Move over ads, long live ads

Uber last week offered #UberPUPPIES to come to people in Delhi, who could pay a small sum of money to cuddle puppies for a fixed time. The campaign was launched with a dog adoption service; people could adopt the puppies if they wanted to. This was not the first time that Uber had done this. In January this year, Uber offered the same programme in 10 of the largest cities in America for $30. Before Delhi, they did the same in Pune in January this year.

This Wednesday, a host of office goers and individuals were busy posting dogfies on social media. Uber has hit upon a very cool way to increase affinity for itself. No amount of traditional advertising or traditional PR would have got this level of feel-good for the brand. That the campaign came on back of Uber winning the case in Delhi may be incidental. Uber Puppies delivered a load of cuteness for the brand.

Staying with advertising being used differently by brands, Toyota is doing a really clever thing in Sweden. The radio ad delivered through the car entertainment system actually takes over Siri and places theiPhone in airplane mode.

This is clever and does a thing that you least expect. As people point out, by putting the phone in airplane mode, the navigation also gets switched off and instead of solving a problem may create a new problem. The technology opens up newer vistas of engaging the audience, this may be the start and we may now see many more of the different kind. Imagine if the brands are able to send offers and navigation details as the cars are on the road. Imagine the disruptive abilities of the brands and how they can impact the new choice-making paradigms.

What the Internet did with the coming of social media was that it made pictures ubiquitous. Pictures travelled real time, were available wherever needed, however, the same was not true of videos. Videos were still complicated to set up, they needed cameras, bandwidth and such to ‘broadcast’. A set of new apps has changed that. Meerkat and Periscope have made video as ubiquitous as pictures, thanks to mobiles with cameras. Meerkat has already tied up with Discovery channel to make available exclusive content when the programme is broadcast. Discovery has set up special Shark Cam that social stream exclusive content. Head to Meerkat and follow @sharkweek.

Periscope is not far behind. Jimmy Fallon used it to take viewers behind the scene, Adidas used it to broadcast contract signing ceremony with a player, Mountain Dew, Red Bull, GE and Spotify too have used it to create engaging content. Carly Fiorina even used it to do a townhouse to announce her Presidential bid!

Meanwhile, back home a brand has made it cool to call your girlfriend Bitch, after getting your vision corrected. While on that do watch. My Pale Skin is a blog written by a London-based blogger and ex-model. This video has got over 200,000 views in a week’s time and it does question our perception of beauty. You can join the discussion with #YouLookDisgusting. The Indian community of Dark is Beautiful ( is worth checking out for precisely the same reason.

Advertising is changing, so are the triggers associated with advertising. The traditional response to brand issues has to be re-evaluated. Brand theories we grew up with, and are still being taught, need a new tweak.


Original published here

Culture Connections

here are two contrasting ads going around, both speaking to women. Then there are two ads going around from the same brand, one liberating and forward looking, the other regressive, crass and deserves to be thrown in the dustbin. Two ads reflect the new consumer culture brilliantly; two get it wrong on all counts.

Titan Raga and Katrina Kaif have a contemporary take on weddings. #HerLifeHerChoices takes on the societal reasons for wedding while showcasing a wedding. For a while the ad looks like an ad for jewellery brand and not a watch brand, weddings and watches have not been showcased before. Titan Raga as a brand has bridged the gap between jewellery and watch in last few years, and this is a smart move to bring the two even closer. Weddings are a big reason to buy watches, in one move Titan Raga has associated itself to the wedding occasion. The narrative in the commercial is delightful and very much in today’s tonality. In a country where finding a reason for someone to get married and playing a match maker constantly is the norm, it is nice to see a brand saying don’t get married. I liked the way they linked time to the reason to get married and showcased the watch. Not a hardsell, but very memorable.

What if the lady in those terribly regressive and patriarchal Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ads had heard the advice from Ms Kaif long ago? The Gobhi and Lauki would have been saved from the murderous attack they had to endure. The AAP ad is the most retarded and regressive ad that has come from a political party. Women are key constituent of the support base and to speak with them in a tone that doesn’t acknowledge what they do can only be called political suicide. In the free fall that the AAP brand is in, this ad will add to the downward momentum. Last heard, the Lauki Association was thinking of going on a dharna and threatening to expose The Gobhi Union of misdeeds and corruption.

The second set of ads is from the same brand. Myntra released three ads for Anouk with contemporary narratives. The same gender love story, the spunky single mother and the super cool single girl in a bar are stories that consumers lapped up. The same brand has released a sale ad that reverses everything that these three ads have achieved.

The Fast and Furious Sale ad set in a café has a well-dressed fashionable girl calling a gawky looking nerdy boy to join her at her table. By the time the boy even realises what has happened and what he needs to do, a handsome fashionable boy comes and takes his place. Watch it here

The ad reminds me of the iconic ‘One Black Coffee Please’ ad of Ericsson Mobiles done in the early 2000s. I guess it won India’s first Cannes Lion in TVC. The Myntra ad is such a shame and difficult to believe that one brand can tell the tale of choice and freedom in an extremely liberal way and also in a trite regressive way. Every transactional brand has to treat its sale ads too with strategic intent. They have an impact on the brand equity; a wrong ad can really dent the equity badly.

What is good to see is that adland has started to break the stereotypes again. The brands have once again started to tap into popular culture to tell stories that reflect the contemporary lifestyle. It is surprising that an urban political party has the most regressive tale to tell.

Despite the flaws and mishits, ads from mass brands can teach political parties key lessons in evolving consumer culture.

Original was published here

Social Consumerism or Sociomerism

What do you after you buy that uber cool laptop that you had been eyeing for sometime? Open the pack, admire the computer, switch it on, log in and explore?


Not really, you actually take a snap of the packaging,  upload it on the social networking sites and enjoy the admiration! The admiration will peak, your social chatter will make you feel good about your buy, and only then will you sit back and enjoy the laptop you bought.


In today’s expectation economy where the consumers want to buy the best, they want to boast about it first. This is what I call Sociomerism.


Sociomerism is bold new powerful driver of consumer choice. Infact what your social network will say about what you buy almost predisposes the consumers’ choice. In today’s hyper-connected world where social networks define rules of engagement in personal life, they are doing so in brand choices also.


While this is a relatively new phenomenon, some maven brands are catching upon this new trend.


The Coke honesty commercial is clearly an example of leveraging Sociomerism. As a consumer you are least likely to talk about Coke the brand and the liquid in glowing terms. Who will ever want to upload a picture consuming Coke? Who will ever hear good comments about your love for Coke? But when the same Coke honestly opens up and speak about sugar, obesity and possible ills of the brand, the world doesn’t snigger at them. The world stands up and applauds.

What coke has done is that It had made people talk about Coke the brand, the liquid and people’s love for the brand! This otherwise would not have happened.


So why would Sociomerism big and powerful as we move forward? Here are four possible reasons


  1. We live in a world of choice saturation. Buying new thing no longer gives the same joy and hearing applause on the choice
  2. Status is the differentiator humans seek. Brands are the equalizer, celebration of choosing the brand is the differentiator
  3. Consumerism is not a good word consumerism cannot be celebrated. Consumer movement is a different ball game. Sociomers will actively seek newer consumer movements to enhance their social status. They will force more and more brands to come out of closet and be Honest.
  4. Sociomers will seek more and more customizing options to drive online chatter. Till now buying was not really a two way street. Buying things did not generate conversations. Today Sociomers want buying to generate chatter. This makes them feel powerful.


The younger consumers who are wired differently drive the new experience economy. Merging experiences with ownership is something that comes naturally to them.


Brands now have to be ready to face them


Original article is published here:

Intimate Wash, Insensitive Insights

Once upon a time there was a couple who was going through serious marital discord. Then they discovered a ‘Midas’ cream which made intimate parts of woman’s body fairer. After they used the cream they rediscovered their mojo and lived a blissful life. This is roughly what the new “Intimate Wash” promises. Now this brand is available in market, and if you haven’t you can watch the ad here

India has been obsessed with fair skin, since the time the British ruled us. There is a very large category in India that owes its roots to desire of Indians to have lighter skin. For many years, it was women who wanted to be fair, today in this age of metro sexuality; even men have jumped on to the bandwagon. There is nothing wrong if the consumer desires a fairer skin, after all Afghan Snow promised luminous skin much before Fair and Lovely came on stage. The issue is that brands linked fairness to girls getting good grooms, getting success in life or even getting accepted by their fathers as worthy of affection. In a society which is so polarized against girl child, by doing so the brands have only helped the desire for fair skin become mainstream. In the process the brands have heightened the colour divide. Here was an opportunity where the brands could have fulfilled their greater role towards society by being responsive and sensitive. Instead we have brands that promise fairness of all kinds making us cringe with disgust


Then there is this global car brand that promoted its iconic car in India as the most ‘expensive wedding gift’ for your daughter.  The finest silk, the most beautiful jewelry and the most spectacular wedding wouldn’t have made the wedding memorable, if the father didn’t gift his daughter the curvy ‘yellow one’. The print ad promises that it is best gifted as it is ‘fittingly expensive’. In case you haven’t guessed it, here’s where to find them

Weddings and dowry are very much a part of popular culture. It is that part of culture that we all can do without. Incidentally dowry is outlawed in India and therefore promoting ‘expensive gift’ for wedding does fall in the grey zone of being illegal. The issue is not of legality, the issue is of sensitivity. By being insensitive to sacred institution of wedding, the brand almost certainly misses being liked or loved. Mercifully, while the whole category of fairness cream sold fair is better, the automobile category did not follow gift an expensive car for dowry as an insight

There also this telecom brand that uses a dog first as cupid, then as voyeur and finally as the guard, to let a young couple meet, serenade and fall in love. The only hitch in the tale is the fact that the young couple is just two preteen children, who may not know the meaning of all the dog does, and definitely leaves the moms queasy. What has a telecom brand got to do with them is another matter of debate altogether.

The usual defense of this too has been that this is happening in the society around us. This is exactly the reason why the brand should have stayed away from giving a romantic angle. The fact is that children make friends easily; they are without prejudices and find joys in new connections. How much warmer the brand would have been if the two preteen children would have been used with sensitivity and care in brand communication

These are not three isolated examples of brands that have bordered on being insensitive. There are a lot of ads today on media which often cross the line of being responsible in order to push a commercial message. The usual defense that these are insights of today may be right, but should the insights be used without being evaluated with sincerity, empathy and responsibility?

Communication has the power to shape society, and we must remember that. Otherwise in these days of connected consumers, the backlash would be hard and fast. These three brands are surely a testimony to that.

Road Ahead For Media Planners

The Original Article

Future is always complex. Predicting future is fraught with danger. Chances of getting future wrong are bright. However future is always built on contexts that are current. Future is always shaped by the challenges faced in present.

There is a lot happening in our world at this time. Technology is progressing at a pace that is hard to keep track of. Just for example in last three years the mobile penetration has doubled, homes with digital TV subscription have gone up exponentially; the FM stations have moved from metros to class one and class two towns. The changes are not just tech driven.  The demographic changes are re-crafting the entire society. The rapid urbanization is throwing up challenges not faced before. There are no indicators suggesting that the speed of change will slow down or the transformation is eased off.

Here are three challenges that we are likely to face in coming years. First is the challenge of nomadic audiences.  Second the challenge of contexts. Last is the challenge of measurement.

Challenge of Nomadic Audiences

Media planning and buying is dependent on a set of audience being available to receive the message. The process of enumeration assumes that the audience is stationary, and once counted is always available. In today’s technology empowered scenario, the audience is not stationary. Rapid adoption of net enabled personal devices like tablets is making media portable. This has serious implications. It means that mass media will get empowered by personal media. It means that that notion of fixed audience will have to shelved. It means that media buyers will have to find a way of synthesizing the broadcast media with new age portable media. Nomadic audiences and personal portable media are forces that have will permanently change the media landscape

Challenge of contexts

Let’s take this rise of portable personal media and the possible stagnation of traditional mass media forward. Till now the media planning was built on increasing salience, so that it impacted interest in brand so that it lead to positive action on retail point. This is straight forward and linear in approach. This has delivered great results for brands. Today, the entire context of brand consumption is changing. Salience matters and salience impacts the interest in a brand, but from here on two new forces comes into play. The personal portable media is the transformational force. It makes Search and Share more important than mere Action of the traditional AIDA theory. Today everything is searchable, and people share everything. We know that this peer to peer network has an amazing power to influence brand choices. This change in context is already a reality and will only grow in future.

Challenge of measurement

The concept of fixed audience is ingrained in the existing media measurement systems. With the nomadic audience and the rise of personal portable medium will require a new type of measurement system to be created. Media agencies have tended to merge TV with online TV, press with Digital media and events with outdoors. Tomorrow they will have to find a system of one composite measurement that merges the traditional with new. The search and share impact on brands health will have a far greater bearing than mere rise or drop in reach and salience

Future is complex, and it is often not possible to predict it with certainty, but the present has a way of showing the impending challenges. We need to be prepared

Published in 4Ps of Business and Marketing, November 4th, 2011 Issue

Only the connected thrive

Need to be socially connected is an age old emotional need.  History of human communication is almost 50,000 year old. It has helped mankind spread from Africa to all over the globe. Possibly the drums were the first machines that humans used for communication. Now from pigeons to horseback carriers to electrically modulated sound waves has transformed into mobile phones.

Today the mobile phone as a category is the fastest growing category in the world. Mobile phones are changing the contours of human communication. Already mobile phones have transcended the barriers of personal space and are creating a new form of global brotherhood. May be it’s the mobile phones that is making the world flat and not the computers.

Clearly the mobile culture is moving from margins to mainstream. The adoption of sms, chats and social networking sites are applications that are finding resonance with consumers. Possibly for the first time in human evolution, adoption of technology is outpacing the evolution of technology

The biggest example of this is the incident where a techie live tweeted the attack on Osama hideout, and then in US the news broke first on Twitter than on either network TV or on news websites. This is giving rise to what can be called as ‘Connection Economy’

The Connection Economy is a powerful new force that will redefine the way brands approach consumers and the way consumers engage with brands. There are two powerful trends that define this new Connection Economy. These are “connected life”, “connected identities” . These two are giving rise to what can only be called as “connected markets”

Connected Life is a function of a unique social space that mobile devices create. The fact is that the old cliché of life in your hands is actually true. Peers, family, friends all live together in a virtual space, where the user defines the rules of engagement. This availability of connections on demand creates a sense of joy and gives a sense of huge excitement. It makes every person in the connected space feel far more potent and powerful.

Connected Identities This trend carries contra behavior trend. It has two opposing patterns that define the connected identities. One is the process of individualizing the connection. This includes what can be called the status messages and even customizing phones. The other pattern is evolving common identities. Through common identity the gangs and groups acquire a powerful meaning. This is where the deepest emotions and drivers come alive

Connected Markets is a powerful new driver of business and brands. The connection impacts how the brands connect with consumers and also how consumers connect with brands. Consider this; the group buying deals that are now popular in the virtual space are connected consumers redefining pricing equations.

Again as it has happened with technology where adoption has beaten technology, the connected economy evolution has outpaced the adoption from brands. Our recent research clearly points the gap that exist between what the connected consumers desires from the disconnected brands.

The funny thing is, by the time the brands learn the tricks, consumers would have moved on to a new space. Today its clear, if the brands have to thrive, they have to connect. That is a true challenge

Published in Pitch Magazine, June 2011

Lessons from Reality TV

Some reality TV shows have been asked to be broadcast after 11 pm by the ministry of information and broadcasting, based on public outcry on vulgarity and abusive language in the shows.

In times when the television has replaced the erstwhile joint family’s grandfather as the grand storyteller of life and its lessons, of values and popular culture, it may be moot to take a look at what people derive from the facts and fiction that television brings to their living rooms. After all, every evening, families across India do gather around their TV sets.

There are lessons – good and bad – that people could be deriving from a host of reality shows such as Bigg Boss 4, MasterChef India and, say, Kaun Banega Crorepati 4, all ongoing shows. These are randomly named and in no way mean that the other reality shows have nothing to teach us.

There are four potentially harmful lessons to be learnt. First, that it pays to be bad. The louder you are, the crasser you are, the greater your fan following. Politeness and compassion are out. Second, that it pays to be self-centered. It is fine to speak the language of ‘I, me, and myself’ if you are anchoring a show – there’s no need for consideration for others or respect for their skills.

Third, that you should never try to separate fact from fiction. It’s all right to add drama to some mundane, perfectly normal everyday situations. When you add such drama, you become a media star. Every channel follows you, wants your opinion on everything and it may even land you your own TV show.

Fourth, that relationships are a matter of convenience. What’s good today may not be good tomorrow. You must constantly evaluate your relationships to see what works for the moment. It’s perfectly fine to switch sides if it works for you.

Fortunately, in midst of a host of reality shows that teach dangerous lessons, there is a show that teaches lessons of humility, politeness, respect and compassion. The fact that the lessons of humility and politeness come from India’s biggest movie icon, only add to overall weight of the lessons.  The fact that his shows are pulling more eyeballs than any other show tells that people do hold old world values in high regard and don’t get swayed by attention-grabbing gimmicks.

All this has implications not only on the emerging popular culture but also on brands. All brands are a function of two contexts: the content of brands and the environment in which they live. Brands control their content, and leverage the environment. If a brand lives in the right environment, it creates the right feeling about itself. If it lives in the wrong environment, it weakens and can eventually destroy its own equity.

There are many brands that are riding on the TV reality shows. They are present either as sponsors, or as advertisers in the commercial breaks, or in programme placements. If a brand appears in an environment where the values propounded by the show are contrary to what the brand stands for, should it evaluate its presence? Brands go to great lengths to test their creative content, measure their advertising impact, and track their efficacy. Maybe it is time they also added the effect of environment on themselves.

So, will brands ever do that? Rise above the ordinary and take a wider responsibility? Or will we, as consumers, have to trigger the change?


Published in Hindustan Times 22.10.2010