30 Sep 2010

A re-think on leadership

Devdutt Pattanaik is a mythologist and illustrator. He is also Chief Belief Officer at Kishore Biyani's Future Group! Yeah sure... That was my reaction at first too. But Devdutt makes some extremely compelling arguments as to how the wisdom inherent in Indian mythological stories and their symbolisms are relevant even today. He has done an interesting TED Talk video on the theme as well.

The following video is from the programme, Business Sutra, on CNBC TV18. (Thanks a ton to my colleague, Shankar, for introducing me to it.)

In this segment Devdutt defines leadership as an evolving role. To demonstrate, he considers four avatars of Vishnu (the most revered of the Hindu Trinity) who appear in four different Yugas (ages or contexts). He then juxtaposes the actions of each avatar with four broad stages of leadership as the organisation and the individual matures. Devdutt's interpretation is that there is no fixed 'correct rules or style' for leadership.

I agree, one hundred percent. True leaders must evolve themselves - or risk stifling instead of enabling their team's success.

Stage One: The Disciplinarian (The avatar is Parasuram)
Stage Two: The Role Model (The avatar is Ram)
Stage Three: The Coach (The avatar is Krishna)
Stage Four: The Mentor (The avatar is Buddha or Kalki, the former representing renunciation of active duty, and the latter representing active liquidation of that which is being led)

If you own a 'How to' book on leadership, this may be a good time to gift it to a rival at the office.

24 Sep 2010

Katy Perry with Elmo scene censored on Sesame Street

The producers of 'Sesame Street' have decided to pull a song featuring popstar, Katy Perry and Sesame Street hunk, Elmo, from the broadcast version of its programme. Apparently, Perry's outfit wasn't 'appropriate' in a show for preschool kids!

Judging by the video, the most inappropriate thing about the episode is that adults seem to be judging kids by their own filthy standards.

By the way, one guy's not complaining. Elmo, you lucky fur-ball, you...

22 Sep 2010


It's not your beautiful-caucasian-girl-tanning-on-the-beach type tourism film, I guess, because Kerala is not your beautiful-caucasian-girl-tanning-on-the-beach type destination.

I think this film is in the code of the initiated. It is a surreal invitation to those who know the unbelievable magic of the place.

No, I'm not biased... Only God could come up such a mind-warping contradiction as Kerala.

19 Sep 2010

Made in China, at what cost?

Economic success stories are usually based on availability of low-cost resources. Sadly, human or otherwise, resources are meant to be used.

Johann Hari, the guest in the above video, is a journalist who writes for the Independent, Huffington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Le Monde among others. He writes a blog as well.

6 Sep 2010

Is good advertising relevant anymore?

Good Advertising, beyond getting an audience to physically buy a brand, also builds an intangible asset called 'Brand Equity'. This isn't accomplished in one fell swoop. (No, not even with a Cannes Gold creative.) It takes time - like it invariably does when trying to get someone to trust what you say (i.e. your advertisements). It takes months, and sometimes years of being consistent and believable.

In effect, good Advertising also helps build 'goodwill' among customers and employees. And for their part, people leading the brand - and I say people, because a 'brand' is just as intangible a thing as 'goodwill' - should aim to sustain the brand's equity in the way they deal with customers and employees.

Sadly, what actually happens is quite different. From Advertising to Customer Service to Employee Satisfaction - individual perceptions are funnelled into focus groups, surveys, statistics and pseudo-science. The result is a soulless set of numbers that can be interpreted anyway one wants!

If the Advertising industry is struggling to find its feet in recent years, it may have something to do with the increasingly cold, impersonal and insensitive - almost borg-like - character that is creeping into the corporate world of today.

They may be staffed by the nicest, warmest people - but the corporate environment often negates it. And the larger the corporate entity, the stronger the drive to 'standardise' itself through cold clinical 'processes'.

The seemingly benign jargon-ridden corporate-speak is having a unfortunate consequence. Some CEOs are turning to hard statistics to boost short-term profits. One of the simplest physical and psychological tools, is laying-off employees. And saddest aspect is that those resorting to shortcuts are not just being rewarded for it, they are being rewarded handsomely.

According to a report on CEOs' pay by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, the 50 highest-paid CEOs are also the ones that have laid off the largest number of workers since the onset of the current economic crisis. They took home on average 42 percent more pay in 2009 than their peers at S&P 500 firms.

This is nothing short of incentivising the erosion of a brand's equity... And contrary to the very raison d'etre of good Advertising.

2 Sep 2010

What every Advertising professional ought to know

With the on-going fascination of the world (ok, some parts of the world) with Mad Men TV series, I think Advertising may regain some of it's Glamour Quotient.

But for all we know, the new-found GQ will attract a whole new breed of airheads sporting suspenders and chewing a pipe. In my opinion, the real genius in Advertising - especially in Creative - usually enters its portals by accident!

More often than not, they come with a background rich in life experience - not hours in a classroom pouring over theories and case studies. One theory rarely fits more than one brand in Advertising. That's the fun of this business: The opportunity to continuously learn and re-invent what we think we know.

Advertising this Century has not been static. It may seem that Ads were all done a particular way during a particular time period, say before the 90s. But it has actually been changing constantly. And sometimes profoundly.

I found two wonderfully informative articles on the subject by two accomplished gentlement. And I'd like to share them.

1.) How Advertising has been changing in the latter-half of this Century (please click)

This article is by Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (the trade association for interactive marketing in the U.S). He was earlier, Senior Director of Intellectual Capital at Booz Allen Hamilton.

He had spent six years at The New York Times, as the technology editor and politics editor of the Sunday magazine, the daily advertising columnist, and a media and marketing reporter. And for 10 years prior to that, he was a marketing and media columnist for Advertising Age.

His blog is a treasure trove of insights.

2.) How changes in Advertising has mirrored, and sometimes instigated, profound changes in society and its mores (please click)

This article is by Adam Curtis, a documentary film maker, whose work includes The Power of Nightmares, The Century of the Self, The Mayfair Set, Pandora's Box, The Trap and The Living Dead.

I found Curtis' documentaries - especially 'The Century of the Self' to be extremely enlightening. It has clarified and changed much of my world-view. Yes, it's that good!

Adam Curtis has a very interesting and insightful blog as well.