“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.

A Son’s Father


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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!

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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!

Big Brands – Bigger Purpose


 

Commitment to quality and values

The above statement isn’t a mere vision statement that companies put on their walls but a mark of authority that is etched into brands like Tata and Aditya Birla Group and forms the core of each of their endeavors. Both these groups have been a beacon of trust for years and have set standards for everyone else to follow. They are the fulcrum and the inspiration on which New India has been built. Today we’re going to take a look at one dimension of the brands to try and decode why they are what they are.

Like all other practices, Tata Group’s communication also puts ‘people’ at the heart of it. Long time back when Tata came out with the corporate campaign for Tata Steel, it connected with people on a socially relevant basis without taking away the relevance of its brand. Tata Chemicals’ ‘Desh Ka Namak’ campaign for Tata Salt was based on bringing back values like honesty that have been long forgotten in our country. Over the last two decades, Tata Salt has lived up to its claim of being ‘Desh Ka Namak whether its change in behavior or business numbers’. According to Nielsen Retail Audit, March 2011, each month more than 50,000 metric tonnes of Tata Salt is sold through over 12 lakh retail outlets reaching 50 million households across the country.

Perhaps one of the most defining campaigns of the last decade was Tata Tea’s- Jaago Re. Jaago Re was a cause based initiative taken by Tata Tea in 2008 with other NGOs and non-profit organizations to create awareness on certain issues plaguing the country around elections. The aim was to awaken the nation to the fact that they tend to hold the government accountable to various mishaps and encouraged them to participate in the functioning of the country’s politics by voting. The campaign received numerous accolades and was an extremely successful campaign.  Taking the good work of Tata Tea forward, Tata Capital positioned itself on the platform of ‘Doing Right’ and putting people above oneself. The brand and its communication propagated the virtue of selflessness- projecting right values, putting people first and preaching what is right. Coming to jewelry, the recent Tanishq campaign from Tata celebrates the second marriage of a woman which has always been frowned upon by our society. It is a brave and progressive attempt by Tata which has always been the agent of change in this country and showing the way to others.

Tata’s commitment to the nation and the society for all these years without losing focus of its business has led to it being one of the most responsible, credible and transparent brands in the world. This is a message to other businesses and brands who are not consumer facing to take a leaf out of Tata’s book and make a social connect along with the business connect. There’s something in the DNA of Tata to build brands which have social commitment and respect for the same values. Apart from this, championing acts like Tata Nano to empower the middle class is really magnanimous and commendable.

Another brand which has set an example for others to follow is the Aditya Birla Group. Whether it’s their corporate campaign which in spite of its larger than life feel, yet retains a strong connect with the masses or its Birla Sun Life Yuvraj Singh campaign which aimed to inspire mass India with the personal triumphs, trials and tribulations of Yuvraj, who like a Phoenix, never accepts defeat. The biggest triumph for the group came in the form of Idea Cellular. Idea has always come up with campaigns which have been for a greater cause.

In 2007, the brand came up with a campaign ‘What an Idea Sirjee’ taking up the caste issue plaguing the society. This series included campaigns like ‘Use Mobile, Save Paper’, ‘Walk When You Talk’, ‘Education for All’, ‘Democracy’ et al. Idea took up several causes plaguing the society and provided brilliant solutions to it without the brand losing relevance.

The world is changing very fast. And in this changing world unfortunately, values are taking a backseat. Fortunately, for us there are brands like Tata and Aditya Birla Group which stand tall and firm like a lighthouse showing us light amidst a sea of doubts while guiding us towards the right port.

 

-Published in Business Standard  09th of december 2013

 

 

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.