Friday, 25 June 2010

It's back. But when did it go away?

Here’s a rant: About the advertising campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle whose tag line and advertising idea is: Curves are back.

The old Beetle was never launched in India. So how can curves be 'back'? But I am asking this question because I am thinking like a layman (Dictionary note: layman: a man who is hoping to get laid), and not like the advertising man (Dictionary note: a man who has no hope of getting laid).

But why does the layman think differently than the ad man? No, apart from the dictionary differentiation?
Because the ad man knows more than the layman. He knows that the original Beetle became a cult car in the USA because of the amazing advertising created by Bill Bernbach. Advertising that broke the rules as much as the car itself did.

In those days cars were big and solid. American car buyers were supposed to love rectangular car roofs. Cars were symbols of status (and places where you used the back seat for more than seating). Car advertising reflected that. No, not that, but reflected bigness, solidness, status and rectangular roof-ness. Until VW Beetle and Bernbach came along and re-wrote the history.

Ad guys all over the world including India know this. They are brought up on it. They all want to do path-breaking advertising like Bernbach. Trivial stuff like the original Beetle was never launched in India doesn’t matter because well, the guys creating the advertising know the history and so does the client, so what the heck!

In fact so strong is the influence of the original Beetle advertising that at least one advertising agency named itself after a headline from that campaign. That it turned out to be a lemon is another story. There is also an unverified story about how an ad agency was sacked when a copy writer directly lifted one of the headlines, ‘Think small’, and used it for a condom ad.

The copy writer now works in Japan.

There is also another insignificant fact: From the humble Hyundai i 10 and Tata Indica to the Suzuki Swift and Hyundai i 20, plus the illusion of the Honda CRV’s window lines and the top end Mercedes-Benz CLK, all have shapes that are unmistakably ‘curvy’. But it’s insignificant. Surely, there are no curves that can compare with the original Beetle’s.

Given the cult status and the lasting influence of the original Beetle and its advertising, my rant against, ‘Curves are back’ becomes totally unjustified, almost moronic in fact.

So all I can say is, “Eat on lean and hungry model in the Beetle TV ad, get those curves now that they are back in fashion!” 

Of course I haven't seen too many Beetles on the road or too many people standing around a parked Beetle in Mumbai the way I saw them in New York City when it was launched there in 1998, but that must be because I don't hang out on the right roads.

No! Wait! I know what this campaign is all about: 

It has been done to appeal to Indian men, the men who are crazy about curves and love-handles. What a fricking insight! Even Bernbach would have been proud of it! In fact I know what the next TV ad will be like:
The same model, now with curves. She takes tee-shirt after tee-shirt from her wardrobe and rips them around the mid-riff.
Cut to: Curvy model walking down the street wearing ripped tee-shirt.
The tag line appears: Love handles are back.

Picture courtesy:

Monday, 21 June 2010

The day that was

It’s a great thing this, being a father. You begin preparing for it by being blamed for twitches, urges, yearnings, nausea, back pain, leg pain, swollen feet and ugly clothes. You read up stuff, learn to do the right things (but do them at the wrong time), get congratulated for running errands to fetch gulab jamuns, ice creams, sev puri at two in the morning (you realize very soon that the standard list of easily available at home items like pickle never feature in ‘I feel like eating...’), you read forwarded newsletters on what is happening inside this week, see images radioed from inside and try to imagine a real live human being instead of the static on screen, you attend classes so you can witness the big moment...

Then one day, you hold a little life in your hand and try to control all that stuff that is rising inside you and trying to burst out of your eyes and softly mutter to yourself over and over, ‘I am a father, this is my child, I am a father...’ Afterwards, in the solitude of the bathroom, you blow your nose and look into the mirror and smile at yourself.

With time, you learn to clean bums and bundle the baby in a cloth and almost shit your pants as you use that monster safety pin to keep the cloth in place. You wake up when the baby wakes at night and pick it up and hold it in your arms and sway, transferring your weight from one leg to the other like an addict at a rock show until the baby goes back to sleep. You learn to check the temperature of the milk, to tell stories, to make animal noises and bird impersonations. You learn to sleep without stirring, afraid that you, with your mighty weight and clumsy body, will roll over onto the baby.
Your co-workers and bosses fail to understand why you have to take a day off or leave early or reach late because you are not the mother, you are the father. Your female co-workers find it cute, but they don’t understand it either.

Time passes. You bend over the bicycle’s training wheels and take them off and spend large chunks of Sundays running behind, holding the seat until one day you let go and stand rooted to the spot with joy. You buy toys out of turn and for no reason. You buy ice cream and are responsible for colds, coughs and missed days at school. You buy clothes and shoes on your own and they always turn out to be a size smaller or bigger. You beat your head against weighty science and language assignments. You drive around half the city looking for one stationery shop that will be open at this time of the night. You are strong because you are father, except for superman there is no one stronger, and however old the kid is you can still pick him (or her) up like a feather when he (or she) has fallen asleep at a party. You learn to be judge and jury and also the cop and the lawyer.

You are guilty of indulgence and of indifference, too much discipline and too little, of not being there and of being there but late, of being partisan and of being wrong almost always.

Somewhere along the line you get comfortable with your role, admitting to yourself that it is never going to be as glamorous as the Mother's, but also that without your role this movie would never be complete either.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Wind, water & whatever

It's wild on the sea link. The rain is heavy but not heavy enough and the wind throws it around like a million threads hanging from a bare tree. Visibility is a joke, funnier when you see a broken down cab every 20 metres or so. Compressed Natural Gas is a great alternative fuel but an engine that runs on it cannot handle the fury of the very nature it attempts to save. 

Cars crawl, their distress lights blinking as if they are eyes blinking away the wind and water so they can see better. On the edge of the bridge water has collected and cars that are tempted by the emptiness of that stretch are showered in waves of their own making. 

There is more water, collected just before the cabins that collect toll for the wildest water ride you can take this side of your favourite water park. I am tempted to ask the toll man, 'Hey! Didn't the guys who built this bridge know that it rains in this city?' 

But I don't because my voice will get swept away in the wind and rain, like the voice of every common man who is foolish enough to expect an answer from our elected representatives. 

Thursday, 10 June 2010

You stopped here, digitally speaking.

“Ha! Who’s ever going to read a book on this!” The wife scoffed, pointing at a picture of Kindle on the computer screen. I turned around and requested my daughter to come over. (Yes, I request my daughter to do things. She is my daughter, yes, but you can’t trifle with women however little they might seem.) I asked her, “Hey, how would you prefer to read stories – in a book or on this?” She replied, “Of course on this daddy!” The way she said it and walked away, well, it reminded me of Casanova looking at the Englishman who asked him if he was interested in chicks. No, I just made up that Englishman story, but you get what I mean.

It looked pretty certain that Kindle was ‘The Thing’ and it would replace paper books very soon. Then came along iPad from Apple, launched, as always, by Steve Jobs himself.

(I have always wondered this about Steve’s new product launch conferences: There he is standing, conference after conference, launching brand new products that change the way the world computes, listens to music, chooses bags for their laptops etc. and every time he is wearing the same blue jeans and black polo-neck tee shirt! I am not sure about it but also, same white & grey sneakers. Okay, I know techies are geeks and are known to live in their offices and wear whatever is drying on their cubicle’s partition, but et tu Steve? By now you would expect him to have an assistant or something who he can send to the next cubicle to pinch his neighbour's jeans and tee shirt. No, wait! I know! The next product he is working on is the iButler! So if you are sitting around in a bar and find a butler left behind on a chair, a butler who will change the way the world butles, then that is him – the under-development iButler from Apple.)
Now this is what I don’t get about Apple: You spend a lifetime studying and practising marketing and advertising (you, not me), and come to respect the importance of being the First to launch something, having the First Mover Advantage or making a product claim for the First Time and then comes along Apple, after you, and pulls the rug from under your feet. Yes, that’s what it does: The Mac wasn’t the first personal computer, the iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, the iPhone wasn’t the first mobile phone and the iPad isn’t whatever it is. This is the place where I make appreciative noises because I like it when conventional wisdom is subverted. But then, I have always made appreciative noises when it comes to Apple. From the time I first set my eyes and got my hands on an Mac LC III (yes, I am that old), to the time we convinced a female colleague to say ‘Ouch’ into a Power Mac’s microphone so we could make it the warning sound, and from the time I got the iMac Candy as my first home computer to the time I first listened to a song on an iPod… I always thought Apple was cool.
You might have a little difficulty in believing that even this post is not about Apple. It’s actually about reading books without buying one: According to pundits (guys who get paid by large media conglomerates who in turn get paid by large corporations who get paid by picking our pockets), the Kindles and iPads are just the things the doctor prescribed to save the ailing and dying publishing industry. According to reports (put out by large media conglomerates who…), people are not reading books, magazines and etc. How do I know this? Because I read it in the papers of course! But I am an old foggy and I would have believed what I read. But I don’t because: 1. Every few months a new newspaper is launched in the city. 2. Magazines keep getting launched with alarming frequency too. 3. New book shop chains are opening stores all over the country. 4. I don’t see the Times Group, Penguin or Conde Nast filing for bankruptcy. Hachette just launched in India. 5. My daughter and son both make me buy books and actually read them.
On the other hand, digital book readers are great for the environment. Paper is made from trees and we need those trees because we are still not evolved fully and have this urge to go and join our ancestors! No, not really. It’s because trees are our planet’s lungs and, oh, you know the arguments. If you don't, visit the PETA web site. What's PETA? It is the short form of Pornography for Ethical Treatment of Animals. 
Of course digital book readers can’t be crushed to pulp and recycled like paper but we will think about that when the pile reaches the height of Everest, shall we?
But hey! I am not complaining. I have figured out one industry that’s definitely going to die very soon: The one that makes book marks, those wonderful little things that you use when the real world interrupts your reading and remind you that you stopped here. Yes, those guys are going out of business. And I am going to jump in and make a fortune by manufacturing; you guessed it, digital book marks for the few Kindles and many iPads out there.
Not for long though; Apple will soon follow and put me out of business.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Indifference: The bigger tragedy.

The iPhone 4 was launched yesterday and today it is the subject of more than one status update on FB. Considering that Apple doesn’t think India to be a big or important enough market to launch its products until much, much later, (iPad, iPad where are you? I hope your name doesn’t confuse people and make them expect to see you in a chemist store - handed over furtively and wrapped in an old newspaper), I wonder why a lot of Indians get all excited and start using their ‘connections’ to smuggle its latest. 

That is not to deny that most new Apple products are game-changing or revolutionary or some such wonderful thing. At least that’s what most tech junkies and journalists say.

On that background I am tempted to quote a couple of comments made by my friend, Mandar Paranjape, a known Apple buff:

“Apple products are still great but whenever possible I choose freedom over usability.”

And I just love the second one:

“Usually Apple loyalists are like Narayan Peth Puneites ""घ्याचं तर घ्या, नाहीतर चालते व्हा!":) (Buy it if you want, else get lost! :)

But, as always, I have gone off on a tangent. This wasn’t supposed to be about Apple-bashing.

This is about another momentous thing that happened right here, in India, the verdict on the Bhopal Gas Leak Case. (When I started writing this post yesterday, there wasn’t a single mention. By now at least two people have the anger in their updates. All is not lost.)

My first tryst with the Bhopal Gas Leak, labelled the world’s largest industrial disaster, came in the newspaper on the day after it happened. I was 16 and too young or too immature to be affected by something that happened in a small town I had only heard of. I read and I forgot.

The second one was almost seven years later when I went out to interview a Marathi writer for my first article for Free Press Journal, the wonderful newspaper that gave assignments to any guy wanting to be a journalist and actually published them if they were good. I ended up interviewing a chemical engineer who had written a novel based on his understanding of the Bhopal disaster.

The third one was when I was working as an advertising copy writer and The Brief Magazine held a competition to come up with a piece of communication about the disaster that would bring alive the tragedy of the affected people. It was judged by Indra Sinha, an advertising copy writer from the UK, one whose work for Amnesty International and London Metropolitan Police created a new standard in public awareness advertising. And someone who has been involved, hands-on, with organising health care for the Bhopal victims. You can visit his web site for Bhopal by clicking here. You can read his article in yesterday's Guardian by clicking here.
The prize for the competition was a month’s stint in a leading London advertising agency. I didn’t win it.

The copy writer-art director team who won the competition went off to London and promptly got jobs and moved on without fully claiming their prize. I wonder what poor Indra Sinha felt. But he did the civil thing: He picked up the runners-up and gave them the prize.

Twenty-five years after the tragedy, finally, the Indian courts have arrived at a verdict. Those found guilty have been sentenced to two years' imprisonment and are already out on bail. But I am surprised by the media's reaction of surprise: The charges were diluted long ago. Warren Anderson apparently had used a government aircraft to escape from Bhopal to Delhi. The government, who was the defendant in this case, had done nothing for the survivors compared to voluntary organisations in these last twenty-five years.

Like Indra Sinha writes in his article in the Guardian, “The company fined $11,000 for causing the deaths of more than 20,000 people? That's 55 cents a death. What of the quarter of a century of suffering endured by more than 100,000 sick survivors? Eleven cents apiece. As criminal damages go, never has a lower price been set on human life and health”.

That’s it: 55 cents a death and 11 cents per survivor. Doesn’t even add up to a fraction of what it takes to buy the new iPhone 4 at USD 199.

Location: Office of the Prime Minister of India.
Law Minister: Warren Anderson is responsible for 20,000 deaths and 100,000 sick people.
PM: You are kidding!
LM: No, I am not. 
PM: Nobody tells me anything! Where is he?
LM: In a house in Long Island, New York.
PM: Let's bomb his cave. I mean, house.
LM: What an idea Sardarji!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Death? Fat chance!

I now have a choice: To die of lung cancer or of a heart attack. No, I haven’t had a visit from Yama Raj – “Ha! Ha!! Ha!!! Your time is up. Get ready to leave”. “Sure,” I reply, “But since I am concerned about the world finding an alternative to fossil fuels, do you mind if I ask you a question?” Intrigued, the god of Big D agrees. “This vehicle of yours, this buffalo, what kind of average does he give per bale of grass?” Made bold by his silence, I continue, “And how fast does he go from 0 to 100kph?” “Ha! Ha!! Ha!!! I am pleased by your concern child. As a reward you can choose your method of death…”

Neither have I found a passage pertaining to me in Nostradamus – ‘In the nth year of the twenty first century a man who earns his living by banging his fingers will be struck down by a breakdown in his circulation, of air or of blood’.

As I type his name a red squiggle appears under ‘Nostradamus’ indicating that the word doesn’t figure in the Microsoft Word dictionary. Strange - the man who has predicted every major disaster (and no good news at all), did not predict the invention of dictionaries and the inclusion of his name in them.

The choice struck me in an amusement park, no pun intended. As I took the kids for a ride in the bumper boats I was singled out by the attendant. No, he didn’t offer me the choice. He asked me to step on a weighing scale because the maximum permissible weight for a bumper boat ride was 75 kg. I knew I was over that but some unknown force, like a death wish, made me step on it. I reeled back. For the last 15 years or so my weight has hovered between 75 and 78 kg. Not any more, not any less. The weighing scale said 85; in the last 7 months I had gained at least 7 kg.

But to say I was taken by surprise would be to lie: I have had enough signs in the months gone by. At least one trouser had stopped fitting me. I had been finding it increasingly difficult to see my toes without leaning ahead a bit. I had acquired the habit of sucking in my tummy every time a hot chick walked into the room.

After I was done with reeling and waving with forced enthusiasm at the kids in the bumper boats, I sat down. Because my legs couldn’t carry my new weight. And because I had to think. If I continued at this rate, that is 1 kg per month, I would be over 100 kg in the next 15 months and continue to bloat. If that were the case, how far would I be from a deadly heart attack? I thought some more: ‘Why had I begun to put on weight?’ The answer was simple: After 26 years of smoking, I had quit.

That, my friends, is the story of my death: I can re-start smoking and choose death by lung cancer. Or, do nothing and wait for the attack.