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

Cars and being single

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single
Can cars ever go out of style? Looking at the glitzy car shows, the endless programs devoted to automobiles or the gushy reviews for new model launches, one would think that it's all business as usual. Yet, there's a very clear sense of dread at automotive companies - that a growing number of 18 to 24 year olds think of cars as nothing more than gas guzzlers and don't plan on buying a car any time soon. So GM is turning to the expert purveyors of youth culture, MTV - to understand what will make cars more attractive. What is more worrying is that young people would prefer the internet to the car any day - and that is definite cause for alarm.

If you've noticed, children today rarely look out of the car during a drive. If they have a mobile phone, they are absorbed in it because the screen is a lot more 'active' than the scenery that passes by. They aren't happy to just watch nature unfold its majesty in quiet splendour. They want it in fast forward. So the only thing that retains their attention is a video game or a chat with 10 friends simultaneously. There's no excitement is watching a cloud drift slowly and guess what it will transform into. So, what's the point in being stuck behind a wheel for hours to get to a place?

The other change is that the number of people living alone in the US has multiplied over the last decade. Not just those who don't want to get married but people who prefer it that way. Solitude used to be for a select few. Now, apparently, it is the preferred state of being. People retreat to their internet addled, video streamed, microwaved lunch and dinner scheduled lives without having to answer or share space with anyone else. And share only on their social networks. They have hundreds of online friends and few in the real world. And if you really see what has changed in the last couple of decades is networking on a global scale. So instead of feeling close to one another with the death of distance in the virtual world, we feel oddly disconnected.

We need the net like a daily fix, if only to hop skip and jump from link to link in an endless voyage of being everywhere and getting nowhere. Our attention spans have dropped to less than 3-4 minutes, the vast majority among us have no patience with books and the more conveniences and material riches we have, the more we crave for. In a less developed and less connected world, we seemed to have the time for making friends and collecting experiences.

Like wine kept for decades and maturing slowly, we grew into our jobs, our successes and our families. Today, it's about how many shots you can pour down in a single sitting. There's nothing to savour or linger over. Whatever life has to offer, take greedily and go looking for the next novel experience. Don't make five friends, make 500. Don't earn thousands, earn billions. Taking is winning. Giving is losing. And are we still foolish enough to believe that nothing much has changed in our lives?


( 1 Vote )

Tags: alone | cars | desirable | MTV | single

 

Making cool look stupid

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stupid or cool
How do you assault a brand image that is the very essence of cool? Where the brand only has to get an unfavourable review for its acolytes to jump to its defence and flame the reviewer. I am speaking of course of Apple. For decades now, it has stayed at the pinnacle of cool, scorning all attempts to dethrone it. Even though they have sold millions of the same assembly line products, they have managed, through clever design and communication to make their features seem individually unique and desirable. Their army of followers have camped outside stores, waited with bated breath on blogs and rumor sites for the next unveiling or the next unboxing. Now, that's another peculiarity - the act of taking a product out of the package and switching it on seems to drive frenzied viewership for those lusting after it. It's like a product striptease and it gets the same kind of salivation and response

So, a brand that has for long been seen as a pale imitation and a wannabe scored a deep hit with its commercials 'The Next Big Thing'. Samsung's Galaxy S II, seen as a worthy foil to the mighty Apple 4S chose not to attack the specs of its competitor, even though that would have been a perfectly viable strategy. Instead, they made fun of its core consumers - the ones who would wait in a queue for days. And suddenly. the passionate followers of Apple seemed like a bunch of idiots. Which was reflected in a poll in a few weeks after the commercials started airing. Now, Samsung has gone in for the kill expanding a single idea into a series of commercials that make Apple look downright dowdy and out of touch - by attacking their fanboys. Apple now has the tough job of making not its products but its consumers look cool again - They might choose not to respond at all, but this can cool fan mania pretty quickly. No one likes being portrayed as a loser.

Another instance of attacking the consumers, instead of the product is playing out in India between two of the country's leading newspapers, Times Of India (TOI) and The Hindu. A few months ago, TOI launched a blistering campaign against the staid image of its competitor, implying that it was so boring that its readers needed to wake up - to TOI. It showed a bored young man sleeping even in exciting situations. The implication was that news needed to be peppy and young - and that was what TOI delivered. The Hindu is not known to be aggressive but its latest commercials taking on TOI indicate that it is just as game for a fight. The ads show a set of young people who are not able to answer even the simplest questions, except of course film trivia. When asked which newspaper they read, they all mouth TOI, which is bleeped out. The final tag line - Stay ahead of the Times.

Ouch. That must have stung. Of course, young people these days no longer read newspapers, so the fight may seem irrelevant. But its an interesting turn in communication strategy. Make your competitors' consumers look silly and their choices seem ridiculous as well.


( 3 Votes )

Tags: advertising | Apple | branding | communication | competitive ads | Cool | Samsung | The Hindu TOI | Times Of India

 

Which side do you part your hair?

mirroring our qualities
Take this simple test. Keep a recent photograph of yourself in one hand while you take a look at your reflection in the mirror. There's a difference and though it's a very small one, the person in the mirror may be a little more appealing than the photograph in your hand. Or the other way around. And it all goes down to this - the way you part your hair!

The way we perceive our public self is actually the inverse version of how others see us in real life. If that seems crazy, listen to this fascinating episode from Radiolab. On the page, there is a photograph of Abraham Lincoln - the way he appeared in public. Click on the photograph and it flips to its inverse version - and somehow, it looks much less inspiring - or trustworthy. That's the way Lincoln saw himself in the mirror all through his life and it is a sobering thought. So, did Lincoln maintain this consciously - knowing fully well that the less attractive version in the mirror was not what people were seeing, but the more attractive one. There were no spin doctors those days, or public relations masters, so it must have been more instinctive - or just plain coincidence.

In these highly televised and image conscious political times, what matters is not just what you say. Every gesture, every pause, every little colour coding and prop in the frame is carefully placed in order to stay on message. The laws of branding and advertising are far more demanding than the laws of the land - especially when you are in the public eye and every single word you pronounce is analysed, discussed, debated and de-constructed by an army of political analysts on prime time television.

The more we learn about how to build a brand and influence public opinion, the more we restrict spontaneity and reality. Actors in movies speak very differently from the way we converse. They speak perfectly, every word formed and delivered at a perfect pitch and tone. The actual shooting, recording and editing of these sequences may require several 'takes' or repeats to be perfect, but that is not something that the general public sees. They see a final product made by professionals with no flaws or hesitation - unless it is intentional and part of the script. Record a session with friends and you will see how most normal conversations are rambling, incoherent and take place in fits and starts depending on the interest in the topic and the participants. There is no seamless sense of flow, unless some speakers are particularly gifted.

One of the prime requirements of being a brand is to never deviate from a message unless it is part of the overall strategy to change. Brands get 'relaunched' and  the new, improved versions appear because the sales graph of the old one has begun to stagnate and requires an infusion of freshness. That could mean a change in the packaging and the graphics and the tone of advertising. Sounds familiar? It's what happens when the world of advertising and branding converges with something far more explosive - politics. Even something as trivial as the parting of the hair has an effect - and once we have the knowledge, there is no stopping its use.


( 0 Votes )

Tags: Abraham Lincoln | advertising | branding | communication strategy | inverse | Mirror effect | radiolab

   

Election Campaign or Product Launch

election campaign or product launch
With each successive election campaign, the difference between selling a product and a President is getting a little blurrier. Democracy used to be about policies and ideologies. But it now looks like just another mega launch. Listen to what people want. Then craft the product to deliver. Sit back and count the money. Or in this case, the votes.

At Barack Obama's campaign headquarters, there is a group of highly gifted coders working to mine the information being gathered about 'swing voters' The ones who will decide which candidate gets elected and which one gets left behind. And with every campaign, the jargon mounts. This time, its 'microlistening'. Getting to decipher not just what people are saying about the President or the opposition, but trying to understand how they will act on election night. The army of people assigned to do this include mathematicians, statisticians, software developers, organisers and of course, analysts.

Their grounding for this all-important effort comes not from political history but from consumer buying habits. How choices are made for shopping lists. Why grape juice is preferred over orange juice. How do you get to change the minds of consumers - by offering them a better deal, or fortifying it with vitamins, or by changing the way it is compared with other brands in the same category? What combination of qualities work best at moving the brand off the shelf faster? The analysts who crafted and implemented these strategies are now tasked with packaging the Presidential campaign and making sense of what people mean when they respond to polls.

So that's what it has all come down to. Listen closely to what people are saying about the government on Facebook, on Twitter, in conversations on the ground and by inviting them to 'Tell their stories' on why they want to be involved in the Presidential campaign. Tease out nuggets from the stories and derive the patterns of behavior. Figure out what antagonizes and alienates them. Understand the hierarchy of priorities. And deliver a campaign that addresses these needs.

I don't know whether I should be amazed or horrified with the way things are going. On one hand, the inference is that consumer behaviour is driving Presidential aspirations and motivations. On the other, it means that the whole process has been reduced to a set of cynical parameters that can be assessed and controlled. So the public is told and sold what it wants. But what happens after its all over is beyond their control.

Are you electing a person or the image of the person who leads you? Does the candidate believe in the promises they make to you or are they simply telling you what you want to hear? There is no answer. Its the most extensive smoke and mirrors campaign on the planet, that reveals everything and nothing at the same time.

In comparison the brute money power of Indian politics seem paleolithic. And the profusion of languages and castes mean that it may never be reducible to a set of equations that can be predicted. But you never know.This is a high stakes game and the levers of power are just to alluring to be left to the whims and fancies of the voters. The medium isn't just the message, it shapes the messages now.


( 0 Votes )

Tags: advertising | Barack Obama | branding | consumer behavior | election campaign | microlistening | President | product launch | shopping lists | swing voters

 

What exactly is the news?

news, what is it?
We've seen it 24 hours a day on our TV screens for the past two decades. It slips under our door in the mornings. It is updated by the minute or the second in social media. When we say 'news' each of us has a certain image in our minds. But to a generation brought up on access to information in a hundred spheres as it happens, the newspaper and the television are poor substitutes and relics belonging to another era altogether.

News is one of those words everyone knows but no one can accurately explain. Is it about politics, development, disasters, entertainment, culture, sport, business or crime? What constitutes a news story depends on what you are interested in. On a daily basis, we only wish to know about what we care about. So if you are interested in what goes on in your college and your social circle, that is all you would read about. In Clay Shirky's wonderful analysis of the state of news gathering and publishing, there's a big insight - So long as newspapers faced little competition for advertisers or readers, this was a distinction without a difference, but as papers are being sundered by the internet, we can see how tangled the system always was. Outside a relative handful of financial publications, there is no such thing as the news business. There is only the advertising business.

Such a telling statement. Advertising is the only glue that held newspapers together for over a century. We came to believe that the system would be able to withstand any intrusion or fragmentation. The moment the internet unbundled whole sections and created separate interest groups around them, the validity and the very premise that newspapers were built upon has begun to disintegrate. The existence of newspapers in a form that the earlier generation was accustomed to is in doubt, at least in the West.

In India, however, the march of the internet has not been as sweeping or as inclusive. Move out of the major metros and broadband access is patchy at best. So the press, especially the vernacular is thriving, not just surviving. It will be interesting to see if the same pattern plays out as the rate of internet penetration increases in the country, given the speed at which mobiles have cut through to every single social sector in the country. Right now, it is just used for calls and texting, but give it a few years and we will see the newspaper competing with the mobile - and no prizes for guessing who is in for a bruising

Our consumption patterns are skewed. We spend tons of money on things that make us feel good, like beauty creams and lavish dinners, but for the majority, books are reluctant purchases and happen usually when mandated by colleges or airport delays. News comes very low down on our list of the things we want to pay for. It doesn't make it feel very good on most days, with major coverage about scams and disasters. And the small section of the aware and informed public that wants to know has several sources from which to choose from now. What's your take on where the news is going?


( 0 Votes )
   

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