Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Maximum Ripoff Price

And there’s no place that it’s more visible in India than with books, the reverse of the Maximum Retail Price. Rarely is it misused on the distaff side, as is the case with many product categories.
Buy a book, and, three days later, find that it is available at a price that is considerably less than you paid for it.
Three days might be an exaggeration. Sometimes it’s two. Sometimes it’s pre-publishing. And suckers like me buy the book (I didn’t buy any of the two pictured here, for various reasons) only to kick ourselves in the unmentionables for being in such a Godawful hurry.

I’d feel cheated as hell if I paid cover price for Mush’s book. One, because the book is what it is. Two, because Mush would have got a higher royalty out of my stupidity.

And what about those who bought ShahRukh’s book at rack rate? Well, it takes all kinds of people to make the world we live in.

Er, it’s BhaskAr

Media houses do this all the time, typos in their own ads. This one from the net. Someone (one who hasn’t necessarily bought a book in his life at rack rates – refer post above) needs a kick you know where.

Reality show scams: "Don't shoot me, I'm only the piano player"

During his 1883 tour of the United States, Oscar Wilde saw this saying on a notice in a Leadville, Colorado, saloon.

And who cares about Oscar Wilde, and who cares about the Wild West, and who cares about shooting the messenger.

And what’s all this got to do with the price of fish? Or a blog on media and advertising?
We’ve got this debate going on about Nach Baliye contestant Manav Gohil and his wife Shveta buying 200 BPL Mobile SIM cards which they gave to friends and urged them to send text messages in their support.

Someone figured this out, and Manav and his wife were branded cheats. In parallel, a witch hunt began for BPL Mobile, the unfortunate service provider to have been chosen by Manav as the solution to his popularity problems. How did BPL Mobile sell him so many cards? Is the show rigged?

The simple truth is, BPL Mobile had every right to sell 200, or indeed 2000 or 20000 cards to Manav, as long as the paperwork was in place.

The simple truth also is, Manav had the right to send 20 messages from each one of these cards to the short code number assigned by STAR.

And finally, the simple truth also is that STAR had the right to allow Manav to send 20 messages from each card that Manav had bought.

If we get out of this reality show nonsense, and find a parallel in the real world (I know this is complex, but you know what I mean), STAR is the equivalent of the Election Commissioner, Manav the equivalent of the candidate, and BPL Mobile (or any other mobile service provider) the equivalent of the ballot paper.

The Election Commissioner frames the rules: that the candidate can canvass for votes, and each eligible voter (in this instance, a mobile phone number) can use up to 20 ballot papers (in this instance, text messages).

So where’s the problem? None. The Election Commissioner, the candidate and the ballot papers are all within the rules and parameters framed.

If I am stupid enough to send 20 text messages to ANY number, that’s my problem. If, as Sameer Nair says (not quite, I've paraphrased and dramatised it), these 4000 votes wouldn’t make a damn of a difference, and he felt sorry for Manav, that’s Manav’s problem.

And the media has gone after BPL Mobile as the biggest culprit in this non-issue.

It’s gone back to the old days, they’re shooting the piano player.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Close down Orkut, Sack the teachers!

The Orkut debate continues, with Anushree wanting to pull the plug on the“I hate India” genre of groups. History is a great teacher, and I attempted to learn a bit. First off, here’s a perspective on overreaction from Herblock’s History, commenting on anti-subversive groups and the havoc they often wreak – even in civilized societies.
For those in a hurry, take a dekko at a telling cartoon by Herb Block, here. If you think clicking is a pain, just read on – this, a frightening illustration of overreaction and the impact thereof.

During the postwar anti-communist campaign hundreds of elementary and high school teachers were investigated and lost their jobs (emphasis mine), sometimes as a result of being named by proliferating "anti-subversive" groups and individuals. Some individuals compiled and circulated their own blacklists, which were accepted by frightened employers and casting directors who feared being blacklisted themselves if they sought facts and fair play. The motives of some self-serving or vindictive accusers were summed up by Herb Block in a phrase: "If you can't crush the commies, you can nail a neighbor."

Amongst those who believe subversive groups should be kept off the face of the earth must include the MI5, and you could get a glimpse of their view here in a 1994 speech by the then head honcho.

There are huge dangers in going after groups of people with special or different or unusual or (to us) unpalatable tastes. There are the dangers of jingoism, dangers of overreaction, and indeed, dangers of actually making a marginal group more popular by “victimising” them.
Brainwashing is a danger that Anushree alluded to. Impressionable minds can, indeed, be brainwashed by social networking groups on the net – but also off it. India provides great examples – where has Orkut or the Internet been used to disseminate information to attract and brainwash youth into the various insurgency groups that we have been witness to, and victims of?

The positive contributions of Orkut – such as students being able to discuss the merits and demerits of an educational institute that they have short-listed as a possible destination, as one example – are swept under the carpet.
One is not suggesting for a moment that people breaking the law of the land on social networking sites should be allowed to carry on, regardless. Find them and proceed against them within the limits of the laws of the land – as one would to groups that broke the law in the non-Orkut world.
But shut down Orkut or other sites of similar ilk? That’s like throwing away the baby with the bathwater.
Back to Herb Block. For God’s sake, let’s not nail our neighbours.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Vernacular coup in Internet news

A few days ago, a post referred to the traffic rankings of the dotcoms of NDTV and CNN-IBN vis-à-vis major English newspapers on http://www.alexa.com/.
And it struck me that I was doing the babalog thing, looking only at English news channels and English newspapers – what if one took a look at web offerings of vernacular channels and newspapers as well?
Surprise, surprise. Eenadu is the king of the heap, with the best rank of the newspaper websites that I tracked. Malayala Manorama is up there in the arc lights, a little behind ndtv.com and a little ahead of ibnlive.com. There are a total of eight vernacular publications in the top 20 websites – and babalogs like me thought the Internet was very English.
Other interesting facets? Dainik Jagran and India TV are way beyond the 5,00,000 rank. The timesofindia.com rank is probably skewed negatively by the intense cannibalization by indiatimes.com, which one didn’t consider in this set of news offerings.
www.mid-day.com is interesting, considering it’s an afternoon tabloid, till recently virtually a single edition print product.
Also, (this is only a gut feel – no knowledge that I have) India Today MUST be planning a significant move in the net space. Can’t believe they are happy languishing at the bottom of the pack.
So, here go the questions.
Is net readership in the vernacular much larger than one thought?
Will vernacular news sites dominate as vernacular newspapers do?
Combined influence (print+TV+net+radio) will be interesting to analyse. I’ve included radio, as the Government now seems open to allowing private FM players to enter the news and current affairs game. Does anyone know of a study on this front?
Are Internet players missing a trick in the vernacular area? What about an eBay, an Orkut, a contest2win in Malayalam and Telugu and Bengali?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

BW disrobes Gen M

If you haven’t laid your hands on the special issue of BusinessWorld with a “Peek Into the mind of India’s Youth” as the cover story, read it online here (registration required, but it’s free!). Conducted by BW and Hansa Research, the survey’s results, though largely predictable, are reassuring for all brands banking on super spends by Gen M.
The use of the Internet and the efficacy finds attention in a mini case study of http://www.sunsilkgangofgirls.com/ . So does the blogging phenomenon. Could they leave out Orkut? No, they couldn’t!
And the shocker of the findings? Indian youth is getting comfortable with their dark skin, so the future’s not fair or lovely for Fair and Lovely.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Orkut and the Ku Klux Klan

Thanks to the “I hate India” and similar groups, Orkut is taking a lot of flak in the media and outside, with a number of crazies asking for it to be shut down, regulated beyond imagination, and so on.
But Orkut is forever.
I am on no Orkut group. I once got onto a Ryze group, but did nothing with it other than post a rudimentary profile.
Orkut means nothing to me.
But it means a lot to my daughter.
She’s part of a number of groups on Orkut, including one that discusses Osho chappals. I swear that’s true.
And she Orkuts (no reason why it shouldn’t be a capitalized verb, if one can be Bangalored) for an hour or so each evening.
What she’s doing on the Internet is what another generation did outside of it. She’s catching up with like-minded people – not all of them anonymous and unknown. As time goes on, the group shrinks into grouplings and grouplets, tighter and tighter as the Orkuters find more and more common ground.
Objectors to Orkut should take a look at the Orkuts that we have had for years in the real world. Like the adda in Kolkata. Like the kitty parties anywhere in India. Like the Lion’s Club, like the Rotary, like chess clubs and carom clubs. Like the Laughter Clubs, like jazz societies and poetry readings and drama groups.
They’re all Orkuts.
And that’s the reason Orkut means nothing to me. I already am a groupie in a number of real life Orkuts. I have groups that I drink with, that I party with, that I work with, that I holiday with. I’m 45, and I already have all the Orkuts that I need.
My daughter is 18, still searching for her real life Orkuts. She’ll find them as she experiences life.
As for those who object to the “I hate India” kind of groups and to the pimping and the soliciting, may I remind them that they exist in the real world, too? Where they can, and do, cause a lot more trouble than in a virtual one?
We’ve had the Ku Klux Klan, we’ve had the Naxalbari movement, and we’ve had all shades of terrorists. And they met or meet in physical spaces, saw or see each other in the flesh and plotted or plot their crimes.
Rather than ban these groups on Orkut, one would have thought the authorities would be surreptitiously getting into these groups in order that they might have a better idea of those behind them and what they might be up to. Easier than phone tapping and satellite surveillance, one would think. Shut them down, and the struggle is harder.
On another note, the thought of the “I hate India” or the “I hate Pakistan” groups causing trouble is ridiculous – it’s like Dawood Ibrahim wearing a T-Shirt that says “I’m a Terrorist” and walking down Mumbai’s Marine Drive on a Sunday morning.
Orkut will have to defend – unnecessarily, in my opinion – that they are a danger to none. They will do so, and they will continue doing what they’re doing for a long time to come.
Because there’s one abiding reason why Orkut is forever.
It mirrors life.

Perfect placement? Or, not?

Look at the front page headline and story. Now look at the advertisment above it.
Life is made much more beautiful by coincidences like this one.
Great front page, btw.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Too many newspapers, the loo, and time spent

There was a time, before DNA, Mumbai Mirror and Hindustan Times launched, when life in Mumbai was simple.
The newspaper reached your house at 6.30 am, because all the newsvendors had to do was to insert BT into ToI and hop onto their cycles.
Now, they’ve got to insert Mumbai Mirror into the ToI as well (or NBT into the ToI, depending on what you opted for), then they’ve got to insert DNA Money and After Hrs into DNA, insert HT Style into HT, and so on.
That’s the minimum. On Mondays, they’ve Education Times as well….
You get the drift.
And all this inserting takes time – time that cannot be crunched by automation.
So the start time for the paper route is shifted by at least half an hour or more, with the result that the newspaper, which used to reach me at 6.30 reaches me at 7.30 (The vendor takes more time to cover the distance on his cycle than he did pre-newspaper-explosion-in-Mumbai, as he's carrying a heavier load).
Which plays havoc with my loo cycle, which has been forced to shift from 6.30 to 7.30, too.
As newspaper barons have reminded us time and again, I cannot carry my TV with me into the bathroom. So I am forced to wait for the paper, twiddling my thumbs and smoking more morning cigarettes than I should.
And after the papers arrive (I read all of them), life is a rush – not the leisurely one hour I had for them earlier.
Because nothing else has changed. I still need to leave my house by nine, and the day still has just 24 hours.
And this is not happening to me alone. It’s happening to everyone in Mumbai.
Which brings me to the questions that I seek answers to:
What happens to time spent?
Not for those who have decided to buy more than one paper – but even for those who buy just the one?
Will NRS and IRS show a drop in time spent?
Will advertising in Mumbai papers be less effective?
Will newspapers soon be delivered on scooters and mobikes like the pizza guys do?
And the final question: is there a case for an early morning edition?

Not all fine dining!

Told you that I would toggle between the sublime and the ridiculous.
This one's sublime.
As you can see, not all the Indian delicacies served at The Aryans can be described as mouth watering, only some.
And go there only with family or friends.
Enjoy the ambient setting!
Truth in advertising?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Cricket: If you plan on an ambush, check out the laws

Last week, my son and I went to watch the New Zealand-Sri Lanka ICC Champions Trophy match at the CCI (we got comps). Having read the terms and conditions printed on the reverse of the ticket carefully, we did not carry mobile phones, bags, glass bottles, mirrors, jholas, knives or weapons – all disallowed by the BCCI Champions Trophy 06 Organising committee, made clear in instruction number 2.
But this post is not about instruction 2, but instruction 11, which reads:
“Ambush Marketing in any form is strictly prohibited and will result in expulsion from the Stadium as per the AIP (Anti Infringement Policy).”
A few days earlier, Ricky Ponting was investigated under the same AIP (details at http://www.financialexpress.com/latest_full_story.php?content_id=143946) when he spoke at an event hosted by ING Vysya. (He was subsequently cleared, as the story will tell you).
Yesterday, at lunch with a friend who is a brand custodian, the biryani was interrupted by calls on the legality of a promotion that they proposed to carry out involving the Champions Trophy – of which they are not official sponsors.

What is becoming increasingly apparent is that there is not enough knowledge in advertising agencies, media buying houses and with brand managers on the mechanics on ambush marketing, and on the specific laws and implications when it comes to use and misuse during the ICC Champions Trophy and the ICC Cricket World Cup.

Might be a good idea to get up to speed (not the Malcolm kind).
Or find your A&M budget going to lawyers and the ICC.

Date Rape

We had to suffer the fact that most of the media referred to 11/7 as 7/11.
Now we have to suffer http://www.cricketnext.com/ using the American date styles on their site.
American style on cricket? Cool.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Pepsi protects investment in Saurav

What do you when a celebrity has run out of steam? Or, as in the current instance, a sporting megastar is no longer good enough to play in the top drawer, and you have a contract that commits you to pay him for the next few years?
Saurav Ganguly is no longer India’s captain, no longer in the Indian team, no longer in India’s probables. And he’s contracted to Pepsi. What does Pepsi do?
They talk to JWT, and JWT pulls off an absolute stunner.
Overnight, with a simple commercial, Saurav the superstar is transformed to Saurav the superfan.
The storyboard (http://www.agencyfaqs.com/advertising/storyboard/Pepsi/2375.html) clearly takes into account the fact that Saurav is no longer in the team -- he's not even dressed in national colours, but in mufti. Saurav, humility personified, says that he will practice hard and attempt to get back into the Indian team. But till he does, he will root for India, he says, and exhorts all of India’s billion cricket fans to join him in supporting India.
Pepsi is one of many brands to have signed on Saurav, and it’s the only one to have found a way to protect their investment in Brand Saurav.
The Subhas Ghosal Foundation is currently working on a book on Advertising in times of Adversity, which will study cases of how brands dealt with problem situations and, in some cases, asked for, and received, consumer forgiveness.
With the Pepsi commercial, JWT makes a strong case for consumers to forgive Ganguly.
I can’t speak for the country as a whole, but I can speak for myself, surely.
You’re forgiven, Saurav.
But I doubt I'll be yelling the crazy Pepsi chant with you.
One day, before the World Cup is over, I might even understand what the chant means.

A freedom could be lost – all for the airing of a condom ad

Every time the Government of India suggests that TV channels get their act together and self regulate content or face some kind of censorship, there are howls of protest from the protectors of the freedom of the press – and from the management of TV channels.
And often, these protests are hollow.
While the English movie channels are in discussion with the censorship board to find a way out of the adult content imbroglio, a lot of the players forget the past.
STAR, for example, forgets that for the first few years of their existence, all content had to conform to the rules defined by the Television Entertainment Licensing Authority of Hong Kong, and that they had an internal Standards and Practices (S&P) department which cleared every single commercial that went on air.
S&P checked commercials for a number of issues, including, for example, claims. I remember the Ponds Age Defying Complex ad was rejected for making claims that could not be verified by an independent agency, and the commercial went on air with a super with some clarifications.
Ads were rejected for being unsuitable for certain time bands, too. For example, you could not advertise alcohol, innerwear (those days we called them underwear) and condoms till 9.00 PM.
And the fear of TELA ensured that STAR conformed. It was self regulation: TELA did not require you to check with them before airing any content; they monitored the channels and you got more than rapped on the knuckles if you stepped out of line. You could lose your license to uplink.
When Sony launched, they all but photocopied STAR’s S&P book – and the S&P department at Sony was all-powerful.
Today, I don’t know if either STAR or Sony has an S&P department at all.
And today, when all the channels want self-regulation, the first thing they need to demonstrate is that they are committed to self-regulation.
That’s why there is more than a degree of concern when SET MAX airs condom ads all through their telecast of the Champion’s Trophy.
Sony’s stated objective when they got into the business of airing live cricket was to broad base the viewership. Innovations such as Extraa Innings were meant to make the game more inclusive, to get families to watch the telecast rather than just adult males.
And you air condom ads all through the game?
Perhaps, before they win the freedom to air adult content without Government supervision and interference the channels need to demonstrate that they are indeed adults.
Or face the prospect of being treated like children.
And be told what they can do and what they cannot.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Netting the News Junkie

While advertisers are focused on the NRS and ABC figures of the major newspapers and news magazines and on the TRPs of the major English news channels, there’s a quiet battle in progress in the net space. While timesnow.tv clearly is yet to get their Internet act together, http://www.ndtv.com/ and http://www.ibnlive.com/ are furiously competing for clicks.
A cursory look at the graph reproduced here doesn’t require one to be a statistics graduate to zoom in on the amazing parallel curves produced by the traffic ranks as measured by http://www.alexa.com/.
While TV18 has a visible and in-your-face internet strategy with the announcement and launch of Web18, there’s no such buzz on NDTV’s net gameplan – but the consistent gap between ndtv.com and ibnlive.com suggests that someone at NDTV is doing something right.
Two news television channels attracting major traffic on their internet sites. Both, intriguingly, are outdoing newspaper websites including http://www.hindustantimes.com/ and http://www.mid-day.com/.
And, for good measure, http://www.timesofindia.com/.
Is it time to dilute our fascination with tracking readers and viewers in the news space and focus, just that little bit, on the battle for the surfers?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Needed: An Election Commission for Media

You’re watching a show on any of the news channels that we have access to at the depression of a remote control button. There’s a burning issue being debated, and the channel seeks to get a finger on the pulse of the country by conducting an SMS and/or e-mail poll.
So far, so good.
Within minutes of the programme starting, out pops a graphic showing the current status of the poll.
Let’s say it shows 87% for and 13% against the motion being discussed. The anchor draws attention to the graphic, and the panel discussion is now sidetracked by the “finding”.
How many people have actually seen the programme? No one knows. Hindsight and the Peoplemeter and aMap will prove it to register 1 or 2 TRPs.
How many people have voted at all? No one tells us.
How many people watched the programme and chose not to vote at all? No one tells us.
It wouldn’t matter too much if the question being asked was along the lines of “What’s your preferred colour… black or white?”
It does matter if the question being asked is “Should Afzal hang?” or “Is the Prime Minister soft on terrorists?” and such like.
It’s not TV alone that conducts these polls; newspapers, magazines and internet sites use similar polls, with a similar lack of transparency.
Maybe I don’t want Afzal to hang. But when I watch TV and discover that an astonishing 87% want him to go to the gallows, I stop and think: am I in such a minority?
I’m not. Because only a few hundred, perhaps a few thousand, would have bothered to send an SMS registering their “opinion”. And in a country as large as India, with one billion people as Pepsi and Standard Chartered Bank remind us, a few thousand is but a droplet in a an oceanling.
And since we’re so good at aping the West and at remixes, perhaps Indian media houses could take a leaf out of what western media houses do when conducting such polls.

They add a caveat that the poll reflects the opinion of only those who chose to poll and they clearly tell you the number of people who voted. Take a look at what CNN does on cnn.com.


Because media and advertising fascinate me.
Because just when I think I've found the answer to a vexing question, I'm proven wrong.
Because media and advertising have grown exponentially in India in the past five years and there isn't enough healthy debate on these two industries.
Because media is media and advertising is advertising -- but the twain do meet.
Because both media and advertising affect the lives of each one of us, and everything that they do has implications on the economy, on society, on the rich and the poor, on Budhia the wunderkind and Ratan Tata.
Because we have a million questions that we NEED answers to, some of them in the public domain and some of them not. Some of them sublime, and some of them ridiculous. Like...

  • Are sting operations justified?
  • Does the DTH policy of all operators having similar content make any sense?
  • Should FDI be allowed in newspapers?
  • Is ABC relevant anymore?
  • Do we need a third awards for judging advertising creativity?
  • When is a scam ad a scam ad?
  • Do news television anchors HAVE TO SHOUT SO LOUD?
  • When is breaking news breaking news and when is exclusive exclusive?
  • Can the current margins in media buying continue?
  • Why do eminent guests on news TV programmes put up with rudeness from anchors?

One could go on and on. I will. And hopefully, so will a number of those who choose to visit the blog.