Friday, December 14, 2007

"The Indian consumer and culture have changed. They have become more remixed, where we are taking some aspects of Anglo-Saxon and mixing it with Indian culture. I believe there isn't any other agency that is doing brilliant work of consistently talking to this new remixed consumer. Our opportunity is to be this agency that talks to this remixed consumer in the most relevant way and offer creative solutions based on the insights that we get from the remixed generation."

Suman Srivastava, CEO, Euro RSCG

Suman Srivastava, a graduate from IIM Ahmedabad, is the CEO of Euro RSCG India. He joined Lowe in 1987 where he spent eight years. In 1994, Srivastava moved to SSC&B Lintas and was instrumental in building the agency. He left SSC&B Lintas to join Euro RSCG in 1996. Since then, he has been spearheading the agency's India operations.

In conversation with Rishi Vora of exchange4media, Srivastava talks about the challenges facing the advertising industry. Excerpts:


You have been in the advertising industry since 1987. How do you think has the industry evolved since the days you started your career in advertising?


The biggest change that has taken place in the industry is that we have moved from the commission-based revenue model to one that is fee-based. Today we have more focus on integrated communication rather than purely advertising. Plus, unlike the earlier days, there are a lot of young people today who want to get into the industry, and thus the position of advertising as an industry has changed, in terms of scouting talent. Today talent is available and you just have to recogise, groom and retain.

Another big change is that Indian agencies now have integrated with their global counterparts, unlike before, when a local branch of an international agency had nothing to do with the operations of its parent company. There is much more equity ownership today; we see a lot of interaction with global network CEOs who are now visiting their India offices on a regular basis. To put it precisely, I think the importance of India in the global network has increased.


I understand that the market in the early 1990s was emerging, and since then there has been a lot of changes in the industry. Has the industry matured to some extent? Where do you see the revenue curve of the industry going?


I don't think the market has matured. I think we are in the early growth stage of our development. If you look at any parameter that gives you an idea of ad revenues, we are way lower than even our neighbouring countries like South East Asia or the Middle East. Plus, if you compare the industry with other emerging markets, you would see that our spends are comparatively lower. I think the industry is growing pretty rapidly if you look at the ad spends of last two years. I think our industry has a lot more years of growth left before we can call it a matured one.

The industry is more multi-dimensional, and I think we are only getting more professional in our approaches. The quality of our work over the years has improved dramatically. Most importantly, we now have an Indian way of advertising that is not a derivative of an American or Anglo-Saxon way. But there's so much more to understand, like the insights into the Indian consumers. I am saying this because there have been a few examples, which are not really Indian insights but are adaptations from the West. I would argue that most advertising professionals are not bothered to go out and meet consumers to get insights.


As you say that ad spends are less, do you indicate that ad rates are lower in the industry as compared to international standards?


That's true. The rates are much way lower. Forget the US, the ad spends that we have in India are lower than even the Middle East. Also, the reach of our media is inadequate and low. The rates are lower, the compensation agencies get is lower, and hence the overall spending is also low. These are early days of development of the Indian economy, and as the economy develops and competition increases, the Indian communication industry will get larger and professional in approach.


What is the average agency compensation in the industry? How much is yours?


For us, more than 70 per cent of the total earnings come from fees, while the remaining comes from production. The media commission and the share of creative agencies have become very small. Also, media agencies are working on flat fees rather than commission. This is the change that has taken place in the industry, and I think it's a good change.


There is a rift between media and creative. Do you think the two should merge? What do you think is good for the industry?


I think this rift will continue to exist for a long time. But if you ask me what is good, I certainly believe that both media and the creative have to merge, and there is no other way out. We keep on saying that integration is a big story. But the biggest integration that clients want is that of media and creative. When will this happen is a difficult question to answer. But I am sure this will happen with some changes. Let's say that Euro RSCG in New York has a designation such as 'Creative Director-Media' and his job is to think of innovation in media. So clearly if you break up the media function, there is a strategy part of media, a creative part, a trading and negotiating part, and then the operations part. I think strategy and creative parts of media is something that creative agencies have to offer their clients.


Do you think the buying pattern of media will change over a period of time?


The buying aspects of the media, whether that too comes back or goes to a client, is what we have to see. For instance, when clients start buying from media channels, transactions become cleaner. You may never know that we may have a completely different set of model in future.


What do you think are the major loopholes for a media agency in India?


One of the big issues for a media agency is the amount of 'outstandings' we have in the industry today. If one client defaults, then there is complete chaos for the media agency. So may be in the future there will be some way to ensure that there are no losses from the outstandings. Would there be brokers, financial companies or insurance agencies that would step in to ensure media owners and media agencies against non-payment? One doesn't know how things would evolve.

I think it is naïve to think that we will go back to the kind of an integrated agency that existed 10 years ago. However, I don't think the agency structures have ceased to evolve and there will be more changes as we go forward.


How have you seen Euro evolve and grow under your leadership since 1996?


Euro has done very well. From 1995 to 1997, we doubled; and when I took over, I had informed the media that my target was 2x3y, which was to double the revenue in three years. We have actually done it 2x2y –we have doubled in two years. Now whether we can keep this momentum on is something we really don't know. But frankly, we have been lucky that we have grown while there was tremendous growth in the industry and in the economy.

On the side of the creative products, I think we have done well in the last year and half. We have done several pieces of work that I am proud of, like the Voltas campaign, our works for Red FM and Cobra, the ongoing Mac Lubricants campaign with Dhoni. We have just released a campaign on Volvo, which again is very interesting.

At Euro, we have also changed the way we practice. We now have only one P&L for each of our regions –Mumbai, Delhi and South – and all services now report to the Director of the respective regions. The marketing and PR services offer true integration to clients. Moreover, our 'Bunty Syndrome' is an example of how new things create thought leadership in their respective category.


What was your vision for Euro RSCG when you joined the agency? How far have you reached in achieving this vision?


This thing called vision scares me a little bit. I don't think I took this job to change things. Euro RSCG was performing well those days and it was a question of just continuing the good work. But there were a several things we needed to do. We had to grow and improve our creative product. We set ourselves short-term targets and we have achieved some. The biggest thing that we have done is improved the image of the agency. Our reality is much better than our perception. I think this is good in a way, but that is one area we are working on.


Euro RSCG is big internationally, but not so in India. Your comments...


While we are one of the largest agencies, we actually have an image problem in many parts of the world. The reason is that in many of the developed markets, we were not known as Euro RSCG since we grew by acquisitions in countries like South East Asia, New York and some others.

It is only a few yeas ago that we made the transition of being known as the Euro RSCG network. We are still a teenage brand with 16 years of international presence and having completed 12 years in India. If you compare this with other big agencies in India, most of them have been in existence since 50-60 years. Euro started in France and Europe, and is very strong there. But in the US, we are slowly and gradually moving towards being one of the best agencies there.


What is the Euro India philosophy?


We are trying to evolve what I like to call 'remixed philosophy'. Twenty years ago when I started my career in advertising, good advertising was a derivative of the Anglo-Saxon and the very English kind. Subsequently, Indian advertising has developed what I would like to call 'Hindi idiom', which at least becomes our own medium.

The Indian consumer and culture have changed. They have become more remixed, where we are taking some aspects of Anglo-Saxon and mixing it with Indian culture. I believe there isn't any other agency that is doing brilliant work of consistently talking to this new remixed consumer. Our opportunity is to be this agency that talks to this remixed consumer in the most relevant way and offer creative solutions based on the insights that we get from the remixed generation.


Euro positions itself to be different internationally. How do you differentiate from your Indian counterparts?


Globally, our philosophy is 'future first'. We can predict the future and because of our tools like 'Prosumer' and other such studies, and because these tools tend to predict the behaviour of consumers in future, we can help our clients in targeting their consumers in a better way. We are taking this same philosophy forward in India, and this is how we are differentiating with our Indian counterparts.


We have not seen a star rising from Euro RSCG India like we have a few in the industry. Your comments...


Stars take some time in making. Prasoon took 20 years, so as Piyush and others. Ogilvy took many years in order to change itself from a middle-of-the-road agency into being the creative machine that it is. Lowe was certainly not considered as a creative hot shop as it is considered today. All the big agencies that we see today have evolved over a period of years. I am sure that our stars will come from within, just the way Piyush and Balki were born from within their respective agency structures. I am sure we would be able to reach a position, say after a few years, when people would say that the best stars are produced from within Euro RSCG.


Please give your comments on the trend of creative people taking the top position...


I don't think that it is about saying that the top job needs to be for someone who is in creative, a media planner or anybody else. Finally when you get to the top, you need to be everything. You need to have the respect of everyone in the agency, and be able to motivate employees. There is a set of leadership skills, and the best person would be the one who has the ability to perform in all the roles.


There is a lack of creative talent in the industry. How do you ensure retaining your employees?


We are doing a lot to attract and retain. Finally, people blossom when you train them, give them responsibilities and more opportunities. Euro people are valued in the industry and people pick them on for higher salaries in terms of both strategic and creative abilities.


Please give your views on the new media and the digital landscape...


To me, new media is not just Internet and mobile. For me, malls and multiplexes are the most exciting new media that India has seen recently. The Internet is important for prosumers, and for the mass, mobile and mediums like malls are more important. The way Indian consumers would react to new media is different from the way other markets have. We would continue to be on traditional media like print and TV, but at the same time we would also look at the other new media.


What are your contributions going to be to ‘Leap’ and ‘Life’?


There are people who want strategic recommendations, who at this point are not interested in integrated solutions; they may be looking at brand architecture, corporate identity and solutions. 'Leap' does all this very well. Similarly, 'Life' looks at the healthcare industry and other opportunities that it can create within the healthcare industry. There are various sectors like retail that are growing in India. On a broader note, the idea is to identify these sectors and offer specialist solutions for those who are looking for it.

This is an interview that I gave to This appeared in the week of December 8, 2007.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

There is something about these small towns

Here is the video that we showed in the launch conference of the Bunty Syndrome study. Enjoy!

For those of you who don't know, Bunty Symdrome is Euro RSCG's study of attitudes, behaviour and trends in Tier 2 cities of India. The study interviewed 2400 young people in 12 non-metro cities of India.

Some of the insights in this blog come out of this study.

How To Say "I am Different, I am Cool"

Did you read the article in the Times of India about a guy who nearly got sent to jail because of a raunchy ring tone? This article says that the magistrate in an Australian court had warned visitors to switch off their phones, but this guy didn't. His ring tone was the sound of a woman having orgasm and when it went off everyone in court was both embarrassed and amused.

But the interesting thing about this episode is why the man had such a ring tone to begin with. What is he trying to convey to the people around him?

Yesterday young people conveyed their attitudes through the messages on their T-shirts. Sania Mirza is a good example. Today they convey their coolness quotient through their ring tones.

It all started with simple musical ring tones, but they are now getting more and more bizarre. And if you don't have a cool ring tone, you are so 20th century.

Ring tones are fast becoming a good way to communicate with young people. But brands seem to want their customers to download tones that remind them of the brand's ads. That is pretty uncool in an era when the ring tone is meant to talk about the person. Interesting challenge this. Do you have any examples of anyone doing well with this medium?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Chak de (small town) India

I just did a Blog search for the phrase "Chak de India" and found there were 385 results in the last 24 hours. In other words, since India won the T20 World Cup. So here is the 386th, unless of course, others beat me to the post.

The big news is that India won. But what is interesting to me is how small town India is grabbing center stage. Opportunity is not knocking only on the doors of people in the metros, but also those in towns like Ranchi, Rae Bareilly and Rohtak. So the world is getting more flat.

Here is a list of home towns of the players in the Indian team. The conclusions are for you to draw.

MS Dhoni


Yuvraj Singh


Ajit Agarkar


Gautam Gambhir


Harbhajan Singh


Joginder Sharma


Dinesh Karthik


Irfan Pathan


Yusuf Pathan


Piyush Chawla


Virender Sehwag


Rohit Sharma


Rudra Pratap Singh

Rae Bareilly

S Sreesanth


Robin Uthappa


A question that has been asked of me is whether this small town person wants to be talked to in a different language. I think that is missing the point. I don't think it is about whether that person wants to be talked to differently. The point is that his world-view is very different and so you cannot connect with him unless you have the same view. Let me illustrate this.

The metro guy has more to lose and therefore plays safe. The small town guy has more to win and so is willing to take the bigger risk. I guess this is just one way in which Bunty's world is different.

At any rate, Bollywood and cricket continues to unite us and make us one country.

Chak de India.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rolling stones don't become CEO!

Just saw this interesting news item about the new CEO of Nestle (click here).

The board has chosen a guy who has been with the company for 28 years over the "front runner" who has been in the company for 2.

This confirms what I have long believed. That rolling stones finally reach a glass ceiling that they're unable to pierce.

I probably sound terribly old fashioned to my younger colleagues. But I couldn't resist the temptation to say "see I told you so"!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The World Is Really Getting Flat

Today's DNA has an article that says 50% of online shoppers in India are from small towns. A couple of months ago, the Times of India had an article about e-tickets in India which said that 73% of air tickets in India are booked through the internet. Which is amazing since the internet penetration in our country is 3.7%. Also in the same article is the story of farmers in a village near Tirupati buying e-tickets through an enterprising jeweler who had quickly become a travel agent.

So suddenly the big story all around us is about the various Buntys and Bablis of the world who no longer have the patience for the trickle down effect to work. They are keen to grab that new mobile phone, travel to that new destination, live the new dream, as quickly as the Sids, Akashs & Samirs (remember Dil Chahta Hai?).

This much is quite obvious. What is not obvious is how we are going to appeal to these people. What vocabulary will we use to talk to them?

It is clear that the Anglo-Saxon style of communication with the understated elegant humour does not appeal to this lot. Even when expressed in Indian languages. So advertising has gone to the other extreme and is using, so called, "small talk" language to talk to them.

I think this is insulting to them. It is like New Yorkers doing advertising to Indians and using a "Peter Sellers" type language and visual imagery full of Taj Mahals and snake charmers. We would be insulted and so, I believe, are todays Buntys and Bablis.

What we need to develop is a new remixed vocabulary to talk to them. A vocabulary of words & images but also a new vocabulary of dreams, aspirations, humour and relationships.

This flat world is quite challenging. But the rewards are so much greater.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Fathers are parents too

Did you see the article by Madhukar Sabnavis in Agency FAQs titled "Of parenting and children"? If not, do read it. Very interesting and insightful.

I have a few related points to make.

There are a bunch of human relationships that exist all around us that we never reflect in advertising. One example that I have spoken of to my colleagues is the relationship between a married woman and her mother. Now Madhukar has raised the point about a father and his children.

All father-kid interactions are meant to be about playing. Presumably that is all he does, while the mother focuses on the kid's homework, discipline and other essentials. Hard to believe this. Especially since I am a teaching parent and I know a few others who are.
Conversely I know a few indulgent mothers too. So why do we propagate this myth?

And how many other types of relationships can we think of that are not reflected in advertising?

Talking of myths, I also like the way that Madhukar has spoken of the four types of mothers using characters from Indian mythology. Isn't it amazing that we can neatly capture the most modern and latest trends using characters from an epic written a few thousand years ago? Shows the importance of mythology in our lives. We learn it while we were babies and so never quite forget it.

So are there good stereotypes for fathers in our mythology? It seems difficult to think of any young fathers. It seems that men are too busy being heroes while they are in their youth or middle age. Only when they become old do they become proud fathers. Can any of you think of a good role model of younger fathers?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What they don't teach at B School

I have a two word answer to this question. Street smartness. That’s what they don’t teach in business school.

Business school taught me how to read balance sheets. But didn’t tell me how to motivate people to give off their best. Business school taught me how to structure the organization for maximum productivity. But not how to deal with a person who thinks her boss is a creep. Business school taught me how to create a good marketing strategy. But not how to sell it to a client who is insecure about his job.

Business schools tend to be very left brained. Very analytical. Very quantitative. Very structured. Which is a good thing because the Indian education system is not very good at teaching us to be analytical, quantitative or structured. The school system basically teaches us to learn by rote. The best business schools force you to unlearn that.

In the process, they tend to put the quantitative approach to a problem on a pedestal. Ignoring the qualitative and feel aspects of managing people. If management is both a science and an art, then business schools teach the science but ignore the art.

Life, unfortunately, is all about art. Success comes to those who learn to deal with people best. Those who learn to understand the fears and motivations that people have. Understand their joys & sorrows. The job of a leader is to inspire, provide direction and keep people motivated. Other professional skills are taken for granted.

One can argue that nobody can teach the art. That may be true, but where the business schools tend to make a mistake is to leave their students with a feeling that the art doesn’t really matter.

I had to wait until my hair turned grey before I understood that the art does matter. Maybe I am just a slow learner.

This article was published in the Strategist supplement of Business Standard on June 12, 2007

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Death Of A Formula

It is a cliché that in India, cricket is a religion and players like Sachin Tendulkar, its Gods. This “truth” has been taken to ridiculous levels recently with nearly 50 brands being endorsed by the top 6 Indian cricketers – Sachin, Rahul Dravid, M S Dhoni, Saurav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag.

The big talking point in the Indian marketing and advertising world is the likely fallout of the Indian cricket board’s decision to allow each cricketer to only endorse 3 brands each. This is a reaction to the hysteria in the country because of the dismal performance by the Indian team at the World Cup.

All the talk has been around whether the Board is within its legal rights in imposing such a ban, and whether the power of money will ultimately force the authorities to rescind this order. There is also talk about whether or not all this money from endorsements is distracting players from their primary task of playing cricket. I think all this is beside the point.

My view is that regulation or not, clients and agencies should really welcome the death of the “cricket formula” and see in it the opportunity to come up with more cost effective and cutting edge ways of building brands.

It’s like this. Over the past few years, more and more brands have started using cricketers to endorse their brands. It has become a sort of bidding war with each brand trying to trump its competitor by signing on a more popular cricketer. The talk on the cocktail circuit is about people who signed on a Dhoni or a Yuvraj to a long term contract before they became major superstars. These are the latest toys of the country’s marketers and they are busy proving that mine is bigger than yours. Quite entertaining, were it not such a colossal waste of money.

Several marketers would admit in private that cricketer endorsements were a waste of money for them. The fit with the brand was often very poor, and the cricketers were extremely poor actors. Plus there were constraints on when you could and couldn’t air the commercials. However just as nobody got fired for buying IBM, nobody gets fired for hiring Sachin or Dravid either.

Cricketer endorsements took the place of differentiating strategy. It was far easier to execute and also easier to explain to the board. It sounded like the Marketing department was working hard and being really aggressive. Perfect. Cricketer endorsements were even more crucial when your competitors were using one too.

But now the Board has said that each cricketer can only endorse a maximum of 3 brands. This will mean that the fees that the players charge will go up sharply. And the returns aren’t likely to improve in proportion. So what are marketers to do now?

One way is to fight the Board. This is definitely a viable strategy. The Board has repeatedly shown itself to be totally lacking in principles and only concerned with making money. Hence even the slightest threat to its purse and it can be confidently expected to come to heel and do exactly what the master bids.

The other way is to zag when the market zigs. This is the heroic route. The untested route which can lead to the making of new heroes on the marketing firmament. But could also lead to some big mistakes. The route that says my brand is more important than the cricketer’s brand and can stand up without a crutch. On the strength of its own brilliant idea.

This is the time for all brilliant marketers and their agencies to stand up and be counted. Now is the time for you to justify your fat pay packets, laptops and those glossy hard cover books on the book shelves. Now is the time to come up with those Big Hairy Audacious Ideas that you had to put into cold storage in order to pursue the hard to get cricketer and his harder to get time slots.

Game on?

This article was written for Campaign UK & published in its issue dated June 1, 2007

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The future of advertising is democratic advertainment

Every article written on the future of advertising speaks about technology. And every article on advertising and technology speaks essentially about media issues of targeting, reach and interactivity. Well, I am not going to talk about those issues. I’m going to assume that my readers already know about all that and are planning to throw up the next time somebody mentions the interactivity word again.

So let me focus on two other issues that technology will pose instead. One is the democratization of advertising. And the other is the challenge of creating short form entertainment for an increasingly impatient and marketing savvy customer.

Advertising will make markets more democratic

I think the biggest difference that technology will bring to advertising is that it will reduce the advantage that large advertisers have in the mass media world. Today Levers, Proctor, Coke, Pepsi etc have a competitive advantage because they can pour large monies into building brands. They have made the price of entry in their categories so high that it is beyond the means of small companies even if they have an exciting and innovative new product.

In the future, small advertisers will proliferate. The media of the future will be so fragmented that no advertiser can afford to dominate it. In fact no advertiser will be able to ram their communication down the throat of their audience. It will be the audience that will determine what advertising they want to see and this will mean that they will gravitate to work that is entertaining or adds value to them. Or both. In this, the large advertiser will have no natural advantage over the small guy.

In fact, consumers will not be able to determine very easily if the advertiser is small or large. Today the production values of a TV commercial and the frequency of it gives you a pretty good idea of how deep the marketer’s pockets are. But if you watch a video on You Tube or get a message on your mobile, then it is more difficult to assess the financial capabilities of the backers of that message.

This is a good thing. Economists talk about an utopian state of “perfect competition” where there are large numbers of buyers and sellers and where the market forces determine prices. Market forces also determine which products will survive and which won’t. Today this situation is a pipe dream. The reality is that most markets are characterized by Oligopoly – a state where a few large players dominate every major industry.

But democratization of advertising will push the global economy more towards the state of perfect competition. Thus advertising will help make the global economy more efficient.

Advertising agencies will be the source of entertainment

Everyone talks about the crisis of advertising. But let’s for a moment focus more on the crisis of the entertainment industry. People are getting increasingly impatient with long form entertainment. People are watching less TV – and cribbing more about it. They are also reading less of newspapers and getting overwhelmed with the proliferation of outdoor media.

On the other hand, they are gravitating to short form content. They’re playing more games (the gaming industry turnover now exceeds the turnover of Hollywood!), they’re making friends at social networking sites and they’re enjoying video and audio content from sources like You Tube, iTunes and so on.

The question is – who is creating this new content? Hollywood and Bollywood are good at making long form content and are out of their depth in creating entertainment which is just couple of minutes long. The technology companies are good at creating the means of creating entertainment, but don’t know how to populate it.

And what of the famous, user generated content? This is a much over hyped phrase. At first glance it seems that users are creating all this fantastic content on You Tube that other people can go and watch. But this way of thinking does not hold up on closer scrutiny. The most watched videos on You Tube were the video diaries of LonelyGirl15. For months people thought that they were watching the unscripted & web-camera produced videos of an ordinary 15 year old. Turns out that the 15 year old was actually a model and the whole show was scripted and produced by a TV production house as an advertisement for itself. They have certainly succeeded in getting themselves noticed by lots of people.

Let’s look at other content on the same site. Euro RSCG London made a great commercial for Citroen (Alive with technology). This is one of the most parodied videos on You Tube. Similarly, the great work done for Dove (Evolution – the making of real beauty) has spawned a lot of wonderful videos (Slob Evolution).

So the picture you now get is that the best of the user generated content is actually generated by professionals – often from the advertising industry. And the rest of the compelling stuff are copies and parodies of stuff created by professionals.

This is a huge opportunity for the advertising industry. For us 30 seconds is a necessity, 2 minutes is a luxury and 7 minutes is a crime. For movie and TV content producers, 7 minutes is a segment, 23 minutes is an episode and 120 minutes is the least you need to make something decent. The consumer is tending more towards 7 minutes and less.

However there is a change that we need to make. We need to move from being brand and message focused to being customer and entertainment focused. That way our messages are more likely to hit home.


It is obvious that the future of advertising lies in new ways of connecting with customers. What becomes obvious after just a little bit of introspection is that these new ways of connecting will lead to new opportunities for new kinds of agencies and for a new breed of clients. Let’s drink to that.

This article was written on invitation for USP Age and was published in that magazine in the May 2007 issue.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Me Within We

Do you first think about yourself or about your family?
Do you think being selfish is natural or mean?
Do you usually consider the consequence of your actions mainly on yourself or also on others?

Sociologists have tended to believe that most Indians would give the latter answer to each of the above questions. And that most people from the West would give the former answer. Hence the considered view has been that the West is Individualistic in their thinking, while the East has been Collectivist. Those are long words. So let us just say that the belief is that the West thinks about “Me”, while the East thinks about “We”.

But now the East is getting Westernized. So are we now thinking of Me rather than We?

This is one of the questions that we wanted to investigate in the Remixed Generation study that we had done a year and a half ago. And the conclusion that we had reached then was that Indians haven’t quite got to the Me side of spectrum, though they have moved away from the We side. We labeled the phenomenon as “Me within We”.

That sounds good on a PowerPoint slide, but isn’t that helpful when you are thinking in the context of a brand. How exactly do you appeal to the Me within the We?

One way is to think that people have a long Me rope that gives them freedom of movement within a given radius, but after that We concerns take over. This rope has become longer over time and so younger generations are more Me oriented than older ones. Also the same person may be Me oriented in some cases and We oriented in others.

Traditionally we have had Me categories and We categories. So motor cycles, jeans and colas have been Me categories, in that they have appealed to the individual sides of us. Meanwhile, household products, consumer durables etc have often appealed to the home maker in us and thus have been We categories. In that way we have avoided the issue rather than addressed it head on.

At first sight that sounds like the nature of categories. But a moment’s thought would lead us to a different conclusion. If you are promoting a household cleaning product, do you focus on the convenience of using it (a Me appeal) or on how it makes your family love the home (a We appeal)? Today more and more brands are crossing the floor and focusing on non-traditional appeals.

The computer has been one of the most individual oriented product categories. After all there is always been a one to one correspondence between the PC and the user. Yet, we did a campaign for Intel where we focused on how a PC could change the fortune of an entire family. This is arguably one of the most effective campaigns from Intel in India.

Now I think there may be another way to think of the We versus Me issue. The clue for this came from movies like “Rang de Basanti” and “Munnabhai Lagey Raho”. Both movies were spectacular hits with the youth of the country. So perhaps there are lessons to be learnt for those of us who want super hit brands.

My view is that both movies created an alignment of Me and We goals and thus removed the conflict between the two. They offered to youth a higher order goal to work towards that was cool, modern and today. Once that happens, youth is quite happy to work towards this higher order goal in their own Me way.

Perhaps therein lies the secret. Most youth brands tend to be about rebellion. Think of Levis, Pepsi or Harley Davidson. Or think of Amitabh Bachchan. They appeal to youth by becoming badges that prove how anti-establishment the user is. Indian youth have adopted these brands, though they are no longer in rebellion mode. They are all busy enjoying the new life that economic prosperity has brought, and working towards the new goals that a flat world has brought. So, in many ways, the old paradigm of youth being about rebellion doesn’t work.

So offering a higher order goal works at two levels. One it provides youth a mission that is different from the old anti-establishment mission. And two it allows them to be individual while working towards the collectivist goals.

A good – though old – example of how this was done is provided by “The Body Shop”. The owner, Anita Roddick, is a cool youth icon who fought against animal testing and other environmental issues. The brand has done well without any “beauty” oriented communication because it allowed youth to focus on Me issues like looking good, while also contributing to a We issue like the environment.

Now if only we could come up with more such cool missions, we would have big block buster brand hits.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Dream Run Is Not A Race

On Sunday, my wife, son and I took part in the Dream Run which is part of the Mumbai Marathon. Armed with the yellow and white number bibs, the white Kingfisher sipping bottles and the shoulder sling bags, we marched along with thousands of others for 6kms of the actual race plus a few more just to get to the start line and then back home.

This is the first time I have taken part in a sporting event where the objective was not to win, but merely to take part. Made me wonder why we were all there in the first place.

The Dream Run seems to be designed to make us feel good about ourselves. We are happy that we were able to complete the Dream Run. Of course, don’t tell anybody that the Run was more of a slow walk than a real run. In fact, you couldn’t run even if you wanted to.

Then there were the spectators to cheer you on. When was the last time you had hundreds of people cheering you on. Strangers. I guess Sachin Tendulkar is used to this. For most of us this was a new experience or a long forgotten experience. It didn’t really matter that they weren’t cheering specifically for you or even knew your name. People were cheering and waving from the road side, from balconies and roof tops. As if we were the next big Olympic hopes for India.

Many of us were running for a cause. Now you may ask how we were helping any cause by burning a few calories. Well the relevant calories are burnt before and after the actual event when you sign some cheques and also request your friends and relatives to sign more cheques. All these are pledges made to the charity of your choice because you have completed the Herculean task of walking 6 kms. It’s quite a silly and roundabout way to give to charity if you ask me. But still, it makes you feel good about yourself and that, as I said, is the primary reason for having the Dream Run.

The Dream Run is also meant to help you belong to a small tribe. Typically your work tribe. Several companies had fielded company teams for the run. Each team had a uniform that they all wore. The teams consisted of employees and their families. Some people had even brought along babies and small children. Many carried placards that announced who they were or their attitudes to life. Some had banners that simply advertised their company or brand. The Air India team had a couple of people dressed as Maharajas, while their rival airline, Jet Airways, had people carrying inflated airplane shaped balloons. I guess the people who walked in their corporate groups, felt happy that they belonged. The team that runs together works together.

The Maharaja wasn’t the only one in the fancy dress. There were so many others. More than one Gandhiji. One of them accompanied by a Circuit! Throw in a Tilak, a few brides in traditional outfits and some in outlandish costumes that defy description or tags. All of them getting their fair share of attention and photographs. Sure made them feel good. Though it must have been hot too.

There were some real heroes too. People in wheel chairs. People on crutches. One woman carrying her baby on her back. All of them got a lot of admiring looks and cheers. From spectators and participants alike.

That summed up the spirit of the Dream Run. An event designed to make you feel good about yourself, your fellow humans, your city. And hopefully the organizers and advertisers. That is why Standard Chartered has stayed with this event over the last four years. Quite a Dream Run, they are having.

For more pictures of the Dream Run, please click here.