Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Global Warming - Warming up to a New Opportunity

Global warming is throwing up new opportunities. Governments, institutions and agencies worldwide are increasingly thinking of imposing restrictions on non eco-friendly products and services. And placing incentives on those who produce eco-friendly products.

Have the marketers and entrepreneurs risen to this occassion? One may feel that its too early to jump into this bandwagon and that only the rich companies may afford to take such a social view of their business. However, small things, have started giving a clue that eco-friendly products are the next wave across the world.

Suzlon and others have just shown us that Going Green is Good Business. In the coming days, there will be more products and services that will adopt green practices.

The last time I had been to a busy restaurant in the city, I realised the food products sold on bannana leaves are being charged more than the one served on a plastic or steel plate. The customers even recall this as an experience. This phenomenon is not restricted to the food industry alone. It is already being seen in other sectors.

The idea is simple. Customers have latent needs and marketers make it active with new products and services. Urbanisation, pollution, harmful plastic products and the rising health consciousness among the public made the food industry realise the need for having a natural meal on banana leaves. Nothing great about it, just that this latent NEED needs to be recognised.

What follows is a marketing process that gets in place after any innovation is generated. Going green is indeed a new innovation and the developments world over confirm that marketers have a huge wealth to unlock.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Bollywood Stars - Sliced and Served Hot !!

Are Shah Rukh, Aishwarya, Bachhan, Rajkumar and Rajnikanth all symbols of a bygone era? An era where the heroes (and heroines) were worshipped. Where it was a religion and it hurt a lot as much as it pleased?

Going by the number of stars thronging the silver screen and the small screen, it appears to be a case of "the end of mass worship". Well, all public figures do face a natural decline in their popularity. But thats not the point here. The popularity of these personalities is or was too magnetic and unquestionable at some point of time. But with so many people on the screen, there has been what I call a "natural customisation" of these brand personalities.
Some may say Sunny Deol is his favourite actor though he does not remain in the top 3 or 4. The point is this: atleast a few people get the option to choose him as his favourite actor. Thus Sunny Deol has been customised for that market. Same is the case with any other actor or actress. And as we have seen with other markets, customisations tend to create nicher space, each successive piece of which is smaller than the whole of it, atleast to begin with.

If it was Bachan commanding say 90% of the market, then its now probably ( lets assume for the sake of illustration) Bachan 20%, Shahrukh 20%, Hrithik 10%, Abhishek 10%, Amir 15% and others grabbing up the rest. There are still people who are at the top but with lesser market share.

This compounded with the fact that new actors and actresses pour in all the time. With the entry barries being taken out every day, the influx of new actors and actresses is rising. FilmFare Awards was once such a revered one. It still is, but is now sharing the TRPs with Zee Cine Awards, Star Screen Awards, National Awards ( by Govt. of India) with each throwing up its own list of Best Hero, Best Film et al.

Films like Iqbaal did extremely well when the goliaths around it collapsed. The film market is being niched into pieces by the high creativity that is flowing from the non-Mumbai cities and getting enough cash for the partners in the value chain at the same time.

Too many brand personalities vying for the same space makes for a case of a Sliced and Served bollywood industry. There will soon come a situation where we may not have Badshahs and Dream girls of industry. But still there will be Heroes and Heroines. Albeit UNCROWNED !

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Word of Mouth : Lessons from Sony and Google

The first time a walkman was made, the guys at Sony decided to make word-of-mouth the way to propogate the product AB INITIO (right from the beginning !!). A few ladies and guys were asked to plug it in the ear and start jogging in the morning. People around them suddenly discovered a way to engage themselves with music and also disengage with the noise and traffic of the surroundings.

The rest as they say is history. This way of launching can be though argued as quite product specific, it brought an altogether new perspective in the marketing circle. The belief till then was that, word-of-mouth is something that is EARNED over a period of time and cannot be CREATED on purpose. This also described the old approach: the product should be of great quality, the service follow-ups should be prompt enough and all this will eventually lead to favourable opinion about the product/company and this will snowball into word-of-mouth(WOM) resulting in a natural advantage to the company. But Sony displayed (unintentionally I suppose) that WOM can be created right from the beginning and can be used as a unique approach to launch products. Thus a company could create and drive the WOM than being just a passive observer of it. That the product should be competitive enough is something that will remain uncontested though.

Today when I see around, I do not find products or services that have been able to create such WOM ab initio. You have huge hoardings or big budget ads or some other promotions that are just used to have a big-bang launch to create a splash. How much of these turn into sensible WOM that will help the product to break into the market is really questionable. I am yet to notice a powerful WOM induced marketing since the launch of Sony Walkman. The one that came closest and in some ways even crossed the Sony's was Google.

Although internet penetration itself was low at that time, especially in developing countries, the "Search" has been one of the most popular human activity ever. Google encashed it and probably summarised the entire value of Internet. All it did was provide a small bar and say "search". WOM spread out saying you can find anything and everything on the Net and how: just GOOGLE for it.

Came across a product that relied on the WOM induced marketing? Just let me know.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Beginning of the End of Cricket

One may laugh at the very idea of it. Cricket and End? Impossible you may say.

All big ideas, big technology, popular notions were thought to be invincible at one point of time. Cricket as an idea of national engagement also stands at this juncture of history. Its fort is being attacked. People are to a noticeable extent, even if temporarily disengaged with this King of the games.

What I witnessed was no where near to a hype that a world event like World Cup would create. The level of enthusiasm was definitely questionable. Going beyond this happening, its interesting to know why and how we reached at this stage.

Everyone knows, this King of the sports has been ruling the hearts and minds of the people since a long time. The crazy fans, the discussion that happens long after the matches are over, the vividness of the pitch happenings, the rage over failures, the celebration of the victory as if its a personal achievement and all that.

Anything carried to its illogical heights meets the same fate. Is education one reason for this. Or the blessing of sensibility on the people. The slow but sure penetration of Tennis, Hockey and other sports. The myriad number of activities that provide people options of watching and doing things other than cricket or a combination of all this. Some media giants like Zee Sports are investing upto Rs.500 crores to glamourise Football.
The rage and furore that was displayed after India's defeat, soon came under heavy criticism. A strong rumour was also that it was staged by the huge number of Betting gamers who lost huge sums of money. Otherwise, Indians at once seemed to display non-sportiveness. Burning the effigy of the players, attacking their homes and all other non-sense things. Cricket was not a sports any more, it was a religion. And elevation of this sports to a height like that was ridiculous.
People at once were awestruck by their own over-attachment with the game. All this combined with the fact as I mentioned earlier of various options that are now available to the people, one can clearly see the over-hype of the game coming to an end.
This has an important implication for the marketers too. The Time Zone factor of course kept the FMCG giants away from the game this time. But marketers and advertisers are soon realising the virtue of tapping into niche games and activities where the attention of the target audience can be captured in a more coherent way than cricket where it is absolutely diffused unless the spending is big enough to buy huge ad slots. It may sound as a slightly inevitable option for marketers with less budget and it is, as a matter of fact: but these markters will eventually build the alternate sports in India. These sports have the potential to draw niche crowds with interests that are quite varied from a typical cricket fan.
There also needs to be a thorough research on why and how cricket became such a craze not just interms of the hype that was created but also in the nature of the game and the psyche of the people. It is hard to believe that giving the same kind of attention and hype will elevate the lesser mortals ( read football, hockey et al) to the same height as cricket.
CRICKET will never die. It will thrive but without its ugly face. And making many brothers and sisters on the way.
Shall I say, Way to Go !!?!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

BBC Campaign - Localising to Globalise

A recent BBC Cammpaign really caught my eyes hard. Apparently the slightly dark red colour of the BBC Logo catches quite sharply and its hard to resist it. However, the text reads "SEE BOTH SIDES OF THE STORY". It raises several questions. Firstly, about the news market and in particular about the market for International news. At what stage is the market for International news. Is it different for different regions of the world? Is it at the "product promotion" stage, where usually the product is promoted before actually promoting the brand itself.

Looking at the ad it does appear that BBC is taking that view. It assumes that the appetite for International news needs to be increased before taking on the brand positioning. Infact the ad serves well to illustrate the need to watch an International news.

Another trend in the ad is also reflective of the world view of BBC. BBC has finally managed to come out of its U.K. legacy trap and has started localising its communication and also the content to trap each individual region. A perfect example of "GOING GLOBAL AND STAYING LOCALLY RELEVANT".

Monday, March 26, 2007

Metro Rail: The New Urban Luxury !!

Unnecessary investments in cities are driving the cost upwards. All the infrastructural luxuries that are being planned in the cities were actually not necessary if the non-metros had been developed ab initio.

This infact takes us back to the fundamentals of Economics. It was emphasised right from the beginning of the economic planning, that small cities and villages should have good infrastructure. That they should be vibrant economic centers, so cities wont be burdened, so our young India does not flock to the big cities for jobs. Alas, this quintessential economic fundmental was ignored to the point of nausea.

Visit any big city (even outside India) and you will see huge investments being made to tackle traffic congestion, pollution and all the menaces of the city. Whether it is Rs. 6000 crores Metro rail or a simple by-lane for rickshaws on the left side of the road, a sub-way to cross the road or even a simple act of leaving for the office too early to avoid traffic- Govt. and the people are spending their precious time and resources to deal with the increasingly unmanageable city. The same investments would have been directed towards creating a base of industry that is spread across many cities of India.

Infact the diversity of India itself is a great economic strength. The slogan "unity in diversity " is not just a patriotic or secular statement. Nodody has realised that it can even become our economic strength. The diveristy in foods, clothes, climates, tastes, life-styles can become a great marketing tool for starting innumerable services in our country. This could have easily pushed our local economy to support jobs for the youth who then would not have thought of migrating to bigger cities for opportunities.

An indication of real progress in any country is the reverse flow of work force and capital. From congested big cities to cleaner and safer small cities. In India, this has just started to happen. Thanks to the retail boom and the yet to take off agricultural boom. But also thanks to the IT boom which has now connected the whole world, so you can stay in Bangalore or even in Hubli and still produce and distribute the knowledge wealth across the world.

We will surely see more and more companies and individuals moving to smaller cities for all its advantages vis-a-vis a bigger city. What will it do to India and how it will happen is an interesting phenomenon to be watched out for.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Media Moghuls Owe An Apology

The recent coverage of Sanjay Dutt's release in the Television media ignoring the quintessential news of the sacrifice of Major Manish Pitambare at the valley, has created quite an anguish among all the thinking citizens of India. You wonder, if it is the same media which risked its life and went to Kargil to bring home the glorious sacrifice of Indian soldiers and then went to the homes of the widows and raised the issue of thier compensation and brought home the painful truths. Yet, when it is a matter of prioritisation of news, Indian media seems to have suddenly lost the sight. A collective failure of this kind raises anguish among the citizens who feel helpless. Is the media objective enough to review its actions do some "Seedhi Baat" and declare it to all the Indians that it can ill afford to go unpunished?

The whole episode is yet another case in point in the conflict of roles between media and marketing. The marketing role dictates that you catch up with the competitor, show to the world what is rated as hot. But the media role is one of an unbiased and truthful fourth estate. The media cannot sacrifice just because the marketing dictates otherwise. Of late we have seen a lot of such compromises in the media including the print media. The print media is also indulged in elitist journalism, slowly and surely taking away people from the real issues that need the most attention.

The collective conscience of the media needs to be prodded and awakened. The Pranoys, Rajdeeps, Chawlas and Thapars of the media will have to answer the Indian public. I say they even owe an apology. They will only rise in esteem if they do so, that I am sure of.

For the uninitiated, here is the extract of the mail I got that nearly shocked me.

On Tuesday a news swept across all the news channels 'Sanjay Datt relieved by the court'. 'Sirf Munna Not a bhai' '13 saal ka vanvaas khatam' 'alhough found guilty for possession of armory, Sanjay can breath sigh of relief as all the TADA charges against him are withdrawn'. And then many experts like Salman Khan saying 'He is a good person. We knew he will come out clean', Big B 'Datt family and our family have relations for years he's a good kid. He is like elder brother to abhishek'.

His sister Priya Datt 'we can sleep well tonight.it's a great relief' In other news, Parliament was mad at Indian team for performing bad; Greg chapel said something ...; Bomb scare in gorakhpoor express; and Shah Rukh Khan replaces Big B in KBC and Sonia asked PM to consider reducing petroleum prices . But the maximum coverage was given to Sanjay Datt's "phoenix like" comeback from the ashes of terrorist charges. Surfing through the channels, one news on BBC startled me, it read, Hisbul Mujahidin's Most wanted terrorist 'Sohel Faisal' killed in anantnag, India. Indian Major leading the operation lost his life in the process. Four others are injured. It was past midnight, I started visiting the foolish Indian channels, the ones who are 'Sabse TEZ', but Sanjubaba was still ruling. They were telling How Sanjubaba pleaded to the court saying 'I am the sole bread earner for my family' 'I have a daughter who is studying in US who will look after her'. And then they showed how Sanjubaba was not wearing his lucky blue shirt while he was hearing the verdict. Also how he went to every temple and prayed for last some months. A suspect in Mumbai bomb blasts, convicted under armory Act...was being made into a hero. Sure Sanjubaba has a daughter; sure Sanjubaba did not do any terrorist thing as in bombing some place or hijacking an airplane etc.

Possessing an AK47 is considered too elementary in terrorist community and also one who possesses an AK-47 has a right to possess a pistol so that again is not such a big crime; Sure sanjubaba went to all the temples; Sure he did a lot of gandhigiri but then..., people. please read on... Major Manish H Pitambare got the information from his sources about the terrorists' whereabouts. Wasting no time he attacked the camp, killed the Hisbul Mujahidin's supremo and in the process lost his life... to the bullets fired from an AK47. He has a wife and a daughter (just like sanjubaba), age ...18 months. Major Manish never said 'I have a daughter' before he took the decision to attack the terrorist hide out in the darkest of nights! He never thought about his family and his being the bread earner. No news channel covered, they were too busy hyping a former drug addict, an actor in real and reel life, a suspect linked to bomb blasts which killed hundreds. Their aim was to show how he defied the TADA charges and they were so successful that his conviction in possession of armory had no meaning. They also concluded that his parents in heaven must be happy and proud of him. Parents of Major Pitambare are still on this earth and they have to live the rest of their lives without their beloved son. His daughter won't ever see her papa again. Finally, to my generation there is no greater hero than one who laid his life in the name of this great nation.