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Showing posts from January, 2009

The Stimulus Idea

'Following the Speaker's logic here, as best we can, the fewer children born the better it is for the economy. States with fewer children to educate and care for can lower their expenses. Fewer kids save money and stimulate the economy in Nancy's Wonderland. But wait. Employees at Canon in Japan, where the birth rate is alarmingly low, are being encouraged not to stay late at work, but, instead, to go home and make babies.

And, as if I wasn't confused enough, WPRI TV 12 in Providence, Rhode Island reports that the "Bad economy spurs egg and sperm sales." These days, more men and women are trying to survive the bad economy by selling their sperm and eggs.

Now I'm thoroughly stupefied.

But there's a simple solution that I now, as a concerned citizen, offer to the Speaker. Congress federalizes the egg and sperm farming industry solely as a source for exports to Japan. Japanese workers can then stay at work. State and Federal Governments here make money an…

The McDonald's way out of recession

Cost-focused companies such as McDonald's and budget retailers generally have weathered the global financial crisis better than others as consumers seek ways to stretch their dollars. US fast-food giant McDonald's said Monday its 2008 net profit soared 80 percent from a year, lifted by growing demand from consumers seeking low-cost meals in a deepening global recession. Net profit for the full year totaled 4.3 billion dollars, compared with 2.3 billion in 2007, the Oak Brook, Illinois-based company said in a statement.

Goes to show why being a cost focused, value for money player pays rich dividends at times when consumers seek better value for their bucks.

The myth of Indian Regional Identity

Rama Bijapurkar gets two things wrong, big time, in her article, 'Celebrating diversity is unity'. One, the assumption that she makes about the SEC A1+s and, as she puts it, 'their feverish search for a single, pure, pan-Indian identity, ‘cleansed’ of ethnic/ linguistic/community or region origins and characteristics'.

The exact opposite is what is true. It these SEC As that are desperately trying to keep their regional identities alive. Desperate, 'cos their desired way of life seems to sinking under the sweeping hand of what we term, the 'Americanisation' of our lives. Else, why do they flock to movies that seem to, in a sugary way, recreate on screen whatever it is that is supposed to be Indian; the joint family, the song and dance, the antaksharis, whatever.... ? Why are they the ones, who despite the fact that they take their weddings to Macau, still fly in the cacophonic bhangra brigade? Why the Gulab Jamoons and the biryanis? Why the loud display of g…

Hooligan morality in a free country

Its absolutely pathetic that on the Republic Day I have to wake to the visuals of women in a pub being attacked by a group of hooligans calling themselves the moral police, in Mangalore. Such attacks seem to be on the rise, and they stand testimony to our collective failure in upholding what the constitution guarantees to every citizen of India. The guarantee of Justice, Equality and Liberty.Hope in this case the law prevails.

Know the truth?

'They are making out that India is a Third World, dirty underbelly, developing nation,’ snorts Amitabh Bachchan, one of the country’s leading film stars and a powerful, patriotic voice. Now home to thousands of ‘outsourced’ British jobs, such as call centres, many insist that such brutality has been banished from the ‘new’ India.

Yet the truth, as I discovered during a chilling week-long investigation, is more disturbing than anything dreamt up by the creators of Slumdog Millionaire. For in Mumbai, as well as in other major Indian cities, hundreds of young children have had their arms and legs chopped off; scores of others have been blinded. The gangs also pour acid on to the children’s bodies, leaving them with suppurating wounds.
Their suffering comes down to one thing: money. In a country of 1.2 billion people, where the gulf between rich and poor is vast, there are an estimated 300,000 child beggars. By no means all are mutilated by the beggar mafia, but those with the worst i…

Saluting the Indian Republic!

One of the greatest events in history has been the adoption of the Constitution of India and the transition of India from a British Dominion to a republic on January 26, 1950.

The Indian constitution is what lays down the framework defining fundamental political principles, establishing the structure, procedures, powers and duties, of the government and spells out the fundamental rights, directive principles and duties of citizens. Passed by the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949, it came into effect on January 26, 1950. It declares The Union of India to be a sovereign, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty; the words "socialist", "secular" and "integrity" were added to the definition in 1976 by constitutional amendment.
The constitution is that supreme law that dictates my acts as a law abiding citizen, as much as it guarantees me the freedom to live and raise my family in justice, equality and liberty.

Why despite the rhetoric, brand Obama is intact

President Barack Obama is among the smartest politicians I have ever seen. High on symbolism, zilch on substance and yet he gets away with it to the extent, his fan pack swoon every time he whips out one of his 'symbolic acts'. Listening to Christiane Amanpour go ga-ga over his swearing in, I now know, to acquire legendary status or to have a cult following, a brand needs the blind adoration of at least some sections of the media. Barack has that in plenty. And every time the drive-by media dedicates sound bytes to him (which is almost one out of every one time), the swell and the sounds of an adoring public only gets bigger and louder. The media, perceived as a neutral mouthpiece, is potent as an influencer.

Note this happens, despite the fact that the brand's acts, as I mentioned, are merely symbolic. There is absolutely no substance to see the act through. Smart that he is, among Barack Obama's first few orders, was the closure of Guantanamo. Never mind the fact none…

What customers must & mustn't notice

The challenge in these times for Service providers is to get customers not to notice the 'corners cut', and to get them to notice any drop in prices. Take the Hospitality industry for example. Hotels are hoping that the cutbacks (fewer toiletries in rooms, longer check-in lines and fewer freebies like cookies or 24 hour-a-day coffee in lobbies for guests) will go largely unnoticed by guests. They also are dropping rates to keep customers coming back. According to Smith Travel Research, a lodging-industry research firm, the average daily room rate in the U.S. fell 2.5% in November from a year earlier. At the luxury end the fall was steeper -- down 6.6%. The declines came as hotel occupancy rates industry wide fell 10.6% in November from a year earlier. Finding ways to trim costs is more challenging for high-end properties that cater to demanding guests who might be paying in the neighborhood of $700 a night. Well, its a tough call, indeed.

The Case for W, The case for Greatness

'Each of these diplomatic achievements accentuates overall successes in bringing the electorates of foreign nations closer to the American political orbit. This success again stands in sharp contrast to allegations of his critics. Elections in all of the following countries removed leaders opposed to President Bush and replaced them with leaders more sympathetic with Bush's foreign policy: France, Germany, South Korea, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Albania, Lebanon, Australia, Canada and Italy. The populations of more than 350 million people moved closer to the American orbit of politics not further away while President Bush was in office.

None of these nations can match the affection for President Bush found on the continent of Africa where again detractors are hard pressed to dispute the astounding successes of the President. He increased foreign aid to the continent more than any president in history. His emphasis on AIDS and malaria reduced harms of two epidemics that h…

I got me on my mind!

Every time I watch TV News Station NDTV go on and on about the its Green campaign, I am amused. Amused enough to wonder, does the average citizenry care? At least in the US, I know, for the moment they don't. That's 'cos they got them on their minds, not the environment, not the mumbo-jumbo on Global warming.

Marketers should know that 'care' starts from oneself, and only if its fulfilled to a satisfactory degree, does it flow to the outside. I mean, for everyone, its more about them, than about anything else. And that's good news for the marketer. Products and Services that act as solutions to needs would forever be wanted. The marketers duty then, is to the ensure that the solutions they conjure up, getter better by the day.

Death of Dining?

WSJ: Fine dining sales, which totaled about $7 billion last year, are expected to plummet 12% to 15% in 2009. In New York, the Rainbow Grill above Rockefeller Center announced last week that it will stop serving dinner, and will offer only drinks and appetizers. Taurus, an Atlanta steakhouse that had earned accolades in the local press, closed two weeks earlier. In San Francisco, Rubicon, a top-rated restaurant co-owned by New York restaurateur Drew Nieporent, closed in August...

To avoid the fate of some of their peers, many restaurateurs have been rolling out dramatic discounts. Starting in December, Jean Georges, the high-end New York restaurant of chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, began serving $35 dinners, complete with hors d'oeuvres, three courses and after-dinner homemade marshmallows in Nougatine, the restaurant's more casual room; in the formal dining room, the cheapest four-course menu is $98. Other eateries are now offering three-course meals for about $20 or less: Da…

The lesson in Jews voting Democrat

A brand trying to appeal to an alien segment, while retaining its original form, is akin to the Republicans trying to get the Jews to vote for them. The Jews haven't ever and they won't ever. This despite the fact that a Republican president has done more for Jews and Israel than any other. The simple fact is Jews overwhelmingly vote Democrat.Brands too shouldn't try and move away from their loyal backers to woo the alienated. If they do want to get the alienated into their fold, they must do so with a different identity, one that suits the alienated. Note what Randall Hoven states about the Jewish Vote, 'In my opinion, the idea of trying to win "the Jewish vote", or the black vote or the Latino vote is ludicrous. Obama could hang out with anti-Semitic radicals and get endorsements from Muammar Qaddafi while McCain could pledge his own life to defend Israel, yet about 75% of Jews would still vote for Obama - because he's the Democrat. This is not rocket s…

Why the 'contrived' is easier

The best thing about the movie 'No Country for Old Men' is that it doesn't attempt anything other than to tell us a gripping story with circumstances forming the backdrop.

Its makes no attempt at instilling any sort of added emotion to make the viewer connect with the story, better. The result, for me at least, was a 'connect' that kept me glued to the screen. The movie teaches us a lesson. That its not easy to 'say it like it is' than it is to 'say it like it isn't'. The 'contrived' is always easy, the 'natural' never is.
Take writing for example. The cardinal sin here is to attempt to write rather than to just write. I miss reading what I used to, when I was young, when the writer wrote 'plainly'. Then, there were no attempts at being 'smart' or 'funny' or 'dramatic' when one wrote. What I read was what was 'plainly written'. Now I have to read the 'contrived' stuff. I confess. I f…

Twitter hits paydirt with Microblogging

Times Online: Twitter, the fast-growing microblogging and social media site, is about to change gears. The service where users post short updates about what they are doing has received an explosion in visitors, both in the UK and the US. Twitter has become the communication tool of choice among early adopters and the tech community, a worldwide first alert news medium and a nascent marketing and customer services tool as it has thrust itself into the mainstream. Twitter is just about to make the biggest shift in its short history by integrating its search functions into the home pages of users.

Until now if users wanted to search the outpouring of updates or "tweets", say for updates about a stock price or football team or a hotel, they had to go to a separate website – earch.twitter.com – or use one of the many independent search applications that have sprung up on the web.

That hurdle is thought to have blocked many of the general public from understanding how to get beyond …

Slumdog's the Dog!

Any time a brand garners extreme reactions with people on either side of the fence, you must know that brand's got somethin' goin'. As for the people with the views, some exult when the brand scores and others look for places to hide.

I wonder where Amitabh's gonna hide, now that Slumdog Millionaire has swept the Oscar nominations. Though I sympathise with Amitabh, as I've shot my mouth off too, only to go underground. Slumdog Millionaire has won 10 coveted Oscar nominations.
Director Danny Boyle’s Golden Globe-winning Slumdog Millionaire – a story based on Mumbai slums – has been nominated in five categories for the Academy Awards to be announced in February 2009. Slumdog has been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (Simon Beaufoy), Best Picture, Best Original Score (A R Rahman), Best Song (One each for Jai Ho and O Saya), Best editing, Best Sound Mixing (Resul Pookutty), Best Sound Editing (Resul Pookutty), Best Cinematography and Best Director (Danny Boyle) at …

Hedges can't save Southwest

Hedging that saved Southwest in past is no longer working for them as fuel prices have taken a dip. AP reports, Southwest Airlines says it lost money in the fourth quarter as its fuel-hedging strategy lost punch.

It was Southwest's second losing quarter of 2008 after 16 straight years without finishing a three-month period in the red. Southwest paid 23 percent more for fuel than a year earlier.

Slumdog versus the Bat, developing....

AP News: "The Dark Knight" is the box-office behemoth with the deceased acting front-runner whose name everyone knows. "Slumdog Millionaire" is the out-of-nowhere surprise with a cast no one ever heard of before.

Thursday's Academy Awards nominations could set up a duel between those two rarities: One a superhero saga so esteemed that it has lifted the comic-book genre into best-picture territory, the other a tiny tale whose rags-to-riches theme mirrors the film's rise to success.

Imitation is Rebellion

WSJ: 'Mr. Shi's planned do-it-yourself variety show will eschew celebrities, flash and, in some cases, talent. Broadcast only online, on the same night as the big TV event, it will feature common people recorded with handheld cameras or whatever else might be handy. Performers will include amateur singers, a dancing troop of monks imitating an eight-armed Buddha and a man who can pedal a bicycle with his hands. Its overriding theme, says Mr. Shi: "If you can do it, then I can as well."His show also marks a new high point for China's "shanzhai" culture. Shanzhai, which literally means "mountain fortress" and implies banditry and lack of state control, refers to China's vast array of name-brand knockoffs. Shanzhai versions of Apple Inc.'s iPhone, for example, include the HiPhone, the SciPhone and the deliberately misspelled citrus-themed iOrgane.'

Can Saint seduce with its purity?

After a bout of skepticism I am now a believer. A believer in products selling at a premium. I now believe there are consumers out there who don't mind paying a premium, if there's an enhanced value delivery that occurs at that higher price.

Ask me. Big Bazaar and its price-deals no longer hold sway over us. We would rather go to Spar Hypermarket and shop in peace and comfort, even if it means we may not have as many deals. Like I mentioned the key to premium prices cutting ice with consumers is the 'enhanced' value that it brings along. And that's something that the Saint brand of juices from Parle Agro are counting on. Saint is 100% juice. Saint is targeted at the fast growing segment of consumers who are moving towards 100 percent juice. And why is this segment concerned about 100% juice? 'Cos its healthier and that's the primary reason behind consumption of juices for this segment.
What's going right for Saint? At moment, in terms of branding, the na…

W's legacy

'It’s an iron law of politics that these end-of-term numbers will provide confirmation for those bloggers, pundits, and scholars determined to condemn the Bush administration as the worst in American history.

For average Americans, it’s most likely that folks are simply tired of long and costly wars, fearful of economic uncertainty, and hopeful for vigorous leadership in the new Democratic era. Yet for partisans of the hardline left — those implacably opposed to the GOP administration and its ideology — the reasons for joy in the final poll numbers are many: the alleged “stolen” election of 2000; the post-9/11 terrorist “fearmongering” and the “shredding” of constitutional guarantees on civil liberties; the “illegal” war in Iraq, based on “false pretenses” of Iraqi WMD, and evil “neocon” designs for neo-imperial domination of the Middle East; and the “reign of torture” that has allegedly destroyed America’s moral standing around the world.

Amid all of this, it’s naturally difficult …

To woo, you gotta probe, listen, not go yakety-yak

The other day, someone let me read a mail she received from a wannabe Romeo. Apart from the mail being a mile long, the miffed wannabe (at being ignored by the girl) had, using bad prose at its finest, tried to win the girl's attention by going on a historical account of what he was and how he was going to be, in the future. The nitwit was so absorbed in himself that he failed to recognise the simple fact that girl wasn't interested in him, and so wasn't about to be 'wooed'.The long winding bag of bad prose reminds me of times when marketers embark on similar such endeavours. I am talking about marketers using media interfaces that allow for two way communiques and yet can't stop the one way flow of talk, all from their mouths. For instance, telemarketers trying to pitch their wares are so absorbed in what they wanna sell, they fail to realise what the buyer really wants. They can't get the fact that its never about what they wanna sell, that its always abo…

Congratulations, Mr. President!

Slumdog Reality

'It cut terrifyingly close to the bone as it took us straight into the innards of this brutal world, where wide-eyed kids lose their innocence (and their eyes) at the hands of ruthless gangsters who mutilate, maim, kidnap and kill at will. And the first thought that came to mind is that it has taken an 'outsider' (Danny Boyle), to go fearlessly into 'No Man's Land' and hold up a mirror to our sordid society — the same one that looks the other way... and flinches when confronted. It also makes one wonder why some of our entirely over-rated, desi directors (homegrown products, at that), have failed so spectacularly in spelling out the ugly truth about Mumbai's dark world as transparently and convincingly? Whether or not Boyle's film wins an Oscar or two is immaterial. It should be made compulsory viewing for anybody who wants to understand the shocking, ghastly subtext that deals with the 'other' Mumbai — the one that feeds on abject poverty and p…

Indian slum story makes millions

I don't know whether its the poverty or the story, though I'm willing to bet that Amitabh's stating what is popular, at a time when reality is best kept under wraps, (note that UNICEF said that India had some of the worst rates of child survival in the world. In 2006, 2.5 million children under five died in India and China, of whom 2.1 million were in India) and so latter's the real reason why Slumdog Millionaire is now the biggest Indian blockbuster ever.

As of 19 January, the film was running in 601 theatres in the US, and had collected $42.7 million (Rs207 crore today) in gross box office earnings. Across the world, the film, made on a budget of $15 million, has already earned $50.4 million, including £1.75 million (around Rs12.65 crore) in the UK in the first week of release there in January. In its ninth week in America, its reach is much wider than that of Warner Bros Entertainment Inc.’s Chandni Chowk to China, which is the biggest Indian film release worldwide, …

The 'Slumdog lesson' for Bollywood

'Slumdog Millionaire also represents a different way of doing things, in sharp contrast to Bollywood’s entrenched practices. Take casting. The film crew scoured countries and cities to search for the right faces; the boy, in fact, is a non-resident and the girl is a totally new face. The film producers and director even auditioned the young boy and girl together to see if they had the right chemistry on screen. In Bollywood, the leading man is decided mostly on a whim and a fancy, long before the screenplay is finalised. If it’s a big budget film from a well-known studio, the lead role is then usually reserved for the son of the studio promoter. In many cases, the leading man also dictates the choice of the female lead, script be damned.

In this case too, as was the case with Indian industry, the foreign studio has found Indian talent and financiers willing to risk their gifts and their finances on Danny Boyle because he comes with a past, a successful track record of having direc…

What's common to a diner and a classroom?

At times a classroom's like a diner. I should know. I've been at both trying to do my part. The diner happened two decades ago. Of course, its wasn't a diner, it was a restaurant at the Taj.

Let me explain the similarities. At diners, you get three kinds of customers, the 'know it alls' that wanna teach you the menu, the ones who know a bit and need help, and the ones who totally depend on you. It easy managing the latter two, assuming that you end up helping them choose (the ones who know a bit) the right dishes, or recommending (the ones who don't know at all) the right ones. Its the 'know it alls' that get to you. You could serve them gourmet food and yet you'd get an opinion on how the dish could have been better or how the chef messed up on that critical ingredient. Never mind, the customer not knowing chalk from cheese.

In classrooms too, almost the same kinda scenario plays out. The ones who know it all and just need confirmation from you on ho…

Optimism or blinded by the rhetoric?

Huffington Post calls it 'Optimism sweeps the nation'. Of course, we are talking the Obama swearing-in that's a few hours away. But spare a thought to what 'really' awaits America.
As Charles Krauthammernotes, 'Except for Richard Nixon, no president since Harry Truman leaves office more unloved than George W. Bush. Truman's rehabilitation took decades. Bush's will come sooner. Indeed, it has already begun. The chief revisionist? Barack Obama.Vindication is being expressed not in words but in deeds -- the tacit endorsement conveyed by the Obama continuity-we-can-believe-in transition. It's not just the retention of such key figures as Secretary of Defense Bob Gates or Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner, who, as president of the New York Fed, has been instrumental in guiding the Bush financial rescue over the last year. It's the continuity of policy.'The 'reality' that awaits America is a continuation of the Bush era policies.…

Hooray for consumption!

When the economy faces a collapse, any sort of consumption is good!
But then, 'liberal mafiosi' in the US engage in selective applications, based on their whims and fancies. They had a problem with Sarah Palin'swardrobe cost, but they go mum when its Obama'sinauguration. The price tag for President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration gala is expected to break records, with some estimates reaching as high as $150 million. Despite the bleak economy, however, Democrats who called on President George W. Bush to be frugal four years ago are issuing no such demands now that an inaugural weekend of rock concerts and star-studded parties has begun.Hey, what about the intellectuals? The ones that preach, but then the cat gets their tongue when it suits them? What about the airhead Hollywood/celebrity brigade? Couldn't they advocate the money be sent to sub-saharan africa instead?Me? Hooray for consumption! Doesn't matter if its a wardrobe or the ascension of the messia…

Why a setback is good for a brand

When consumers trust a brand, in a macabre way, it is helps the brand when it is faced with a setback. Assuming, it handles the difficult situation with aplomb. In fact, the brand's responsible response to the setback can reinforce consumer trust.

That's what's happened in the case of the world's leading breakfast cereal brand, Kellogg's. Sure, Salmonella contamination to its bulk-shipped peanut butter is worrisome and may even cause consumers to stay away from the brand for some time. Maybe peanut butter consumption itself could be affected. But the 'recall' by Kellogg's will go a long in reinforcing the 'trust' that consumers have in the Kellogg's brand. The trust that if some thing's wrong and Kellogg's knows about it, it wouldn't try and hoodwink consumers. What began as an investigation of bulk peanut butter shipped to nursing homes and institutional cafeterias has broadened with the Kellogg Co. recalling 16 products and fede…

Mortals are why we have miracles

Service brands are built by nothing but the people who serve. Consumers put themselves in the hands of these people to the extent that, at times, they do so with their lives. Take a moment and imagine that. There are services out there that you avail only because you put your trust completely into the hands of people who deliver that service. And again, at times, these service personnel rise to the occasion to the extent they even save your life.

Imagine that!
Captain Sullenberger, 57, the US Airways pilot who safely brought the wounded Airbus A320 passenger plane to rest on the Hudson river on Thursday is one such man. And in doing what he did, how did he react? In spite of the miracle that he was responsible for, he stood, calmly, inside the glass waiting room at the New York Waterway terminal on Pier 79, speaking to police officials. His fine gray hair was unruffled, and his navy blue pilot’s uniform had barely a wrinkle. “His tie wasn’t even loosened,” said Edward Skyler, a deputy …

Avoid libel as a Blogger

A book I gotta read before I get nailed. You must too!
As Seth says, 'If you write online, on a blog, on Twitter, on Squidoo, even in the comments section of a site, you are a published author. Congratulations. Before you write something negative about another person, you need to realize that the casual nature of your post doesn't protect you from a lawsuit. Charles Glasser is an expert on this and a new edition of his book just came out. You should consider reading it, or be sure to hire an editor who did. It's more sophisticated than a quick overview, but you know you're getting the straight scoop.'

I ain't ditchin' me car, yet!

Until recently, many drivers treated their cars less like transportation and more like handbags, jewelry and other trendy accessories. Drivers craving the latest in mechanical "bling" found easy credit and inexpensive lease deals attractive enough to get a new ride every three years or so.

Today, the scarcity of attractive terms for financing and leasing means that many people are keeping the cars they have. As a result, car dealerships are quiet while service shops buzz. "The three-year ownership mentality has crumbled," says Trevor Traina, founder of DriverSide, a Web site that helps people keep up with car maintenance and avoid overpaying for repairs. As new-car sales declined sharply, several sites like DriverSide and RepairPal have cropped up to cater to drivers who are keeping their old cars in shape instead of buying new ones.

- Jonathan Welsh, 'The Hot New Car Is Your Old Car'.

Coming, Internet as a Life staple

'Much the way electricity did a hundred years ago, the Internet is segueing from near-magic to life staple. And much the way electrified homes and cities revolutionized our culture and economy at the turn of the 20th century, the Internet as core utility will do the same for this century.

Light on actual new gadgets, the CES was a watershed for showcasing network ubiquity. Machine-to-machine communications, what some used to call the Internet2, will mean that modern life depends on connectedness in a whole new way. In fact, we may soon stop referring to the developed and undeveloped worlds, and instead talk about the hot and the dark worlds-the online and the offline hemispheres. And as I write about in my book, Jump Point, by 2011 more people will be online than off as the Internet crosses the 3.5 Billion user mark that year. So it makes sense that the CES this year looked more like the consumer shows of the 1950s in demonstrating the new wonders and conveniences of the modern hom…

Marketing in the Mozart of Madras

A R Rahman is as much about brilliant talent as he is about great Marketing. And that's a rare but winning combination.
Rahman's music has streaks of genius in it, no doubt, but in addition, it has adapted to suit a global audience. And that goes a long way in gaining acceptability in global markets. Working with the likes of Andrew Lloyd Weber, Rahman has showcased his abilities to audiences outside India in a manner that has left them spellbound.The Marketing lesson in Rahman is a lesson of openness and adaptability. Rahman's been open to experimenting, to altering what could be seen as moving away from purist forms. He's been a collaborator and has adapted to markets where Indian music in its natural form may not have been as acceptable. The key to Rahman lies in his combination of musical genius and a mind that has had no axes to grind, a mind free from the trappings of musical tradition and rules. The results are out there for all to see. In winning a Golden Globe

Chinese Web

Yahoo Tech News: China's fast-growing population of Internet users has risen to 298 million after passing the United States last year to become the world's largest, a government-sanctioned research group said Tuesday.

The latest figure is a 41.9 percent increase over the same period last year, the China Internet Network Information Center said in a report. China's Internet penetration is still low at just 22.6 percent, leaving more room for rapid growth, according to CNNIC. The Pew Internet and American Life Project places U.S. online penetration at 71 percent.

Does Vada-Pav stand a chance?

When Anita tells me, I can scarcelybelieve it. So I decide to check it out for myself. And I see she is right.
Outside the Forum Mall, there is this li'l kiosk, christened, Bombay Pav that sells a Vada-Pav for something like forty bucks. Inside the Mall, the swanky McDonald's serves a Vegetarian Burger at just around twenty bucks!I wonder who in their sane senses would gobble down the forty-buck Vada-Pav? Are these guys, I mean the Bombay-Pav fellas, for real?

Promos that guarantee a migraine, for FREE!

When a brand runs a promo, the aim is to enhance value delivery for the same buck, to the consumer. But what if the reverse happens, despite the promo?

Last week week we visited a few Future Group retail stores. Our first stop, Home town, then Brand Factory. For the purchases we made, we were lured with a 'Maha Savings (or something that sounded similar) offer. The greedy me didn't succumb the first time around. I stood steadfast while at Home Town. When the saga repeated at Brand Factory, I said, what the hell, let me enjoy what is rightfully mine. And it came at no cost to me. So I troop up to the fourth floor of the store, stand in a line for an annoyingly long time, and when my turn comes at the counter, I am fed with some stories about something called 'Sone' kichidiya, my personal pass book...' and some other such mumbo-jumbo. From what I could decipher, I understood I was getting zilch till the time I shopped again, and that too at a Future Group store.

Do you…

Goodbye, Mr. President!

As I watch President Bush address his last press conference (eight days for the handover to Barack Obama), I am once again reminded of what he stands for. I see a man with moral clarity and courage with a streak of stubbornness that I have so come to admire. A man who didn't want to turn the Presidency into a popularity contest. A man who cared to do what he thought was right, no matter what the liberal elites thought.

Here's to a moral man with a vision for the world, a vision of freedom and liberty. May God continue to bless you and your family. Pic: http://www.stmarystoday.com

Glass-housed ICAI shouldn't throw stones

Finding violation of tax laws by chartered accountants regulator ICAI, which had dubbed accounts fudging in Satyam Computer as ‘shameful´, the Income Tax authorities have withdrawn tax exemptions given to the body.

A tax assessment panel found violations such as failure to get their accounts signed by auditors, providing loans to partners without guarantee and interest and hiding income from coaching business, following which it decided to impose a penalty on ICAI, a government official said.

So much for 'clean hands', the very same hands that threw stones at Satyam. Read the complete HT Mint report here.

Treat Raju better, it ain't just Satyam

Agreed, RamalingaRaju fudged the books, but that doesn't mean he should get bracketed with hardened criminals. I am not the legal expert here, but shouldn't Raju be treated differently from the criminals with whom he was lodged after being taken into custody?For Pete's sake, the man did build a business enterprise that created value for stakeholders. Sure, that value is eroding, but that's no reason to treat him at par with criminals awaiting trial in cases like rape and murder. And just so we don't get carried away, corporate governance issues don't just stop at Satyam. Instead, they bring to focus the kind of practices that most Indian businessesengage in. Take the case of real estate companies in India. Senior board directors of over six top real estate companies have quit in the recent past, prompting speculation that suspect accounting policies employed in the Indian real estate sector could be the main reason for such exits. During the past few months, di…

What Satyam needs is a 'new image'

Sure, it makes good business sense to ask N R Narayanamurthy to come to the aid of tainted Satyam Computers, but it doesn't necessarily make good marketing sense. A taint is hard to wash off. It doesn't matter who is put at the helm. Every time the name Satyam is invoked, it would be an 'Astaya' image that rushes to the fore. And that would alienate almost every stakeholder out here including, customers, shareholders and employees.As much as Satyam needs an operational overhaul, it needs an image overhaul too. Accepted, N R Narayanamurthy will contribute to a better image, but I think, what can really give Satyam a clean break from its past, is a new corporate identity, along with a transparent and robust internal system .

Dubai to boost spending

WSJ: Dubai and its government-controlled companies will boost spending by 11% this year from 2008, officials here said Saturday, as it seeks to stimulate the economy amid today's global financial crisis. The city-state's finance department estimates the new spending will result in Dubai's first ever fiscal deficit. Other Gulf governments, including Saudi Arabia and Oman, have announced recently that they too will risk deficits next year instead of cutting back on spending.

For Dubai, the move may also boost public confidence in the emirate's opaque finances. Analysts have raised questions about the large debt load Dubai has taken on in recent years to finance its explosive growth.

Practice Zero Tolerance

HT Mint View: Some 35 years after George Fernandes led a famous strike of railwaymen that brought the country to its knees, public sector employees went on strike for the wrong reasons.
Oil company executives and truckers struck work. India was held to ransom for the better part of the week. Dwindling oil supplies threatened to bring the economy to a grinding halt.
While the government cracked the whip on Friday and oil company employees agreed to come back to work, the question to be asked is how justified are well-paid public sector employees in striking work? Compared with the precarious existence of those in the unorganized sector, their behaviour can only be called aristocratic displeasure. A linked question is why does the government tolerate such behaviour and what took it so long to make the employees fall in line? This needs no complicated explanation: The general election is close by and while the government may wish to be firm with the strikers, it can only afford to appear …

Quell a strike to win votes

Its one in a million times that an incumbent government gets the opportunity to please everyone. And that opportunity came and went.

It came in the form of the PSU executives of Oil majors in India going on a strike. Lack of oil supplies can bring an economy to a grinding halt sending prices of almost everything spiralling. That's what happened all across India. The result? Widespread anger all across the country. Now that's a moment to be seized. Quelling the strike and getting everything back to normal, especially prices (note that inflation has dropped to its lowest level in 10 months), surely will only result in countrywide admiration for the government. Sadly that's come a little late in the day, though am glad the strike's off.

It was an opportunity that went abegging, an opportunity to score big time, with voters.

Change? Errr...What's that?

Why do I feel so smug? Oh, I know! I predicted this.

Back in November I had written, 'The best thing that's happened to the Republicans is that they lost the White House. Brand Obama has over promised....Brands gotta be careful with their claims and promises. The bigger the promise the greater the expectation. And if not delivered on, the greater the disappointment; there may be even a risk of consumer anger. And that's what I foresee for Brand Obama. Republicans, sit tight and watch Brand Obama equity erode.'

And now its coming to be.

Note what Roger Kimball writes, 'Yes, it’s cognitive-dissonance time among the Obamaniacs, and I fully expect widespread sightings of Capgras Syndrome among the faithful. (I also expect The New York Times to discover that the world is a complicated place.) It won’t be long, I predict, before you hear people assuring us that, really, the genuine Obama is locked up in Bill Ayers’s basement and that the chap scheduled to take the oath of o…

Obamania

'The media's fawning over Obama knew no bounds, and yet, in the midst of the most incredible media conspiracy to turn this jug-eared clodhopper into some combination of Winston Churchill and a young Elvis, you were being a bore if you mentioned the liberal media. Oh surely we've exploded that old chestnut. ... Look! Look, Obama just lit up another Marlboro! Geez, does smoking make you look cool, or what! Yeah, Obama!.

The claim that there's no such thing as a left wing press is a patent lie said to enrage conservatives. Newspapers read like the press under Kim JongIl, which, outside of a police state, looks foolish. The prose is straight out of The Daily Worker, full of triumphal rhetoric with implicit exclamation points. Still, their chanted slogans fill your brain, like one of those bad songs you can't stop humming.'

- Ann Coulter, 'Guilty: Liberal Victims and Their Assault on America'

Portable computing, its the weight, stupid!

When it comes to computing, portability is critical to consumers. When it comes to portability, the weight lugged around turns critical. The lighter the better. And that's the advantage Sony Corp. is tapping into with the launch of world's lightest 8-inch notebook PC, taking aim squarely at a rapidly growing market for ultra-portable personal computers.

The new Sony Vaio PC will come with Microsoft Corp's Windows Vista operating system, supporting all the software programs found in full-sized notebooks, and sell for about $900, setting itself apart from Netbooks. The new notebook, weighing 1.4 pounds and as thin as a mobile phone, will be available for pre-orders on Thursday and be sold at major retailers in the United States beginning February.
Pic: NY times

Brand PwC, Guilty by association?

Of course, assuming guilt by association in normal circumstances is not acceptable. But what if the association is that of an auditor, to a firm that has admitted to fraud?
Brand PwC has a lot to answer as the Audit firm to now discredited IT major, Satyam Computers. The Indian government has said that it will examine the role of Satyam Computer Services Ltd. auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) after the country’s fourth-largest information technology company admitted that it had falsified its accounts. For PWC, this doesn't seem to be a first time.What now remains to be seen is if PwC will go the Arthur Andersen way. The larger marketing lesson here is, if you are associated with a corporate brand, chances are you will go down, if the associated corporate brand does. Guilt by association, you see.

Free Markets!

The economic crisis should be regarded as an unavoidable consequence and hence a “just” price we have to pay for immodest and over-confident politicians playing with the market. Their attempts to blame the market, instead of blaming themselves, are unacceptable and should be resolutely rejected. The Czech government will – hopefully – not push the world and Europe into more regulation, nationalisation, de-liberalisation and protectionism. Our historical experience gives us a very strong warning in this respect.

Looking for ways out, we should – to use an analogy – strictly differentiate between fighting the fire and drafting fire protection legislation. We have to concentrate on the first task now; the second one can be done gradually, without haste and panic. A big increase in financial regulation, as is being proposed so often these days, will only prolong the recession. Growth in the global economy is falling rapidly, the banks have ceased to grant credit and confidence is ebbing. R…

Liskula Cohen and a case for responsible blogging

Sometimes I stop and think (is that good?). About what I write. The Internet gives me both an opportunity to write whatever I want to, and the power to propagate it to whoever it is that wants to read. As in Spidey's case, with great power must come great responsibility. A responsibility to write responsibly. But there are times on the Internet, when the responsible is transgressed and ugly rants find place in cyberspace. The fallout of such irresponsible stuff may at times be painful, if not catastrophic. Take the case of Liskula Cohen. A Vogue cover girl, she is suing Google in an attempt to unmask the blogger who trashed her as a "skank" and an "old hag."Liskula Cohen is a blond beauty who has modeled for Giorgio Armani and Versace, made headlines last year when a doorman at a Manhattan hot spot was jailed after smashing her in the face with a vodka bottle. Now she wants to force Google to reveal who slammed her online as the "#1 skanky superstar" …

Asatya vachan Raju takes Satyam down

ET: Satyam Computer Services Ltd’s B Ramalinga Raju has tendered his resignation as chairman of the company. Reacting to the news, shares of the IT company were down 62 per cent at Rs 64. Also, immediately following the news, DSP Merrill Lynch has terminated its engagement with the company.

Raju will continue in the position only till such time the current board is expanded. In a letter to the board of directors, Raju states that Satyam’s balance sheet as on Sep 30, 2008, carries an inflated (non-existent) cash and bank balances of Rs 5,040 crore (as against Rs 5,361 reflected in the books). Further, it carries an accrued interest of Rs 376 crore which is non-existent.

Frugality adds to economic woes during downturns

Families turning frugal during economic downturns is what's least wanted, though its the most natural thing for families, to do. Thriftiness, embraced by families across the U.S., is also a major reason the downturn may not soon end. Americans, fresh off a decades long buying spree, are finally saving more and spending less -- just as the economy needs their dollars the most.

Usually, frugality is good for individuals and for the economy. Savings serve as a reservoir of capital that can be used to finance investment, which helps raise a nation's standard of living. But in a recession, increased saving -- or its flip side, decreased spending -- can exacerbate the economy's woes. It's what economists call the "paradox of thrift."

Apple alters iTune prices to spur Sales

Slowing down of paid music downloads has seen Apple easing up on its rigid pricing structure in the hope of attracting more consumers to buy digital-music.

WSJ reports that Apple Inc. unveiled significant pricing and copyright changes to its iTunes Store, moves by the dominant online music seller that could spur similar action across the industry. The changes, announced at the Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco Tuesday, include a new three-tiered pricing plan for songs, instead of the 99-cents fixed price Apple has used almost exclusively. Apple also said it will drop copy protection from all of the songs in its digital store. Some of Apple's moves appear to be a response in part to shifts in the digital-music market. Growth in paid downloads slowed significantly in 2008, rising 27%, compared with a 45% increase a year earlier, according to Nielsen Co.'s SoundScan service.

Change we can believe in

Cartoon: Townhall

Mortals and Brand Mortality

The best thing about havin' inanimate objects represent a brand is that they won't croak, ever! That's surely is a non-possibility if there's somethin' human behind the brand. Humans kick the bucket, don't they? The question then is, what about the brand? Would its equity erode, now that the homo-sapien has exited?

That's the question on everyone's mind, as everyone knows that Steve Jobs' not in the pinkest of health. Apple's as much Steve as Steve is Apple. There is no CEO more identified with his company than Steve Jobs, the iCEO of Apple. Since his return to Apple in the mid nineties, he has doubled Apple’s penetration of the entire PC market and dominated the high-end market. His creative vision is responsible for the creation of three iconic products: the Mac, iPod, and iPhone. Its helpful that Steve Jobs has spoken publicly about his ailment. After months of concern about his health and weight loss, he has said that he is suffering from a n…

Who's extinct, Polar Bears? AGW proponents?

Reported by the University of Illinois's Arctic Climate Research Center, and derived from satellite observations of the Northern and Southern hemisphere polar regions, sea ice has been restored to pre-AGW levels. The fantasy and absurdity of AGW is becoming laughable, and again is proven conclusively wrong.

Will the "Global Cooling = Global Warming" crowd, and their enablers at the MSM, be recharging their spin on the cold and now "very hard" evidence of cooler weather as yet another indication of Global Warming? Now that the northern ice pack has been refurbished, polar bears will be free to eat as many seals as possible. It certainly seems that the polar bears are no longer an endangered species. The same cannot be said, however, about AGW proponents....

- Gregory Young, 'What Disappearing Sea Ice?'

The Chinese Auto Bailout

Bailouts seem to be all over the place. Now we know that the Chinese government plans to support the car industry, the second-largest in the world, with the aim of ensuring sales growth of about 10 per cent in 2009. The move is part of the continuing effort to stimulate the economy and shield the country from the effects of the global economic crisis.
After years of double-digit growth, Chinese passenger car sales fell 12 per cent year on year in November as consumer worries about economic growth sapped demand. Figures for December are expected next week. The proposed sales tax cut on smaller vehicles could help carmakers such as Geely, one of the largest Chinese car companies. Geely said Monday it expects to boost sales 25 per cent this year as it introduces new models.

The hypocrisy of a liberal world

Welcome to the world of the liberals. When it comes to screeching and bad-mouthing President Bush, they queue up. But when Ann Coulter's got a point to make (she was set to unveil her latest book, 'Guilty'), they wanna shut her up. All cause she's got a poor opinion about the incoming president. And in an Obama season, when the saviour of world, who for now is mum on the Gaza conflict, can do no wrong, that's unacceptable.

Yeah, welcome to the liberal world!

India, a beacon of hope in Consumer spending

Globally as consumer spending dips, India seems to power on. Take, passenger cars for example. Its been a bloodbath for Auto majors in the US. Ford Motor Co. says its U.S. sales plummeted 32 percent in December as buyers continued to steer clear of showrooms due to economic uncertainty. Toyota Motor reported Monday a 37 percent drop in US sales in December, which helped drag 2008 sales down 16 percent to 2.2 million vehicles. The Japanese automaker's Toyota division recorded a 15 percent drop in annual sales to 1.96 million vehicles as December sales fell 38 percent to 118,587 vehicles. Toyota's luxury Lexus brand posted a 32 percent drop in December sales to 23,362 vehicles and a 21 percent fall in 2008 sales to 260,087 vehicles. Chrysler says its December U.S. sales plunged 53 percent, blaming a tough economy with driving customers from showrooms. Chrysler sold a total of 89,813 vehicles compared with 191,423 in the same month last year. Despite the drop, the month's sa…

Why debit's preferred over credit

Being in debt is not welcome as far as Indians go. Add to that a weakened economic sentiment and you have Indians scurrying away from any sorta debt. Its also pretty cultural for Indians to want to live within their means. All of this has resulted in Debit card usage now supplanting use of Credit cards in India.

ET reports that payment by debit cards in India is rising at a faster clip compared to spending through credit cards. While data from companies involved in facilitating card payments show that there has been a rise in number of payments using credit and debit cards, RBI data available for the first seven months of the current financial year also validate claims of increased spending using plastic cards. However, it's the use of debit cards that's growing at a faster rate than credit card payments.

Forever Love

Times UK: Scientists have discovered true love. Brain scans have proved that a small number of couples can respond with as much passion after 20 years as most people exhibit only in the first flush of love.

The findings overturn the conventional view that love and sexual desire peak at the start of a relationship and then decline as the years pass. A team from Stony Brook University in New York scanned the brains of couples who had been together for 20 years and compared them with those of new lovers. They found that about one in 10 of the mature couples exhibited the same chemical reactions when shown photographs of their loved ones as people commonly do in the early stages of a relationship.

Do Ads work?

If your ads work, if you can measure them and they return more profit than they cost, why not keep buying them until they stop working?

And if they don't work, why are you running them?

The time-tested response is that you're not sure, that ads are risky, that you can't tell. And for some sorts of products and some sorts of ads, you'll get no argument from me.

- Seth Godin, 'Do Ads work?'

To tip or not to, 'tis the Question

'Cabanes says: “People are definitely saying that they won't do as much this year as they normally do. People are struggling, it's hard out there. When it comes to cleaners, the doorman, hairdressers, normally you'd give them $100 (£69) but now people are giving gift cards instead.” How much to tip in one-off encounters and how to show long-time contacts that you still care, even if your husband no longer has his Lehman Brothers' job, has become a prime-time concern. Every major TV channel has run a holiday tipping special and there are lengthy online discussions dissecting the issue. Martha Stewart, the shamed domestic goddess, offers a cut-out-and-keep “tipometer” on her website to assist with tricky tipping decisions...

“If you can't tip the usual amounts, scale back. And then write a note: ‘Usually I would give you a much better tip, it's really been tough this year'. You can also write a letter. Either to them personally to tell them how much they m…