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 clich├ęs 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: