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

Audi Vs. BMW

audi vs others
According to a feature in Wired, Audi is now the car of choice among young entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. It's the mark of having arrived and reached a certain status among peers. The BMW, or the Beemer, is apparently no longer as 'cool' as it used to be. It's become a victim of its own success. How about the  Mercedes and the Lexus? Well, they are the symbols of success for old Wall Street bankers and you know that demographic is in the doghouse,in terms of public perception and respect.

This is not a technical analysis of the relative merits of each of the brands. There are enough auto magazines and websites performing the service if that's your requirement. I'm more interested in seeing how they steer their images in this brave new world of technology ubiquity. Most high end cars today have significant digital components, in addition to the mechanical ones. The map and fuel consumption interfaces, the notifications and lights at every stage of driving have transformed the overall experience.

When it comes to projecting these features, one of the hardest lines to walk is to keep the luxury quotient relevant across the target audience spectrum. It helped earlier that success was a gradual process and by the time people could afford these cars, they were well into middle age. Today's millionaires are in their 20s and that makes it difficult to keep the pitch tight. Their perspectives on life and what entitlement is about are vastly different. Both need pampering, but the younger one is more about brashness than status. One wants to flaunt it, the other wants to build a distance and limit access.

In terms of conveying the image, a choice has to be made. One will have to be alienated in order to favour the other.

Take this Audi commercial that aired during the latest Superbowl. It highlights a single feature - the headlights as bright as daylight breaking up a vampire party. Think about it. When was the last time you saw a vampire party in a luxury car commercial? It is obvious that Audi has made the primetime choice. They no longer have the smooth suave definition of luxury when it comes to their brand. They're willing to breach their citadel for the newly minted, IPO fueled millionaire.

And now, here's the latest BMW commercial. As trite a definition of luxury as you can find. Convertible, wind blowing the hair, long uninterrupted driving shots, pearls necklaces fluttering in slow motion, it's all there. And what does the tag line say? BMW - The feeling remains. What feeling? It's careful not to anger the current set of customers. But it does nothing to attract new ones. The two comments about the ad were actually more interesting. The first one said "5 people just bought an Audi" The response - "Piss off" I have no idea how old the commenter's were, but it does not take a genius to figure out. The Audi commercial has been watched over 7 million times. The BMW - just over 70,000.

Images age just as humans do. What was the epitome of youth - flower power in the 60s is now the symbol of a forgotten generation. The Beatles were the Justin Beiber of the 60s. Evoking just as much hysteria an d awe. But things change. And that is the way it should be.

( 0 Votes )

Bread, Butter and the Media

Imagine that every channel is a slice of bread. And a slab of butter is the money available to spread across the slices. The smaller the loaf, the easier it is to spread generously. But as the number of loaves and slices mount, it becomes one of the hardest jobs to do. Which is the story of how media companies became the force they are in today's advertising environment.

We've gone from a few loaves to hundreds of loaves in the last couple of decades. If you count 'channels' on the internet, it's in millions. Assume that news is one of the loaves and you've got national, regional and language 'slices' catering to smaller and smaller audience segments. Same rule applies to music, or movies or sports channels. But the money available for advertising has not grown at the same breakneck speed. If anything, applying the butter has now become a statistical game of mind-boggling proportions. Figuring out where the customer is going to be is an art - and a science with a lot of equations and algorithms built in.

There are nearly 200 channels on the TV that one can watch today. But the vast majority are going to confine themselves to a maximum of 10 or 15. If you're interested in football, you can now choose between 4-5 tournaments at any given time. There are three 24 hour sport channels in India dedicated to cricket. There are already 20 'top' cricket websites listed by 'The Telegraph' and readers contributed several more. So, sports fans are not a general category under one umbrella. The cricket segment, needs to be weighed against those who watch football or tennis or Formula 1 racing.

We're watching sports, movies and serials on screens that start from 5 inch handhelds and go all the way to a giant 55 inches. Designing communication that effortlessly straddles this entire spectrum is a huge task. We're in subtly different mental states when we watch TV, surf the latest episode on a mobile or catch a celebrity interview on the tablet. So, something that is meant to intrude on TV can get very annoying when extended to the mobile screen. We're getting better and better at shutting out rather than letting in.

Our internet connections are getting faster year on year. The size of our hard disks is growing by terrabytes. There are 50,000 movies being produced every year. The Gracenote database shows a record of over 97 million songs that have been recorded until now. Like accumulating unread books in a library, we are accumulating humungous wish lists of movies, music, travel and art. And even if we were to spend decades viewing, listening or experiencing even a fraction of the catalogue on offer, we would hardly have scratched the surface.

So, if the choices that fight for our attention are bewildering, imagine the plight of the media owner desperately trying to maintain the freshness of the programs on the channel and predicting audience taste. Like butterflies in a sea of vibrant flowers, we now flit aimlessly from one experience to the other. From food to fashion to drama to sport to sex, we have more options than opportunities. I think we are in for a lifetime of distraction rather than fulfilment and achievement.

( 0 Votes )

Tags: advertising | bread | butter | communication | design | distraction | media


The Olympic Boo-Hoo

The London Olympics
A couple of days ago, an anguished sports writer said what we all know - India is a one-sport nation. He moaned that we treat all our Olympian heroes who toil away unknown for nearly four years with such callousness, it undermines our ability as a nation to win more Olympic Golds. Which is true. With a population of 1.2 billion people, we won all of six at London 2012 - and that is our biggest tally so far. At this rate, we should be able to hit double figures within the next decade or two!

The races at the Olympics start with the race to host it. World leaders throw their collective hat into the ring and bring all the force at their disposal to woo the Olympic Committee. The economics are simple. The city that wins gets featured across the world for two solid weeks and a surge in economic, tourist and infrastructure building activity is assured. Not to mention that HD TV cameras will zoom into every nook and cranny and commentators wax eloquent about the facilities, the history and of course, the actual events.

How often do we watch these events outside of the Olympics? One of the reasons these diverse sports are put together every four years is that some of them - equestrian or fencing or canoing, will never command the same prime-time audience on their own, except in very limited pockets. The oxygen of the games is TV. Synchronized swimming is a thing of beauty. But would you tune in everyday to watch the same routines? The way you settle down to a game of football?

Even if the TV cameras were to follow our wrestlers, our archers and our chess players we would quickly tire of one piece swimsuit clad sweaty hulks hovering around each other trying to lock into a firm grip. The slow motion coverage of the arrows hitting the bulls-eye at London 2012 was amazing. But again, would we want to watch this every day of the year? And even if we were to see a chess game in fast forward, the nuances would be lost. You can't televise the act of thinking and strategy.

The athletes who choose what they do have no illusions about their abilities or their prospects. They know that they will never enjoy the warm embrace of national pride for years like the cricketers do. They toil in anonymity because they choose to. Mary Kom's story, just like that of Sushil Kumar, Saina Nehwal and Yogeshwar Dutt is inspiring. They did what was necessary and stayed the course. Today, they can cash in on endorsements. Unlike the athletes of even a couple of decades ago, who faded back into anonymity

The journey to an Olympic medal is never cheap, in terms of actual money spent or the sacrifices made by the family. There is no guarantee that the efforts will pay off after years of toil. So for many Indian families, it is never an easy decision to support a child's dream. Abhinav Bindra's father had the means to build a shooting range for him. But Mary Kom had to lie to her father to engage in the sport she truly loved. Facilities can be built. But passion and commitment cannot be created by the state.

( 0 Votes )

Tags: Hand wringing | India | medal tally | Olympics | sacrifice


A Fast Life

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speeding towards what
We're addicted to speed. We want cars that go faster with every new model launched. Automatic guns that discharge hundreds of bullets every second. There are drugs nicknamed 'Speed' because they provide an instant high - never mind the crash landing and the burn later. There's even a new invention that allows you to inhale alcohol to get a high much faster than imbibing a few drinks over hours.

We do this in spite of knowing what the consequences are. At 90 miles per hour, we are effectively seeing only through one eye, since both cannot focus quickly enough at a single point. When several hundred rounds are fired in a second, the ability to cause immense damage goes through the roof. In a war, there may be justification for such a weapon. When one soldier is surrounded by the enemy and needs to have a chance of survival. But in peace time, in a civilian environment, it can only cause unimaginable misery to hundreds of families who lose their loved ones in a senseless instant. As we have been seeing in the news headlines month after month.

Like moths attracted to a burning flame, we are rushing forward into a future that seems bright but is actually a cauldron. We have become so busy that we don't nurture relationships or find the time to do the things that satisfy us the most. Do we really need that shiny new car that goes from 0-60 in 3.5 seconds? What is missed out is where you can hit that speed. On a remote highway at 4 o clock in the morning - on weekdays, not weekends. Have you noticed that most car commercials are never set in metros? They are conveniently staged far away from civilisation - and traffic. And we buy into that projected fantasy with enthusiastic fervour .

Today's newspaper headline is indicative of the times - Marital Woes Flood CM Cell. The Chief Minister's office in Tamil Nadu gets close to 2000 letters, emails and couriers everyday. And from couples who have no idea what it means to build a marriage together. Financial independence is reducing their dependence on each other. And any argument can become a flashpoint for a permanent rupture. And to what end - each one trying to justify the origin and the 'rightness' of their positions.

There's a lot to be enjoyed with slowness. Like a quiet dinner broken only by the chirping of crickets. When we curl up with a book - we are actually reading at an average of 200-250 words per minute. Even walking at a moderate intensity, we stride a 100 steps a minute. So life in the slow lane is not exactly as sleep-inducing as it is made out to be. It's just that in comparison to zipping along in a car or playing a shoot-em-up game, they are slower.

Try this the next time you feel stressed and totally drained - allow only limited inputs into your senses. Close your eyes, since visual processing is what takes up the maximum load on your brain. Spend 5 minutes just listening to your breathing in a quiet room. Keep the volume on your radio, or your tablet low, so that it just registers on your ears - and does not pummel your brains. You'll be surprised at how much more relaxed and 'alive' you feel. Without having to pay anyone for the privilege!

( 1 Vote )

Happily Ever After

Happily Ever After
Its the fairy tale ending - the bookend to the phrase 'Once Upon a Time...' that signifies the starting of a story. The beginning that promises interesting times ahead. One used to yearn to know what happened after 'Happily Ever After'. Did all the complications in a character's life end? Or were they simply not significant enough to write about?

As a child, accepting Happily Ever After was easy. It meant that the characters went off to some eternal state of bliss on earth. You closed the book and moved on to other things. But it soon dawned that there was no such thing as a Happy Ending. You cannot have a book or a movie that only portrays one big happy family. After some time, the syrup begins to overwhelm. Conflict is the fount of engagement, not happiness. Bliss leads to stupor - fat lazy days that roll into one another with no discernible seam. As long as the next move is uncertain, the audience watches with bated breath. The moment there is a resolution, the interest wanes - like the drink goes flat when the fizz is released from a soft drink bottle.

We understand happiness mainly as memory. As adults, we look back to childhood as a 'happy' time when we had no worries or responsibilities. But that's not true. Exams were terrifying. Remember waking up the middle of the night thinking that you knew 'nothing' about the question paper the next day? Or the wait for results that seemed to be never-ending? And yet, when you ask anyone who had a 'normal' childhood ( whatever that means) school, friends and growing-up, they remember it as a happy time. Or as boring - when time moved with all the pace of a shadow lengthening on a school wall. 40 minute school periods seemed to stretch to infinity. It's only by gritting teeth and grinding through the boredom that one got through.

So, one learned to prize even small breaks in the routine. Even a walk to the beach to simply watch the waves rolling in and the ceaseless slapping of the surf had its own charm. The sand clung to the feet, distributed itself into the depths of clothes and even a few days later, a few grains of sand could be retrieved from the pocket. Riding in a car or a train was a treat and the window seat was prized and worth fighting over. Eating out was frowned upon with tales of the dirty kitchens and 'God-only-knows- who-was-the-cook' kind of remarks.

So what does Happily Ever After look like today? The father at his computer. The mother watching a serial. The kids zapping demons or aliens to kingdom come. Each member of the family in their own personal bubble with only smatterings of conversation. Nobody eats at the table anymore. We're used to being fed on a constant diet of drama and conflict that plays 24 hours on one of our many screens. We hate it when it has to be interrupted by guests seeking conversation. Real experience is substituted by the virtual - and we are blurring the difference with 'pretend' conversations all going on at the same time. The illusion is that we are doing and achieving more - even as we retreat into shells that are only shadows of our so-called real selves.

( 0 Votes )

Tags: boredom | communication | conversations | Happily Ever After | media


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