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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Marketing Strategy – Sessions IV & V

Here are the slides for my classroom lecture sessions at ITM on Marketing Strategy – sessions 4 & 5. These slides cover Place / Distribution strategies, logistics, BCG & GE Matrices & PLC strategies. Do share your comments & thoughts. Thanks to all the researchers for helping me with this class sessions. Great learning for me & enjoying it every moment. The next 3 sessions are case study tear-aparts. Will be fun going through them too! 🙂

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Marketing Strategy – Session III

Christmas day was not a holiday. The third session of two lectures at ITM, Mumbai on Marketing Strategy was on Sunday, 25-December-2011. Topics included Pricing Strategies, Promotion Strategies  and Marketing Warfare. Thanks to SlideShare, the PPT is available for view / download. Thanks to all the researchers, this presentation was possible. Please share your comments / views.

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Marketing Strategy – Session II

I had my session on Marketing Strategy for ITM Executive MBA last weekend. Just about found the time to upload the presentation which is available here.
My customary word of thanks to all the researchers, theorists, marketing gurus from whom I have learnt and borrowed for the sake of this session and presentation.
PPT here.
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Lecture Session on Marketing Strategy

I have just about started taking classes for a batch of Executive MBA students in Mumbai. The course would be over 6 sessions and today was the first session.
I had covered ‘Introduction to Marketing Strategy’ and ‘STP – Segmentation, Targeting & Positioning’.
Uploading the presentation here. Hope you find it useful.
Thanks to McGraw Hill. They were kind enough to give me access to the instructor’s module of their text book.
Marketing Strategy by Walker, Mullins, Boyd, Larreche.

I have also borrowed liberally from Mr. Kotler 🙂

After all, isn’t he still the first word in Marketing?

Here’s the presentation. I will upload each of my sessions subsequently. As and when it happens.

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Slow death of a giant

For many TamBrahms like me there was a point in time when the morning coffee will taste bad without the morning newspaper – The Hindu. I remember days when I used to fight with my brother for the paper in the morning to read the sports column. And then, there were times when I have relied on the Hindu editorial more than ‘Word Power Made Easy’ for my preparations towards management exams.

I have also worked on some brands from ‘The Hindu’ family briefly during my stint at Ammirati Puris Lintas. The brand and the group have been very close to my heart.

Unfortunately, the group is facing a very slow cancerous death. I can see it! The editorial in the mainline daily is not as it used to be. And the change has unfortunately been to the worst. While many used to refer to the Hindu as a boring newspaper, there were also anecdotes doing the rounds back then about how the publication was a stickler for correctness of information before it gets printed. People used to joke that if you are pronounced dead on ‘The Hindu’ then you are actually dead. Else there is at least a fighting chance.

There are two other papers (worth this blog mention) apart from The Indian Express, in what used to be citadel of The Hindu. ToI & Deccan Chronicle. They have cornered a fair bit of space by doing one or more of the following:

  • Yearly subscription for Rs.99/- (Beat that! We would buy that paper purely for waste paper purposes) That makes your entry absolutely easy and you are the second paper at least for Raddhiwala / Pazhaya paper purposes. (Pardon my inclusion of vernacular terms, but it gives the authenticity to the point that I was trying to make).
  • Making Madras sound like Bombay by introducing a Page 3 culture. Generation X, Y, Z, ZA and whatever thrives on gossip. They are more likely to pick the ‘second paper’ for the juice in the morning than the ‘Oh! So boring national news where some minister has surreptitiously consumed 800 Crores of taxpayer’s money’. I am not saying that they are irresponsible. Without them Anna Hazare would still be a village headman rather than a national icon. However, this generation is not the kind which would prioritize something like national interest over Trisha or Sneha (or are they passé? I think it should be Tamannah / Tapsi?). Maybe I am wrong, but that’s the feeling I am left with.
  • Editorial content based on ‘flavour of the day’. Scoop. It doesn’t matter if the printed word is true, partially true, pinch of truth or a complete figment of some journalist’s imagination. There is a requirement for trial by media in our corrupt society, but some of them take it way too far.

And The Hindu has not been any less in helping their competition. The group today is suffering from many types of malignant cancer.

  • Their family feud has been one of the worst cases of dirty linen being washed in public. There are people from the family with a clear divide who have spoken to other media houses about their family fights and it has in one way become a national exhibition.
  • Blind in terms of polarity. The publication has not been a neutral entity for quite a while. There was a time when the publication was known for its anti establishment stand. Today they are almost seen like a Congress DMK combine newspaper. Much of the 2G scam was soft pedaled in The Hindu, which I believe was a disaster in waiting.
  • Not moving with the Times (certainly not a pun). Their editorial IS (let’s face it) boring. Their writing style doesn’t make good reading for today’s audiences. The publication gives a feeling of talking from a pedestal still which leaves much to desire. No wonder TOI is taking a huge dig at The Hindu. Watch the TVC here. A boringly long 65 seconder echoing the boring newspaper.

  • And what did The Hindu come up to promote itself? This?

Too bad, they thought that South was their bastion forever. They bloody well have to do better than this! They never had felt the need to advertise for a long time. But today, when they have to, they didn’t know what the brand stands for. Solution: Throw a few adjectives, show a few Tams (and TamBrahms) doing their daily morning chores and voila! We have the Hindu Ad. Shame!

For old times’ sake, I hope these guys come up with something to end their feud and focus on the brand which Mr. Kasturi Iyengar started around the same time as Coke. Not the same genre but similar legacy!

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Lecture Marathon

A good blogger would have put up this post on October 29, 2011. But I think I am a good parent before being a good blogger. Hence the delay 🙂

October 29, 2011 was a fantastically different experience for me. I have given lectures & have taken part in panel discussions before. But this was a completely different experience purely owing to the time I had to spend with a bunch of students. At a stretch!

ITM – Institute for Technology & Management is considered amongst the well known institutes for imparting Management Education to working professionals and offers courses on various other subjects including Engineering, Health Sciences, Hospitality Management & Fashion designing. Their Executive MBA is a tie-up with Southern New Hampshire University USA, where the students have an option of completing the course in US if they so will.

I was contacted by their course co-ordinators for a guest lecture as a visiting faculty for Marketing Research. The Cross-Functional Executive MBA batch had myriad experience with students from IT, Finance etc. There was an entrepreneur too.

The purpose of my lecture was to give an overview of Marketing Research as a subject, its functions and uses. The curriculum had to cover the following topics under Marketing Research.

  • Role & Scope of Marketing Research.
  • Marketing Research process & problem definition.
  • Research Designs.
  • Methods & Data Collection.
  • Survey method of data collection.
  • Measurement, scaling & sampling.
  • Design of survey questionnaires.
  • Qualitative v/s Quantitative Research.
  • Methods of Qualitative research.
  • Quantitative Research.
  • Data Interpretation.

Although it was meant to be spread over 2 weekends, the institute felt the need to have it as a marathon session since this was just an overview subject for this batch. I took the challenge of providing an overview in 7 hours!

I am sharing the PPT I made with Marketing Research – by Aaker, Kumar & Dey as reference material.

What did I get out of it?

Honestly, Marketing Research is not my strongest of areas. One could be a good user of research, but executing research is not an easy task. I have worked with research agencies and I know how they operate. The theory behind the subject is not difficult since I have never been out of touch with research owing to work. Challenge was to engage students for the long session. I was expecting to get the kicks of teaching, learning, interacting and gain momentum. The session certainly gave me all that.

Also, it gave me an opportunity to get back to books. It is an awesome feeling to go back to the roots once in a while and force yourself into the learning habit. While you do learn everyday from work, theorizing some of what you’ve learnt practically is a different kick. I was looking forward to that too. The session didn’t fail me in giving me that.

It took me about a week to put together the presentation from the book using various materials provided by the authors and also include learnings from my experiences. I was back to learning! That is the biggest benefit that once can get out of teaching. I honestly feel I know more about Marketing Research than when I did my management because of the blend of theory learnt during campus and the experience of research during work went well together.

It was also a bit of soul searching. I was able to engage students who were not specializing in Marketing (let alone Marketing Research) and was able to keep the session interesting with examples taken from the students themselves! I guess nothing like keeping it impromptu by taking examples from their own experiences. The engagement levels and the session would then be lively.

I realized that I love teaching as a job! It is fun because it keeps you on the ball always. By interacting with students (especially if they are experienced), one gets to learn a lot from them. The learning habit can never die if one is teaching.

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The War of the Wallet on Afaqs!

My article The War of the Wallet on Afaqs!

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Beware – Your competitor is from your category. NOT!

A few years back, while at B-School, I was introduced to management jargon and one of it was ‘Share of Wallet’. To de-jargonize, it means how much of an average human’s share of disposable income will you corner for your company, by making him / her spend on products and brands from your stable. This gives some beautiful insights about competition and from where do they come and steal part of that disposable income that could’ve come to you from the customer.

For instance, one of the biggest competitors of Indian Railways was ‘low cost airlines’. People who can afford to travel second or third A/C would rather spend a thousand Rupees more and fly to their destination. For the simple reason that they would end up saving a lot of travel time; this can be used for business or recreation as the case may be. Simple concept!

I have also heard of another concept propounded by Coke – especially in developing markets like India & China. They called it ‘Share of throat’. They realized pretty early that their biggest competition was not Pepsi in these markets but other natural, home-grown remedies to thirst – like tender coconut, buttermilk etc. Their biggest job was to convert these consumers to coke. I believe that was one of the key reasons for a Rs.5/- SKU, which was not common in most developed markets.

Coming back to the inspiration for this article – radio spots that I heard over the last few days & recent TVCs that I’ve seen.

Diwali Season has begun and every brand is roaring its heart out to reach for the customer’s pocket. And these are times when one brand understands who their real competitor is.

A few examples:

Cadbury’s Celebrations. Click here to listen to the spot.

Simple concept. Khushiyaan Baato. Share the happiness. Don’t think about meeting your old friend / boss / neighbor or whoever. Just go and meet them. Make them happy and you shall find happiness.

Pretty much straight forward. I will mind my own business kind of a spot, which is in line with its campaign in other media including TV.

Here’s the next one: World Gold Council. Click here to listen to the spot.

You can figure out who their competitor is! The electronic goods industry! Whoa! WGC actually thinks that Samsung, LG, Onida, Apple and other electronic goods manufacturers as competition. They’ve taken them head on to let us know how quickly these goods depreciate in value and how Gold can appreciate! Good idea. I will corner that corner of the pocket which was meant for the LED TV that the consumer felt the need for at his home!

And here’s the next. Morphy Richards.

I would have ideally liked to feature Croma’s Radio spot which believes a Gym Membership is competition, but couldn’t find it. But here’s the Morphy Richards TVC:

It looks like marketers have woken up to the concept of ‘Share of Wallet’ and are trying to poach from every other corner to get a bit of action for themselves! Competition is not within your category anymore. It has spread far and wide. What else can explain Gold fighting with Appliances fighting with Chinaware & Gym Memberships?

Marketers of today are fighting varied challenges.

  • Competition is not just from within the category.
  • Inflation & broader economy is making the size of the wallet smaller.
  • Pricing has become a decision point with the consumer being spoilt with choice. More effort required by Marketing & Sales to get the same amount of revenues.
  • Brand loyalty is almost a thing of past. Samsung is the new Sony. Korea is the new Japan.

Two eyes are just not enough. Look around. See the patterns and if you can’t see that almost invisible spear travelling at high speeds coming towards you, you may well be dead!

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Unlikely Heroes

Disclaimer: I have oft repeated that I don’t write about Financial Services as a category (refer disclaimers). But this is an exception and would discuss only the brand.

Pretty recently a campaign broke out in National Media for Union Bank of India. It was pretty visible at least to me. I saw the ad on TV, hoardings on my way & back every day! A fairly large PSU Bank has again embarked on a mission to remind the customers about the brand after I think 3 years.

The campaign features Aruna Vishy, Ajit Tendulkar & Manoj Singh. Celebrities. NOT.

India and Indian family system is much interconnected. We are more social that the average social animal of the west. Family values are based on strong bondage and interdependence is very high within the members of the family.

Unlike the west, it is almost impossible to live alone and manage your life with the kind of facilities that are (or are not) available and one tends to depend on their immediate family a lot more than most other countries. Kids are under the aegis of their parents even till 24-25, while the average ‘walking out’ age in the west is 18 (or less)?

Beautiful insight. Transalated into communication by Union Bank of India.

The campaign features some unlikely heroes in their own way. Vishwanathan Anand’s wife, Sachin Tendulkar’s brother, and Vijender Singh’s brother, who are publicly known to be the pillars of support for the well known gods of their respective sporting discipline.

However, they were not in public eye till date.

Reems of paper and documentation have been made about Ajit Tendulkar. Sachin never forgets to mention his brother every time there is an accolade that is showered on him. But never has he been considered a celebrity. Till one views this campaign, chances are that they wouldn’t have seen Manoj Singh (Vijender’s brother). While Aruna has been in public eye before, I don’t remember her endorsing any brand.

Brilliant idea. It seems to fit with the brand’s communication well too. As a bank they claim to share your dream. Moot point being that one’s dream is never one’s alone! At least in the Indian context. This I believe is a fantastic premise for a brand to take. Especially one in the financial services space and that too – a large PSU Bank. Brings in the consumer closer to the brand in more than one way.

Using celebrity spouses or family members seems to be picking up in India. I remember Viru’s mom, now Aruna, Ajit & Manoj and Indian Cricket’s first lady Sakshi Dhoni. Snooky but viable idea. Make celebrities out of celebrity family members and get them cheap (at least relatively). I also believe that Abhishek (Aishwarya’s husband) is endorsing a few brands right? (Ha! My sarcastic self has to peep up someplace!)

However, I believe that the execution has its own minor glitches. The TVC is way too breezy and doesn’t get to the point. In the pretext of making it very classy, the point about driving home the key message is almost lost because the TVC is not crisp. Clearly the story could’ve been told in a 30 or 20 seconder rather than a 40. It almost sounds like the creative vs client argument. Client wants the story told shorter and the creative wants that extra 10 seconds. Things haven’t changed much in the last 5 years at least on this front 🙂

In all, I believe it is a great insight in the Indian context, but a not so great execution.

Must admit however that the advertising from PSU entities lately have been creative & catchy. That however has to be a separate discussion by itself!

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