Sunday, August 18, 2013

The World that Exists in Small and Big Things


Let us not take it for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small” - Virginia Woolf

“Business class tickets for your parents’ first international vacation - a hundred and ten thousand rupees. Renting a luxury car - eight thousand rupees; tickets to the amusement park – five thousand six hundred rupees; watching your parents become children again – priceless. There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else, there’s MasterCard.”

To me, one of the most well-known creative concepts around the world - MasterCard’s “Priceless” campaign, best explains Virginia Woolf’s observation – “Let us not take it for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small.” We live in times where we usually measure our happiness with our possessions; there are non-materialistic things that make us much happier but life is more complex and commercial in the modern world. We “Live For Now” with Pepsi and mark our “Celebrations” with Cadbury’s… there are some things money can’t buy but for everything else we do need to swipe that card!

Marketers like us have realized that it is no longer only about the benefit of the product but it is about the larger emotion that they want to drive. So, if we buy insurance, we are buying protection and peace of mind; if we buy a specific car, we are buying a certain lifestyle and the pride that comes attached with it. This reminds me of American psychologist, Frederick Herzberg’s Dual Factor theory, popularly known as Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene theory in a workplace. I remember reading about it in college and it provides an interesting layer to what Ms. Woolf has to say. According to Mr. Herzberg, there are certain factors in the workplace that cause employee satisfaction and another set that causes dissatisfaction. The motivators or the satisfaction factors include larger things like recognition, sense of achievement, satisfaction derived from doing positive work for the society, among others. While the dis-satisfiers or the hygiene factors include mostly materialistic things like salary, comfortable work environment, perks, etc. The presence of these hygiene factors do not lead to motivation but their absence causes great dissatisfaction. Similarly, things that are considered small or materialistic in nature may not be the main cause of happiness but their absence definitely causes distress. So, according to me life exists fully in both what is commonly thought big and what is commonly thought small in today’s world.

Let us look at the recent Presidential inauguration in the United States of America. Returning to office for his second term, President Barack Obama talked about a number of important topics including the economy, gay-rights, guns and gender equality, among others. It was an important speech and millions in America and around the world took note. However, there is another element that grabbed the headlines that day – the First Lady’s dress! Michelle Obama’s red Jason Wu gown for the inauguration ball created as much excitement as her husband’s address to the nation. Now, in larger scheme of things what the First Lady wore may not be considered important but it was given prominence in all prime time news segments and in all other media vehicles. Someone tweeted that Jason Wu is now an inspiration for Asian kids who do not want to be engineers. All that fuss around a dress may seem superficial and materialistic on surface, but it is not for Jason Wu, his team, the fashion industry, design students and probably that Asian kid who does not want to be an engineer. Who decides what is small and what is big and if life fully exists in either? What is trivial and small for one may be a source of big joys or sorrows for another. It is all about the prism through which we choose to view our lives.

Media and marketers have played an important role in shaping the modern consumer’s mindset. I use the word “consumer” and not “person” as we are driven and defined by the materialistic choices we make. What is commonly thought big and what is commonly thought small are not mutually exclusive now. For instance, a mother buys a specific lotion brand for her child as she thinks that it offers the best care she can provide. If she is unable to purchase that brand and has to compromise with a cheaper brand that is considered but is not actually inferior, she may not feel the same satisfaction. The larger emotion here is caring for her child but the small element of buying a specific product that is considered the best does lead to her happiness.  


People today do not take for granted that life fully exists in what is commonly thought big but probably give more than required importance to what is commonly thought small. These are also the times of instant gratification and shorter attention spans – so we grab onto the small things while usually not letting go of the larger agendas.  We remember the larger picture but also revel in the small joys of life or shall I say materialism like Ms. Woolf’s critique of modern fiction writers? We love Christmas or Diwali for the festive spirit, joy and love of our families; but we also love these festivals for the gifts we exchange and the new things we acquire. Take the gifts out and you may not enjoy the festival too much… the larger emotion of love and togetherness remains but the small worldly possessions make it more special. This may not be the ideal world but is the world that we inhabit today where life fully exists in both small and big things. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Does having a Facebook fan page qualify as Social Media Marketing?


Well I am no social media expert but I do know for a fact that having a Facebook page or presence on Twitter is not social media strategy. Every second day I get an invite to become a fan of brand X or brand Y or join a group started by the brand... am sure you do too! Sometimes, I accept because the invitation is sent by a friend and sometimes I ignore (you would also do that if you hate the product).

I am assuming that I am invited to join as I fit in their target audience profile but what do they do after I join the group? 80% of the times, nothing! Once in a while you get a status update or new pictures or information about their new products, but is that sufficient? Or sometimes your timeline / wall is spammed by the brand updates.

Thankfully, many brands are realising the importance of social media and are willing to invest, both in terms of time and money. Let me share an example... recently, I got invited to an interesting workshop for bloggers called 'Technology @ Home', organised by Samsung India. The workshop focused on importance of aesthetics for future technologies. So, when Samsung launches their 3D television, it should look pretty in your house! They had invited leading technology consultant, Kishore Bhargava and interior designer and columnist, Rekha Nambiar to share their insights on the subject. Themes such as how technology can be used seamlessly for a wonderful entertainment experience, fundamentals of acoustics, light, visual aesthetics, etc, that need to kept in mind while designing a space around technology, were discussed in the workshop.

The folks at Samsung understand that theirs is not a natural buzz category like cars where conversations will happen on its own (most of the times). They also understand that before buying an expensive LCD / LED TV set, people will search online, refer to tech blogs and accordingly make an informed decision. As per the brand, the key objective of these workshops (which they want to continue) is to engage stakeholders and get a better understanding of their likes and dislikes. And that's what happened at the workshop where someone gave them an idea to offer end-to-end solutions to their customers in terms of installing their futuristic products aesthically. Imagine getting advice on your interiors and integration with your other gadgets when you buy a TV.

As I said earlier, I am no social media expert but as an observer and a potential customer, and I think Samsung is on the right track. I am sure there are many other brands that are going beyond just making a Facebook page and would love to hear more about them...

Cartoon courtesy and copyright: www.tomfishburne.com; also read their interesting post on 'Voice of the Brand'

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Racism or Simply Bad Marketing - Lessons from Haagen-Dazs

In my last post, ‘Does Haagen-Dazs not need Indian customers?’ I talked about a special promotion by Häagen-Dazs, where they invited international travelers for an exclusive preview of their café at Select City Walk, Delhi. The promotional banners that were splashed across the mall screamed, ‘access restricted only to holders of international passports’. So, this means that if I have an Indian passport, I am not allowed in, right? The company spokesperson in an interview to The Economic Times (Story by Reshmi Dasgupta) however has denied the same and said “an error was made in the creative execution”. “It was a wrong choice of words, and we regret the error”, he added. He also said that if people were refused entry momentarily it was only due to overcrowding as there was a rush.

While a clarification has come from the company (not satisfactory though), marketers can learn a few lessons from this issue. The first one is to respect the members of the society you operate in and the second one is dealing with social media.

An international company that plans to do business in India, especially in food retail / hospitality sector should realize that the customer is the king and being humble would be a good idea. By using words like ‘access restricted only to holders of international passports’, Häagen-Dazs has not only disrespected (knowingly or unknowingly) their potential customers but have also landed themselves in a racism issue. Even if the company is putting the blame on the choice of words and have ‘regretted’ the error; they have not been able to clarify the rationale behind the campaign. What was the idea behind ‘holders of international passports’ concept? Surely there is no other word for passports! The blame will certainly be passed on to the advertising agency as they executed the campaign. However, is it fair to blame the agency only (the easy thing to do), when the campaign was also approved by the client? Surely, the responsibility is shared.

The company spokesperson also said that no one was turned away because of nationality. Even if this is true, the point here is why would anyone go to the café after reading the banner outside? I certainly did not try to enter as the access was ‘restricted’. Anyways, it is their business and a lot of us are happy to go to places where there are no restrictions on access.

Coming to the social media part, it seems that Häagen-Dazs does not have a clear policy or they haven’t paid enough attention to the same. The first post on this issue appeared on this blog on December 13 and by December 14, it started to viral on Twitter, Facebook and other sites. On December 15, a journalist from The Times of India highlighted the same on his blog and by the end of the day there were many forums on the issue. I wrote to their international corporate communications team on the same day with a link to the post but did not receive any response. In just two days, the online world was full of discussions on the issue but the only party that kept quiet was Häagen-Dazs. If the company had responded / clarified their position on the two blogs where the story appeared first, maybe the situation would have been be very different now. Speed is of the essence while responding online and in this case, the company simply did not see the reason to do so.

Knowingly or unknowingly, Häagen-Dazs has offended people and I do not think that just ‘regretting the error in choice of words’ is sufficient. What about taking the ownership of the mistake and apologizing? What do you think?



Also read, Ashwani Singla's (CEO, Genesis Burson-Marsteller) views on his blog, Reputare: Haagen-Dazs goes back to the days of the British Raj: Indians not allowed

Picture: Rhea Malvai

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Does Haagen-Dazs not need Indian customers?

Super premium ice cream brand, Häagen-Dazs recently opened its first store/cafe in India at Delhi's posh, Select Citywalk mall in Saket. Being a foodie, I was excited about the launch when I read about it first in the papers.
However, when I visited the mall last weekend, I was in for a rude shock. There were big banners announcing the launch of the cafe and a special preview before it opens for everyone. It read (see picture):
"Partied at the French Riviera? Welcome. Exclusive preview for international travellers. Access restricted only to holders of international passports." (The last sentence in fine print)
The cafe's entrance was covered with silk curtains and a few local employees were inside, waiting for the 'INTERNATIONAL PASSPORT HOLDERS' to come and try what was being denied to Indians. I did not find this 'exclusive' offer in good taste (not that I was dying to eat at Häagen-Dazs) as it smelt of racism. Maybe, racism is a strong word but it did upset me to see an international brand that wants to do business in our country, behaving in a high-handed manner.
I wonder if the idea for this 'exclusive' promotion came from a bright Indian B-school grad in the brand's marketing team here. That would be really sad!
Anyways, I was at Select Citywalk again this weekend and the cafe was doing brisk business with Indian customers. Good for Häagen-Dazs, it doesn't really matter if they have lost one customer for life. I am happy with the frozen yoghurt at Cocoberry in the mall next door or the good old Mother Dairy ice cream outside on the road :)
Picture: Rhea Malvai

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Great Indian Election Tamasha

Since the time The Great Indian Election Tamasha has started, I have been waiting to hear the real issues our politicians are promising to address but haven't managed to filter out the same from what our media is reporting - not their fault as there is so much 'news' to report - from Varun Gandhi's 'Saving Hindus' to Lalu's 'Roadroller' plans and of course the spicy war of words between Narendra Modi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Also, when the politicians are not talking about the real issues, what would our media report on! The only manifesto that seems to have got good media attention is Samajwadi Party's 'document'. Not because it is a very important party but because of the ridiculous plans they propose - ban English medium schools, computers and the machines being used in agriculture - all to help increase employment by creating a level playing field of Hindi speaking graduates (why do we need English, our country is on the moon and need not have any communication with the outside world) who would either compute using a slate and chalk or use a bullock cart to plough the fields.
Anyways, I decided to check out manifestos of both Congress and BJP, the two leading parties who are staking claim to power. Broadly, both the parties talk about good governance, economic growth, security and development (especially in the villages), focus on the youth, etc, etc. Peculiar things I noticed in BJP's manifesto include 'Jai Jawan in Action' (separate pay commission for the armed forces, no Income Tax, etc - smart move considering the armed forces are up in arms against the ruling government concerning the pay commission) and 'Defending the Civilisation' (building Ram Mandir, saving Ram Setu, cow protection, cleaning Ganga, etc - shall we clean the Yamuna also please?). Congress on the other hand also had two points that BJP did not address, 'Judicial Reforms' (yes please yes) and 'Involvement of overseas Indians in development' (good thought - but the overseas Indians probably need our support now considering the economic slowdown).
In terms of marketing, Congress' focus seems to be on the country's development, while BJP is focused on the message of change - changing the failed current government and getting a determined leader and a decisive government. They even have a slogan: 'Aren't YOU a volunteer for change yet?' to invite online volunteers; check our L K Advani's website which even has Congress bashing sections such as 'All in the name of Nehru-Gandhi family' and 'Educating Dr Manmohan Singh'. I must congratulate BJP on its Web 2.0 approach in wooing the youth through Mr Advani's blog and presence on social networking platforms such as Orkut, FaceBook and YouTube; however, I wonder whether he himself updates his blog posts and also is he the right face for the party to target the youth? There is also a blog dedicated to Rahul Gandhi, which projects him as the next prime minister (I don't think it is an authorised blog, though it gives the copyright to Rahul Gandhi only). My personal favourite is the musical war of the two parties, Congress' version of Rahman's Oscar winning song, 'Jai Ho' praising the government's achievements and BJP's 'Bhay Ho' saying just the opposite.
Anyways, I am no expert and would leave the analysis to the Sanghvis, Thapars, Goswamis and Roys of the world. But what I have is 1 vote, which I will use wisely (well, hopefully!) and I urge everyone to do so. Before I end this post, I have a few messages as a voter to some of the esteemed politicians in the country:
  • Dear Mr Modi: Budhiya (old woman) or Gudiya (doll), why are you so obsessed with the Congress party's age or is it the leading women there (in that case, it is bad manners to comment on a woman's age)?
  • Dear Mr Varun Gandhi: I feel sorry for you. Who writes your speeches? I'd advice you to sack him/her.
  • Dear Ms Mayawati and Ms Maneka Gandhi: We have seen umpteen number of Nirupa Roy films and have a fairly good idea about Maa Ka Dukh (a mother's pain/sadness); so please spare us the debate, maybe, we can talk about the real issues?
  • Dear Ms Priyanka Gandhi: Congratulations! your party has made a smart move to have an un-official mouthpiece to make tongue and cheek remarks on the competition. From Varun Gandhi to Modi to Mulayam Singh, you seem to have an unlimited supply of quotable quotes.
  • Dear Mr Advani: We know you are a good orator and that is why challenging Dr Manmohan Singh to a live debate, but what is the fun when we know you won't give him a chance to speak. Anyways, it is a good idea though.
  • Dear Dr Manmohan Singh: Come on don't be shy, come out and talk to us about what you stand for and why are you the right man for the post.
  • Dear Laluji: I love your idea of a roadroller but it is not legal in India to kill anyone, you know.
  • Dear Amar Singh ji: Your bade bhaiyya, Mr Bachchan blogs in English and on a computer, maybe he could employ a few people to write postcards in Hindi for his dedicated readers. Employment ka employment, postal revenues will also increase. What say?
  • To all the Bollywood celebrities: You all are doing a good job by urging the country to vote but do not run away to South Africa on the D-Day to watch the IPL matches.
  • And of course, Tata Tea: you have a very good idea - Jaago Re. Congratulations for not only having a brilliant marketing campaign but actually making a difference by providing assistance to first time voters and encouraging everyone to vote.

Cartoon courtesy: http://www.manjul.com/

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Think out of the box... which box, matchbox?



What is the most used word in corporate world these days? It is used in interviews, meetings, presentations, over smoke breaks, everywhere. In fact, it is the most exploited word as well. The word has helped a lot of people earn millions, from professors to authors to business consultants, everyone has reaped profits from this word. This powerful ten-letter word is 'Creativity'.

Everyone talks about creativity and how important it is, but how many of us truly understand it. We talk about thinking out of the box but who decides what is the size of the box, I mean what are the limits that we need to push. What might be a creative idea to me could be something routine for another person or vice-versa. Therefore, creativity is something that can't be defined; actually doesn't defining creativity would limit its scope and won't it be against the very concept of creativity? Anyways, I don't have an answer to this question...

I can only talk about what I feel about creativity. I feel that creativity is a state of mind, it stems from hunger to do more and desire to excel. The moment you are satisfied and settle down comfortably, creativity starts running away from you... so according to me creativity is inversely proportional to satisfaction.

I also feel that creativity does not mean thinking of something totally new or inventing something. All of us can't be Edison but can be creative. It is more to do with knowing what is happening around you and adapting, applying the same things in different manner to your project or task. As per science, creativity is a function of right brain but I feel that the basic premise of creativity lies in the left part, which is the cognitive area. Knowledge is extremely important and it fuels what we call creativity. That's why people with more experience tend to come with new ideas more comfortably as compared to newcomers. An argument to this is the fresh perspective; people who are new bring a fresh approach but that also stems from their understanding of the subject and past exposure or experience of things.

Well, I am no De Bono who can give gyan on creativity and write best-sellers but look forward to more views on the topic du jour. It is something all of us talk about in the corporate world and it'd be great to hear what others feel about the same...

Picture source: www.sawagechickens.com

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Confessions of a workaholic


It is not something that I never doubted but always brushed it under the carpet. I got clues from my friends, family and colleagues but I chose to ignore them all, thinking that I know the best about myself. However, after spending five days at home nursing a bad case of flu, I have finally come to terms with my workaholic situation. Though I keep complaining about work but I was actually missing it and felt guilty for any problems my colleagues or clients would have faced in my absence. So, here's a list of traits/symptoms I have identified that indicate towards my workaholic syndrome along with the remedies thought.

Symptom # 1:
COS - COS stands for Compulsive Outlook Syndrome. It is a situation where you feel like checking your Outlook inbox at least once on your off days. You feel that if someone has sent an e-mail then you should promptly reply to it.
Remedy:
Assume that you do not have a computer and no access to webmail. It will take a lot of effort to ignore the presence of that machine or that clock like Microsoft Outlook icon on the desktop but it needs to be done.

Symptom # 2:
Feeling responsible for all the work happening at work - it is a delusionary state of self importance that a lot of us suffer from. You feel extremely important for completion of a particular project or task while the truth may be something else. You might be very good but in business no one is indispensable.
Remedy:
Watch Raj Kapoor's Mera Naam Joker and chant that 'the show must go on', five times a day. So, even if you are not there, the show will go on.

Symptom # 3:
Efficient today will lead to an easy tomorrow - while it all sounds the correct thing to do but in reality it may lead to something else. A lot of times you end up paying for your efficiency. You might finish all your work before time but the next day you end up taking even more as you have free time on your hands.
Remedy:
At the end of the work day (official timings) see whatever work is pending, work late on anything critical but for other things there's always tomorrow. Besides there are other people also to help you... Hooray! long live the team spirit.

Symptom # 4:
Holidays and leaves that lapse every year - Whether it is casual leave or sick leave or that long due annual leave, there's always un-availed leave in your attendance register that lapse at the end of the year.
Remedy:
Stop feeling guilty when taking leave. It's your right and if wasted can't come back. In fact, I have already started feeling bad about my un-availed leave :(

These are few things that I am trying to teach myself and hopefully will be able to strike a balance soon. Let me put it as my new year resolution number one. Thankfully, my case is not that bad and is not malignant like few people I know, so there's hope.

Before everyone at work thinks that I am planning to cut down on the amount of work I do, let me put it this way... YES I AM ;)