Monday, December 14, 2009

Mozilla Project - The uncut story

I had seen the documentary, courtesy Andy Baio, many months back. I had even tweeted about it. I stumbled upon this again yesterday. It was at once gripping and moving. I thought if something has that effect even after a period of time, it would be worthwhile sharing it.

Mozilla is an inspiring story and proof that a cause that is at once altruistic and game-changing can bring people together against heavy odds. And win. Sit back and enjoy the documentary.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

If everything is the same, where on earth is creativity?

Couple of days back I dropped by a friend’s place. He is a super-geek working for an IT MNC. He was watching India hammer Sri Lanka in the third cricket test match along with his colleagues. This being an unusual event, India hammering Sri Lanka that is, the decibel levels were way above normal. The only time the noise levels dipped a little was during the commercial break. That was when they recharged their batteries with some beer and by letting off steam against any easy target that came their way. The easy target happened to be ads that was aired with annoyingly high frequency on the screen.
My friend, whose sense of humour could be measured in nanobytes, thought he will add to the fun. He mentioned to his inebriated colleagues that until recent past I was an adman and that I was largely responsible for rendering large sections of India catatonic with the ads I had created. It is true, the catatonic part.
These blokes, whose mouths were in a race with their respective bladders for loss of control, decided to play judge and jury by putting me on the dock on behalf of the entire ad industry. They started grilling me about all things advertising. They wanted to know how commercials were made, monies, impact and so on. These were the kind of questions, many of which, even the most knowledgeable ad and marketing bloke would have found daunting. But then they were dealing with me and my bullshit factory with years of practice was on an overdrive. I laid it on thick by describing research, positioning, scripts, storyboard, producers, budgets etc. When I finished my speech, there was the kind of silence wherein you could even hear an ant fart.
Then one of them burped and said with his tongue rolling out-of-control, “whyyy ish everytheeng shame?” (Translation: Why the f*ck does everything look the same?)
It was true. In a short span of time we saw ads for different brands in the same categories all looking the same. The only ad that was interesting and memorable was the Vodafone series. Continuing my role as a defendant, I gave them a corny answer for this obvious lack of differentiation amongst ads. I said something to the effect that “different people can have the same creative idea”. It was very evident that I was desperately scrapping the bottom of my bullshit barrel and that it was time to make a quiet exit.
Fortunately, the discussion took an interesting turn. They turned their attention to the tech industry and started debating as to how software and other tech stuff did not differ from one company to another. Interestingly, the word they used was ‘mimic’. Then the discussion moved to cars. One bloke said that he had recently purchased a Honda City and that he found very little difference between various car models when he did the homework for buying a car. In fact, the debate only brought to light the fact there were little difference between various products and brands.
Therefore the question, “If everything is the same, where on earth is creativity?”  
I found the answer in this interesting post in Fast Company, courtesy Ana Andjelic. It says:
Their key insight is that creative ideas can only spread if they're actually adopted by others. Too much creativity, and there's not enough imitation--ideas die on the vine, because there are so many of them and few ever catch fire. For good ideas to spread, there's an optimal balance to be reached between creating and imitating.
The figure by some gobbledygook magic is that only 30% create and the rest imitate. In my opinion that is a very optimistic figure. In the case of ad industry it is likely to be much lower. Even the scam ads seem to ‘mimic’ one another.
In a different and lighter vein, John Dodds says in a post on big ideas that “probably only fire and alcohol could be classified as a big idea and the rest debatable”. I concur. I might have included the wheel to the list. I am not fussy, though.
So folks, if you copy you are in good (and large) company. So set forth and copy. If you do copy, be smart enough not to get caught. And if you do get caught, be smart enough not to get caught with a bunch of drunks. If you copy, get caught and find yourself in the company of drunks, be kind enough to buy them a round of drinks. Cheers!

(Image courtesy: Olivander)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Top 10 I wish I had written this

This is the sixth edition. The posts are not in any order of priority. Hope you like them as much as I did. More importantly, I request you to continue to direct me to more such awesome posts.

This is a very short post but with a deep meaning. Simply put, he asks us ‘to do’ and then to talk

‘Unlearn the old, embrace the new, experiment like mad and fail fast’ is the way Edward signs off. Amen

If you attempt to innovate, take pride that you are doing it with ‘blatant disregard for your narrow self interest plus it is great fun’ as the author rightly says in this sobering post

It is the age of conversation and everyone advices you to join it. Yet, when the CEO of Barbarian Group, one of the hottest interactive agencies asks you not to, there must be a damn good reason

‘Interactivity’ is a much abused word. This post is a breath of fresh of air as it urges us to look at ‘interactivity’ in the most sensible way

A simple fact that soaps were the first to pioneer ‘branded entertainment’ and that we can learn from them while creating the same for the online space is missed by us

There is a lesson for brands to from the continued success of Hollywood in spite of strong threats ranging from television to the current ‘digital’ landscape

After creative, strategist is the coolest thing in the agency business. This post is a reality check on what you need to have to be one

An authentic experience is one that is ‘honest and unique even if it is bad’. And the author goes on to say that ‘designing experiences’ may not be true

‘Digital networks are the new nation state’ is what Clay wants us to think (and live). Made me definitely think, though

(Image courtesy: Olivender)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Why is there a joy in the obvious?

Whenever I need some kind of light reading, which is more often than not, I prefer to read comics. I am a voracious reader of Asterix, Tintin and MAD comics. Even today I raid my wife’s collection of these comics which is almost always up to date. The other day I picked up one from the Asterix series. 

I always wonder as to why I am drawn to these comics even though I have read them numerous times?

I am not discovering anything new and the plot follows a predictable sequence of events. In the case of the Asterix series it begins with a crisis in the famous Gaul village, Romans getting bashed up, the pirates having their ship sunk in a skirmish with the heroes and finally not to mention the happy ending with the village feasting on wild boar while Cacofonix is all trussed up. There is a sense of anticipation as I turn the pages every time, anticipation at the inevitable turn of events. I am sure many of you have experienced this. 

What is evident from this example is that predictability does not make it any less boring. This holds true for songs, movies, sitcoms anything that has a fan following. All this is a testimony to the fact that there is a sense of joy in the obvious.

This applies to brands too. Why do we tend to use the certain brands over and over again even though there may be better ones? 

It could be because we seek comfort in the familiar or there is the inertia to change or whatever. Many a times we hazard a guess for this behaviour that turns out to be way off the mark. Predictability is questioned and made to appear as though it is regressive. Actions are undertaken to overcome this and which very often leads to disaster. A case in point is the Tropicana fiasco.

I think enduring brands are those that have a strong ‘obvious’ gene and know how to play it well. I have never been able to nail the reason beyond this and neither have I come across a convincing answer from the experts. More importantly, do we really need to know the answer and cloud our minds? I think it is best left to behavioural scientists and their rats. Meanwhile it is best to join my favorite comic character, Captain Haddock, in doing what he does best- cursing and drinking.

(Image courtesy: Asterix-Obelix & Captain Haddock)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's a people's business, stupid

It has been over 7 months since I left the cozy confines of a high profile agency with nothing but an idea. Along the way I have managed to do very interesting projects for the likes of Wipro Technologies and I am now managing the demands of some very interesting clients.
All this has not prevented me from keeping in touch with my friends in the agency business. The constant refrain I hear from all of them is that they want out. This is across agencies and across cities in India. The only difference being the degree to which the desire has taken root. In fact, a lot of them have made good their word and moved out. Some of them have had their wish of being a client (‘the other side’) fulfilled. However, I am not sure whether they are happy in their new role.
Why am I raising all this here?
I have been blogging for nearly a year now. I have been following blogs a lot longer. A lot is written about new agency models, the role of digital, new age agencies, crowd sourcing, augmented reality and so on. Everyone seems to latch on to a trend and pursue it to death.
I have this to say to my fellow bloggers. Agencies, technologies and management will continue to morph into something new all the time. People are the only constant. It is clichéd but true. However, one will be hard-pressed for ideas in the blogosphere on managing people in a creative environment like an agency. Are people that ‘un-cool’ a topic?
People issue is a serious issue as agencies are struggling to attract and retain talent. Probably it might be an issue only relevant to the Indian market. Indian economy and businesses are booming. They are constantly in search of partners – agency or otherwise – to help them grow even further and faster. However lot of times, agencies fall short of their expectations due to one big reason – lack of talent.
Why are agencies unable to attract and retain talent?
The oft repeated excuse is money. True, but that does not give the full picture. People join an agency with no illusions on the money front (at least in India). What they are hoping for is being part of a thrilling and enjoyable ride called the creative process. The key determinant of any agency to enable this to happen is its culture and leadership. When these two collapse for whatever reason, money definitely begins to matter (as it has reached minimum wage levels in any case). Money then becomes the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
The following stats, based on experience and back of envelope calculations, might give you a sense of what I am talking about.
  • The average time spent at work is anywhere between 10-15 hours a day, sometimes weekends too. Most of them are youngsters who repose complete faith on their bosses to guide them. Do I need to stress the importance of work culture and leadership?
  • The average salary of a person with 7-8 years experience (probably a Group Head or Account Director) is roughly 40% less than a person in Marketing with similar experience (or even less)
  • The average time it takes for a person to understand the client’s business (and needs) is 2-3 months. Match this to the fact that the average life-span of an agency bloke in the business is roughly 15 months (Attrition level is roughly 25%-40%) So a person barely has settled in when he can’t wait to get out
Things are not rosy on the marketing front too. Marketing landscape across categories is changing and becoming increasingly fuzzy. Marketers bank on their agency partners to guide them through the maze. We have a situation where in the client is banking on the agency bloke who in turn is desperately looking to get out. At one level the situation is actually funny and at another it is explosive.
You might wonder whether this is a new phenomenon. No. This has been the norm for a while. The management knows it too. However, in the past replacements and that too good ones were easy to come by. The same cannot be said of today. There are a lot more interesting options for youngsters today.
As with anything related to the agency business, things will begin to move on the people’s front only when the client applies the screws. That day is not far off. It is then that agencies are likely to wake up and probably do something. Why let it reach that stage?
Surely agencies that profess to be in the business of ideas and creative solutions can come up with something interesting to revitalize their own workplace. There are wonderful examples like this one from Pixar for them to get inspiration from.
My friends say that my optimism is misplaced. They seem to have full faith in the indifference of the system to ensure that the status quo is maintained. The operating philosophy seems to be ‘if we can’t manage them, let’s f*ck them’. After all there is a sucker born every second in this blessed country and someone will surely join the system for at least 15 months.
The blogosphere, especially blogs by agency folks, is truly amazing in terms of ideas, analysis and creativity. I only wish a little of it is also channelled into this most important aspect of the agency, the business of people.

(Image courtesy: swisscan)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

7 reasons why I think social media is a woman

This post by Brian Solis has stats to show that social media is dominated by women. I am taking it a step further. I think that social media is a woman and here are seven reasons why I think so. 
  1. If you want to make some headway, shut the f*ck up and listen
  2. Remains a conundrum in spite of all the experts and guru’s 
  3. Has a long memory and never lets you forget your missteps
  4. Dismissive of fakes and prefers real men
  5. Believes healthy relationships are built when expressing innermost feelings  
  6. Needs constant care and attention  
  7. Headache, when you desperately want to control it

    (Image courtesy: pericomart)

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    Are hashtags an useful barometer of sentiment?

    Everybody knows the impact Twitter had during Iran elections and also during the Mumbai Terror attacks last year. To many the tweets following #Iran elections and #Mumbai represented real news and not just real-time news (I guess, anything is better than the screaming banshees of news channels)

    There is also one more use. Sometimes a quick read of tweets pertaining to a ‘hashtag’ can be an indicator of trends or sentiment. Just yesterday my 13-year old niece wanted some help for an essay on wildlife. #wildlife gave me a quick summary on the topic which was not way off the mark. The links provided the support.

    Even a mild curiosity is easily addressed by following a ‘hashtag’ tweet-stream, like this one on Gold. A quick run-through of the tweets told me that ‘gold is Gold’ (Couldn’t help the corny comment!)

    I do not know whether the sentiment one unearths from ‘hashtags’ are momentary or whether they can stand the scrutiny of experts. However, there is no doubt in my mind that they are a barometer, a quick and useful one at that.

    Any thoughts?

    (Image courtesy: marc.benton)

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Is selling creative without the bullshit possible?

    It was close to midnight. The agency was abuzz with frenetic activity for an important presentation in the morning. The client was a large MNC with an extremely tough marketing head. The agency had failed couple of times before in trying to sell their campaign ideas. The agency team was at their wits end. My boss had rounded up the entire team to discuss the presentation strategy. He was trying to develop a ‘rationale’ for each of the creative idea in front of us. Being the junior-most at that time, I was perplexed at the contrived explanations that the team members were coming up with. It was a whole lot of bull-crap. I was not alone in thinking that way.
    The consequences suffered at the presentation could have been a little less painful had we carried a jar of Vaseline. We paid the price of bullshit overshadowing the creative and therefore becoming the point of debate. It is critical not to fall into this trap and important to sell the creative, not the bullshit. This is the problem with ‘rationale’. It is a logical or process driven explanation of a product (creative) that triggers an asymmetric, non-linear process within the mind. One is on a slippery and dangerous ground with it as clients can easily identify with logic.
    Sometimes I wonder what Michelangelo’s pitch to the Vatican was when he shared his idea for the Sistine Chapel. Or for that matter that of the architect of Taj Mahal. Did he, for instance, tell the Emperor that the four minarets represented the eternal hard-on he had for his beloved?  
    I suspect there has always been an element of bullshit that is used to sell creative. It will always be that way. Eminent designer Michael Bierut in this brilliant and candid post explains why. The post has its LoL moments one of which I have copied below. 

    Every once in a while, however, there is satisfaction to be had when design bullshit attains the level of art. I remember working years ago with a challenging client who kept rejecting brochure designs for a Francophile real estate development because they "weren't French enough." I had no idea what French graphic design was supposed to look like but came up with an approach using Empire, a typeface designed by Milwaukee-born Morris Fuller Benton in 1937, and showed it to my boss, Massimo Vignelli. "That will work," he said, his eyes narrowing.
    At the presentation, Massimo unveiled the new font choice with a flourish. "As you see," he said, "in this new design, we're using a typeface called Ahm-peere."
    I was about to correct him when I realized he was using the French pronunciation of Empire.
    The client bought it.
    Now is the time for the million dollar question. What if the bullshit becomes the creative, which is the case most of the time?

    (Image courtesy: Haags Uitburo)

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    Contradictions work

    Sometime back I was listening to a western classical music program on the radio. Before you jump to the conclusion that I am some kind of music buff, I wish to squelch it. I am not but I listen to all kinds of music. What I like about this particular program are the interesting details the RJ shares about the composer and the respective composition. The RJ was talking about a piece by Brahms, ‘German Requiem’, that he considered a masterpiece. He described the inherent contradiction in the composition as ‘profound gravity of magisterial sadness tinged with solemn optimism’. He went on to say that all great composers were a bundle of contradictions and that somehow these contradictions made its way into their composition. This made the composition interesting and sometimes it even became a masterpiece.
    It will not be wrong to say that it is contradictions that make people interesting and interesting people even more interesting. This holds true for brands and it is something we can help create or so I feel.
    If it is so, why are we then afraid to play with contradictions when it comes to brands?
    We do create a contradiction of sorts. It is in the yawning gap between intent, like personality or DNA for the brand, and the actual output. When I say output I am not just talking about communication. It covers everything - product, packaging, distribution/retailing, pricing and communication.
    I am aware that contradiction for the sake of it can be extremely dangerous and can make someone (or something) seem hypocritical.
    However, there is another aspect of contradictions that is probably desirable, especially for a brand. Contradictions can create dissonance which when handled well can be disruptive. Greater the level of contradictions, greater the disruption and greater is the likelihood of success. The classic Beetle case study best exemplifies this. There was a contradiction, violent one at that, in the product for a market like US in the ‘60’s. And yet the contradiction was used to Beetle’s advantage in communication and the rest is history.
    In recent times, Google is a company that is constantly playing with contradictions. On the one hand Google has grown into a large corporation with the accompanying baggage in perception (‘evil’, ‘monopoly’) and yet it actively encourages open-source philosophy in development which is antithesis to everything a large corporation is. Somehow I get the feeling that the contradictions within Google are by design and enable them to create tremors even for a small launch. So far, Google has managed it reasonably well. I really admire that and wish more companies (and brands) dared to create and play with contradictions.
    But then we have been conditioned into thinking that predictability is a desired virtue for brands. The repercussion of this is that over a period of time we have created clones of products and brands across categories. One could argue that a lot is at stake and therefore being ‘unpredictable’ because of contradictions is harmful. Maybe sometimes. 

    All I can say to all those who harbor a doubt about whether contradictions work or not. There is proof. And it is over 10000 years old. 


    (Image courtesy: modio)

    Sunday, October 11, 2009

    Top 10 I wish I had written this

    This is the fifth edition. As always, ‘I like them and my gut says so’ is the only criteria for the selection of the posts mentioned below. They are not in any order of priority. Hope you like them as much as I did. More importantly, I request you to continue to direct me to such awesome posts. 

    The author rightly says that we need something inspire us away from the fight over smaller and smaller pieces of attention. That got my attention.

    “The world will be what we make it”. Ditto.

     A spirited defence of Twitter against all those who dismiss it as a mere ‘babble’ and I agree wholeheartedly.

    The logical fall-out of an increasingly ‘social’ world is crowdsourcing and design contests. Accept it.

    10 simple must-read points that I have started to use with my geeky clients

    With examples from ancient history to today’s networked world, this post reinforces the most obvious reason on why innovation happens

    ‘Social world’ will be as impactful as the invention of printing press. Goes beyond stating the obvious and explains what is to follow.

    The post gives 10 directions for any information visualisation to aspire for. If followed it will be a boon...for readers!

     A wonderful advice on career (and life) that adds life to life that will help anyone.

    The post raises serious issues about journalistic objectivity and ethics in this ‘social world’

    (Image courtesy:e_walk)

    Thursday, October 8, 2009

    When our strength trips us

    In one of my earlier post, I had mentioned that ‘strength over a period of time can become irrelevant’. There are enough examples from the world of business, marketing and brands to prove this point. For a change, I wish to refresh our collective memories with examples from modern history across diverse topics. 

    The breaking down of the Berlin Wall is one of the most dramatic moments in modern history symbolising the end of communism in Easter Europe. What seems to be forgotten is that the first crack to appear was in the most unlikely of places, a worker’s union. I am talking about the dock workers union (Solidarity Union) led by Lech Walesa in Poland. This crack rapidly became an ever expanding fault that brought down communism. Isn’t it ironic that the backbone and strength of the communist movement, unions, should be the prime mover in its collapse?
    Experts attribute this collapse for Deng to open up the Chinese economy and save Chinese communism. The timing is too much of a coincidence to disbelieve this theory.
    Once upon a time, Indian field hockey team were world beaters. Their strength was their amazing dribbling and ball-play ability, almost wizard like. They won gold in all the Olympics from 1928 to 1956. Their crowning moment was when they won the World Cup in 1975. Since then it has been downhill all the way except for the occasional patches of brilliance. In fact, India did not even qualify for Beijing Games last year.
    An important reason, amongst many others, for the dramatic decline in Indian hockey team fortunes was the introduction of Astroturf during the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Their strength, artistry, suddenly became irrelevant. Playing on Astroturf was all about power, stamina and lusty hitting. By the time India managed to get their first Astroturf (I think in 1982) other countries and Cricket had marginalised Indian hockey.
    In direct contrast to India’s decline is the amazing record of Chinese table-tennis (or Ping Pong) team. Rules were continuously modified to make it difficult for Chinese to win. However, Chinese teams adapted to the ever changing rules and continue to dominate. 

    Indian movie production and distribution until the 60’s was dominated by large studios. A studio’s fortune (or strength) rested on the popularity of the actors and technicians in their ‘portfolio’. Studio’s felt that they needed to have a vice-like grip on them (bonded labourers). Little did they realise that once an actor became a star, it is the public who had control over them. The stars threatened and demanded exorbitant fees. When the studios couldn’t cough up, they simply walked out to work with independent producers.
    By 1970, most of the studios were wiped out and the movie scene in India is dominated by numerous independent producers.
    In contrast, Hollywood studios have continuously adapted to take on challenges that threatened their existence. They did go through anxious moments and almost capitulated. Entry of large corporations like Sony, Viacom saved the day. And today they peacefully co-exist with Indie producers. 

    There are various reasons for this phenomenon. Strength tends to blind-side us, strength tends to makes us play it safe, strength creates inertia to change, strength becomes irrelevant with dramatic changes in the eco-system and so on.
    The ones who do not take their strength for granted and work on it to make it relevant are the ones who succeed.
    I am throwing a few names here with what I think are their strengths. If you think I am wrong or wish to add to the list, please do so.
    Microsoft: Windows or Proprietary Software or both                             
    Google: Search
    Apple: Steve Jobs or innovation or both
    Hollywood: Marketing
    Amazon: e-Retailing
    Nokia: Low cost phones
    USA: Capitalism
    India: India?

    (Image courtesy:jemil75)

    Sunday, October 4, 2009


    I am as far removed from the world of finance as one can be. I simply do not understand how billions can vanish or how blue-chip companies can get hosed down overnight or how people earn millions as bonuses or how all this has made our lives interesting since 2008. The ramble of economists was a bit too academic for my liking, more so when flavoured with politics. Therefore, I asked a friend of mine who is from that world to enlighten me. The more he explained, the more it sounded like bullshit. And I should know bullshit, having spent most of my career in advertising!
    I accidently laid my hands on Bombardiers by Po Bronson. It was published in 1995 and happens to be Po Bronson’s first book. The book is one hell of a ride. It is insightful, provocative and an extremely funny look at the world of investment banks. Bombardiers are the sales guys who sell ‘creative financial instruments’ in an investment bank. The fact that Po Bronson was a hotshot executive in a blue-chip investment bank makes this book seem real even though it is a work of fiction.
    The book was prophetic. In fact, one of the reviews of the book urges politicians and financiers to read the book in the hope that they will think twice about the way they’re mortgaging America’s future. I guess, they did not and we know what happened. Well, at least I got answers to my questions.
    Here’s a nugget from the pages of Bombardiers:

    “The Information Economy was a Ponzi scheme spiralling out of control. The investment bankers got rich slaving away, so they call their tax accountants, who got so rich filing government forms that they called their investment bankers back for advice about where to invest their surging wealth...........The politicians kept changing the laws so the lawyers could keep busy, and they kept changing the tax code so that the accountants could keep busy, and they kept borrowing money to keep the investment bankers busy. This was the Third Law of Information Economy at work, and it was the future.......They all profited from the increasing disarray of the information glut. So many experts led to so many theories, and they needed an expert to sort them all out.
    ....They bought and sold money, and every year the Fed pumped more money into the economy for them to buy and sell. They paid for the money they had bought with money they had sold...........Money had direction, and a speed, and acceleration. The acceleration was always increasing with the benefit of computers and politicians, who gave the markets free rein in the name of efficiency. It was the most efficient system at making the rich richer. It was a far better system than entrepreneurism – that antiquated way of starting a business from scratch and growing it a little every year without borrowing, which sometimes took a decade to make a rich man richer.” 

    Read this book if you haven’t already and when the economy tanks next time, you can say with confidence “I know why it happened!”

    (Update: I would also recommend Liar's Poker which is a true story of a young man's experience working in an investment bank. It is funny and brilliant.)

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    Rumours, Lies and Social Media

    It is rightly said that bad news, rumours and lies spreads faster than good news. Magnifying the speed a zillion times is Social Media. More than the speed, it is the erroneous opinion one tends to form about a person or event that makes it so damned dangerous.

    I came across this post by Nassim Taleb wherein he accuses Guardian of distorting his views and comments on a particular topic. In this particular case though, one knows the source (Guardian) and what they represent. But is it realistic to expect to know the source of content always?

    Theoretically, Social Media provides an equal platform for extreme views. But such is the power of misrepresentation (and Social Media) that more often than not the damage is done before one can react.

    While the premise of this post is negative, it is with a reason. I do not want Social Media to become like 'traditional media'. Whatever be the debate amongst pundits about Social Media, I can confidently say that I am deriving enormous benefits from it. Social Media represents the hope that I have for getting information, knowledge and entertainment in a manner devoid of prejudices. Even if there were prejudices, it is out there in the open. This is not true of traditional media.

    Traditional media(journalism) professes to be balanced, but that is hardly the case. For example, the newspaper that epitomised balanced journalism and which most Indians in the South like me grew up with is now increasingly sounding like Pravda. I continue to read it not because I am a leftist or that I have any sort of political inclination (far from it) The irony that is not lost on me is that the options to this paper are far worse. The reason for this deterioration in standards is pretty straight forward.

    Media houses have sold their souls at the altar of rating points and readership. They are peddling conjectures and rumours as facts. Probably, the influence of electronic media and its inherent superficiality has a role to play. What is worse is that even the dead are not spared. I am not just talking about celebrities like MJ.

    An incident that upset me and other like-minded Indians was the coverage of the murder of a 14-year old girl. The media circus that followed must be one of the most shameful episodes in India’s journalistic history. Indian media in collusion with the authorities tore that poor child’s name as well as that of her family to shreds. They reminded me of a pack of hyena’s circling an innocent prey.

    I hope Social Media does not become an instrument to perpetuate social lie. Crap detection in Social Media is very easy. But for that we need to shake ourselves out of the habit (from time to time) of being mere passive consumers of information.

    One cannot justify lies and rumours under the guise of freedom of speech. The enormous freedom and reach that Social Media gives us, comes with a rider. Responsibility!

    (Image courtesy: somebody)

    Monday, September 7, 2009

    "There is no reason not to follow your heart"

    (Courtesy: Success Electrons via @dennisprice)

    I have read this speech many times. However, when I viewed this video for the first time last week it gave me goose-bumps. It is about life said by a man who has seen it all. Awesome.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Quick Gun Murugan, Idli Westerns and Indian Advertising

    The weekend saw the release of Quick Gun Murugan, the movie. It must be one of the rare instance of a TV Commercial character (and idea) being turned into a full-length feature film. The clip above and below are part of the Quick Gun Murugan series aired in the mid 90’s.

    Quick Gun Murugan series continues to be my favourite Indian TV Commercial. Some might argue that it is not a TV Commercial in the strictest sense but a promo for a music channel. That might be so, but the impact it had on Indian Advertising is far reaching.
    Quick Gun Murugan is an incredible spoof of Idli Westerns. Idli Westerns or Tamil language cowboy films were inspired by Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns that made Clint Eastwood famous. Jaishankar, the ‘James Bond’ of Tamil films in 60’s and 70’s, was the hero of the first Idli Western film called Ganga. It is also probably the first ‘cowboy’ film in India. I have seen the film on National Television when I was a kid and I enjoyed every minute of it.

    To many, the sight of a Tamil speaking cowboy strutting about wearing a Stetson and bashing up goons might seem ridiculous. Hey, this is India. Anything is possible and accepted. It was this acceptance of the incongruous that Channel V exploited. Quick Gun Murugan became a cult and helped Channel V catch up with MTV.
    Before the advent of Quick Gun Murugan, majority of Indian advertising could be classified as Soppy, Syrupy and Crappy.
    Soppy: Emotional, tear-inducing and lot of times tries appealing to the patriotic spirit using a theme. For example, ‘Breasts of India’ for a lingerie brand (I made that up but I won’t be surprised if it was discussed)
    Syrupy: Ultra smart kids or an animal or an ever-smiling mom or a combination of all this, forms part of the picture. They are heavily infused with saccharine leading to sure OD. Little wonder that India is the diabetic capital of the world!
    Crappy: Do I have it spell it?
    Quick Gun Murugan with its zany, absurd and don’t-take-me-too-seriously approach was refreshing. The fact that the population was lapping up such stuff prompted advertisers to demand the same from their agencies. Quick Gun Murugan helped marketers and agencies to loosen up.
    Except for the Maggi Tomato Sauce series, I do not think we had such entertaining as well as interesting advertising before Quick Gun Murugan. Indian advertising slowly started to move away from clichés and tried coming up with interesting ideas. The operative word is ‘interesting’.
    However, it is a slow evolution. Notwithstanding the clutch of international awards won in recent times, majority of Indian advertising continues to be stuck in the soppy, syrupy and crappy mode. The reasons for this remain the same even today. They range from ‘the average consumer will not get it’ to ‘Indian’s don’t have a sense of humour’. That is a load of bull-crap. There is no such thing as ‘average consumer’ and as regards ‘sense of humour’ one needs to have loads of it to live in India. The ones giving such reasons are probably referring to themselves.
    I am not saying that all ads should be funny or entertaining. I do understand that Quick Gun Murugan formula of advertising will not apply to most brands and situations. However, one can surely try to make ads interesting. I know I am a minority here. But it is a growing minority, both amongst clients and agencies. That is a good sign.
    However, my reaction to a soppy, syrupy or crappy ad continues to remain the same, which is:

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    Hedy Lamarr - Actress, Inventor and An Inspiration

    Secret Communication System involves frequency hopping that helps radio signals to hop between 88 frequencies and intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder to detect. (US Patent No 2292387 dated August 11 1942 and awarded to Hedy Kiesler Markey and George Antheil)

    Hedy Kiesler Markey is none other than Hedy Lamarr whose picture is shown above and who was rightly called the ‘most beautiful woman in the world’. And George Antheil was an Avant Garde Music composer. Secret Communication System is the basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology that is used in WiFi, cordless phones and cellphones.

    Her life is best captured from a line in this post:

    “Not only was she the first actress to simulate an orgasm onscreen in 1933, but her frequency-switching device (now known as frequency hopping) developed with partner George Antheil, is the technology upon which the cell phones are built."

    I first came to know the incredible story of Hedy Lamarr from my Physics professor. This particular professor had an amazing ability to tell stories on just about any topic related to Physics. And you guessed right, the attendance to his class was always full.

    Hedy Lamarr was of Jewish parentage. She was drawn towards expressive arts at an early age and entered the world of films (German) in the 1930’s. She married a German arms manufacturer who was also a Nazi sympathiser. In addition, he was an extremely controlling man and refused to let her continue her acting career. Instead he took her to meetings involving military technology with his partners and technologists. Hedy picked up lot of ideas from these meetings. In 1937 she fled Germany and her husband for USA as she completely despised the growing fascist menace in Europe.She became a very famous actress with films like Samson and Delilah, Boom Town, Tortilla Flat and many more to her credit.

    While she pursued her acting career, she wanted to help in the war efforts to defeat Germany. It was this burning mission that made her develop ‘Secret Communication System’ involving frequency hopping with her friend the music composer, George Antheil. The invention was seen way ahead of its time. In fact it was put to use successfully for the first time during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And now in cellphones.

    Why am I narrating the story of Hedy Lamarr?

    The story of Hedy Lamarr can be one of inspiration for people with a ‘creative’ persuasion.

    Hedy Lamarr symbolises the magic that happens when creativity meets technology. Coming from an ‘Expressive Arts’ background, Lamarr and Antheil were highly intuitive. They could harness the potential of a phenomenon into a useful application. What is remarkable about her achievement is that it happened at a time when there was a very clear demarcation between arts and science.

    That demarcation, at least pertaining to the digital world, is crumbling fast today. By digital I loosely mean all things internet, mobile and emerging media. It is user-friendly and with interesting possibilities for brands and marketing. More importantly, I foresee a new kind of role likely to emerge in technology companies in the near future. It is that of a ‘Creative Officer’.

    As a budding entrepreneur (ahem!), I have come across young engineers in Bangalore with incredible product ideas. Some of them have also started full-fledged companies. However, they are struggling to make the much needed consumer connect for them to succeed. Creativity is the magic that can add ‘soul’ to their product and help it connect with the consumers.

    Hedy Lamarr once said, “All creative people want to do the unexpected.” Have fun with technology and you can do the unexpected in which ever field you are in.

    (Image courtesy)