Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Exceptions to the Rule

Marketing books suggest that in order to succeed, the product must be to the liking of the prospective buyer. And packaging plays an important role. Marketers do a lot of research to understand the behavior of consumers.

Ask a lady what her favorite colors are? Purple, Mauve, Lilac, Pink, Lavender, Peach...While men can't think beyond primary colors, women dismiss anything that isn't complicated. Read this nice post by Harsha Subramaniam on 'Why Men Are Colour Blind?'.

Savitha has often taken my mickey on the choice of gifts that my lady friends shower on me. Whether it is a T-shirt or a Body Wash, they seem to give me something of feminine taste. Things which are to their liking. But, if a man dares to wear a dress in 'feminine' color, he can be certain that there will be either explicit or implicit indications from people around that something is not 'straight'. A continued ignorance to such indications is definite path to be branded a Gay. No, not a happy man. Gay meaning homosexual.

So instead of wooing women, the correct market, the law of unintended consequences may apply and one might end up kindling interests from the not-desired market.

So remember that there are exceptions to the rule.

And I am STRAIGHT, Sam Boy!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Why? I Am Racist, Too?

When I started learning tennis, Naru told me that it was a social game.

I picked up tennis quite fast, despite the bodily asset that I had built over two and a half decade. I have noticed that if I don't play tennis any of the mornings, I feel irritated. It later dawned upon me that it was withdrawal symptom. I believe when one plays a sport or exercises, the body releases a hormone which builds immunity and also reduces body pain. When you don't play, the hormone is not produced and hence irritation. Pretty much like smoking and alcohol!

And yes, tennis helps one build partnerships. After a period of time, you tend to stick to one partner. Interestingly, one also prefers playing with the same set of opponents. Ah, now I know what Naru meant when he said it was a social sport.

A group of us, who, earlier, went to the same academy to learn tennis, joined the Mylapore Club about four years and have been playing at a particular court. Now, since last week, we are facing a peculiar problem. Two elderly members, who too moved in from a different club recently, are joining us in the mornings. The day I saw new faces on the court, I felt an irritation in my heart. Then as a good human being, I suppressed it and played with them. But when I realize that they probably are not up to my level of tennis, I felt the subdued irritation roar again.

And quickly I realized that my other tennis-mates had similar feelings. So, we devised a strategy. We called the Marker and told him to instruct the two new members to play in a separate court by giving various reasons as to why our gang should be left alone. And if I know how things will turn out, these two new members who are as good or bad human beings as the rest of us will not be playing with us, tomorrow. Problem solved!

Am I racist? 

There are reports that appear frequently in media about racist attacks on Indians in Australia. Such attacks in other Western countries are also well documented and reported. While we happily call others racists, we must keep in mind that the amount of racism and discrimination we practice is, in no way, any less.

Couple of years back, I went to Delhi for a training program. My ex-colleague who dropped into my room said that he knew which channel I would be watching and that I didn't disappoint. Yes, I was watching a Tamil channel. Now, not that there is anything wrong with his comment, but there was a tinge of charade in it.

I use the term Golti and Mallu quite often. Mallus on the other hand call anyone who has a little extra melanin tissue, "Pandi". For those who don't know, Pandi is a reference to Tamilians who generally have darker complexion. Black skin is not that popular in the white North. 

'Kanjoos Marwadi' term is quite prevalent. 'Muttal Tulukan' generalizes that every Muslim is a dumb head. I have seen a board in a Christian's house that one can espouse a snake but never trust a Brahmin. Sardar jokes are legendary. You name a particular caste or sect; there will be a derogatory reference to them.

Take a look at Corporate, Educational Institutes or any organization, you will find that it tends to be a gang of similar. On Twitter, a top executive of an advertising firm tweeted that people from other states should learn Kannada if they want to work in Bangalore. When confronted, he moderated his statement. Well few political parties in Maharashtra aren't that tolerant. Why recently some Andhra political party beat up candidates from Tamil Nadu who went to Hyderabad to appear for BHEL exams.

But why do we behave the way we behave?

It is in our genes. No one is sacrosanct. We are by nature possessive and jealous. We find security in a group of 'like-minded'. Any change in this routine or exposure to a different behavior, hits at the core of our comfort.

Divide and rule is a strategy. It was used well by Brits to rule India. Post independence, it has served our leaders well, too. Geographies have been divided to create a homogenous mix, standardized on the basis of language. While it certainly has its advantages. But after a point, due to the natural instincts, narrow patriotism sets in. Things are taken for granted. People become complacent. Keralites are notorious for working in any part of the world, or as the joke says, even Moon, but in their own state. Bangalore is full of Tamilians. Biharis earn their bread in Calcutta or Delhi and brickbats in Mumbai. Sikhs go to Canada. It is economics. People flock to where the riches are. Remember California Gold Rush? Human race will race to wherever the opportunities are.

It is not an Indian phenomenon by any means. Today there is news which says that Spanish farm owners prefer Moroccans, Poles, and Romanians than their own countrymen. 

Natives realize suddenly there are few of themselves and being dominated by others. A dislike for outsiders and frustration manifests into violent agitation.

What then?

The sooner we realize that as long as human beings remain social animal, the distinctions will be continued to made. Security and social needs are best derived this way. We will continue to seek more of our own. 

Can you break from the cudgels of culture, tradition, religion, race and practices that have been programmed into our DNA over centuries.

It is a tall order.

Am I ready to play with the two new men in my court? No, not just yet.

I am a racist.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Significance Of PR Tools

For the first few initial years in PR, I never consulted with clients on the PR tool to be used for a particular announcement. It just happened. In fact, most of the time the decision was made by the clients. 

Many wrong and few right decisions, now, how and when a PR tool should be used is clearer. The significance of each PR tool and scenarios of use is important to understand for any PR professional. In this regard, I have made certain hypothesis based on the limited experience I have in the industry. And here is the matrix that I suggest.

Before I move on there is a bed rock principle that any PR professional has to respect.  The effectiveness of a PR tool is directly proportional to the existing brand value. This simply means that just because a tool is powerful, doesn't mean that the results are guaranteed. Like everything else in life, brand is created over a period of time and has to be worked upon. There is not overnight success.

Another point to be kept in mind is that while PR is one-to-many communication, the tools can either be one-to-one or one-to-many. The size of coverage is probably the best measure of success in PR. And how much reach a PR tool achieves multiplies the visibility.
  • Press release: Probably the most widely used tool, press release is the best for a wider reach with least effort. In fact, press release or press information sheet, a derivative of press release, is the official communication document that is the unit of communication. While it does provide extensive reach, it has become a rather weak. This probably because of too many of them are in circulation and the space is limited. And due to the competition, media houses also prefer exclusivity.
  • Edit opportunities: This is a term I have borrowed from my stint at Twenty Twenty Media. Often it is journalist driven. While the story itself can be big, the total coverage that a particular corporate gets is often limited. But just because the size of actual coverage is low, doesn't mean that it is not effective. In my opinion, industry stories are balanced and one can become part of the entire consideration set for a prospect.
  • Interview: A powerful tool not only for coverage but also to build relationship with a journalist. It usually results in large coverage. But because these are exclusives, the resultant coverage is limited to a particular publication. Interviews are also preferred by journalists, nowadays, as they get their bylines. On a side note, interviews, also referred to as one-on-one, is not such a preferred tool by journalists from the old school of thought. They believe that too many one-on-ones become one-by-one. What happens, practically, is that a journalist has to wait while the other journalist finishes the interview as these are arranged sequentially. In fact, I, too, detest this modus operandi. I think it is sheer waste of time for the spokesperson and the client servicing PR executive. The spokesperson often parrots the same story over and over again while the PR executive, by second interview, feels that he can play the recorder himself. In such cases, a press briefing is better suited. More on that later.
  • Placed article: Also referred to as contributory article, it is probably a difficult task to achieve. Some call it white paper or thought paper because it is supposed to be 'neutral' with loads of cues. It is supposed to position a spokesperson as 'thought leader'. Such a bastardized term! Sorry for that language. 
  • Junket: Often when a widespread coverage is required but there is a limitation in movement, media is invited to a single place. It is a confluence. Usually resorted to for a very large announcement. A lot of logistical coordination and media planning is required for such announcements.
  • Press conference: Used to be my favourite tool. Single effort, big coverage, wide reach. But yes, a lot of learning, too. In the earlier years, this format resulted in nail biting and last minute follow ups. A variant of press conference is a briefing. Briefing is a better alternate to one-by-ones that I had mentioned earlier.
Now it is not that easy as it sounds. Just because press conference or briefing gets big coverage and wide reach doesn't mean it is the Brahmastra, panacea for all communication needs. A PR professional must remember two important criteria:

  1. How many messages do you want to share and what value is it to the media?
  2. Do you want to communication to be open-ended or controlled?
An understanding of client, the industry and media becomes extremely critical to make the decisions. This blog cannot give all answers.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Which Digital Camera Will I Buy?

If I had to buy a digital camera based on the ads being aired on Television, currently, I would buy the Canon IXUS.

In addition to Canon, Sony and Nikon are the other brands that are competing for your attention.

But as I said, IXUS' ad with two young ones driving on a highway is the best in terms of kindling interest. The ad communicates the key features like the touch screen, zoom, HD recording...I loved the part, where the lady moves from pillion to the front, like Rani Mukherjee in the movie Ghulam, while approaching a tunnel. Even the statutory warning line urging viewers not to perform the stunts performed in the ad has been used very creatively. The ad says, These actions have been performed by professionals, please don't try them but try the Canon IXUS. Nice!

Sony's ad featuring Deepika Padukone is also good. The ad moves in a fast pace with the lady walking the ramp and taking a 270 degree panorama picture of the audience. There is a slight snooty-ness about the ad but does capture attention.

Nikon ad is nothing to write about. Anyway, a guy gets caught taking pictures of a pretty one by the girl's father. The father checks the pictures in the camera and finds some good pictures and get impressed with the boy. Well, the ad doesn't impress at all.   

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Dual Sim Phones: Why Biggies Are Not Interested?

Mobile services were launched in India in 1996. For a long time thereafter, the mobile subscriber base kept low. Mobile phones were a desirable object. Very expensive to maintain. Even if someone had a mobile, the usage was limited to using it as a number identification device. Even receiving calls meant huge outgo.

My first 'brick' Motorola mobile phone was handed over to me by my colleagues who did not want to hurt their arms. Now those were the days when I neither had a mobile phone nor a girlfriend. Since I couldn't do much about acquiring a girl friend, I quickly grabbed the opportunity to get connected. But despite the connection, I avoided making calls, forget receiving calls. But yes messaging was free then.
Then things changed; quite fast they changed. New players arrived, prices came down. CDMA was launched. And that was when I acquired my first own mobile handset - Kyocera CDMA phone through Tata.

Well after a while I shifted to an Airtel GSM connection which I continue to use till today. I also changed my handset a couple of times. From a basic phone to a smart phone, I have seen it all, to say so.
Today, the penetration of telephone services is more than 60%. The total number of mobile subscribers is close to 563 million and the remaining are connect through a wire.

Going back to 2000, I finished my MBA and joined Integral PR which was owned by Mr. Deepak Talwar. Mr. Talwar was a very dynamic man, a very famous person in the Indian Political and Business circles. He used to visit Chennai office once a while. And that was the first time, I saw someone who had not one but two mobile phones. Wow, now that meant something!


My wife was handed a BlackBerry and a connection by her employer. She already had a personal connection. The lady is quite principled. She does not prefer using office landline or official mobile phone to make personal calls, unless it is an emergency. So she decided to keep her personal connection. So we bought a Micromax Q2 for her. A Dual SIM Phone with decent features and priced just below Rs. 3000.

Oh, did I say Dual SIM phone! But actually she doesn’t use that feature. She, in fact, carries two phones. Now, who wants to own more than one connection? Not everyone is a Deepak Talwar. Carrying two phones around, two bills and managing them, a pain. But I guess such a market does exist. This recent article in Brand Equity puts the numbers slightly higher.

“… For example, multiple SIM usage. “There’s definitely a multiple SIM phenomenon. It is evidenced by a recent spurt in the handset sales of multiple SIM phones. Among the 575 million connections, we have seen there are quite a number of users with multiple SIMs,” says Mahesh Prasad, president, Reliance communications. He estimates 70% to 80% of the total subscriber base is active and of these, 20% are multiple SIM users.”

In the olden days of the landlines, anyone who had two phones meant that the person was powerful and rich. Not that it was expensive but just that it was difficult to get a connection. Would that be true if someone has two mobile connections? Most certainly, I would guess.

So who might use a Dual SIM phone? I am not clear about that. Would it be an entrepreneur like Deepak Talwar or Gopal with whom I play tennis? Would that be top executives in corporate or yuppies? Interestingly, I have come across two young ladies who carry two mobile phones.

In my opinion, it could just be fad. Why is it that large players are not so keenly contesting for this niche space? You hear brands such as Micromax, Maxx, Fly, Orion, Spice…or the generic ‘Korean’ assembled pieces. It would be important to mention that Micromax is now the third largest mobile handset company in India. Is it just a differentiation tactic used by the players who aspire to make it big?

But if we assume that, today, two mobile connections is more amongst the rich and powerful, then those at the top may prefer an established brand. Will a CEO prefer to carry an iPHONE or a Blackberry with Dual SIM feature or a Micromax phone?

I am in Dual Mind, now.

PS: I would like to point out that I am not claiming that the top handset brands do not have Dual SIM phones, just that they are not as aggressive as the newer brands.