Monday, November 29, 2010

Of genuine phones in an bottomlines-driven market - Micromax

Went to the Micromax blogger’s meet in Delhi yesterday. The founders made an interesting speech, and received new-found respect from me and many others.

Micromax starts at the roots level, making simple, understated, feature-rich phones in a mass market. Is it this that has made them the third largest selling brand in India in such a short time? There is no way to answer that question for certain. But there is one certainty in the fact that they base their assumptions and their products on the needs of the people, not just you and me laptop-toting-car-driving-technology-flashing dudes, but a net-surfing hairdresser, a CNBC-watching maid, a truck-battery-powered phone booth operator, android-aspiring college students , woman with a fancy for crystals (yes, they have a phone specially targeted at women).

For one, they have their premises right. They have spoken to the right people – the commonest of the commoners, and have the best in technologists. How else would they deliver expensively-perceived technology in easily priced gadgets? It didn’t take me long to realize that these guys are so close to the common man, not just due to great research, but because they ARE one of them. Despite the newfound success in marketshare, they’ve managed to be as true to the customer as they were when they started out. How many companies can claim that?

“We aren’t doing anything breakthrough. We just put together technology already available and putting it together at a lesser price. And this isn’t rocket science.” But it is, my friends, rocket science to actually put your customer and his pocket before hype and your bottomlines. You’ve won their hearts, and my admiration.

A lot of phones need a lot of work. I was not very fond of the shiny panels and annoying polyphonic ringtones on some of their models. But, to be fair, I’m not exactly the target audience for sub-7k phones anyway. Most phones are built for specific needs in mind – extra-long battery back-up, dual SIMs, FM radio and MP3 players, GPRS etc, and most are priced below 10. One model that I would personally endorse is the Modu. You’ll find enough dope on techie-blogs on this thing if you google it, but it should be enough to stir your curiosity that it’s listed in the Guinness book of records.

And what is there to expect in the future? A phone that can unlock and start a car, to begin with. And one with a built-in, detachable Bluetooth handset. They are working on many more exciting ones, they promised, right after they asked us for ideas. Mr Jobs, will you consider putting a coffee-maker on my iPhone? Right, I thought so.

However, the only thing I wasn’t in agreement was their marketing strategy. They are the underdogs of the mobile industry who’ve made it the hard way. Users echo in jest, “Micromax will take over Apple someday.” Clever humor in ads a great strategy, works all the time. But when you hire an Akshay Kumar to endorse your brand, to me it’s like selling out the ‘genuine’ image that got you here in the first place.

Allow me to elaborate. Ogilvy once said, “The consumer is not a fool. She is your wife.” But all too often one comes across agencies and consultants underestimating the consumer. Akshay Kumar is a mass icon, true. Because he makes the audience laugh. But your audience reads that tabloids, all of Punjab Kesris, Mid-days, and the likes, which talk about his new love as enthusiastically as they talk about his exorbitant fees. To me, he’s all faff, no meat. Opposite to Micromax. Now while a common man is appreciative of Akshay’s humor, does he connect to that actor as a person? My guess is, not. So is he the right choice to sell your product? You get the drift. I always thought a Pankaj Kapur might appeal to the audience better, given that he still chooses to be the underdog of the commercial film industry, for pure meaty roles. There, fire your agency, Micromax.

A few inspiring bytes heard at the event were:
  • "We've done no inventions. We're just making features accessible.”
  • "Nothing is rocket science. We just gather ideas that exist and put them together."
  • "Always think mass-market. Varanasi. Hubli."
  • "Features are aspirations. They shouldn't be, else it's a failure for technology."
  • "Unless you have the right product, consumers will reject you for a few hundred rupees."
  • "Why should we make expensive phones when 95% people can't afford them?" (Have an answer, Mr. Jobs?)

And some quirky ones on the “others”:
  • "We had a meeting with Nokia. They had their drinks and went back home."
  • "We don't have iTunes :)"
  • “Microsoft is confused about the Windows platform. We are not comfortable with Windows.”

All in all, a great afternoon. Though breakthrough marketing strategy were missing, I think they deserve the benefit of doubt, that they would evolve with time. I finally got context to their slightly-ambiguous-but-cool 'Nothing like anything' tagline. I move to Germany soon for two years. If Micromax makes an impression, I just might evangelize the brand there, for them ;-)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Of super-juiced, duper-hyped cars.

Chinoy seth, jo log doosron ki BMWs se impress hote hain, wo kabhi khud ki BMW nahin khareed paate.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Murphy's Cue.

Never spend an evening thinking life is peaceful.

For the next morning, you will wake up to Murphy laughing his ass off at you.

Friday, October 22, 2010

the right want.

It's only human to want to be right. But it takes immense compassion to let others be, till they find their own truth.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sick and tired!

I'm sick of coming across blogs which say nothing original. I'm sick of people trying to be oversensitive with them 'ooh's and them 'my poor dear's when they don't actually feel a thing. I'm tired of hearing frozen faces say fake lines. I'm tired of seeing a little knowledge passed around like a badge of honour, yet discussions around them unwelcome. I'm done with the rules that say you act a certain a way or you're a bad person. And above all, I'm f*ucking tired of those who spend hours trying to concentrate on your flaws and the discussing them behind your back.

There's still value in a genuine conversation. Try having an open mind. There's more to life than trying to be in agreement with people around you. Step forward. Everyone around you is flawed in their own way. Expecting something otherwise is plain and foolish. Wake up. Those who like to talk about others will talk behind yours the moment you step away. Figure it out. And not realizing that the rules of the world were made by people, and are as flawed as the people are, is like saying each chocolate cake in the world tastes the same.

Open your hearts. Get out of the habit of hesitating before speaking. Stop trying too hard to be successful, famous, liked or rich. Try to sweat everyday. Literally. Think about doing stuff without payment or reciprocation. Help people on the street. And kick the next person you find gossiping. It's worth it.

It's the rut that so many seem stuck in that one admits to giving in too. If he doesn't, he's almost an outcast. That's how rare genuinely simple and real people are these days. That's how far you are from being one.

If you disagree with any of this, f*ck you.

Work for free

Came across the saying 'You are the average of the five people you constantly interact with.' And it struck me, why I've always craved the company of people far sharper than me. In this, I've been called obtuse, rude, insensitive, but that's probably because I wasn't going about it the right way.

There is a grain of truth in the fact that your interactions shape a lot of your personality. I've always enjoyed intellectually stimulating conversations. I've pondered for answers to questions over nights. I've felt the thrill of reaching the optimum solution in a situation of crisis.

So what does this mean?

To me, it means, find the sharpest people in your trade you'll ever meet. Then get to work with them at all costs. For free, if it's worth it.

It's the value-ad for you seek that is a greater reward than the value you'll provide to them. The take-off is in similar proportions too.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Of writing and writing.

When you're a copywriter, all too often you try to make projects read crisp and emotionless. And personal interactions more human. Always takes a little effort.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The falling rise story.

Fall came with falling grace,
I thought about free falling,
Got a call, someone said,
Fall is here to be.

Rise with the fall, rise instead,
Rise with the rising costs,
For if you stay free falling,
You’ll only be seen as lost.

So with them, I discovered,
What rising was all about,
To rise with us, you must only
Fall in line, or fall out.

So I fell out, and I’m free
Free as free could be
Fall comes, brings with it
More offers to rise with thee

But free I was, free I am
Free is all I have.
Free to think, write, express,
And travel the world a tramp.

Saturday, September 04, 2010


The first time I saw this, I was in school. That was the first time I realized the power of words. The power these words had on me.

They made me feel powerful.

And they weren’t written by an acclaimed writer. They were written by someone not known for writing. They were from a world-champion boxing legend – Mohammad Ali. And no, he didn’t pen these for Adidas.

Those were times of finding myself. I was enrolled into science, with plans to be an engineer. I had been writing for as long as I could remember. A release of poetry once in a while. An occasional practiced short-story.

The day I saw these words, I wanted to pen something similar. Something this powerful.

On closer analysis I realized, it was the thought behind the poster, said in simple words of raw energy, that made the line so impactful.

It was superhuman. It was human. It was eye-opening. It was embarrassing. It was inspiring. It was irrefutable.

But it didn’t make me want to buy Adidas. It didn’t make me dream of sports all day. It made me want to become that man behind the words with which millions would find resonance.

It was the start of something new in me. Four years later, I dropped out of engineering to become a copywriter.

And that’s where my Ad-iction began.

Frequently Wrong but Never in Doubt

Got an interesting email from a smart guy. It said – ‘Frequently Wrong but Never in Doubt’. And it hit me how far I’ve come away from that.

The problem with being wrong in a day job is, sometimes, you can be penalized for being wrong. Often, you are. So the motivation to make mistakes and explore new possibilities loses air faster than a football deflated with a pointed heel.

Making mistakes in a job affects one’s growth. Making mistakes in business catalyzes one's growth.

That’s the irony of doubt.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Brief Ad Story

While most briefs portray lofty, and often manifold ambitions from an ad, most ads in the newspaper merely do a good job of informing. No paradigm shift in consumer behavior, no ‘creating a buzz’ by an old offering because ‘we tweaked it a certain way’. Just information. And how some of them are better suited to fit your requirements.

A new laptop from Lenovo promises to have an 8hr battery backup for SME users. A news story (read, PR) talks about Apple’s new line of iPod Touch, Nano, and TV. A full-page ad of IDBI talks about savings account that doesn't charge banking fees.

Now the IDBI ad might create, to some extent, a paradigm shift. Which is to say more shifts to the said bank. It’s the offering that is great, and the ad carries it in a fluid manner. There is a little mess in the boiler-plate area, but that can happen anywhere given the last minute tug-of-war between the client and the agency, so I will give the said agency a pass on the blame.

Were there lofty expectations from the brief? Only a small team in a certain commercial building can tell. But the way most briefs come to agencies, it probably did. And it is probably this reason that explained the next move.

O&M made the ad, and they chose to put the same full-page ad in two pages back to back. Wasn’t the front full page impactful enough, that you had to repeat it in the very next page? Why waste client’s money? For your 15% media-buying commission? Or to make up for a good creative when you promised a great one? So you said, repeating the ad will take them closer to the lofty expectations from the brief?

Advertising isn't what it used to be. It’s not a good hearted information exchange. Instead, it fights for your attention in any nasty way it can find.

But then what is good advertising? Ads that are lost in obscurity? Ads that are plain vanilla and good looking, and are done at that? Any business effectiveness reviewer will tell you, they are failed ads.

Good ads are good if they can be objective about the expectation and capabilities of an ad, and drive it solely by measured reason from the beginning to the end. This is especially difficult to do if you’re trying to justify to the client what you’re trying to do all the time. As for clients, time is money, but money is not emotions, guys. And adding pressure will only, and surely, translate in creative compromises.

But as any successful agency will tell you, reason will often be a hindrance to growth. The client-agency relationship growth. The agency’s financial growth. It’s the art of persuasion that works. And if, in the process, business goals go against reason, so be it.

So be it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Of thought-trains and process-chains

Back in the day, there was a railway station in a small village called Buxar in Bihar. People would take trains all over the country from that station, more people would come and drop them, see them off. Most bought platform tickets while seeing people off.

Then one day, a guy couldn’t buy a platform ticket in a hurry. While exiting the station, he told the checker that he had forgotten, and the checker, reasonable man that he was, let this guy go, with a promise to not lapse another time. “How much difference can a 5p ticket actually make?”, the guy thought. The next time, he again forgot, and got away. The word spread. Soon, many people were not buying tickets. They were flouting other rules as well, like crossing the tracks on foot, and not on the bridge. Bringing 2 wheelers to the platform. And so on.

Today, if you enter the station, and go to buy a platform ticket, people laugh at you for not having enough sense that a ticket is not required.

Isn’t that how, over the years, conventions get made?

There was not a problem with the planning the railways did at one point of time. It was not a problem of enforcement, since the ticket checker was a reasonable man. Accommodating, warm, cheerful and reasonable. He did his job with diligence and honesty, and worked to exhaustion. It’s not a problem of deviation, that is the nature of flow.

Perhaps, in the pressures of daily work, these considerations were somehow lost. Perhaps, they were unnecessary to begin with. How much difference could a 5paisa platform ticket make? Was it really worth the effort of checking each person for a ticket and enforcing the above-said law? Is it really practical?

We might face similar questions in our head from time to time. We might question processes that we are supposed to implement. Because they’ve been handed over. And in our day-to-day lives, we might sometimes find them slightly inconvenient.

What might help is to realize that the people who made the processes saw far bigger things way ahead than we could. They set up a system. They conceived the plan. They saw how it would unfold over years, maybe decades.

Perhaps it’s not a bad thing to question a process before accepting it. But it definitely seems a bad bet to write-off a process without understanding it’s bigger purpose.

Have a nice day.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Things I figured out about advertising

                     Brief != Underpants
                     ‘Copy’ should be ‘Original’.
                     ‘OOH!’ is a kind of media (It means Out-Of-Home)
                     ‘Positioning’ has nothing to do with the Kama Sutra
                     ‘Bleed’ is a completely legitimate design term.
                     ‘Scribbles’ are meant to provide you clarity.
                     A ‘Serif’ is not a ‘Cop’
                     A ‘Gutter’ does not mean ‘Drainage’
                     A ‘Jingle’ has nothing to do with Christmas
                     ‘Pantone’ is not a shampoo brand
                     ‘Mock up’ doesn’t mean ‘Make fun of’
                     ‘Crop’ doesn’t mean ‘Plant’
                     ‘Grab Eyeballs’ doesn’t refer to something violent
                     ‘Add stickiness’ doesn’t mean ‘Pour glue all over’
                     ‘Flash’ your client if he needs something ‘dynamic’
                     You cannot eat all ‘Cookies’
                     ‘Dope Sheet’ is not what you sniff powder out of
                     ‘Aspect Ratio’ is the vital statistics of a screen
                     ‘Viral’ is a solution. Not a problem.
                     ‘Dump’ is something that you ‘Edit’. Not ‘Take’.
                     ‘Pan’ is a camera movement
                     ‘SPOC’ is not a character from Star Trek (It means Single Point of Contact)

Friday, January 15, 2010

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."