Monthly Archives: August 2008

Last Tweak

See that homemade banner on your right? That was what kept me busy this weekend. A few mails, a few comments, and a lot of GTalk s gave me a feeling that the two sets of audience don’t necessarily like the ‘other’ type of content that appears on the site. So I have decided to shift the ‘brants’ content to its own separate space within the site.

And therefore, those who wish to get only the personal blog content can continue with this feed, and those who like to read my take on brands and social media can check out the other space, and add one more feed. For the ‘only brants’ readers, I’m sorry for coming up with new feeds every fortnight, I promise not to inconvenience you further. :)

until next time, last tweak, for quite sometime ;)

Herbs and Spice

We’d already been to the first version, a couple of streets off CMH Road, and while it had a Euro cafe setting complete with a blackboard menu, we weren’t convinced enough to visit again. But when we heard there was a revamped version elsewhere in Indiranagar, we thought we should drop in.

The new version is on 80ft Road, right at the junction of 12th Main and 100 ft Road, above Planet M. The ambience is definitely better here, and there are comfortable seating options for large and small groups. The menu is considerably more than the old version, and offers a more complete spread, including a variety of salads, main course, and desserts. There’s beer too!! If you’re going later than 8 pm, you might like to reserve, since it was quite crowded.

We were however, disappointed, with the absence of a non-veg soup. So we started with a cream of broccoli soup, which after a by-two division turned out to be only a very small quantity. This was to be a recurring theme. To be fair, they did give us some breads, on the house.

For the main course, we ordered a ‘Fusilli with chicken, bell peppers, mushroom and basil pesto’ and a ‘Grilled whole Indian salmon with a cherry tomato sauce’. I don’t know if it had anything to with the fish or the Indian part of it, but it took them 40 minutes to serve us. And unfortunately, it really wasn’t worth the wait. The fusilli with chicken was quite okay, and flavoured well, but the fish was a disaster!! A sacrifice both the fish as well as us could’ve done without. The quantity was meagre, and in a long time, I actually left a restaurant with a ‘nowhere near full’ stomach. Well, I did sulk and avoid dessert, but the quantity, or rather, the lack of it, had really put me off.

They made us wait quite a bit for the bill. Pretty dumb, since there were at least two groups waiting for a table. All of the above cost us over Rs.800, which was just way too much for what we got.

Photos at Zomato

Communities and Brandstreams

Last week, I’d written about transparency in organisations, and touched upon something that’d force transparency on them – conversations about them. While conversations can happen on the organisation itself, I believe the brand will also act as a starting point in many conversations. A transparent organisation will transfer some positive equity to the brand and vice versa. What comes first is a good chicken-and-egg question. Whether they can exist independent of each other is also a good thought.

Since I have written on organisations, I’ll veer towards the brand this time. There is a good article here on what brands should consider before jumping into the ‘create communities’ game. But then, brand associations should never be restricted to communities, it can be as basic as listening in on conversations that happen not just on the brand itself, but the specific and generic categories it belongs to.  Moreover, communities don’t need to be very rigid in the way they operate. Check out Dell’s efforts here. The second half of this article also succeeds in conveying this fabulously. In a convenience driven, information overloaded consumer’s mind, it is difficult for the ‘four times a year’, ‘when we feel we have to communicate something’ TVC-print-outdoor campaign that many brands follow, to find a place.

So, what are brands doing? From small businesses that give ‘prewards‘, to FMCG giants that attempt buzz marketing, everything is being tried. Some succeed, and some are questioned. What the last link, Nike shows is that brands cannot escape now with lip service. They have to be true.

Which brings me to possibilities. Quite sometime back, I’d read this post about user generated advertising and product wikis, a sort of the brand’s lifestream, if you will. I found it a very refreshing thought, even thought Heekya (via Mashable) might be a good tool to start the journey, and was happy to read a tangential post  here. Please note that, though the second article uses ‘brandstreaming’ it is more to do with engaging the community through social media. Its still interesting though.

But the best read I saw on this subject would be this post by Chris Brogan. I think it offers a great way for brands to balance their ‘official’ presence online with all the user generated stuff that’s bound to exist. But I’d still say community building has to start at home, i.e. organisation.

until next time, start your brandstream..

Collage

After a really long time, I chanced to see some college kids in action. Some, would be an understatement since it involved half a dozen colleges and a few hundred students. As part of the program, I got to see them in their natural environment, their college. Did that make them sound like animals? Okay, it wasn’t supposed to. It made me think about youth. Not mine, since my memory isn’t too good these days, but the usage of that word to represent the collective.And i realised it doesn’t really do them justice.

For I saw dreamers, the silent types who sat in the corners of the college quad with either eyes glued firmly to a book, or absorbing the world around in general, sometimes with an amused smile.

I saw the show-offs, displaying everything from the latest in gadgets and fashion, to the latest in body art, and equating that in some way with what and who they are.

I saw the absolute rascals, whose single focus was the other gender, and their attention. From what i saw, I thought it was more hormones than nobler intentions of love.

I saw escapists, who learned very early, that it doesnt matter if the grass is green on the other side, or any damn side, you still gotta have it, the grass that is.

I saw those who were full of life, participating in all the contests that were happening, eager to prove, not to anyone else, but to themselves, that they had what it took to excel.

I saw some who had perhaps given up on all that happened around them, some of them with a quizzical expression and some of them trying hard to populate vacant smiles.

I saw those whose looks had more than a trace of rancour, was it against what they were surrounded by, who they were surrounded by or was it against those who were happy in these surroundings?

Youth, the collective term for a population that consists of individuals who are perhaps still trying to find out who and what they are.

And as i sat watching them,  I saw some of them stare back at me, as though asking me how life goes, years after you’ve left college? Whether the world you are part of now, resembles the world you used to occupy then. And I would’ve liked to tell them that the world outside does change, but for better or worse, the world within can stay exactly the way it is, if you’d let it. And that perhaps is why some of us never grow up, and some of us feel that we grew up a long time back. And both of these have nothing to do with our age.

until next time, growing up…

Virtual Fourth Estate

A few articles that have to do with newspapers caught my attention in the last couple of weeks. One was the fact that Instablogs, is doing something I desperately wished it would do – opening the network for external blogs. I personally consider Instablogs a good benchmark for what online news sources should be,  going forward. If you haven’t checked out Instablogs yet, now would be about time!!

The second was an article on whether we need editors anymore. That question would be quite controversial in any case, but it helps when The Guardian asks this. It is quite a compelling read, and makes some telling points, on how editors should evolve in the digital era. I think that it also points to a mindset change in the newsroom and the presentation of news, because the way news is consumed is also changing. “Reporting becomes a process more than a product” and thats a fundamental shift in the way newspapers approach the business. Here’s a great read on the subject. It is sad to see how newspapers, with some of the best resources, are not able to channel it to better use on the internet. This is a perfect example for what I’m trying to say. Now, once you’ve thought about all this, check out Instablogs’ tour. It might explain why I find the site awesome.

Why is it important for newspapers to address the digital mindset issue? This data, (via here) though pertaining to the US shows how blogs and the online medium in general is making inroads into what was till now, the newspapers’ domain.

While, with a 4.5% penetration, newspapers aren’t exactly on a ‘near-death spiral’ in India, I believe it still might be just a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. Speaking of which, the last article I wanted to discuss was one on WATBlog about Indiatimes’ launch of Hotklix, a Digg like service. Like I commented there, it would’ve been a great way for TOI, ET and all the publications of the Times Group to showcase the loads of content that they possess. How about seeding articles on a daily basis? Where is the integration of the TOI, ET websites with Hotklix, where I can bookmark an article immediately after I read it?

On an aside, there are traditional news networks doing some pretty cool things on the web. CNN, for example, is allowing users to embed videos in blogs social media etc. No, that’s not a newspaper, I know, but it does come under ‘traditional media’. But even CNN received some flak a couple of weeks back. CNN is present on Twitter, and I happened to see this article, where a few users got pissed off with them for spoiling their Olympic fun. But that doesn’t stop the mashups. Take a look at Dialogg, their collaborative effort with Digg.

Given that newsprint costs are rising, all over the world, and people are increasingly raising an uproar over cutting down of trees, I think its about time that newspapers took a long hard look at how the digital medium is transforming the content landscape. After all, we even have sanskrit newspapers going online. By digital, I don’t mean just the web, it could be the mobile too. 9.22 million subscribers have been added this month. I would like to compare it with the circulation additions for newspapers. Meanwhile, just read about an effort - MeraMobi, by the Dainik Bhaskar group in association with Pitroda Group LLC.

Traditional media, especially newspapers, world over, have painstakingly created an equity and trust factor that’s extremely relevant in a transparency and trust led digital era, it would be sad to see it wasted. After all, with increasing global warming fears, newspapers might soon occupy the space that furs occupy now, so it might make sense to hunt for some virtual fourth estate.

until next time, read….online? ;)

Citi Zen

Caught ‘Mumbai Meri Jaan’ on the weekend, was propelled to the theatre by the cast – Kay Kay, Irrfan, Paresh Rawal, Vijay Maurya. I’m not going to attempt a review, and will limit the post to a few nuggets and a strong recommendation to go watch the movie. I think the movie worked for me because almost all the lead characters were ones I could identify or empathise with.

Vijay Maurya (Dawood in Black Friday, Jam K in the horrible ‘Bombay to Bangkok.. hmm, thats a coincidence, all the 3 movies have a Mumbai link) for his rage and helplessness against the system he is part of.

Irrfan, for the agony that he feels, on the way he, as a citizen from the lower strata of the economy, is treated by those more fortunate than him, but for still retaining the innate goodness of his character.

Kay Kay, for the indignation and the impulsive mistrust of Muslims.

Paresh Rawal (bless the director and scriptwriter for reminding me of the original Paresh Rawal, the one before the morass of his recent movies and Priyadarshan happened to his career) for the cynicism and acceptance of the system he is part of, but still retaining a part of himself that can be stung by someone pointing this out to him. His cynicism is just amazing. Check out this nugget, “Arre, blast ke baad agar bar khule nahi rahenge, to Mumbai ka spirit kahan se aayega” and the part where he says (to paraphrase) ” a long time ago, we joined seven islands to make Mumbai. After the 7 blasts on 7/11, I felt we were being split into 7 again”

But most importantly, Madhavan, the 30+ corporate executive, who refuses to buy a car because he does not want to contribute to the city’s pollution, who refuses to take up opportunities abroad because of a sense of patriotism, who advises a roadside vendor to stop using plastic….

I could identify a lot with the last character, especially when he is shown doubting the choices he has made as well as his sticking with them, as people close to him berate him, doubting whether an individual can make a difference. A doubt that forces him to ask his NRI friend, on his India visit, whether he’s really happy there…the conversation that follows, that highlights how human beings are in the same situation across the globe. And one that reinforced a personal belief for me, happiness is within me, and the most important battles I have to win, are those against myself.

until next time, exorcise demons daily

Face it

After the not-so-great response to Facebook’s Beacon ads, it was interesting to watch how Facebook would deal with the advertising and the issue of privacy. In an Indian context, according to the latest Comscore figures, Facebook ranks sixth in terms of the online search market in India. So, in an increasingly contextual world, where there are also fears of user data misuse, advertising has to play a balancing act.

I’ve come across quite a few attempts at this. To start with, as part of the new design, you might have noticed the thumbs up/down on many ads. On clicking it, it asks you to choose from options as to why you like/don’t like the ad. It gives Facebook some great data that would help it target its ads much better. It makes sense – if I like the ads that appear on the pages I visit, and find it interesting, there are better chances of me clicking on them. As a user, I’m happy to get information/offers that are of use to me. So, positive user experience with ads. Facebook’s advertising options seem to be working well for them, if we go by Mashable’s poll, done last month.

You might have also noticed the welcome screen below, which help advertisers create ads on Facebook. (click to enlarge)

Minekey uses the ‘targeted ad with related actions of a friend’ a lot. You might have seen the ‘XYZ has added the Minekey application’. But those won’t have the thumbs option. Also, check out some work done earlier by Career Builder. Its very interesting.

Another communication I saw was the usage of a user’s action by brands to communicate their offering. So, (to use the example given in the article) if you see me saying ‘I loved The Dark Knight’, Warner Bros might have had a hand in it being shown to you. I hope brands will use this in moderation.

But the really interesting piece of news I saw was Facebook’ way of social ads – Engagement Advertising. This allows users to leave comments on the ads they see. I wonder how brands will react to this, since it allows users to just diss their communication. It also forces brands to treat their message as secondary, relevance and fit to the community being the primary criterion. But its a great opportunity for brands to truly embrace transparency and a new way of communicating. More about it here.

In essence, brands are getting newer ways to use social media, and even thread it with their offline activities. There’s more activity happening, check out the application that Microsoft has released on Facebook -Collabio. With users increasingly deciding what happens to brands in social media, it is imperative that brands understand how to present and represent themselves. Meanwhile, here’s some good data on fan trends in Facebook.

until next time, add socialising to your ads

PS. Am I the only guy feeling the eeriness of Obama Bi den… Osama Bin Laden ? ;)

Empire

We’d planned on Kubay, but got there pretty late, thanks to a torturous Mallu movie that dragged on forever. By the time we got there, it was beyond 10. It was crowded even then, and we were told we’d have to wait for 25 minutes. Since we were quite famished by then, we played inky pinky ponky and agreed upon Empire, perhaps to reinforce the flagging Mallu spirit. When you’re coming from Indiranagar towards Koramangala, take the first right turn (that leads to Jyoti Nivas College/ Casa Picola/William Penn). You’ll find Empire on your left. Parking is not a problem for two wheelers, you might have to walk a bit if you have a four wheeler.

Empire has a fast food section/snacks/ice cream section on the roadside, a/c and non a/c sections inside and a terrace section where they also serve Arabian food. Though not exactly fine dining experience, Empire guarantees good food. It also saves me from giving explanations of unpronounceable dishes ;)

Since we were too hungry to do multiple courses, we ordered a couple of Kerala Porottas, an onion dosa, a chilly fish, a brain masala (quarter plate) and a butter chicken (half). One of the great things about Empire is the speed with which the food is served, I’ve never had to wait impatiently. And it was fortunate this time, since we were inching towards 11.30 – the time when we would be spared the effort of walking out and nice cops would escort/throw us out. The cops really believe in ‘The Dark Night’ here. Ok, sorry :D

The onion dosa was pretty thick,a nd though I had my own apprehensions on how it would go with the side dishes, it was actually pretty good. The brain masala was really good, and though had some giant green chillies, turned out to be just right and not too spicy. But alas, I made the mistake of using that learning for the chillies in the Chilly Fish, and was in for a nasty surprise. But I still liked the dish. The butter chicken was the odd one out. A bit too salty, a bit too much of color and a strange metallic flavor. The Porotta was not as soft as it usually is, but still quite okay. All of the above cost us just over Rs.300. That’s the best part of empire – value for money. You can stuff yourself and you’ll still get a reasonable bill.

We had a Maghai Meetha Paan outside. Damn thing costs Rs.10 now, used to be Rs.5. Only the prices are inflated, the paan size remains the same. The Empire Strikes Back :(

Menu and Photos at Zomato

Its just getting bigger…

A big news earlier this week was the launch of Big TV, with 20 channels to be launched – music, movie, lifestyle, regional..according to this article from some time ago.  (via medianama) Right at the bottom of the article is a paragraph on their internet plans. I, for one, am always intrigued by the BIG plans, since Reliance has a way of upsetting the entire setup, irrespective of the category, and using it to their advantage – whether its through scale, pricing or whatever disruptive means they can think up. This article says that a budget of Rs.100 crore has been earmarked for the marketing and communication of this entity, and also gives the pricing. With that budget, they can afford the tagline “Ho to Big Ho” :)

I remember writing a BIG post, quite a while back touching upon the synergy that could be derived out of all the BIG entities – FM, Adlabs, BigFlix, Mobile, Music, Adda, and I had mentioned DTH too. With existing providers scampering about to announce who got a matrimonial tie up faster, reliance, with their content and distribution options could really muscle their way in. Adlabs and Big Adda, for example, are working quite well together, by promoting new movies with a Big Adda site. But what I missed out in that post was the stuff I’m more interested in now – BIG’s IPTV venture, in partnership with Microsoft, about which I’ve been hearing about for quite sometime now. Coincidentally, I also read this article today, which talks about the government approval for IPTV being on the way. For those who are wobbly on IPTV (like me), I’d suggest reading up here and here, though the latter is a bit dated.

As is always the case when I think BIG, my thoughts end up usually on the potential synergy. IPTV brings all the content that you’ve traditionally on TV, but with an interactive and customised aspect. And its not just TV, but also Video On Demand (Tata Sky Showcase). How well BigFlix and Adlabs could be made to work in tandem here. Move over, all those silly games that are showcased on DTH, how about playing some Zapak based cool MMORPG s. Maybe they can even use Big Adda to create a social networking generation of Indian housewives, who’d be gosipping online while watching their favourite saans and bahus. (Tell me when I go overboard) And if their websites have some online shopping options, with the improved targeting  and context that the Internet offers, they could make a killing. I just saw a Big Adda TVC promoting social networking on mobile, so even a ‘quadruple play’ mentioned in the IPTV wiki article might be possible. Also in context, Adlabs-> Reliance Big Pictures -> Big Cinemas.

So, in essence, all the current developments are just about to make BIG bigger.

Meanwhile, a tangential big news is Yahoo’s tie up with Intel to launch an interactive TV channel. Read a good post on it here. And if you thought all of that was big, spend the weekend contemplating these futuristic interfaces.

until next time, just the biginning ;)

BIG update: The TVC is out, and check out the synergy in ‘Rock On’ – Big Pictures, FM, Music, Adda. Now we’re talking!!

Parent Traps

And Abhinav Bindra got India an individual gold in the Olympics. Old story already, but what made me mention him was his simple yet profound act of thanking his parents. What about that? Well, good parenting. His dad knew that shooting was not exactly on the same level as cricket, Bollywood or politics, but spent a crore on an Olympic standard-fully air conditioned shooting range for his son. How many would do that, even if they were millionaires?

Most parents (let’s forget unborn children and abortion for the moment) want the best for their children, and put in a lot of effort in getting it for them. But I think that in most cases, the good intentions are misplaced. After all, parents are just human beings whose objectivity might be clouded not just by the societal pressure that they have to handle as individuals, but also because of their own inner demons.

Which perhaps is why I see a lot of kids around who, move around groggily from karate classes to music lessons to tuition classes, and simultaneously use pester power to get what they want, but sometimes, reveal their childhood innocence too. It makes me realise that there is perhaps a huge difference between doing the best for your child and doing what’s best for the child.

The difference is Abhinav Bindra winning the gold and thanking his parents, and Abhinav Bindra winning the gold, but saying that was never what he wanted to do in life.

until next time, not child’s play