Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Worst Time to Be a Kid in India

Dear Kids,

There was a simpler time for parents and kids in India, when a fond ritual was followed every day. Early in the morning Mothers would leave milk to boil, while trying to wake up resistant, drooling, sleepy kids. After dragging their bums to the dining table, moms would attempt to give the kids a healthy start to the day with milk. To camouflage the unpalatable stench of freshly heated milk, mothers would mix something chocolaty in it. Children would gulp down the glass and that was it.

Sigh...Apparently it's no longer enough for the milk to taste good; Over time the chocolaty thingies have morphed into agents of good, promising an unhealthy dose of competitive streak, making the world of kids closer to a rat race than it already is. This is grave warning for you - here are those terrifying commercials currently on air. For the sake of your future, if you see your parents watching these accidentally on TV, change the channel immediately!

First on the list is Complan (#KhaataKyaHai ).

The product promises to trigger abnormal growth and catapult you right to the front of the school drill,  where obviously as the school pet you'll get to wave an embarrassing flag while parents wildly cheer you. Consequently bullies will pick on you and the whole class will despise you for being a smug jackass. Where are the options for the lazy kids who'd rather sit raking up scores on Temple Run than run?  Thanks Complan - because of the disproportionate growth triggered by you all the Complan Boys are all going to have ruined childhoods.

Second on the list is Boost (#NoHashTag)
Boost was best known for squeaky Sachin Tendulkar, who etched the soprano tagline into everyone's brains -  "Boost is the secret of my energy". That's basically what we expected to happen: Kids getting an absurd shot of sugar high energy, and punching their friends, scraping their knees till their glucose levels would come crashing down. However with the new formula for Boost, you are signing for a long term plan - an unimaginable 120 days of hard labour, like a gym membership which causes grave regret after 24 hours. Anything less than 120 days of Boost consumption will lead to squat. On the 120th day, you'll get an alien like glow from within and grow in height. At least they are not thrusting a flag in your hands...

Last one is Bournvita (#TaiyaariJeetKi)

The scariest of the lot is Bournvita, which is meant exclusively for tiger moms who would probably lead agitations in India to make the JEEs 'more' competitive. As a kid, if you are included in the Bournvita group, prepare to become a hoodie wearing, rocky style boxer. You'll need to drop out of school and voluntarily get punched in the face. While other kids will be building sandcastles, you'll be punching the sand instead. As you face punches, your mom will have a content look on her face being reminded of the Thank you Mom P&G ad (The hardest job in the world is the best job in the world), not realizing that getting whacked in a boxing ring is way harder than being a mom.

Kids, I think you'll to make some hard choices right now - You may give up the whole sugary taste and resign to having just plain milk. Enduring those torturous few minutes in the morning is better than being unpopular in school, slogging for 120 days or getting punched in the face.

Or you could trust this Doctor, who otherwise is known for being a fool in the movie 3 idiots, and use what's being recommended in this commercial.

We are not clear on the details, but it does promise to make you Taller, Stronger, Sharper.

Horlicks Team

p.s: Dear Nestle, Cadburys, GSK - I may work for your organizations some day. Please forgive any transgressions.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Celeb Secrets Revealed - India's most famous plastic surgery

It was a day in the year 2500 BC - A fine evening worthy of merriment. However on this day, one man was unusually perturbed. He entered a relatively desolate lane of his town and stepped into a murky looking store. The board read "A-1 Clinic".

"I wanted to enquire about your plastic surgery services."

The surgeon observed that the man enquring was peculiar - his eyes a bit hazy, and some overdose of Ponds Dream Talc. There were some odd tattoos and skull accessories, but nothing too different from his usual clientele.

"Well we do a whole range of services - transplants, nose jobs, plumping. And it'll all be very discreet.... Is this about your blue neck? We can touch up and get rid of that right away".

"Thanks. The blue neck happened after crazy night I had with my head banging mountain boys. But that's not why I am here."

"Oh. So how can I help?"

"This is actually for my teenage son. What's your expertise in facial surgery"

"Well teenagers are our specialty. What is this about? Simple acne? Or some bigger fix on the face like the nose or eyes?

"How about the whole head?"

"The whole head?"

"Yes. You see, My son and I were having an argument and I accidentally chopped off his head...It's all a bit fuzzy...Anyway, I wanted to check if you do any head replacements."

"Sure we can. Where is your son right now. We can get started right away."

"He's strolling in a nearby mall. I've left him in this kids play area so he doesn't  bump into something which might you know..injure him. Although I think he's terrified all the other toddlers out there."

"That's not unusual. Some of our plastic surgery patients handled at night turn out to be quite scary. We will go with your guidance then. Would you say he's medium size?"

"I would play safe and go with XXXL. He's not been watching his diet too well since..well since birth."

The surgeon considered the XXXL request for a second.

"Well we do have some fresh stock. How keen are you for your son to retain his original look?"

"Actually I am quite hazy about his original appearance - I usually spend my days on the top of Mount Kailash. I am into Yoga nowadays."

"I see. Well, the head replacement I had in mind will work great for your XXXL son. Firstly, he'll have great memory. The nose is a bit obtuse - I mean, not like (insert racist comment) people. But slightly better. Would that be ok?

"Yes sure."

"He may also require some dental work at a later date, his canine teeth are a bit out there. But we will give you a voucher so you can try out our partner firm A-1 Dental Services".

"That's great. So can you wrap this up quickly? I need to be home for dinner in a couple of hours."

"This shouldn't take more than an hour. You can get your son in now. If you want to kill time you can head to a Family Restaurant nearby."

"Is it a Family restaurant and BAR?"


"BAR with Smoking?"

"Yes. But then you can't sit in the family section".

"OK. What if I want to boogie?"

"With that outfit, I don't think anyone will stop you."

"Sweet. I'll see you later."

6 hours later the man floats back to the clinic - "Wow that party was awesome! Did I forget something here?"

"You were supposed to pick up your son a while ago. He's sitting outside and is quite hungry. I suggest you buy some ladoos along the way."

He walks back home with his son.

"Dad, what happened to you?"

"I don't remember. Did something happen to you? You look different."

"I don't remember either."

"Hmm...I thought this was supposed to be the start of good times.."

A week later another man walks into A-1 clinic and asks for the surgeon.

"My friend told me you can do some real magic with head plastic surgery. He had one replaced. I actually would like to have some removed."

"Yes of course we can help you. Your name please?


(Inspired by "true" events, and our Indian PM's blurred understanding of mythology and science)

If you liked this you may also like to read:
Mangalyaan: A Guide to countering Mangal Dosh via Lord Hanuman
The Source of Atheism
So what do you call him?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mangalyaan: A Guide to countering Mangal Dosh via Lord Hanuman

#Mangalyaan was a great success , thanks to the countless hours spent by the ISRO scientists who made this happen. Reports state that they prayed to Lord Balaji (Source). To hedge their risks some of them might have also prayed to Lord Hanuman to counter Mangal Dosh (Mars ill-effect) . This Hanuman prayer for protection from Mars may have helped the team enter the orbit of Mars; the jury is out on that one. Speaking of Hanuman, in the recent past there was a bizarre incident regarding an Aadhaar UID which captured people's interest briefly. Let’s talk about that. If you suspect that this #mangalyaan introduction was just a thinly veiled segue to my dated post, you are right…

A few weeks ago we learnt that an Aadhar Card was issued for Lord Hanuman with a legitimate 12 digit ID (news link) The police eventually figured out that this regressive action was conceived by a progressive person named Vikas. His intentions for applying for a fake God ID were not malicious – but rather stemmed from some perplexing frustration at the Indian Government systems. What should not surprise you is the ensuing actions from the police – i.e “penalizing the enrollment agency”. But in this whole chaos you may have missed a few critical aspects of the incident which convey very heartwarming qualities about our culture.

First is the choice of picture for the card. The prankster Vikas had some wild choices given the level of media coverage for Hanuman’s life in his era – like multi god action picture, or literally chest bearing shoots, or even recent ones featuring Dara Singh. But he chose a front facing picture clearly adhering to identity card norms. Hanuman ji happens to be wearing a fat pearl string. I think a bit of jewelry even for male applicants is ok, as long as it doesn’t cover facial features. So that was commendable.

Second was the Father’s Name in the card, which was declared as Pawan.  Our trickster could have used any other Father name - like Rahman and stirred some deep, philosophical debates about Hanuman's real origins. But he chose to stay authentic and adhered to the complicated hindu mythology.

Thirdly, there was a clear mark of respect with the addition of Ji to both the card and his mythological father (Hanuman ji and Pawan ji). This clearly shows deep Indian values. Assuming Hanuman ji was a January born Capricorn was probably a quirky, mischievous move from Vikas. Considering the loyalty and calm temperament, except for the odd city burning tendencies, I would have pegged the Lord to be a Scorpio. But I could be wrong.  

You might also have missed the immediate actions taken up by the officials upon discovery of the card. From the fake card having a fake deity’s identity picture and fake DOB, they chose to try the phone number listed in the card. This is a clear sign of optimisim. I am not sure whether they were stunned by the outcome, but they accurately conveyed to the news agencies that the number was unreachable.

And finally, it was decided by the local postal department head Gobraj that the card would be sent back to the Bangalore UIDAI Centre as there was no recipient. This shows a clear respect for hierarchy and processes. Hanuman ji, the savior of those in trouble, the protector of the down trodden will probably have his card buried in a government cupboard classified under a ‘Person Unavailable’ tag along with a ~million other fake IDs (News link)

In case I do decide to get an Aadhaar card one day, I’ll pick some lessons from this incident.  I might not use a God’s picture, but I’ll consider wearing a string of Pearls.

You might also like to read:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Battle for the Online Indian Consumer - Part 1

India boasts of big numbers. As of March 2013, India has 160 million internet users, and 86 million active users of mobile internet. The potential however is much bigger, with 430 million internet enabled mobile devices. Facebook, the poster child for India mobile usage, gets 30% of its new users via mobile registration, and 30% of its users are mobile only internet users.

Multiple businesses are actively pursuing this opportunity in 2014. In the first 5 months, we have seen campaigns from 6 separate websites - a significant portion of the campaigns are focused solely on mobile usage. Let's try and understand the intent behind each campaign and assess their effectiveness. 

Note: The business objectives and campaign effectiveness mentioned below are based on own opinion and do not include any official inputs.

Key drivers of ecommerce business are broadly the factors below. 
1. Product assortment - what the business offers within its declared universe
2. Experience - the usage journey from search, purchase to delivery
3. Pricing - offering a competitive price vs. offline or competing online channels

A combination of these help in driving consumer switching from traditional channels. However for brand positioning it is risky to solely depend on pricing. Over a longer period this is unlikely to deliver a winning model. This holds true for traditional channels too!

Part 1 - Acquiring Consumer Base
These campaigns have a clear objective of driving website awareness and new traffic.

Amazon India

The Amazon India campaign is spot on. They have picked 2 core drivers - assortment ("Over 1.5 Crore Products") and usage experience ("Guaranteed 1 Day Delivery"). The competitive couple context is also distinctive and breaks through clutter. The website is investing in deep discounting to close the sale once users seek desired products on Amazon. Hence while they offer cheaper products their positioning isn't based on pricing.

Magicbricks promises to clear all confusion and mystery in property searches with an easy interface and thorough information. This is nicely contrasted with a caricatured property agent. Multiple creatives drive a consistent message. Since the competitors are not investing in awareness campaigns (like 99acres), magicbricks is likely to get good growth from the campaign.

Key question Lenskart needs to answer is why should consumers choose lenskart over the other giants like Flipkart and Amazon. The current launch campaign and the website experience doesn't do that. The storytelling with Purab is a bit laborious compared to other campaigns. The variety of products within eyecare is well established. Pricing incentives are kicked in when users land on the website - from offering first-frame free to 25% above purchase thresholds.

Snapdeal covers a whole spectrum of products - from clothing to electronics to home accessories. This is communicated well via separate creatives. The snoopy maid character is distinctive and they should ideally hold on to the theme for a while. The key watchout is positioning of "Bachate Raho" which is hard to sustain long term.

Note: I still don't get the punchline "Madam asking to no, mein askoongina to click click"...

Quikr's idea is based on delivering MSP (Maximum Selling Price) to the consumer. Multiple commercials are focused on the idea of a better price deal. This seems like a very limiting proposition for a peer-to-peer exchange website. Quikr will need to drive strengths on either usage experience or assortment (which is harder given that's dependent on user additions).

Do add your comments. In Part 2 we will look at campaigns driving mobile as a preferred device.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Review of Indian Election Inspired Advertising

It's election season in India for the past few months and the topic has dominated online and offline discussions. And when elections are the central activity / attention of the nation, as a marketeer for FMCG brands, it's quite tempting to plan creatives around the topic during the season. Over late 2013 and 2014, we have seen at least 11 Indian brands which have developed dedicated commercials around the election theme. The categories have been quite diverse from noodles to electrical wires, telecom to vests. Given the marketing investment backing these campaigns, let's try to answer the obvious question: When does it make sense to plan an election themed advertising for your brand?

The role of advertising is to 1) Get a brand noticed and 2) Refresh and improve brand association using distinctive cues. This grows brand mental salience for the consumer and hopefully then grows market share! (source). In addition to the usual advertising principles (where we assess the creative within the category universe), in this case the risk of category misattribution is also much higher due to multi category clutter around a similar theme. And hence creatives need to be strengthened on their category as well as brand cues.
So what should be the criteria for deciding election themed advertising?


When the commercial is along a broader, consistent positioning of being an agent of (social) change or new ideas. In this case elections and the expected societal positive change would dovetail well with the brand's message.  Tata Tea has done this well consistently since 2007.

Havells - "Tazaa Hava Chali Hai" (A fresh breeze)
Havells has stuck to its theme of bringing freshness to the environment, this time beautifully blending this with election situations, both pre and post election. Here are the other commercials (1 and 2).

Idea - "No Ullu Banaaowing"
The ad is a part of a larger series from Idea about enabling Indians to deal with everyday lies using the internet. The election edit works well with the internet subject, Idea here indirectly enabling positive social change.


When the core brand benefit can be laddered up to any positive election emotion. This includes derived attributes like strength, honesty, stability, consistency. This is typically the model for evolved FMCG categories where the brand usage leads to an emotional pay-off (Skin Care: confidence, progress ; Fabric care: positive appreciation from family or colleagues). The creative theme has to work a lot harder in this case to link the brand benefit with the emotional idea.

Fevicol: Election Chair
This ad is probably the best creative execution of the lot with extremely relevant and humorous references to the election battle, while finding a clean spot to embed the brand benefit in the story.

Berger Easy Clean - Clean your walls easily
The sub-brand's benefit of easy clean-up has been linked with the favourite topic of corruption and system clean-up. The creative is average though.Other easy clean ads here and here.

When the brand has some awareness which can be boosted with a distinctive election execution.

Dollar Baniyan
The ad tries to play on the dual meaning of 'Fit' - fit for comfort and fit for the role. The product is integrated well into the execution and the message.

Dairy Milk
The brand has used the election theme to advertise their full collection and chosen not to develop any TVC. The executions are across outdoor and social media - distinctive and tactical.

Ambuja Cement - 'Break down unwanted walls and for strong walls use Ambuja Cement'
The brand's promise of strong walls comes through well in the executions. However the execution could have been made more interesting when compared to the other brands (view here and here)

When the brand has zero or little awareness and hence no association in the consumer's mind
- Executions with little linkage to the original brand benefit / association 

ITC Noodles - Party
The brand message of tasty, long, slurpy noodles association (here and here) has taken a backseat while the lengthy AAP reference distracts from the brand benefit.

RR Kabel (Cable Wires) - Choose your candidates well
This brand has not been advertised in the past, and linking their launch commercial to elections would not be beneficial

Hero Hf Deluxe - New Bike for New India
Hero launched the bike in March 2014. The ad recall would probably be good, but the association with the bike brand would be quite weak. And this is not helpful for a launch campaign.

What do you think? Do add your comments.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Crying babies - A Guide to New Fathers for Efficient Crisis Resolution

Mothers (in India or any other country) have some weird feeling called motherly instinct to guide them around their infants. Unfortunately millions of us new fathers struggle with our respective babies. The only strong feelings we have resulted in a baby. And while we coasted along with the pregnancy, we are quite prone to being declared useless in handling crises related to our progeny.

Here's a handy flowchart designed for efficient, structured resolution of the situation. Patent pending.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

South India References in Recent Pop Culture

Note: This article is a commentary on recent use of South Indian themes and characters in Pop Culture. Pop Culture refers to inclusion in Hindi content both Bollywood and advertising which delivers it to a larger part of India

Bollywood gave South Indian culture its first major appearance in the movie Padosan from 1968 with the iconic song Ek Chatur with Mehmood and his classical rendition.

It was a crude and memorable stereotype and defined ‘South Indian’ for a few decades.The 90s witnessed a steady flow of dubbed South Indian films into Bollywood, but did not really translate into any lasting impact apart from Rahman! (hypothesis). Rajinikanth continued to rule Tamil cinema from 80s while Bollywood lovers were largely oblivious to his existence and grandeur. Kamala Hasan, SPB participated in Bollywood across 80s and 90s - but did not bring along any cultural additions to Bollywood. 

Then came along Shahrukh Khan, who since 2007 has regularly referenced Rajini or his symbols in multiple movies. From Yenna Rascala in Om Shanti Om, to the awful Ra.One noodle curd meals in 2011, to the ridiculously successful Chennai Express in 2013. Shahrukh, like his acting style over 2 decades, played it safe and kept things as real as necessary and as superficial as possible.

Yenna Rascala - Om Shanti Om

Kolaveri Di was the bizzare entry in late 2011 that broke the previous rules. The song was unapologetically South Indian in tone. Dhanush was an unknown entity which didn't hinder the song from gathering 79 Million hits. The attitude towards the accent slowly shifted from being odd to being quirky and interesting.

I believe the recent frequent references to South Indian has in turn influenced the advertising world to adopt the same. However, advertising, carries the heavy burden of being relevant, memorable, impactful all within a concise 30 second window. Hence it has been forced to refine and improve upon the idea. Here are a couple of them which have done a good job, either as a one off film or part of a larger campaign.

Voltas All Weather AC - Murthy Campaign (Jan 2013- Current)
The latest ad in the campaign (running since Jan 2013) features a gruff father in-law and the protagonist Murthy. The previous ads have had Murthy traveling all over India from Delhi, to Rajasthan to Chennai enduring different weather conditions and their single solution Voltas AC. The accent is laid on thick and thankfully no references to Rajinikanth.

Idea Internet – No Ullu Banawing: Pashmina (March 2014)
The Idea commercial features 2 South Indian ladies (Tamilian and Malayali?) encountering a devious shopkeeper possibly in Kashmir trying to play on their ignorance of his merchandize. The ad is a part of a larger series from Idea about enabling Indians to deal with everyday lies using the internet.

Centre Fruit - Kaisi Jeeb Laplapayee (March 2013)
This is one of the rare pieces of creatives which have been translated from an original tamil TVC to Hindi (notice the lip sync glitch for the outlet owner). The setup of a tamil tiffin shop was new and details fairly accurate. – Kanna Keep Calm (April 2014)
The references here are much more subtle - from the innocuous usage of Kanna in the jingle to the dad in his evening veshti verbally thrashing his son. The overall commercial is brilliant and has probably surpassed the Pepsi IPL bulaawa aaya hai campaign in appeal and popularity (405,000 views vs. 150,000 views)

Havells Mixer Grinder – Patni, Chatni
This Havells commercial is part of a new campaign "Respect Women". This ad features a modern couple similar to the Voltas series. But unlike Voltas, the product helps the wife set an equal footing with her husband (while Voltas helps the husband win over his weather flustered wife). The Chutney-Patni clincher will definitely make this a memorable creative. Havells is one of my favourite Indian brands for their consistent storytelling across product lines(check their other product ads FansWires). 

From the initial years of Rajini references, this is definitely a positive journey. The accents will get refined over time, as will the culture cues evolve from the standard idli and sambar. Meanwhile, if you excuse I'll get back to my filter coffee and MS Subhalakshmi songs.

Note: Two other recent commercials which I've not included are You Broadband and Boost. YOU is still dependent on a Rajini reference, while Boost was a poor wannabe rip-off of Kolaveri.

Note: Chennai Super Kings Whistle Podu is another strong campaign since 2008 . But here the creative requires clear Tamil references. Hence I've not included it.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

India's Tryst with Change

If we comb through all the households in India, and dig out the 2s, 5s, 10s and 50s, we may be able to arrive at a potential rationale. But for the longest time for unknown reasons, there has been an apparent crisis of change in India. And no I don’t mean change in the RaGa ‘system’ sense :) I am referring to loose change (or ‘chhuta’).

In general, we Indians collectively have a (justified) level of distrust for transactions.  And one manifestation of this is in the barter of loose change. The scale has changed over time (from Rs 1s to Rs10 or Rs50s now), but the premise remains the same – ‘I don’t have change with me. You please provide the requisite change to complete the transaction’. Lack of change leads to friction in every transaction – leading to delays (modern retail), stress (toll booths), arguments (autos) and embarrassment (airlines). This can be distilled into this simple cycle:

Cycle of distrust: Nobody wants to let go of their change!

This behavious is something chronic and peculiar only to India. Since the country hasn’t yet moved majorly to plastic/online transactions, the lack of liquidity in micro transactions is puzzling. One good benchmark is Indonesia, where economic factors are similar to India. When seen through the lens of FMCG industry, the usage of cash is still high compared to plastic currency. But in all my visits to the country, lack of change never seems to appear as a problem.

If we look at factors impacting change in transactions, they are mainly # of customers per day as well as systems managing cash flow. So I’ve crudely split our interactions based on Volume of Transactions & Scale of Organization. A few examples are given below:

If type D is without change (low volume of transaction, not scaled up in size), I can understand if there are change issues. But for the other 3 quadrants (A,B and C), the situation is odd and requires intervention. We can bring about a positive transformation by modifying the systems in managing the transactions. And over time the distrust from customers would come down. It would be naïve to combat human behavior first, as it’s incredibly hard to move that at a macro level.

Big Scale organization: system improvement examples
Modern Retail: Have each payment counter start operations in the morning with change for Rs.1,000, instead of hoping that they’ll generate their cash flow along the way, or handing over melody toffee instead of change!
Toll Booths: Rationalize toll charges to be only in multiples of 5. This way the operators have to only deal with Rs. 5 coins.
Airlines: Enable and encourage in-flight transactions via plastic (credit / debit card) by removing any additional charges from the transaction. 

Small Scale Organization: 
I am not really sure how this can be sorted for these transactions (Autos, Kirana stores), since it’s in their favour if there is lack of change. For Kirana stores it leads to an increased purchase basket and for autos they usually pocket the balance amount.

What are your thoughts?