31 Jan 2010

Nobody. Reads. Copy.

A copywriter may spend hours (yes, a good writer would spend hours crafting copy) chopping, chipping, pruning, and finally buffing away at the last jagged splinters of text to get a gleaming, finely polished 25-word gem of copy that no one reads.

Frankly, there's just too much written word coming at us in a day. We just can't be expected to read everything!

People surf. They browse. They don't read - superb layouts and typographical genius notwithstanding.

So what is the secret to survival (for writers at least) in the Era of the Superficial Scan? What distinguishes reader-worthy copy from daily drivel?

In Advertising, we have something called the 'consumer benefit' - or the 'what's-in-it-for-me'! But with virtually every medium saturated with ubiquitous, screaming (and often misleading) '50% OFFs', 'FREEs' and their ilk, both written and visual communication can easily miss the bullseye and hit a blindspot. What we need is a secret weapon!

I call it 'The Eye Trap'.

It's a steely hook, a razor-sharp barb that jabs and holds the scanning eye. You can almost hear 'The Eye Trap' snap shut a split-second before the victim reaches out for a 500-page self-help title in a bookstore. And when it's sticking out menacingly in the headline on a 24-page tabloid, it inevitably - rrip! - snags a passing eyeball.

It can take many forms.

Sometimes, it's a word:
- Scandal
- Controversy
- Rape
- Liar
- F***k, etc.

And at other times, it is a phrase as familiar as:
- 10 Ways To __________
- The Secret Of __________
- How To __________
- 3 Warning Signs __________
- 5 Reason Why __________

And sometimes it's as innocuous as an ironic title in a blog post.

25 Jan 2010

The future's in the palm of your hand

Literally too.

The following presentation is a 104-page long assertion (with a 12-page disclaimer!) by Morgan Stanley on how internet usage is migrating from desktops to mobile devices.

I don't agree with everything they say. But the writing is on the wall is fairly legible: The future is mobile internet. And advertising's role in it is... well, changing.

The slide on desktop internet revenues:

The slide on mobile internet revenues:

And for those with patience, here's the whole shindig:

With the domain evolving at the pace it is, I really can't say if the NEXT BIG THING is an app, a platform or a device. Or a combo. But I do believe it will be more local (geographic saliency). It will probably be mCommerce-centric (remember, payments can now be made through a mobile without a credit/debit card!).

And it'll probably catch a lot of us 'internet savvy' advertising professional completely unawares!

There may be a way out... but we'll have to give up our self-destructive mania for being medium specific. But I think that thought deserves a post all it's own.

23 Jan 2010

'Ctrl Z' in real life

Tell me about it!

I had overstretched myself for more than a week on an ambitious project. Everything was chugging along fine too - till someone spotted a silly mistake on the morning of the presentation! A mistake that could potentially put paid to several days of hard work by a dozen people. A mistake that perhaps I could have prevented if was a little more observant.

I sat there with my heart in my throat, fractically calling my editor, and praying that it be set right in time... I mean going down in a blaze of glory is one thing. But over a 'spello'? Eew!

It was touch and go. But we made it. Just.


MY HEROES OF THE DAY: Waleed and Subhash for spotting the goof-up; Saif for pulling 24 hours straight without a wink and then dragging himself back from bed to the editing studio, Fahad for driving over 15km to-and-fro 4 times - Oh, and God for everything else!

(Hope we get this. Insha-allah.)

21 Jan 2010

Google gobbles!

A 2009 ranking of the most valuable sporting properties by SportsPro Magazine (published by the Henley Media Group) placed the National Football League (NFL) as the world's most valuable sports property at $4.5 billion.

Remember Apple's '1984' commercial aired once - just once - on NFL Superbowl.

The NFL is followed by Major League Baseball at $3.9 billion, National Basketball Association (NBA) at $3.35 billion, and Nascar at $1.9 billion. All from the US of A.

At No.5 comes the Indian Premier League (IPL) at $1.6 billion. After a mere two years of existence, it may be recalled that IPLs' 2nd edition resuscitated the Indian Ad industry (and its economy, to some extend) during a rough year.

Well, the 3rd edition of Indian Premier League (IPL) will be streamed live (ok, 5 minutes after TV) on www.youtube.com/ipl.

Google has bought the online rights for IPL content for the next two years. It'll share sponsorship and advertising revenues with IPL.

Um... does anyone else hear a 'search engine' revving?

20 Jan 2010

Is being stupid, thinking different?

Diesel's new 'Be Stupid' campaign brings to mind Apple's 'Think Different' campaign. After all, both are in open defiance of conventional thinking.

Apple's campaign, in the 80s, followed the fashion of the age and relied on hindsight to make its point. Diesel follows the present day assumption that - well, everybody's got some talent (at least enough to get them on reality TV)!

Let's see the ads again...

First up, Apple usurping Gandhi's ideals.

And then, Diesel exhorting us to turn into imbeciles.

So is the thinking different? Or am I just stupid?

19 Jan 2010

Does your name embarrass you?

Frankly, mine did. Till I gained the maturity to realise that the really important thing is what that name stands for, not how it's spelt or pronounced (or in my case, mispronounced). I thought: Bonaparte. Dickens. Pele. Tata. FAG (don't snigger, google "Schaeffler Group").

Perhaps, I was wrong.

The venerable South India-based 'Dhanalakshmi Bank' has changed it's name to a more contemporary, 'Dhanlaxmi Bank' in a bid to appeal to the youth! (http://www.afaqs.com/perl/news/story.html?sid=26018)

Apparently, name-sensitivity among the youth is ubiquitous and universal.

In another nomenclature-based attempt by a financial institution to reach out to the youth, the trillion-dollar 'Charles Schwab Corporation' in the US informs us that it would henceforth, prefer to be addressed simply, as 'Chuck'. (http://dognpony.wordpress.com/2010/01/06/ohmygod-like-chuck-is-sooooo-rad/)

My question to these cool, hip, and obviously with-it, financiers is only this: If an average 18-25yr old were to come by $100, would he/she be more likely to: a.) invest, or b.) buy an iPhone?

Take your time.

But what I really like about Dnlxmi Bnk's (honestly, isn't this more 'in'?) new identity is it's all-encompassing functionality. Supposedly, the new identity "exudes a modern, vibrant and contemporary look while retaining the core values of trust and heritage built by the bank over its long history".

No, it's not over... "The new identity reflects the Bank’s growth aspirations in the context of evolving demographics of the young India. Retaining the brands core strengths and values, the new identity is aligned to attitudinal position of today’s youth - modern yet rooted in tradition”.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you create an identity for yourself. By being indistinguishable.

But seriously, is there an all-pervasive software that writes 'new brand identity' PRs?

17 Jan 2010

What if you don't need an Ad Agency to do Advertising?

There is something wrong with advertising today.


I think the problem is three-fold:
1. Marketing exercises tend to be media-specific
2. There is a plethora of media available today
3. It is unviable for an Ad Agency to retain experts in every domain

As a result, the overall thought-process tends to get funnelled toward the familiar, the conventional. Leaving numerous possibilities unexplored - and leaving everyone involved rather suspicious of each other's capability, commitment and interest!

Could there be a better way? I'll hazard a wild swing at this...

Suppose - just suppose - there was a lean, result-focussed, media-neutral Agency+Brand team constituted solely to identify strategic opportunities. The alliance is exclusive and closed-ended. There is no scope for a conflict of interest here.

And now suppose there is a loose, open-ended federation of execution experts wedded to no client - freelancers, if you will - who are commissioned based on skill (or available budget) to draw-up, co-ordinate and execute the various media facets of a campaign.

In short... What if you don't need a traditional, and usually awkwardly, joined-at-the-hip Strategy and Creative team to do Advertising?

What if, eh?

13 Jan 2010

Would you pay a hairstylist, and then cut your own hair?

The retainership fee seems to bestow upon some marketers the right to demand absurdity. By innumerable iterations and dissections-by-committee, clients get quantity, not quality. When the agency is forced to shift focus from 'effectiveness' to 'approval', the client gets the equivalent of a DIY haircut.

Can there be a more equitable model - where the agency is better involved in helping the client turn a profit?

12 Jan 2010

Social Media & Survival Instinct

Brands and businesses are increasingly stepping on to the Social Media platform. And it is probably a step in the right direction as I had mentioned in an earlier post.

But despite an ever-increasing number of people using Social platforms, successful use of Social Media for marketing or advertising have been largely flashes in the pan. Then why is there an almost inexorable push towards it? Why is there an overwhelming urge to (re)engage with society?

Could it be plain survival instinct?

Perhaps the realisation that to be of any consequence, businesses need to prove that there is creativity and humanity - not just cold profiteering - within the walls of the corporate world.

Or perhaps the realisation that to affect any form of loyalty, brands need to actually listen and deliver what consumers want.

Given such strong possibilities, any Social Media campaign created to follow a trend is probably going to disappoint. And any campaign created to deceive the audience is going to boomerang. Big time.

Why should we believe Domino's now if they were lying before?

It's exactly what Stephen Colbert implies on Comedy Central about their Domino's 'Pizza Turnaround' ad.


Personally, I actually liked Domino's more than most other pizzas. I thought their Cheese-filled crusts were awesome! (Maybe they use better ingredients in India?) I can't quite put my finger on it, but the new ad somehow made me feel quite daft for it!

I am sure the agency and brand management guys had the right intention... But then again, I have a nagging doubt that if any of them continually chose Domino's Pizza over competitive brands (like I did), they'd have an idea of what I feel like right now.

All of it sort of brings us back to what Ogilvy once said about always using (and believing in) the products he helped sell. If we don't believe in it, nothing we do (slick commercial included) will persuade a viewer to.

The customer isn't a moron...

9 Jan 2010

Corporate Information: Process vs. Performance

The other day at my usual watering-hole, I overheard a group of obviously senior executives attribute (quite vociferously) the dismal performance of their organisation to the lack of motivation and initiative among subordinates. An all-too-familiar litany of woes followed. And I ordered another beer just to hear how they'd tackle it.

After as much deliberation as possible over one beer, they arrived at the conclusion that one of the thing that was wrong was the apparently free flow of confidential information within the organisation - which on occasions even helped wrong-doers evade detection! (Irony, meawhile was enjoying a second beer!)

The solution that presented itself was a series of processes to firstly arrest the flow of information. And secondly use that cover to strike out at errant behaviour. And it should start, they decided, right at the bottom. Not of the problem - but of the company!

I finished the beer and left.

They had a problem. Sure. But I wasn't so sure if they had a solution. To be sure, neither did I. But I did have another line-of-thought...

Earlier that evening an old acquaintance appraised me about the unfortunate goings-on at one of the most respected Advertising offices in India. Apparently, new HR processes brought in by the Management had rubbed the oldest members (and hitherto virtually family members) the wrong way. Why? Evidently, there was a lack of information on how the new processes would help the organisation - or impact employees. The effect was a drop in motivation and morale. A formidable, tightly-knit unit had begun to reveal treacherous chinks.

So here are two instances where - in one case, the abundance of unselective information was a problem; and in another, the lack of selective information caused much the same. So what does one do with information in an organisation?

Or perhaps the right question would be: HOW DOES ONE USE INFORMATION TO MOTIVATE?

Let's looks at the 'information' in the first instance. Confidential information. It has one source: The top end of the organisational heirarchy. And its casual availability points to one cause: Unaccountability. Transmitted down-the-line, it breeds inefficiency, dishonesty, hearsay and lethargy. Everyone knows exactly how much tardiness they can get away with. Welcome to The Comfort Zone (a.k.a The Rut).

In this condition, even the slightest spark of initiative is smothered as a threat to the Status Quo!

In the second instance, the 'information' that was lacking was a shared or common goal. The new HR processes unexpectedly cleaved a chasm between the decision-makers and people who (perhaps, rightly) considered themselves part of the decision-making apparatus until that very moment... It was a rude awakening to the status of an (expendable) 'human resource'!

When times are difficult, businesses would do well to demand more accountabilty up-the-line (because that's where it's supposed to originate); and promote more 'shared goals' and initiative down-the-line (because that's where it's most needed).

6 Jan 2010

Why should this matter to people in Advertising?

This is a post about 'Google’s biggest threat for 2010'.

Sorry. Couldn't put it better...

But why should it matter? Because Google is the world's largest ad agency!

And in a way they are pushing for the final frontier of advertising: Messaging to a Target Individual!

Folks, meet Big Brother...

Big Brother already knows you!

4 Jan 2010

Psst, who's the new guy in the room?

He's the Consumer. And, er, we're in his bedroom!


A long time ago, Advertising talked to individuals.

These were folk you'd see at the busstop; haggling with the storekeeper; alternately sending kids off to school and yelling at them; and sometimes preparing breakfast in the kitchen.

But they were different people. All of them. About the only thing they had in common was that they were likely to buy what we were Advertising!


Perhaps to fit in with our obession for mass media, we took to creating ads for a faceless, generic statistic called the Target Group (TG).

Once the human element vanished, with it naturally, went empathy.

The Consumer didn't much care for Advertising anyway. He doesn't perceive, let alone relate to, most of it! Irrelevance now made it easier to ignore - like the noise on a busy street. Then we raised the decible level. And promptly became annoying too!

Now, with Social Media, we're climbing in through the Consumer's bedroom windows. Literally.

It's time we dropped our obsession with the medium, introduced ourselves, and got to know him personally.

Or this could get ugly!

3 Jan 2010

Cynicism and Advertising

First, it was the audience.

Then, it was the client.

Now I fear, it is the Advertising professional!

Increasingly, I see talented people in advertising wracked with self-doubt; questioning the power and very relevance of their work. Of course, there are many factors to blame. But biggest one is within.

We must first be convinced of the merit of our work. Because our creation will only carry as much conviction as the creator!

Cynicism won't wreck Advertising. (There is just too much passion in this industry.) But it will be the cause of bad advertising. And that will eventually wreck the cynic.

What is the marketing problem that Social Media solves?

Ok, for a moment, let's assume that the Advertising landscape has indeed changed. And that Social Media is the future of Advertising (or the most significant component in it).

Let's look at what Social Media brings to the table: Feedback. Engagement. Conversation.

But are these really new concepts? No.

Every ad, direct mailer, biscuit packet, credit card, delivery truck, and website comes with contact details. Tollfree numbers. Call centres. Email ids... Opportunities for engagement. (But we know how that panned out!)

So what's different about Social Media? What's the problem that Social Media solves that traditional advertising can't?

Could it be that in a Social Media environment, brands are actually compelled to be more open and sincere? Is the urge to belong (in communities) making brands act more responsibly - and be more responsive? And since out-sourcing and automated replies won't do, is it forcing brands to act more - well, human?

Brands were created by people. They represented communities. Then they grew. And they grew. They became multinational (belonging to many communities). Then transnational (belonging to no communitiy in particular). They merged. They integrated forward and backward. They standardised and they outsourced, till all that was left was a mere logo. And brands became intangible, uncaring instruments for profit-making.

If this is the problem Social Media is addressing. Then, it's a good start. But only a start.