Desire


Let me start with a quote from Mad Men.

“What you call Love was invented by guys like me… to sell nylons”

Desire. That’s what the quote is about. Creating a desire. Addressing the deep seated emotions. Within us. For us. For everything that makes us happy.

“Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay”

Happiness and desire have gone missing in the Advertising today. Having been in this profession for over 20 years, I have seen the change. I have been part of the change.

Somewhere in last 20 years, we have let go of the art of seduction. I know a lot of you will say that Advertising is not supposed to be that. It is supposed to inform the consumer about the product and benefits. It is supposed to work for the brand and therefore we need to understand the consumer and create that perfect communication.

Somewhere in our effort to create perfect communication, we lost out. We started believing everything the consumer says in a focus group or when she fills a questionnaire. We started “fine tuning” our advertising to address what she wanted us to say. Something that will sound very relevant and rational. Question – when were we ever rational?

I will go out on a limb and make a huge statement here. No buying is ever rational. The only time rational part kicks in is when it comes to price. That’s when the consumer shops around for a better price. The irrational part of the consumer has already decided on the product she wants to buy.

But coming back to the post, we have become too numbers driven. We have stopped looking deeper into the consumer psyche. We have stopped looking at what makes them happy, what makes them crave for something.

When did the consumer tell us that we have to do extensive need gap analysis to reach out to her. When did she tell us that there has to be a list of benefits in the advertising? When did she say that unless certain criteria in terms of features are not met, she won’t buy?

It is us who put these people into conference rooms and made them think, analyse and overanalyse. Once we started doing that, there was no turning back. After all, the Agency and the client could always use the 169 slides research deck to prove they have taken the right creative path.

We have become formula and code driven. Humour is a formula. Showing an automobile in a certain way is a code. Tapping into the various boxes we have put the consumer in (gen x, gen y, millennials, gen z) and then creating communication that taps into the popular culture of the specific box, is how we look at communication now.

The art of subtle persuasion is long lost. No one has the time to build a deeper consumer connect. Building a brand is now about market share. Not an emotional bond with the consumer.

To quote Vance Packard – “The difference between a top-flight creative man and the hack is his ability to express powerful meanings indirectly”

We are all now a bunch of hacks. Power is now all about shouting the loudest. Or now with digital medium, creating something that will go viral and have a million likes on social media. Whether it is taking up a social cause, creating controversy or just get people talking. We forget though that digital medium is in a constant state of flux. When we pander to the short attention span of the consumer in the digital space, we are never going to build a lifelong bond.

Getting attention and conversations going is not building a connect. Advertising has now become like a teenager or even an infant. They do stuff to seek attention.

Marketers are also going down the same path. Link test score is what matters. Nothing else. Films get crafted to ensure a good score. All brands are getting uniliverised (couldn’t coin a word with P&G).

Desire is not a rational emotion. Craving is also not a rational emotion. If you don’t want something desperately enough, you won’t buy it. iPhone can sell without advertising (ok maybe not for long). Why? Because it has created an intense craving in the consumer which must be satisfied at all cost.

How many brands are doing that? How many brands are looking to build a deeper emotional connect. Connect that is not built on discounts, after sales, fake lifestyle, some obscure technobabble but a strong emotion.

I have been lucky to have worked on brands that addressed deeper emotions. I have worked on brands that were ingrained in the consumer’s mind. But it has been a long while now.

Will I get to work on something similar again? I doubt that. Our minds are fragmented by mediums and driven by numbers. We are now communicating with a mind that is way too cluttered and the way we look at it, the safest possible way to get the sales number and continue to retain the business.

Tommy Walker wrote on shopify.com that the divide between marketing and sales will disappear. Well it has. And hence the death of advertising as we knew it.

Long back there used to be theme communication and scheme communication. Now it is all scheme. There is no theme anymore.

And why is that? It is because we are no more addressing the mind of the consumer (and they have a very sharp mind) but her wallet. We want a share of every rupee that she spends on buying a long list of products (yes the list has become way longer than it used to be two decades back). We want to grab that rupee before it is spent on something else! But pause. Pause for a moment. Think about it. The list has become longer. Which means that the desire and craving for more stuff has increased. Is it possible to address these emotions? Be relevant in the context of making her happy. And not be relevant as she tells you across different focus groups?

(Disclaimer – she is not meant to address only females. It just addresses consumers)

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Swimming pool is closed


Back in the days when we lived in a world which was clean and unpolluted, its the change in the fragrance that symbolised change of weather.

These fragrances, hard to describe, heralded the onset of a season. The subtle shifts in temperature when we moved from winter into spring and then into summer or when we moved into winter.

The shifts, subtle yet so sensorial, we loved them.

Spring cleaning and warm clothes being given lot of airing before being packed or being put in the sun to remove the smell of nephthaline balls as preparation for winters.

All the cues of the change were out there for us to smell and to see and feel.

The symbols have changed. “Swimming pool is closed” notice on the society notice board tells us we are moving into winter. Or in March “swimming will open from…” tells us that it’s time for summer.

The clearing sales by various brands are another signal of a change. The conditioned air in offices and people complaining that it’s either too hot or too cold are signals of change.

There are no fragrances in the air or the perceptible shift in the temperature anymore. More than that, we don’t have time to feel any of that.

The day we made one screen our window to the world, is the day everything changed. Now our world is just size of the screen. The weather app tells us the weather. Posts and tweets tell us of the changes. Detailed weather charts tell us of the summer or winter or the monsoon.

Pollution has played havoc (we are to be blamed of course. Let’s not try to shift the blame anywhere else) and made the fragrances disappear. The temperatures don’t change much. Winter is just about two weeks of intense cold. Summer just doesn’t go away.

I am not going to get into the role food plays with the changes in season because that will make this post never ending, given the foodie I am 🙂

So here is to the onset of winter – swimming pool is closed.

Battered car


I have always been fascinated by life pretty much being as an automobile. Everybody knows that the car we buy symbolises the shift in our life stage.

I believe a car or any vehicle for that matter are far more connected with life in terms of how it all pans out. Especially in relationships and professional life.

The car is new, everyone is so excited, the smell of the new car is quite something. We all want to go take the ride, feel the engine hum softly, the speed thrills and so does the entire interior and all the different things one can do with technology. Then over a period of time, from being exciting new experience, it shifts into a mundanity of driving from point A to point B. Neglect comes into play. From getting the car serviced on time every time, we move into as and when we have time. The charm is gone. At some point we decide that the car has done whatever it could and we change it and the romance starts all over again.

Isn’t that what happens with our relationships and in work environment? Once the newness wears off, the romance dies, it’s a mundane day every day. Of course in the case of a relationship, we can’t just let go of the current one and get into a new one.

But workplace, either we change the job or the other part believes that we as a car have done enough and it’s time to change. So we are consigned to the junkyard called fired and jobless. For the organisation, they get a spanking new person and new romance begins.

In relationships and in our life journey, it is not easy to just get rid of old. You can’t get a new body for yourself just because this one is getting old. So either you spruce up (akin to denting and painting) or you keep yourself fit, the way you would ensure your car is fit with regular workshop visits.

Relationships though are even tougher. You can’t sell one and buy another. No matter how bruised or battered, you carry on. Flirting along the way is like taking a cab instead of driving. Your indulgence. But you always drive the old car.

A DISCLAIMER HERE – there is no gender discussion here. Irrespective of the gender, this car and life hold true.

So why this post. I was looking at my battered and beaten up Xylo (my son says it looks as if I had participated in Demolition Derby) and realised the age of the car and how it continues to carry on even after 100,000 kms is quite similar to how I feel. The ageing of the body and mind is inevitable as the odometer keeps clicking. How I am doing things to stay agile in the mind and physically to make myself go that much more further. Why am I doing that? So that I can beat the redundancy and not be pushed into the scrapyard. After all there is still a whole lot of commuting to do and miles to go (won’t say before I sleep)…

Yes at some point in time, when my next life stage is going to be defined, I will change the xylo. As with Stephen King books (where you pick up a book when it is time), I don’t think there has been a signal yet that there is a change in my life.

Also at an emotional level, I am way too attached to my car (a monstrosity even when it was new). The idea of selling it doesn’t sit well.

And also, we get along very well. We both look battered and bruised. We look good together. I haven’t done much to improve the battered look of the car, nor have I changed my look in anyway. The car and me, are not for the shallow people who only want new and shining all the time 🙂

As an aside, do read or watch Christine by Stephen King.

Mind Manipulation Maneuver


Every indulged in it? Or been a victim of it? It happens often enough and on a regular basis.

Whether it is in corporate world, brands manipulating the consumers, politicians or even in personal relationships.

The essence of the maneuver is perception management. Create and manage a perception so well that it becomes real.

The best exponents of course are the politicians. I don’t know how many would have watched the movie “Wag the Dog” but it pretty much exemplifies how politicians play with perceptions. Think about it. Once the Cold Wad threat was over, what did the western world (specifically US) have to keep calling themselves saviours of the free world? Nothing! So bring on the battles with the oil rich belts. Even in our country, political parties have created this illusion of non Hindus and allegedly backward classes being exploited that everyone or at least the “intellectual” majority believes that is the case.

In the corporate world, there are always those individuals who create an aura around them that makes them seem like MVP in the set up. The organisations they work for, do their best to retain them and also others want to hire them. You can do average work but build a great self PR around it and people will believe. They would want to quote your quotes. You become an expert on leadership and corporate culture and pretty much everything.

When it comes to brands, Apple mastered this maneuver. Yes it’s good technology (I use it) but the hysteria that surrounds every launch, does it deserve that? Perhaps not. But it tapped into our desire to be different from the masses and rest is of course evident for everyone. Look at me, even I am quoting the brand to make a point!

Perception is something that has driven most of the communication that brands have with communication. Obscure research data to prove why brand X is better over brand Y that consumers lap up and buy. When competing on those terms become tough, indulge in social causes to sound ‘oh so holy’. Works very well when you pick a cause close to consumer’s heart.

Awards are another way of creating a perception of being superior. Works rather well in automobile category. Car of the year is a great thing to talk about.

Talking about ‘talking about’, it always helps when you get some influential writers to say nice things about you or start a negative conversation about competition or a trend that is detrimental to your cause.

Social media has become a great platform for such endeavours. Creating a reputation or destroying one, has become easy. Stayzilla is a case in point. Who really knows the truth? Truth is what you get people to perceive.

Perception either creates a reality or helps you hide the facts. You can hide your incompetence by questioning competence of someone else (great tool in organisational politics).

When we get into a relationship, we spend a lot of time to build perceptions about us. We indulge in social engineering to an extent that the other person accepts all of it and falls for you. Keep working on it long enough and it becomes reality. Most relationships, of course, turn sour when the mask slips.

We tend to spend hell of a lot of time on these manipulating maneuvers. I think as a society we have reached a point that it is very hard for us to differentiate perception from reality. More importantly we don’t want to spend time in making that differentiation. And you know why? Because that will take away time from us building a certain predisposition towards ourselves. Plus the fact that perceptions help us in keeping our sanity. Help us rationalise the choices we make.

We are living in an era where our lives are led virtually and it has made things all so easy when it comes to manipulation. But we opted for it. For our selfish gains. So we can’t blame others when we get manipulated. Someone out there was a more adept manipulator that you.

Suitcase


Apart from Harry Bosch, Jack Reacher is another favourite character of mine. Long back I written about how both are quite similar. Won’t go on about that. What sparked this post (as it happens, not the first time I have read the following passage but trigger happens when it is meant to 🙂

Jack Reacher – “I carry a spare shirt, pretty soon I’m carrying spare pants. Then I’d need a suitcase. Next thing I know, I’ve got a house and a car and a savings plan and I’m filling out all kinds of forms”

Pretty sharp statement about how people lead lives, if you ask me. Process of evolution we call it. From the Stone ages when all that mattered was foraging for food, we move on to various things – clothes, shelter, transport, community, society, values defined by society. We keep adding stuff or bettering what we have (we call it process of evolution). 

Somewhere along the line, the size of the suitcase gets bigger and bigger… and heavier. We have started stuffing it with stuff that society and the world around us tells us should go into the suitcase. The suitcase doesn’t carry fun stuff anymore. It carries the weight of responsibilities. They are taking up all the space. Also taking up space are our expectations. You are lugging it around, burdened by what you are carrying. And mind you, it always is YOUR suitcase. No one will help you carry it because they are carrying their own. If anything, they would expect you to carry theirs too!

But the thing is, all along, your life as a suitcase  became fancier to match the stuff you got inside. You don’t even realise the weight of it all till one day, you try lifting it. First with one hand and then with both hands. But the weight is so much! Probably the handle comes off. The suitcase is bursting at it’s sides.

And that’s the time you sit on that very suitcase and wonder. How did it get this way? What was I filling it up with? What was I thinking?! What did I do wrong? I was doing precisely what I was expected to do. 

Last week I was having a discussion and the person said (not verbatim) – ” isn’t life about being born, growing up, having a great job, getting married, having kids, taking care of kids, taking care of parents, grand children and then dying”

My question was – ” who said this is how life is supposed to be?” The answer was – “society”. Question – who said you have to follow what society says? Answer – “Samir we are social beings, part of a larger society and we should conform to what society says.

Can’t argue with that.

Of course the discussion carried on much longer but the point of mentioning this bit here was, the suitcase… this thinking leads to it becoming heavy.

My point is, it is our suitcase. Shouldn’t we decide what goes into it? Don’t we fill our suitcase with the stuff WE want when we travel? We don’t let others tell us what we should carry. If it’s weekend travel, we know what to carry. If it’s a longer trip, domestic or international, we know what to carry. If it’s air travel, we know how much weight to carry etc.

So why did we go wrong with the suitcase called life?? Why have we let others decide what goes in? Why have we let others dictate? We kept stuffing it because there was no limit to how much can we carry? If we carry 20kgs else airlines will ask us to pay for more, why didn’t we have a limit in mind as to how much we should carry. Of course if the airlines didn’t have the limit, we would have probably carried our whole household!

Greed and wanting more is what makes us fill it up. Bigger house, bigger car, more money, status,…. we keep it making the suitcase heavier. We look around and see people carrying bigger ones and we want ours to be even bigger.

We had looked at duration of travel and filled our travel suitcase accordingly. Why didn’t we look at life as a length of travel and filled ours too in keeping with the length?

The difference perhaps is that we look at life as work travel and not holiday travel. Work travel is all about files, documents, gadgets, formal attire… while holiday is fun! Somewhere through the travel called life, we stopped having fun. There is nothing in our suitcase that says life is fun. It’s a pity.

The strange thing is that only when the travel is supposed to end is when we start wondering about the weight. Too late.. the handle has come off, we can’t get a suitcase any bigger and stuff is overflowing and that is it.

Yes am pontificating because I have also been guilty of filling my suitcase with a whole lot of unwanted stuff and now it is not possible to let go of all that. But am going to give it a shot. Can’t empty the whole suitcase out but perhaps start putting some fun in and remove the baggage of expectations.

Ryan Bingham in the movie “Up in the Air” uses backpack as a metaphor and back in 2009 when I watched the movie, the thought had crossed my mind but back then too I was busy filling up with what is considered right. This is about taking stock again.

Worth a watch again. This scene.

You don’t look that old!


This exclamation ranks right up there with the lies you would have heard along with “seriously you have two kids?!” Or “you have lost lot of weight!” Or the very fake “congratulations!!” Or “yes we believe in team culture” or “the best way forward is collaboration” or “cheque is in the mail” “or am with you all the way, do your thing and I will back you up”.

These lies are intended to make us feel good. And we would be really dumb if we don’t see them for what they are. Condescending, fake and conniving.

Lost lot of weight for instance. Hmm so you think i was really fat earlier? Never heard you say that am fat! Don’t look old essentially says “hell you are old as a fossil but let me not rain on your parade”

Cheque is in the mail or payment will surely happen next week. We have all heard that when we are chasing 90 days outstanding or even more.

Lying is convenient. If it makes the current situation better, even if momentarily, we will use a lie.

Cooking up of accounts books to show the world how well you are doing, is akin to saying “you don’t look old”. It makes things look all good and rosy.

Lying is just a tool to hide what you really think, do or feel.

We all indulge in that. In our work life and in our personal life. When telling the truth is detrimental, we lie.

Can you imagine the consequences if you were to say “you have put on weight”?!

When management talks of collaborative culture, it essentially is about gaining control of what you are doing. We are in this together means that if things go south, there is someone to blame.

All the congratulatory messages you get on LinkedIn (when you join a new places or get promoted), how many really are genuine? Or when you congratulate, aren’t you making a future investment? Same goes for facebook or any social media. There is always an axe to grind.

Self preservation and betterment of self is what drives us.

Try to tell things the way they are and see what happens.

What is your worth?


If you were asked this question… how will you answer? What will you say? How will you define your worth? Or lets say calculate your worth…

For most of us I guess, our possessions would be a great starting point. A quick mental calculation will happen of all the gold in the locker and in the cupboard. All the real estate owned. And I don’t know what else. And then depending on the person you are talking to and your estimate of ‘his’ worth, either your smile will disappear or it will turn into a grin. After all the value we put to ourselves is in the context of others.

So lets say if I was to remove all things material from the equation in terms of calculating the worth… what happens then? Will you then struggle to figure it out? 

The others would talk about their importance in the organisation and the value they bring to the entire process. Will mark up promotions as their worth to the organisation.

The profound ones will then turn to analyse all their relationships… and try to figure out who values them more than others… There surely will be a few relationships where you have given more than taking… isn’t that how we judge the value of relationships? How much we give and how much we get in return.

Now I get it, in the context of society and how we have been brought up, it is either the money or the favourable balance of accounts in matters of relationship that we can calculate the worth.

So what if I was to remove the relationships too from the equation? What happens then?

Are we totally at a loss? Or do we then look deep inside us to figure out our self worth?

I think that’s the time, devoid of material assets and relationships, we assess our worth. For who we are as a person.

That’s the time, we realise that our worth is in the negative. We don’t have any.

We have spent so much time acquiring worth in the context of everything around us that we forgot who we are.

We stopped doing things that enhance our worth in our own eyes. We started believing that money and what people think of us became the defining thing.

The problem starts real young. Our parents instill this worth thing in the context of what they believe is required. We don’t question. As we move through life, every step there are people defining it for us… telling us what they think of us…

It’s only when you get to my age, that you start wondering (or maybe not everyone does… it is difficult to get off the treadmill), is that all there was to it?

Yeah yeah utterly boring and random post but hey… sometimes it’s good to have utterly random thoughts.