Wednesday, 28 May, 2008

This don't impress me much

“There aren't any surprises here. What was the point of doing this research?”

The bored executive saying this is probably dead wrong.

But he's not to blame. Unknowingly, he's giving in to a mistake that's so common that we have stopped thinking of it as one.

The word 'research' has meanings: (a) scholarly or scientific investigation or inquiry and (b) close, careful study.

Research of the first type is almost always conducted by an academic institution or R&D lab, and almost always to find something new. Actually, good researchers consider repeating previously done work and confirming others' results as infra dig, and justifiably so.

But this needn't be the case with the second type of research, more so if one is conducting it for business.

Indeed, in many cases, surprises would be most undesirable and unpleasant.

To take a trivial example, you would hardly be pleased if readership surveys show that audiences thought your ad campaign says the very opposite of what it was meant to say.

Even pleasant surprises can carry seeds of risk. Let's say research shows your new toothpaste will click with families headed by semi-urban middle-aged adults but flop with its intended market, urban teens. You are safe for now, but can it be that you went terribly wrong in some step in its designing, and this will come to haunt you in the days to come? How many happy accidents can you count?

In other words, research that confirms haunches and hypotheses may be very rewarding. All we have to do is get over our misplaced expectation that all research should surprise.

Friday, 23 May, 2008

The Livers of the Brand

The heart of the brand, the core of the brand, the brand seed, the living truth of the brand, the dying gasps of the brand, the whatever of the whatever.

Does a brand need all these?

One expects a brand to be a fairly simple thing, a name for a thing, a proper noun, no more.

The name means some things, just as Pabitra A. Chatterjee means some things to people who know me. However, these are simple things, easily explicable to laymen.

The admixture of all of them may be somewhat complex for a layman (though even that should be fairly simple for a shrink or a detective), but which laymen needs to deal with the sum of parts? Even I needn’t be a walking encyclopaedia on myself.

So why the convolution about names of things? Why all the alignments, classifications, and trademarked mind-reading tools – the parallelograms, pentagons and prisms?

I suppose we may find a clue in the other proper business, life. For most of us, life is pretty uncomplicated. It stinks. When the stench becomes unbearable, we see a doctor, a psychologist or a financial planner, but that doesn’t complicate it. Not permanently at any rate.

However, for the very intelligent, the very stupid, the very successful and the very useless, life needs meaning. They have questions. What is life? What does god want (of me)? Where did we come from? Where are we (I) going?

They need philosophy.

Philosophy is a fairly big bazaar, with a range that stretches all the way from occult to religion to bad German translated into denser English.

I daresay it’s all fairly interesting and helpful.

But its biggest advantage is that ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’, not his bank account. (The beautician’s bank account is a different matter.)

Besides, I imagine one of the greatest joys of digging philosophy is the fact that you dig philosophy. Having sex is sometimes good enough; you needn’t make love. So with philosophy. So with brand building.

“We’ve got a 178-page consultant’s report. We’ve arrived.”

“Our brand archaeologist has boiled the business down to two simple words: ‘Simple Solutions’. Sharply focused yet limitlessly extendable.”

“We occupy the crevice between soiled nappies and rotten lettuce in brandscape. El Dorado has been sighted. We only need the map to take us there.”

What’s my problem?

Only one: Philosophy is hard.

The other extreme, commonsense, is unsatisfactory and, possibly, unsafe. At best, it’s heuristic.

Moreover, ‘commonsense’ is a light word. It makes the listener feel as if he is common and his problems are commonplace ones.

(You won’t like it if your doctor simply told you to eat apples, and not the Latin name of that pain in the wrong place.)

I believe a compromise may be struck by adapting a suitable vocabulary. One that you can sprout wearing a suit, or at least a tie.

Numbers? Which ones?

The Synonym function is MS Word, with a little help from answers.com?

Thursday, 22 May, 2008

Coffee and commonsense

A lot can happen over coffee. Yeah? But a lot happens over breakfast, lunch and dinner. At home and in restaurants. What's so great about it?

The people who get into marketing departments of cafĂ© chains most probably have little or no F&B experience. The same possibly holds true for the franchisees. Hence they find this business-over-food a revelation, a great ‘insight’. And keep thinking about ways of using this business (community, poetry, revolution) to sell.

They just need to look at the serious players.

Monday, 19 May, 2008

Why don't terrorists bomb the West?

Terrorists bomb the poor countries of the East, Middle East, Africa and South America far more frequently than they bomb the rich countries of Europe, Japan, USA and Canada.

(One has to strain one's memory hard to list terrorist attacks on USA, other than 9/11, though a couple of its embassies have been bombed and a few of its civilians killed in foreign lands.)

Why is this so?

After the recent attacks on Jaipur, there was a great deal of discussion in the press, both in print and on TV. Almost all of it was finger-pointing; all of it was juvenile.

And none bothered to tell the public how it can be more cautious (what are the tell-tale signs of a 'suspicious object' or person, which number should one call, etc), or what it should do in the aftermath of an attack.

But the sum of all the steam was that we are targeted because we are a soft state, incapable of “sharp, strong... statements... that we will not negotiate with terrorists.”

Perhaps. I'm no political commentator, but I do think there is some merit in (a) looking at terrorism through the prism of internal security, which is a matter of ways and means and not so much about (political and religious) rights and wrongs and (b) asking why some countries suffer relatively less from it.

There is surprisingly little discussion about internal defence in the media. It certainly doesn't grab headlines as often as, say, filmstars' tiffs do. The little there is, consists of absurd comparisons between India and UK and USA, and of calling the authorities various derogatory names in clever language.

(I am probably being grossly unfair here, because I have next to no exposure to the vernacular media, which addresses a far more matured audience than the English press does.)

But let's try to answer the second question. I am severely handicapped by ignorance here too, yet would like to see how far commonsense can take me.

Well, first there are far fewer of them to kill.

Then, over there it's so much easier to notice if something is amiss. Here, nothing and nobody are in their proper places. How do you know if you've discovered a terrorist's bomb or pushed a fellow passenger into some bribe-loving cops hands?

Third, our government hasn't learnt what our forefathers have taught for ages: To stop 'crime' you need to punish, though not necessarily punish the guilty.

One low caste fellow drinks of the Brahmin well; so all low caste women are raped and men murdered. One Bihari cabbie refuses you a ride; so all Biharis must be hammered. A bus runs over a boy; burn all buses that come down the same road, along with their drivers.

Of course, it isn't fair. But its effective to make an example. The populace is so scared that it ensures that everyone falls in line, and stays behind it.

The West understands this.

Let's say A bombs you, but you have no clue who did it; so you bomb C. C protests that he's your friend, and he condemns all bombing in the strongest terms, that his family, forefathers, and god are all peaceful, and his tigers are vegetarian. “Never mind,” says the West, “Bombing will continue unless we have calm.”

So C finds out who's backing A. Most probably he follows the money till he reaches the final financier, say, B. It tells B, “Buddy, tell A to back off, or I'll kill you.” The message goes through, though circuitously.

(In the Godfather, there is a family whose profession is to supply hostages. It's so ferocious, both sides keep their promises to avoid extermination. This system of slapping Peter to teach Paul works on somewhat similar lines.)

Should we do this? Why not? Because it's unfair and immoral? All war is immoral. All modern conflict is total war and, by definition, unfair.

Besides, how moral and fair is the terrorist?

Ok, if we take to terror, what would be the difference between us and the terrorists? None. So what? Total war is terror on a mass scale. What's the point in spending on forces to wage total terror and not waging it to defend your citizens?

Wednesday, 14 May, 2008

What one hand giveth, both hands taketh away

The greatest retail brand in India has declared war against high prices, with a sales promotion that gives 20% off on foodstuff, or, sa their ad says, on all daily essentials.

The catch?

“Offer valid on purchase of a minimum of Rs 400 worth of Apparel, Furniture & household items at Big Bazaar.”

And, “The amount of your daily essential's bill that is eligible for discount is equal to the amount you have spent on apparel, furniture and household items.”

And, “Offer vaid only at Food Bazaar stores located within Big Bazaar.”

And, “Both the purchases have to be made on the same day to avail of this offer.”

And, “Quantity restrictions apply, in cases of certain food items.”

There are some more, but the catch is pretty clear. This is essentially a 20% off on their hopeless apparel, furniture and household goods, transferred to the food bill. It's not a sales promotion on food at all!

So why do it in such a convoluted way?

By the way, the minimum purchase required was Rs 750 last weekend.

What's worse, the same store is running a furniture sale, with '21% to 51% off on entire range of furniture.'

Thursday, 8 May, 2008

Eat each other but work

“The inflation rate (in Zimbabwe) crossed 100,000 per cent by the end of April and the unemployment rate was over 80 per cent,” announces this fortnight's Frontline, in an article titled Economic impact (frontlineonnet.com/stories/20080523251005200.htm).

80% unemployment!

?

I looked up Wikipeda. It says (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Zimbabwe) the unemployment rate is 85%.

According to Index Mundi (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Zimbabwe) it was estimated to be 80% in 2005, and has hovered over 70% since 2003.

And so on.

Everyone agrees that 4 out of 5 Zimbabweans are out of work. Doesn't anyone ask how such an enormous figure came about, and stayed that way, month after month?

Consider an extreme situation, of famine so severe that people are reduced to cannibalism. Further, assume that a grown though malnourished adult human (weighing about 60 kg?) yields no more meat to feed four of his fellow men for, say, a week.

So one dies and one kills, and the four that live eat (I assume the one that dies doesn't do so voluntarily. Even if he does commit suicide, he's got to be cut and cooked. So suicides won't change my counting.)

The chap who dies becomes, in effect, the farm, at least to the extent that goats and chicken are employed in farming. The killer becomes the farmer, or butcher.

And subsistance canbiballism does better than Zimbabwe at an unemployemnt rate of 3 in 5.

I'm sure no society in our age will have to resort to such employment generation tactics.

But why do so many societies, across the world, swallow statistic like '80% unemployment' without even asking simple questions and attempting obvious explanations?

Thankfully, some people care. For instance, an 1998 article - Zimbabwe's solution to joblessness may be in underground businesses (encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-20655063.html) - made plenty of sense. Unfortunately, it offered no figures for Zimbabwe's unemployment rate.

The same edition of the same magazine also tackles free software (A new wave of freedom [frontlineonnet.com/stories/20080523251008900.htm]). Here V. Sasi Kumar argues, “In any case, illegal copies of most movies and music are freely available in almost all parts of the globe, especially in developing countries, and nothing has happened to either the music industry or the movie industry.”

How this logical impossibility was achieved and who supplied Kumar with the data on which he based his sweeping conclusion?

How is it possible that illegal manufacture and trade of a product does nothing to the legitimate industry, that too when the law is broken on a mass scale? Which movie studio or music brand agrees with such nonsense? And even if some obscure developing country, with a miniscule economy, were to achieve such a miracle, how can this result be generalised for the entire globe?

But then Kumar cannot be blamed. He's makes the same mistake as most of us make most of the time: He's mistakes the trees for the forest.

We think of singing superstars and movie moghuls as representative of their respective industries. They're not.

The average actor usually has no films in hand, makes a living doing menial jobs, and owes his 'actor' tag to walk-ons in D-grade flicks. In other words, the average actor is a penniless extra.

Moreover, actors are, most probably, a small fraction of the people the motion picture business feeds. Because the grizzled old usher at the rickety cinema at some back-of-beyond town and the sweating spot boy who slaves hours for little more than the price of a meal are as much a part of the glamour industry as their more glamorous counterparts.

Are these wretched souls not affected when the law is broken? Or is the effect so small that it can be logically equated with 'nothing'?

Monday, 5 May, 2008

How different? Why different?

Do mainline advertising and direct response advertisement have far more in common than we care to admit? Do see this entry: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dd3bjnd7_8hgcjcjrn. And this one too: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dd3bjnd7_10d92nt4xj