Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sach ka Samna / Moment of truth
While I was flipping channels yesterday I came across an interesting program. Sach ka Samana aka Moment of truth.

A game show where one has to face 21 questions about their life; I should add, uncomfortable, disturbing, revealing and rather personal questions, at the end of which they would stand to win Rs.1cr (Rs.10 million). Quite a sum of money.

Basically before one qualifies to sit on the ‘hot seat’, he is put through a polygraphic machine (lie detecting machine), the one which Robert De Niro subjects Ben Stiller to in ‘Meet the Parents’; and are administered 50 questions that are quite personal.

While I tuned in, there was this fat north Indian guy, typical Mumbai middle class businessmen type, gold chain on wrist, double chin, paan stained red teeth, overflowing stomach flab, sitting on the ‘hot seat’, a thin bead of sweat on his brow, answering questions like:

1. Do you have a secret in your life, which could potentially break your marriage?
2. Have you ever suspected your wife of adultery?
3. Have you been unfaithful to your wife?

Well if you are wondering what the answers to the above were, then I should say at this point that you have a Voyeur hiding inside you (though you would never admit it). Let me relieve you of your curiosity. The answers, were YES, YES and YES. And the answers were all TRUE.

If it brings you any relief, I will accept I am a voyeur too, because I continued watching the show and derived pleasure out of it too. Not the kind of sadistic pleasure you derive out of torturing people you hate, but the kind of curious pleasure you derive, when you see a horrific road accident but just ‘tut tut’ your way as you pass by the hapless victims and the blue and red sirens of the police cars and hospital vans and then shamelessly brag to your friends later that you passed by that accident, while they have just heard of it on the radio.

Then I came to know that this show was popularized in the US (Moment of Truth), though roots were in Colombia. It’s got very good TRPs by the way. Now, why am I not surprised?

And guess what, the guy in the hot seat has to answer all the questions in front of his family and friends, who are given a front row seat to see the tamasha.

While I was watching the show I was wondering is this all really worth it? I mean I wouldn’t reveal the dark secrets of my life for Rs.1cr (probably Rs.10cr might convince me otherwise). Imagine you win Rs.1cr, but you are mentally scarred for the rest of your life. Your friends, your family, your neighbours, the whole frigging country knows everything about your life! Is it really worth it? I guess that question would be best answered by the contestants.

And you know why I think this show will succeed? Because inside each and every one of us, there is a voyeur hiding. An innate quality we are all born with. And one which the media guys have scented, salivated on the thought and capitalized on.

After the show my wife asked me “Sweetie, would you ever participate in this show?” I said “Would you?” Both of us didn’t answer the question. We just gave that smile to each other. After all, life isn’t worth spoiling with 21 truths.

What about you? Would you?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Product or Brand? I think Product.

I was sent this wonderful article written by Al Ries a few days back. It makes great reading. Read the rest of my blog, after reading that article.

You know why Sachin Tendulkar, Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher, Roger Federer or Maradona are legends in their respective sport? Before they became icons, before they became brands, before they became legends, they were and continue to be THE BEST in their respective game. Period.

When competition came, when competition sometimes got better, these sportsmen always made a comeback because their foundation was excellent. They dug deep, corrected their flaws, bettered their technique and came back hard on their competition.

Everything else followed. Money, fame, them becoming brand icons in their sport. Everything. They became great brands, because fundamentally they were great products.

You can have the best marketing team in place, you can have the best advertising agency doing your ads, but in the end if you don’t have a good product, then it will all fall flat.

GM does not have good cars. Period. Their cars are not fuel efficient, neither are they stylish and nor are they as reliable as their European counterparts. And this is not perception. Its simple hard hitting reality. Their competition is better in at least 2 of the 3 above mentioned parameters.

Marketing is not going to help and neither is advertising. First build a reliable product which can stand up to competition. Once a good product is in place, everything else will follow. Their story, the brand, the marketing, the advertising et all…

The best brands are the best, because they have fantastic products to begin with. The brand, the perception about it, the advertising etc helped build it into the giants that they are today.

So I grudgingly disagree with Al Ries on only one count. To me the focus on product should be more important than focus on the Brand. People might buy brands, but if the brand does not live up to its promise or their expectation from the product then they will switch loyalties to a brand with a better product. (Note that I acknowledge that they will buy a brand and not a product).

It might sound like I have gone back 50 years in my thinking, but come to think of it, sometimes going back to the roots is probably for the better.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

First impressions

A few days back I attended a seminar on Islamic Banking. Well for the uninitiated, let me clear doubts right away. It's got nothing to do with funding terrorism. Islamic banking is all about following the Sharia' laws, which of course finds its roots in Islam and the Quran. The seminar was about Islamic banking and how it is better than conventional banking.

Well I digress. I am here to write on first impressions. So Samir (my client servicing director), Trevor (Group Account Director) and I decided to attend this seminar, which was supposed to last 2 hours. Well at 6:00pm, it's not the most exciting way to spend your evening. But hey, I handle HSBC, and therefore I am compelled to attend. Whether I like it or not. Its times of recession and I better show extra interest and enthusiasm towards my work.

So we head out to knowledge village, aptly named because of the number of universities that are bunched together here. Frankly I wasn’t expecting many people to attend. I mean how many people would be interested on a talk about Islamic Banking? I was imagining myself, Samir and Trevor in a room full of empty chairs and the speaker talking to us. And if he turned out to be one of those chirpy, interactive ones, he just might point out at me and ask me questions on what he just spoke.

We near the registration desk and my fears seemed to be true. I take a peek into the seminar room and the bloody room is empty. We were the first ones. I feared we would be the last too. I just resigned myself to my fate, filled my details in the registration form and took my seat in the hall. Sam and Trev, dutifully sat on the 2nd row. Damn.

I took the seat next to Trev.

The time was 5:55pm. I was expecting a few more atleast. But the next 10 minutes completely took me by surprise. There were already around 40 in the room! And a good mix. Indians, Westerners, Arabs, Africans. I thought to myself "Well…."

I saw a person who I thought was the speaker. He was speaking to a guy in a uniform who looked like the technical guy who sets up projectors and laptops before a seminar. And he was selecting white board markers. He was in casual gabardines, linen shirt and looked like one of those cool professors I never had. I looked around the room and took in the profile of people attending. Mostly suits, a few kandooras, a couple of ladies in abaya and a man in a pathan suit, with a big beard, looking like one of those radical mullahs of a madrasa, that you see from time to time on CNN or BBC, yelling at other similar bearded men demanding them to wipe out the infidels.

I thought to myself "Quite a crowd". "I hope I don’t doze off". Would have been quite a crime considering I was on the 2nd row. For the record, there was not a single person who took the first row. So we were literally the first row.

It was 6:15pm. The guy in the khaki gabardines was standing on the dais, pacing slowly. Allowing everyone to settle. Then he walked off solemnly to the back of the room.

A person in a suit walks up to the mike. Clears his throat and delivers the opening speech. "Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for your presence today. We have amongst us a great personality today. Mr. Atif Khan. He brings to us his rich experience on banking. His conventional finance experience includes investment banking at Morgan Stanley in New York and London, executing mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance transactions, and Chief Financial Officer of Iprox Limited in London. Atif earned a Bachelor’s summa cum laude from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a Master’s from Harvard University. Before becoming MD of, he has worked closely with Islamic financial institutions on product development, Atif studied the Shariah sciences for five years in Pakistan, the last years of which were spent one-on-one with some of the world’s leading Islamic finance scholars. Today he will speak about Islamic banking. So without much ado, I present to you, Mr. Atif. Atif the stage is yours. Thank you".

I hear faint footsteps. And lo and behold, who do I see taking the stage!

The young bearded radical mullah! I was shocked.

I suddenly hear a perfect American accent wafting from his direction. I was confused. Here was a man, who had a long flowing beard, he was in a Pathan suit, with a black sleeveless cashmere coat on top of it, wearing sandals. And he has an American accent. Perfect English. He had my complete attention. And how!

After speaking for about 10 minutes he clears his throat. Cracks a joke about how he just delivered a 2 hour speech before this. And that his throat is sore. Asks for a glass of water from a person sitting at the back. And who walks up with a glass of water?

The cool looking professor in gabardines. Ah! How wrong I was.

He went on to deliver one of the better seminars I have attended. He explained in very simple terms what Islamic banking was and what it is based on, its foundations. And his delivery was perfect, his humour; self deprecating, casual. He in fact even cracked a couple of contextual jokes on Muslims and how the world looks at all of them as terrorists! I mean how many of them would do that? Not sure how the muslims in the room took it though. Because I thought I heard a few uncomfortable laughs.

I was quite amazed at the end of it all. He almost convinced me that Islamic banking is better than conventional banking. But like most things in my life, all my brilliant queries and doubts on any topic comes a good 2 days after I have had the discussion / attended a seminar. Anyway, I answered my own queries and decided I will stick to conventional banking.

But coming to the point. First impressions can be deceptive. I had made up my mind about quite a few things that day. My first impression about a topic like Islamic banking that no one would be there to attend it. My first impression about the guy in the gabardines. My first impression of Atif.

I thought of this guy as a radical Islamic mullah of a madrasa, who goaded blood thirsty Jihadis to their deaths. But he turned out to be someone completely different from what I had assumed. Like the saying goes "Don’t judge a book by its cover".

I hope I never fall prey to first impressions again.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The creative clan

I can't do it.
Come later.
Buy more time.
You are a fucked up Eunuch.
Your brief sucks. It does not inspire me.

These are some of the lines I listen to on a daily basis from my brethren. I sometimes wonder how creative people are able to think creatively with so much negativity flowing in their blood stream. And then it strikes me! But of course! They feed of us, the client servicing guys.

They are like the leech; feeds on the blood of its victim in order to live. And once they are full, they fall off so they can digest the blood they just drank, before they get hungry again and find another victim. But unlike the leech's prey, here we feel the pain.

I can live with the first four statements. It reeks of their incompetence and mindless arrogance. But the last one irks me the most "Your brief sucks" because they are directly questioning my ability and competence. I run every creative brief past my Account Director and my client servicing director and if that wasn’t enough, past my client too. That brief filters through 3 layers; approximately about 50 years of experience between the three against their single digit experience in the same field and they have the nerve to call it "uninspiring".

I in fact fail to understand many things about these chaps:

  • Why do most of them dress like hippies? Unshaven, unkempt, turning up to office in bathroom slippers, uncut armpit hair peeping out of their T-shirt?
  • Why do most of them listen to rock, hard rock, metal, heavy metal and worse. Haven’t they heard of hindi songs, carnatic music, old melodies?
  • Why do they have to wear low hip jeans, with their jocks sticking out and their arse crack showing, everytime they bend or stretch?
  • Why do most of them smoke?
  • Why are all of them addicted to super hero movies?
  • Why do they create ads, where the image takes up the whole layout, the font of the copy is the size of a disclaimer and the brand name is included in the layout like they are doing it a favor?
  • Why do they have psychedelic designs on their desktop background or screen saver.
  • How can they think creatively by breeding so much negativity? Oh I think I answered that question…but anyway…how?

    Well after putting in 7 years, I know one thing for sure. I am in this field neck deep. I aint going anywhere, (unless I get a break on the client side, in which case I will screw them if I ever get the chance). And I don’t think I will ever figure them out. But they are the backbone. I admit to that fact with all humility. Without them an ad agency is nothing, I am nothing. So till then, live long you inflated egotistic off-springs of concubines.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

How do rainbows make you feel?

When I say the word 'Rainbow' what do you think of?

Do you envision a beautiful cool spring morning that has just been kissed by rain and a shade of sun that’s run through droplets of rain water, causing the wonderful bow of 7 colors to rise in the sky, and bring out the magnificence of nature's beauty in full blossom? OR; do you think of homosexuals, bi-sexuals, lesbians, eunuchs and transvestites?

You are goddamn right. I think of gays nowadays. Well my alternate sexuality preferring brethren. You should have left the rainbow alone. A symbol that epitomizes nature.

I wonder why they chose that as their symbol of Gay Pride? Was it to make us 'straight' thinking folk think 'twisted'. Or was it to make us understand their perspective of nature and what's natural to them? And who associated the word "Gay" with "Homosexuality"? I mean gay was such an innocent word before.

India of all places had gay parades! A land with the 2nd highest population in the world. Well on the brighter side, maybe if half our population turns gay, at least we won't continue multiplying at this rate!

I am from Chennai, one of the places which had a gay parade. And I heard there were a couple of hundreds participating in it. And what did they want? Article 377 of the IPC that criminalizes alternative sexuality, repealed. Why? So the closet gays can come out in the open and showcase their sexuality in gay abandon (pun unintended).

Nowadays when I hear the word gay, I cannot synonomise it with happy. I can only think of a cheesy looking man, with a lilt of a woman, dressed in flashy pink with white framed shades, driving a purple colored car.

They have to understand something. The world has always been ruled by the majority. And the majority are still 'straight'. So till then, lie low and follow the rules of the land and nature. Only opposites have attraction. Two penises coming together is just a distraction.