“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”


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.

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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?

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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 

The Long and Short of it.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

2015 – Exploring the iceberg


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

 

 

 

 

When you witness Tendulkar getting out along with Waqar Younis, Shaun Pollack, Stephen Fleming and Carl Hooper…


One of the perks of being in advertising is to be privy to some of the most intimate moments of the history; in retrospective I recollect one, as Sachin is hanging his boots in few days I owe it to myself to narrate this amazing event to the world. It was in 2002, while working on a world cup cricket campaign for LG electronics; I was shooting 36-television commercials at a breakneck speed for the world cup in South Africa. LG tied-up with ICC as the primary sponsor and was allowed by ICC to use all participating 14 team captains for publicity hence the campaign with 14 captains ( “Cricket first” was the campaign theme), we got the time for shoot allotted by ICC in Colombo Sri Lanka whist the ICC champions trophy being played in that country. We had around 6 days to shoot all 14 captains, were allowed a couple of hours a day with out upsetting the team schedules.

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We parked ourselves at the Hilton Colombo and marked several locations in the hotel for shooting different commercials to save time, one such location was the penthouse suite; One of the days when we were set to shoot the combinations with Nasser Hussain, Waqar Younis, Shaun Pollack, Stephen Fleming and Carl Hooper, while Nasser Hussain was getting ready for his shot, I was watching India playing Zimbabwe in one of the bedrooms sitting in center of the bed, soon I was joined by the legendary bowling captains, Waqar, Pollack, Flaming and Hooper.

Soon the bowlers were glued to the TV watching the Indian “God” batting, I still remember the mesmerizing site of four bowlers watching master batsman Sachin bat,  like little kids seeing an instructor play. I was pinching myself for what I was witnessing and then all hell broke loose as Sachin gets out cheaply to Heath Streak or Henry Olongo, In unison you see all four raising hands in air and say “Shit” with utmost disgust and argue amongst themselves about, how unfair the life is; while Pollack says “ we all are always asked to bowl straight and we follow that religiously and look at this bloke bowling wide outside the off stump and the master decides to ignore all his discipline and reaches the ball to give a catching practice to the second slip.” “Why does this bowler gets “Masters” wicket so easily? And why do we have to slog for days to get him?” adds Waqar.

I can never forget how lucky I was to see the greatest bowlers of all time discussing about Sachin’s batting and putting the kind of importance to his wicket in their life is simply amazing, bowlers around the world practice relentlessly for months and years to get him out is a testimony to his greatness and being a witness to such an event makes my 34 years of advertising career worth the while.

Create. Collaborate and Compete.


 

Advertising has become more complex today then ever before, there was a time when all channels of communications were controlled by advertising agencies but today advertising has gone through a significant change today we have more then two dozen specialist agencies specialized from creative planning to digital executions. Apart from loads of channels to communicate to the consumers have changed, people themselves have changed.

A recent study published in Times of India points the average age of the consumer had dropped dramatically, for instance an average car buyers age had come down from 45 to below 30. This change not only affects the target for marketing but it also changes the media planning. Hence one needs to look at the content of communication in the context of message consumption therefore it is extremely important for the communication content creators to understand the contextual targeting. The moral of this story is if the creative and media planning or digital planning agencies do not collaborate then how the hell are they going to create a relevant campaign?

 

 

 

In this ever-evolving complex world everything is linked to everything and not everyone can be experts in everything. Super specializations are hear to stay and the intelligence lies in learning from each other and working as a team even if the team you are supposed to work with, belongs to a competing holding company. If a creative agency can collaborate with a film production company, which also works with competing agencies can happen with out any hesitation, then why not collaborate with another competing small agency on a project in the interest of a brand?

Bigger and traditional creative agencies can learn a thing or two from modern design companies which have learned to co-create and collaborate with technology companies for starters take a look at the design winners from Cannes this year. Small and nimble agencies have realized this early enough and are raking in now. Now it’s the turn of the biggies.

We all are witnessing the results of coalition government with out any collaboration. I urge all the communications channels to come together and get to learn from each other and march ahead into the new age communication era.

After all the solo sulking days have gone, as my friend Agnello puts it “jo tera hai wo mera hai”,

 

 

 

Gandhi vs. Anna.


Anna is a simple man, so was Gandhi.

Anna started by changing himself and then his village so did Gandhi.

Anna preaches non-violence, so has Gandhi.

Anna is a stubborn man, so was Gandhi.

Anna rallied young India, so did Gandhi.

Unfortunately the comparisons stop here.

Anna is a Gandhian but not a Gandhi. I respect Anna for his honesty, simplicity, his stubbornness, intent and his peaceful methods. Leaders are always born out of adversity, when India is going through her worst leadership integrity crisis, Anna took upon himself to rally people against corrupt politics and society, a simple, quite Gandhian turned into an agent of people’s conscience.

Anna’s success came because of young India taking to streets, a movement fueled by anger and helplessness of young men and women, who silently witnessed the powerful leaders and businessmen shamelessly looting their treasury.

When corruption reached parliament, when policemen started to rape and molest little girls, when army men stoop to steal wealth, when politicians blatantly amass disproportionate wealth, When educated entrepreneurs cook-up account books, when Baba’s hide rooms full of gold and silver and when temple incomes bulge more then a state’s. You know it’s only a matter of time for a catharsis and indeed Anna became the fountainhead of this revolt.

After Jaiprakash Narayan no other leader mustered as much support as Anna. Jaiprakash Narayan succeeded in changing the government because he supported a newly formed cleaner party with leaders of intent and integrity. The agenda before the nation was clear: vote out the Nazist congress party, people understood and implemented. When people empathize with issues they need an action point and Jaiprakash Narayan provided one.

Mahatma Gandhi too understands this human truth like any other successful leaders in the history, Gandhi always gave an action point, be it making salt or burning British made cloths or asking the mighty British to “Quite India”. Any mass movement should have an actionable end. Even the recent “Occupy Wall Street” had a definitive action point to just occupy Wall Street. Simple enough for people to understand and execute.

Anna should go beyond appealing to people to come onto the streets to protest. He must give an action point, if one were to say “ Vote for Lokpal or Quit parliament” and if one were to give the agenda of pushing every local MP to vote or resign, there would have been an action plan for restless young Indians to execute.

I believe Anna will become a true heir of Gandhiji, if he becomes as shrewd thinker and as clear visionary as Mahatma is.