Monthly Archives: June 2008

Social Ambassadors

Yes, it is the age of conversation, but in India it is also the age of brand ambassadors. And not just the average Joe Ambassador, but ones who blog. I, for one, subscribe to Big B’s blog, because, from his posts, i think he is a natural. And even if this is true, he’s doing justice to the job.

Anyway, after blogging for a while, it was quite understandable that with his hectic schedule, Big Adda should make his life easier by giving him a mo blog. And now he’s having a blast with microblogging @160 characters. Updating multiple times a day and speaking his mind.

The entire activity set me thinking. So, what happens when the transparency of social media meets brand ambassadors?  How would, for example, the Big B (as brand ambassador) react, if God forbid, a pesticide (Pepsi) or a worm (Cadburys) issue erupted again? What role would he play? Blogger or Brand Ambassador or a boring diplomat? Assuming that he uses the products he endorses (okay, stop laughing!!) would he sometimes play the dissatisfied customer?

I got a glimpse of perhaps what lies in store, thanks to this entry of his. A tale that most bloggers would be familiar with. Sit and write an entire blog post and the server conks out without saving!! In this case, he was blogging on Big Adda. Bad publicity, I would think. Thankfully, someone there was smart enough, and pretty soon we had another entry, this time thanking a Big Adda official. Wonder if they’d do that for mere mortals though ;)

But back to the point, in an era of instant communication and celebrity bloggers, would brand ambassadors  now have revised contractual obligations that draw a clear line on transparency? One that would bring brands back to the familiar comfortable opaque territory that they have been operating in? Or will the celebrity be true to the spirit of blogging? (read the poetry – header on Big B’s blog) :)

until next time, brand bloggers :)

Wake up call

He liked watching her sleep. She looked so much at peace now, wrapped up in that something-like-a-shawl thing. But he’d have to wake her now, to tell her that he’d finally cracked a puzzle. Now he knew why reality shows worked. People would rather watch someone sleeping than the movie for which they paid Rs.200.

until next time, in reality….

Fresco’s

Fresco’s gets very close to a chocaholic’s version of heaven, so we make up excuses to go there, even though its on Cunningham Road, and not so close to home. Its on Cunningham Road, within 100m of entering it, a couple of buildings after the Foodworld (?), and its not visible from the road. But there’s lots of parking available outside and some space inside too.

Fresco’s is a semi-outdoor kind of space, quite cosy and is always buzzing during dinner time (at least weekends, when we go). And this time was no exception. So you might want to reserve before going. We didn’t and were asked to wait for a few minutes. Fair, but what was quite dumb was giving us a seating that was uncovered, especially when there were intermittent showers happening all through the day. So we asked for a different table. We should have taken this as a premonition. We didn’t, since we’d never been given any reason to complain from our previous visits.

It took us quite sometime and a reminder to get hold of a menu card. And though it took a long while for our soup to be created, the Chicken and Coriander soup we ordered was excellent and succeeded in putting our fears to rest..to an extent. It comes a close second to the soup at Tangerine I’d written about earlier.

For the main course, we ordered a couple of sizzlers, a Chicken Parmigiana and a Chicken Cordon Blue (Bleu, i thought ?), chose the latter by voting out a Parsi Chicken :) We’d chosen the rice option for the former and pasta for the latter, and they succeded in reversing that. I got them to give us Rice for the Parmigiana, but didn’t insist on the pasta. I was too hungry!!

The Parmigiana is chicken breast with herbs, crumb fried served with pomadoro sauce and Parmesan cheese grattinated. The wife says it tasted a bit like pizza, and was reasonably good. The Cordon blue  is chicken salami and cheese wrapped with chicken breast, grilled, and topped with mushroom and concasse. It was good in patches, burnt at some places, but perfectly well made in others. The rice was good too, wonder if the pasta would’ve been better. And both were sizzling hot, good for a rainy night if only they had been done well.

The dessert choice here is always difficult, and there is always a lot of heartburn when we can’t test out new talent :) We chose the Chocolate Demise, and as always didn’t have any reason to complain.

The experience can be summed up best with the bill we got for all the above – Rs. 911. The service this time was extremely poor, and except for the soup and the dessert, the food was only reasonably good. I think a visit now would happen only when desserts warrant, and only for that.

Hatworks Boulevard, 32, cunningham Road, Ph: 41327551/5

The Stage of Conversation

Branded networks, that’s what the new property from Nautanki.tv (read the comments section) YouTopia is going to be. (via agencyfaqs). Update –  This is going to be called spaces, and is still under development.

The rationale is that since brands, especially in a nascent market like India,  may not want to invest in the infrastructure thats required for social networks, YouTopia would provide the same for individuals and brands to create their own networks with “necessary tools or applications like instant messenger, forum and facility to upload and share videos or photos while configuring their social network”, in return for an annual subscription fee (in the case of brands).

Reminds me of Ning, though in this case, they have said that the brand can choose an independent url (so is that unlike Ning where it has to be say, nautanki.ning.com). Also, there will be an ad network, which will operate on a revenue sharing basis between Nautanki and the owners.(?) (I don’t know whether Ning has a revenue sharing mechanism) And, does the last but one paragraph in the afaqs article mean an API? Hmm

Now the question I’d like to ask is, while (apparently) every brand manager wants a Gang of Girls, is creating a social network the way to go about it, or is it more important to maintain a conversation with the consumers? The argument I have is the same as the one i had for the online communities vs groups -on -social networks post. If the conversation is already happening at a social network, isn’t it better to be a part of the conversation there and be a facilitator? Would a brand have enough meat to pull the audience to a place where it will be the only ‘attraction’, and will they be able to maintain the interest for long. A Facebook group/ page, for example, already offers most of the stuff mentioned above, and I’m sure more features will be added. People have a certain comfort level with twitter conversations, would a brand specific network be able to recreate that? Multi Brand Outlet or Exclusive Showroom?

I understand that its debatable, but meanwhile, there are efforts on to sew the conversations happening on various platforms into one interface. So we have, in addition to Friendfeed, a browser – Flock, an add on to a browser – Minggl, and the last i heard a new entity – Combo (via Startup Meme), which attempts to do this through a web based dashboard and widgets. I hope they send me that invite soon, so i can do some test drives. :)

Meanwhile, have you noticed a comment option in Facebook’s news feeds, quite like Friendfeed, i thought. And here’s something for you to go ogle. That was Aditi Govitrikar, now where’s that I’m feeling lucky button?

until next time, scatter or gather?

Faith

So, how did it all start off? An understanding that there was a higher power that controlled destinies and the world around beyond any level that a man could aspire or imagine ? A need to connect to this entity and lay out the easiest way to do so? A way of bringing together people and making them work towards a common goal? A physical platform to relate to the belief in a metaphyical entity? Perhaps, and perhaps not.
Somewhere in between, came the ones who claimed to have gone much closer to the entity than their peers. And they formed the higher power through prisms that were based on their individual realities and expectations, and their peers, who at best, were a confused lot, followed. Faith became religion and from a thought, became a set of practices, and from us, we became us and them.

And that makes me wonder whether He, any He, feels the need for religion. And brings me to an unintentionally hilarious but profound statement from an old Malayalam movie, where the character states, in all seriousness to a priest, ” In religion, and in sex, I don’t feel the need for middlemen” :)

until next time, profundity or profanity?

Opacity

Read two interesting posts, seemingly not very connected, but actually so. The first one was here, (don’t miss the article it has linked to either) and it talks about brands including an RTI clause in their charter, and anyone from a stakeholder (thats including consumers) to competition being able to demand answers from the company/brand and more importantly, being able to get it. I wonder though, how an RTI clause could co-exist with competitive advantage (brand strategies).

The second post talks about Friendfeed being a great tool for brands since it aggregates the contents from blogs, microblogging platforms, photo sharing services, social bookmarking sites and most possible social media. The snag though is that a Facebook or an Orkut are not accommodated there, yet, and the crowds frequenting the two kinds of sites are not exactly duplicated.

But yes, the connection between the two posts is transparency, and i feel that in india, we have a long way to go before we reach that state. That’s because more than a certain set of processes, we are talking about a philosophy here. In the first digital (mini) wave and its aftermath, when blogs became a corporate mantra, how many companies/brands took it seriously and how many have persisted? For a transparent system to get established and flourish, it needs to start with a strategy thats consumer centric, a strong rationale for why x strategy was chosen over y to achieve a certain strategic objective, the wisdom to understand that we are human, and plans can go wrong, inspite of having backup plans running from b to z, and most importantly the maturity to listen to feedback, accept responsibility and take criticism, but learn from it, fix it and get better.

When i hear people ask for changes in communication strategy based on very subjective likes and dislikes (sorry, its not always purely subjective, i have also heard ‘my wife likes pink’ for a campaign theme color), and when i get this response from them when asked about consumer preferences, and when, on hearing that I blog, I am asked to write good about the brands I work with, irrespective of reality, and when FYI (F*** You Instead – courtesy ‘One Night at the Call centre) responsibility strategies are given more importance than the brand’s performance, and many many more such occurrences, it gives me enough reason to believe that transparency is a long way off.

On an aside, I read here that apparently the blogosphere was abuzz today with the Vodafone ad for iPhone. Interestingly, I saw three tweets today basically asking why the Vodafone customer service couldn’t be manned by people who knew about iPhone. :)

until next time, mind set

The Middle Path

Lamenting about the state of the internet in india is second and sometimes even first nature for this blog. This was the last major rant. It usually surprises me that even with India’s growth story and the obvious uses of the internet, our internet penetration is languishing in single digits. Yes, we have infrastructural issues, and relatively high broadband costs, but is that the only reason? I had started this thread in the post linked above, and I have a little more now to say on it.

There are a large set of users who are still happy with the basic uses of the net (mail, a bit of chat, news etc), a subset who use it for jobs and other classifieds. There’s another bunch who are constantly experimenting with blogging, microblogging, and keeping up with a Flock or FF3 browser. There’s a third set that is above the first, but their interests end with orkut and Facebook. I think there is a huge divide between sets 1 and 2. Does that mean that the number of people who are working on the next set of useful products/services for India might be a minority, or worse still, not exist at all? Dangerous!

So it was refreshing to come across two websites yesterday – the first through a mail inviting me to the premiere of Meri Dhun.  The second one, from here, to a site called Yo Macha. Completely unrelated, because Meri Dhun allows you to personalise songs by changing the lyrics. Their studio will then compose, record it and send it to you in a ringtone/MP3 format. And Yo Macha which claims to be, rather pretentiously, India’s top destination, allows users to rate photos, blogs, and an assortment of things from colleges to social networking sites and anything and everything in between. As an aside, while their revenue model is now restricted to SMS revenue sharing, banner ads and generating traffic for CPC?CPM ads, maybe, when they get enough registered users, they could provide corporate services like dipsticks for brand communication within the desired TG?

I digress!! While they are completely unrelated, but for one small connection – they are not based out of the uber cool Tier 1 cities. The first is from Indore, the second from Jaipur, and both are based on little everyday things that people do in India. I am not even getting into evaluating business models, scope etc, but a thought crossed my mind. Perhaps there is no big killer application that’ll kickstart the net revolution in India, perhaps there are only these smaller drops which will make a bigger drop and perhaps something even bigger in the large indian media ocean. Maybe thats the way the Internet is going to take off here.

The in between space in india, bridging the gap between the web 1.0 users and the people who are moving beyond web2.0, by building stuff that interests and/or provides value to the great Indian internet middle class.

until next time, net gains, thats all that matters

Mo Brand Ambassadors

I just realised that I totally forgot about Abhi B (or Shaky B, depending on your levels of dislike. Oh ok, I’ll stop. Can’t even be a bit nasty on my own blog :| ) in this post, where i talked about brand ambassadors for mobile handsets, among other things. But we’re not going to continue on the same lines of discussion here.

I happened to see the new TVC for MotoRokr E8. The ad is a continuation of the earlier Moto ad (watch the complete one here, I have only seen the edit, this is super cool) Any ad that starts off with a spoof of ‘Rendezvous with Simi’ has to be an attention grabber, and going forward this one doesn’t disappoint. The sudden blaring of ‘Appidi podu’ from the Tamil movie ‘Gilli’ was shocking, the first time, and funny, every time I watched. The film briefing with the ‘heroin’ and ‘desh ka jhanda’, followed by the regular awards ceremony, all are a spoof of life. The icing on the cake is ‘Come on Ab, shake a lil’, followed by the abso Tamil dance steps.

The other I have been seeing is the Aamir Khan ad for Monaco – Life Namkeen Banaiye, the one where he plays a prank on the serious team coach, by putting a sticker with scratches on a brand new vehicle. The humour wasn’t really good, in the same vein as this one earlier, but more importantly something else was lacking, and that brings us to the point of the post.

Usage of brand ambassadors. The first one worked for me primarily because the humour was good. More importantly, a lot of it was Abhishek laughing at his own expense, as well as the fraternity he is part of. And because its Abhishek, (and I’m a huge non fan), you end up having a good laugh, because while he’s always trying to be goofy, this time he succeeds. Great usage of a brand ambassador.

On the other hand, Aamir Khan. There was a time when this ad would have worked, exactly saat saal pehle, when ‘Dil Chahta Hain’ released. Aamir’s character was a riot, complete with exactly the Monaco kind of pranks, actually better. Maybe even later, after the release of RDB. But post the SRK-dog fiasco, and the constant baiting of co-stars including Salman, and the yet to be launched Harman Baweja, let’s just say the Aamir brand of humour (in case it exists) isn’t exactly popular.

I doubt if stars are taken only for the visibility. Usually there is also a dna fit with the brand or at least a characteristic of the star that the brand would like to exploit. If that is indeed true, then Monaco’s choice is a bit too salty.

Incidentally, what did you think of the new Reynolds ad, the one where they use Sachin’s one day and test avtaar colors to show the different pen characteristics? A bit labored, but a smart idea nevertheless, i thought.

until next time, mo rockr, mo na ko

The Art of Breathing

‘Breathe in’ said the instructor. A collective intake of breaths followed. ‘Now hold until I tell you’, he continued. The stillness followed for some excruciating seconds. Just as he said ‘Exhale’, a sound erupted which prompted quite a few giggles. ‘..through the mouth’ said the instructor, with a deadpan expression, and without missing a beat.

until next time, gas chambers

Taj

Colin De Silva

More than the Taj itself, the book’s focus is on the man who built it, or rather had it built – Shah Jahan. In tracing his life and highlighting the love of his life – Mumtaz Mahal, the book touches upon four generations of Moghul rule, starting with Akbar and ending with Aurangzeb. While Taj remains a work of fiction, it borrows heavily from history, and well known characters like Nur Jehan and Jehangir have important roles to play.
The story focuses on the intrigue that was part of the Mughal court and its machinations, and the impact that it had on determining the emperor of India. It follows the life of Shah Jahan, from the time he was a young prince, to his death, as an emperor deposed by his own son.
Perhaps the tale is best summarised by the words of one of the characters in the book, and which would best represent the lives of each of the characters – “With any human being, an aim becomes an ambition, an ambition, a compulsion, a compulsion an obsession, which can only destroy the human being”. While, for most of the characters, the aim was the Moghul throne, for Shah Jahan, there was an additional one – The Taj.
In essence, a good book to read to get a glimpse of what life must have been during the days of the dynasty that defined Indian history for quite a few centuries. If interested in more historical accuracy, i would suggest ‘Emperors of the Peacock Throne’ by Abraham Eraly