The R Day Weekend

This was the week when brands went into overdrive with Republic Day messages. The whole country seemed to be draped in tricolour and the entire country seemed to be on sale. Zomato even turned every word of Happy Republic Day into a food item!

Commerce usually triumphs patriotism.

This is where #belikebill meme had an interesting take on Republic Day. This is India. India minds its own business. India always feels young. Be like India. Well #belikebill did win the Republic Day social media war.

Mumbai Traffic Police around the same time broke on social media with some really funny tweets. In its effort to be seen as cool and young, it ran a series of tweets that could easily have been written by stand-up comics. Now that is the real issue: should cops come across as witty and funny? Is that the value that ordinary citizens expect from a law enforcement agency? Or should they come across as resolute, determined, watchful and tough? How long will cops be able to manage a funny tone of voice?

Delhi Traffic Police meanwhile took its game on social media many notches up. On the shared public transport app called Ridlr (DTP twitter handle is @RidlrDel), it is asking citizens to upload pictures or videos of traffic violators so that they can take action. Either way, the police are now using social media; once they move from adopter phase to interaction phase, one can expect a lot of things to change.

There is a huge amount of action happening in the video streaming end and social networks. Facebook till now allowed celebrities to live stream content to their followers; this has now been opened up to the public. Anyone can use an iPhone and live stream to select audience on FB. While this is currently available only in the US, it would be available on Android and iOS and across the globe in no time. Also, GoPro Hero now integrates with Periscope for iPhone and can now broadcast directly. Portable live video will open up completely new platforms for brands.

Imagine if brands let their commercial shoots be available live on FB. Till now brands tried to do this in a small manner on Snapchat. Video is the new frontier that will change the game.

ICICI is running a fabulous platform that allows the underprivileged to earn a sustainable livelihood. They have a short film chronicling the story of Manoj Kumar who, from being a scrap seller, learns from the books he collects and then joins the mainstream workforce. It’s a heart-warming tale that has been narrated very well.

Today, more than ever, brands have no option but to make an impression every day, consistently. To do that, brands have to move away from small victories to long sustained campaigns. Today, the tools have also changed.

Be like ICICI and the Raddi Library.

Original Published Here:

AdStand: Looking back at 2015. Episode 2

2015 is the year of apps and connected devices. The way technology has invaded every sphere of life is rapidly changing the way we live. From groceries to grooming, from music to machinery, from entertainment to elections, from fashion to farming, from car pool to carpenter, everything has a disruptive app.

Our celeb endorsers have added categories to their repertoire; they now sell groceries, music bits, discounted deals and many more things than you could ever imagine. The apps have changed the game for celebrity engagement; they now no longer only endorse a brand, they are now actively on apps where they happily tell their fans and followers what they wear, eat, drink and tell them to buy the same things. Gwyneth Paltrow has her own dedicated site,, and closer home celebs are on lots of platforms pushing their wares.

If the app economy is the first trend of 2015, app is the second trend too of 2015. I call it the Ashley Madison Bomb or the death of privacy in connected world.

If there is a flip side to connected economy, this is it. “Remarketing”, or the process of dropping a tiny programme on your system called cookie that lets brands follow you online, to constantly offer the product till you buy is now an old paradigm. Remarketing became more powerful in 2015, it broke the shackle of devices, following you from one device to another with social platforms taking it on with gusto. But despite this, remarketing is nowhere near what the new technology can inspire.

Early in 2015 two hackers – Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek – remotely took control of a new Jeep Cherokee, took control of its climate control system, its entertainment system, activated the wipers, and even disabled the engine and made it come to a standstill, while the driver in the car could do nothing. Watch what happened here: This is as scary as it gets. Mercifully it was an experiment by ethical hackers, or else a ‘Transporter’ kind of movie can play out every day on our roads. May be the cops can enforce the odd-even formula of Delhi remotely from a connected control centre!

We all know that hackers released 36 million accounts that were members of Ashley Madison. Now Ashley Madison’s services are not the services that someone will put on their social networking profile, this is something that they would like to keep hidden. The hackers were not the keepers of morality or conscience; they were seeking fame out of moments of weakness or notoriety of others.

What the leak tells us is that internet is neither private nor anonymous. Even if the site or service wants to guard the privacy, it is not easy in today’s hyper-connected world. This will have implications on consumer engagement strategies in 2016.

Imagine the possibilities.

Travel sites will know about your travel plans and will bombard the users with rival offers in real time making choices difficult.

The shopping websites will know about your shopping basket and in real time will alter their offerings to lure you away from rivals, either by offering value-adds or by offering better prices.

Fashion sites driven from data they have, will know about your fashion style and will first offer the stuff that fits your style, making the process of choice a lot more data driven and a lot less look driven.

Marketing is all about creating a following for the brand, the new Ashley Madison Bomb effect may enhance the commoditisation of a variety of categories for it will become easy to tailor offers, and offer discounts.

This is discounting the fact that all of us may be sitting ducks for cyber terrorists who can wreck our lives by string of codes.

Next week, a look at a third trend, something that may not have been a result of the internet dominating our lives.

original published here

Selfie: Curated Ego

One of the most vivid memories of 2013 will be Barack Obama, who was caught posing for a ‘Selfie’ with David Cameron and Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. The picture obviously went viral and was much debated post that. What Obama did was cap the year of ‘Selfie’ with one of his.
This is the year when Selfie became a mainstream word. Selfie is actually internet obsession with self, where you take picture of self and post it across the social networking sites ranging from Instagram to Snapchat. The trend has moved on from just plain vanilla selfie to ‘yogis’ (selfie + yoga) and ‘belfies’ (bum + selfie) making you wonder where the obsession with self can go. What though is beyond doubt is that this bout of narcissism is being fuelled by smart phones that are now ubiquitous and in every pocket. A host of celebrities, industry titans and politicians have been bitten by the obsession of self. While some have used it as revenge against paparazzi, others have turned it into a business opportunity. Gwenth Paltrow for example launched where she curates stuff she likes, where she peddles things that range from bizarre to obscene, (like monogrammed napkins for 14000 bucks).
The obsession with self is not limited to a selfie, it goes way beyond then just a mere snap. Selfie is a self-created advert for ‘what are you doing now’. This trend has now being used byu a variety of mobile phone apps like Klout (personal influence), Strava (cycling), Tictrac (personal dashboard) and the good old Nike+ (running). All of them do one thing, build self and create a branding for you across social networking sites.
The critical question to ask is this: is the Generation Me then a narcissistic epidemic or is it a pointer to something deeper that is happening in the society around us.
Generation Me is not a new term, it has been spoken about for some time now. There may not be one definition of this term, largely it refers to a bunch of people who have a very high self esteem, are overtly materialistic, are confident sometimes overconfident of their ability and live in a self created bubble. This is a group of people who invest a large sum on self-vanity. As expected the obsession with self cannot be seen as the good thing by the sociologist, afterall the self-obsession may be the reason behind failing global economy and falling personal relationships. After all if young teenager buys a limited edition Aston Martin Rapide and then boasts about it to all and sundry through a selfie is not the best of examples in a society. The self created video of the teenager who drove the Ferrari somewhere in Kerala that was doing the rounds this year did create a furor and may be even have forced action by the authorities.
Narcissism epidemic is real and is dangerous, especially when it starts to inflict the youngsters giving them a false sense of status and ability. Though the Generation Me is not composed of just kids, or a homogeneous audience. This is unlike most other generation nomenclature that exist. Generation Me is a sign of times, cuts across a wide swath of populace and has the ability to drive change in positive way too.
One thing that defines what the Generation Me does is build on immediacy.
There impatience that is inbuilt into the codes of conversation. As individuals they never feel that they are powerless and that they cannot change the status quo. This impatience is manifested across a range of activities that they are indulging in.
Generation Me is extremely fashion conscious, style is their currency. They shun brands that are uncool, that are not up on style quotient. More and more brands are now forced to just up their ‘looks’ quotient. Traditionally we have focused a lot more on what we deliver, and a lot less in what style do we deliver. The lack of style is now a serious business impediment. The impatience also leads them to punish brands instantly. Poor quality, poor service and even poor attitude is not tolerated and immediately commented upon. This generation is not looking at creating a social wave out of their comments, they are happy being the sole individual who took the brand to task. The brands may dismiss the individual comments, but collectively the brand owners cannot ignore this new trend

The third thing they do is do instant rejection of established order. There is no saying that existing established order is the only way to do things. They will create a new protocol and before the world realizes that becomes the new way to do things

While at one end the Generation Me is about creating individualized reality through Selfie, but at the other end they are impatient and reject old, boring and dowdy.

‘Me’ now defines who I am, and my camera defines how my ego should look.


Original Published in Financial Express Brand Wagon in January 2014

Enter the Curator

It is believed that in the age of social media expertise is a rare commodity. Expertise comes from having a considered opinion that the world buys into. Today everyone has an opinion, and everyone can express them with ease. The consumer is becoming an expert and the experts are facing survival blues.
Is this really true? Consider this, a movie critic watches a movie and posts his review on his blog. The viewers who visit the blog add their comments on the review. The expert in this case does not have to wait long to figure out how his viewers are reacting to his reviews? The next time he writes the review, the existing feedback helps him to be sharper and more connected in his review
Now is this consumer generated content or expert generated media? The expert generated media obviously is far more interesting phenomenon than consumer generated media.
In case of the movie critic for example, the critic is not someone who has seen a few movies. More likely he or she lives movies, knows the process of making movies, and possibly has an insight on making movies more engaging. The dynamic feedback that the audience provides allows the expert to tell a more engaging tale.
Yes this is the world of collaborative co creation. Yet the collaborative co creation is not diminishing the value or role of expertise, it’s actually enhancing it. This is where the expert generated media has a role to play. This process is a curative process
Curation is a process that comes from the world of art museums, but is increasingly becoming important in the world of brands. Views, opinions, feedbacks etc are all chosen, sorted and organized by people who are experts equipped with necessary knowledge and experience. By leveraging the experience and knowledge the curaters can help brands connect better with its consumers.
Planners need to actively act as curaters to stay relevant in these changing times. The traditional ways of gathering consumer insights are outdated, and they rarely work. The planners can act as enhancers of consumer experiences by acting like a curator
Curation of opinions allows the experts to add more depth to the context. It allows the experts to step into their shoes, know their opinions, become more connected and be closer to the subject. It actually lets the expert even mold the opinion. That is truly what an expert would want to do. This is what a planner always has to do.
Experts curate and cull out best, clearest and the most thought provocating arguments. An average consumer will rarely want to read every opinion that is written about the subject. This is what a planner does constantly, sort and collect. Than cull out what matters and make it work for the brand.
Curation of opinion can shift the balance back to brands. In this collaborative world creating content is easy, but gathering and presenting is the real challenge. Consumers may value another consumers’ opinion more than advertising, but by no means is an average consumers’ opinion the final word. Therein lays the real opportunity. Planners are experts; they now need to be curative experts
Published in Brand Wagon, 9th November, 2010

Marketing to BOP should improve living standards

4Bn people in the world earn less than $2 a day, and they form what Dr C K Prahalad classifies as Bottom of Pyramid. His premise is very simple. If you break the economic and physical bottlenecks of distribution you can reach a huge previously neglected market. Millions of small sales can add up to big profits. This means that corporate should focus on ways to lower the cost of providing goods and services so that you can offer them at lower price and still maintain margins
The bottom of pyramid thus is made up of mass market made even more mass comprising of under served consumers.
In India, according to NCAER, there are 70Mn households in Urban India, and 160 Mn households in Rural India comprise of what we call as BOP market. By itself it is a very large market, and increasingly corporate are trying to focus on these consumers
It would be wrong to assume that companies think of approaching this market by reducing the goods to their bare minimum and delivering them at a massive scale. The sachet story, or the recharge cards of mobile phones or the micro finance story is not a story of bare bone product with low cost. Large corporations are approaching this market to improve their bottomline, but are also making sure that the lives of consumers improve.
Take for example, Nestle which now has a renewed focus on BOP market. Yes they have introduced smaller packs of their blockbuster Maggi Noodles and Ketchups. This is helping them in increasing the penetration of their products. What is interesting is that they have innovated and created a product specifically for the BOP audience which is a taste enhancer that has added iron and vitamins. This allows them to not only improve the taste of everyday dishes, but also enhance the quality of food by the added nutrition
Or take the example of Project Shakti of Unilevers. While the Shakti Amma’s help in promoting range of Lever products, they also work towards improving the general well being of the village they work in. for instance the Scojo foundation of US works with Shakti Amma’s in providing reading glasses to the poor at very affordable costs. Scojo foundation has trained Shakti Ammas to test the eyes and provide reading glasses to artisans for them to do their work better and improve their life. Shakti Ammas help in educating the village about the benefits of consuming iodised salt over non iodised salt. Medically its proven that children who grow up consuming non iodised salt have 13 point lower IQ than children who consume iodised salt.
Take the entire Nokia Life Tools programme that they have launched in India. By providing its farmer subscribers with latest crop rates in the mandi, or teaching them English they are ensuring that customers improve their standard of living.
Microinsurance is one big success story in India, and like Microcredit that was an Asian invention, Microcredit is an Asian invention that comes directly from understanding the needs of BOP consumers in India. For instance IFFCO Tokio leverages its association with IFFCO and sells micro crop insurance, at a premium of Re1 that is bundled with the cost of fertilizers. Today IFFCO Tokio serves more than 8Mn farmers across the country
Godrej Agrovet, HSCL Haryali Bazaar, ITC and even the world famous Amul are all examples of companies targeting the BOP consumers and not selling them skinned product at cheaper prices.
So what is driving the growth of BOP markets?
One, the connectivity is a big driver of BOP markets. And connectivity is both by Road and by Phone. The enhanced connectivity by road is improving their employability quotient. This is allowing them to earn more and therefore have a slightly higher disposable income, especially in non harvest seasons
Two the inventiveness of this set of consumers, that has been fuelled by the BOP markets. Possibly half the cell phones sold in India are sold to the poor. For them a phone is much more than a mere tools for communication, it’s a tool for improving their economic status
Three the BOP consumers are fairly ambitious in their own attitude. They are focused on improving their lives, use education as a tool to improve life, and dream big for their children. They will not compromise for the good of their children
To top it the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is strengthening the rural economy and allowing even the poorest of poor to become a consumer of branded goods at some stage.

Published in Pitch Anniversary Special Issue, October 2010

The Controversy Virus

For any casual observer watching India, it would seem that we are suffering from foot in the mouth disease as a country. The symptoms are all around us.
We have a sports minister who in a function to felicitate Ms. Saina Nehwal, asks who Mr. P Gopichand is. The fact that he is ex All England Badminton Champion and the coach of Indian ace is a detail that the minister never bothered to find out. He then does one better by insulting the coach of wrestler Sushil Kumar’s coach. He asked the legendary Satpal Maharaj to step aside in a ceremony to honour the world champion wrestler. Mr. Satpal himself is a celebrated grappler, Asiad Games gold medalist, winner of Dronacharya Award and a mentor to many of India’s champion wrestlers. The snub even moved Mr. Sushil Kumar who felt that Guru’s need to be respected
We also have Lalit Bhanot who very famously said that “our standards of hygiene are not the same as standards of western countries.” No wonder he had to beat a hasty retreat and take a crash course in hygiene management.
These are not isolated examples of the foot in mouth disease. From the police commissioner of Karnataka who called Kannidigas too lazy to indulge in act of terrorism to the minister in Haryana who pushed the athletes off the stage to stay in front of cameras, the examples are many. This disease has a very pronounced symptom. It afflicts those more who are in power or occupy positions of authority.
The issue is why does it happen? There are three reasons why the virus of this disease attacks the mighty and powerful. Because they are Disconnected. Because they are Unconcerned. Because they are insensitive.
It is amazing how the entire ruling class is so distant from reality. They seldom represent the aspirations and the feeling if the constituency they represent. Amazingly this is not restricted to the populist politicians only. The so called intellectual officials also seem as disconnected. May be they need to borrow something from the world of marketing and go on a market visit. I suspect that even this will not change anything, as the ruling class only sees what it wants to see.
They are disconnected because they are unconcerned. Mr. Gill did not have to apologize, Mr. Bhanot did not have to do so either, and certainly we can’t expect the Police Commissioner of Karnataka to do so. We the ordinary citizens of India seethe with anger and hang our head in shame, but those who bring this shame upon us, move on looking for the next target. Such is the affliction of the virus, and those suffering from it don’t even realize that they are suffering from an infection
The disconnection and lack of concern happens because of lack of sensitivity. Possibly the lack of real heroes in our culture is a reason for this insensitivity. Those who are in power have no role models to look up to. This makes accepting a contrary point of view very different. Every contrary point of view is seen as an irritating fly that needs to be swatted and killed. Wonder how they feel after saying the kind of things they say.
It is amazing that the cut throat world of branding and marketing has by and large has been free of this virus. This may be because the powers to be do not feel that they are powerful enough. It would be nice if we let it be like this for times to come.
As for powers to be, let’s not hand over the reign of brands to them.

CWG: Everybody is a player

The 19th edition of Common wealth Games to be held in Delhi are in midst of a huge crisis. Obviously the brand CWG is floundering under the sustained media pressure and this in turn is knocking at India’s equity too.

The media has been running a sustained and high pressure campaign dubbing the Commonwealth Games as common stealth games. Everyday there is a new revelation about a misdoing or corruption. The key opinion makers too have had field day writing about what is wrong with the games.

One leading writer of popular fiction has called for the boycott of games, called it the tool of repression and has gone to the extent of saying that the games should be used a tool to overthrow the current Government and install a new regime. In saying so he is only furthering the views of the ex sports minister of India. The jingoism has sunk to a new depth.

As it happens in any prolonged debate, the facts get muddled and perceptions start to become reality. A lot of the facts and figured that are being quoted by various people are more fiction than reality. The Indian Express story on tracking the expenses is possibly the only contrary voice in the debate.

The debates are now slipping into a very predictable pattern of raising a lot of issues but offering no solution. Interestingly the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and even the impending London Olympics are not beyond criticism. There was a very harsh criticism of estimated $6Bn (yes 6Bn Dollars, and by a first world country where supposedly the infrastructure is not a problem) spent by Canada in hosting the games, and London is facing criticism on its entire branding programme, which they say isn’t ‘British’ enough.

The only fact that is absolute truth in this debate is that there has been corruption in hosting these games. It also seems that entire logistics management for hosting the games has seen a collective brain freeze.

So let’s compartmentalize the whole issue.  There are the games to be hosted and there are issues in hosting the game. Should we allow the issues to overtake the event? If the brand manager messes up with the distribution should the brand be withdrawn and consigned to dustbin? Or maybe even close the company down which owns the brand? It’s become a classic case of throwing out the baby, but keeping the bathwater.

Now this raises the crucial question: who owns the brand CWG? No, it’s not the organizing committees, it’s not the sports ministries, and it’s definitely not the Governments. The brand is truly owned by the ordinary citizens of the participating countries and the host country has a special interest in the brand for a definite period of time. The athletes who will compete in the games have special interest in the brand, so do those who have competed in past and those who aim to compete in future. Unlike what the critics may be saying about who bothers about the commonwealth club, the special interest group bothers about it. We must see the brand from this prism.

The common public of India, however skeptical it may be, wants India to hold the most spectacular games ever. For its not only the athletes who would be competing in these games, it’s the whole nation that will be competing in these games. The pride, identity and value system of a whole nation is at stake. If the games are all about triumph over adversity, hard work, dedication and going for glory than the time to display all that is now.

We all own the brand, and we must ensure that we pass the right set of legacy and heritage to the next set of trustees. For that to happen, we have to ensure that we as a nation win, and not score a self goal.