Monday, April 30, 2007

What’s in a name?

Pop Quiz!

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I say…


I am sure you would have thought detergent, ayurvedic face cream and anti-septic lotion.

That’s what we’ve all associated these brands to, it’s been hammered in our heads for years now. Over the years these brand names and many more like them have become synonymous with the product itself. Need more examples? Think Xerox, Post-its, Scissors etc.

Over the last few years we’ve seen almost every company expanding its product line. For example Pond’s, which we all used to associate with talcum powder, broke into the personal care and cosmetics market with every possible product imaginable. They even have certified beauty salons. Likewise we’ve seen the Will’s ‘made for each other’ cigarette brand extend its product line to fashion.

When companies decide to go into such product line extensions, they have the option of doing it in two different ways. One, keep the same brand name across all their product offerings. Two, create a new brand name for each of its products. The former is called blanket branding or family branding, a single brand or company name which is used to identify a range of products. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

When different products of the same company have different brand names the risk of one product’s credibility rubbing off on the other is very low or even non-existent. Supposing a new product from a company was to be a failure in the market, it really wouldn’t affect the credibility of another product of the same company. Manufacturers could pull out unsuccessful brands without damaging their other successful brands. But incase of blanket branding or family branding the risk of generalizing product credibility (regardless of product category) is very high.

There are some companies that have pulled of blanket branding across various product categories very successfully. To name a few, kingfisher, Virgin etc.

And there are those that have (in my personal opinion) fallen or are falling flat on their faces. There are two particular brands I’d like to take as bad examples of blanket or family branding.

Parachute as we all know has been the leader in the coconut hair oil segment for donkey’s years. Especially in the south, oiling one’s hair is more auspicious than hygienic. Oil baths are a weekend ritual that almost everyone follows religiously and without question. In the recent past Parachute revamped its image of being a traditional brand to a more chic brand. You might have spotted the Asin Ad for nariyal tel or more recently the Yuvraj Ad for parachute styling creams taking the free running fad route. I must say they look pretty cool and are doing wonders in making Parachute a more fashionable brand. But parachute made an even bolder move. They brought out a string of after shower products like hair gels etc. under the same brand, i.e. Parachute. The Ads look great but the name Parachute just doesn’t sound right for such products. In my personal opinion I would rather pick up a styling gel that’s called Set Wet than Parachute. Gel’s are all about styling and so I think they need to have stylish names. Parachute just won’t do. Period.

The other brand that I want to talk about is Kamasutra…yup, the condom brand name who’s very mention makes most Indians squeamish. Recently I came across these nice black teaser hoardings with pink and red typos. The message on one such hoarding read “She wears Kamasutra while studying.” That really got my grey cells working overtime, and while I was eagerly waiting for the revealer, I came across another hoarding with the same kind of art treatment. This one read “My boss used my Kamasutra.” Imagine my curiosity. A few days later I came across the revealer and was totally blown. The ads were for a range of Deos and perfumes that Kamasutra has launched. I really don’t know what Kamasutra’s game plan is. If their plan is to make Kamasutra a household name, and to spread the message that condoms are not a taboo thing, then I guess it’s a good effort. But personally I can’t see myself telling my mom to add Kamasutra to the monthly grocery list. I think it’s just a bad example of blanket branding.

It’s not just product association, in case of a blanket brand, which is a problem, it also becomes extremely difficult to market. For instance, a couple of years ago I worked on a launch campaign of a vodka brand. The client wanted to give it the same brand name as all his other products (theme park, food grains, transport etc). The client would have nothing else, and we gave up after several unsuccessful attempts to convince him. The whole launch exercise became a Herculean task, taking into consideration the rules and regulations on alcohol advertising in India. A Mischief Vodka or a Smirnoff has so much more possibilities to explore when it came to advertising.

Well, I am no Philip Kotler and all that I might have said here might be absolute nonsense, but this is how I feel about these two brands and their extended family of products. If you’d like to dispute my views on these two brands and straighten out my thinking, you are most welcome as always.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What the F**k am I doing in Advertising?

Thinking back now, I am totally stumped as to why I chose advertising. And to top it all up I chose to be a writer. What was it that made me take such a suicidal decision? Why couldn’t I have just taken up engineering and gone on to be a marine engineer like my brother? Why couldn’t I have chosen to become a physiotherapist like my cousin? Why didn’t I just take up a BPO profession and earn a fat pay like my sister? Or I could have even followed in my dad’s footsteps and become a sales person. Of the millions of career options I had, I had to go and pick advertising. Well, guess what…I screwed up. Now there’s no turning back.

There’s at least one minute in every day that I regret having chosen the field I am in now. It’s been almost six long years, of waiting and hoping that things will get better, almost six long rigorous years of stretching my patience to unimaginable limits. But now I feel I am at the edge. I am hanging on by a finger over a bottomless trench. I am in a situation where I can neither pull myself up nor let go and fall.

My problem with advertising is not the pay or the inhuman amount of work. If left to myself I am just fine with it. My problem is with the whole machine-like work culture it’s heading towards. Agencies are no longer places that people covet to be part of. They are no longer places where gods and goddesses create new brands and ideas that change the face of humanity forever. They are just factories churning out precisely detailed pieces of communication that are written, designed and approved by clients. Over the years clients have become the creators and we simply their tools. The Indian advertising industry has reached maturity and is ready to die.

I find it so difficult to write when I am told…”we need a headline of five words and it has to have the words ‘Price’, ‘offer’ and ‘business’.” What am I supposed to do in a situation like this? How can I claim that I am a creative writer when all I do is fill in the blanks? To tell you the truth, I feel absolutely cheated. My dreams have crumbled before my very eyes. Advertising as an industry has failed to provide me the satisfaction I sought. In recent years, we have seen many veterans from various departments of the advertising world, walk out of the industry forever. Why? Their patience ran out, their thirst for good work could never be quenched. They realized that advertising had become an ever obedient slave to its master - the client.

Is there no way we can recreate the charm that advertising used to have years before? Are we spineless yesmen to the client? Are we just people who spare client’s time and money by saving him the effort of learning Photoshop, Coreldraw and Grammar? What does creative really mean in today’s agency? Oh yes, you might question me about the thousands of wonderful work you see in the archives and magazines like that. Well brother, wake up and smell the coffee, have you ever seen any of those actually in the papers or on TV? Other than a few of them, all are scam work. The real work is mundane, boring and most often so powerfully uninspiring that over certain duration of time it could make a creative person lose the ability to think laterally. You get so tuned, you become a one track mind.

This maybe the only reason why employee retention in the advertising industry is either really low or even non-existent. People jump agencies before you can say 3. People jump with hopes of working on better brands, of working with more open minded clients. But this seldom happens. The grass always seems greener on the other side.

What do we do? How do we boost the morale of the creative lot? How do we bring back the glory days when clients knew that agency people know their work? How do we tell the fat man in the MD’s chair to keep his personal fixation on blondes restricted to his bedroom and not let it loose in his company’s corporate communication?

Many in the industry today feel that advertising is a service. That we provide communication services. Pardon me for thinking otherwise, I for one think we are creators, and that we should be treated with the same respect and reverence that used to be given to artists like Michael Angelo, Piccaso and their likes.

Do you think that day will ever come again when we will draw ‘Ahs’ and ‘oohs’ in a crowd, when we mention our profession? Well, till that day arrives, I am still going to be hanging on with my finger over that bottomless trench, because I don’t know what else to do.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the author are solely his own and are not meant to intentionally displease or hurt the personal opinions of any person or organisation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Little Miss Panic

Consider the following two incidents

Incident Uno

It’s 10.00AM on Monday and Dhivya walks into the office. She goes straight to her comp, switches it on, logs on to her numerous mail accounts, checks her schedule for the day, sips her coffee and then heads to the creative department for a brief chit chat session. After a ‘hi’ here and a ‘hello’ there, the topic turns to work, that’s when Vijay, the visualiser, tells Dhivya, “Hey! That reminds me, that 100cc ad you wanted me to transfer to the studio this morning…the file got corrupted, and…”

Even before he could finish what he was saying Dhivya erupts, “Aaaagh!!!!! That ad was supposed to reach the publication by 12 noon. What the hell Vijay? How could you not get the bugs in your comp rectified? You always do this to me man. Besides all the bull shit I have to endure to get work done from you guys, now I have to listen to some major crap from the publication too. You guys always let me down. Oh my god! Its TOI, you know how they are, they’re gonna castrate me. They’ll talk to my boss. I am finished here. Now, I’ll have to look for another job and I’ll never be able to…”

“Woo! Hey! Hey! Hold your horses…let me finish what I am saying. Yes, the file got corrupted so I re-created it and sent it to the studio. I just wanted you to take a look and see if it’s exactly how you presented to the client. That’s all. Jesus! You’re such a compulsive panicker,” retorted Vijay.

“Oh. Hee hee! So everything’s fine. God you gave me such a scare…uh let me go send an important mail to my client”, with that Dhivya sheepishly vanishes from the scene.

Incident Dos

It’s 10.30PM, same Monday, Dhivya’s at home, cozily settled with a book. That’s when her phone decides to sing.


“Hello…hi Ravi, what’s up?

“Hey. I was just driving through your neighbourhood. Listen, this friend I was supposed to go to a movie with, ditched me. So I got 2 tickets to that new flick you so badly wanted to go see. Wanna go? I can pick you in five.

“Oh no! you got tickets to that movie? Oh sure I wanna go…but wait, I can’t go tonight…I got this really big pimple on my nose and I reeeeeaaaally can’t be seen sporting it in public….oh god! I reeeeeeaaaally wanna see that movie man. Sniff, sniff, why do these things happen to me? God! I hate this…What do I do? What do I do? Waaaah…I so badly wanna go.”

“Hey chill yaar, why are you making such a big fuss about a lousy pimple? People will think nothing of it. You’re not a starlet for people to notice everything and anything about you all the time. Besides you’ll only have to be seen in the light a few minutes. I’ll whisk you into the movie hall quickly so that no one will notice the pimple in the darkness”

“You always make fun of me. You never take things seriously. No! I’ll see it with Ram another time. You can go see it alone or throw away the tickets for all I care…bye…sniff.”

“What the…Dhivya…hey...”


A baffled Ravi…drives back home not knowing what hit him.

That’s little miss panic for you. I work with her, and often watch her panic for both the silliest and serious matters of life. She’s a real panic pot. I must say it’s quite a sight for the onlooker, but what do you think is going on through her mind when she’s having a panic attack?

Some people just panic about anything and everything. I think it’s a way of curbing a high dose of adrenaline rushing through their veins. A means to clear the traffic of thoughts honking at a four cross signal in their minds. It’s perfectly normal. Many times Dhivya has asked me “You get such a kick out of watching me panic don’t you?” Well, the truth is yes and no.

To an extent it’s comical and who wouldn’t like a nice laugh. It actually helps relax my mind and focus more clearly after watching such a comical display. But I don’t enjoy it all the time either. I am not saying you should never panic. But pick where to panic. If you panic for everything, people will never think you capable of handling responsibility. Part of being in the advertising industry is about being able to handle chaos. There’s always chaos, everyday. By panicking, you’re not gonna make the world stop spinning. And neither is the world gonna end if you don’t.

Panic when you see an accident on the road…not when it happens on the movie screen.

But I guess for compulsive panickers it is really hard. And probably I don’t really understand how they feel. But hey, I always tell Dhivya to go ahead and do her thing if it helps chill her.

That said I’d also like to add one last thing little miss panic…’Sorry for laughing at you when you panic and sorry for the exaggerated mimic act I keep doing of you panicking’…:)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Homemaker Man

I’ve got this couple - Michael & Reena, who live next door. At first glance you’d notice nothing strange about them. They come across as the average young couple. Childless and very much in love with each other. But, watch them closely day in and day out and you’ll catch exactly what I am talking about.

Every morning you’ll see Reena come out of the house at about 8.30. She’d be wearing formal attire. No prizes for guessing she’s a working woman. Well, that’s nothing odd in our society. In recent years women have really challenged men at the workplace, and proven just as competitive as any man in every field. So, Reena is a working woman with a regular 9 to 5 grind. Michael on the other hand (and this is the odd part) can be seen watering and trimming their lovely little garden from 9 to about 11. Then, around 12 noon you can see Michael bringing out freshly washed linen to the drying lines. Shortly after that Michael can be seen driving off and returning in about an hour’s duration with brimming paper bags. At about 4 in the evening Michael clears the dried linen from the lines and takes them indoor. Following that you’ll find him sitting at their cute little tea table out in the garden, reading the paper and sipping chai. Reena arrives shortly, joins Michael in the garden, the couple sit around chatting over chai for an hour and then they head in for the night.

At first, I thought this was a temporary arrangement. My thoughts ranged from
‘Michael must have recently quit his job and looking for a better option’.
‘Maybe Michael is a novelist’
Or even ‘Michael must be working for one of those fancy work-from-home companies’
I never even came close to the truth of the matter while pondering.

Michael is actually a new age husband. A ‘revolutionary’, if I may term him that. Michael is a ‘House husband’. Don’t laugh. There is nothing to laugh about. If you spoke to Michael you’d be convinced that being a homemaker is what he enjoys best. And Reena (who loves him unconditionally) is absolutely fine with the arrangement. From a very early age, Michael showed no signs of fighting it out in the outside world. Being the bread winner to him seemed a drab. He always wanted to be the homemaker. And this position he enjoys thoroughly. He devotes as much attention to making sure the house is squeaky clean just as any other man would to make his presentation flawless. And on the other hand Reena displays all the attributes of an enterprising young woman. She is ruthlessly ambitious when it comes to her job. It’s a fine arrangement for this couple. Both doing their part even though the roles are reversed.

I don’t know what to think of this situation. I know a lot of people in my locality who think Michael is a pansy. But I for one, having known the man, know that he is anything but pansy. Like I said, he’s a military general when it comes to running the house.

Is it wrong for a man to differ from the pre-ordained societal role? Why should man always be the provider? In a world were women want equality in everything, why can’t a man do a woman’s job? What really is a man’s job and what is a woman’s job? Who makes these dumb rules anyway?

I don’t know the answers but I have no problem with accepting Michael as a man. He does exactly what he likes to do and thoroughly enjoys doing it. Reena has no complaints. She’s actually been freed from her pre-ordained societal role to pursue her interests. So, what actually is wrong with this situation? Nothing. But I guess it will take decades, or even centuries, before the Indian society accepts role reversals. It’s becoming quite common in other parts of the world, but it’s still not widely accepted.

This might be a very controversial topic for a blog. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying I like to be like Michael. I enjoy my work and I would definitely like to be the bread winner of my family. But, if Michael likes to be a homemaker, I have nothing against him. Then why should society feel any different?

Disclaimer: All characters in this blog are fictitious and any resemblance to any one alive or dead is purely accidental. India Search