Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Hang them all, not just the Times of India

Amit Varma continues to provide fodder for thought. In the latter half of his blog on newspapers and regulation, which I sort of added to, he writes on the ethics of selling “editorial space”.

“Anyway, the high point of the evening was the presence of Bhaskar Das, the executive president of the Times Group, who rightly got assailed about how the Times of India sells editorial space. “We don’t do it on all the pages,” he argued. “Only some of them.”
The best moment came when someone asked Das why the ToI didn’t have the basic decency to indicate which articles were paid for. His reply:
“The clients wouldn’t like that.

As flummoxed as I was on the fact that the debate on newspaper monopoly still exists, the hanging of Times of India as the only sinner in “selling” editorial space astonishes me more. Every single newspaper, newsmagazine and news channel worthy of being called a newspaper, newsmagazine or news channel is guilty of the same crime – yet it is only The Times of India Group which gets the rap.
This morning, in addition to various menus of pizza joints in an around Bandra, out popped a small booklet when I picked up my morning papers. It was an auto guide complimentary from today’s Hindustan Times.
Some gems from the “editorial”.

“Bajaj Auto’s new Kristal….. surely the most intelligent offering to make the NextGen happy.”
“Just two years old, Excell Autovista Pvt. Ltd or popularly known as AUTOVISTA … has grown at a staggering pace. The company has grown at fast pace….”
“The (Wasan) group’s focus has always been on “maximum customer satisfaction”….which has given the group an edge over its competitors.”
“Phoenix Hyundai not only believes in providing unmatched service to its customers...”

One could go on an on.
Nowhere in the booklet does HT tell the reader whether the editorial is paid for or genuinely deserving of the space (and the superlatives).
India Today does it with their Impact features. So do a number of other publications without branding the “advertiser’s” features.
All draw the line on where in the paper it’s done. The page three kind of supplements are considered by most managements and editorial honchos as harmless, and these deals (official or otherwise) will rule. Sometimes, it’s linked to the sponsorship of a ground event, an annual budget commitment, and so on.
Often, it’s a lot more covert. Where there is an unwritten (but surely committed) quid pro quo between a media salesman and the buyer. “I’ll commit this release, but you ensure my MD is interviewed” kind of arrangement.

And I’ll put my foot in my mouth: there is NO NEWS product in the country where it doesn’t happen. NONE.

And none of them has the decency to tell us what is paid for and what is not. None.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Grandpa’s brand, product and media journey

Every now and then, I cut and paste or write about some absolute junk. Often, it’s just something that caught the eye and that I found entertaining. Today’s cut-paste job is more than entertainment – it’s an amazing perspective on the world we live in, the world of brands, the world of media and the world of marketing.

What you have to guess is, how old is the grandfather in the story that is related below?
One evening a grandson was talking to his grandfather about current events. The grandson asked his grandfather what he thought about the shootings at schools, the computer age, and just things in general. The Grandfather replied, 'Well, let me think a minute, I was born before:
polio shots
frozen foods
contact lenses
Frisbees and
the pill
There were no:
credit cards
laser beams
or ball-point pens
Man had not invented:
air conditioners
clothes dryers
and the clothes were hung out to dry in the fresh air
and man hadn't yet walked on the moon
Your Grandmother and I got married first, . . and then lived together. Every family had a father and a mother. Until I was 25, I called every man older than me, 'Sir'. And after I turned 25, I still called policemen and every man with a title, 'Sir.' We were before gay-rights, computer- dating, dual careers, daycare centers, and group therapy. Our lives were governed by the Ten Commandments, good judgment, and common sense. We were taught to know the difference between right and wrong and to stand up and take responsibility for our actions. Serving your country was a privilege; living in this country was a bigger privilege We thought fast food was what people ate during Lent. Having a meaningful relationship meant getting along with your cousins. Draft dodgers were people who closed their front doors when the evening breeze started. Time-sharing meant time the family spent together in the evenings and weekends-not purchasing condominiums. We never heard of FM radios, tape decks, CDs, electric typewriters, yogurt, or guys wearing earrings. We listened to the Big Bands, Jack Benny, and the President's speeches on our radios. And I don't ever remember any kid blowing his brains out listening to Tommy Dorsey. If you saw anything with 'Made in Japan ' on it, it was junk. The term 'making out' referred to how you did on your school exam. Pizza Hut, McDonald's, and instant coffee were unheard of. We had 5 &10-cent stores where you could actually buy things for 5 and 10 cents. Ice-cream cones, phone calls, rides on a streetcar, and a Pepsi were all a nickel. And if you didn't want to splurge, you could spend your nickel on enough stamps to mail 1 letter and 2 postcards. You could buy a new Chevy Coupe for $600, . . . but who could afford one? Too bad, because gas was 11 cents a gallon. In my day: ' 'grass' was mowed, ' 'coke' was a cold drink, ' 'pot' was something your mother cooked in and ' 'rock music' was your grandmother's lullaby. ' 'Aids' were helpers in the Principal's office, ' ' chip' meant a piece of wood, ' 'hardware' was found in a hardware store and ' 'software' wasn't even a word. And we were the last generation to actually believe that a lady needed a husband to have a baby. No wonder people call us 'old and confused' and say there is a generation gap... and how old do you think I am?
I bet you have this old man in are in for a shock! Read on to see -- pretty scary if you think about it and pretty sad at the same time. This man would be only 59 years old ! ! !

Monday, February 26, 2007

Debating regulation in print

Amit Varma was at the Kitab Festival, catching up with friends, as he writes on his blog – and “also part of a session on journalism in India, and found some eminent people expressing the view that journalism needs to be regulated in India. The logic: The Times of India is indulging in monopolistic practices, and, in Delhi, forming a cartel with the Hindustan Times. To ensure competition, there should be government regulation.
I couldn’t think of a worse solution to the problem. (Leave aside the issue of whether there really is a monopoly emerging; Mumbai alone has HT, DNA and IE on the stands, among daily broadsheets.) The industry actually needs fewer controls, not more.”

I couldn’t agree more – and have more reasons to agree with Amit that more regulation and controls is asinine.
Firstly, the dominance of major English newspapers (including the Times of India) is now less marked, as is proven by the preponderance of the vernacular press in the top newspapers of the country when measured by IRS and NRS. And in print media, one has to bear in mind the influence of major news magazines in English, India Today, Outlook and Week, which each have their own constituencies. Alliances such as the Hindustan Times – Times of India agreement for the Delhi market are not new – one forgets the alliance between STAR TV and the Ananda Bazar Patrika Group for STAR News, for example, or the various loose and case-by-case agreements inked between, say, The Hindu and CNN-IBN or NDTV and Business Standard.
Secondly, the increasing role and influence wielded by other media – television and the Internet. Where, too, the dominant products are vernacular products, not those in English.
Interestingly, while we have controls in place for print and TV, there is none and can be none for the Internet insofar as anyone could start an India-focused news product while being based anywhere in the world, including Tuvari.
There is no greater measure of dominance than the advertising rate card of various media products – and all media sales heads of the most “monopolistic” products -- including the Times of India -- will attest to the fact that effective rates are today under pressure more than ever before.
There is no argument about whether or not the consumer needs to be protected against monopolistic media – but that is far from the case today. If a half decent media planner were to do a run on the total circulation of any large publication house vis-a-vis the entire circulation today and compared it with the same figures 15 years ago, I would be shocked if the numbers showed more rather than less dominance.
Again, if one measured the influence of newspapers vis-à-vis all news products today as opposed to 15 years ago, I am certain the numbers will be significantly against newspapers, and not for them.

What confuses me is that this debate still rages. When, in every newsstand in every city and town in India, it is the choice that confuses the reader, not the lack of it.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Gaping Void: a must visit

One of the blogs I visit regularly is, where the gapingvoid cartoons – drawn on the back of business cards – always catch the eye.
And today’s is a beaut, and I think of the many Rogers that one comes across in the many bars and nightclubs in Mumbai, and I think to myself, what a similar world.

News TV: Think Global, Deliver Local

Ever since I took charge as editor of, my throughput on the blog has taken a hit. And that’s not helped when I spend time writing about my other passion, television.

Just when one thought that we already have more channels than any self-respecting set top box can handle, there’s a buzz of at least 40 or 50 NEWS channels launching in the next year or so. And I took up Gurbir Singh’s offer to write about it in the Hindustan Times. Read the article here, if you’re of a mind to.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Economic Times dilutes brand equity

The Economic Times, India’s #1 pink paper, launches a promo that asks ET readers to “get seen with it” and win prizes.
Firstly, does the ET reader wants to take part in juvenile promos such as this one?
Perhaps ET readers would, and maybe I’m wrong.
And if I’m wrong, am I doubly wrong in believing that ET readers wouldn’t exactly fall over each other to win Claudia perfumes and deos, Spykar Jeans, Mitashi produscts and Saregama CDs?

Has the ET reader changed so much over the years?
Maybe Mint will do a helluva lot better than I thought it would.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

If you get married in Goa, I won't be there

There was a time when most weddings in India were held in cities where the bride hailed from. Sometimes, they shifted to where the bride and groom mutually decided on, perhaps the city in which they worked.
Then came the Great Indian Media Explosion and we began witnessing marriages at esoteric locations, including one in a plane flying at 30000 ft, at Goa, at Udaipur, at Jaipur, at Ananda Spa, and so on.
So a wedding that would normally have cost an invitee a couple of hours now costs a couple of days. What used to cost an invitee a few litres of petrol now costs apex fares.
And it’s not surprising that one bunks more weddings than one ordinarily might have.

And if you thought this was an Indian phenomenon, think again. Here’s a story from far away Argentina, sent me by a friend, KS Dugal:

Please don't invite us to your wedding, couple says
Feb 20, 2007
Fed up with spending too many weekends going to weddings, an Argentine couple took out a paid announcement on the social pages of a major newspaper expressing their desire for some social neglect.
"We thank you ahead of time for understanding this petition, which is due to our saturated social calendar," read the ad in La Nacion.
Adolfo Caballero, 66, told a La Nacion reporter the flood of invitations came from the children of his dozens of cousins, friends from his club, and clients of his law firm.
Argentine weddings are typically drawn-out affairs and Caballero said they take 12 hours out of most of his weekends, including long drives to and from the countryside, where it is currently fashionable to get married.
"It's fun for youngsters who want to dance until 5 a.m. ... but the next day I'm tired and I can't move when I want to go play tennis," Caballero said.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cross with Mint’s crossword

One of the features I was looking forward to in the Mint, the financial daily from the Hindustan Times stable, was the crossword. And the crossword setter is a blogger, Amit Verma, whose blog I greatly enjoy and whom I have had the pleasure of meeting. And so, as with Mint, I had Great Expectations of the crossword.
And I was sorely disappointed. To those who don’t solve crossword puzzles, let me fill you in. There are two types of crossword puzzles – one where you KNOW or DON’T KNOW the answers, like the one that appears in the Mid-Day to entertain many lakh commuters each day. The other type is the one that I enjoy, the cryptic crossword, where, even if you don’t know the answer, you can “arrive” at it through a process.
Amit’s crossword falls between the two.
What perplexes me on the schizoid nature of Amit’s puzzle is a reading of HIS intro to his new site, workoutable. Read on.
“A good quiz question is one in which, even if you don't know the answer, you can work it out through clues given in the question. Workoutable, thus, is not just about knowledge but also about problem-solving. Enjoy.”

Can we have a workoutable puzzle, Amit?

Where is India on the global map?

This is what you would have seen this morning if you had logged on to No mention of the blast on the Samjhauta Express.

66 people die in a terrorist act, and a leading media product of the country that has appointed itself the champion of the global war against terrorism sees no merit in carrying the story prominently.

The international edition does have it on the home page, but tucked away in the headlines, not as the lead story.

Worth a thought: how important is India to the average American?

Monday, February 19, 2007

I'll have Mint after eight

I’ve been reading Mint, the financial paper from the Hindustan Times stable, every day since it was launched.
And I’m more than a little confused about the market the paper seeks to carve out for itself.
Like I’ve said before, I read ALL the papers every day, and I tried to figure out which “pink” paper Mint would replace.
And the answer, to me, is: none.
Then I read and re-read a few issues of Mint, and asked myself another question: would I feel I’ve missed out in my readiness for the day if I did not read Mint?
And the answer was : No.
Does it de-jargonise and simplify my understanding of issues at hand? Perhaps. But the idea, when taken to the extent of the quick edit – a front page feature on Mint – foxes me. Can you address serious issues in 100 odd words? Do I want you to – or would I rather you took the extra 200 words which could truly demystify an issue?
The content is a curious mix – half page devoted to which gizmo is best for playing sudoko, as an example. In a weekday paper? Is that all Mint can get through the much vaunted Wall Street Journal relationship?
And I read and re-read a few issues trying to figure out what this paper was trying to be – almost as one would sample a new dish and try to figure out the subtle tastes from esoteric herbs and spices.
And I remained foxed.
Yet, it’s a readable paper.
And, on a couple of rushed mornings, I left Mint for an evening read. And enjoyed it much more than I did during the morning rush.
Perhaps Mint is not the imperative that I thought it would be – but a great leisurely romp. It’s not a “profit-from-it” financial paper – but a “get-enriched-by-reading” one.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Thanks for the nomination

Vote for me!
Just discovered that this blog has been nominated for the Indibloggies -- and it does my ego a world of good. If you do enjoy reading the crap I write and if you think I stand a snowball's chance in hell, then vote!
And to those anonymous readers who nominated me, thanks.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Stumped by Derek O’Brien

There’s hardly a quiz show on ground or on TV that you could come across without it being hosted by Derek O’Brien. A few years ago, we saw the birth of Derek the author. Earlier this year, I came across a copy of the Penguin CNBC TV18 Business Yearbook, and was appalled. To me, it was the worst reference book I had ever come across.
Last week, stuck in an aircraft (not an aircraft carrier), I attempted a quiz of Derek’s that appears in DNA.

Here are some of the questions, some of the answers, and some of my comments.

Q. What began as a design for inflight memo pad and grew to be the mascot for the aircraft carrier?
My comment: The language is found wanting, and Air India is an aircraft carrier?!

Q. In an advertisement for which tea brand did Shah Rukh Khan make his debut in advertisement?
My comment: “make his debut in advertisement”?

Q. Recently, Kingfisher Airlines has tied up with which company to provide satellite TV on flights?
Ans: DTH
My comments: Hello? DTH is a company? And the language, the language!

Watch that cigarette

A little over two years ago, I (a Hindu) had a heart attack, which doctors, family and friends quickly attributed to my smoking. I refused to buy it, and decided that it was probably stress and poor food habits.
And I (continue to, as of this morning) live happily ever after.
Two months ago, my brother (a Hindu who converted to Christianity) got rushed to hospital, and ended up with a pacemaker fitted. He’s currently on the path to recovery.
Saturday morning, I went to Kolkata to catch up with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in years. His driver, (a Muslim) whom I’ve known since the early 1970s, was on sick leave – recuperating from a bypass.
Yesterday, a close friend (a Syrian Christian) had an angiograph done, and, subsequently, an angioplasty.
Four men, living all over the world, with diverse religious beliefs, with diverse eating habits, in very different professions.

Only one common thread: the cigarette.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Radio gets bigger, therefore...

If you're in media, if you're a marketer, an advertiser, take time out and visit it.
And this is the first of three products on radio. On Februry 15, a fortnightly pdf magazine is launched, and the first day of FICCI-Frames will see the first edition of the quarterly print magazine.