Shuddh Desi Maggi!!!

First the disclosures. I am not a big fan of the 2 minute wonder – Maggi Noodles ever to have hit the Indian palate and plate. In all my life, I would have tasted it may be a few times and I detested it every time. Even when mixed with curd as how Bollywood stereotypes we Madrasis to eat even Noodles 😠. I don’t have nostalgic memories either of how Maggi Noodles helped thwart hunger pangs during some mountaineering expedition,… like how some adults professed as part of the Maggi campaign. The daughter though loves it. And wants more of it. Much to the dismay of the mother and the father. I also don’t have any commercial interests going with Nestle nor do I have a Swiss bank account!!!

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But I have a lot of interest in India and the signals it sends across within the country and outside as a place not abhorrent to business.  In the last 2 weeks, we all know how one Pandeyji from UP got his 2 minute fame under the sun after he picked up few Maggi Noodle packs, tested and declared that the contents were out of set limits. Many other states followed and soon Nestle had no choice but to pull their 2000cr (US$300mn) flagship product off the shelves and indeed away from the mouths of many a child and even grownups.  Leaving many a moms feeling surreptitiously happy when they found a way to desist the urge of their offspring citing the ban 😃.

In India, Newton is a much misunderstood man. When it comes to anything foreign, his 3rd law becomes “For every action, there is an unequal and opposite knee jerk reaction”😄 Either we go gaga about something phoren or go suspicious. There’s nothing in between. I am not for a moment questioning the veracity of the ban or arguing that Maggi noodles is above-board.  I am also not taking the oft-repeated line that in India there are so many other food items if tested would flunk all norms. Just that if the same situation would have been handled in a more compassionate way with a perspective view by the authorities, the Indian republic would not be viewed as a banana type!!!

For example, what if the same situation had played out like this:

  • Pandeyji picks up samples of Maggi noodles, tests the same and finds that the contents are beyond norms.
  • He informs the Central agency – Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) about his findings. (Instead of going to the press and banning the same in UP. What if it was just a batch issue??)
  • FSSAI arrange to do its own tests to ascertain the claim and also make a foolproof assessment. And let us assume that they indeed find the lead content above specified limits.
  • FSSAI informs the Food ministry of the same.
  • Food ministry calls the top officials of Nestle India for a meeting and they inform them of the findings. And gives Nestle couple of weeks to do their own assessment and come back.
  • Now its upto Nestle to accept the findings or prove with their own test results that they are in the right.
  • And if indeed Nestle finds that they are in the wrong, the onus is on them to come up with a plan of action to correct the situation. Temporary recall, change of recipe,…,…
  • They work with the FSSAI authorities and change the recipe of the taste maker which is tested and approved as within norms.
  • Nestle does a launch of the Govt. of India Approved ‘Shuddh Desi Maggi” Noodles with an appropriate campaign and continues its business as usual.

Product recalls on account of genuine safety concerns happen world over all the time these days. A more calibrated approach would have allowed the company time to work backwards with their whole supply chain – producers of atta/maida, spices, suppliers of the atta/maida, the factories which produce the noodle, the factories which make the packaging, transporters, whole sales distributors, retailers, kirana shops,..,.. to minimize damage. I just read a news item today that 300 in a company in Moga, Punjab that supplied spices to Nestle India lost their jobs due the ongoing Maggi noodles tangle.  I am certain under the current uncertain situation, many more will follow. Quietly not just Maggi, but the entire category is off the shelves I am told.

Some are of the view that Nestle itself could have handled the situation better. But I thought that by voluntarily agreeing to pull the brand off the shelves without getting into arguments regarding the test methods,.. they did the right thing. Now from here on they could take some lessons from Cadbury – another brand which faced a much worse situation few years ago. The relaunch of the Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate after the brand faced much ire when worms were found inside the chocolate wrapper is part of marketing case studies in India on the topic of “Recovery Strategy”.  The 2 minute Maggi Noodle must take a 2 months strategic time out and get the formula of their taste maker right not just for my daughter’s palate but also Pandeyji’s.

We have a Prime Minster who is desperately wanting to change the business climate in India and boost investments foreign and Indian. Unfortunately, episodes like the Maggi ban of this kind do not augur well for his intent.

Postscript: A friend told me that the Maggi ban and strangulation of Nestle is our Govt.’s trump card to make the Swiss authorities co-operate and reveal the black money offenders. Wah! “Covert” operations under the Modi regime have gone to a different level I must say😊😊

Image courtesy: NDTV.com

Marketing of “Acche Din”!!!

No other phrase has caught the imagination of the public – intelligentsia and others as this Acche Din” (Good Days) in recent memory in India. The only others I could think of are – Big B’s ‘Lock Kiya jai??’ during the heydays of KBC (Kaun Banega Crorepati). For few years post KBC-Season 1, we Indians were only “Locking” instead of “confirming” or “making sure”😃 . More lately, when Aamir Khan insisted on “All izz well” in Raju Hirani’s 3 Idiots, “I am fine”, “Sab teek hai”,.. got paraphrased by “All izz well”. (“All” being pronounced as “aal” ad nauseum😠)  So similarly these days, it’s raining Acche Din!!! Our Prime Minister has turned out to be so good in marketing that his Twitter bio could very well read – “Narendra Modi. Prime Minister of India. And a Marketing Maven”.

And this is exactly what has set the discourse in the media in a wrong track. Once again. “Your Government is all about marketing and packaging” is a refrain the NDA ministers were subjected to in all the interviews they gave around Modi365. The anchors were different, the channels were different, and the language was different. But the shrill accusation was the same. That this Government indulges itself in Marketing and loud at that.

As if “Marketing” in itself is a crime inflicted on society. And this notion is not something which has sprang up with the advent of Modi Sarkar. In general there is this subtext that marketing is nothing but a con job!! That marketing goes well with people with the Gift of the gab!!! And that marketing is all jazz and no mass.

For a long time I used to wonder where this impression came from! Gradually, I got the answers. First, in general Marketing and Direct selling (one to one selling) are often used interchangeably. That selling or sales is just one aspect of Marketing is a lesson which gets drilled in the first few pages of Philip Kotler. However in real life, people who are in say selling of Insurance policies or vacuüm cleaners or Time share holidays on one to one basis are often called as “Marketing” people. In direct selling situations more often than not we end up buying the product just to ward off the salesperson’s thollai/parishan (torture)😞😞. And the thought keeps lingering for quite some time that he/she has conned us into buying.  And hence the belief that marketing is just that – A royal conning!

Second, Marketing is also equated to Advertising. Even in B-schools many aspire to join marketing stream with a delusion that they will be associated with creating ads all the time in their career. In reality, advertising is just one part of marketing. When we keep seeing ads of toothpastes which promise “Crystal White teeth” in 45 days or commercials for Nutritional drinks which promise to grow children tall automatically in few months and nothing close to those anyway happen – we conclude that “Marketing” is all about taking people for a ride.

(And there is a third one which I get to see these days often. I.e using the word marketing for “going to the market for shopping”😜😜)

Thanks to the above fallacies, Marketing has got a bad name. In truth, Marketing is not hard selling. Is not advertising or for that matter shopping!! But is a more complex process of creating, communicating, and delivering something that have value for customers. (Ouch, that was a gyan overdose😜). Even a damn good product requires damn good marketing of the same.  In political context, the 1991 reforms which are now seen as the game changer for India now, were never marketed that time. So much so, even among the Congress there was such a backlash that Manmohan Singh, the then finance minister had to claw back on the reforms push. If the benefits of the reform programme were marketed well the phrase “Economic Reforms” in India would never have taken a negative connotation. Same is the case with NDA’s disinvestment programme during Vajpayee regime. So this brings to the fore the importance of “Good Marketing” (like the need for good cholesterol – for the sceptics) in politics for Pro bono.

Hence to a large extent, I am glad to see the present Government and the PM going all out to “market” their initiatives whether it is Make in India, Jan Dhan Yojana or Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.  Or for that matter packaging the 1st year achievements as ‘Saal Ek Shuruaat Anek’. As long as the PM and Government are good at last mile delivery of the products as they are in marketing of the same, I am certain Acche Din are round the corner for India. And I am also certain that the PM is also aware of the repercussions otherwise. That Abki Baar Modi Sarkar would be branded as Abki Baar Jumla Sarkar the next time around😆😆

Acche Din toon

Postscript: My apologies if the title made you to believe that this post is another post mortem of the 1st year of Modi Sarkar.  There has been 100’s of that in the last few days! So didn’t want to add to the clutter. On the other hand, Perception management is one part of Marketing. I thought Marketing itself needed a dose of perception management 😆😆

Cartoon credit: Satish Acharya

“Chinpressions” – Impressions from another of my China visit – Part 3!!!

It was about 3 years ago that I made my 1st visit to ChinaShanghai and wrote the 1st part of Chinpressions. Read here. In between that and my last visit this week, many more visits to China happened. Ergo, 3 years hence what are my impressions?

The visit this week coincided with Narendra Modi’s another foreign tour – this time to China. So obviously India was in the news. As is the wont these days in our PM’s abroad visits, he was in “Rock star” mode in China as well with local Chinese craving and crowding to take selfies with him. It’s obvious that in the last 1 year Modi has single handedly changed the perception of India for the better outside of India.

I had mentioned that in my last post that Shanghai was devoid of emerging market symptoms like touts at the airports,… I realized now that it’s not the case. There were the touts on arrival at the airport chasing you for taxi/hotels,… just that they were of the “suited and booted” types 😜 😜. Similarly I had the impression that Taxis were on meters always. Well, yes most of the times. But not always. This time much to our chagrin, we realized that beyond 10 p.m the cabbies were upto fleece passengers demanding 4 to 6 times the normal fare!!! While on cabbies, I couldn’t understand why the driver was always enclosed in a cubicle of sorts making it difficult to communicate with him/her even in sign language. (Trying to communicate in English is a horror left unsaid :( :( )

For all the heavy duty infrastructure and the investment led growth strategy Chinese government has been adopting all these years with a fair degree of success, it is now clear that the growth is stuttering.  A 7% growth is being touted as the new normal. Print media is agog with articles questioning if the world’s 2nd largest economy is heading towards a protracted period of subdued growth.  China has now become the latest example to explain the Economics theory of the Middle Income Trap”

It’s clear that despite the pretensions of the Government taking China to being in the league of developed nations, it is still haunted by a few trappings of developing/underdeveloped countries. Which the people are yet to shrug off it appears.

  • Like the locals not caring about courtesy to others and smoking to glory in public washrooms.
  • Like the drivers continuing to smoke while driving in cars inspite of requesting them not to. (Blame the language)
  • Like invariably the noisy scenes you get to see in restaurants when Chinese get together to dine and drink. (Something like we Indians I must say).
  • Like the rounds of bargaining one has to do some times starting with 10% of the quoted price to purchase stuff mostly the imitations at the fake markets hawking branded stuff from I phones to watches to bags to clothes to everything. China’s tryst with IP regime may prove to be its Achilles heel sooner or later. Just couple of days ago while in China I read the news that top brands like Gucci were suing Alibaba the E-Com giant for sale of counterfeits through its marketplace.Like getting to see touts trying to sell I Phones at US$100 around to gullible passengers even inside the Shanghai’s Pudong airport terminal!!! I was surprised to see these guys inside the airports after the Check-in Area moving around looking for their customers!!! (This doesn’t happen in India even)
  • Like being amused to see empty chairs placed in sides of the road meant as parking lots. Something like placing the chair to reserve that lot. Reminded me of our Indian habit of placing towels/kerchiefs,.. in buses to block seats :)
  • Like for all the fascinating sights at “The Bund” at Shanghai (Clean, colourful, Hawker free,..,…) the urinals are still the old world style not seen even in towns in India these days.
  • Like finding grills in windows in residential apartments a la India type just that they were more uniform and still not spoiling the elevation of the building unlike in India where grills of all types and sizes spoil the frontage of most buildings.

Most of the above fall in line with the definition of “High Context Culture” as defined by Edward T. Hall in his seminal work – Beyond Culture, I feel. So not surprising.

But, these are just symptoms waiting to disappear soon I guess. Despite the current ills like ever rising labour costs, China continues to be the factory of the world. Global companies don’t have an option but to court the Chinese. Like Apple’s Tim Cook was attempting to do when he was in China last week logging on to “Weibo” – the Chinese microblogging site akin to Twitter. (Modi did the same on his run up to his China visit). The ever increasing aspiring class is a segment of the world’s largest population that just cannot be ignored.  But one thing which continues to amaze me in China even after being the world’s largest populous country is – Where are its people?? For example in Shanghai the world’s most populous city – you don’t get see crowds in the roads, in the malls, in super markets, in train stations,.. So where are they???

Let’s see if that mystery unravels in the next visits.

3 years hence, the impressions are still very good but may be the shine has worn a little bit.

 Postscript: Heard that the PM’s baggage on foreign tours will now have a “Selfie stick” 😜 😜

OK, No more – Mani!!!

My first reaction after watching Maniratnam’s latest outing OK Kanmani was “Man, Mani should now call it a day”!!! Okay_Kanmani_film_poster

After feeling disappointed the last few times over (Guru, Raavan, Kadal), it was with much trepidation that I ventured to watch what was Mani’s 21st film without even bothering to look at reviews. Ofcourse the teasers and trailers communicated loudly that Mani was in his familiar territory. Youth, Urban, Romance, Rebel,…,… Like somebody said there was virtually a sympathy wave this time around for Mani and more than himself, his fans wanted this movie to work. And there are enough reasons for this kind of sympathy and empathy.

After all, in Tamil cinema which is usually driven by the “Star Mania” (Puratchi thalaivar of yore to Thala of today not to forget the Nadigar Thilagam, Super Star, Ulaga Nayagan, Ilaya Thalapathy in between) – there has been little scope for a Director to make his mark and make people throng the theatres just for his direction. Maniratnam did that. Again and again for a long time. Up until recently. Not that he was the 1st to do so. From Bhim Singh to Sridhar to Balachandar to Bharathiraja and briefly Bhakiaraj all of them did exactly that. But what made Maniratnam stand apart from others was he removed “Drama” from Tamil films and that was a welcome change. Rooted in “casualism”, his movies shunned lengthy dialogues, over the top acting/overacting, emotional hathyachaars,… in short what I call as “Drama”. And brought in an overdose of cool quotient –female leads with a rebellious streak, Staccato dialogues, matter of fact acting and ofcourse with a lot of emphasis on the technique (Cinematography, Storytelling style, Background score, Music, Sound engineering, Song picturisation,…) And appealed to the Nextgen. Having said that, he was careful not to tread the path of an Adoor Gopalakrishnan (the ace Malayalam Film maker whose movies were rooted in realism – so rooted that they failed to break into the mainstream mould and remained favourites of film festival hoppers). Mani was smart to remain mainstream while pursuing an alternate film making path for himself.

It was about 3 decades ago when we were in our 2nd year Engineering that Mani’s 4th film (Mani was just another upstart director then and not the Mani Sir) Mauna Ragam silently got released. Those were days when we use to watch almost every film to hit the theatres for want of alternate source of entertainment. When we came out of the single screen theatre after watching Mauna Ragam, our usual group which usually get into slicing and dicing any movie on our return to the hostel for few hours, this time was silent. Silenced and stunned by an all new freshness hitherto unseen in Tamil movies. So much so we hit the theatre to watch the movie the second time soon. And then the analysis of the film followed for few days over. The lines Revathi (main female lead) speaks to her mom after marriage just before the 1st night were the kind unheard of in Tamil cinema before. Karthik’s characterisation in a cameo role made boys wonder why they are not like him. And I came across a MBA HR Manager (Mohan – the male lead) for the 1st time in a Tamil film :) :)

After Mouna Ragam, when Nayagan hit the screens, Maniratnam had arrived and there was no looking back since. I can devote an entire post on Nayagan which I will keep it for another pertinent occasion. For now I will just leave it with – “In Tamil cinema there was an era before Nayagan and one post that”!

In an interview when somebody asked him as to what was the secret behind his films’ connect with the audience – Mani said that all his films are about relationships which people relate to. And generally not from out of the world.  But when I look at his body of work, there are 2 types. One set of films just about relationships (Mauna Ragam, Agni Natchathiram, Idayathai Thirudathe, Anjali, Alai Payuthey and lately OK Kanmani) and the second set is about relationships but in a political/current affairs/worldly backdrop – Nayagan (Bombay Tamils), Roja (Kashmir issue), Bombay (Post Ayodhya riots), Dil Se (NE turmoil), Kannathil Muthamittal (Srilankan strife), Aayutha Ezhuthu  (Student politics), Raavan (Maoist problem),…  He has appealed to us and made a success of both the genres by and large. But what comes naturally to him I guess is when he talks to us in an Agni Natchithiram or an Alai Payuthey lingo.

Frankly when I saw Roja way back in 1992, I was a tad disappointed. First of all I couldn’t accept that Mani can do a film and make a good one at that without Ilayaraja and P.C.Sreeram. And then a Mani film with a serious issue like Kashmir strife as a template was something unimaginable and not expected. But gradually the film grew on you. (So did Rahman’s music). And when the dubbed version of Roja got a wide appreciation in Hindi, I guess Mani’s ambitions took wings. Then after he started writing Tamil films but for a national audience.  So a sense of indulgence started creeping in as it does for most creators who initially create work without any burden of expectations and then have to, to live upto their own reputation.

Even at that stage I thought he was still making brilliant films. I for one still couldn’t understand why a Dil Se flopped (perhaps for the contrived climax I later concluded). But with Alaipayuthey in 2000, he went back to his original style- a film about relationships without any forced backdrop. And just for the Tamil audience. And about Urban youth. And with P.C.Sriram. And just when we were relieved, Mani Sir went back to his second type with a series of films like Kannathil Muthamittal, Aayutha Ezhuthu, Guru and Raavan. I liked KM and AE but only in parts. I forced myself into liking Guru though not fully convinced. I gave Raavan and Kadal a miss after not so charitable reviews. But quite obviously they were disappointing and couldn’t help questioning Mani’s sync with the times.

And then OK Kanmani happened. The urban coolness is back. Staccato lines are back. The rebellious streak is back. And P.C.Sreeram is back. The relief in us is back. Mani is back :) :) :)

And that’s precisely why I feel that he should now call it a day. After all it’s better to sign off on a high and not after he is forced to, post a string of flops trying to explore relationships with Nepal earthquake some ISIS territory as backdrops :( :(

It’s not my contention that Mani should stop experimenting and keep making Agni Natchithiram/Alaipayuthey/OK Kanmani type films for ever. I am sure he has still within him for a few more movies and good ones in that. Just that anxiety as an admirer of Mani’s craft that his upcoming movies mustn’t fail and he mustn’t fall from that high pedestal he is positioned himself in.

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Postscript: No, as an afterthought, maybe he should do one more film. With Ilayaraja and Rahman to do the Music honours in a co-operative effort. That will be path breaking and be in sync with Mani’s credentials😜 😜

Aam Aadmi Petti!!!

It is that time of the season in Mumbai typically the onset of summer (Apr-Jun or the AMJ Qtr for those in sales 😉) when I equip myself with higher liquidity than normal. The equities get sold, the many mutual funds get redeemed, some dead wood furniture and the like gets sold (in OLX ofcourse 😉 😉) in short except for the immovable assets which essentially means the roof above my head and the 4 wheeler I use to commute get liquidated to raise cash. As much as possible. Even the previous 3 months (ending March) which is “taxing times” for salaried class, somehow gets managed without reaching out for assets disposal. But come April and if you want to enjoy the Aam (Mango) season that too the pedigreed variety like the Alphonso one doesn’t have any other choice but to cash the assets 😜😜

AAM

 If one year the prices of the Alphonso mangoes are high because of supply constraints owing to draught in Maharashtra, then next year it is higher due to supply constraints due to excessive monsoon. Another year, the prices are high due to excessive supply as the producers had to incur additional expenses in proper storage and transportation!!! Last year when the EU banned the exports of Indian Alphonso Aams I was one among many Aam Aadmi who had our Schadenfreude moment – gloating that the glut in the market due to the ban will lead to falling prices. But little did I realise that Alphonso is not called King of Mangoes for no reason – It defies all applied laws of economics. Supply and Demand rules can go to hell 😒😒

Even after spending so many years in Mumbai (20 years though in parts the wife usually the one who is good at dates, years, names,…in the house reminds 😄) I am yet to come to terms with the Mumbaikar’s unending obsession with the Alphonso! In the initial years in Mumbai I used to be flummoxed when train conversations in summer would invariably veer around the Happoos (another name for the Alphonso) next only to customary antics of the Sena or the diatribe of its leader the previous day in some interview/public meeting. Frankly speaking, when I tasted Alphonso for the 1st time I couldn’t fathom why this Aam (common) Aam was revered so much. Having spent most of my childhood years in Trichy, a small city in Tamil Nadu, the fuss about Alphonso was too much to bear.  Trichy apart from being popular for the many famed temples (Rockfort, Srirangam, Thiruvanai Koil,..) also used to house a place called Mambazha Chalai (Mango farm) where private owners cultivated Mangoes. These farms called Thathachariar Gardens spread around many hectares were embodiment of horticultural experiments around Mangoes in those days itself. So every year, new cross breeds use to hit the market – bettering the previous year in terms of size, taste and also price! My memory deceives me now preventing the recap of the names of the species though I can remember vividly one called Imam Pasand (whoever said Tamils hate Hindi 😄).  Apart from this, we also used to get a flood of stocks from nearby towns like Salem which had its own varieties like Malgova, Neelam, Banganapalli,…  Many people (other than Mumbaikars ofcourse 😄😄) who have tasted the Neelam variety have confessed that it tastes very close to the Alphonso and in fact a tad better. And I agree. The only problem is you find insects inside the mangoes more often than not.  So I realized that the Alphonso became the King of Mangoes because of better marketing, reach and better managed supply chain while the others just preferred to stay as local satraps.

Being generally a Mango fan (like most Indians I suppose) in the initial few years I avoided the Alphonso due to the heavy prejudice I had against it. But with the Imam Pasands, the Malgovas and the like ruling many kilometers away, had no choice but to become a dutiful citizen of the Alphonso. That’s when I realized that like you do your cash flow planning for so many life events, one has to do the same for “Aam season” also plus prepare yourself for the unique Happoos experiences 😜😜

  • Like when I lined up before the crowded fruit vendor and insisted on buying varieties other than Happoos – I could hear few ladies nonchalantly asking the vendor – “Aajkal ye saada aam bhi koi leta hai kya???” (“Does anyone buy these ordinary type mangoes these days???”)
  • Like the first time when I asked for the price of Happoos and the vendor dutifully replied as Rs. 400. He almost came to blows with me when I piously told him I was asking price for 1 kilo and not 5 kilos. That’s when he did the brahmopadesam of the 1st lesson in Happoos buying. That while other mangoes are sold by weight Happoos is sold in numbers usually a dozen or in Pettis (boxes of 2 dozens).
  • Like when I insisted that I want to buy only few and not in dozens – I could hear him telling his chela – “Aajkal mandi chal raha hai na, shayad naukri chala gaya hoga”. (These days recession is going on no? May be he has lost his job!!!) Its o.k, give him in loose. And then the parting shot, “Saab, jab naukri mil jayegi – petti hum se hi kareedna’!! (“Sir, when you get the job, please come to me only and buy in dozens!!”)
  • Like when I see exclusive Happoos outlets springing up suddenly in hitherto empty gaalas (shops) in the season all over Mumbai with prominent boards saying “Credit Cards accepted and ATMs next door”. I think to myself – “Smart move”!!!
  • Like when I found that a group of friends did a road trip all the way to Ratnagiri – the Happoos town just to search for the organic variety and buy a truck load of the same for consumption for a few days.
  • Like few years ago in a summer season, while waiting for the luggage to arrive at the baggage belt at Changi (my baggage invariably arrives last :( ) was watching the bright yellow/Orange coloured petti after petti of Alphonso mangoes doing the rounds and the owners tearing their hair to identify their own ones!!
  • Like when I see brands fuelling this passion for Alphonso with hotties like Katrina year after year. I must say that the Slice’s AamSutra campaign is not an Aam Ad, me thinks its Jakaas!

“This season, Alphonsos beyond Aam Aadmi’s reach” is a headline which newspapers get to copy and paste year after year. But still the rush to savour this King of Mangoes continues!! If only the Thathachariar family is listening and doing something to break this monopoly! Or we may have no option but to appeal to our PM to bring in a new “Aam subsidy” through direct cash transfer ofcourse to tackle the increasing price of Alphonsos year after year 😜😜.  Not a bad idea for the PM who can beat his rivals AAP and Congress in their own game no???

Postscript: My apologies if you thought that this post is my usual rant/rave about Aam Aadmi Party and got misled. Aam Aadmi Party may be the flavor of the season, but nothing to beat the tastes of the Aam Petti in the summer. 😋😋

The Cup ended, not the cup of woes!!!

watch-cricket-world-cup-onlineOne of the supposedly grand event of Cricket – the ICC One Day World Cup ended today in a whimper. What was built up as an epic clash between the 2 Trans Tasmanian teams – Australia and New Zealand in the finals today turned out to be a boring one sided match with the Aussies ruthlessly grounding the Kiwis depriving them of their maiden World Cup win. And for us Indians, post our rather meek surrender to the Aussies in the Semifinals, today’s final was more of a side show. Not just the match today, but If you look back at the rather drearily long World Cup in the last 40 odd days, right from the league stages to the knockout there were hardly 4-5 matches which were exciting. The Semifinal match between South Africa and NZ must count as one of those matches which brought viewers to the edge of the seat I would reckon. Most of the other encounters were either one sided or falling to a predictable pattern. And more so, all the India matches were drab affairs though as long as the team was winning we had no qualms of the same.  But as an avid cricket enthusiast, for a major ICC event as the World Cup, there were very few matches which would be subject to post mortem again and again during water cooler talks in offices and paan shops in the coming days!!

I guess this trend has not just started with this World Cup. Over the years, the One Day format though extremely popular has been slowly entering a coma. But the just concluded World Cup I reckon has sort of hastened the Rigor mortis. It will be interesting to look at the possible causes for the same:

  • As a format, is it getting stuck between the Classic Test Match and the glamorous T-20? Test match cricket has its own old world own charm. A battle between the bat and the ball looks more engaging in a Test match. Even today, while a cricketer can earn by being a T-20 specialist, he still have to yearn for recognition until he proves his mettle in Test Cricket. On the other side T-20 with a soccer kind of format demands less time, is fast paced and throws open enough mauka (in this season how can I miss a mauka to use this term?😜) for innovations. In this – is the One Day Game with its tiring predictability losing its charm? You could just watch the last 10 overs of the 1st inning, then may the last 15 overs of the 2nd inning and still would not have missed the gist of the match!
  • Is the ICC in its quest to popularize Cricket killing it? Today we have a clear Class divide among the teams. One bunch are the established teams which are strong. Then we have the other bunch which are the “Associate nations” which are the emerging teams. They don’t get to play competitive games often and are a deprived lot. When both the groups are bunched together, most of the league matches turn drab where the established walk over the emerging. While it is true that the weak teams must get exposed and get opportunities to play the stronger teams often, in a World Cup most of these matches are boring affairs. One solution could be to have a pre-qualifying stage league matches among the Associate nations and get the top 2 to be a part of the established teams and go through with the league and knockout phases.
  • As in many other games like Tennis for example, Cricket is also going the “Powerplay” way! Ofcourse this has nothing to do with the format. But increasingly in the One Day format – the domination of bat over ball due to sheer power has left everything else redundant. So the team batting first routinely amasses 300+ scores these days and walks away with the match. That also means that the skill of Cricket is pushed aside by the captain’s skill of calling the coin right at the toss. Well, most of the times. (Like in the India Vs Australia Semifinal match in this World Cup, the loss of toss by Dhoni turned to be the 1st nail in the coffin). One can argue that in the Test match format there is still room for a batsman with elegance, a spinner with guile and players with skill but in One Day and the T-20 formats – increasingly it is “Power” which is at “Play”. So the urgent need for may be bowler friendly conditions and an even-steven contest between the bat and ball.
  • It’s a no brainer that any game becomes interesting if the course of the game and its outcome are unpredictable. But frankly today in the One Day format the only unpredictability is when there is rain and the two gentlemen Duckworth and Lewis come into play 😄😄. The D/L method is so intriguing that it many times it has turned a docile match on its head and turned it interesting. It’s another matter that my friends from South Africa will have a different view on this 😄.
  • To be fair to ICC, they have been introducing a few innovations into the One day format like Batting Powerplays, Bowling Powerplays… to bring in some twists to the game. But just that these are few and far between and have not been able to shift the dial.

So for the ICC, the “Cup” must have ended but when they do an honest assessment of the recently concluded World Cup, they would realise that their “Cup of Woes” has just begun.  Which is to find ways and means make the next World Cup really engaging, interesting and exciting and not a 2 month long dull and drab affair with very few “rewind worthy” moments!!! And make (One Day) Cricket live up to its original cliché of “A game of glorious uncertainties!!!”

Postscript: After reading this, if you felt a “No, no, these grapes are sour” sense omnipresent in this piece after India’s #Wont Give It Back became history last Thursday– it is purely coincidental 😜😜

“Viral” fever and the Marketing “mauka”!!!

As India kicked off its campaign to defend the Cricket World Cup with a high-octane league match with its arch rival Pakistan, for Star Sports it was a perfect ‘mauka’(opportunity) to milk the moment. And how it did!!! With a very interesting commercial which is now part of marketing folklore showing a Pakistani fan eagerly waiting for the mauka to celebrate a Pakistani win in vain in the last 5 world cup encounters. The ad had all the ingredients to make it “viral worthy”. Soon the commercial indeed went viral and is even today much talked about. Newspapers wrote about the ad, online editions carried the link, In YouTube the ad got a few million hits, the ad got shared in social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp,… and also got written about in innumerable blogs,… No wonder the makers decided to spin the one ad to a ‘Mauka Mauka’ series as seen thro’ the eyes of the same Pak fan for all India matches so far. If you notice, while the 1st spot (the India-Pakistan) one was shown again and again, the subsequent ones were just aired few times just enough to carry the story further. Because by now the Mauka fever had become viral and you, me and all of us became Star Sports’ unpaid brand ambassadors by sharing the every new ‘Mauka’ spot as soon as it was aired!  And that is the point I am trying to drive in this post. For a marketer trying to promote his/her brand it makes sense to make the commercial “viral worthy”, sit back and relax as consumers multiply the reach of the brand.

Mauka

For small brands with limited budgets, this approach comes as a panacea to achieve high share of voice with low ad spends. And for big brands this gives the potential to get more bang for the buck! This (to make their ads viral worthy) seems to be a very simplistic and obvious solution in front of marketers. However a casual review of the TVCs which we see day in and day reveals that this approach may not be so obvious. In a typical day except for 1 or 2 TVCs which are viral worthy the others are mostly the usual drivel. For example, on the same day of the Ind-Pak match there was just another ad which was viral worthy. That was the one for Fevi kwik – again smartly playing with emotions coinciding with the Ind-Pak encounter while at the same time driving home the brand’s promise – ‘Todo nahi, Jodo’. Brilliant stuff.

So what makes an ad go viral?? My take:

And the best part is some of the good viral worthy ads spawn off spoofs (as seen in the Mauka series) and other versions (did you know a slow motion version of the Ind-Pak fevikwik ad was created and uploaded by somebody which is really funny) as well which keeps the brand top of the mind for extended periods!

For small/start up agencies/production houses one such viral campaign is enough to leap frog them to stardom. Who had heard the name – Bubblewrap Films before the Mauka, Mauka campaign?? Or for that matter who knew Vishal Malhotra the model who is the Pakistani fan in the campaign a month ago?? Now I do!!

In the pre social media/smart phone/internet days a good ad will be just talked about may be by a few people who are interested in the subject. In these times, they don’t get talked about but they get shared, and shared many times over across many platforms.

So a new brand, limited budget with mass offering??? A smart idea would be to spend time and resources to create an ad that is spot on viral worthy, have a few releases with the limited budget and then make sure to leak the links in all social media platforms. (Ironically, even a day after the Ind-Pak Fevi kwik ad was released, its link was not uploaded on YouTube!!!) And then follow it up with plugs in the media about germination of the Big Idea, making of the commercial,…,…

Just one note of caution. It’s not just ads which are viralling today. Songs, documentaries, jokes and so many sundry stuff. So, soon it will become a battle to win in the viral space as well.

And once I finish this post I am going to share this in different platforms not missing the ‘mauka‘ to viral this post!!! (And contributing to the viral velocity of the ads ofcourse!!!)

Postscript: It’s another matter that an Ind-Pak encounter that too in a World Cup doesn’t need promotion at all. But Star Sports had to promote it due its obligation/commitment to its sponsors, advertisers,.. I guess. Having said all this, I do feel that the Mauka, Mauka campaign is now getting a tad boring. What was natural in the 1st 2/3 spots seems artificial now and is losing steam!!! So there the other lesson – Even a What an Idea, Sirji when over flogged becomes – What a boring idea, Sirji!!!

One has now lost count of the ‘Mauka’ spoofs hitting YouTube every day now!!! And they seem better than the Star Sports version of the Mauka ads being released now :( :(