Thursday, November 22, 2012

Social Media Guru

(Via. Courtesy Gavin Heaton)

Trust Onion to come with the best satire on social media. You cannot but agree with the dissection of social media gurus and agencies in this video as they are so true.

"Using your brains to think of an idea and your skills to implement it? That's the old model."

Another example: 

"Our firm was hired to expand SpeedStick deodorant's Twitter footprint. But they already had a Twitter feed -- and we of course had no original ideas. So we hired a separate company to create thousands of fake Twitter accounts designed only to follow SpeedStick. We were able to increase the number of accounts following SpeedStick from 300 to 900,000 in less than a week. And the best part is, all of these accounts were robots -- so we didn't have to tweet anything, because nobody was reading it."

The inevitable conclusion?

"Ideally, real human users will leave social networking altogether, and all that will be left will be thousands of robots, talking to each other, who we can then advertise to."


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Viral Video


I cannot help but love stuff that takes a dig at things that marketers and agencies embrace with the passion of a zealot. The video above might be a spoof but I assure you it is not way off the mark. There are companies that help you get followers, likes, clicks and yes, even views. It is also a well-known fact that there are brands who use the services of these companies (abetted by agencies of dodgy reputation). When a marketer's performance matrix depends on the number of followers, clicks, likes and views acquired, what can you expect. 

In my opinion, there is only one viral that matters - 'has the product gone viral?'.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Big Data - That same old sinking feeling again

The movie ‘Lives of others’ was brilliant in its depiction of life in East Germany under the watchful eyes of Stasi, the dreaded and repressive state police. These guys collected information about people whom they suspected of having anti-state (or ‘pro decadent West’) leanings in an almost obsessive compulsive way. Every aspect of the ‘suspect’s’ life was covered. At the height of Cold War, Stasi probably spied on more than a third of the population and collected astonishing amounts of information and data about them. But none of the information and data could prevent this from happening.


Emotion trumps data, any day. And emotions cannot be predicted. Behaviour, linked to emotions, even more so.

But brands don’t seem to believe in this. They are going to town with their ‘investments’ in big data and analytics. They probably see in data and analytics the answer to all the problems the brand is facing, a holy grail. Data is something absolute and finite. It gives the marketer a sense of control, a sense of being ‘scientific’ in their decision making. It also helps them justify any decision, more often than not, the wrong one. And their favorite game, Analysis-Paralysis, gets even better with big data.

But big data can also give interesting insights leading to interesting stories if one knew where to look. But I doubt very much whether that will happen.  Maybe, they should look at this interesting case for small data.

Robert Campbell in his usual irrepressible style urges brands not to become data fashion victims. He says,

“We have jumped on the data bandwagon to such an extent that we’ve seemingly forgotten how normal human beings respond to stuff.

Instead of using the findings and learning’s of data to create stories that have emotional value and meaning to our audience, we are now seeing more and more ads that basically regurgitate the data as the actual message.”

The tech industry which made big data fashionable has also been a victim to its distracting powers.

One of the most loved brands of the dotcom era Yahoo is now on life support. One of the reasons for this sorry plight was their over-fascination with big data (and analytics) through their investment in Hadoop. This obsession with data meant that their attention was diverted from doing what is fundamental to their business – creating a wonderful user experience.

Google, the tech giant, prides itself on data-based decision making as one of its cornerstone of its strategy. Can someone explain to me why then are they tripping almost everywhere except in their bread and butter, Search? Be it the buyout of Motorola or their ‘Facebook’ obsession product Google Plus, Google seems to be losing their mojo. I hope they do not wind up like Yahoo.

Therefore, it is not surprising to see comments like the one below on a recently held conference on big data involving the usual suspects.

Lastly, one of the biggest names in the telecom world continues to sink faster than a guy with cement shoes in water while their investments in big data and analytics continues to grow. The only solution to their plight is ‘Change’, beginning with the management. But then data and analytics cannot help in that. It requires something that is rarely used these days. It is called common sense.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why so serious?

People are taking themselves a bit too seriously, at least some of them. These ‘taking-themselves-seriously’ types are the root cause of most problems we see around us. And they are present everywhere.  The following examples might give you an idea as to what I am hinting at.

The West
We need to ‘civilize these natives’. Democracy at any cost and when it suits our purpose is the only answer. If oil is available in plenty, why bother about democracy?

My god is the only god. No, no…my god is the real god. And all you heathen, pagan and infidels are doomed to burn in hell. Just sign up for our god, you can get the best holiday package in heaven.

Indian politicians
We know what is good for the people even though we do not practice it ourselves. Only socialism and secularism can save this country from certain doom. Hey, our offshore accounts are none of your business. 

Indian media, intellectuals and assorted scoundrels…er…activists
If you don’t agree with us, you are nothing but a rabble-rousing right-wing pig. Only we know what is good for society. Accusing us of twisting truth? Hey, we are only exercising our right of free speech.

Marketers and their brands
Our mission is to propel the consumer into stratospheric heights in their quest of realizing their potential when they use our brand. BTW, can your CD’s come up with a ‘cutting edge’ birthday card for our CEO’s pet Chihuahua?

Our proprietary ‘WTF Tool’ helps us distil the essence of the brand through a combination of lateral inversion and posterior penetration while scattering the ashes of whatever is left of the brand through an integrated media agnostic prism.


Why do people insist on thrusting their belief systems onto others? Don’t they realize the futility of it all? Whenever I hear this kind of stuff, I just want to say one thing. Loosen up, guys. But then I know that this will only provoke ‘these types’ into a manic state making matters worse. 

Death is the ultimate leveler. It does not discriminate. It is said that moments before death, reality dawns upon people. This wonderful piece on the regrets of the dying is an eye-opener. In the end, all that matters is experiencing the joys of life. 

Lastly, the increasingly hostile atmosphere we see around the world is caused by bigotry. And bigotry can be attributed directly to these ‘taking-themselves-seriously’ types. 


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

No Interface

Today the market offers SmartTV, SmartFridge, SmartCars, SmartPhones...and a host of devices with complicated and sometimes unnecessary user interface to make you look stupid. Agree?

I came across this wonderful post on UI, The best interface is no interface. The title says it all. It is almost as if the author knew how we feel about (over-designed) interfaces. More importantly, the author advocates 3 principles for the 'no interface approach' with interesting examples to prove his point. Here are some nuggets:

"Creative minds in technology should focus on solving problems. Not just make interfaces. 

As Donald Norman said in 1990 - 'The real problem with the interface is that it is an interface. Interfaces get in the way. I don’t want to focus my energies on an interface. I want to focus on the job…I don’t want to think of myself as using a computer, I want to think of myself as doing my job.'

It’s time for us to move beyond screen-based thinking. Because when we think in screens, we design based upon a model that is inherently unnatural, inhumane, and has diminishing returns. It requires a great deal of talent, money and time to make these systems somewhat usable, and after all that effort, the software can sadly, only truly improve with a major overhaul.

There is a better path: No UI. A design methodology that aims to produce a radically simple technological future without digital interfaces......

......Several car companies have recently created smartphone apps that allow drivers to unlock their car doors. Generally, the unlocking feature plays out like this:
  1. A driver approaches her car.
  2. Takes her smartphone out of her purse.
  3. Turns her phone on.
  4. Slides to unlock her phone.
  5. Enters her passcode into her phone.
  6. Swipes through a sea of icons, trying to find the app.
  7. Taps the desired app icon.
  8. Waits for the app to load.
  9. Looks at the app, and tries figure out (or remember) how it works.
  10. Makes a best guess about which menu item to hit to unlock doors and taps that item.
  11. Taps a button to unlock the doors.
  12. The car doors unlock.
  13. She opens her car door.
Thirteen steps later, she can enter her car.

The app forces the driver to use her phone. She has to learn a new interface. And the experience is designed around the flow of the computer, not the flow of a person.

If we eliminate the UI, we’re left with only three, natural steps:
  1. A driver approaches her car.
  2. The car doors unlock.
  3. She opens her car door.
Anything beyond these three steps should be frowned upon. Seem crazy?" 


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Get Real

The gear shift is pushed higher. The throttle is pressed hard. The car leaps and zips along a beautiful highway. The car swerves dramatically a full 360 degree. The car screeches to a halt. Steve McQueen steps out of the car. 

This car.

BTW, I was kidding. About Steve McQueen.

Seriously, if ever there was a lemon it is the car above. No amount of dramatic television spots will move this beyond a taxi-wallah’s favorite. 

I have not singled out this brand for special treatment. This malaise of ‘stupid’ hyperbole cuts across brands and the evidence is there for all to see, on television and online. I must also admit that I have been part of such work. I must also admit that in all the instances, the client was told of the ‘stupidity’ of such an approach. But then, we were clobbered with logic, stats and the ultimate crutch of marketers, research. We had to quietly relent.

Call it mid-life crisis or burn-out or whatever, I am increasingly finding it difficult to be part of such an exercise. It is to my mind a case of 'good money behind bad money'. 

Is there a way to call the crap on this kind of marketing and advertising? 

Why don't marketers and agencies realize that there is merit in being honest and real? The creative possibilities are far more interesting with such an approach. The believability and empathy is also likely to be more. I am not saying no to hyperbole. But hyperbole for a product/service that is at best a ‘turkey’ should be avoided.

I recently read a charming post by an UX expert that beautifully captured this thought. Here are some gems from the post.

“Our best chance for establishing trust with our users is to be honest. After all, trust inspires confidence. And it’s confidence—not just a knowledge of differences—that compels decision-making.

Perhaps we should stop fixating on what makes us different and, instead, acknowledge the real aspects of who we are, what we do, and why people choose us.

We often overlook our own assets because they’re real. Real things aren’t flashy, polished, or perfect. That’s often what makes them an asset in the first place.”

Finally, there can be no better validation of this approach than from The Master. Recognize this?


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ideas are a product of discovery, not creation


The headline is a summation of what George Lois, considered one of the greatest art directors and 'the original mad man', had to say about ideas.

"I don’t think I create anything. I’m really serious — I discover the ideas.

If you understand how to think… If you have a background of graphic art, and you are a sports fan, and you’re literate, and you’re interested in politics, and you love opera, and ballet’s not bad either, and if you understand people… and you understand language, and you understand that product, and you understand the competitive products… and you put that all together in about ten minutes — the idea’s there."

Be open to experiences and you are likely to come up with interesting ideas. Learn it from masters like George Lois.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Jack Dorsey and the CEO as the Chief Editor

"Get every single detail perfect and limit the number of details". Priceless.

I am a big fan of Jack Dorsey. He is a visionary and a great leader. He has what it takes to create discontinuities in the market. Little wonder that he is compared to Steve Jobs (that is unfair to both of them, is my opinion). Little wonder that developers and designers want to work with him. And if you want to know more about him, check this and this.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

5 types of social media strategies



As always, Tom Fishburne nails it with the above cartoon. There is also a wonderful quote in his post attributed to Kathy Sierra.

“It does not matter how awesome your product is or your presentation or your post. Your awesome thing matters ONLY to the extent that it serves the user’s ability to be a little more awesome.”

Social media can never help if the organization (and brand) is inherently anti-social. Being anti-social takes many forms. For example, the organization imposes restriction on 'free speech' or customer service sucks( and is rude) or the product/service is bad. Simply put, social media is not a substitute if the brand and organization suck in the real world. It is an amplifier, an enabler.

Finally, brands and their agencies have to work towards making the customer more 'awesome'. And that is a lot of hard work.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chaos is good


I feel vindicated for having written this piece about chaos earlier.

I cannot but wonder why agencies are so chaos(and risk) averse when they are supposed to be a creative environment helping solve client's problems? Everything is buttoned down into a neat process with very little leeway for interesting creative expression. This also true of most organizations. 

But then, is there a formula for chaos that will hopefully result in amazing creative work? In many ways formula and chaos are antithesis of each other. Therefore, do not expect a formula. Instead create an environment that will foster risk taking and adventure. This might result in the kind of chaos that will enable some amazing work to emerge.

In recent times, I have been fascinated with Valve. Their model of no bosses, no delegation, no commands should have meant collapse of the company. Instead, it is probably an interesting approach to creating chaos and great products. It has created for sure one of the hottest software companies in the world.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

LEGO - A world without limits


A story of creativity, quality and perseverance. Truly inspiring.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Internet is my religion

I came across this inspiring speech and the notes below here. I would urge you to see the 12 minutes of video, if possible.

"In the video, Jim Gilliam gives us a short tour of his life’s story. I encourage you to watch the entire mind-blowing twelve minutes. In it, Jim tells the story of how after contracting life-threatening cancer, he went from following a popular movement—Jerry Falwell-branded fundamentalist Christianity—to creating two of his own. First, following the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Jim became an activist for a better America and produced a series of compelling documentary films to further his cause. In order to promote these films, Jim developed a series of techniques using the Internet to basically create a movement—i.e. to organize a group of people to do something. In this case, learn from his films and strive to improve the country. Later, we find that the cancer treatment that Jim received earlier in the story burned out his lungs requiring that he receive a double lung transplant or die. Finding a donor for two healthy lungs and a doctor willing to perform the insanely risky surgery is the mother of all long shots, so Jim had to start a new movement to get new lungs. Organizing people to save his own life profoundly impacted Jim’s view of how he should spend the rest of it. So much so that his personal domain is called to represent the 3 different DNAs that combine to keep him alive, a constant reminder that he cannot do it alone. 

After recovering from the operation, Jim had a defining revelation. He realized that everything good comes from people working together to accomplish something important and, furthermore, that the Internet would be the great enabler of the most important endeavors."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Digital Games


I couldn’t believe that this is a spoof. This is exactly the kind of bull-crap digital agencies peddle that marketers lap up thirstily. I have said before, digital and social media are far too precious to be left in the hands of agencies, marketers and gurus. 

I am being a bit unfair here. There are agencies around the world doing some great work in the digital and social media space. There are a few clients, like Nike, who have got digital right. Unfortunately, the vast majority of agencies and clients use digital (and social media), especially in India, as yet another advertising medium. These agencies tout the alleged superiority over broadcast media in a pyrotechnic demonstration of data and metrics. They will have the client heaving with multiple orgasms. Unfortunately, this hard-sell approach almost always comes back to bite them in their arse.

By pitching against broadcast media agencies, they are pitching for the same (limited) marketing $$$. Being at the lowest level of the marketing food-chain, the digital (and social media) agencies get thrown the crumbs. It doesn’t stop with that. The race for the crumbs has turned so vicious amongst these agencies that the digital landscape has become a bloody battlefield with no winners. These agencies are completely undermining the industry. I have written about all this in great lengths here.

There is change in the air. I have been speaking to people within the digital space in India. Some of them have refreshing ideas and will hopefully chart a new course for the industry. It is not going to be easy. But if one is in it for the long haul, there is glory. 

PS: BTW, the next biggest con…er…thing keeping agencies and marketers busy is ‘apps’. I am now looking forward to the spoof from BBC Two.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Faking News

"People will believe anything if you dress like a newsman(or woman) and have a microphone."

Isn't that a fact? 

The video above might be a prank, but it is not way off the mark in depiction of the way news channels 'create' news. I am not a fan of the electronic news media with their 24x7 dishing out of drivel. The overly serious (or constipated) face peering into the camera, the self-righteousness and the perversion of truth is all par for the course in the 24x7 world of news. I am amazed that there are people who actually hang onto every word these charlatans peddle as news and analysis.

I would urge people to see this brilliant film, Network, made in 1976. It gives you a feel of the way news is 'made'. It also picked up a quite a few Oscars for its stars and screenplay. Even if the movie does not open your eyes to the reality about news channels, you can go home satisfied at having seen a great film.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Solomon Asch conducted the above experiment in 1962. This experiment was repeated in recent times by USF with the same results.

People will agree with others or follow them even when others are wrong. Conformity is everywhere. Government, industry, marketing and advertising. People think they are setting out do something different and yet all they wind up doing is more of the same.

Conformity of the group is the reason great ideas get mauled in research, much like a hapless victim getting mauled by hungry lions in a Roman Colosseum.

'Innovation', is the most powerful word invented to help us live in a state of denial about being conformists in our actions. This is specially true of marketing and advertising. In recent times, I have been to meetings and presentations that I can recall were seen as 'innovative' fifteen years ago. Innovation is used to describe anything from a front-page takeover of a daily to creating a Facebook page. 

I guess, being a conformist must be lucrative. There are a lot of them around.