A walk down the city streets during the after-work hours these days, would show you a very different life of the hardworking labour class. Low cost smartphones and the latest revolution that was brought in by Jio has given all of them an access into a whole new world of entertainment and information that is creating aspiration in the section of our society that was never pulled in the economy. Though as single units, they might not look like a big change, but even a proportion of the 80 million migrant population can collectively change the face of consumption patterns in the country. Smart phones single-handedly have led to a revolution around us; the target groups are evolving, touch points for brands are changing, shopping pattern are way different, accessibility and experience are the new parameters for quality, but the world of advertising has failed to catch up with the pace of innovation.
As any new pathbreaking technological evolution is accepted by people, the brand powerhouses start adapting themselves, they are followed by the marketing firms who tweak their strategy as per the brand’s need and then the advertising companies move towards the change only when pushed. Ad-agencies are not pre-empting the changes and adapting themselves but are being the laggards, and this gap could be as much as 2 years! In an era when technology is changing with the blink of eyes, 2 years is enough of a time to make you irrelevant and you may be consumed by what is being termed as ‘Digital Darwinism’.
Look at what’s happening in the Industry, many brands are losing their equity and connect with customers and are increasingly being commodititized. For instance, let’s consider the Airline industry, the companies have lost their brand value and the entire business has become a price war zone. People choose the cheapest flight and are not willing to pay any premium for a brand. One of the reasons could be that companies have failed to tell their stories to their consumers. Once, the television was an engaging medium, people had time to spare and TV commercials served as effective medium for brand communication. But now, the world has shrunk into the 5.5” mobile screen and brand communicators have not been able to tap that medium effectively yet. Although social media campaigning and digital marketing are a ‘talk of the town’ these days, but the innovators are moving far ahead as we are trying to figure out what hashtags and keywords make users click. The Siris and Cortanas are slowly becoming an integral part of our daily lives, our gadgets are becoming more intuitive and intelligent, chatbots are taking over communication, in such times shouldn’t advertising be moving on along the same pace? How do we integrate a brand with the modern-day J.A.R.V.I.S and F.R.I.D.A.Y, and gain the customer’s mindshare?
Seamless connectivity, accessibility and quick service are no longer a tool for customer satisfaction and retention, they now are hygiene factors; if you’re not quite there, you’re off the evoked set, may be, forever. The factors like quality, better features, design innovation, though are still relevant, but they are not the only ones that would differentiate you, there are so many others offering the same. To find a place in the customer’s top of the mind recall we need the brand communication to be an experience that would keep the customers at ease and weave into their lifestyle perfectly; the message needs to be unified at various brand touch points, from the customer support service to the UI/UX experience.
A big revolution that awaits us in the very near future is Internet of Things, or IOT. We’re talking of a world where not just our phones and tablets but even cars, refrigerators, air conditioners would all be intelligent enough to know just what we need. These devices become store houses of data, giving novel insights into customer’s buying pattern, preferences, lifestyle and choice drivers: data that was previously unobtainable. The marketers will have several opportunities to deliver more relevant communication to the consumers and it might not be in any ad-format we know as of now. We’re heading towards an unpredictable era. Is the advertising industry ready for such a change, from being just a communicator to being an integral part of the service design and orchestrating a brand campaign?
We need to gear up and participate in this evolution, as the strategy guru Peter Drucker put it, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
First published in Business Standard on the 2nd Jan 2017
Stories are the earliest forms of communication known to mankind, they have stood the test of time; we share lessons, morals, beliefs and any kind of emotion through our stories. Advertising is no different and I have always believed that advertisers are story tellers. Today as advertising is adopting the modern internet space, we are experiencing the next level of storytelling by advertisers – the long format advertising, usually 1-5 minutes duration. They are fast becoming the popular new kids on advertising block. It’s encouraging to see advertisers keep a purpose and an emotion at the heart of the story and the products placed in the background, it sure reflects the maturity that the society and the advertising community is undergoing.
But as we speak today about 90% of these stories don’t serve this purpose and fall short of touching the core. I hope we don’t fall in the trap of long format for the sake of it. A long format ad is no different from a good short ad or good film making, the principles remain the same. Take for instance one of the most viewed ads on internet; the ad for a French toilet paper brand Le Trefle, the Emma ad, this was actually a 40 second TVC or Ambuja cements ad with wrestler Khali which is just more than a minute.
Now is the right time to reflect and realise the power of such a format and ensure that this is not reduced to being an extended TVC by just changing the duration from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. It’s time we realise it’s not about the duration, but the determination to highlight a purpose and bring about a change; it’s not about the number of hits, it’s about the number of hearts touched; it’s not just about ‘likes’, it’s about Love; and it’s not about product selling, but story-telling.
British Airways “fuelled by love” online campaign by SapientNitro India
The 10% long format ads that work are conceived, written and directed to do justice to the duration and the space. The Fortune Oil’s Daddi ad, Nestle’s stammering standup comedian and cartoonist ads, Lifebuoy’s Gundappa, Google’s reunion, British Airways’ ticket to visit mum, Skymet weather’s help the farmer initiative and the likes are some that prove this point beyond doubt; and that content on the internet should be less aspirational and more authentic. There is this Wagh Bakri Tea ad that tells the story of a wife who leaves her husband, he realizes her worth and then reaches out to get her back in his life; I love the video but the last 1.5 minutes of the 4 minutes video is spent on the clichéd pack shots, underwater shots of tea leafs in boiling water which obstructs the storytelling. I so wished they stayed away from those typical TVC type shots.
Ambuja Cement’s Khali campaign by Publicis India
It’s time we realise the fundamental difference of the audiences in this space and the possibility that it offers. The audiences here are active unlike the passive audiences sitting in front of the TV set, here they can engage with the purpose, with the brand. They can comment, join the purpose, create more content; hence we should invite them to engage and make them a part of the story, help them contribute. Like the way a Lifebuoy’s Chamki does, it picks a real life story of one family, gives out a larger message and asks the viewers spread the message ‘Help a child reach 5’.
There are some myths prevalent in this space like long format ads costs nothing, but for anything to go viral you need to have a reach till it gains traction and there after it’s the content that will help you take off. The next myth is that length is not an issue in the internet space, but the reality is that maximum people drop off after 15-20 seconds which will count as your hits but they haven’t seen your story, so better aim for depth of engagement.
Nestle India’s ” Fauja Singh’s #100AndRunning online campaign by SapientNiro India
To sum up we should work on the Inspire , Interact , Amplify framework. We are still to amplify the internet space to its fullest, for starters we can enable viewers to just click on products they see in the video, donate for the cause, interact with the people they see etc Eg DBS ChilliPaneer. For instance you can even link to e-commerce by interacting either by a click or drag the room they see in an online furniture store into the shopping cart, which should then break it into all the products shown and the viewer can then add or less items and then transact. All these and much more can be done in this space but it all starts with a relevant story that is well told.
*This Article was published earlier in an online publication.
Often the phrases, ‘A father’s son’ or ‘like father, like son’ have been heard, each defining how a son grows up to emulate and be like his father. In the world of conventionalities, this is a conventional virtue – ‘being like your father’. We will meet many who are their father’s son’, but today on the occasion of Father’s Day, I take the road less travelled and introduce you to – ‘A son’s father’. Sounds quite odd right, but in this oddity we come across a Father who let his kids be rebels, who instead of thinking on behalf of them, provided them with the ability to think for themselves, who taught them to explore and then choose, who fashioned himself to be a Father that a Son truly needs!
The father I talk about was a sportsman; football and hockey player. He has five sons, who turned out to be diagonally opposite to him. Often just to ignite the interest in sports amongst his sons he would fill the house with varied sports gears, but the only time his sons would touch them would be when their friends wanted to play. He also used to take his sons for practice matches of football and hockey thinking may be this could work, but his sons would join in only for the goodies and mouth-watering street food they would get after the matches are over. All this while he had a secret longing that his sons embrace sports but this longing never morphed into a vocal expectation or pressure. Even though he had to retire from his own sports career prematurely owing to a severe injury where he lost his collar bone while playing hockey, he still did not force his dreams onto his sons. His five sons would often hear their father’s friends advising, cajoling and reasoning with them to join sports, ‘Now that your father can’t play, you should take up sports and in 5-6 years you can play for national teams and you father can be your manager.’ They would say. But his sons never took these nudges seriously, neither did he make it a compulsion of any kind. He just wished but never insisted, all he did was just introduce the five brothers to the possibility of sports as a career. What his sons embraced were different form of arts! Painting, acting, dancing and when they made a choice he enthusiastically gave each of them a push. And it is because of this ‘let them be, what they want to be’ fatherhood, his five sons are what they are today!
The five sons, being my four brothers and me and the father being – Goli Venkateshwara Rao (Goli is his nick name as he was a goal keeper and his real name is K Venkateshwara Rao). Our father, ‘A son’s father’. I vividly remember the day when I decided I want to Paint, my father who knew nothing about Painting as a career, consulted one of his office colleagues. His colleague approached their government office union, who in those days for educational and awareness purposes used to put up huge posters and boards which were painted and from their he got half a dozen chart-papers, colours, brushes and gave them to my father. And my father brought this task back home to me and said I have to paint these awareness campaigns on the huge chart-papers. As a small kid I was a bit overwhelmed looking at this herculean task, because back then we were just used to small drawing books and colour pencils. This task contributed to my being as an artist, it made me a bolder artist. As a kid I was very timid, but when I used to paint my work was really bold. This little act of my dad with the spirit to encourage me liberated me from the typical start to a drawing/painting career. A little later in life my father got me yet another amusing painting job. He had a friend who owned a film distribution company and advertising billboard company, he went and spoke to him about me. His friend asked him to get me to him, so we went and my father and me initially both were a bit shocked looking at the status-quo of this job. Drunken painters, painting huge billboards mounted on crazy heights, the mess and it was an overnight job. My father gave me a simple advice, if you think you can learn something from this job then stay and if you think there is nothing to learn then come back. The choice was mine! In a confused state of mind, I somehow stayed back and what I earned was my second instalment of boldness.
Such was his modus-operandi hurl us into a situation and see if we like it, adapt to it, and how do we find our way. In our childhood when we were clueless about our lives he simply used to force us to explore. For instance, one day he took all five of us to a huge well in which people used to actually swim. With a life vest he just threw all five of us into the water! Out of us five two started to swim and enjoy like a fish in water. And the other three were scared to death, I being one of them. Ever since he never forced us three to swim he simply gave us an environment to explore what we want or don’t want. The only thing he has ever insisted in his entire life was for us is to get a college degree. He never stressed on scoring great marks, he simply said pursue what you want to but also go to college and get a degree. Because college would expose us to a whole new real world experience. It will make us meet different people, different experiences like politics, elections in college, sports. This experience would make us ready for life, because it would dole out life skills. And we adhered to this insistence.
Yet! Another interesting quality of ‘a son’s father’ is that he is always your friend. To us he was never a father, a figure of authority, he was a friend with whom we shared a candid, honest relationship. When we were 13-14 he encouraged us to ogle at good looking girls, he used to say, ‘It’s natural you should get attracted’. He once caught me smoking and out of fear I threw the cigarette, all he said was ‘you just wasted 20 paise’. I was even more petrified because he did not react and shared the incidence with my Mother, who simply said you were smoking not from your money but his and he just wants to teach you the value of someone else’s money. He wants you to know that you have no right to burn away someone else’s money like this. He used to treat us like adults, if someone came and complained about us, he would first take us aside and ask us if it was our fault. If we denied being defaulters he would in fact support us and if we accepted it was our fault, then he would reprimand us.
He never preached, he had his unique ways to teach us varied values. To teach us the value of money he had constructed an interesting practice. Every month when he got his salary he would give the entire amount to us five brothers and ask us to segregate it in varied envelopes, each envelope would be a fixed monthly expense, like the milkman’s bill, kirana bill and so on. This way we became aware of the expenses a household went through. Then whatever was left would go into a savings box, which had a book placed next to it. Whenever anybody makes a withdrawal from the box he/she has to write why, when and how much money was taken. Every month this book was read out loudly just so that everyone knows, when this happened we used to realize the pointless withdrawals we had made. With this practice we learnt, value of money, honesty, integrity and transparency.
One of the most valuable lesson he has taught us is to respect Women, we had no sisters and thus he insisted each one of us learn at least two skills that a girl is expected to know. So I learnt cooking and making rangoli, similarly my brothers learnt what they wanted. Thus when my mother wasn’t well each one of us was equipped to run the house and help her get better. He taught us through experience!
And this experience he has lived it all through. 27 years back when I got my first credit card, out of the sense of pride and the sense of giving something back to my father, I got an add on credit card for him as a gift. I gifted him but he politely denied it. After some months I insisted he keeps the card, because now I was capable enough to do something for him. He took it, but ever since he hasn’t used the card. Every year I renew it but he never uses it, once my mother told me, ‘He accepted the card to honour your pride and feelings but he will never use it!’
Although he was never a father, he was more like a sixth brother! I still attempt to be ‘a father’s son’ by trying to be ‘a daughter’s/son’s father’. I also thank him for being him, because that is the sole reason why I am what I am today!
Happy Father’s day!
2015 – Exploring the iceberg
The past years 2013, 14 we touched the ice berg with higher digital spends, long format story based ads, adoption of online shopping and flourishing of e-commerce businesses and better and more impactful government advertising. In the coming years we shall explore the iceberg and comprehend its magnitude. The developments in 2014 will continue and better in 2015 and also the year should see (I hope) new trends responding to the changes happening around.
The adoption of internet and its influence in communication and advertising will continue with higher growth rates. A recent report by McKinsey & Company and Facebook said India would add close to 300 million internet users by 2018 to make up an online population of just under 500 million people. While this trend is acknowledged by the advertising industry, the adoption of this trend in the rural areas is still to be explored. Few pioneers like HUL with its Kan Khajura Tesan have taken steps in this direction; with more than 80 million internet users and increasing consumption of low cost, internet enabled smart phones in the rural markets I hope to see more work in this space. Internet and mobile multimedia is used more for entertainment in the rural areas unlike urban where the use is more for social purposes. This insight should lead marketers to create more entertaining content for the rural population in 2015. What happened on ground all these years should go online, catering to masses; things like music, performances, plays and movies are likely to go online and accessed through mobile phones.
The rural markets have been paid attention in some industries but there are certain trends that will influence consumption and communication in the rural space – like rural doesn’t always mean poor and bottom of pyramid, there is rural rich as well and they are consuming brands; with luxury car brands, branded consumer durables and electronics getting a fair share of their revenues from the rural space. Another very important trend is about the rural children with access to satellite communication and internet are growing up with similar aspirations like their urban counterparts. Hence we can’t discriminate between an urban and rural kids as they are viewing the world with same lens. Hence the psychographic targeting will become more important than geographic targeting. Going forward rural marketing will go through a sea change.
Another trend that took shape in 2014 is the spending on the digital mediums and this will continue unprecedented in 2015. According to the latest findings of the Digital Advertising in India Report by IAMAI and IMRB, the online advertising market in India is projected to reach Rs 3,575 crore by March 2015, a growth of 30 per cent over last year. Along with increasing spends what was seeing in the year gone by and also with their plans for coming years was the maturity of the clients w.r.t. digital adverting; they are taking bold decisions and are understanding the immense possibilities that comes with digital. Having CMTO i.e. Chief Marketing Technology Officer will become common in the coming years.
The next trend is a problem of sorts which will aggravate in the coming years, and what needs to be seen is how the industry deals with this. The trend is that many category of products are becoming commodities due to the presence of search and aggregating technologies; they loosing brand value and hence the ability to charge premium for branded products. Take for example the airlines industry where once the brand was the most important variable in the decision making criteria i.e. business travelers sweared by Jet Airways. Now due to the presence of google and other aggregators which throw the cheapest tickets for the searched routes, price has become the most important variable and the industry has gone into this vicious cycle of downward spiraling prices. This leads to a compromise in services, losses and hence today a profitable airline is an achievement. This is true for many industry like many financial services and also consumer durables where the customer may visit a retail outlet to get all the information related to a product but purchase online. The concept of branding that created emotional connect with its customers and there by commanding a premium is failing to do so in spite of increased investments.
With most activities in the purchase process happening online the scope for creating human connection is reducing and hence in the coming years brands will be redefined by the experiences they create online and offline. Marketers have forgotten this and are now having a very transactional relationship with their customers over the internet and emotional affinity is taking a back seat. I hope in the coming year some will wake up and act to break this spiral.
Some other trends that will take off from 2014 is rise of e-commerce and online shopping, the online shopping behavior that was seen during Diwali in 2014 will continue in 2015 and players should build their infrastructure accordingly. Making ads for government which was seen below dignity of any professional advertising agency has changed for good. With the new government’s progressive vision, today advertising agencies take pride in contributing to governments actions. Corporates, agencies and people all are participating in issues of national importance, this was seen in the Swachh Bharat campaign in 2014 and going forward more such campaign and better integration will be seen.
Being more selfless, fresh, more engaging and telling stories that connect with the people will be the mantra in 2015. We saw hints of this happening and some pioneering brands and agencies working in this direction; if this is the take-off, 2015 will see the real flight and that makes it an exciting place to be and to watch out for.
Note: Originally published in the Financial Express in early 2015
Or is he a different type?
In hatred he saw love. In fear, courage. In weakness he saw strength. And in violence, truth. In cruelty he saw kindness. In anger he saw humanity. And in struggle, he saw peace. He saw things through his soul that are invisible to the eye. Yet through his eyes, we can still see the shining light of humanity. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. A different type.
Above are the words came out of Agnello Dias when I told him about my intention to create a font for Gandhi.
” There is no god higher than truth.” is what he said and is what got imprinted in my mind ever since I was a little boy, my grand parents always told me stories of Gandhi at bedtime, I am still a vegetarian thanks to the impression he made on me. I am just a spec in billions who follow him…
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