AdStand: The Public Service Ads

This week, the 11 minute anti smoking commercial has been making all the news. There was another ad that caught my eye. It may not have been the Internet sensation, but Brooke Bond Tea’s new ad is certainly worth applauding. Surprisingly this film is not on their social pages, but uploaded only on Kulzy.

The film ( opens on blank screen with noises that we hear everyday in Mumbai, honking, trains, and wedding. It then shows an old women sipping tea all alone on her rocking chair. The ad extolls people to go and end someone’s loneliness this weekend. The film is singular in building on the brand plank of Taste of Togetherness. Brooke Bond for some years has been building on the plank of bringing people together and this film takes that plank forward in a cheerful way.

Old age loneliness is a serious problem in a young country like India. I hope we see more of this from Brooke Bond and not wait till the next award season.

Alok Nath, Sunny Leone and Deepak Dobriyal have an indulgent anti smoking tale to tell. At almost 3.5 Million views in a week, clearly the star appeal of the actors has helped in the film becoming a super hit.  The comments across online forums suggest a warm welcome being given out to the film.

Is the film successful in pursuing smokers to kick the stick?

The film follows the usual narrative of smoking kills, this is known and most smokers know this. The claim of cigarette reducing life has now jumped to 11 minutes, how does this pious number come in being is left unexplained.  Is it 2 minute? Or 4?,Now it is 11. If a smoker gets into calculating the time left to live, they will laugh it out.

I think the film misses out on the wider narrative. While the netizens have been effusive in praise, there have been very few that have pledged to quit smoking, just a few who have thought of doing so. This is where the film could have had a deeper impact.

Why is the film not ending with a platform that helps people helps quit the habit? Why is the film not helping them taking the first step?

Why is the film not connecting those who quit with those who want to quit?

This is where the film could have risen to greater heights.

That leads me to the wider question: why do anti smoking campaigns generally fail? The answer lies in many behavioural studies done across geographies by many academicians. These studies are in public domain and are a wealth of insights. The basic thrust of most of these studies points to one factor. Anti Smoking campaigns stigmatize smokers, and while it may motivate a few to quit smoking, to a vast majority it makes them angry, resist the message and isolate themselves. This makes them light up the stick more then quitting the habit. Death is not the promise that motivates them to quit. Could the 11 minute long format narrative move beyond death and be in positive space? May be there is a next version coming.

The third TVC to catch fancy is Ariel’s Share the Load. Father has a moment of enlightenment when he sees his daughter balance home and office by being at two places at the same time. Father’s decision to correct his own mistake and share the load of housework with his wife is told with sincerity and humility. The brand could have become even more enduring if the final payoff was not just sharing laundry, and the product integration was a lot more muted. In its own archive, Ariel has a TVC where the husband does the laundry to win wife’s love. Kuch pane ke liye kuch dhona padta hai. This was before the social media became the force that it is today. This commercial was even more sensitive and loveable than Share the Load one.

Tea, detergent and anti smoking are three very disconnected categories to come across socially appealing narratives. Brands should continue to do this irrespective of timing of award shows. 

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

AdStand: 24×7 media, social media and handling crisis

Three crises either broke or brewed over last week. They are clear indicators that the template for crisis management has broken. The earlier template of carefully calibrating the facts to provide a considered opinion to fight crisis is now either partially successful or may be completely unsuccessful. Of the three, two may be minor ones, but do give an insight on how to fight. The third is massive and is an example of all that can go wrong.

Last Friday, Delhi Airport detected suspected radioactive leakage. Two workers who handled the cargo complained of irritation and were treated in a hospital. GMR, the airport operator, was quick to respond by placing the facts in public domain. They used their social media handles to ensure that media and public knew the official position when they were commenting. By evening, the regulator announced that there was no radiation at the airport. The airport operator was proactive, always available to respond. Eventually that mattered more in containing the crisis.

Lesson 1: Proactivity helps

Last week, an online portal pointed out that the Make in India logo and a campaign from Cantonal Bank of Switzerland are suspiciously similar. Both have a lion and both have geared interlocked wheels. The news was picked up by both social media and mainstream media. The campaign for Make in India is the most extensive brand building campaign that India has been running; the charge of plagiarism did hurt the sentiments. The Government and the officials were quick to react and even blamed rival agencies for spreading the rumour. The controversy has ebbed, not because the world bought the official line, but because another Swiss brand had a spectacular meltdown and public affairs disaster.

Lesson 2: Facing the crisis and being non-rhetorical is a good tactic

Maggi’s love affair with India is 28 years long. It is India’s most loved brand; Maggi even celebrates this love in its advertising campaigns. There isn’t another brand that has the audience following as Maggi. How did a brand as loved and consumed fall prey to inept handling and bad management of crisis? At this stage of crisis, it is pointless to go into the merits of the case. Maybe it has more than permissible limit of lead, maybe not. Maybe it has excess MSG, maybe it doesn’t. The point to debate is this: Was Maggi distinctly old world like in its approach to impending crisis? In the old world approach, the brand would have waited for all the issues to ferment, hold one press conference, address issues and launch a campaign to reclaim the lost ground. This has been the approach of brands when big crisis hit them hard that last time around.

Nestle may not have anticipated that the small spark will become an uncontrollable firestorm. The test results have become a matter of technical debate; Nestle’s own responses have drowned in the deluge of comments. What matters is that consumers are taking sides (that tells you how strong the brand actually is) and Nestle has now become possibly the first food company to order a recall of the brand in the Indian market. In what should have been seen as a move that instills confidence, it is seen as admission of guilt.

With always-on media and consumer driven social chatter, brands have no choice but to be always on. In times of bad news, brands have to ensure that they don’t go into a shell and put their head in the sand. Active communication, putting facts in public domain and engaging a loyal bunch of customers are tactics that brands cannot ignore. For weeks now, consumers have been fighting a pitched battle for Maggi. By not stepping in, Maggi has lost far more than it would have bargained.

Lesson 3: Large brands are not insulated because of either size or heritage

Smart brand owners know that the old model of firefighting has run dry. New ways are sprouting, they need new hydrants.

Original was published here×7-media-social-media-and-handling-crisis/

IPL 5: Its coming of age

The IPL started under a cloud of uncertainty. Indian team had a disastrous tour to first England and then to Australia. It won nothing in England, and won almost nothing in Australia, save for one freak game in Hobart against Sri Lanka. Just when everyone thought that the Indian subcontinent is where Indian cricket will bounce back to previous glory, the fans were in for more disappointment. India won against Pakistan and SL, but lost to Bangladesh and couldn’t defend its title of Asia Cup!

It seemed that Indian cup of woes was overflowing.
Meanwhile Indian sport was mounting a strong challenge to Cricket. Hockey was played to a packed stadium, boxing was drawing crowds in the World Boxing Series. And a host of sporting events were attracting eyeballs.

It seemed that the dice was loaded against IPL
The opening ceremony did nothing to perk up the interest, and the first week of cricketing action left television audience cold. Ratings dipped, inventory piled up, and generally it looked like IPL 5 will fare worse than IPL 4. Add to it the controversies of fixing and rape, the league should have folded and gone belly up. Admittedly it’s easy to criticize IPL. The auction process, the international players, the cheerleaders, the focus on entertainment, the money power, the franchise system, the actors and businessmen are more than enough cannon fodder.  I have no intention of either criticizing or adulating the league.

Let’s evaluate the league purely as a media property. Has it worked or not?
If TV audience is the only measurement, then may be it hasn’t been very successful. But looking at IPL merely as a TV spectacle will be foolhardy. There are three indicators that will tell that IPL is headed in a slightly different direction.

First the online viewership has seen a phenomenal jump. The official IPL site has seen page views explode. Indiatimes, the official internet partner saw a 56% jump in viewership in first two weeks of the league. Since then, it would have only gone up. Clearly the action shift from the analogue world to the digital world has been stark. Additionally the online following of all the teams combined has doubled since the time the league started. That is impressive performance.

Second, the matches have been played to packed houses. 146 matches have already been played, and there are just two left to play. An estimated 44 Lakh people have watched the match live. That’s a staggering number, and it will go up to 45 Lakh at the end of the league.  No live event has ever created this kind of reach in India. The viewer enthusiasm has been unmatched with matches being sold out weeks in advance. Live events in India are usually chaotic, not IPL this year, it’s been impeccably organized

Thirdly, the quality of the product has improved, and that is the most important indicator. The improvement in quality of cricket did lead to increase in TV viewership too. It may not have produced new stars this year, but it did produce moments that captivated the country and the world. The traffic on social media sites is a testimony to that.

IPL seems to have filled a long existing gap in the Indian entertainment scenario, which was the lack of a good sustainable, scalable live entertainment property. While cricket has always attracted crowd in India, specially the ODI variety, the matches themselves have been very few in numbers. The live audience was so miniscule that it didn’t matter in overall count.

What it means is that IPL this year probably has transformed from a TV only property to India’s premier live entertainment event. Yes the viewers want to see scintillating cricket, but they also want to
experience the big arena feel. The energy, the feel and the joy of enjoying a live event made the viewer’s go again and again to ‘see’ the match.

IPL 6 will be a true marketing challenge. The audience appetite for IPL action will mean brands can have a two pronged strategy to engage with IPL. There is the conventional TV/internet as a property to leverage; and there is also the live audience as an opportunity to engage.

If there are 5 Million viewers who are watching the league, these five million are people who have sought out the league, they watch, they tweet, they have a conversation on Facebook, their multiplier effect is actually immeasurable. The 5million may actually impact another 50, driving either the TV audience or online viewership. For once the audience becomes the medium. Imagine the opportunity the brands can have to engage the in stadia audience through gigs and acts in the break, without stemming the flow of the game. And the impact of such acts will be far greater than any amount of passive TVC that brands can buy on TV. For once the gigs will not be dependent on the TV audience, but will be fuelled by the camera totting all sharing audience.

This is not to say that IPL doesn’t need to fix a few issues. It does, and I am sure the board’s working towards fixing them. Cricketing reasons drove the audience acceptance this year, and if the quality of cricket remains this good, fans will flock to watch it

Most brands have heavy consumers and light consumers. Media choices do not allow smarter targeting but both consume similar communication. IPL too has heavy and light consumers, and that means brands can target the two with different strategies

IPL is transforming the entertainment landscape; it could do the same with communication landscape too.


original got published here

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

7 things research will never tell a marketer

No self respecting marketing executive can live without market research. Market Research offers purposeful information to make plans, policies, programmes and procedures of any marketing activity. Market Research industry is as old as communication industry and many would argue more important than the mainstream communication industry. Yet there are pitfalls, and things that MR can never tell. Here are seven things MR can rarely tell

1. Reflect reality

Market research is a post facto measurement of what had happened. The common belief is that research data reflects the current reality and hence can be used as a basis for predicting future. If that was the case then well researched brands would have never failed

2. Predict future

Research means placing human beings together in one place ask them their opinions and form that as a basis of predicting future. This is like saying that if you watch a lion in zoo, you will learn all about lions. Human zoo is no different from animal zoo, and is rarely the right basis of prediction.

3. Is never free of bias

Any form of research suffers from investigator bias and statistical errors. Research too is a classical case of stimulous response. The answers depend on what you ask, and that define the findings. Can research ever be free of bias?

4.Right answers depend on right questions

The new Coke is the stuff that is now a case study. While the new formulation tested well, scored on blind taste and passed every test the research industry threw at it, it failed when launched. The consumer was not asked the most obvious question; will the formulation change the brand they love? Do they want the brand to change? The result was a massacre in market

5. No guaranty of success

Testing a new commercial for predicting its success in market is a common practice. It is easy to score a commercial on emotional appeal, on message comprehension, on ability to create perception. Yet more commercials fail then succeed. We all know that, yet are slaves to practice

6. Does not replace experience and gut

We need to remember that research is a tool, and not the decision. A marketers gut, experience, market reality are far more important than any amount of research data. Yet the tendency is to live more by research data and less by collective experience.

7. Quality matters

We all know this.


Yet an average marketer rarely spends time on figuring out who will administer the stimulus for research. Will an average field executive be up to scratch? Will the average investigator strike the right balance of objectivity and expertise? Most researches are spoilt by simple overlooking of this crucial aspect. Next time pay attention to field investigators.

As a simple test try this, ban MR for a while, live by what you know as a marketer, trust your experience, trust your market feel, trust the hours you have spent in field. Take the decisions that need to be taken, and use research almost as the last step to check gross negative. You might speed up the process, learn a great deal more from mistakes, and possibly be more successful.

Experience always triumphs over data

Story of our times

India has always had two kinds of heroes, those who rule and those who are performers. These two are the royalty and performers. In any kingdom the King has always wanted to be in touch with reality of his kingdom. The performers have always been the pride of the kingdom.
In the ancient times the royalty went a great distance to be connected with their kingdom. The Open Durbars were their way of listening to the public. They were really the original crowdsourcers.
The performers were the people who caught the public’s eye and were always treated with awe and respect
This is how it used to be even in modern times. We have put two sets of people on the pedestal, the politicians and the performers. The performers include film stars and sports stars. It’s the performers who furthered the brand equity of the nation.
Earlier the politicians really lead a public life, where they mingled with the public and reflected their sense of moment. They were interested in what the public was doing, feeling and speaking. The politicians were really public figures and lead a public life
The second set of people is the performers. They have always leaded a private life. This helped them in creating the right myth and it increased their brand value. The myth was the critical for them to stay in limelight.
This whole dynamic has changed in recent times. The politicians have increasingly become the reclusive people and the performers have become the connected public figures.
The performers have really used the social mediums to become public figures. It is now very easy for the general public to interact with their heroes and role models. Twitter and Facebook have brought them out of the silver screen to our mobiles. The fans no longer need to wait outside the homes of the stars to get a glimpse of them. They are around, always.
The politicians on the other hand have become the isolated islands. They rarely want to connect with public and even more rarely do they reflect the sentiment of public. And a few who have wanted to connect and reflect popular opinion have been pushed to the fringe. They do appear in media only to ensure that the public does not forget them.
This is a strange paradox where those who should be connected are not, and those who can do without the connection are!
Are there any implications on the world of branding? Clearly there is a connection. Brands too are about creating a myth around them, by generating authentic stories around them.
For a longtime the brands have played the reclusive game. They have allowed people to peep into their world but in a very limited sense. Even when they signed up with a ‘performer’ they have not opened themselves up completely. This has started to change now. The rising consumer power is forcing the brands to open up and truly become public. They are now forced to create communities, give up control and really become friends with consumers. They are discovering that it pays to be open about the brand myth, make their audience an insider and be open. They are willingly giving up practices that used to infuriate their audience and bringing more and more and more truth in brand communication. I agree that this trend is not really a dominant theme, and many brands are still in reclusive mode. It’s only a matter of time before they catch on.
Earlier the politicians used to Crowdsource to increase their appeal, now the brands are doing the same.
Wonder why the politicians are not learning?