Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why does it have to be either this or that?

What will you choose when the genie in your computer pops out and offers you the following:

A. A dream date (and much more) with the person of your fantasy (HORNY)

B. A billion dollars in your bank account (MONEY)

C. All of the above (BOTH HORNY AND MONEY, WOW)

The correct choice will only be known at the end of this post. So I request you to control your primal urges and read on.

I am relatively new to blogging and the whole social networking she-bang. However, I am not new to the world of internet and I am not talking about my email account :-) I can claim to have worked (?) in this space for nearly three years of which two years was spent in a full-blooded dotcom. In fact I entered the world of internet just when the dotcom bubble was about to burst. There is a sense of déjà-vu when I compare the dotcom days with what is happening today.

This sense comes from the ongoing debate (noise) between the agency types (advertising and related) on the one side and the social media mavens on the other. Both of them have drawn a line separating ‘mainstream advertising’ (TV, Print, Experiential etc) and the ever-morphing world of internet. Some of the agency types question the efficacy of ‘social media’ while the mavens keep predicting the death of advertising as we know it.

In the dotcom days there was a similar debate about how advertising was going to be eclipsed by anything prefixed with an ‘e’ (Remember it?) The dotcom bubble burst. Did it mean that advertising won and internet lost?


Dotcoms lost, though. However, the bursting of the dotcom bubble was the best thing to happen to the world of internet. The VC’s moved away. The internet companies that were serious like my company focussed considerable efforts on achieving great UI, outstanding customer service and innovative marketing (I had a zero-budget for marketing) They continuously experimented, started building robust revenue streams and were eventually rewarded. Most of them are going strong even today.

In my opinion the current innovations in social networking owes its development to the critical period after the bursting of dotcom bubble. User Groups, Message Boards, Forums and other online interactions were the backbone of internet companies in those tough times especially for people like me in Marketing. They are probably the catalyst to today’s popular destinations like Facebook, LinkedIn and so on.

Am I suggesting that the current bubble on Social Media should burst?

In the first place there is no Social Media bubble, only hype. Social Media is yet another manifestation (Avatar if I were to use a popular jargon) in the wonderful world of internet. Therefore, the debate between ‘Advertising’ versus ‘Social Media’ is erroneous as the comparision is erroneous (Apples & Oranges)

Companies like IBM, CISCO and suchlike have realized this. They embrace both mainstream advertising and the opportunities emerging technologies that internet is providing (of which Social Media is a part) to succeed in the marketplace. This should be a lesson to other companies and to the people who debate either this or that.

Like IBM and Cisco, I love both the worlds. I have spent most of my career in advertising in arguably one of India’s finest and as mentioned before also have a reasonably decent exposure in the world of internet (1 month = 7 internet years) I am aware that like dotcoms, Social Media might see a lot of churn. But that is a good thing as this will only make internet stronger.

Internet will continue to grow at a frenzied pace offering endless opportunities to one and all, including advertising. Its footprints via its various avatars will steadily pervade all aspects of an individual, corporation and society's life. In that sense it closely resembles our nervous system with synaptic pulses carrying information to and fro in many ways, to many destinations. Some of the tools, like email for instance, have already become so ubiquitous that we only realize it exists when there is a problem. Like our heart!

Now that I have finished my rant, let’s move on to more important matters.

I am talking about the multiple choice question posed by the genie – horny, money or both.You might think that keeping in mind the nature of this post, the right choice is ‘both’.

That, my dear friend, is called ‘wishful thinking’. The genie was lying, you horny loser.

(Image courtesy: Talie)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Top Ten I Wish I Had Written This

This is the third edition and is out on time (more or less). You can read the earlier editions of my Top Ten here and here. 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. I hope you like them as much as I did. More importantly, I request you to continue to direct me to such awesome posts.

“Marketing wasn’t about helping your company sell but helping people buy” says Greg basis an age old definition of Marketing. He raises very simple and pertinent points that will make you think. And hopefully act.

Sam Ismail captures the thought that is running in every agency person’s mind as regards what needs to be done to make the business attain great heights (bring back the glory days) A well thought out post calling for tough stance which might seem idealistic but may be the best solution yet.

Dave Trott writing about Bill Bernbach will automatically get featured in my Top Ten. The piece de resistance of the famous Avis case (We try harder) is the 6 point document agreed between Bill Bernbach and the client (Robert Townsend) of Avis. This should become the standard document between agencies and clients.

Great brand owners are creativists in that their ambitions went far beyond self-enrichment. Giving the example of an experiment in 'Experimental Philosophy’ Rory goes on to say that greed is not only bad for business, it is definitely bad for brands. Awesome and I agree completely.

Jeffrey is the Chief Creative Officer of skinnyCorp the owner of the most happening clothing brand threadless. When he says that titles might increasingly become less important in modern businesses you might want to take notice. Not only notice, read this post and hopefully his blog regularly.

In this post Bob Sutton presents a case on how a company prevented employee thefts and it is a great read. Bob Sutton is a professor of Management Science at Stanford University and the author of the famous ‘The No Asshole Rule’. He makes interesting point in an almost irreverent way.Lucky students!

“When you’re building products or services, there’s a nonlinear connection between input and output. You can put in just a little and still get out a spectacular lot.” This is from the corporate blog of 37 Signals and they should know. This post makes us revisit clichés and debunks them.

I like this post as it kind of dovetails into Sam Ismail’s one linked above. He says (rants) that agencies (ad) need to have an entrepreneur spirit within and that it will go a long way in bringing dynamism back into the business.

He is crusty, irreverent and brutally frank (read his blog). This post is a tirade against ‘pop’ culture and how technology is making it easier for it to spread. Technology that he takes on includes the most talked about (or tweeted about) and how it is eroding the communication skills of the young.

A hilarious piece about one’s ‘exes’ (girlfriends). A sample “A big part of this trick is arriving at the point where you can truly, honestly and openly hope for the best for the person you've just left or, at an even higher level of difficulty, the person who just left you....... you're still mostly hoping that her new boyfriend gets cancer in his dick.” There are two wonderful short videos to go with the post.

(Image courtesy: samscam)

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Right Stuff

Story of Stuff is an initiative of Annie Leonard and her associates. Their website from where you can view the video says:

"The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever."

I agree. The video is awesome. Little wonder that it has more than 6 million views. It should be made compulsory viewing in schools, colleges and even offices.

I have a request to people watching the video. Please move away from the narrow confines of politics and economics while watching it (and even thereafter). This is not about being a liberal or a debate between 'Left vs Right' or 'Socialism vs Capitalism'. It is much larger than that. It is about life, people and the fragile ecosystem that supports it all.

In this connection I must also bring to your notice another wonderful initiative called 'A Woman's Investment' started by Jasmin Tragas who also works part-time in IBM Australia. She raises funds for projects she believes in via internet(Social Media). She has also come out with an e-book 'World Shapers', about extraordinary women who are making a difference. This e-book is available free to download in her blog.

As always, I am amazed at the power of internet in helping people like Annie Leonard & Jasmin Tragas reach out to millions of people with their thought provoking message and also in mobilizing group action. I hope many more people are inspired by them and use the power of internet in a similar way. The world needs it.

Now that I have done my good deed for the month by sharing these inspiring initiatives, I need to balance it by doing the exact opposite. Otherwise I will not be me.

I am now taking my 20-year old car aka "Ozone Killer" (and "Heap" by my wife) to buy vegetables that were probably grown using GM seeds and with enough fertilizer to denude the soil of nutrients for the next 100 years!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

If it's simple, something must be wrong

I met my friend’s brother couple of months ago at a dinner in his place. He had just qualified to become a Neurosurgeon. He was excitedly looking forward to his life and career as a specialist. He was sharing his thoughts with us and the topic naturally veered towards great surgeons. He spoke in awe of Dr.B.Ramamuthi, whom he (and rest of the medical fraternity) considered a pioneer in Neurosurgery in India.

He mentioned that great surgeons (and doctors) were not only highly knowledgeable in their subject but also very creative in their own way. I asked him why he considered them creative. He said that they could look at a highly complex problem and with a potent mix of knowledge and intuition arrive at a solution that was at once simple and brilliant. In fact he likened them to ‘great artists’.

This was very refreshing to me as I had never looked at the medical profession in this way. It was also music to my ears. Words like intuition, creative and simple are seldom mentioned in the same breath these days. Therefore, it is no surprise that these magical words of this budding Neurosurgeon echo in my mind after all this time. There is also another reason.

Time and again I have been told that “if it’s simple, something must be wrong.”

I am not kidding when I say that these are the words of many of my clients in my stints in advertising and in the internet space. You might also think that it is an experience confined to me and in my none-too-illustrious career. It is not so. People I know and who are highly regarded in their field– architects, software developers, web designers, journalists, teachers – and who have achieved considerable success share similar experiences.

It seems that an apparent complex problem cannot have a solution that is simple even if it is the best one. One of the reasons for this behaviour is that people are increasingly taking themselves too seriously. Made worse by the information overload we suffer these days.

There is another important reason – the culture of the organisation. Probably decision makers within the organisation do not encourage intuitiveness and an approach that is ‘simple’. They might be even of the opinion that they are not getting their money’s worth from the team. The manager who brought it to their notice is castrated, oops castigated. Once bitten, the manager discards any trace of intuitive sense that may be present. The operating philosophy becomes ‘match complexity with complexity’, over analyze and paralyze.

The problem with seeking complexity is that you will get it. But your customers and audience will not. This is understandable. Unlike Apple, people are not waiting with bated breath for your products or communication. It is no wonder that many product launches and campaigns fail. Read this hilarious and brilliant piece by Ad Contrarian on the Tropicana fiasco and you will know what I am saying.

To arrive at a solution that is at once simple and brilliant requires lot of hard work. A smart manager knows that the imaginative and technical skill of the team (R&D, Design, Engineering, and Agency) is stretched to the limits in pursuit of a creative solution that is simple. Steve Jobs does just that. And if one can also do the same in a life threatening situation like Neurosurgery, why not you? Probably, it is ‘career threatening’.

I have become a big fan of this wonderful company 37 Signals, a software products company, which boldly embraces this philosophy of ‘keeping it simple’. They have captured it beautifully in their book, Getting Real, available for purchase or if you are a cheapskate like me read it free online. The message in the book is applicable to everyone, more so one involved in ideas and creativity. However, don’t blame me if you find the thoughts expressed in it as being a bit too ‘simple’ for your liking.

It was their blog that led me to Sam Maloof. He is 93 years old and one of the most admired contemporary furniture designer from USA. His simple philosophy to design is captured in this quote “My goal is to make furniture that people can be comfortable living with. If you’re not preoccupied with making an impact with your designs, chances are something that looks good today will look good tomorrow…”

And this piece by Chip and Dan Heath (‘Made to Stick’) fame who believe that a simple strategy can resolve decision paralysis.

Need I say more? However, if you still demand complexity I have a simple (there we go again) solution.

Have an affair with your married neighbour. And get caught.

(Image courtesy: Lougan Manzke)

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