Monday, 23 August 2010

A virtual call for action!

Have you noticed something new in advertisements these days? Sorry, I should have first asked whether you bother to read or watch ads. I do, purely out of habit because not very long ago I used to make a living from them. No, no, no. I wasn’t involved in buying old newspapers and selling them, I was in a profession lower than that. I was (and sometimes I still am), involved in the making of advertisements.Yeah, it is a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it, right? But please don’t tell my children about it. Which reminds me of that famous French autobiography, ‘Don’t tell my mother I am in advertising, she thinks I play the piano in a brothel’. That’s a loose (no pun intended), translation and unfortunately the book was never translated into English.

Else I would have been happily playing the piano in a brothel to the eternal pride of my children.

So what’s new in ads these days? Before we go there, let’s take the Time Machine and go to a brothel. Sorry, to the past and find out what old ads had in those days. Apart from curvy women holding packs of engine oil (or some such product),and promising enhanced performance (of car engines or some such product), most ads ended with what was termed a ‘Call for action’. (When I wrote my first ad my boss told me to put in a ‘Call for action’. Eager trainee that I was, I went back, smoked five cigarettes in one hour and returned with: ‘We challenge you to a duel with six-shooters. Venue of your choice.’ I was merely following the venerable tradition of the Wild West books I had read. Needless to say, from that point on my career steadily went South.) A ‘Call for action’, as I learned the hard way, was a line or a voice that urged the reader or the viewer to visit the store and buy the product being advertised.

Of course, I believed (and still do), that every element of an ad adds up to a call for action where the words and pictures come together to create an irresistible proposition and drive the reader to either buy or at least consider buying the product being advertised. But that's another story, one that has been written by writers better than me.

Some ads also urged the reader/viewer to call up on a certain phone number – these ads were released by companies who had more telephone operators than salespersons and since they couldn’t sack them because of trade union issues were forced to create work for them. As the intelligent reader knows this problem was sorted out with the arrival of ‘Call Centers’ and instead of we calling the companies, the companies started calling us...

But that was later. Most ads in those days were released by companies who wanted you to get your butt to the store so you could see their wonderful products and they could see your wonderful butt. Sorry, they could sell you a whole bunch of their products to you (which of course meant they took your butt without even seeing it).

Now if you were to return to the present and look at ads carefully you will realize that this is not true any more. No, your butt still gets taken when you go shopping but ‘Calls for action’ are mostly missing these days. Instead they have been replaced by a new kind of ‘Call’ which I have loosely (no pun even here either), termed as, ‘Call for interaction’. Let us quickly sit in that Space Transporter and go to the brothel. Damn! Go and eavesdrop on a meeting between an ad agency and an advertiser and find out why:

Ad Man: Here it is sir.

Advertiser: I have seen the brief. Show me the ad.
A M: LOL. Love your sense of humour sir! This is the ad.
Advertiser: I am not joking. I hope you are not joking either.
A M: No sir. This is the ad.
Advertiser: It can’t be. There are too many words in it. Only the brief is allowed to have so many words. (Turns to A M’s boss.) Can you please control your trainees?
Ad Woman: Sorry sir. He is new.
Advertiser: Don’t you tell new recruits that no one reads ads?
A M: With due respect sir, that’s why people buy newspapers: To read.
Advertiser: To read news.
A M: Sir with the advent of the internet, people are reading more. Blogs for instance.
Advertiser: Because blogs are written by funny  men and hot women. (Turns to A M’s boss.)
A W: Sir can you dictate the changes please? I will write them down and get them done.
Advertiser: See young man, no one takes traditional media seriously any more. Internet is the thing! Digital is in! If you are not on the net, you are a dead fish. And nobody wants to read about your product or see its pictures in traditional media. That’s uncool. The new advertising mantra is: Spend millions on traditional media and drive them to the internet. The whole new purpose of traditional media is to drive traffic to our web site, to our Facebook page, to make them follow us on Twitter... Google Buzz!  Digg! And what not!!! 
So take this down: One glorious picture and no words except these, big and bold: Visit our web site! Follow us on Twitter!! Join us on Facebook!!!
A W: I got that.

Sorry. The Space Transporter has broken down and we will have to spend the rest of our lives eavesdropping on these meetings from the air-conditioning duct.

Look! A search engine!! We are saved!!! Blog, here we come.

That’s the new thing: Advertisers don’t seem interested in making you buy their products or even driving you to their stores. Instead they just want to look cyber-cool (new-age word for ├╝ber cool) - have millions of followers on Twitter, get record-breaking ‘Likes’ on their FB page and generate server-crashing hits on their web site.

Strange. But like I said, I am out of advertising, mostly, and don’t quite care. So I am off now. I have a piano class to attend. I hope you follow my progress on Facebook and Twitter.

To end, a classic from the archives section titled, ‘Ads that shouldn’t have been done:
Picture: Pair of stiletto-heeled shoes. Headline: Up to 50% off!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

A Guest Post

The reputation of this blog as a place to rant seems to be reaching alarming proportions. Not only have the readers come to expect routine outbursts directed against all and sundry (a laundry that dries your clothes in the sun), some of them have figured out the real reason why I rant here: It saves me good money I would otherwise spend on a shrink. One of them, no, not one of the shrinks, one of those who have figured it out is my good friend (a good friend is someone who lends you money without asking questions. Or who tells your wife that he was with you the night in question.), Krishnan Iyer. Recently Krishnan sent me an e-mail reminding that I used to copy from his composition book in school and subtly alluded to bare other secrets involving the English teacher and me. (Like the time I argued with her about F***. She insisted it was a verb, I, a noun. The argument ended when she asked me to stop being a ‘Dumb F***’.) The e-mail had an attachment, Krishnan’s own rant about cell phones - a topic close to his heart (he keeps his cell phone in his shirt pocket. Unlike most men who keep their cell phones in their trouser pockets and hence are close to, whatever.)

I had no option but to publish Krishnan’s rant. Who knows when I might need to borrow the money he saves on his shrink session. Or need his company (and testimony), on one of those questionable nights.

Krishnan’s Rant:


The tag line of the movie, The Phone Booth (2002), is, “A ringing phone has to be answered!” Well, that was from another age - a phone booth –a physical device fixed to a location where you have to walk to it to use it!

In this modern age and world of jetsetters and cell phones, the question probably is, “What is it about the wheels of an airplane touching the ground that makes people immediately want to turn on their cellphones and start talking?” It is like an ejaculation waiting to happen or the results of the use of a laxative – same effect, no control!

For a moment let us try and be charitable to those poor, humble cell phone/communication addicts – it is a very important call to make, there is a crisis which has to be addressed, the airlines are unreasonable by not allowing use of the cell phones on flight … Well, here are some of the actual ‘first’ (first, as in when the wheels touch the tarmac), conversations which take place:

(a) “I have just landed” – The lawyer in me cannot accept the incorrect factual statement - it is the plane which has landed, not your measly arse! Also, why is it a wonder that you landed – you did take off, did you not? For all the airline accidents which happen, as a percentage of total flights, you have more chances of surviving an airline ride than crossing the road at CST Station.

(b) “Will reach home in half an hour” – you think that’s making your folks happy? Think again! They are probably cursing the airline for landing on time.

(c) “I have reached Delhi/Mumbai.” – well, you did buy a ticket to reach there … and you announce to the world that you have landed in that place. Why is it a wonder? Well, let us understand something; if a plane is scheduled to land at a particular destination and you have taken a plane to reach that destination, the chances are you will reach that destination. (Unless of course, you have a minister who wants to be dropped off half-way – somewhat like the trains passing through Bihar).

(d) “Is everything fine at the office?”/“Hopefully no crisis when I am away”. The guy/gal at the other end is probably thinking -  Boss, whenever you are not in office everything is fine and no, there is no crisis – the crisis is actually the idiot who has just landed, ignored the warnings of the airline not to put his cell phone on and is asking this question to us.

(e) To the driver outside – “Aap bahar khade hain? Aa raha hoon”. Well, you are not a VVIP that the car will come on the tarmac – yes, you will have to walk out to the door. The driver is probably thinking – “Subah, subah message bhejke bulaye hai our pooch rahe bahar hu kya – yahi hota hai jab company ka phokat ka phone milta hai”

And many, many such more ….

The cell phone is meant to be a device to communicate. Communication – a process whereby information is imparted from the sender to the receiver by some medium and is meant to serve a purpose. However, the cell phone has turned communication into an art form of giving information which is of no use to anyone whatsoever – somewhat like the various TV channels vying for TRPs.

Well, there is so much more I want to tell – but the pilot has just announced that the fight is landing and my damn cell phone is put off and in the overhead locker – I need to open it right away – I know, I know that they say it is dangerous – but what do these airlines know about the pressures of my life – I need to check if my cat has eaten its food!

Note: Krishnan could have gone on to become a great writer. But due to a quirk of fate, his roll number in school was after mine and he invariably got accused of copying from my English composition book. To get back, he changed his second name and became a lawyer as well. Unfortunately for him I never made enough money to make it worth his while to sue me.

Sunday, 15 August 2010


It is Independence Day and the newspapers are filled with

That shouldn’t be a surprise because it is also a Sunday, a day when the mighty middle class (MMC) of India wakes up late and picks up the newspaper in the hope that there will be something in there that will wake it up with a jolt – like a ‘Buy one get two free offer’.

Today the MMC would have suffered multiple jolts. Here are my Top Eleven* Picks, why not ten you ask? Hang on until the end and you will be get the answer. Thanks for cheating and going to the end right away.

Talking of cheating (there he goes again, on a tangent, like a crazy ball banged with too much force), there is a law that says the Indian National Flag is sacred and its sanctity is not to be violated by using it in advertisements that are nothing but messages released for commercial gain. That is, the Government can use the flag in its ads because they are not released for commercial gain. In fact, they are released for commercial loss because no one believes in their messages and money spent on them is like money spent on the Commonwealth Games. 

Damn. That’s a tangent within a tangent; this ball is crazy.

But the advertisers have learned the first law of tackling Indian laws. Where there is a law there is a loophole. In fact, I have a strong suspicion that the all the laws in India have been formulated by a committee in this fashion:

Committee Member 1: Here’s a loophole.
Rest of the Committee: Great. Now let’s build a law around it.

The ball regains its sanity and returns from the tangent. The savvy advertiser has known for a long time that the best way to exploit the loophole is to use the Indian National Flag without the Ashok Chakra. Yeah, just use a saffron-white-green flag or just the colours and voila! You have used the flag without breaching the flag code. It is like the pre-liberation era Hindi movies. Hero and heroine come close-closer-closest. Cut to two pigeons ‘beaking’. There, you have showed a kiss without getting the members of the censor board all aroused. Sorry, without getting them all pissed off about your movie not upholding the sanctity of Indian culture. This practise, of pigeons beaking, had to be discontinued in Hindi movies because of the arrival in India of a group called PETA (as explained in an earlier post, the letters stand for Pornography for Ethical Treatment of Animals). The movie producers and the censors agreed that showing a kiss on screen was a lesser evil than grown-up women showing up at every street corner wearing nothing but a pigeon feather.

The ball is truly bouncing all over the place today. Time to rein it in and get on with the Top Eleven:

1] Special Freedom Blast – Mix Hummus for Rs. 63.
Ah, it’s not only the ball’s that crazy today. It’s also the brains of advertising professionals. Please pause to appreciate the many-layered offer: A recipe from Lebanon with the word ‘Blast’ in its name and offered at a price that is the same as the number of years of Indian independence. Take a bow versatile advertiser.

2] Celebrate 63 years of freedom with XYZ. Take home an XYZ product for just Rs. 63*. 63 years of independence. 63 years of progress. 63 glorious years. To celebrate this 63 years of freedom all you need is Rs. 63*. Buy any one of the products mentioned below… and bring it home for just Rs. 63* and pay the balance in 10 equal monthly instalments…
Notice the subtle use of 63! And the sincere and heartfelt effort to make its products available to all Indians at a low price of Rs. 63! Like all great advertising this one has a great consumer insight too – Large swathes of this great country have people who earn Rs. 63 a day or even less. Socio-economic consideration in promotional offers is rare or non-existent… But what’s this? The offer is valid only in the top 5 cities?! Ah, that’s a minor thing of course. After all, every offer comes with a disclaimer, ‘Conditions apply’. Here it probably means, ‘Conditions apply. Ordinary human beings need not’.

3] A little step by our Government
A big leap in our lives
Best wishes on Independence Day
This one is from the Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation. The ad has one picture of the urban poor and lots more of political leaders. This is a classic ad where the full meaning of the text can be understood only when you see it along with the pictures. So let’s put those two together: A big leap in our lives + Pictures of political leaders. And, 
Best wishes on Independence Day + Picture of the urban poor.

4] Maharashtra, the arch-performer, the torch bearer, the glory of India salutes the Tricolour - This one has been released by a department of the Government of Maharashtra. Hello, isn’t this a message to celebrate the nation? Then why are all the glorious nouns in the ad about the state releasing the ad? For the answer refer to the unwritten book, Golden Rules of Indian Politics, page 1: Blow your own trumpet. Follow this by beating your own drum.

5] Introducing the Cent Swadesh Term Deposit announces this one from a nationalised bank. I think this headline is lifted straight from an international advertising awards book and in the hurry to get it out everyone involved forgot to replace ‘cent’ with ‘paisa’.

6] Enjoy your freedom with Quick Heal Independence day offer says ABC, India’s No. 1 AntiVirus Software. Scathing! The only one to admit that India’s independence is riddled with virus like any other software and needs healing. Gandhi caps off to you.

7] Freedom to live a better, healthier, happier life. This Tagoresque line of poetry comes from a group that dabbles in foods, properties, financial, media, infrastructure and construction and energy. I am still trying to make the connection but maybe I need to attend a poetry appreciation class first…

8] It’s your Independence Day. Cheer the loudest today. Raise the flag. Cheer even louder. And celebrate your Independence Day like never before. Pick up a PQR phone and celebrate your freedom.  I just wish this Japanese company would stop saying, ‘your Independence Day’ and ‘your Independence Day’ and ‘your freedom’ and tell it that after 63 years of independence we don’t have to depend on Japanese goods to celebrate. We now have the freedom of choice from Korean, American and European goods (all made in China of course).

9] We tripled our production capacity* because India’s progress cannot wait. 
I just wonder why this cement company had to wait for 63 years to do that. Had they tripled their production capacity* (*conditions apply) in 1947, we would have progressed far beyond the USA by now. Damn! Damn!! Damn!!!

10] Azadi ke shubh avsar par, ab lelo sapno ka ghar. 
Someone’s recycling Diwali, Dussehra or some other festival ad here. Or has confused Independence Day to be another festival – The date is red on the calendar and it’s a public holiday; has to be a festival, huh?

11] Do it the Indian way. 
No, it is not an ad for what you are thinking you dirty bugger. It is an ad for a Japanese manufacturer of calculators and musical keyboards who has realized that if its profits have to go North in the new world order, things have to be done the Indian way.

*It is our Independence Day and I am not the kind to be left behind. This is my offer: Read Top Ten offers on this blog and get the eleventh absolutely FREE*
*Human? Don’t bother to apply.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

For whom the bell rings

Irony (that thing that doesn’t have anything with your clothes being pressed to perfection), doesn’t get better than this:

The finance minister of India is in a meeting to discuss rising prices with other leaders when he gets a call on his mobile phone – from a telemarketer offering him a home loan!

On hearing this, the telecom minister, Raja (and you only thought horses at hill stations had names like that. Or heroes in seventies’ movies.), swung into action. According to The Times of India report: ‘A wide range of products and services are nowadays offered through tele-marketing which result in inconvenience and disturbance to telecom consumers,’ Raja said in a note to his secretary.

I wonder what Raja Saab (that would be a villain’s name in a seventies’ movie), had in mind when he wrote that note. Did he mean that the products and services offered through tele-marketing should be targeted at people without phones so the telecom consumers are not inconvenienced and disturbed?

I love our ministers. Once you get over your anger, frustration and all such logical reactions, they are a great source of entertainment. Some of them, like the Buffalo Bill of Bihar, the Statue-tory leader of UP and the Grassroots Express of WB, don’t even have to do anything or open their mouths to entertain us. One look can have you rolling in the aisles.

But I wonder what made the tele-marketer call our finance minister? I presume it must have been the minister's clean image. (Disclaimer: A clean image in politics is only an image and any connection or resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.) The tele-marketer must have thought, “Hey this guy is clean and so needs a loan to buy a house. Let me help him find a place where he can retire peacefully. The tele-marketer was right about one thing: All politicians take loans. It’s just that they don’t return them. And he was wrong about one thing: Politicians never retire. Not even when they are dead – look at the new blue-eyed boy of the ruling party; he is still nursing on his great-grandfather’s legacy.

Could there be another explanation for the call? A more sinister one? (The word sinister means a minister who has sinned.) Could it be that someone with vested interests was offering a bribe to our honourable and clean finance minister? Do my bidding and I will give you a ‘loan’ to buy a home (in the Swiss Alps of course). Or could it have been a representative of the opposition party making an offer? Join our bandwagon and we will give you the ‘home’ portfolio? Unlikely, because anyone with little brains (for example a politician), knows that a man who has ‘finance’ can get ‘home’ anytime he wants.

I had to get to the bottom of this. Because when the bug hits you, you start sneezing. When it hits me, I start investigating. I called up my highly placed source in the telecom industry (the guy who climbs telephone poles), and he gave me an insight into tele-marketing which explains why the finance minister got a call on a number that is probably unlisted:

Tele-marketing depends on humans only to make the actual phone calls. Everything else is controlled by monkeys who throw banana peels at various numbers being randomly generated on a giant computer screen. Peel hits screen, a number gets dialled and voila, the finance minister gets a call with an offer he is forced to refuse because he can’t be seen accepting a home loan in the presence of important political leaders without compromising his clean image.

But let them be, these high and mighty ministers. What does an average man or woman do when he or she gets a tele-marketing call? Here are my Top 5 Proven Tips to shoo away tele-marketers:

1] If it is woman caller and you are a man:
You: Forget the loan honey, why don’t we talk of nicer things?

2] If it is a man caller and you are a man:
You: Don’t try to fool me, I know you are Raja. If you call on my daughter’s phone again, I will chop you up and feed you to the monkeys throwing peels at…

3] If it is a man caller and you are a woman:
You: Daddy! It is that man again who calls and says obscene things. Turn on the recording machine and call the police!

4] If it is a man/woman and you are a man:
You: Namaste! Nagpada Police Station…

5] If it is a man/woman and you are man:
You: Do you know who you have called you moron? I am the finance minister of India.

That usually works.

Thank you for reading this post. Leave your number if you would like our representative to call you about our excellent offers. Have a good day.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Common Wealth & Games They Play With It

Yesterday’s ‘The Economic Times’ had a front page story that exposed the astronomical cost of hiring equipment for the Commonwealth Games about to be held in New Delhi. This responsible newspaper used words like ‘stealth’ and phrases like ‘This is getting dirtier than the Yamuna’ as well as double entendre (French word for doing two things at a time, usually involving a man and woman), such as ‘Item Numbers’. The story is a rant (I thought it was a disease only I suffered from, but it seems as if along with swine flu and mosquito malaria, Deven rant is spreading too. Will it turn into a full-blown epidemic? WHO knows.), against the exorbitant (a word that means, oh, go look up your own dictionary you lazy chum), rates that indicate rank corruption. Here’s a taster from the story:

Rs. 975,000/- for 45 days for a cross trainer that costs Rs. 880,000/-

Rs. 6,308/- for an umbrella

Rs. 42,202/- per 100-litre refrigerator

Rs. 8,308/- per chair

Rs. 4,308/- per tissue roll. Luckily they are not hiring but buying these.

Rs. 80 per unit of diesel-generated electricity. Market rate: Less than Rs. 8/-

I do not agree with The Economic Times story. I think it does not get the big picture. It does not understand the far-sightedness of Mr. Suresh K & Co. It does not understand how the government and the bureaucracy of this great country work. It does not understand how it is actually good for the country.

One look at the rumoured truth leaked out by a spider working in Mr. K’s office can set the record straight:

Mr. K sat on his chair in his office at the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). You could barely see him because of the cobwebs that hung from the ceiling – after all he had been sitting in this office and this chair since 1996 and had resisted all attempts to remove him and clean up the place. One by one the Association members trooped in silently. One of them almost stepped on a resident spider (our disgruntled source of course), and coughed gently. All of them held handkerchiefs to their noses – the stench of the system rotting was too overpowering for even the strongest of them. Mr. K laid out the bare facts in front of his cronies (a word of Sanskrit origin that means fellow workers who share monies adding up to crores).

Mr. K: Like all of you know, we are holding the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

(Murmurs of approval. One member looks up from his Facebook mobile and does a thumbs up sign to say he ‘Likes’ it.)

Mr K: We have lot of people coming and staying and playing and we have to give them equipment. We can buy the equipment…

(Loud roar of approval. Plus one thumbs up.)

Mr. K: …but we will not!

(Collective dropping of handkerchiefs and violent sneezing. Three thumbs down signs. Sound of spiders scampering.)

Mr. K: The problem with buying equipment is when the event is over you are stuck with it. You can’t leave it there because the stadium and all related facilities are built to last until the contractors get their cheques after TDS (Tax Deduction by Suresh). So there are warehousing costs and transportation to the warehouse costs…

(Puzzled silence. Tight close-up of a spider frozen in mid-weaving.)

Mr. K: Plus, after the event is over, we have to sell the equipment. But we can’t sell it to who we want to, can we? No sirs. We are accountable. To ensure a fair sale, we have to invite tenders. To invite tenders, we have to release advertisements. Do you know the cost of advertising space in newspapers? You don't? A decent-size ad roughly costs the same as buying a small-time politician. (Both are a waste of money but that's another story.)  Then, you have to set up a committee to examine the bids, transport the equipment to the venue, hold the auctions, take back the unsold wares, invite fresh tenders…

Mr. K: So I say, let us do our great country a service instead: Let us hire the equipment! I have full faith that however astronomical the cost of hiring it, it will still be cheaper than buying it!!!

(Applause. Hitch-hiking kind of thumb action.)

 But honestly, Mr. K does have a point there. The government is rather inept at selling things. Didn't you read in yesterday's paper about the iron ore mine in Chattisgarh that was sold for Rs. 100,000?