Our inspiration comes from life around us, the people we work with, the schools our children go to, the movies we see, the malls we shop at, the blogs we read and the friends we know. Then of course, there are books that provide a completely fresh point of view. Ideas are everywhere if you know where to look and more importantly, never stop looking.
We think the biggest asset is keeping an open mind and not being judgmental about anything. And across cultures, what drives people is ambition and deriving meaning for what they do. People don't just buy into products or services - they buy into extended dreams about their own existence

Change the Agency Pitch

boxThe typical agency pitch has an air of complete predictability about it. All the agencies are provided with the same brief and asked to come back with creative strategy and communication.

We would like to believe that each agency approaches the problem differently. But most client will tell you this - while creative approaches could differ, most strategies are depressingly similar. The choice of media, the segmentation of the target audience, the go to market strategies may look as if all agencies sat in the same room and decided to present the same thing to the client.

I remember being part of a pitch where 42 agencies vied for a tourism account. We were No. 35 or so on the list and as we unveiled the creative strategy after recapping the brief, there was a collective groan. One of the guys from the client's side actually told us - "Ok, so French ancestry is our strong selling point, but have you even considered alternatives?" We struggled to find a response. The guy went on "We've sat through over 30 presentations during the past week and I am yet to find someone who challenged the fundamental assumption. Why is it that not a single agency has dared to question the status quo?"

It was a different matter that the campaign that finally evolved had no change of position - but the real point was that we did not even try. I suspect that the problem is that the same brief is given to all agencies - it's a lot like asking a set of fashion designers to stitch something very different from exactly the same ream of material.

May be the brief should merely be a placeholder. The competing agencies should be asked to work campaigns with a completely different tone and voice. Sure, it won't be an apples to apples comparison, but that's the point. I really wonder if the current pitches are getting clients what they want. Maybe apples should be compared to pomegranates. Or peaches.

The truth is that in a pitch, the consumer is not in the picture at all. It is only the decision makers on the client's side who are the focus. Agencies may not want to start off on the wrong foot by questioning a successful position in the market - especially if it has been working.

Risk taking needs trust on both sides. But serenading the client is not a situation in which agencies take risks. Sure, you hear stories about how a certain agency walked into the client's boardroom and told them how they were completely wrong - and still managed to win the account. However, I have yet to see clients who take kindly to having their existing and past campaigns trashed. They have invested time, effort and money in getting those campaigns out - and no one likes to be told that they look like a bunch of amateurs.

So here's a suggestion. Stray away from the straight and narrow. Allow wandering, because there is never one right answer with a creative solution. There are so many shades of expression that it helps to get hues, rather than the primary colours alone. And if the client does not want to be wrong, either about the agency or the campaign, expect the agencies to play it safe as well


( 0 Votes )

Obama's Election and The Syrian Civil War

We're accelerating faster than we know it. Technology is uncovering the genetic code and just as quickly, someone tries to manipulate it to create a virus. As we get better at using and deploying technology, we're also getting equally good at misusing and subverting it.

Two diametrically different stories show how the march of technology and its ability to do good and harm in equal measure is being played out. Here's an in-depth look into the team that helped Obama correct a misstep in the election race into a sprint that carried him past the finish line ahead of Mitt Romney. From the article - They raised hundreds of millions of dollars online, made unprecedented progress in voter targeting, and built everything atop the most stable technical infrastructure of any presidential campaign. To go a step further, I'd even say that this clash of cultures was a good thing: The nerds shook up an ossifying Democratic tech structure and the politicos taught the nerds a thing or two about stress, small-p politics, and the significance of elections.

The US Elections will never be the same again. The Republicans may have lost this time due to the complete breakdown of a rival system called Orca, but they won't be caught napping next time. We won't see this played out in newspapers or on TV, but in shadowy technology that endlessly analyses voter sentiment, action, attitudes and affiliations. From a complex web of social media and voter databases, Obama's team was able to extract the data that would tell them exactly who was for them and who wasn't. Romney's technology campaign had a rival approach that focused on getting Republican supporters to vote on Election day. But the system crashed at the 11th hour, since it had not been stress-tested or used in the field.

Now, Syria. What comes on TV is the endless bombing of cities and the fight back from people in the trenches. One wonders how this is being sustained and how the two sides are getting back at each other. In Syria's case, social media data is being mined to find out who is against the Government and trying to organise groups together. From the article - What made the hacks so effective was their deviousness. Malware was discovered in a fake plan to help protesters besieged in the city of Aleppo; in a purported proposal for the formation of a post-revolution government; and on Web pages that claimed to show women being raped by Syrian soldiers.
Whenever possible, the people behind the attacks would use a compromised account to spread the malware further. In April 2012, the Facebook account of Burhan Ghalioun, then the head of the Syrian opposition, was taken over and used to encourage his more than 6,000 followers to install a trojan mocked up to look like a security patch for Facebook.

The very freedom and the benefits that we prize are being used at two extreme ends of the spectrum. Mining for good, where supporters are identified and encouraged to vote. And mining for bad where opponents are mercilessly tracked, tortured and killed. One supports the dream of sustaining a democracy. The other ensures that freedom doesn't stand a chance. In every field in the future, technology will prove to be both the tycoon and the tyrant.

( 0 Votes )

Tags: branding | communication | Obama | Romney | Social Media | Syria civil war | US Election


Complain. Consume. Create.

User Rating: / 7
The first two are easy - complain and consume. But the third, which is where the solutions are, is the most difficult. It's easy to buy anything these days. A phone. A car. A television. Then complain about all the things that are wrong with it. But to create anything new requires extraordinary effort and the willingness to be wrong. So most of us will spend all our lives doing the easy things - and very little doing the most difficult thing

Let's start with the complaints. Everything is wrong. Schools don't work. Traffic is bad. Governments are corrupt. Business destroys resources. Hospitals are the scourge of the earth. Religion polarises people. Young people have lost their direction. This is something we all discuss, since we experience some aspect of this in day to day life. But we are content to leave it to those who supposedly have the power and the solutions - the government. How many initiatives do we take up on our own and then champion them? Hardy anything, since the process of change is long, mystifying and frustrating.

We're very happy to consume. The latest phones. The biggest blockbusters. The flashiest cars. The king sized burgers. The palatial houses. The pizza with ten extra toppings. The designer dresses. The glittering jewels. The procession of cities through airplane and train windows on package travel tours. Life, in other words, is best when it is a never-ending shopping trip.Or so some people believe. Complaining about the way the world is helps to blow off steam and reduce stress levels. Consumption does make us happy in the short term, at least until the gloss and the excitement of the purchase blows over.

But creation is different. When Salman Khan set out to teach his cousins mathematics and put up those scrawly tuitions on YouTube, he had no idea that he would be redefining education in a fundamental way. He had not set out to change the world. He simply solved the problem of distance, time and repetition required to learn a subject by making it available to his cousins to learn - 24/7. Not within the confines of a classroom, but any where in the world. In the process he redefined the problem of creating millions of great teachers to one of creating access because with Khan Academy's system, a million students can learn at the same time.

If you Google for inventions that changed the world, the results are startling The first ball point pen did not appear until 1950 - and now about 14 million are sold everyday. The bicycle was invented only around 1820 or so. The bra was not around before 1913. The button was invented in pre-historic times, but the buttonhole came in to being only in the 13th century! Did that leap actually require over a 1000 years of thought? And it took 200 years after the lead pencil was invented to dream up the eraser! The paper clip, an essential part of every office and liberally quoted as a icon of design excellence was invented only in 1892.

Just goes to prove that we are great when it comes to consumption. I'll leave the truth about complaining to your judgement. If only we created more than we complain or consume, the world would be a far better place!

( 7 Votes )

Facebook 'Likes' are handclaps

handclaps are likes
One of the measures of social media relevance is the number of 'likes' you can get on the brand page. But like using megapixels to determine the clarity of an image, it's probably the least effective metric of engagement.

Imagine you were a speaker at a convention. And at the end of your talk, the audience claps politely. They 'liked' your speech. But how many were truly influenced? How many were motivated enough to give feedback at the end of a session? Or were you just another speaker who filled a space for a short time and got due acknowledgment? That's the trouble with just accumulating likes without aiming for a deeper connection.

Staying on the speaker analogy, what your brand needs is action. When people rally around or bombard you with questions at the end of your talk, you know you have touched a nerve, challenged their assumptions. There are people who ask for your card and want to stay in touch. They are the genuine fans, the ones you can build a deeper bond with. Even in a large audience of 500-600, you can hope for deep connections with just a fraction. The rest may simply not be interested in your ideas or moved enough to contribute or even stay in touch later. But that's ok. One of the rules of brands that really go places is that they build a committed core - and it grows from there

The successful brand pages, the ones that have already got millions of fans use social media to drive their core to expand the base. Look at the Red Bull Facebook page. It literally tells you on a day to day basis that the brand is into adventure and extreme sport and let you know if some thing's happening close to you. The other thing that Red Bull expends a lot of energy on is to recruit brand ambassadors whose job is to throw Red Bull parties. The profile of the brand ambassador is sharply etched - they need to be active, social and fun loving individuals with entrepreneurial and leadership qualities. Helping people have fun is their job.

Does it then mean that social media is largely for brands that have the potential for a social connect, as opposed to those which don't? In a sense, yes. Trying to be social when your product and market are inherently not is a lot like trying to be an extrovert when you are an introvert. You end up looking like a wannabe who is trying too hard and that actually gets you more pity than social mileage. For example, here's the BP America Facebook page. Every single post gets criticism and angry activists attacking the company's policies, practices and profits. These are cuts that go really deep. It's the equivalent of having graffiti right next to your suave advertising message. Every fact is thrown back, heckled and stamped upon. It's a PR disaster that does nothing to improve the company's image - even though there are over 300,000 'likes' for the page.

The simple lesson is that social is not for every brand - and some brands are safer staying away from the social arena. It's like Principals gatecrashing the dorm party. They aren't welcome and everyone lets them know it!

( 0 Votes )

Tags: BP America | brands | engagement | Facebook | Red Bull | Social Media


Armchair Expertise

It's the most widely available in the world. And completely useless, at least in solving the issues at hand. You see armchair experts everywhere. Lounging in street cafes holding animated conversations. Or consigned to a little square on your TV screen. Waiting patiently for nearly an hour to get two minutes and answer a question posed by a breathless anchor. Who is out to 'break' another story or tell you exactly what is going to happen to the country next.

Armchair experts are people with lots of time on their hands. And nothing much to do, really. They have an opinion on everything - whether you ask for it or not. Sample these pearls of wisdom. Sachin has overstayed his time at the crease and should retire. Manmohan Singh is an ineffective Prime Minister. Corruption is India's biggest problem, Then the same experts proceed to pay a few lakhs in cash to obtain admission for their non-performing child to an engineering college without skipping a step. India is one of the dirtiest countries in the world - no civic sense, they will proclaim while tossing an empty mineral water bottle out of the car window.

Every one of us if guilty of armchair expertise at different points in our lives. We cannot be experts on everything, but we come up with solutions to various issues on the spot with no understanding of what the problems are. Let's take a general one - unauthorised parking on the streets, that narrows the space available to drive. If you were to call a meeting of residents along the road and ask for solutions , one of the first suggestions that will come up is - the government should build more parking lots. When asked where the space is, they shrug. That's not for them to determine. They have already provided a 'solution' and it is up to the government to implement it.

However, armchair expertise does provide an escape valve for all the frustrations that we face. It allows us to 'solve' the problem in our heads and console ourselves that it is the perfect solution - even if we do not have the power to implement it. On another plane, It allows conversation to flow. Otherwise, what would we talk about, anyway? If we could not gossip about stars, or get outraged over the stolen millions by politicians, or defend the past instead of the present, what conversations would be possible? According to everyone, the best times were when they were young - the schools, the people, the movies, everything was much better then.

People come closer because they hold shared views, even if the views have nothing to do with reality! And armchair expertise is a wonderful way to tackle the big problems of the world without moving a muscle - whether it is disease, war, education or corruption. We have all the solutions at our fingertips and we discuss them with anyone who will listen. There's no investment required, no real work needs to be done and we can all go home and sleep it off and not worry about whether the problem actually got solved. And yes, this post is written by an armchair expert - but one who has no illusions that he is helping to 'change the world' - what does that inane phrase mean, anyway?

( 0 Votes )

Tags: armchair experts | change | commentary | media | problem solving


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