Tit for Tat

Warning: Long post. Very close to my heart and hence…

By this time everyone who had anything to say must have already said it. In this quick-fire world, people tweet their entire blog posts / thoughts as 140 characters. I didn’t participate much in such discussions, but I still have a few things to say. I think I should’ve been quicker, but hey! Better now than never! This is not someone’s wedding that I shall speak up in the stipulated time or hold my peace!

Yes, I am talking about the ToI Vs Hindu fight which is all over the place now!

First, a bit of history.

The Hindu has been having its own struggles for quite a while. Having handled the some brands from that stable (albeit briefly), I believe that they had way too many issues to fight against and TOI was not even in the radar then. Back then, people used to read Hindu publications to improve their English. Many a south Indian has been able to manage cracking CAT and other related exams by reading Hindu editorials apart from their other reading material. Hindu held the pride of place there. Over time, with the advent of technology, the human laziness crept in somewhere. Hindu was at one point filled with spelling errors, grammatical blunders and what not! But the paper still had some integrity left in it. Although at some point it became a bit of anti-establishment, some point it became a Congress stooge. At least, that was the impression that I was left with. With the brand pretty close to my heart, I did feel a bit odd when my own intellect questioned a lot of stuff from The Hindu press.

Things got worse with the family linen being washed in public. Between N Ram, Malini Parthasarathy & the entire editorial board there was a huge family problem which was very publicly fought. The worst part was the open letters by the members of the board which got published in all rival newspapers. Open letters got a new meaning altogether!

Editorial instability, lack of direction, family feud dogged The Hindu. No amount of fresh ‘layout’ changes could help. After all, the content started taking a beating. The Hindu is a serious newspaper and is supposed to remain so. That was its strength. And that was a strength which was losing its power with all the hullaballoo around the senior management & family.

But The Hindu is a tradition. Coffee & this newspaper is a must combination for all locations where the paper was available and given a choice, I would go back to it even today. Sadly, The Hindu doesn’t publish in Mumbai. And even if it did, would it have the same charm? I don’t have the answer.

Enter TOI.

TOI is not a serious newspaper. At least in my mind! It is a frivolous, bordering on yellow journalism kind of a publication. Front page news yesterday was ‘Bus Driver mowing down people’ replete with pictures. The paper thrives on scams, death & bollywood.

While it is true that Scams are important to be highlighted, deaths to be announced & Bollywood to be covered, the publication lacks the editorial strength. The Op-ed pieces there are good, but somewhere the line of seriousness is always crossed. Breaking News is key!

Can it be blamed? Chicken & egg story. They will claim that they provide what is read by the man on the road. If Bollywood claims it, we can pardon it. But a newspaper cannot do that. My opinion of course!

And when TOI entered the Madras market, they tried to change the culture. Page 3 happened. I never knew till TOI & DC entered the Madras market that such low neckline, short skirt, LBD toting PYTs roam around the streets of Chennai till these papers started publishing pictures of them in big sizes!

I read somewhere that you can win over a country not by wars, but by infiltrating (read polluting) their culture. TOI & DC did exactly that in my opinion. Hindu’s page 3 was about the city. I think it still is. The page 3 used to cover information about the city, changes happening, things of value and things that matter. Boring shit it was. TOI and DC made it glamorous. Partly visible bosoms, neatly waxed legs, funky jewelery! Whoa! Tamilians buy gold jewelery. Seriously! Oxidised Silver was made fashion by these papers! There obviously was a clash of sensibilities.

Hindu still sells largest in TN. South Indians are boring people. They believe in smaller scams which are not of national interest. Worried more about Mullaiperiyar than Chikni Chameli and Hrithik Roshan’s shaved chest (Do South Indian men shave their bodies?). And more worried about their exams (or their ward’s exams) than the name of Beti B.

TOI called it boring. TOI called it yawn worthy. TOI called it sleepy! And how!

HINDU responded

Sleeping Lion woke up. After nearly 2 months. War footing for Hindu is 2 months of time! They didn’t do it quickly. They made TOI spend all their money and then came up with this campaign.

Now folks here are my two cents.

a.       TOI & DC cater to a different market. Not the serious ‘news’ reader. They believe in volumes and started a price war by selling a year’s subscription for 99 bucks. Everyone bought it because one month’s newspaper at the raddhiwala will fetch Rs.8/9 per kilo. Good investment. Their news was also of that kind. With a pinch of salt, the average householder let the paper enter his household. Period.

b.      Hindu didn’t reduce the rates. Held on and still holding on. Of course, they need to really whip up their editorial team and screw the s&*% out of them to get a good newspaper going. But they cater to serious newsreaders. Hindu WAS the opinion maker in the south. They need to get that position back if they need to be in serious business.

c.       The campaign from both is frivolous. TOI poked fun at a serious newspaper calling it boring. Hindu responded with a ‘screw you’ kind of campaign by calling TOI what they are… frivolous. Tit for tat! As an aside TOI’s launch campaign was also frivolous. Day in life of Chennai was replete with films, fist fights, water fights and a folk song based on a film song. JWT (and Senthil) won awards and accolades, but little did they realize that they were setting the tone albeit unconsciously for the future. And this was just one of those occasions when the big brother of Chennai publishing industry tapped on the head and said ‘shut up’.

d.      You can’t change TOI. The Hindu should not change from its ‘old’. The last few years are but a blip in a tradition which The Hindu should remember and hold on to. Else the brand will face a slow but eventual death.

e.      Fond hope that the new CEO Arun Anant would bring in some change. He has a huge challenge in hand. Feuding family, bad ‘recent’ history, outgoing strongman, new editorial board being called ‘inexperienced’ very publicly by family members. Feces has already hit the roof. Clean-up is not going to be easy. I sincerely hope he is given a free hand to take things to a logical direction.

Just a couple of points about the TOI Vs Hindu campaigns

1.       TOI took a bold step. To call seriousness a.k.a boring the way they did. Very cheeky. Appreciable campaign and ran it for quite a while in the TN markets. Good media usage and viral potential which was also exploited well.

2.       However, biased as it may sound, I liked the Hindu campaign very well. To hit where it hurts most. The readers. The Hindu campaign did show some steel by calling the bluff on the reader rather than on the newspaper. To call them ‘dumb’ requires a lot of guts. To say ‘Read the other newspapers and you will also become dumb’ is not an easy task.

I remember seeing home videos of American idiots who didn’t know the difference between Iran or Pakistan, Sikhs or Muslims, couldn’t point Washington in their own map, but wanted to bomb Iran because they have WMD. Because Bush said so!

The Hindu campaign is a great take-off from there and I guess puts the message across not so softly or subtly!

After all, all is fair in love and war. There obviously is no love here 🙂






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