Monthly Archives: February 2014

Brand, Journalism, Marketing

A few months ago, in The Future Of Owned Media and Can media become social enough?, I’d written about a marketplace model that would connect journalists and ‘buyers’. More recently, I saw an article about Contently raising a round of funding to work on its stated objective – connect freelance journalists and writers with nontraditional publishers, such as brands, agencies, nonprofits, and new media companies. These organizations use Contently’s technology to commission projects, such as sponsored articles, infographics, and blog posts.

Like I’ve tweeted before, journalism is definitely in need of a business model. Media (with advertising) is arguably not the best bet now, because of various reasons. Digital has allowed brands to create their own media platforms (blogs, websites) and social has enabled them to (at least) broadcast it themselves, without a dependency on traditional media. Frank Strong, in a post titled ‘Why Content Marketing is the new Branding‘, rightly states that content is currency. It not only builds perception, but enables us to transact with consumers, keep a conversation going, and at some point, achieve a certain business outcome.

However, except for campaigns, marketing collateral etc, brands have never really required/produced ‘content’ on a regular basis, and thus they are not wired for it. But content marketing obviously requires sustainable quality content, and that’s where brand journalism can play a part. I’d come across the term ‘brand journalism’ first on this post in early 2013 – ‘The Role of Brand Journalism in Content Marketing‘ – where it is defined as “research, storytelling and reporting for a non-media company, in that company’s line of business, with the goal of thought leadership.” (Erica Swallow) There’s a media vs non-media debate in the post, but my little tiff with the definition is that ‘thought leadership’ is rather limiting. There might be other business objectives/outcomes. Unless we’re talking of a leadership among the consumer’s thoughts. (share of mind)

Meanwhile, in addition to a structured way like Contently, I can see brands already doing other forms of brand journalism. (used loosely) I’d classify blogger outreach, guest Twitterers, all under this, because the brand is using a content creator’s contextual reputation to enhance its own standing. The latest example I saw was quite fantastic – teen retailer Wet Seal ‘handing over’ its Snapchat account to MissMeghanMakeup (aged 16) who has quite a social following on various platforms. (via) To note that this is not Miss Meghan’s only client!

I can paint a rather utopian win-win-win picture with this – brands with a purpose that has a social-societal perspective, journalists, who have created trust and a reputation of their own, who can identify with the brand’s purpose and who can write honestly (with disclosure) and consumers, who get to know more about the brands they align with through superb narratives created by these journalists. (among other storytellers) But I’d be surprised if it pans out this way anytime soon.

It will have its challenges, but most of it is when we try to fit this method into the ‘containers of the past’. Its potential to succeed is because it offers much for all stakeholders. Journalists will have the option to be authentic in their writing, and give full disclosure because they’re not tied to the (traditional) media aspect. (newspapers/channels with their own business interests) Brands can be transparent about who has been commissioned to produce their content, and can use paid, owned media to promote it. Consumers get an interesting mix of narrators. It is a shift because the players (Brand, PR, journalists, media platforms) and/or their roles (production, distribution) will transform, but I do think brand journalism (a type of content) + marketing stands a chance.

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until next time, to better brand stories

The Betelnut Killers

Manisha Lakhe

The story of a typical mild mannered Gujarati businessman in Oregon – henpecked, confused about how his two children were growing up in America and focused on growing his business, only distracted by the thought of his first love whom he had to give up. Chimanbhai Shah’s life turns nasty when his business plans are dealt almost a death blow by Supriya, who opens a shop very near to his and lures his customers away. The rest of the book is about the plan that Chimanbhai, along with his wife Radhika, and children Maya and Suraj, hatches to get rid of Supriya. They are also helped by Neeraj, a distant relative.

An ad for ‘betel nut workers’ (supari) backfires when the Employment office gives them a duo – Dean and Elmore, whose only skills are small time crimes. They decide to call in a supari killer from Mumbai – Osmanbhai, to literally finish off the competition. Osmanbhai’s activities to get a US visa at any cost is a sub plot.

It’s dark humour all the way, and the plot is tight enough to hold your attention, though you do know how it’s all going to end, because the narrative is in flashback mode. The book won’t change your life, but the author manages to capture the existential crises of a Gujarati family in the US well. It’s a breezy, light read, probably just right for a flight.

A measure of helplessness

A while back, I’d seen a Malayalam movie titled Pigman. Not really a typical movie by any standards, and that explains the poor performance at the box office. It is the story of a young man whose life pretty much becomes an abyss. (spoiler) The movie starts with him pursuing a doctorate in linguistics but failing to get it because of his research guide, who is miffed at him rejecting her advances. He sees no point in continuing and thanks to his family’s dire financial circumstances, is forced to take a job. He gets a clerical job at a pig farm courtesy a friend. A series of altercations with the corrupt management gets him demoted to the lowest job in the system – that of a pigman. He continues his protestations and the movie ends with him losing his mental faculties after being given electric shocks.

It is a depressing story, and one can really feel his helplessness as his life spirals downwards degree by degree. In fact, the entire theme of the movie is failures in life, and it is as though, the intent is to drive home the point that some lives are meant to be lived in a continued state of helplessness.

I think we have all felt helpless at some points in time, in varying degrees. Helpless in traffic (probably tactical helplessness, for the lack of a better word) at one end to probably the other extreme of watching a loved one die and not being able to do anything to prevent it or alleviate the suffering. I couldn’t help but compare it against what I’d call (again for the lack of a better word) chronic helplessness -a life consistently going down in quality (defined in this context as standard of living) – like the life of Pigman’s protagonist. In turn, I also couldn’t help but compare this to someone who has never had a decent standard of life. I wondered whether, among the last two, the last was better – if one hadn’t really experienced a higher standard of living, one wouldn’t know what one was missing, and therefore the suffering would be lesser than someone who had experienced it earlier, but could no longer do so because of circumstances.

And that is the really enigmatic thing about this business of living – there is no objective measure of mental anguish. If there were, probably we’d be better at helping those less fortunate than us. That would at least be a step up from feeling helpless at the injustice of it all. Help more, to feel less helpless. Sounds like a plan?

until next time,

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Lan Thai

Lan Thai has been widely regarded as a sort of hidden gem, and for some reason, had been appearing on my various timelines for a while now. It had been a long while since we’d been to Brigade Road – there actually aren’t many reasons for us to do so – but since I had books to sell at Blossoms and since D and I don’t need a lot of encouragement to make trips for the soul (yes, by design) purpose of eating, we decided to drop in at the 5th Avenue mall, where this little place is located. It’s in what can be called the atrium space of the mall – open – and shares its premises with a juice shop. The seating is functional, and we managed to find a little corner.

We had to rebuff the advances of the juice shop guys and wait a while before we got the menu. There’s also an extra seafood menu, but we had already more or less figured out what we wanted to eat from the main menu and didn’t think there would be any space left! We ordered everything together because a) we would then have to eat it even if we were reasonably stuffed (we’re strange like that) and b) some main course items seemed suspiciously similar to starters!

The bubble milk tea arrived first, ice blended and a tad less sweeter than we expected, but still good enough. It reminded us of the Cendol we had during our Bali visit, but that is probably an unfair comparison because it had coconut milk and palm sugar and was in a class by itself! The Chicken in Coconut Milk and Galangal came next and though on the thinner side was fantastic in terms of flavours! No stinginess in terms of ingredients and reasonably spicy as well. The other soup we tried – noodle with chicken – is probably the only dish we’d avoid. It had a vaguely cloying (though mild) sweetness and not many other flavours. We took the help of all the sauces available on the table to modify its taste! Those bowls are big, by the way, and almost a meal in themselves!

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The Spicy Minced Beef Salad had chilli flakes in it but wasn’t really spicy. (probably by our standards) That, of course, does not mean that it wasn’t tasty, and the meat was well cooked except for a couple of pieces that I got. The Pad Thai was the last to arrive, and despite what I thought was a mild overdose of bean sprouts, was absolutely awesome. We really didn’t have the space, but asked for desserts anyway. Unfortunately, there weren’t any! :(

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All of the above cost us Rs,1200. I don’t think they accept credit cards though. The service is friendly though they do take a while to get to you. Thankfully the delivery of the food is really prompt. We probably will drop in again when we have a Thai food craving.

Lan Thai, 5th Avenue Mall, Ground Floor, Brigade Road

@ #WIN14

BlogAdda and I go a long way back, practically to around the time they were born, and when I was asked to be a speaker at #WIN14, there really was no question of not going. The icing on the cake was being a part of this excellent list of speakers!

My favourite talk of the day was delivered by one Kavi Arasu, who, first virtually and then really, has become a very good friend. As I tweeted

Meanwhile, I was part of a session whose subject was ‘Influence of Blogging’ and my fellow speakers were Lakshmipathy Bhat and Anaggh! The areas I tried to cover in 15 minutes were the changing nature of influence, its effect on brands, how blogs can help in that context and how bloggers can create a market for themselves.  (does that explain the breathlessness? 😀 ) Do take a look and let me know your feedback.

Shekhar Kapur made his presence felt in the second half by being his usual articulate self. His analogy of crests and troughs, and tsunamis, to explain media cycles, time, and social was just fantastic. He had the audience spellbound, and deservedly so.

It was wonderful to meet people,  some of whom I knew online, but had never met – Anaggh, Maneesh, Kalyan, Ankita, Rakesh, and others whom I got acquainted with at the event   – Ravi Subramaniam, Ashwin Mushran, (what a fantastic compering role he played!) Anuradha Goyal, Amit Agarwal, Sampath Iyengar and Anil P.

A big thanks to BlogAdda for putting together a great event (photos) and having me over, and to Courtyard by Marriott, who were great hosts!

An Ordinary Person’s Guide To Empire

Arundhati Roy 

Arundhati Roy continues right from where she left off (actually she never has) in The Algebra of Infinite Justice. This time, contexts and facts get repeated in essays, and that might put you off, but that should not take away from the messages.

An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, published in 2004, a couple of years after the other book, consists of 14 articles written between June 2002 and November 2004. The theme of the book is the working of the Empire, not the traditional imperial one built on a smattering of trade and an all powerful military, but the more modern, relatively more subtle one with many simultaneous strategies – ‘neoliberal capitalism’ aided by the IMF, World Bank etc, corporate globalization spearheaded by multinational corporations, and finally a healthy dose of good old state sponsored military might. As Roy writes, add oil and mix. Not to forget the media that makes the entire effort come out smelling of roses. “In this era of crisis reportage, if you don’t have a crisis to call your own, you’re not in the news. And if you’re not in the news, you don’t exist. It’s as though the virtual world constructed in the media has become more real than the real world.”

A lot of the conversation is around Iraq, where the latest version of the above drama is being played out, but in many essays there are historical references of how the US has honed its ‘process’ through various wars it has fought. Creating, funding and then making a huge hue and cry over eliminating armies/heads of state who step out of line. Saddam being the latest. A series of acts that had spawned and now fuels a global threat – terrorism. Two opposing camps feeding off each other. “Al Qaida vs Al Fayda”.

But the story is global, from the police in Kerala displaying the tribals’ bows and arrows as dangerous ammunition to encounter killings from Mumbai to Kashmir to Andhra Pradesh and indiscriminate and illegal uses of POTA to state sponsored terrorism in Gujarat and hunting down Maoists in Jharkand. The story is also of how democracy is just a process of ‘cyclical manipulation” We really have no choice.

It gets scary when she writes how “Modern democracies have been around for long enough\ for neo-liberal capitalists to learn how to subvert them. They have mastered the technique of infiltrating the instruments of democracy-the “independent” judiciary, the “free” press, the parliament-and moulding them to their purpose. The project of corporate globalization has cracked the code. Free elections, a free press, and an independent judiciary mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities available on sale to the highest bidder.”

And somewhere in all this, is the thread of the slow attrition of the concept of justice, especially for the poor and the powerless. “… for most people in the world, peace is war – a daily battle against hunger, thirst, and the violation of their dignity.” The saddest one is about the man in Hasud, a town that was supposed to be ‘relocated’ entirely, courtesy a dam. The man was given a cheque of Rs.25000 as compensation for demolishing his hut. Thrice he went to the town in a bus to cash it. Then his money ran out, and he walked, miles and miles, on his wooden leg. “The bank sent him away and asked him to come after three days.”

Roy has her critics, and she might have many faults, but it is when she brings out such incidents that I feel she is doing justice to the written word and her skill with it. For this reason, do take time to read it.

The path to immortality

I’d written earlier on how brands could use an individual’s data (the personal API) to fit themselves into his/her narrative and had used Nike as an example.  But this data could also be used by fitness and health companies to discover ‘fault lines’, gradually delay wear and tear, and one day, totally prevent a machine shutdown. This video – A Day in the life of Tim Ferriss (watch for a minute from 3:25) – gave me an idea of how we might be moving faster in that direction because of  data collection.

Back in 2011, in ‘God in the details‘, I’d opined that over a period of time, when our data capture capabilities were evolved enough, and we had a lot of data on people on a lot of their behaviour, consumption etc, we would potentially be able to answer the most profound questions about our existence, purpose etc, and unlock further dimensions. I was extremely happy to read the same thought in this (long, but) amazing read called ‘Navigating Stuckness‘. “I could sit safely at my desk and write computer programs to gather vast amounts of Internet data, which I thought could finally answer timeless questions like “what is love?” and “what is faith?” with precision and clarity.

On one hand, data could help us in our path to immortality, and on the other, it could provide us the answers to fundamental existential questions. I wonder what would happen first, because, as I wrote in PhilosoRapture, I also wonder if those questions would remain relevant once we became immortal.

Meanwhile, the other track to immortality that is rapidly developing is that of the augmented human, where human parts (including the brain) will be replaced by mechanical replicas. We’re only a part of evolution, as this wonderful, humbling video would show, and it is probably only our ego that makes us believe (if we do) that we’re the endpoint. Maybe, there will be a species later, of whom we’d be probably be creators, for whom our questions will seem irrelevant and who will have their own sets of answers to seek.

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(quote via, image via)

So it would seem that whichever way we approach immortality, by the time we get there, chances are, it may not be that significant.

The year we conquer morality, by the way, is 2040, as per Ray Kurzweil. I’ll be 62 then, or maybe not, or maybe it won’t matter, or maybe…  :)

until next time, live long and proper :)

Kanua

Kanua has been on our radar for a long while now, and D had loudly voiced her protests when I finally managed a visit with my office friends crowd. So, on a weekend when she had a craving for seafood, this automatically became our destination. Kanua is easy to miss if you do not know exactly where it exists. This map is accurate, but since the restaurant is on the top floor, it is not easily visible from the road. Parking is usually not a problem.

The decor has lots of elements that collectively give a feel that you’re at a traditional coastal residence. We chose a small two-seater that also gave us a good view of distant lights. The overall ambiance is fantastic and they have Karunesh and the likes playing at a moderate volume so you can have a conversation and listen to some soothing music as well. It’s probably because of the distance from the main road that at some points you can feel a silence, notwithstanding noisy kids. :)

We began with the Paanak, which was the most unique (non alcoholic) drink we saw on the menu. I think they serve wine – have had that on my last trip – though we were not given a menu. A herbal cooler – sweet, sour and spicy is what was promised, and the ginger based drink delivered on everything except sour. From the starters section, we asked for the Zalke Naked Masala – the Anjal (seer) version. The spicy masala was finger lickin’ good as promised.

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It was around this time that we figured out that the stamps on the menu weren’t for decoration! Duh! Also a good time to note that the menu is a fantastic job in terms of presentation. We were a little spoiled for choice, but decided to try out a Zalke Randhei and a Gawnche Chicken Curry with Oondies and Paanpole to go with them. The first is a fish curry with a red coconut based gravy, but it wasn’t thick as promised and I got an overdose of what I thought was turmeric, but it could have been saffron as well. D thinks it was mustard! We preferred the chicken dish with its ground peanut – based thick gravy! The Oondies – six in a plate – (seasoned steamed rice dumplings) were fantastic, and so were the exactly-right-moist and soft paanpoles. We also wanted to try the Khotto but they weren’t available. So we turned out to the dependable sannas and thankfully they were great too – fluffy and soft and a perfect combo with the chicken curry. Dessert was chosen after grueling rounds of elimination. The Raagi Manni was a raagi based version of a souffle and reminded us of the ada pradhaman Kerala payasam.  I’ve had the chocolate mousse earlier, and it is fantastic.

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All of the above came to just less than Rs.2000. I really love the serene ambiance, and since the menu offers scope for more experimentation, we’ll definitely be back.

Kanua, No.1,Survey No.6/2,Kasavanhalli, (off) Sarjapur Main Road. Ph: 65374471/2