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Showing posts from July, 2009

Why I don't matter, but my wallet does

Tell you what. I guard my wallet more vehemently than I care for myself. The reason's simple. Without it, I don't exist. My wallet's got my credit cards, my driver's license, my PAN card, my club cards and a few business cards. Every time I am asked to prove I am me, I need the cards in my wallet. There are many a nincompoops under the sun, warming chairs in the laziest of departments, who order me to come up with some identification. So I can apply for some hair-brained government scheme. My cards save the day.I've no idea if my wallet's importance over me has taken a toll on my esteem. But I know its got me paranoid about losing my wallet some day and then being erased off the face of this planet. Like it happens in movies.I guess no one really cares about the real me. Its the cards in my wallet that matter. Its the same with brands too. No one really cares about the product anymore. Its about the brand. Despite the fact that the cola in two bottles named dif…

Aristocracy's Hypocrisy

'Do the wealthy and the powerful lecture us about our wrongs because they know their own insider status ensures that they are exempt from the harsh medicine they advocate for others? Millionaire Gore is not much affected by higher taxes for his cap-and-trade crusade. Or does the hypocrisy grow out of a sort of class snobbery? Do elites hector the crass middle class because it lacks their own taste, rare insight and privileged style? Judging from the police report, Gates seemed flabbergasted that the white Cambridge cop did not know who he was "messing" with.

Or is the new hypocrisy an eerie sort of psychological compensation at work? Perhaps the more Al Gore rails about carbon emissions, the more he can without guilt enjoy what emits them. The more professor Gates can cite racism, the more he himself is paid to spot it. And the more a Tom Daschle wants to tax and spend for health care, the less badly he feels about his own chauffer and tax avoidance?

Here's a little ad…

Everyone who's smart says Obama's smart

'I guess once again it’s time to explain things simply to you easily panicked idiots: Obama will still solve all of your problems just as he promised. He will get you jobs and free health care and stop other countries from being mean and hating us. All he asks of you is that you not question him. That’s all. Nothing more. Except maybe some of your money, but it’s just money you hillbillies would have spent on stupid things you don’t need like NASCAR races and chewing tobacco.

Yes, right now things may not look so good. Joblessness is still on the rise, huge debt threatens us, Iran and North Korea are going after nuclear weapons unmolested, and now racist children-haters are trying to convince you that health care reform will be a huge, horrible boondoggle. But if you get worried, you just need to remind yourself that Obama is really, really smart. Everyone who is smart says so. So if things he does, like support the re-installation of a socialist proto-dictator in Honduras, seem st…

Draught beer @ Home

Three out of every ten beer drinkers prefer draught over canned beer. But the problem draught beer faces is one of immediate consumption but no future consumption. That's because you can't take the keg home.

MillerCoors LLC is trying to solve that problem by testing the sale of a $20 draft-beer systems for consumers to drink at home. The company has begun testing the 1.5-gallon "Home Draft", a boxed product, which is designed to fit into refrigerators for drinkers to consume periodically, rather than for one-time party use.

This innovation in packaging is aimed at upping sagging beer consumption. MillerCoors's new Home Draft systems are meant to be placed upright in a refrigerator, which will keep the beer fresh for about 30 days. The price per ounce is roughly 15% higher than for an 18-pack of the same beer.

Can a buzz sell?

Taking a video or a buzz viral may not be as difficult as ensuring a sale for the product that the viral video/buzz was trying to promote. The outrageous content in the video/act may take it viral. But if there's a marketer behind the video, he'd still sweat to get consumers to buy.

A case is question is the romantic comedy (movie) 'I love you, Beth Cooper'.

Last month, 18-year-old Kenya Mejia closed her valedictory address at Los Angeles's Alexander Hamilton High School on a startling note: publicly professing a secret passion for a classmate. The commotion Ms. Mejia created was actually part of a ploy cooked up by marketing executives and consultants for Twentieth Century Fox, the Hollywood studio whose headquarters is less than two miles from Hamilton High. The goal of the plot, which included a marketing company called the Intelligence Group and at least one other contractor, was to create a "viral" buzz online for the romantic comedy "I Love You, …

Selling's the act, Marketing's the understanding

'Works as always a complete no brainer exercise.
Sadly extremely different from all the theory I learned (or rather I believed I learned )'.

That's someone responding to me asking, 'How'swork'?

I can believe there are a lot of people out there slaving over stuff at work that's a no-brainer. But I can also believe that the mass out there is so caught up with what they do, they miss out on the larger context within which they do what they do. That is, they miss the larger operational/organisational picture. They just do what they do. And they have no idea why they do what they do. They never try and find out or even think about it. And of course, no one's ever told them.

Welcome to your life in a business firm!

A Marketing simile would be sales. And we experience this all the time. The sales person is so focused on selling he misses out on the larger context within which sales happen. That is, the customer and his needs. Just like jobs are not just about doing…

Care for my child? Here's my money.

Jaden's down with the flu. And it isn't a pretty sight to see him listless and lethargic. We hope he recovers soon and goes back to his boisterous self.

The flu's all around. Too many kids in bed trying to recover. Too many parents concerned and worried for their kids' health. When it comes to kids, most parents worry. Me included. During such worry, its reassuring to have a doctor say that the symptoms seen are common and that there's nothing to be too concerned about. And when it comes to spending on a kid, for health or otherwise, most parents don't hold back. Now, this is a huge opportunity for marketers. But the imperative is to be caring. If you can't exhibit that caring, parents don't buy in.

Let me illustrate. We went through a few doctors before we settled on one for Jaden. Most doctors we saw, we thought were pretty good. Yet we settled for the one with whom we formed a certain comfort level. And that comfort level had as much to do with the abi…

Lest we forget

Saluting the brave.
At Kargil. And in our Armed Forces.Pic: Outlook Magazine

'Middle of the Road' strategy to nowhere


'I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station. I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well.'

In strategic terms this is termed as 'Middle of the Road' strategy. Takes you nowhere. Means nothing.

Exactly what Obama wanted. Mean nothing with his 'regret'. He got it spot on.

Milton Friedman on Reality Shows

Listening to religious and political representatives, in this case it was SmritiIrani and FarooqSiddiqi on Times Now, moralising about what content should and shouldn't be on TV, I almost squirmed in my seat. After all, I am a man of faith too, and these people make us all seem like moralising ignoramuses.

The topic of discussion was Reality shows with special reference to the Indian version of 'Moment of Truth'.Smriti even squeezed in a thought about how our culture has helped us weather the economic crisis. I almost fell off my chair, guffawing.

There are reality shows I find crass and demeaning. But that's no reason for me to advocate them being shut down (note my take on morality guiding advertising). If I don't like the show, I can switch the channel. In the world of remote controls, that's easy, isn't it? I am also game to the suggestion that, should a show have content that could be considered troubling to kids, it can be slotted for late night. But, n…

Why Obama & Marketers aren't Unifiers

Note, the Sgt. James Crowley - Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. episode is not about them, but about Barack Obama. The incident must be analysed not for what happened but for the response that President Barack Obama came up with. He called the actions of the officer 'stupid'.

And in that lies an Obamaian tactic that may not be visible on the surface, but lies deceptively concealed within. At a time when Barack Obama is besieged on his economic policies, what he needs badly is a respite. What he needs even more is support.

His calling the officer stupid and siding with the Professor, who hollered racism, is in line with what he intends to acheive, tactically. The American public's focus on his economic policies has been deflected for the moment. In addition, by bringing in the race card, Obama's using the 'divide and rule'strategy to get his agenda through. He's endearing himself to the black community by showing how he cares for them. The irony is, far from being …

Government intervention hinders Consumer Rights

Of course, learning a mother-tongue is a good thing. But the scene's drastically different if you are forced to learn, with your mother tongue being the language of instruction. If that's imposed on you, it takes away a basic right of yours. Your right as a consumer. When it comes to learning, the right to learn a subject in an instruction language of your choice is a consumer right. In India, the preferred language for most, is English.Note the honourable CJI, "This year in Kerala, primary schools recorded 2.5 lakh less admissions as the state insisted on Malayalam as the medium of instruction. They migrated to other states to get education in the English medium. Do you think parents are crazy to spend Rs 50,000 to get admission into private schools imparting education in English? That is what they want. Should it not be the parents' choice rather than that of the state's?"The government taking away consumer rights is not a new one and neither does it only h…

Bollywood movies & Tour de France, similar?

'Now, the latest news from France:

Things got tense after Lance tried to butt in on Alberto, but then Alberto ditched Lance in the mountains and Lance said he didn’t care, although some people think he’s just playing mind games. Carlos said everybody is out to get him, George thinks he was stabbed in the back, and everybody was mad when Christian took their radios away.

If the stories coming out of this year’s Tour de France sound like a plot summary for “Gossip Girl,” don’t be alarmed. In fact, it’s probably a good thing. After years of coverage dominated by doping allegations, scandals and suspensions, the world’s greatest cycling race is back to being what cycling races are, by design, supposed to be: a messy spectacle of conflicting agendas, gamesmanship, feuds, conspiracies, heartbreak, triumph and exhaustion that can make three weeks seem like an hour.'

The Tour de France is like a Bollywood movie. Pure masala fare. There's something in it for everyone. There's hi…

To break a rule or not to, 'tis the Q

What must they have been thinking? Surely, it is procedure for Continental Airlines to impose a final security check at the aero-bridge just before boarding the aircraft. But what about violation of protocol? Dr. Abdul Kalam is no ordinary citizen. He is a former President. But beyond that, what angers people even more is, the man in question is revered by all. His nobility and simplicity is admired across cross-sections of Indian society. And to have such a person, who is also the former President subject to 'frisking' would be considered an outrage.

Again, what must they have been thinking?

The answer's simple. They were shortsighted and so were considering the implications of the present, discounting the impact of the future. You see, its easier for all of us to understand the present and react to it, as its more finite and visible. The future is always discounted as it is distant and does not have any impact, for the present moment.

The officials at Continental saw the pr…

Customer Personification & Product Design

Brand Personification's is recasting the brand as a person. Customer personification is about casting a character out of demographic research that then helps in product design. The former's a post-brand activity, the latter, pre-brand.

Ford's now using customer personification to better design cars. The personified target customer cast as a real person helps get everyone connected with the design on the same page.

Antonella was the guiding personality for the Ford Verve, a design study that served as the basis for the latest-generation Fiesta. A character invented by Ford designers to help them imagine cars better tailored to their intended customers, she embodies a philosophy that guides the company’s design studios these days: to design the car, first design the driver. Antonella is the personification of a profile created from demographic research about the Fiesta’s target customer, said Moray Callum, executive director of Ford Americas design.

Whether Antonella will help …

4 points of view or Blind men & an Elephant?

Three points of view plus one:

Santosh Desai, managing director and Chief executive for Future Brands: 'There is a problem when the execution becomes the idea. The minute you try and move out of the shadow of a brilliant execution, as in the case of the girl under the waterfall, you struggle.' (He's talking about the 'Girl under the waterfall'Liril campaign).

Spokesperson from Hindustan Unilever Ltd: 'While it it is good to be iconic, it is critical to remain relevant to the current consumers. With the changing social context, the key issue being addressed by the Liril of 70s was no longer relevant to the consumers (higher socio-economic class urban women) of today.'

Shiv Sethuraman, chief executive officer, TBWA India Pvt. Ltd: 'A lot of brands that used to do iconic advertising in the past, no longer do. There may be several factors at play: the economic slowdown has meant that a lot of clients have lost their risk taking ability, as have agencies. This …

Hey, thinkin' ain't a crime, you know..

'Hey kids. I know you're not all that interested in politics, and you don't like to read too much. But, God bless you, you vote. That's understandable. It's hip to vote. P. Diddy urges you to do it. Most of the doors in your college dorm are adorned with Obama posters and news clippings. In 2008, the 18-29 age group voted 2-to-1 for Obama. And your college campus went wild the night he won.

But before you vote again, please consider reading the rest of this article. I'll try to make clear points and keep the paragraphs short. It's OK to listen to your iPod while you read...

Use your head - Virtually everything you've watched on TV or the movies in your lifetime, from the Care Bears to Oprah Winfrey and the latest Terminator movie, told you to follow your heart, not your head.

Tell me, the last time you got ripped off, was it because you followed your head too much? What about your friends who got pregnant or got someone else pregnant when they didn't w…

Why CEOs can't have Tapioca & Fish curry

Its now been three times.I am talking about literature on Devita Saraf, CEO, Vu Technologies. The first time was Devita's article on why we should welcome the recession and my response was to disagree. The next time was an article on Innovation in the WSJ (Note, Hemant's struck a discordant note). I thought it was really an interesting read. The third was a feature in the Corporate Dossier, courtesy Economic Times.Its this feature, titled 'Wanderlust' that got me thinking. Thinking about why brands must, in the public space, state only what suits their identity. Of course, in no way am I suggesting Devita's answers to be ones that are aimed at building a certain identity, but the fact is, they do. For example, when asked about Gourmet delights, the answer's Sushi. A great traveller moment is Bali, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Nature's trail is Rainforests in Bali. Let me state again, I ain't doubting the answers, I am just pointing out that they are befitt…


The other day a colleague from an American University was narrating how he tried to get some research done in India. The endeavour had him talking to a company so he could have access to a sample that included the firm's customers. The funny thing was, the company put him through various rounds of exacting talks, almost as if they had to check him out on his antecedents completely, before they gave him access. Access to what, you may ask, again? A sample of the firm's consumers. Imagine that. Multiple levels of meetings so the academic could have access to a sample who would be asked a few questions, so research could be done. The saddest part of the whole story was, after all these meetings, the professor goes back to his US university, waits for a go-ahead from the Indian firm, and guess what comes through? Zilch. No news. No, nothing.Now, why am I telling you the story? So I could I tell you something that's commonplace in India. In the marketing world too.You've he…

Starbucks now sells Tea, Beer & Wine

Starbucks' is rechristening one of its stores at Seattle, '15th Avenue Tea and Coffee'. The rechristened Starbucks outlet will now dispense coffee, tea, wine and beer.

Smart move.

Starbucks at four bucks may sound dumb to cost conscious consumers, yet the association of coffee and Starbucks is one that can't be eased away. But then again, Tea, wine or beer at a Starbucks can possibly erode the coffee-Starbucks association. Also remember, McCafes lie in wait for Starbucks to make a wrong move.

At a time when premium coffee association is what Starbucks brings to consumer minds, it makes great sense to have a different, yet dedicated brand, when it comes to dispensing coffee, tea and even wine and beer. The segment that the new brand has as a target would of course be different from Starbucks'.

When you think premium coffee, its Starbucks. When you think beverages, it could be '15th Avenue Tea and Coffee'.

Why Akon beats recession

The last I wrote about Akon was when I tried to point out that brands that break consumer trust find it difficult, post break-up, to communicate to them. Akon sang about doin' time that never really did. Despite what Smoking Gun called a fabricated story, Akon's music is one among a handful that did well last year. Amidst the recession.

The reasons are interesting.

One, like I mentioned before, Akon sings pretty well. His songs make great listening. His fabricated lifestyle doesn't seem to have stopped listeners from taking to his music. Surely if you did know that Akon's not really a gangsta, maybe the song loses its sheen, but its still great listening. Two, Akon's a smart businessman. He's taken his music beyond its artistic confines to turning it into a business. He had a business plan for his music brand and he's stuck to it with great success.

Goes to prove two things. Despite bad publicity if a brand can deliver on its core value, that's great songs…

Warming Globaloney

'Is it really treason against the planet to express some scepticism about whether this is the right way forward? Is it treason to question throwing huge sums of money at a policy that will do virtually no good in 100 years? Is it unreasonable to point out that the inevitable creation of trade barriers that will ensue from Waxman-Markey could eventually cost the world 10 times more than the damage climate change could ever have wrought?

Today's focus on ineffective and costly climate policies shows poor judgment. But I would never want to shut down discussion about these issues, whether it is with Gore, Hansen, or Krugman.

Everybody involved in this discussion should spend more time building and acknowledging good arguments, and less time telling others what they cannot say. Wanting to shut down the discussion is simply treason against reason.'

- Bjorn Lomborg, 'Al Gore and Friends Create Climate of McCarthyism'.

Familiarity breeds Consumer Inertia

My office table's got a desktop that sports a flatscreen. But I use it sparingly as I am hooked to my laptop most of the times. My laptop's convenient. The other day I forgot the laptop power cord home and so was compelled to use my desktop, day long. The experience was a very pleasant one. At the end of the day my eyes didn't seem as tired. The bigger screen had me squinting less and I even think the glare was way lower.

Since that day I am at my desktop more than my laptop. Now it might seem pretty foolish on my part to have stayed with the laptop when I had a better one on my desk. But the answer to my foolishness lies in the term 'familiarity'. I stuck to what I was familiar with, and didn't move to what I wasn't.

Consumers too do just that. Status Quo products and services are many a times acceptable, as that's familiar territory. For consumers to switch to newer solutions from existing ones, marketers must give them a compelling reason. A compelling…


Sydney Morning Herald reviewer Bruce Elder recalled the first time he heard the young singer. "My immediate response was that here, as far as I was concerned, for the first time was an Aboriginal voice of absolutely transcendental beauty," he said. Iain Shedden, music critic of The Australian newspaper, said there was "an incredible aura" around Yunupingu, while another music critic, Lou Novachek, described his voice as "sublime".

Read about the incredible Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu here.

The blinding Brand Halo

The Halo and the Horn's effect is as much about brands as it is about people (yeah, people are brands too). Once the halo kicks in for consumers, disbelief is almost a non entity. Almost.The brand with the halo is the Barack brand. Despite being the biggest doofus in the shortest of time, the Barack brand manages to get by without too much of a dent (Note my earlier 'Almost'). Just so you know, note what John Hawkins has to say;'Yet and still, was it George Bush who claimed that there were more than 57 states? Did Bush say he saw our "fallen heroes" in the audience during a speech? Was it George Bush who made a racist comment about "typical white people?" Did W. spend 20 years without complaint at a church where the pastor spouted off ignorant, anti-Semitic ideas and conspiracy theories? Was George Bush so much of an airhead that he actually ended up "thanking himself in a speech" because that's what his teleprompter said to do? Was it…

The Inequity in Equity

'The problem with trying to equalize is that you can usually only equalize downward. If the government were to spend some of its stimulus money trying to raise my basketball ability level to that of Michael Jordan, it would be an even bigger waste of money than most of the other things that Washington does.

So the only way to try to equalize that has any chance at all would be to try to bring Michael Jordan down to my level, whether by drastic rule changes or by making him play with one hand tied behind his back, or whatever.

The problem with this approach, as with many other attempts at equalization, is that it undermines the very activity involved. Basketball would be a much less interesting game if it was played under rules designed to produce equality of outcomes. Attendance would fall off to the point where neither Michael Jordan nor anyone else could make a living playing the game...

Most activities do not exist for the sake of equality. They exist to serve their own purposes--…

Consumer Spending

Carpe Diem Blog: From Visual Economics, a graphical representation appears above (click to enlarge) of Consumer Expenditures in 2007, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Note that total spending on food ($6,133), clothing ($1,881) and housing ($16,920) represented 50% of consumer expenditures and 30% of income before taxes in 2007. In 1997 by comparison, 51.1% of consumer expenditures were spent on food, clothing and housing, and 44.6% of income before taxes was spent on food, clothing and housing (data here).

Why Communists need Marketing lessons

The problem with the Communist party in India in addition to following a defunct ideology is one of governance. They just don't know how. All they know is to follow what's been prescribed by their founding fathers. And that is to toe the party central committee line without questions. The committee looms above all. And when I say committee, I mean people who have never fought elections.
In ousting VS from the politburo the party has sent a message that no one must dare question party wisdom. But in doing so they have also broken the cardinal rule of marketing which says, it isn't about the firm, its about the customer. It isn't about the party, its about the voter.VS is about the voter. Pinarayi is about the party. A smart marketer will pick the former. The Communist Party chose the latter. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the voter reacts adversely to party decision. My gut tells me he will. And that's bad news for CPI(M).When it comes to the consumer, toei…

The eternal optimism of the Clear mind

'The environment changed. It turns out that Clear’s business model of prescreeningwasn’t going to be possible. But they kept doing it anyway. What kind of organizational dysfunction does it take to completely ignore the changed circumstances and keep at a money-losing business?

What’s even funnier is that Clear could probably have been profitable if they had just skipped the one unnecessarily stupid part of their business model: the detailed background checks on all their customers.

Nobody at Clear did any thinking. They had a business model, the business model wasn’t actually possible, everybody knew it, and they still plugged away at it. Thoughtless optimism. I don’t know whether to salute ‘em or laugh.'

- Joel Spolsky, 'The eternal optimism of the Clear mind.'

Media, neutral? Palin for President!

'Perhaps the seeds of the "objective" media's demise were sown in its very creation. Professionalism and a quest for objectivity made journalism a more attractive profession even as record profits made it a better paying one. The upshot was a generation of college educated reporters and editors, along with a set of cultural and political attitudes they brought with them from the nation's elite institutions of higher learning. In time, another technological innovation – broadcast – changed the historic role of newspapers and magazines. No longer deliverers of the news, print journalists became interpreters of events. That proved a slippery slope. As the elite denizens of newsrooms began to analyze the news instead of merely chronicling it, the confidence their audience had in the journalists' fairness and ideological balance began to wane.'

Objectivity doesn't exist. Perceptions about its existence exist. That is why Publicity scores over Advertising. A…

What's smilar, what different?

What fashions our behaviour is the thought that precedes it. And that thought in turn is shaped by our cognitive abilities. That in turn, again, is partly fashioned by the context within which we operate.

What's interesting about what dictates our behaviour, the way I described it, is that, this is pretty much generic. I mean, its applicable to most of us, if not all of us. The implication on the marketer is that he can pretty much decipher how consumers would behave (read, generic behaviour) within a certain context. What differentiates a certain behaviour from another is the difference in our cognitive abilities and its usage, and the varied contexts within which we operate.

Note that our cognitive faculties get better (in general, I admit) as we grow older. And then our attitudes are shaped more by what we know, than what we feel. In branding terms, that means, brand attitudes are shaped by beliefs based on what we know, than what we feel. Not so when we are young. Brand attitude…

Spring a surprise or forewarn?

Having lived through the socialist (termed, mixed economy in India) era, I am used to lousy government services that have gotten better over the years but remain woefully inadequate. But what I can't come to terms still, is the surprise they continue to spring on hapless citizenry. Take Load shedding (to tide over power shortages) for example. I am used to it. But what irks me is the irregular pattern they take. The day before, the state electricity board decided the load shedding's between 7 and 8 in the morning. Today it was 8 and 9. Tomorrow? Who knows? Its a surprise!Invariably this surprise element throws life out of gear. You really don't know when to put the water heater on, so you have warm water to bathe with. When do you think I should do the ironing? Its always a guessing game.Consumers love surprises. Only when they are pleasant ones. When the airline upgrades my seat without a warning, it puts a smile on my face. But when surprises get nasty, I ain't pleas…

The cure to Consumer forgetfulness

The problem that Low Involvement category brands face is one of consumer forgetfulness. Frequent advertising or any other repeated communique campaigns may help the brand get into a consumer's long term memory, but that takes a long time. The fact is, consumers forget. The reason's simple. The brand either stays fleetingly in the consumer's sensory store and is then lost, or moves into the short term store and is then forgotten.

This morning I was trying to remember the name of the movie I saw last night so I could search for its soundtrack. In the future, I may even buy the CD with songs from the movie. My only problem; I can't remember the name of the movie.

The saviour to such forgetfulness for the brand is retail presence and great merchandising. The CD should be in the store I visit, and displayed in manner where I spot it. Then maybe I'll buy. No presence in the store, no smart merchandising, the brand loses out on a sale. The long and short? If you are a low i…

Is America waking up?

'The bottom line is the iPhone and modern medicine came from democracy and the free market, not a government agency. Social programs should act as a trampoline, not a Velcro wall. The Velcro wall of government dependence only works for those in the Velcro business. We are all slowly having are boats docked and being sent to the wading pool. Guess who the lifeguard is?

The clever argument of “safety” and “fairness” has worked well for the left. They know that playbook well. We are Americans and we are compassionate. What is left out of that argument is the human need for self-responsibility and self-reliance. Both are essential ingredients for self respect. A man who blows his wages at the racetrack is not the same as the man who is mugged on payday. “Or is he?” asks the Democrats...

The men who started this country believed in God and liberty. Things like Cap and Tax have nothing to do with either. Fight back now or head over to the kiddie pool.'

- John Romano, 'Is America w…

:) :) :) :)

Economist Blog: Do you want to be served by some of the biggest grins you've ever seen? Then get thee to Japan, where the Keihin Electric Express Railway Company has come up with a bizarre new customer-service ploy. To ensure they beam at passengers with real gusto, its staff must check their smiles every morning with a piece of computer software called Smile Scan, made by Omron Corp. Workers have their grins scored from 1 to 100, and are given advice on how to improve them. Later in the day they can refer for inspiration to a print-out of their best smile, which they carry around with them.

What's love got to do with it?

Its no surprise to me that Namrat Joshi moans and wonders why we have forgotten the classic silver screen love stories of yore.

She wails, 'Our poll revealed an almost unnerving indifference to the great romances of the past. Mughal-E-Azam, Pakeezah and Kaagaz Ke Phool seemed to have faded from public memory. Raj Kapoor and Nargis are the only romantic pair from their generation that managed to make it to the top 10. What does that say about us? After all, love is not just another four-letter word. Love is also about sociology, history, economy and politics; it is a marker of changing times and generational shifts. From the idealistic 1950s to the materialistic 2000s, we have come a long way. So have our on screen romances.'

Namrata may have a hold of sociology, history, economy and politics, but she comes up short on understanding consumers. Because when we watch a movie, unlike the critics, we are in effect engaging in an act of consumption that's aimed at fulfilling a nee…

How Mr. Finance Minister, pray tell?

'Instead, we had honey bees collecting nectar without harming plants. We had praise for the "vision" of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who 40 years ago nationalized India's banks as if in astute preparation for the very financial crisis we are now in. We had a new university in Chandigarh, capital of the Punjab and Haryana (hello, education reform?) We had Mahatma Gandhi. We had measures to put "a smile on the faces of the Green Brigade." We had the 73-year-old finance minister joking that he didn't want to dent his popularity with the ladies. (With all due respect, sir….)

And then, the piece de resistance, said with a dramatic flourish: The announcement, honorable ladies and gentlemen of the Lok Sabha, that for the first time the Indian government will spend more than 10 lakh crore rupees (about $208 billion) as if that was what counted the most, not how the money would be spent or how it would be raised. Sorry, but that's not a boast worthy o…

Sarah Palin's perfect STP

It ain't just me that roots for Sarah Palin. Its the marketer in me too. She's got what's termed in Marketing Strategy as STP, dot on. STP is Segmenting, Targeting and Positioning.

Sarah knows who her voter segment is. What she does positions her perfectly for this segment and this segment only. She couldn't care less what the rest of the voter community thinks. She's the darling to true Conservatives. With Gallup stating that 4 in 10 Americans have turned their views more conservative, Sarah's going after a segment that's substantial enough, should she take the national stage in a presidential election. Especially as this will follow the reign of the darling of the socialists.

Most brands try and be everything to everybody. Bad idea. You must instead be the 'only thing' that your target audience wants. And if you are that, stay on course. Don't bother what the naysayers say or predict.

Note Michael Wolff; 'A core band of loyalists does what a …

Pennywise paper cup, pound foolish Coffee

This morning's coffee reminds me of marketers who in a bid to cut corners turn pennywise, but pound foolish. In a move aimed at cutting costs, the coffee guy's moved on to thinner paper cups. Only that the damn cup's turned too soft to hold hot coffee and to stop the hand holding it burning up. The result? People asking for an extra cup. So now the coffee gets served in a paper cup that's inside another, so its strong enough and the heat doesn't seep through.

Marketer's wanting to cut costs mustn't look to shortchanging consumers. The front end of a business must not be tampered with, as this erodes the value delivered to consumers. Instead its the backend that must be re-engineered for greater efficiency. For example the coffee guy can reconfigure coffee preparation to standardise the use of raw materials. Maybe some coffees are being made with extra powder because the preparer tips the spoon that bit more to pick a bit more of coffee powder. Or maybe he ca…

Oil pulling & Consumer Need Recognition

Prof. Ravi was talking about the discussion they had at home about Oil pulling and its medicinal effects. The discussion had followed a commercial on TV by the Sesame Oil brand, Idhayam, which was advocating its practice.

What Idhayam's looking for is takers to this practice. Its a way of piloting increase in sales. What makes such a consumer pitch interesting is that they have identified novel ways to increase consumption of their brand of oil by finding new uses, ones other than the traditional cooking one.

One of the most difficult of propositions faced by the marketer is trying to evoke recognition of a need or a problem in the consumer. Idhayam's tried to do the same with Oil pulling. What could be dangerous for them is the fact that this need recognition may not necessarily result in a consumer response in favour of their brand. I mean, if Oil pulling's good for my cavities, why should I only buy Idhayam? Won't other oil brands do? The answer is, of course, Yes; ot…

Happy Independence Day

'That capitalism is a prerequisite for freedom is neither a new idea nor one applicable only to America's. Nobel economist F. A. Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom in 1944: "It is now often said that democracy will not tolerate 'capitalism.' If 'capitalism' means here a competitive system based on free disposal over private property, it is far more important to realize that only within this system is democracy possible." As Milton Friedman echoed in the book's preface, "the free market is the only mechanism that has ever been discovered for achieving participatory democracy." Capitalism and democracy reinforce each other, but it is the former that is determinant.'

- J T Young, 'Free Men and Free Markets'.

'Independence Day has always been observed in the United States as a celebration of our freedom from rule of the United Kingdom.

Our Founding Fathers created a Constitution that insured that Americans would live freely, ab…

Mouthing mumbo-jumbo & Source credibility

What's worse than Nandan Nilekani talking about the greatest hoax of the 21st century, namely, 'Global Warming', is the fact that he's the one talking about it. In India, you rarely get to know anything other than the liberal leftist agenda being spewed around in the US. That's because there's no Fox News beaming into India, no conservative magazines on newsstands, no speeches in the public space other than ones by the likes of Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman and their kind. Oh, by the way, did I mention that Nandan's pretty much the person who shaped Friedman's 'The World is Flat'?I wonder if the Indian Greens ever read articles like this one, 'The EPA silences a climate skeptic'? I doubt it.The problem of Nanadan being the one mouthing the Global Warming mumbo-jumbo is that his stature brings with it high levels of credibility that translates into the mumbo-jumbo being perceived as gospel truth. Of course, I can't advocate anyone to …

Consumers construct the Contrived & Real

Nothing could be devastating than to read about a child being killed in an accident on a Bangalore road. And nothing could hit home as bad as the mind contriving the tragic sequence in your head as you read the report in a newspaper. More so when you are a father to a child, yourself.

Bangalore roads like all Indian roads are killers and its only god's grace that keeps people alive on such roads. The kind of accident you read about everyday in India only makes you more cautious about any sort of travel. Though the event's a tragic one, it also demonstrates how our minds react. And those reactions have implications on us as consumers.

For a brand to craft its first purchase, it must be able to manage its communiques in a manner where the consumer mind forms a pleasurable sequence to experiencing it. In reality though, there's not yet been a real experience as there's been no purchase. Yet if the brand can get the consumer to live it in his mind even before its purchase, i…

The ugly face of liberalism

'Yet, at the end of the day, liberals aren't any more beholden to popular will than to laws, as they scoff at it when it contradicts politically-correct will. And there is a good reason for this. Liberals don't view democracy as an absolute because there is no such thing in a relativistic world, but they at least view it. That is to say, they know popular will is real but believe God's will (Truth) is imaginary. And what exists takes precedence over what doesn't.

But in a world without absolutes, what takes precedence over all? Well, without any unchanging yardstick for making moral decisions -- without Truth to provide answers -- liberals have only one thing to refer to: Their mercurial master, feelings. But whose feelings shall hold sway? They may sometimes be those of the majority of people (expressed as "values"), especially insofar as their feelings influence liberals' feelings. But, then again, the feelings might also be those of most lib…

What's worth it & Who decides?

When the Editors at NY Times start a debate with the question, 'What is a Master's degree worth?', they are in effect opening up a larger consumer question, 'What's anything worth?' Taking it a bit ahead, 'Who then decides that worth?'Lets tackle the first question. The worth of any product or service is dictated by the way its evaluated. And evaluations can either use a compensatory or a non-compensatory method. The latter results in a brand being eliminated as not being worth the price should it fail on just one critical parameter. The former method, on the other hand, does not ensure elimination should the brand not come up to the mark on one parameter, as its compensated by its better performance on another. Let me illustrate. Should my non-compensatory evaluation of a Motor bike brand be dictated by one critical parameter (among a few) called 'Power' and should a brand not meet the minimum cut-off on Power, I would eliminate it from conside…