25 years since the “Roja” blossomed!!!

It was in the year 1992, exactly 25 years ago. I was in Cochin learning the ropes in my 1st job. Weekends were usually time for catching up on films of all hue. And that particular weekend was reserved for what eventually turned out to be a landmark film in Indian cinema in many ways than one. The film Roja was helmed by Maniratnam who had by then become a sort of a cult in Tamil cinema with back to back hits. The film had many firsts to its credit. For the 1st time, a Mani’s film was not about a Robin hoodish character (like in Pagal Nilavu, Nayagan, and Thalapathi) or not of relationships in uber cool urban setting (like in Mouna Ragam, Agni Natchatiram, Idayathai Thirudathey, and Anjali).  In this he explored a new template that of setting up a relationship story with a conflict as backdrop and one that he would often deploy in his career later with mixed success (Bombay, Iruvar, Dil Se, Kannathil Muthamittal,…).  And more importantly for the 1st time a Maniratnam film did not have Ilayaraja as the music director. One with whom he had partnered since his 1st film and delivered some eternal music. Instead he introduced a rookie, young talent to the world called A.R. Rahman who was till then doing jingles for ads. Leo coffee apart from providing the caffeine quotient to South Indians also has the distinction of providing 2 heartthrobs to Indian Cinema – Rahman and Arvind Swamy!!!

Leaving the theatre after the film Roja, I was disappointed with the film. I thought that the film was good but not great. And Mani whose films are deeply rooted in realism, in this had an overdose of melodrama particularly in the end. But then in the theatre at the climax when Arvind Swamy is let off by his captors and gets to unite with his wife, there was a standing ovation. So I guess it all worked for Mani and the film.

So is this post a review of the film Roja 25 years late as the title may suggest? I guess not. But of the genius called Rahman which the film bequeathed to us. Being an ardent and unapologetic fan of Ilayaraja, I guess the first reason for not liking the film Roja was probably that Raja was not doing the music. But in the film as the 1st song – Chinna China Aasai, played out, the music and the visuals were just breathtaking. It was clear that we were entering into a new era of sounds in Tamil music.  SPB, Chithra and other many new comers who were singing in the film were all sounding differently. The songs started growing on you and so did the film. By the time, the Hindi version of Roja got released and became a “super-dubber” hit, Mani was excused and I came out of denial to accept that he has indeed made another great film!

Post Roja, Rahman continued to belt hit songs one after another and he was soon becoming a rage. Whether it was feet tapping numbers like Chikku bukku rayile, Petta Rap,.. or melodies like Narumugaiye, Ennavale,.. or folk numbers like Poraale Ponnu thayee soon Rahman’s music was all over the place.  And in South India where the benchmark for a musician is always how “sound” his/her basics are in classical music (read as Carnatic), Rahman’s deployment of Carnatic ragas in some of his compositions was deft and subtle.  In the song Kanna Moochi yenada for the film Kandukonden, Kandukonden, Rahman’s blending of ragas Natta Kurinji and Sahana is exceptional. Also in the song Narumugaiye in Iruvar the classical Nattai raga gets a Rahman touch. And in the song – Vidukathaiyaa intha Vaazhkai from the film Muthu, a situation (watch here) which is melancholic Rahman aptly uses Ahir Bhairavi – a raga suited to convey such emotions (Remember Viswanathan-Ramamurthy’s Ullathil Nalla Ullam,… in Karnan??). Enough to get into the good books of even the purists of Mylapore, I say!!  While doing all this, he was also in the forefront of turning “Super-Singers” to Stars and breaking the hegemony of established stalwarts. Soon capping new comers would become a mandatory trait for all music composers!

But still for the ears – which were so used to the melody and rhythm of Ilayaraja for probably 20 years since childhood, the new sounds of Rahman were still offbeat.  It was only much later that we came to know that in the film Punnagai Mannan which was touted to be the 1st to use computerized music, while Ilayaraja wrote the score, it was a young kid in his late teens named A. R. Rahman who actually handled the music sequencer for the theme music (listen here).

The fact was, in the initial period Rahman’s songs were sounding similar to his own earlier compositions and ended up being predictable. So, for many of us Raja fans, it was either Raja or Rahman and cannot be both.

By 2000 I had moved back to Mumbai and with that got to follow more Hindi music. Soon after, in 2001, the epic Hindi film – Lagaan had released. And Lagaan had Rahman as the music composer.  Apart from the various facets of the film which makes Lagaan a milestone film – the music score of Rahman was out of the world. Just in the first few minutes into the film as the song Ghanan Ghanan Ghanan starts playing out, one could make out that this was a hitherto not seen/heard Rahman. From then on, I became an unapologetic fan of Rahman. It was no longer Raja or Rahman but Raja and Rahman.

With his success in films like Roja, Dil Se, Lagaan Rahman became the 1st music composer from the South to leave an imprint in Bollywood. Directors from Bollywood didn’t mind making the trips to Chennai and burn the midnight oil (almost all his recording happens in the night – we are told) to get their music score done by Rahman.  And Rahman who keeps saying that he wants to continuously keep stretching his own limits –often walked this talk. His later movies particularly in Hindi like Jodha Akbar, Dilli 16, Rockstar,… explored new aspects of Sufi music till then not touched by earlier composers and brought Sufi music to the centre stage of Bollywood. And again for a person from the South of the Vindhyas to compose some wonderful Punjabi folk numbers in films like Rang De Basanti, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Rockstar,,.. is something extraordinary.  Just as we keep thinking that Rahman is past his prime he surprises us with some outstanding music. In the film Tamashaa for example. Or even in the otherwise forgettable film Kochadaiyaan (the shifting of Octave as the song progresses in Meduvaagathaan,… – is nuanced music at its best)

Talking of Rahman and not mentioning of his Oscar would seem to be unjust. But then personally for me, The Slumdog Millionaire (TSM) was not Rahman’s best effort. Yes, it got him the Oscar and we should be proud of that. But beyond that, I think his own work in some of the Indian films far outweigh TSM or his other Hollywood efforts.

Comparisons of the music of Raja and Rahman are odious and unfair but unavoidable. To me Raja is an outstanding music composer. And Rahman an outstanding music Engineer. A true Engineer lives and dies by “Efficiency” as defined as “Output/Input” in his/her work.  So Rahman uses voices, scores, instruments, sounds and technology (Inputs) to optimize the eventual music output. Ilayaraja is a composer first who depends on the tune/score largely and then the right arrangement and less of technology. His music horse sense is what he brings to the table than the machines. Hence he is unparalleled in terms of understanding the musical needs of a situation. That’s why Raja’s songs always lift the situations in the films and he is way ahead of the rest as for as background score is concerned.  This debate can go on and on.

For a Raja-Rahman fan like me, what about a film that too by Maniratnam with music by Ilayaraja and Rahman – where Raja composes the tunes for the songs, writes the background score while Rahman does the arrangement, records the music, mixes it and we get to hear the magic!!! Well wouldn’t that be a great way to celebrate 40 years of (Anna) Kili’s chirping and 25 years of the Roja blossoming???

Leadership Marketing!!!

David Packard, Co-founder of Hewlett Packard famously said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the Marketing Department”.  He meant that in an organization, every individual – the CEO included, has to perform his/her bit in “marketing” the company’s products.  I am not sure if there is anybody else who has taken to this concept more keenly than Donald Trump, a CEO turned POTUS. How else could you explain this?? On the 28th Jan, Trump has a call with the Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull as part of his global leadership outreach since he became the President. Post the call, the official White House Readout on the call went thus:

“President Donald J. Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke by phone for twenty-five minutes today. Both leaders emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship that is critical for peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally”.

A few days hence, media reports emerged on the call which said, “Donald Trump yelled at Australian PM during “worst ever” phone call about refugee swap deal – then HUNG UP”. For obvious reasons, this report created a furore all over with the rumblings being heard for few days over. In the meantime Trump at a Prayer Breakfast added,

Believe me, when you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having – don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it,”

Now, here’s the intrigue. Apparently we hear that while on the call with Turnbull, Trump was joined by the then National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and senior advisor Steve Bannon. Only. So how did reports of his so called “yelling” and “hanging up” find their way to the media??? Surely the President’s office is not bugged by some media house! It’s clear that the media reports were a part of an orchestrated PR campaign to market the product called Trump. In this case it was clearly intended to send a message to his constituency which bought his message of “America First” during the campaign that he is tough and is now “Walking the Talk”.  Notwithstanding the tremors that the news of the call created, I am sure it did the job of enhancing Trump’s image among his supporters as a no nonsense leader. So it was not just important for Trump to talk tough on the refugee issue but to communicate to the world that he talked tough.

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Welcome to the age of “Leadership Marketing”!!!

Closer home too, we have parallels to this. Through Narendra Modi our Prime Minister. For example, when Heeraben, our PM’s mother visits him in Delhi and spends a few days at the official Prime Minister’s residence, we get to see pictures splashed in the newspapers of Narendra Modi with his mother. The source of this being the Prime Minister’s twitter handle itself where Modi posted pictures of him walking his mother in a wheel chair along with his tweet which said “My mother returns to Gujarat. Spent quality time with her after a long time & that too on her 1st visit to RCR”.  So to his many followers, the intended message is clear. Here’s a leader who is tender at heart with his mom while being blessed with a 56” chest in his own words to take on his adversaries.  In India more than spending time with wife and children, image of a leader taking care of his mother has a telling impact. Again it was not just enough for Modi to spend quality time with his mom but to inform the world that he did so!!!

America, arguably the global fountainhead of marketing has been in the forefront of adopting this technique with Trump now but even with Barack Obama before. Routinely we were fed with images of how the Obamas enjoyed quiet dinners at suburban restaurants on weekends. On Obama’s 55th birthday which was his last in Office, we saw plugs like “55 pictures of Obama discovering his inner child” and so on!!! In the case of Obama the positioning was not of a tough leader but of an affable and lovable man who cared for everybody.

In India, giving competition to our PM in Leadership Marketing is the Aam Aadmi Party Chief Arvind Kejriwal. He wears the positioning of Aam Aadmi on his sleeve. Literally. Even as a CM of a state he walks in chappals, wears loose fit clothes, tweets reviews of films he catches up on weekends,… to reinforce his positioning. The party also posts routinely on Facebook like this:

“Chief Minister of India’s Capital. No security, No VIP treatment. Truly Aam Aadmi,”  With the following picture:

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Not surprising that the post got over 30,000 likes and 5,400 comments!!!

So, Leadership Marketing is no longer the exclusive domain of Americans.

In advocating this Leadership Marketing, I must say that the advent of Social media has made the job much easier. No need to depend on your PR agency to do the job. One could time it yourself.

On the flip side, the case of Vijay Mallya tweeting a picture of himself at a Super luxury hotel in Dubai and claiming to have a rocking time when his employees were hitting the streets for unpaid salary back home were bad optics and horrendous Leadership Marketing!!! Leadership Marketing is the new double edged sword in the arsenal for leaders to “position” themselves “right” in the battle for the minds and hearts. Double edged it is and hence they can’t leave it to the party’s publicity wing or an external agency but have to be on top of it themselves. Just as Packard advised.

As leaders engage in this marketing and optics, we the people need to develop the skill of separating wheat from the chaff and make our judgement objectively rather than fall for the optics or surround sound!!!

So the next time when you see a report quoting from an “inside source” of Trump banging the table during a meeting with Tim Cook for not making Apple phones in America or a clip of O.Paneer Selvam praying to a Jayalalitha’s picture tucked in his shirt pocket, you know why!!!

Somebody famously said, “The Future of Marketing is Leadership”. I am tempted to paraphrase in tune with today’s times as “The Future of Leadership is Marketing”. Amen.

Ad today, Sad Tomorrow – A Brand Ambassador’s soon to be story!!!

Since the time, Sindhu won a Silver and Sakshi a Bronze for India at the Rio Olympics, their phones (probably endorsed by a Kareena or an Alia) I guess haven’t stopped ringing. Or perhaps their managers’. For, many brands are on their way to signing them as brand ambassadors. For now it’s O.K., for Sindhu or Sakshi to sign on the dotted line in these endorsement contracts and make hay while the medal shines. However not if the Government pushes forth the changes in the Consumer Protection bill which proposes jail term and fine for celebrities in case of misleading advertisements for products they endorse. The intention being to make celebrities also responsible for products they endorse apart from the manufacturers. “Consumers tend to get influenced by the promise made by the celebrities in ads” is the argument behind the proposed move.

As a marketing professional I have never been very excited about using celebrities in ads to push a product. In B-schools every year, one popular project students carry out with the blessings of their professors is to find out the effectiveness of celebrities in an ad campaign. That the study is done regularly conveys that the jury is still out on that. At a superficial level though, it is commonly accepted that use of a celebrity helps break the clutter and differentiate the ad. Though as per me, this is “laid back, lazy creativity” as there are indeed many other ways to break the clutter. Using celebrities is of course a low hanging fruit for those with big budgets and is often deployed as a creative strategy when one can afford. I just realized that this piece is not on whether to use celebrities or not in ads. We will keep that for another Sunday. But on the proposed changes in the law which could stop the party on its tracks for the so called Brand Ambassadors.

Going back in time, I think ads whether print or TV just had people featuring in them and were called as models. And then slowly the practice of plugging in celebrities like actors, sportspersons,… crept in as I mentioned, probably to make the communication stand out. I am not sure when this “celebrities modelling” for an ad morphed into “endorsing the product” and then as we see now becoming “brand Ambassadors” for the company.

She looks like Sonia Sahni to me.

As long as celebrities “featured” in ads for products I guess they were just plain actors parroting some lines. But when they started endorsing brands (making a killing in the process) – that’s when I guess they came into the ambit of influencing buyers’ decision and of course within the prying eyes of lawmakers. In my understanding there are 2 types of celebrity endorsements. First, where a celebrity is used to promote a product which is related to what he/she is doing and is a direct endorsement. For example – A Sachin or a Kapil Dev being used to promote ‘Boost’- an energy drink for children. When Kapil says – “Boost is the secret of MY energy” there is a clear communication to moms that “if you want your child to become like me, do consider giving Boost to your kid”.  Or when Katrina Kaif says – “if you want a smooth skin like mine, use Lux Soap”!

The second category is where brands just use a celebrity as a face in the ads and the products may not be related at all. For example – Amitabh Bachchan featuring in Binani Cement ads.

And probably there exists a third category – where the product is not related to the celebrity’s field of normal work but companies tap into the credibility of the star to push their wares. Though this is not common, we have started seeing this of late. For example, when Cadbury’s wanted to make a comeback after they got hit by the “worms inside chocolate” tornado, they dialed in Amitabh. Amitabh featured in the commercial as “himself”. See the ad here. As you can see in this TVC, he was clearly putting his personal credibility at stake to communicate to consumers that with the many steps taken by the company, “All is well” with the chocolates!

(I’m not considering the social awareness campaigns using celebrities for the moment)

In the whole business of celebrity endorsements, many questions do arise. Do the celebrities who extol the virtues of brands use the product/service themselves? Have they first checked if the claims they are making are true? In the case of endorsing for investment projects,.. do the celebrities vouch for the credibility of the promoters?

The thinking behind the proposed changes in the law seems to be after many instances of consumers landing in the pit after they invested their hard earned money in projects which also had big stars endorsing the same.  At the same time, there have been so many cases where consumers lost money in projects where stars were not at all involved!

It is difficult to believe that consumers are so gullible that they buy a product just because a star endorses it. This premise seriously underestimates the intelligence of a consumer. If just a star endorsement can make a product tick, all those mobile phones with celebrity brand ambassadors must be outselling the I-phone isn’t it???

But whatever it may be, punishing celebrities for wrong claims of a product because they feature in the ads seems a bit farfetched.  A consumer is expected to do his/her bit before deciding to buy a product/service. More so in the case of big investments. Putting the blame on a M.S.Dhoni just because a real estate project he endorsed didn’t see the light of the day is sheer escapism, I believe. I think we should consider celebrities featuring in ads as enhancing the entertainment quotient and nothing beyond that. At the same time as a socially conscious individual a celebrity should be careful in lending his/her name or face to a product which has inherent health concerns a la Gopichand who refused to feature in Cola ads in his prime time! And also do a bit more homework on the credibility of the brand/promoter before signing on the dotted line for the next 1 crore endorsement deal. Or else post the new law it will be “Ad today, Sad tomorrow”!!!

Post script: Will be interesting to know in which category of celebrity endorsements does the Jio campaign featuring our PM fall into???😝😝😝

Ki, Ka & Family!!!

Adman turned filmmaker Balki’s latest outing as his previous ones treads into unchartered territory in Bollywood. This post is not a review of the film but about its narrative. So, I’m not getting into rating of the film which anyway as per me was far better than his earlier work – Shamitabh. In this one, Balki through the male protagonist attempts to remove the differentiation of the “lings” in Hindi language namely स्त्रीलिंग (streeling) feminine and पुल्लिंग (pulling) masculine. I can pretty much understand as to where Balki is coming from. Like most of us from the South of Vindhyas probably Balki also found it difficult to figure out where to use Ka and Ki while conversing in Hindi😂. So getting rid of these “lings” would be a thing most of us will welcome!

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But the film is not about any reform in Hindi but about a new form of relationship between an urban couple.  For the benefit of those who gave this Ki and Ka a miss, here’s the premise of the storyline where the film attempts to break established gender stereotypes. (You may like to watch the trailer here which would sum up the premise better) The man sits at home as a house husband while the woman pursues her career ambitions and is the one “pulling” the strings of the purse that is. The man cooks, cleans, does the household chores and also satiates the sexual needs of the wife adequately while his wife is engaged in drawing up boardroom strategies to sell her company’s products as a marketing pro. All this voluntarily and not out of forced circumstances. Now this is a new hatke formulation for Indian society and a Bollywood film – one which instantly brings smiles on the faces of urban women. In one stroke, Balki has earned the fandom of millions of women by making “Ki” (lady) the actual “Ka”(Man)!

So far so good. However in reality, if ones looks at the timeline of relationships between couples atleast in urban India, there has been a gradual progression but one that has still not reached Balki’s make believe stage yet. The evolution in society has been like this. In our grandparents’ times, the role definitions were very clear. The man (husband) is supposed to be the bread winner and is the protector of the family. The lady (wife) did all the work at home as a house wife and was generally subdued. These were the unchallenged “Ka” times! As literacy and family income levels increased, women became slightly more empowered. The next was the generation where the role clarity became hazy. While the husband continued to earn and be the head of the family, the wife apart from taking care of the house, also did her bit in enhancing the family income. So this was the era of the “Super Woman” who was still subdued at home. Though the wife was equally involved in earning money, somehow at home she was still expected to handle everything right from the kitchen to children’ studies. Still the “Ka” era. The next generation – probably the current one is where I guess things are more balanced. Both the husband and wife are equally well educated, ambitious about their respective careers and at home they just simply outsource the work. Or the husband grudgingly or otherwise plays ball to share work. Actually the “Ki and Ka” times.  (I must hasten to add that some of the above situations referred to in historical context exist even today. I’ve just referred to the trend)

Now what Balki has shown in the film is his fantasy of a “Ki” Era. An era where the woman is completely emancipated. Now the question is – Is this the future? Will we be seeing more and more men preferring to be house husbands willingly and would women take it as their comeuppance?? One doesn’t know.

But if one analyses all the above formulations, it is abundantly clear that the dominant “Ka” era is on the wane. The dominant “Ki” era is still a fantasy and would be in all probability fraught with its own dangers.  It would seem that the one which can work is the “Ki and Ka” formulation. However I have another construct in mind. Which is the “Ki, Ka & family” formulation. Where the husband and wife take care of the earnings part, share the household work and at the same time teach the children to embrace household chores and do their bit willingly. The best process of coaching is always the demonstrative process. When a child sees his dad cleaning up a shelf on weekends, he tends to pick this as a habit when he grows up. Apart from being demonstrative, I believe it is equally important to let children do the work instead of being too protective. In my experience I’ve seen that behind most misogynistic men have been indulgent parents. This is wonderfully demonstrated in the Award winning #sharetheload commercial of Ariel. Watch it here. Where the old father rues the fact that he never helped his wife –in her household work and that his son in law who is seen ordering around would have also not witnessed his dad helping at home!! And commits himself to share the load henceforth in household work. Now there can be no better news than this for any woman for whom Newspaper, TV and now mobile phones are sworn enemies for life😃😃.

“Can you please stop typing away to glory and share the load here?  It’s the wife at home. “Yes, coming!!!” is my loud war cry. Followed by, “Beta, put off the TV and come to the kitchen. See what appa is doing”!!!😃😃

So for me it’s not “Ki” or “Ka” or even “Ki and Ka”. It has to be “Ki, Ka & family”👍👍👍

“Idea Extension Trap”!!!

Al Ries and Jack Trout the “Art of Positioning” gurus in their best seller – ‘Positioning – The battle for your mind’ devoted one full chapter on what they call as the “Line Extension Trap”. They claimed that Line Extension whereby marketers having built a successful brand in one product category extend the same brand to another line of products is a trap. A vicious trap which as per the marketing gurus ends up diluting the core promise of the original brand.  A Ponds talcum powder which has been a very successful brand when extended to a tooth paste confuses the consumer and eventually fails. And there are more examples. But in business, line extension is often the trap which the brand managers walk into with their eyes open with their advertising agencies in tow.

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These are the times of “Big Ideas”. And I see the same extension happening on good ideas. For example once an advertising communication idea once does well as measured by the viral and viewership statistics the temptation is to flog it again and again.  This, without realizing that the idea is already way past the best before date. A telling example of this is the Star Sports’ Mauka Mauka campaign. The first spot (see here) on this now familiar campaign was conceived before the Indo-Pak encounter in the league stages of the ICC ODI World Cup in 2015. With the background of the previous Indo-Pak meetings at the Cricket World Cup which have all been won by India, the spot featuring a Pakistani fan waiting desparately for a Mauka (opportunity) to celebrate a Pakistani win was bang on. The idea, the story and its execution no wonder caught the fancy of millions of fans and the commercial soon became a case study for viral marketing! It also spawned a variety of spoofs which added to the value of the Idea. So it was not surprising that Star Sports followed it up with another Mauka spot for the next India match which again became popular. Having smelt blood, the broadcaster decided to flog the Mauka Idea. India exited the World Cup in the Semis, but the Mauka spots didn’t. Now as the World Cup progressed, Mauka spots started to get boring, repetitive and almost were like being thrust upon the audience. One year later, for the ICC T20 World Wup, Star Sports was back as the official broadcaster. So did the Mauka ad just before the Indo-Pak match. Only that this time, the story line looked unnatural and the ad fell flat in terms of idea and execution. Now this is what happens when marketers (Star Sports in this case) waltz into the “Idea Extension Trap”. Star Sports is not alone and there are many others in its August Company.

Vodafone for one. I feel that the mobile service provider with its once adorable pug has also fallen into this trap. For its 4G launch (watch here), it has tried to resurrect the charm of the pug which few years ago did wonders for Hutch with its “Wherever you go our network follows” campaign. The pug again was brought into action when Hutch became Vodafone and it wanted to popularize their “Happy to Help” stores. But now in this Vodafone’s 4G launch campaign, the pug is looking tired and jaded (atleast in our eyes) and the campaign when compared to the Airtel’s 4G campaign doesn’t stand and that’s in my humble opinion.

In the big screen also oflate, idea extensions have become rampant. The original Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Gol maal was a classic and will remain one. This is one film which got remade in almost all major Indian languages. But the subsequent Rohit Shetty imitations of Gol maal in the form of Gol maal returns, Gol maal 3,..  will remain just that.  Lowly imitations of an idea which has now been flogged to death. Rohit Shetty went one step ahead by milking the same Gol Maal idea in another name – Bol Bachchan!!

This bug of Idea Extension is most prevalent in TV programming content. A successful format gets packaged, repackaged and extended and finally kills the original idea. When Kaun Banega Crorepati becomes a roaring hit with Amitabh Bachchan in Hindi, the producers extend the same KBC format to different languages with regional stars. The fact remains that there can be only one Amitabh Bachchan. The regional shows turn out to be pale imitations of the original big idea.

Is this trend of extending and flogging ideas which have worked in the past, due to pressure on time or pressure on cost, or a thought out strategy or plain laziness or a combination of all these is a matter of conjecture.  But one thing is very visible and clear. The temptation to walk into the “Idea Extension trap” is real and looks like may not recede in the near future.

Post script: Now here’s the irony. Having tasted enormous success with their 1st book –‘Positioning – The Battle for your Minds’, where they warned marketers of the “Line Extension trap” authors Al Ries and Jack Trout did exactly the same thing. Extended the “battle” concept to their next book and called it ‘Marketing Warfare’!!!

Jugaad Vs Anti-Jugaad!!!

In the last 2 weeks, 2 TV ads for different products by 2 different agencies but surprisingly around the same theme of Jugaad caught my attention.  One is for Sulekha.com and the other for Exide Life Insurance. Jugaad is India’s contribution to management theory or so it appears. That the word ‘Jugaad’ has a Wikipedia page attributed to it means, it “has” arrived. And I think it had arrived a decade ago. When we started seeing this term being bandied about in management lecture circuits and HBR articles in the context of a Rising India. Yes the same time when BRICS broke into investment strategy discussions around the globe. For the uninitiated, Jugaad is a colloquial Hindi/Punjabi word that can mean an innovative fix or a simple work-around, used for solutions that bend rules. (Courtesy: Wikipedia). One of the very popular examples of Jugaad which has been trumpeted about is the use of old run down washing machines as giant Lassi makers in dhabas of Punjab😤

So what was new in Jugaad?? The concept of Jugaad I believe emanated from the Indian psyche of use first, then re-use, then repair and use and refuse (to throw i.e.). So when you have a problem in hand, as long as you can just do something and fix it and Chalaofy, its fine. These days for our kids, when their slipper snaps, Snapdeal delivers a new pair the next day. In our time, when a slipper gave way, a safety-pin first came to the rescue to pull along for few days. When that also failed, the cobbler under the nearby tree stretched the life of the slipper for few more days. So the immediate instinct was to do some Jugaad to get it going before we buy a new pair.

It was but natural that the word entered the workplace soon. At factories, warehouses, offices – if there was a problem the first attempt is to do some Jugaad and fix it. And in interviews – questions like “Are you a go getter?” gave way to “Are you a Jugaadu??”😜😜 A supposedly smart cookie who can think quickly and provide a cheap and quick fix for problems at work. So the underlying association for Jugaad was that the solution must be quick to implement, cheap and can be a short term compromise. Nobody expected a Jugaad to be a “perfect” solution.

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Now this runs antithesis to probably a Japanese way of thinking. In Japan, solutions are found after a lot of thinking (so not a quick fix), they need to be perfect (turn out to be expensive) and for the long-term.

So I guess the Jugaad instinct is all to do with the economic status of the country and its people. In countries like ours which is still aspiring to be a developed country, our priority is to have a fix. Not be a perfect fix. Need not be for long-term. But should be cheap and quick. While this approach has paved the way for eulogizing the concept of Jugaad as a means of “frugal innovation” in countries like India, it also has its shortcomings. As can be seen in our day today lives. For example in the way our municipality fixes potholes in roads. Just fill up quickly with metal and tar and level it only to do the same exercise again in a few months. A Jugaad solution can prove to be a long-term pain and an expensive proposition. In this context, I am uncomfortable with raising Jugaad to a global management technique and all that jazz.

Ergo, interestingly I notice that the same concept which till recently had a positive overtone is taking a negative innuendo. The liberalization and the Software boom have changed things and thinking. These days we deploy less Jugaad in our lives. And we it seems now need long-term, Quality solutions even if expensive. Now coming back to those 2 TV commercials. As can be seen in these 2 ads Jugaad has given way to Anti-Jugaad and the till now venerable Jugaadu is being loathed upon. In my last post “Writings on the walls” (Read here) I wrote about the aspirational India taking wings in the heartlands. I see this emergence of Anti-Jugaad as another instance of the emergence of Aspirational India where the expectations of people have morphed from being just satisfied to yearning for more.

So, are the days numbered for Jugaad in India? May be not. But the question is – As the country which popularised Jugaad is there a “Good Jugaad” which we can still retain and a “Bad Jugaad” which we will have to do away with?

Postscript: As I am typing this racing against the iPad’s battery life, is there a Jugaad for the iPad’s battery life??? Please call me😜😜

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