Internet, considering the fact that “technology” plays such a big role, the presumption of dominance of usage in these eight cities continued.
Of course there are users beyond these eight. We all know that.
So what is Webdunia saying that’s new? Nothing.
But a picture says it better than a thousand words or spreadsheets.
59% of Internet users are from towns and cities that are just dots on the map.
And the 59% will grow.
Chew on that.
And why am I surprised? Take a look at the Clustrmaps on this page, and there are readers from dots across the world. Dots I can't name.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Of an affair with the voter


Marketing myopia is when you have a love affair with your own product or message rather than an affair with your consumer.
And we’ve seen this time and again in India with politicians and political parties, the most notable instance being the BJP’s India Shining campaign.
One would have thought that the Western world would be immune to such myopia, but that’s not the case.
Arianna Huffington blogs about Bush’s distance from reality, saying “Bush may not be into things like facts, truth, or reality, but he loves a good slogan.”
Bush does not seem to learn.
Neither do Indian politicians.
If India Shining was rejected by the voter, so will Incredible India. Slogans such as these are an exercise in stupidity in these days of intrusive, all-seeing 24X7 news and the Internet.
So I’m watching a news clip on the burning Deccan Queen and the channel takes a commercial break. What do I see now? A commercial touting Incredible India.
And I’m riveted by a story on how Dalits were raped and killed in a Maharashtra village followed by the Incredible India spot.
And it goes on and on.
News television will highlight all the bad news. Because bad news sells.
And the realty is, there is a lot of bad news in India.
Even if I’m feeling good about my own lot, I cannot, after being exposed to today’s news media, feel that India is anywhere near Incredible.
Because I know the stock market lost almost 1000 points in the past three days, I know CITU wants IT companies to join a nationwide strike, I know the Tata Motors project in Singur is a little shaky, I know the Indian cricket team is a disaster, I know Parliament is adjourned for the most trivial of reasons, I know the Indo US nuclear deal is not hunky dory, I know cotton farmers in Maharashtra are going through a terrible time, I know life for terrorists is easier than life for the law enforcers, I know Shibu Soren won’t resign, I know Narendra Modi can go on and on.
I know all this because I consume media.
The same media where the Incredible India campaign runs.

In any two-bit advertising agency, any two-bit account executive fills in a brief which goes to the creative guys. In that brief, loud and clear, is a question which has to be answered:
(of a promise, or an offer or a proposition or a claim)
Why will the consumer believe it?

Perhaps politicians need to work for a year or two in advertising agencies.
Or, perhaps, advertising professionals need to get into politics.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gotcha!

I have been tagged by Dina Mehta in a Blog tag game where you tag 5 people whose blog you enjoy and ask them to tell the world about 5 things that most people may not know of you (this entire sentence cut and paste from Dina’s intro).
Both difficult tasks. Limiting the number of tags to five, and thinking about five things that most people don’t know about me.
The first is easy; it’s the blog that got me blogging. My brother JP’s blog, www.confusedofcalcutta.com
The second is Amit Varma’s Indiauncut.
The third, Shane Richmond in The Telegraph.
The fourth, Deborah Schulz.
And finally, Georgia Patrick.
I figured out what makes me visit these sites so regularly. It’s easy: they all blog regularly.

Now for the harder part: five things about myself that most people don’t know.
1. I have more than 1000 published crosswords to my credit
2. My annual beer consumption is about 850 litres
3. That I actually like reading The Times of India
4. The only instances that I’ve had car accidents are when I’ve been absolutely sober
5. That I once owned a bookshop called Bookends

Monday, December 11, 2006

If Rbk is Reebok, what is...

I’m an old man, and I like things old fashioned.
But I have two kids, and I have to learn new fangled mores and values.
And spellings.
So I might prefer Reebok, but I understand Rbk is cool.
And I’m slowly learning to read txt splng.

So what do I do when I open the new issue of India Today, (The special anniversary one, which is a steal at 20 bucks, by the way) and I’m blown by the lovely Audi car…
… and the license number reads FKS 2207.

Gnite.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Is it time for circulation to de-grow?


I know a lot of print space sellers. Some of them are friends.
And those who are still in the business are doing well, making serious money, holidaying abroad.
And close to burn out.
Because, as they grow older in the business, the weight of the business rests on their shoulders.
Because it is, virtually, the only source of revenue for print products, considering the ridiculously low price of newspapers and magazines.
TV has distribution as a second revenue stream.
Put in other words, the consumer pays for the content.
Which the consumer refuses to do in the print paradigm.
Which gets me thinking. The same human being, the same consumer, is willing to pay for content in one medium and unwilling to pay for content in another?
What is this guy? Some kind of whacko?
Or is he simple and predictable, it’s just the print media that reads him wrong?
Will he pay Rs. 30 for a copy of India Today instead of the Rs. 20 he pays today? Will he pay Rs. 40? Rs. 50?
How many buyers of India Today will drop out if Aroon Purie jacks up the price to Rs. 50?
Ten per cent? Twenty? Thirty? Fifty?
And suppose it is as high as fifty percent; is Malcolm Mistry, the man who has the responsibility of filling the magazine with advertising week after week, a happier man?
And what happens if The Times of India is priced at Rs. 10 per day? How much will they lose in circulation? Fifty percent? Sixty? Seventy? Fifteen?
And suppose it is fifty percent, would Bhaskar Das be a happier man?


It depends, primarily, on two stakeholders: the consumer and the advertiser.
It depends on how reliable, authoritative, relevant and trusted the consumer perceives your content to be. Which is the simple truth in any product category: the consumer pays a premium when he believes that brand delivers a premium product.
It depends on the media owner’s answer to this question: while we have built a brand for the advertiser, are we a brand or a commodity vis-à-vis the consumer?
It depends on how the media planners and buyers and advertisers deal with the new circulation and readership numbers. Which, today, come from ABC and NRS and IRS.
Which they take with spoonsful of salt.
And in a number of cases, as the publications do not subscribe to ABC, they are left with just NRS and IRS.
Which, as history teaches us each year, is full of holes.
So why not bite the bullet if you have a product that you believe delivers value to the consumer? And raise the goddamn cover price?
Don’t gamble and endanger a product you might have taken decades to build. Don’t endanger the well being of the thousands who depend on your paycheck.
Do it as the Udipi restaurants across the country do. No disruptive changes in the prices, just keep nudging them upwards.
And, each time you raise the price, analyse the impact. Every six months, reduce the advertising rates.
Yes, reduce them, in keeping with the loss of circulation and readership.
You keep doing this till you have your balance. And a significant portion of your overhead comes from content, not advertising. And your dependence on the advertiser is significantly reduced.
And now, start increasing the advertising rates.
Because by this time, you would have more involved, more loyal consumers than you have at present. Who will significantly revise time-spent figures on the next NRS and IRS. Who will notice the advertising and who will have the propensity and the income to buy the products and services advertised.

I know, I know, I live in Utopia.

But it will happen. And when it happens, I will be able to say to all of you: I told you so.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Levi’s launches jeans for suckers


The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Sometime in the late 1800s, PT Barnum (might have) said, “A sucker is born every minute.”
And Levi’s, who have an awesome memory, extricated this gem from the recesses of their corporate brain.
And launched a pair of iPod compatible jeans, which will cost the Indian consumer Rs. 9,000 a pop.

And they will sell many pairs.

Because, sometime in the late 1800s, PT Barnum (might have) said, “A sucker is born every minute.”

And despite what Henry Ford might have said, History is not bunk.

Dangers of a one-cent newspaper


Artificial USPs have always fascinated me; more so because, often, they work.

In what was then a hypercompetitive market for shaving creams, Palmolive introduced a new, improved version with “SGL 4”. Whatever it was, it sounded good, and hirsute Indians queued up to buy it.

Mankichand of gutkha fame got into an overcrowded bottled water business. They knew what they were doing when their product had a chemistry-defying “300% more Oxygen” that justified the name Oxyrich.

Stories such as these, despite their successes, beg the question: can’t one find true USPs?

And I ask this question again and again when one sees new media products being rolled out. In category after category, the newcomer is a clone of the incumbent. And, more often than not, the category explodes, and the biggest gainer is the incumbent, the biggest losers the newcomers.

So we have a DNA with massive discounts on the card rate, and a Times of India which has seen two rate hikes since DNA and Hindustan Times, Mumbai were launched.

And we have a Dainik Bhaskar which has dropped the price of their Jaipur edition to 50 paise. That’s their USP, give the damn thing away.

And the Jagran group has announced the imminent launch of a youth directed tabloid in Hindi. Interesting positioning and a ridiculous name: i-Next. I’m not being bigoted, but their genetics will prevent most of their prospective readers from pronouncing the name correctly. And why, for heaven’s sake, a clearly anglicized name for a clearly vernacular paper? That’s an injection of artificial cool and patently unnecessary. Cool can be cool in the vernacular as well, and the English name is almost a patronizing thought.

On the surface, one gets the impression that all these entrepreneurs and media owners want to do is to launch another paper in what is, clearly, an exploding market. No great thought on the space available for another product, on the reason for its existence. No well thought-through business plans. No great differentiator. Artificial positioning and artificial USPs rule.

And that amazes me. In no category other than media do we see risk taking on these lines. The thought seems to be, if your pockets are deep enough, you’ll succeed in time to come.

And losses don’t worry the investors too much. Because there’s another benefit, both tangible and intangible, which comes as baggage to the media product: influence.

And then, one understands the risk differently. Money is lost on the one hand, but influence and opinion creation gained on the other.

Which is why a state like Uttar Pradesh has more than a few thousand registered newspapers. Most of which make losses in the business of publishing, and make handsome gains in the business of influence peddling and power broking.

And as long as this business sense prevails, India will continue to sell content at the most ridiculous of prices – our newspapers are cheaper than those in fourth world countries.

And, therefore, the costs and profits of media products will continue to come from the advertiser. And the advertiser, which includes the government and the public sector, will continue to influence the newspaper.

50 paise for a copy of a newspaper! That’s not helping freedom of speech.

It’s endangering it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The child is the father of the man

A few minutes ago, my daughter turned eighteen.
And I worry.
Not about the normal generation gap issues, but about the closure of the generation gap.
My daughter and my son (who will be twenty in April) keep me in touch with a world that is incredibly important. And incredibly complex.
And a world that one cannot learn about by reading.
It’s a world that I learn about by watching my children, by talking to them, by being with them.
The world of the Indian teen.
Through them, I figured out that Macarena would rule, but only for the moment.
I figured out StereoNation’s Oh Carol WOULD become cool.
I learnt about the power of peer pressure when it was important that they had the Harry Potter book on the day it was released.
And I learnt that the world is more complex for them than it was for me.
And I learnt that the options that they have before them are not quite the blessing that I perceived they were.
And I learnt, from them, that Close Up Gel would threaten Colgate.
And I figured out that MTV was becoming cooler than Channel [V]. Later, I learnt that MTV was becoming uncool.
And I knew, from them, that the iPod would rule, and that the Motorazr would be a threat to Nokia.
And I knew, from them, that Kingfisher Airlines was a product for the future.
And I learnt, from my daughter, that it is important to notice the beggar on the road. And to buy him a snack.
And I learnt, from my son, that higher education in India sucks, even in premium institutes.

And I learnt, and I learnt and I learnt.

And today, my daughter turned eighteen.
In a few months from now, my son will turn twenty.

And I worry.

Tomorrow, who will teach me?

Media in 2007: Through the looking glass


It’s now that time of year when most professionals in media are trying to figure out what the next year holds for them.
I wrote a rambling piece for Hindustan Times, Mumbai on my take on the immediate future.
I’ll be posting in-depth pieces on what I believe 2007 holds for print, TV, radio and the Internet.
Watch this space.

And I found the awesome image courtesy this site, which has some terrific learnings if you want to understand the online newspaper biz.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Outlook survey for paedophiles


OK, I'm nitpicking.

But I studied in a Jesuit school, and we spent a few zillion hours understanding grammar. And a subset of those zillion in understanding antonyms and synonyms.

And when Outlook magazine's e-mailer referred to "men" in opposition to "girls", it jarred.

And I checked with Roget's.

The antonym of man is woman.

The antonym of boy is girl.

The antonym of men is not girls.

End of post.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Are TV channel polls irresponsible?

Back to one of my pet peeves.
News channels and their polls.
1.They never tell you how many people voted.
2.They only give you a choice of Yes or No.


And these two issues, combined, get on my nerves. And I would like to believe, get on the nerves of a lot of people.
For example, I surely want to know how many people think, say, a minister should resign. NOT a figure in per cent without an idea of the polling population, which might be only 10 viewers. Similarly, I would respect people who weren’t sure, not force them to say yes or no.
Today, providence gave me an opportunity to underline my point. As I was surfing, I came across a poll on a blog, powered by magikwidget. I went there, signed in and got the right to try out 25 widgets, absolutely FREE!
Here’s the first use I make of these widgets. A poll that will tell anyone how many people voted, and a poll that factors in people who have an opinion other than Yes and No
Since the traffic on my blog is not too hot, and since I post fairly regularly, I’ll cheat a bit with this one, and keep changing the date stamp so that the story stays on top for a few days.



Not allowed to vote? Magikwidget tells you why:

Chances are you have already voted in your poll. Security features built-in to MajikWidget polls will remember that your IP address has voted and will not allow you to vote more than once in a single poll. Therefore, it defaults to the poll results when it recognizes your visit as a previous voter.

This causes issues with some corporate environments where many different people have the same IP address. Our developers are working on ways to combine other methods with the IP address method to address this specific issue.

Radio Indigo: Thinking different


In a recent interview in Brand Equity, Jean Marie Dru, CEO of TBWA Worldwide, says it is more important to do things different rather than do things better.
And that’s not rocket science.
Differentiation has been a key lesson in almost every marketing textbook since marketing was born.
So why does Dru still harp on it?
Because most of us still haven’t learnt the elementary lesson.
It’s visible in the Indian print media. DNA launched with much hype and hoopla, focusing on bettering Times of India, not being different from it.
When STAR Plus took the #1 slot with KBC, Zee and Sony tried to hit back with “better” rather than different offerings – both (expensive) game shows that bombed. Now all the channels are getting on to the reality show bandwagon, hoping to better each other.
And we’re seeing the same strategies on radio.
Each channel is trying to be “better” than the other, not different.
That’s why all of Bangalore talks about Radio Indigo.
It’s different.
Not for them back to back play of packaged Hindi songs with the RJ’s contribution being limited to links.
Indigo plays no Hindi music.
And that means that their potential audience shrinks incredibly. But those who do listen to Indigo are loyal, sticky and supportive. And Indigo is selling commercial time at a commercially viable rate.
Indigo, by focusing on English is charting a brave course for itself.
Or are they?
Perhaps it’s a lot easier to be different than to be better.

Image courtesy: http://www.designbusinessengineering.com/odd_one_out.gif

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Big B as Frankenstein's monster


I know Sanjay Jha as a lover of cricket. He and his wife started cricketnext.com, lost money running it for ages, but neither of them cared a whit about the cash drain. Cricket is Jha’s passion, and thankfully, the bleeding didn’t hurt him too much.
Cricketnext.com was sold to ibnlive.com, and Jha now has a canvas beyond cricket, with his very own non-cricket blog on the site, jhakas.
And the first of his non-cricket posts that I’ve read made me sit up and think.
Titled Kaun Banega Conpati, Jha writes with (near) anguish on Amitabh Bachchan’s doublespeak and duplicity vis-à-vis politics. The same man who left “the cesspool of politics” plays brand ambassador for Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh, and this disgusts Jha.
But this side of Bachchan is unpalatable to any number of Indians, including me. So what’s new?
What startled me when I read the blog was Jha’s observation on who created the phenomenon that is Amitabh Bachchan:


“It was to do with a nasty punch in his belly during the shooting of Coolie, a typical Manmohan Desai madcap trash.
Thanks to the only TV channel the country had, the government owned Doordarshan broadcasting regular bulletins on Bachchan’s regular pulse beat, Breach Candy overnight became a tourist destination.
An anxious nation fervently prayed for Bachchan’s recovery, making the lanky tall man from Allahabad our first real Bollywood hero into a national obsession.
Mrs Indira Gandhi, then India’s prime minister left her official engagements to visit the ailing actor, as she valued his eminently revered parents and their close family bondage.
In my opinion, that was the day the real super-hero was born in India. A mass entertainer battling a grievous threat to his life, was given a special legitimacy by India’s first family.
Bachchan became a bigger household name, and captured the national imagination like no other.”


Indira Gandhi is the Frankenstein and Bachchan the monster?

Jha’s is the first piece that I’ve read editorially challenging the Big B. In a country like India, we are reluctant to criticize phenomena and idols. Jha does so, with fact and conviction. That, in itself, is refreshing.
Click here to read Jha’s entire take. It’s worth the journey.

Image courtesy: http://www.saumag.edu/

The "if cricket fails" media plan


Last night, I posted on the Kingfisher calendar, and it got me thinking about why men would give an arm and a leg to own one.
And I finally figured it out: because the Indian cricket team sucks.
So men, SEC A, B, C, D, E, 0-99 are turning to other sources of entertainment.
Enough of jest, down to serious stuff (not capitalized).

If the Indian team fails to get its act together, where on earth are you going to find these missing eyeballs? Here’s a list of my recommendations:
Formula 1: Catch SEC AB males here, English Speaking Markets, especially those who own motorcycles and cars. They are likely to have girlfriends and/or wives.
European Soccer: SEC ABC males, English Speaking and Hindi Speaking Markets, especially after CAS is a reality, and since you get commentary in two languages. They are likely to be boisterous and are unlikely to be able to pronounce names of key clubs and key players.
Golf: With Jyoti Randhawa and Jeev Milkha Singh doing so well, CEOs (even those who don’t know a club from a spade) are a guaranteed audience on golf programming.
KBC 3: It’s the format, stupid! Whether it’s Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan, KBC WILL get eyeballs. It would take a genius (and SRK is not one) to make audiences turn away from a magical format such as this one.
CNBC: With the Sensex hovering around 14000, and betting on cricket not worth a rat’s ***, the only decent place left for gamblers is the stock exchange. The cool guys will be betting on futures, whatever that is.
All news channels: For those cricket fans who want to relive their cricket watching years: You turn on the TV with optimism, and, as the day goes on, you learn that there’s no hope
FTV and Trendz: SEC ABCDE males without a DVD player or an Internet connection.

Finally, the Kingfisher Calendar.
If the TA can’t get hold of one, catch them at the nearest bar, next to a Kingfisher.

I’ll be next to a Foster’s.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Calendar keeps Kingfisher cool

Foster’s India was sponsoring the visiting Australian cricket team, and TBWA India, the then agency, was briefed on all requirements for the tour. These included a name (the winner was "The Wizards of Oz"), all clothing for the tour (including T-Shirts, Shirts, Caps, shorts, kit bags, track suits) and signage and point of purchase odds and ends, a range of merchandise for consumers, and the branding for the various launch parties and for bars and restaurants.
At the party revealing the “Wizards of Oz”, Ponting and team mingled with the glitterati, the who’s who of Mumbai.
Who proceeded to steal the signage.
And Foster’s management was ecstatic.
That, then, was the ultimate certificate to TBWA for a job well done.
Dealers called to report PoP stolen, and all but begged Foster’s sales and marketing team for replacements. And each time a dealer called, he was asking for a favour, getting closer to Foster’s and getting that one inch further away from Kingfisher.
Who ruled the beer industry then.
And who rules the beer industry now.
Their signage and branding might not get stolen, but Kingfisher’s calendar is one that many a beer guzzler would give an arm (not the drinking one) and a leg for.

The calendar costs a bomb to produce, shot as it is by Atul Kasbekar, featuring the top models and set at exotic locales.
It’s worth all the money. Every single newspaper worth the newsprint covers the launch each year; every single TV channel gives us consumers “exclusive” bits and bites. And Kingfisher (mineral water, not beer) is rejuvenated every December. I’d be more than interested in knowing the delivery by PR that Kingfisher gets on this single activity year on year, and I’ll be surprised if it’s not increasing geometrically.
The wonderful thing is, a calendar is not rocket science. Tens of thousands of firms will commission calendars this year, and Sivakasi will do no printing other than calendars for the next month or so.
Most will find their way to walls in garages and store rooms. Some will simply find their way to the waste paper basket.
Because none of the firms will commit to a calendar as a brand building tool as Kingfisher and Vijay Mallya are doing. It is not just "something to keep the customer happy". For Mallya, the calendar is the focus of his brand building for the year, and an exercise that helps keeps his beer most thrilling.

I don’t have a Kingfisher calendar. I'm in the majority.
I still drink Foster’s. I'm in the minority.
Kingfisher photo courtesy: Reuters

The-bookshelf-behind-the-CEO


There was a time when you walked in to meet a CEO or MD of a company, and your focus on the meeting (if you were an avid reader) was distracted by the books behind the person you had come to meet.
Sadly, that is less and less the case now. And that’s why this photo jumped out of the ibnlive website when I visited a story on Infosys Mentor NR Narayan Murthy’s comments on the Bharti Wal-Mart deal.
The original photo, I learnt, was published in The Economist.

The bookshelf-behind-the-CEO tells a story of its own. It gives you an insight into the man you are dealing with, of his likes and dislikes, and, often, into what makes him tick.

A similar learning is available in the reception area of offices. The newspapers and magazines that you see there give you an idea of what senior management in those companies read and expect you to read.

I wish I could zoom in on the bookshelf behind Mr. Murthy.

Photo courtesy: The Economist




Sunday, December 03, 2006

Depression continues: Get used to accidents


And on this Sunday morning, a few stray thoughts and observations, all my own work.

Like, the media is baying for Alistair Pereira’s blood, making him the poster boy of the Don’t Drink and Drive activists. We’re seeing “great” headlines, like the one in Mid-Day, “Drunk as a Skunk”. Drunk as a skunk? Except for the fact that drunk and skunk rhyme, what is the connection?
Like, the media, as it is wont to, focuses on what is marketable, and what they presume their consumers want to see and read, and ignores the rest of the points of view.
Like, car loans are easier, and more and more cars hit the roads every day. Cars with more powerful engines, cars with superior acceleration.
Like, licenses are a joke, and a one eyed man with one leg and no brains can get a license by joining a driving school and paying a “premium”.
Like, the roads are getting worse every day, and it does not require one to be drunk to lose control of the car.
Like, the police department is overstretched, and has more serious issues other than drinking and driving to look into, such as terrorism, murders, rapes and law and order situations caused by political parties and religious groups.
Like, more and more people are sleeping on roads and footpaths, and the driving surface available is decreasing by the day. And since lots of these footpath dwellers are voters, nothing will be done about them.
Like, more and more commercial encroachments eat into the little available driving surface, aided and abetted by corrupt politicians and government servants.
Like, slums which encroach on the roads house the make or break voters in a constituency, and nothing will be done about them.
Like, there is absolutely nowhere for the pedestrians to walk except on the road, and nothing is being done to address this issue.
Like, corruption, apathy and general slothfulness cause solutions to traffic problems, such as the Bandra Worli Sea Link, to take forever to be realized.
Like, every two-bit idiot goes to court to prevent solutions to traffic problems, knowing that the legal process will also take forever.

Like, why doesn’t the media focus on all the issues other than drunken driving which cause accidents?

Disclaimer: I do not know Alistair Pereira or anyone connected to him. I do drink. I do drive. Sometimes, I drink and drive. I do not endorse or encourage drinking and driving.

However, I do not pretend it does not happen.
I do not believe drunken driving is a millionth as serious a problem as the rest of the problems listed above.

So there.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Get used to riots in Mumbai

In a post a few days ago, I said that I wasn’t normally a doomsday prophet.
Incidents in the last few years cause me to worry about things – perhaps it’s just that I’m growing older.
Earlier this week, the desecration of a statue in faraway Kanpur caused Dalits to resort to violence across the country, closing down the commercial capital, Mumbai. The next morning (yesterday), Mumbai’s citizens checked the newspapers, the TV news and spoke to friends before venturing out.
Because someone in Kanpur desecrated a statue which led someone in Mumbai to torch a train.
Where is the security of living in a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai? The security which the city once prided itself in offering to citizens? None. Because, tomorrow, someone in Tirunelveli might desecrate another statue. And that could cause a train to be torched in Mumbai, or a building to be burnt down in Delhi, or cars to be stoned on NH4.
And that worries me.
And I tried to find parallels elsewhere, and I stumbled upon a discussion on the decline of nations – with reference to the US-- on a blog. Warning Signs When Nations are in Decline is an interesting read if you’re a worrywart like me. I reproduce a bit here, and the parallels are interesting, to say the least.
The strength of a nation comes in part from its ability to assimilate immigrants from diverse cultures while keeping its own culture in tact.
When massive immigration, (especially for economic reasons) is left unchecked there is a tendency for new immigrants to identify first with their personal heritage. Sub-cultures or societies within societies are formed and well defined divisions rise up like walls that isolate them and restrict their opportunity. The recent rioting in France is a classic example of what happens when the melting pot doesn't melt.
An impediment to effective assimilation is language. Immigrants isolated by language often group in cloistered sub-cultures, such as we see in Little Saigon, China Town, etc. and they have little motivation to learn the national language or appreciate their new culture.
The division caused by closed and isolated sub-cultures weakens the main societies ability to achieve necessary understandings for problem resolution as communication breaks down. Communication and consensus is fundamental for democracies to operated effectively, without that they are increasingly facing a sort of governmental gridlock (an inability to identify and prioritize needs).
Further, the isolation caused by sub-cultures create social and economic ceilings fueling inequities, injustices and prejudices. That is why its often said, "Strength does not come from diversity, but diversity united behind a common ideology."

Club all these observations, add the caste factor in India and corruption in India, and – why are we surprised at all when incidents such as the Dalit uprising occur?

Can we learn something from history? Anything at all?
Or shall we get used to the idea of such riots being a part of our daily lives?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Indiauncut turns two

Having recently discovered blogging, each day has been an adventure. As I posted here, I would often have no clue where the journey might start and where it might end. To me, it was a library where one could come across no end of authors you had never come across before.
But, like any library, one needs to have a few books that one is familiar with, which one reads again and again, never tiring of them.
One such blog, for me, is http://www.indiauncut.blogspot.com/, Amit Verma’s creation. And when I visited it earlier today, I learnt that it was now a toddler celebrating its second anniversary.
And I remembered a visual I chanced upon, in another time and in another world, and I couldn’t think of a more appropriate time to let it loose on the world.
Here’s to you, Amit.
Photo: Copyright acknowledged
Corrigendum: I've misspelt Amit's surname; it should read VARMA, not VErma. Apologies. However, I'm blaming the beer.

Criconomics 101


Of a weak dollar, of poor cricketing form and of Landmark Book Shop
Last night, the pound sterling had reached 1.95 to the US dollar, the strongest it has been in decades. What this translates into is that UK travelers will find shopping in the US an absolute delight. It also means that the US traveler will find a visit to the UK expensive. It also means relief for US exporters to the UK and worry for UK exporters to the US.
Such is economics. When someone gains, inevitably, someone else loses.
When the Indian cricket team does well, the gainers are the TV channel with the rights to telecast the matches, the sponsors of the tournament, the advertisers on the telecast, and the audiences that get entertained.
The losers are ALL other TV channels, the competitors of the sponsors and the advertisers, and the spouses and friends of the cricket fans.
And, of course, Landmark Book Shop.
And many other book shops, restaurants, malls, pubs, bars, multiplexes, roadside eateries and so on.
Last weekend was a great example: the third loss to South Africa.
South Africa is batting. India gets early wickets. Across India, cricket freaks are glued to the idiot box, thinking, this is the turning point of the South Africa Tour. India is going to bounce back!
The South African innings continues, in fits and starts. Kumble gets a couple of wickets, and the Indian fans are more optimistic than ever before. Cricket freaks are fevicolled to the sofas.
And Landmark Book Shop branches across the country remain empty. As do Shoppers Stop branches, Westside branches, and 112,785 malls across India.
India bats, and cricket owns all the eyeballs.
And India loses the fourth wicket ar 60 odd.
And I speak to my cousin Jayasankar in Chennai, whose wife Hemu is the genius who started Landmark and is the genius who runs Landmark. JS is a cricket freak, and I find him far from despondent.
“What do you think,” I ask him.
“Fantastic,” is his answer. “Millions of Indians are now leaving their houses and making a beeline for bookshops across India.”
And that, my friends, is a lesson in Criconomics 101.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Cricket now a worrying investment


The dismal performance of the Indian cricket team has implications far beyond a drop in India’s rankings or our prospects for the ICC World Cup.
If we carry on doing as badly as this, sponsors of the World Cup are seriously affected. Let us remember, they are already committed to the spend.
And, in return for the spend, they expect audiences who will receive brand and product messages.
Some of those who receive these mesages will go out and buy the products and services advertised.
And the sum total of these buys will deliver a return on investment that sponsors have factored into their projected sales for the coming year.
And, suddenly, it looks like a large part of these projected audiences will disappear. With their disappearance, sales will disappear as well.
And sponsors are in a fix – because:
1.They are already committed to the spend
2.They still need the sales

The only solution for them is to find ADDITIONAL budgets and chase the audiences wherever they might go away to from cricket. And that’s going to affect their bottomlines.
For other advertisers who hoped to cash in on the World Cup, their problem is less daunting. They have to figure out where to buy these audiences if cricket carries on in the direction it is currently headed.
And if serious money goes away from cricket, one would worry about those who have serious investments in cricket.
Like the various channels who have bought the rights to various cricket tournaments over the next five years. There is no change in the amount of money that they will have to pay over whatever contractual period, but there could very well be a significant downward revision in the amount of money they could earn.
Like the various brands who have signed on cricketers as brand ambassadors. Some of these contracts are linked to performance on the field, some are not. But all these brands will suffer.
I’m not, normally, a prophet of doom. But to fail so miserably three matches in a row suggests that it is not just a matter of poor form of a few players; perhaps we had started believing in our own hype. Perhaps the reality is that we have a poor team today, that we have a poor talent pool today.

And, perhaps, investing in cricket is a poor decision today.



Photo courtesy: Cricinfo

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Who controls the eyeballs?

Karan Johar partners NDTV in its proposed entertainment channel project. “Partners” is NDTV’s usage, not mine. In reality, Johar and NDTV have entered into an arrangement whereby Johar’s Dharma Productions gives NDTV the first right of refusal for any concepts or programmes they might come up with.
In addition, Johar will be the proposed Brand Ambassador for NDTV.
About a year ago, Rajdeep Sardesai left NDTV to join his new partners at GBN to further join TV18 and launch CNN-IBN, and later launch IBN7.
Sanjay Pugalia joined TV18 to launch Awaaz.
Sameer Nair took over as CEO of STAR TV India.
There’s a common thread running through all these developments: all the protagonists were kings of content.
And, as they should in media products, they are proving that content is indeed the king.
It’s not just in the TV space.
The past few years have witnessed bidding wars for editors and all other level of journalists in the print space.
The focus has shifted significantly away from the business heads, who, for almost a decade or so, ruled the media space – whether in print, TV, radio or the Internet.
Today, it’s the kings of content who jostle for space on Page 3, with the sales and marketing professionals considerably lower in profile.
The lessons we can draw?
If you’re investing in a new media product, get the editorial/programming team in place first. The business guys don’t hold the key to the kingdom of eyeballs.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Snappy answers to stupid QsOTD


With the Sanjay Dutt judgement due, one expected the media, especially the news TV channels, to go overboard.
But CNN-IBN’s Question of the Day (QOTD, plural QsOTD), asked by the channel after the verdict was delivered, took the cake:
“Is this the best that Sanjay Dutt could have hoped for?” the channel asked.
And thousands of poor suckers will send in their SMS opinions, and watch the graphs on the screen go up and down as if their individual votes have caused the movement.
My QOTD to CNN-IBN: How on earth can I know whether this is the best Sanjay Dutt could have hoped for?
I can have an opinion on what I had hoped for, or what I had anticipated, or what I had expected, or what Bejan Daruwala might have predicted in a newspaper I might have read.
But how the blazes can I know what Sanjay Dutt had hoped for?
How?!
Reminds me of a Mad magazine column called snappy answers to stupid questions.
So, here’s the question again, followed by a few answers of mine. Please send in your suggestions for the channel, too.


“Is this the best that Sanjay Dutt could have hoped for?”


No, he wanted a life sentence, so he’s deeply disappointed.
No, he was hoping he would hang, because Afzal is getting all the publicity.
No, he was hoping for a guilty verdict on all counts, because he prefers the jail environment to his Pali Hill residence.

Please, please send in your suggestions!


The Blackberry monsters


There was a time when it was cool just having a mobile phone.

Then came the Nokia Communicator, and it was cool to own a BIG mobile phone.

Then came the smaller phones, the 8310(?) and models like that. And the Communicator became uncool.

Finally came the Blackberry, and discussions at airport queues, lounges and inside aircraft revolved around how awesome this was. And people like me instantly became uncool.

I can't hope to write half as well as writers at The Onion. Click on the headline for their take. I can assure you the story echoes my sentiments.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Open letter to decision makers at news channels

Dear Sirs,

I am one of many millions of Indians who watch news television channels every day. I turn on the TV as soon as I wake up to catch up on what happened in the world during the time I was asleep, and I catch the headlines before I retire each night.

I do this because the newspapers lose out to you in terms of the richness of the audiovisual dimension, because of your ability to cover the instant, because of your ability to take viewers like me to wherever the news is happening.

And in this habit I am not alone. There are, indeed, millions of Indians like me who turn to news channels for information about the state of their village, their town, their city, their state, their country and their world.

Each day, these millions help you earn your living, by watching your channel and increasing your television ratings, which result in your increasing your advertising sales, your distribution and all other sources of your income.

And somewhere, in our naiveté, we believe that you are the most significant player in the fourth estate, that you have a role in maintaining checks and balances in our country, and that the country will improve and prosper because of your efforts and commitment.

And your sense of responsibility.

Which, increasingly, is in conflict with your notion of your commercial well being.

And your cameras cover whatever is more marketable, not whatever is more important.
The most recent example is when ALL of you (yes, ALL) gave short shrift to the bombing of a train in West Bengal by terrorists, and focused all your cameras and airtime on a tragic act by a young boy in Mumbai that resulted in five deaths due to his losing control of his car when under the influence of alcohol.

Inexplicably, not one of the channels even bothers to follow up on either story just a few days on. Were they ever important?

And your cameras can cause people to break the law. And they do.

Earlier tonight, some of the news channels covered an incident where hooligans damaged the house of Mohd. Kaif, one of the cricketers of the current Indian team.

I ask you only one question: would these hooligans have done what they did had your cameras not been there?

They were actors without a script, a stage, a venue, an audience. Without you, they are nothing, they have nothing.

You are the ones who own the stages on which all can perform, you are the ones who decide who can act, you are the ones who write the script, you are the ones with the power to afford them an audience.
This is a considerable power, and, used judiciously, can do the nation no end of good.
Used irresponsibly, as in the Mohd. Kaif instance, it can cause the nation no end of harm.

You are asking us to consider important only that which you consider important.
Over a period of time, I, and all other viewers of all news channels, will decide whether we are in sync with each other, or not.

And if not, we will use the only power that we have left.

And we will switch channels. And with the depressions of buttons on our remote controls, your viewers disappear, your TRPs disappear, your revenues disappear.

And then, you disappear.

Sincerely

A most aggrieved viewer

Brands Under Fire: Not just my Great Expectations

The very best of Indian minds and their take on how brands get into problems and on how to deal with problem situations. My take, here.
And S. Ramchander, one of the contributors to the exercise, writes on his experience in The Hindu Business Line.
exchange4media.com reports on it as well.
Now you know it’s not just my expectations that are great.

And a reminder. More, on CNBC TV18's Storyboard.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

When I’m murdered, I’ll speak in Tamil

“KOLKATA: The Calcutta HC has held that a dying declaration recorded in a language other than the victim's mother tongue is not acceptable as evidence in a court of law. On Tuesday, a division bench of Justice P N Sinha and Justice P S Dutta of the HC, acquitted a man, who was sentenced to life for alleged murder of his wife. Earlier, a trial court had sentenced Phatik Let — a resident of Kalua village in Birbhum — to life, based on the dying declaration recorded by two doctors in English. The HC not only detected incongruity in the separate 'dying declarations' submitted by the doctors but also noted that the people do not speak in any other language but their mother tongue in their dying moments.”

From a report in The Times of India.

This is how it works. Someone stabs me, and I’m rushed to the nearest hospital by bystanders. In a little while, it is clear that I will not survive. The doctor asks me whether I could make a statement, and I do want to. I want the person who stabbed me to be punished.

So I tell him, “I was walking along the road when John Doe stabbed me with a knife.”

The doctor stops me. He asks me what my mother tongue is. Fighting hard, I try to keep alive for a few minutes more, and tell him, “Tamil.” He tells me I need to make the declaration in Tamil.

As I’m dying, I have to remember a language that I hardly speak?
And providentially at hand should be someone who can both understand AND write Tamil?

And If these two conditions are not met my murderer gets away scotfree?

And the law is not an ass?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Brands Under Fire: Lessons from a dustbin


“There is nothing quite so useless in doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker, quoted by Kurien Mathews of TBWA India and Ivan Arthur (formerly of JWT, now of AICAR Business School).
Urged by K. Kurian (no relative of the aforementioned Kurien) of the Subhas Ghosal Foundation, the two decide to do some work on Advertising in Times of Adversity. Titoo Ahluwalia of the SGF joins the fray and gets the Foundation’s nod for such a study, and Kurien and Ivan get down to doing with great efficiency what is proving to be something eminently useful, and something that should have been done a long while ago.
Students of AICAR, Kurien and Ivan study four instances of transgression by brands in the Indian context: Pespi, Coke, Cadbury and Unit Trust of India. The process is long and arduous, but, as time goes on, it also gets infinitely intriguing. Kurien and Ivan, as a consequence of many conversations with advertising and marketing professionals, decide that there is much richer learning available if more people were involved.
And they think of an old idea that had been explored by this blogger, in another world and in another context: collaboratively writing a book in 48 hours. The idea is retrieved from the dustbin to which it had been consigned, and it’s scrubbed and given new body and sheen.
Kurien and Ivan now work the phones and e-mails (and so does Titoo, lest one forgets), and invite a veritable galaxy of stars to join the party. The invitation is accompanied by the collation of the work put in by the main protagonists thus far – in itself more than worth a read. This would save participants the effort of doing their own background hunting, and would form the foundation for a day of discussion and writing.
Most of those approached are delighted to be invited to be part of the exercise. Some find the dates inconvenient (this is not an Internet exercise, it’s a PHYSICAL gathering of the writers) and some are skeptical of the outcome.
By now, again as a consequence of discussions, the name of the proposed work changes to Brands Under Fire.
Last night, a busload of the participants arrived at Neral (where’s that? Ask Google Maps), and this morning, panel discussions got underway.
Here’s the list of the panelists, in alphabetical order by surname: Rama Bijapurkar, Mahnaz Curmally, Gerson da Cunha , Santosh Desai, Vijay Gokhale, Kiran Khalap, Pranesh Mishra, MG Parameswaran, Roger Pereira, Gita Piramal, Prof. S Ramchandar, Shekhar Swamy and Prof. Shiv Viswanathan.
And if the panel discussions, moderated by Kurien and Ivan, are an indication, the book will be a must read, unputdownable one.
There are bits of the discussion that you will be able to catch on CNBC TV18’s Storyboard over the next few weeks (thank you, CNBC TV18, for airing the highlights of the discussions and for picking up the tab, with a little help from Allianz). By this evening, the panelists would have completed the writing and, on the morrow, will be on a bus back to Mumbai.
Kurien & Ivan then take all the background material, collate the words of these worthies, work on the introduction and foreword and do all things required to make the collective thinking translate into an informative and entertaining publication.
If you’re wondering why I’m so effusive about how readable the book will be, here’s a sampler of issues raised during the panel discussions:
Brands will increasingly come under fire, and it is impossible to predict where the next danger might come from. There is no way to protect the brand in the event of a transgression, as the new “media”, including blogs and mobile phones, are ever vigilant and alert. Be more and more prepared for the day your brand is in the firing line.
Brands are under threat every day, and the attack could come from anywhere, within and without your control.
Changing media, especially news media: no longer the objective observer, the media is on the prowl for sensation. More importantly, media houses will do all that is required to achieve their own commercial objectives and to handle their own competitive environment.
The role of public relations in the communication mix for all brands will undergo a sea change, as will the need for corporate senior management to acquire more than a working understanding of the function of PR.
The trust that consumers have in news media: with all the over-hyping and the trivializing, does the consumer believe his newspaper or news TV channel less?
Enough said. I’m not a reporter. And I could do the panelists and the authors more harm than good if I paraphrased their pronouncements (read this to understand why I’m wary).
Watch Storyboard for more. When Kurien and Ivan are done, CNBC TV18 and exchange4media (the online partner to this cause) will announce it. Then go buy the book.

BBC story physically abused by Pond’s

When you attribute, for God’s sake quote accurately.
The first line in the body copy of an advertisement released by Pond’s on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women reads thus:
“Every 6 hours an Indian woman is physically abused.”

Since this is a factual statement, it is buttressed by the source for this figure – www.bbc.co.uk.

I stared at the body copy a few times, confused by
a) The low number – only four women a day abused in India? I thought more were abused in Bandra East on a good evening
b) The fact that the source was the BBC. Then the number must be correct!
c) The fact that the advertiser was Pond’s. They MUST have checked the number out!
d) The fact that O&M created the communication Surely, they must have checked as well!

But it kept niggling, and, finally, I went on to the BBC site referred to and searched for stories on violence against women in India.
Bingo, I found the reference. And this is how it reads:

“Every six hours somewhere in India a young married women is burnt alive, beaten to death, or driven to commit suicide."

Every six hours a woman DIES due to violence – that’s the truth. Not “an Indian woman is physically abused”, as the ad copy says.
And that’s one hell of a difference.
To Pond’s and O&M, just the one pigsandwings question:
HOW?

And to make the whole issue completely perplexing, a POND’S consumer is expected to SNAIL MAIL the "blue flap" so that Pond’s donates TWO WHOLE RUPEES?
WOW!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Why the Indian cricket team still rocks


Cape Verde Islands.
Burundi.
Chad.
Kyrgistan.


What’s common to the abovementioned countries?

They’re four of 147 countries ranked higher than India according to the just published FIFA rankings. Yup, you read that right. 147 countries ahead of my motherland.

And It’ll be a snowy day in Chennai before we see India qualify for a football World Cup.
That’s why I’m not despondent that Kallis scored more than the entire Indian team in the last one day match. We’re still in the top eight at cricket. And we move up for a few months to 2 or 3, and slide back to 6 or 7 at worst.
And that's why Indians watch soccer on TV when India is not playing, and cricket only when India is playing.

Beat that, Baichung!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Economist and premium confusion





Thanks to my father and my schooling, I grew up respecting and trusting media products like The Statesman, BBC Radio and The Economist implicitly.
I still trust BBC (not only radio) and The Economist implicitly.
I always understand what BBC tells me.
I am sometimes confused by what The Economist tells me, mostly because I don’t have a great understanding of the economy, the stock market and money markets.
I logged on to economist.com this evening to have a dekko at the non-premium content, and was pleasantly surprised to be offered a day pass to the premium content, courtesy Deutsche Bank. Thanks, DB.
I thanked the sponsor by watching his ad, and carried on to the rare treat.
And I read two pieces relevant to India, parts of both reproduced below.

Forecast
Nov 21st 2006 From the Economist Intelligence UnitSource: Country Forecast
Excerpts from the article
The booming economy is likely to enable the Indian National Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition government not only to remain in power until 2009, but also to relaunch its stalled programme of economic reforms. The government's greatest opportunity to do this will be in 2007, as much of its agenda in 2008 will be given over to preparations for the next general election, which is scheduled to take place by May 2009. Monetary policy will continue to be tightened in the first half of 2007, but will be eased gradually thereafter. Real GDP growth is forecast to remain strong in fiscal year 2006/07 (April-March) and then to moderate slightly in 2007/08 and 2008/09. Strong domestic demand will lead to a significant widening of the merchandise trade deficit over the forecast period, but surpluses on the services and transfers accounts will limit the current-account deficit to around 3% of GDP in 2007-08. Inflationary pressures will be difficult to control.
India's economy
Too hot to handle

Nov 23rd 2006 DELHI, HONG KONG AND MUMBAIFrom The Economist print edition
Why the sizzling Indian economy is more at risk than China's
Excerpts from the article
In contrast, India's economy displays an alarming number of signs that things have gone too far. Consumer-price inflation has risen to almost 7% (see chart), well above Asia's average rate of 2.5%. A recent report by Robert Prior-Wandesforde at HSBC finds many other signs of excess. For example, in a survey of 600 firms by the National Council of Applied Economics Research, an astonishing 96% of firms reported that they were operating close to or above their optimal levels of capacity utilisation—the highest number ever recorded. Firms are also experiencing a serious shortage of skilled labour and wages are rocketing. Companies' total wage costs in the six months to September were 22% higher than a year earlier, compared with an average increase of around 12% in the previous four years.

India's current account has shifted to a forecast deficit of 3% of GDP this year from a surplus of 1.5% in 2003—a classic sign of excess demand. Total bank lending has expanded by 30% over the past year, close to the fastest growth on record.
India's share and housing markets also look bubbly. Draft proposals by the central bank on November 17th to cap banks' exposure to stockmarkets and curb reckless lending only mildly dampened the optimism. Share prices are almost four times their level in early 2003. India's price/earnings ratio of 20 is well above the average of 14 for all Asian emerging markets. House prices have also gone through the roof: Chetan Ahya of Morgan Stanley reckons that prices in big cities have more than doubled in the past two years. Housing loans jumped by 54% in the year to June (the latest figures available) and loans for commercial property were up by 102%.
Indian policymakers seem reluctant to admit that economic growth has exceeded its speed limit over the past three years, let alone slow it.

And now for the dumbest pigsandwings question yet (watch this space, I’ll ask a dumber one not too far in the future).

Can someone please, please tell me: Is the Indian Economy doing well? Or, not?

Bollywood over news on the net




Why am I surprised?

I had done a dipstick on the rankings of Indian news websites and it threw up a number of learnings -- the most significant being that the vernacular sites ruled the Internet news space when it came to Indian audiences.

So I thought it would interesting to see how the "influential" Indian news sites did when compared to sports and bollywood sites. Not on ranking, but on a more qualitative aspect -- page views.

IndiaFM, which is the one stop shop for news and gossip on bollywood, is head and shoulders above the news portals ibnlive.com and ndtv.com.

It is reasonable to presume that most visitors to indiafm.com are Indians, but the same presumption may not be made for espnstar.com, but, considering the footprint of the TV channels ESPN and Star Sports, a significant chunk would be from India. With this assumption (I'll do a post on India figures of sports sites next week), espnstar gets interesting, too.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

MRF: 3 men and a century




It’s a landmark that I missed. Astonishingly, it’s a landmark that MRF missed and their ad agency, Lowe, missed as well.
The tyre company signs on three cricketers as brand ambassadors. The first, Steve Waugh, has since retired, having scored 32 centuries. The second, Sachin Tendulkar, is the holder of the record for the highest number of Test centuries with 35 of them. And the third, Brian Lara, scored his 34th ton yesterday, and is now nipping at Sachin’s heels.
Now add 'em up!
32+35+34 = 101.
Óne hundred and one centuries between the three MRF brand ambassadors!


And no one noticed it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

pigsandwings questions for TV channels

On live programming, you run interactive exercises that ask viewers to send you text messages.
When these programmes are repeated, the announcements (often through anchors, sometimes through supers) calling attention to the SMS polls or contests or whatever cannot be erased from the video or the audio.

What happens to these messages?
Are they still charged at premium rates to the viewers?

Can you overlay another super asking viewers NOT to vote as the text messages would be wasted?

Hello?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Hu's watching Brad Pitt?


Hu Jintao lands in India.

Sony Pix has Brad's Pitt's Seven Years in Tibet on the night schedule.

Very cool. Not.

News Television: Too many dumb pilots

I’ve discussed this angst of mine with many senior executives from news television channels in India.
I probably did it for the first time about five years ago, and I’ve kept at it to absolutely no avail.
And by now I think I must be the dumbest of the too many dumb pilots that Richard Bach wrote about in A Gift of Wings.
For the benefit of those who haven’t read the short story or don’t remember it too well, here’s the story in a nutshell:
Pilot lands north-south, sees all other pilots landing south-north, and says to himself, “there are too many dumb pilots.” Moral of the story, protagonist was wrong, the other pilots were right.
And here’s why the time has come to declare myself the enlightened pilot who finds that, in actuality, he’s the master dumbo.
I’m a glutton for news television, and the more I watch it, the more I wonder why.
News television has proven, time and again in the past few years in India, that it is virtually the Fourth Estate by itself. Whether it’s the stings, whether it’s the Mattoo case, whether it’s catching a napping Chief Minister on camera, whether it raises the issue of the correctness of allowing Budhia to run. News television has done it all.
And news products, especially television in this age, have a decided role to play in shaping the future of the country.
And news television works in 22 –25 minute segments.
So we have 22 minutes to solve a problem that grips the nation. A problem like reservation.
So we have 22 minutes to discuss an issue that impacts the future. Like, should we trust China?
So we have 22 minutes to discuss whether India’s youth is beyond redemption.
So we have 22 minutes to debate female infanticide.

So I can make this list longer by another 100 issues in the next 22 minutes.
And I won’t.
Because I’m the dumb pilot.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Monday Morning Blues

Some verse I wrote some years ago. It could be verse, and it could be better.

they said Monday,
and I agreed
they said lunchtime
I agreed
when they said the suburbs

I lost it

give me town, any day
the vibrancy
the people
the architecture
the roads
the sheer energy

who cares for the burbs
who notices what happens there
the burbs or town
the effort’s the same
But,

town gets remembered

sure, there’s more traffic
more distance to travel
and a long way home

but it’s all worth it

I got my way

and boy
what a party it was

the bombs went off like clockwork
cars were smashed
windows were shattered at the Taj
bodies everywhere
and the tv cameras lapped it all up

beautiful photographs
of the dead and the injured
interviews, vox pops

advani and sonia came running
and the cameras rolled once more
they lost count of the dead
and kept changing the figure
and replayed the blood
and the gore
again and again

I told you
town’s better

I wrote this whenever the blasts at the Taj happened, and I tried to blank it out of my mind. And every day I read about the trial of the blast accused, and what I wrote some years ago keeps coming back to haunt me. The perspective then was that terrorists think, they plan, they strategise, not only on the weapons area, but also on the marketing and publicity area.
This was a success. If the same incident took place at Wadala or Antop Hill, it would have been forgetten in a jiffy.
And there's no greater testament that targets are chosen from a PR perspective than the (successful) attack on the World Trade Center and the (failed) attack on the Indian Parliament. There are zillions of softer targets.
But would media cover an attack on them?

1150000000000


That, my friends, is the wealth (in rupees) of Lakshmi Mittal as reported in Forbes’ list of the world’s richest individuals.
I have always struggled to understand figures beyond 8 digits, and I have presumed that there are a lot like me in the world.
So I thought I’d make it easier for myself, and for you.
Like, how many Rs. 2 crore flats on Pali Hill could he buy if all his wealth was liquid?
Ans: 57500
How many C Class Mercedes Benz cars?
Ans: 460000
How many Motorazrs?

Ans: 127777777
How many annual subscriptions to the forthcoming Indian edition of the Wall Street Journal?
Ans: 3846153846

For the benefit of those of us who have to think twice before signing on a single subscription to Forbes, here’s the complete list of India’s 40 richest people.

Highlights, in case you’re in a hurry:
There are two Ambanis.
There are three from the media: Indu Jain, Subhash Chandra and Kalanithi Maran.

There is no one on the list from Advertising. Don’t think anyone in advertising is surprised.

That’s the Sunday lesson over. I do hope you’re richer for the knowledge.
Photo of Indu Jain courtesy: India Today, via Forbes

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Nobody writes about Copper Chimney




This is a messy post. Because it draws from a number of disparate incidents and conversations, and somehow attempts to link them together. I have no clue if it will turn out coherent and lucid, but I have the structure of a post in my head and have decided to carry on, regardless.
I’ll go chronologically.
About a year and a half ago, at an event organized by exchange4media, Ajay Chacko of TV18 commented on the challenges that media products faced, and on what, he felt, could differentiate one from another. It’s a statement that’s stuck in my head, and I reproduce what he said to the best of my memory. “The environment throws up a finite number of news story opportunities. What will differentiate one media product from another is the choice of stories and the treatment of the chosen stories.”
Last Wednesday, Brand Equity did a story on Omnicom that horrified me, in that the story was speculative at best and irresponsible at worst.
Earlier today (Saturday) I had a beer with someone aggrieved by the Brand Equity story (the reason I do not mention his name is to avoid suggestions of name dropping, but he will stand by my recounting of his statement).
He wasn't really aggrieved, but definitely irritated. His point was that nothing Brand Equity reported or avoided reporting would stop the growth and stability of the brand he was custodian of.
And the final disparate link is a conversation I had with Pradeep Gidwani (formerly CEO of Foster’s India) of Red Bull, Asia Pacific at Toto’s bar in Bandra, Mumbai. He was marveling at how nothing had changed in Toto’s in the last ten years.
And we got to talking about talking up brands. And we spoke of Indigo, and of Poison, and of Enigma and Club 9. And then he said to me. “Nobody writes about Copper Chimney. But it’s always full.”
And we spoke of the clubs and bars and restaurants in Mumbai that were “talked up” by the media in the last decade, and tried to think of the ones that were still alive.
Very few of the “talked up” ones, but many of the igonored-by-page-3 ones.
Toto’s and Copper Chimney do not NEED to get written about, because the products are sound. Media can talk up and talk down brands, but the final judgment will be made by a consumer.
And this is where media products will have to take a call: do they cover what they consider to be “happening” even if there is no product promise, or do they cover "boring", but intrinsically stable and strong products?
Pressures of competition cause decision makers in newspapers, news magazines and news channels to search for the differentiator in Chacko’s aforementioned finite number of story opportunities.
And bad and irresponsible and motivated choices can deliver short-term gains in readership/viewership but long-term losses in credibility.
And the decision could create either a sustainable wall that competition will not be able to breach, or a small little entry that could, tomorrow, become a floodgate.
The choice in that decision belongs to the editors.


Sadly, in many instances in Indian media houses, it also belongs to marketers.


Photo credit: Drona, whoever he may be, found on Flickr

The Importance of being Vijay Mallya


Newspapers in India make it a point to leave out names of brands in many an article, and it comes as a stunner when not one, but all the papers including the Times of India take the trouble to highlight brand names.
Vijay Mallya takes over Mumbai racing, and a press conference announces the highlights of the forthcoming season.
And all the major Mumbai papers not only give the calendar heightened attention, they list the sponsors prominently.
So why is this surprising?
One, that horse racing is a sport which has been receiving less attention and column centimeters each passing year. Two, the attention to brands is well outside the recent behavior pattern of Mumbai’s media houses, as can be seen here, and here.
But then, this is Vijay Mallya we’re talking about, not Deutsche Bank or Nimbus. And you ignore him at your peril.
What’s interesting? That Deutsche Bank as a sponsor of racing finds mention in the article, while Deutsche Bank as a brand owner couldn’t make the caption in the photograph of the launch of their own credit card.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Of Blogging and Sanjay Bhatgaonkar


Like I’ve said many a time and oft, I had to understand Orkut because of the amount of time my daughter spent on it.
I understood gaming because my son spent so much time on it.
I understood blogging because my brother spent so little time on it.
And he gave me something to think about. He also gave me something to read.
And I started reading blogs. In February this year, when JP launched http://www.confusedofcalcutta.com/.
Starting with JP’s blog I’ve been on many journeys, visiting blogs of people who comment on c-o-c, visiting links that c-o-c recommends, and so on.
And every day is a different journey, depending on what JP blogs about, and depending on who comments.
And I become the richer for it.
The blogosphere becomes my library.
I walk in, and I stroll around, and, depending on my mood, I pick up a blog. It could be zigzackly, it could be indiauncut, it could be desipundit, it could be confusedofcalcutta, it could be some random site that I recall, it could be some site that’s linked to mine.
And from there, it could be one of zillions of sites that any of these bloggists sees fit to write about or link to.
And from that blog, the whole journey starts all over again.
And I have no idea where I would start my next journey, nor an idea of where I might end up.
I might start with politics, then read about the English language, then something about sport, and then Godknowswhat.
Imagine a library stocking only authors that you never knew existed.
And imagine picking up a random book and experiencing the pleasure of having discovered a great read.
To me, that’s the blogosphere.
And when I’m in a hurry, I go to desipundit. Visiting desipundit is like asking someone for advice on where you should start. And I thought, what a terrific idea, an agglomeration of the very best that the blogosphere had to offer.
And I read some stuff I loved, some I liked, some I disliked and some I hated.
And that’s the joy of reading: the experimentation, the discovery.
And I thought of how little I knew of this blog world, and how much I’ve missed by the ignorance.
And I thought of a former colleague, Sanjay Bhatgaonkar, from TBWA Pune, who once made a small killing on the strength of an idea: he registered a URL called sitenavigation.com, and then proceeded to populate it with content. All it had were links to various sites and articles on site navigation.
And he was ahead of desipundit by eons.
And I don’t think he cares about the money that he made. All he cares about is that his idea found recognition in a large, competitive and harsh world.
That is the power of the Internet. The ability to make a Sanjay Bhatgaonkar recognized.
And the power of the blogosphere? The ability to introduce me to desipundit, and from there, the ability to make me remember Sanjay Bhatgaonkar.

CNN’s India focus: Depth, width, numbers and polls

It’s not often that one sees American media products focusing on India, and the CNN.com special on our country is a refreshing departure.
It’s not a skim-the-surface kind of magazine – it’s surprisingly almost Economist-ish in the width and depth.

The special, Eye on India, is a curious collection of features and ranges in timeline from the very recent to the not-so-recent. The list of stories below is only indicative of all that is on the microsite, but I thought I’d put it there to save you one click.

There’s a poll on the page, too. Asking visitors whether they thought India and Pakistan would ever solve the Kashmir issue. Out of 7000 votes cast when I visited the page, more than 60% thought that the problem was here to stay.

My favourite feature? The one on the dance bar girls.

Helping hand for rural women
'Imitate' gives way to 'innovate'
The new faces of outsourcing
India and China: Rivals or partners?
A eunuch's tale from the slums
Unlikely hero for unclaimed bodies
India takes stage as global player
Bar dance girls on the march
India's energy appetite balloons

Thursday, November 16, 2006

pigsandwings impact: CNN IBN -- Well begun is half done

CNN IBN is currently conducting a poll to identify icons of the four states which form the Golden South.
A welcome addition is the Disclaimer at the bottom of the relevant page on ibnlive.com, which states:
"The results reflect the views of internet/mobile users who have chosen to participate in the poll."
This is something pigsandwings had requested of news organisations earlier.
Thanks. Can we have the same transparency on the TV channel, please?

Getting future ready: agencyfaqs and Hindustan Times get comment enabled

One medium on the Internet, and the other, a print publication.
http://www.agencyfaqs.com/ becomes a virtual blog, with the reader now having the power to post comments or read others’ comments without leaving the article. If agencyfaqs readers do embrace the opportunity, the possibilities are immense.
From being the world’s number two Internet site on advertising (their claim), they could transform themselves into India’s largest blog – and perhaps one of the top few thousand in the world.
Why not? They already have a base of users, they’ve built the community, they have the advertising, and they are, to tens of thousands, a habit.
And on the print front, Hindustan Times now has the e-mail id of the journo responsible for each article at the end of the piece – making something as one-dimensional as a newspaper significantly (theoretically) more interactive. At least HT has given readers (and their journalists) the opportunity. View this development in conjunction with their web play, and HT is getting future ready.
We live in interesting times – and pigsandwings will be watching developments closely.

More on kite flying: Angelina and India

Angelina Jolie is adopting an Indian baby, the baby will be called India. So said a million news reports emanating from all corners of the country.
The Truth Quotient in these reports?
Zero, as she proved in her press conference yesterday, scotching the rumours and denying that such a move was ever on her mind.
Yesterday, I posted on Brand Equity’s kite flying.It’s a convenient way to “break” news. If the speculation, or some element of it, providentially proves to be correct some day in the future, the paper could always claim, “as first reported in our paper”.
And if the speculation is wrong, who cares?
No one.

This kind of reporting deserves some more attention. A longer post is due, perhaps over the weekend.