Saturday, June 16, 2012


She is a heroine of a different generation and yet this month, so many celebrated her birthday as if she were still with us. She may have gone long ago; yet, she lives on, for her images just don’t seem to fade. In fact, every time an  unseen or unpublished image of hers is discovered, it makes it to the front page of almost all newspapers. The lady is Marilyn Monroe. Images are very powerful, they just live on and some even become iconic. The face of the Cuban revolutionary, Che Guevera, also being one such image. It’s not just a face. It symbolizes rebellion and freedom,  feelings that the youth just love. Put this face on any merchandise and it becomes a bestseller. The number of T-shirts  emblazoned with Che’s face that have been sold is incredible. It’s ironic that a revolutionary, who rebelled against the  capitalists, has today become the biggest bestseller of the capitalist world.   

That’s the power of these images. They  generate strong feelings. Another image that brings out strong reactions is the Swastika symbol of the Nazis. Recently,  Madonna used it during her tour in Israel. On a giant screen was shown an image of Marine Le Pen, who is the leader of  france’s National Front Party, with a Swastika on her forehead. The party was enraged and threatened to sue her.  Considering the fact that Madonna would be performing in France soon, this was a nice gimmick to get the nation talking  before she arrived! She is one of the few people who understand the power of images, of visual branding, and has used it  consistently over the years to keep her in the news and always ahead of competitors. Be it the cross of Jesus or the  Swastika of the Nazis, she knows how to use symbols to get people to notice her. 

It’s also the oldest trick of brand  building.   It’s also the oldest trick of brand building. Brands have used symbols (logos) to distinguish themselves from  competitors and build a unique identity around them. Associating oneself with a unique symbol makes it easy for  consumers to remember you. So on Marilyn Monroe’s birthday, Lady Gaga tweeted a picture of hers dressed as Monroe,  and more than one lakh of her followers (all in the age group of 14-19 years) liked it. The interesting part is neither Gaga  or her fans belong to Monroe’s generation and the only reason they are her fans is because of the ‘images’ they see of  her. These stunning images are the reasons for having ensured that ‘brand Marilyn Monroe’ will never die. And images  re the reasons that will ensure that your brand lives on in the future.


The  most exciting websites in the recent months have been ones that have focused on pictures. One such website, which has created a lot of excitement, is Pinterest. If numbers are a measure of growth and potential, then according to Experian Hitwise, Pinterest is the third most popular social network in the US, just behind Facebook and Twitter. Not surprising then that it was recently valued at $1.5 billion with Rakuten Ichiba giving it a funding of $100 million. Rakuten is the largest e-commerce site in Japan and among the world’s largest by sales. Why should an e-commerce site be interested in a scrap-booking site? Because it affects sales directly. Let’s see how.    

Things have changed dramatically for  interest. In February, no brand was interested in it and then in two months, the number of brand pages increased by 24%. Pinterest links have appeared in retailers’ e-mails faster than links to Facebook, Twitter et al appeared, proving the point that retailers are benefitting from it. A study by Vancouver’s Emily Carr University has found that there is a surprisingly high correlation between ‘pinning’ an image of a product and purchasing it, with more than 1 in 5 Pinterest users buying an item they have ‘pinned’ on their Pinterest boards. Companies are finding it important to keep a watch  n who is ‘pinning’ what and where he is ‘pinning’ it. If a consumer pins a picture of your bike on his board titled ‘Bikes    m considering to buy’, it makes sense to check which other bikes is he considering and get an idea. An aggressive  marketer could even leave a comment on this consumer’s page giving him information about his brand. Similarly, there  could be many ways to mine information and use it.   

There is a shift in the way people are using the Internet. Earlier it  as largely ‘text’ driven, but today pictures and images are becoming dominant. People are using pictures to  communicate. Be it the image you upload on your Facebook profile or your BBM profile or even on your desktop, it’s become a way to communicate your feelings. No wonder that ‘smileys’ and ‘emoticons’ are used most frequently when  e text friends and family, proving the point that communication in the future will be more image heavy rather than text. Marketers need to understand this change and plan their strategies accordingly in order to reach out to the maximum  umber of consumers and make strategies that outwit their competitors. In future, marketers who can communicate with  mages will be the most wanted, for in future, it’s an attractive image that will drive people to your website more than an interesting statement. This is the reason why it has been found that Pinterest is driving more traffic to the websites of  rands as compared to Facebook or Twitter. From TV networks to magazines, interior designers to fashion designers to  ar and bike manufacturers to even writers and bloggers; everyone is out there with their best images to attract consumers. A blogger who was writing an article on which advertising campaign he thought would win at the Cannes  his year decided to use Pinterest and pin pictures and videos of the campaigns; for he found that he could attract more  people to his post this way over just an article.   

Images will decide the future of your business. No wonder that Mark Zuckerberg did not think twice before spending $1 billion in buying the iPhone application ‘Instagram’. It got people  talking and wondering why he did it. The reason is clear now. Facebook launched its own camera application last month in May that lets people take ‘Instagram style’ pictures, which can be shared on Facebook with your mobile phones. If there is one feature that people are using the maximum on their mobile phones, it is the camera, and future revenues for  companies will come from here only. 

Facebook seems to be excelling in gobbling other people’s ideas and using them to its own benefit. Whatever the method, one fact is clear that it’s going to be a ‘business of images’ and the one with the best image (pun intended) would win.   


The consumer of today is using pictures to express who he is. It’s a  way of self-identification. Years ago in 1995, a French professor Jean-Nol Kapferer introduced the term ‘Identity Prism’, which took the corporate world by storm. Soon, every company stopped going by market research findings and framing their policies around those results. Rather, they started paying attention to their own inner values and focusing  n them. So, from ‘market based’ branding, the game has now turned to ‘identity based’ branding. David Ogilvy mastered  his and his advertisements focused on ‘brand building’ instead of just stating the various attributes of the brand. Now  he brand felt more real, someone the consumer could identify with. So Harley Davidson bikes built a personality that  appealed to the ‘rough and tough’ guys. Surf detergent built a personality, which appealed to the ‘sensible housewife’ who did not hesitate to spend more on good quality (remember the ‘Lalitaji advertisement’?). 

Today, marketers are once  again focusing on the right image and the right personality of the brand. Images create lasting impressions and are difficult to forget. If the image matches the personality of the consumer, then he will not hesitate to use that image on his  age and on his profile, since he can identify with it and it helps him express his personality too. The consumer of today is also using pictures in many ways. Some are using them to remind themselves of things they want to buy. Some are even using Pinterest to make a visual resume of themselves. If you want your brand to be a part of his ‘visual’ list, it’s  important that not only should your product be good, but it should also be represented in an interesting manner, so that  he consumer likes the overall image that he sees. 

‘Content is king’ is the mantra we have followed over the years.  Today, the time has come to think beyond content and think in terms of images and even going to the extent of making sure that every piece of content is made into a shareable image wherever possible. A lot of marketers are converting their ‘texts’ into interesting ‘images’ so that they can be promoted on these ‘image sharing’ websites easily. Be it brand punchlines or quotations, the text is also available in an ‘image’ format. 

Not just logos or pictures of their products, companies today are hiring professional designers and artists to ensure that their products are photographed in the right setting, which brings out the right image of the brand and which makes the images interesting enough for the consumer to identify with and ‘pin’ on his profile. With most of us running out of time and patience, the fastest way to judge  people and pages and profiles is on the basis of the ‘profile picture’. If you want your brand to stand out, you must devote time to visual branding and create the right aura around your brand. After all, it’s all about creating the right image!     

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Brad Pitt has bagged a new modeling contract, and this time, it’s not for any fancy gadget or any car brand or even a men’s clothing brand, but for a ladies’ perfume – Chanel Nº 5.

As expected, this news has got everyone talking about him and the perfume brand. It’s also got the cash registers ringing for him, and if all goes well, the cash registers would also be ringing for Chanel. The biggest boost in sales that a brand gets is when people start talking about it, when there is a certain buzz, an excitement around the brand. Ask any marketing expert and he would be ready to give his right arm to find the secret of creating the ‘right buzz’ around his brand. In fact, the job of advertisements is not necessarily to sell the product, but to get people to notice it; and in the most successful cases, to start talking about it. Chanel Nº 5 surely has learnt its lessons well. Decades ago, it had achieved notorious fame, when Marilyn Monroe – on being asked what she wears to bed – had said, “Why, Chanel Nº 5 of course!” That, and now this, i.e., getting Brad Pitt as their brand ambassador, has ensured that a lot of people would be talking about the fragrance for a very long time. The brand has managed to beat the clutter and has been able to stand out and get noticed from among the thousands of perfume brands available in the marketplace.

A few years ago, Lux soap decided to do something different to celebrate its 75 years. Known for its advertising strategy of taking Bollywood beauties to endorse its brand, the company decided to stick to the same formula; except that this time, the beauty in the bath tub was not the latest Bollywood heroine, but the latest heartthrob of all the females of the country – Shah Rukh Khan! The strategy worked. People noticed it. Some liked it and some laughed at it, but everybody was talking about it. That is the aim of advertising. As long as I have got you to notice me so that you talk about me, a large part of my work as an advertising man is done.


Yes, to be noticed, you need to be different, but it needs to be done intelligently. There is a thin line of difference between the acceptable and the unacceptable and one needs to tread the path carefully. A little known airlines named Kulula Airlines (a South African low cost airline) has found a way to get noticed. Last month, as the South African president Jacob Zuma prepared to get married for the fourth time, the airlines too prepared a cheeky promotional ad campaign that claimed, “Fourth wife flies free”. Kulula is not the only airlines that has found a way to get noticed. Spirit Airlines has built a unique reputation for itself in coming out with well-timed ads that poke fun at the latest headlines. When news broke out that Arnold Schwarzenegger had fathered a love child 20 years ago because of which his marriage broke, the airlines was quick to come out with an ad stating, “Fares so low, you can take the whole family... including the halfbrother you just met”. When Tiger Woods crashed his car into a fire hydrant, the airlines was quick to come out with an ‘Eye of the Tiger’ sale on its website to promote its low priced fares.

Scandals always get you attention but not necessarily the kind you would like. However, Spirit has used scandals to increase its sales, and nobody is complaining!

Amul Butter has been using the same tactics in India for years now and almost always manages to get our attention with its topical ads. Everybody loves the wit and humor that they bring. The tongue-in-cheek ads are awaited by all. They stand out, and get noticed by all.

In this mad rat-race, standing out has probably become the most important quality for success. Just being good is not enough , you need to be different. However, it’s not easy being different. If there is one person in the advertising world who showed the world the power of being different, it was Oliviero Toscani. The ads he created for the clothing giant Benetton changed the way people looked at advertising and acknowledged the tremendous impact an ad was capable of creating. He showed a white and a black child hugging each other and gave the headline, “Angel and Devil”. It shocked the world but made Benetton the most talked about fashion label. However, Toscani crossed the line with his, “We on Death Row” series of ads, which featured close ups of 26 US prisoners who had been sentenced to death. There were widespread protests from the individuals, especially from the victims of the families whose loved ones had been killed by these men. Till Toscani used provocative themes like a priest kissing a nun, miners and bakers united by the black of the soot and the white of the flour, a dying AIDS victim with his family, a group of African refugees, et al, Benetton could justify the photographs and get away with it; and in the process, also get away with all the attention of the people, as this was the one clothing company whose ads were noticed the most. But the ‘death row’ series was where it went over the top; Toscani had to resign and Benetton had to apologize. So yes, one needs to stick out, but not like a sore thumb. Shock and scandal are the easiest tools to help one stand out.

Yet another company that has used such shock tactics in its advertising and marketing strategy to stand out is PETA. Its ads have always managed to draw the attention of all. Last year, it even launched its “PETA US triple-X website”. It was a provocative idea that immediately caught everyone’s attention. Well, that is exactly the purpose of this site – to catch your attention and show you videos of the hideous cruelty being inflicted upon millions of animals in the meat, fur and circus industries. As its manager Mimi Bekhechi says, “Whether through titillation, offense or something in between, PETA will do whatever it takes to draw your attention to animal suffering and create a kinder world for animals.”

There you have it – shock tactics used for a good deed. If you know how not to cross the line, go ahead and follow these brands, for this is a tactic, which, if not used with extreme caution and intelligence, can ruin your brand image forever. If handled well, it can shoot your brand out of obscurity in the shortest possible time and put you ahead of your competitors.


The aim of a marketing campaign is to make the brand stick out in your memory. Being different, i.e., sticking out, helps in doing that. The golden rule being, do exactly the opposite of what the others are doing. This rule holds true everywhere; the way you dress, the way you apply for a job, the way you advertise and the way you speak. If everyone wears a casual attire to work, wear a suit to stand out. If every competitor of yours is using advertisements with more visuals and less text, do exactly the opposite.

An MBA from Texas desperately wanted to get into the company Accenture, but nothing worked. Ultimately, he decided to do something different. He created a website ‘Hire-’, which had his flashy photos, his blog and his resume. Yet another job seeker mailed a shoe with his resume stuffed inside it to his potential employer with a note “Just trying to get my foot in the door”. One even sent his resume in a pizza box with a note, “Delivering you a great candidate”. Sometimes, the gimmicks work and sometimes they backfire; but if you have it in you, then a little extra attention goes a long way towards achieving your goal.

So set a goal, a target for yourself, and chase it passionately, while keeping in mind the simple fact that to stick on to people’s minds and to be remembered; you need to stick out, and keep thinking of ways of doing things differently from the rest of the world. You will be noticed. Advertisers have been using this trick for decades. Earlier (even now), advertisers used beautiful women to sell just about everything. You have a beautiful woman in an ad for a razor, for a shirt, for a men’s deo, for a bike, for a car, for just about anything. Now they are using men to sell products used by women!

The rule is simple. If you want to succeed in this highly cluttered and competitive world, then work hard towards not just being good but also towards being different from others, so that you stand out from the crowd. Do not blend in. Make your own rules and you will be noticed. Being noticed is the first step towards success. So while making your strategies, remember, “Stick out, don’t blend in”!

Monday, April 16, 2012


This Sunday (April 8), a small company changed its fortunes forever. Instagram was started two years ago, but this Sunday, it became more valuable than even The New York Times. The reason being Facebook acquired it for $1 billion few days back; causing quite a flutter among industry watchers. Why did it invest so much in a company, which hardly made any profits, is a fresh start up, and to top it all, is just an ‘app developer’ and its claim to fame is a ‘photo-sharing’ application that it developed for the iPhone? Add to this the fact that it does not even have a website to call its own, for all its features are designed for the mobile phone.

Well, there is more to it than these obvious facts. Instagram may just be an application for the mobile phone, but it has been downloaded by 50 million users, and that is something worth noticing. Though still much smaller than Facebook, the power of this company lay in its idea. Instagram is about photo sharing, but so is Facebook. However, Instagram is only mobile phone-based and Facebook’s revenues through its mobile application are zilch. Mark Zuckerberg saw this as a huge opportunity to make Facebook’s presence stronger in the mobile sector. When Zuckerberg started, it was all about the web. Today, who cares about the web? It all happens on the mobile phone, and Mark knows it best. So for a company that was valued at $500 million a few weeks back, Zuckerberg did not hesitate to double his offer and as expected, the young founders of Instagram – Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom – found it irresistible and sold it. A simple idea of sharing your sometimes grainy mobile photos and making them works of art by using an application is today worth $1 billion. That’s what a good idea can do, and that’s exactly what it did for Instagram; a 551-day-old profitless tech startup!


Good ideas make you rich but not the reverse. As William Cameron said, “Money never starts an idea, it’s the idea that starts the money.” If you have an idea that came out of your passion for something and not for the objective of making money, it’s going to make you a lot of money, for that’s what makes legends. Not just the knack of inventing and creating new ideas but even the ability to identify the potential of new ideas is what makes businesses successful. A genius is someone who can make use of the simplest of ideas. In fact, the simpler an idea, the more profitable it is. Think about ‘Hotmail’, a simple idea of sending mails for free over the internet, which made its founder Sabeer Bhatia richer by $400 million back in 1997. PayPal, a simple idea of making payments online, made its founders richer by $1.5 billion when eBay bought it. Instagram, the most recent company creating waves, is also a simple idea. In fact, it’s not even a new idea, for Flickr does the same; just that it’s for the web while Instagram is for the mobile. Flickr also made money for its founders when it was bought by Yahoo! a few years back

A successful businessman is one who keeps an eye open for ideas with potential. When eBay acquired PayPal, it saw a potential and today, Paypal is contributing in revenues as much as eBay’s core business. Something similar is what Mark Zuckerberg saw in Instagram. Those were not the profits of the company but its potential to grow which attracted him to it; for no one understands the model of establishing an audience before generating sales better than him. When he made Facebook in his Harvard dormitory, he wanted it to become popular, to be liked by youngsters and not make money. Instagram, too, was made with the same philosophy and is loved by its users. They love it so much that they would not move to any other application easily. Love is what makes the world go round; surprisingly, even the business world, and no one knows it better than Apple. It is most loved, has a cult-like following and its consumer base is most loyal. Michael Dell once said that Apple should close down while it still had something to return to its investors. This same company today has passed Exxon-Mobil as the world’s most valuable company and has bigger financial reserves than the US government! For a company that many thought would close down soon, it’s not done too bad. Even though Steve Jobs is no more with us, but the world will not forget him for his iPad. It was a new way of looking at the dying market of tablets. Thanks to the iPad, the tablet market is the most thriving one with new consumers being added every day.

In fact, his iPad has been responsible for infusing fresh life not just into the tablet market but into so many others too. Magazines and newspapers are finding an innovative way to increase the life span of their products. The iPad has made magazines more user friendly, more trendy and more attractive. Schools are finding it easier to teach reluctant kids, making subjects more fun and the teaching style more interactive. It’s Apple and it’s iPad and iPhone that started a whole new business of ‘apps’ and one company for sure (Instagram) is thanking Steve Jobs today for making them billionaires!

A good idea has the power to change a lot of things and inspire so many others too. In fact, one idea can take so many different proportions that could have never been imagined. As Pablo Picasso said, “I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.” The iPad was just an idea and today it is the new way of doing business for many companies.

Similarly, Hunger Games was just an idea for a novel and today it has spawned so many businesses. When Suzanne Collins wrote the book, little did she know the ripple effect it would create. Even before the film was released, Lionsgate, its producers, and a host of others built a whole world of marketing around it. Set in the future, the movie is about a place named ‘Capitol’, which selects a boy and a girl from the twelve districts that it governs and makes them fight to death on a live television show, for the thrill of the Capitol’s residents and to keep the districts under full domination. It revolves around a brave girl who is also a sharp shooter and how she not just wins but changes the rules of the game too. A movie that keeps you at the edge of your seat right till the end is also an important lesson in marketing. In a world full of male superheroes, here comes a young ‘girl-superhero’. The audience loved her for they had seen none like her. Her powers (shooting with a bow and arrow), too, were not in-born but could be nurtured. She was a dream that could be achieved and her effect on the young audience has worked like magic. The idea of the story was so brilliant that it influenced many. China Glaze, a cosmetics company, has launched a Hunger Games-inspired nail polish line and yes, you guessed it, it has twelve shades – one for each district. Never to be left behind, Facebook has a game called The Hunger Games adventures, where players build their own traps, concoct potions and even grow food. New York Sports Club has launched a new workout inspired by Hunger Games, which has moves like those used by the girl Katniss and her friends for survival. The winner of the workout is the one who is fit to survive the treacherous arena that Katniss survived in the movie. Very soon, we might see a Barbie changing from a dainty little girl to one with a bow and arrow like Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), the new heartthrob of young fans. The sound track of the movie soared to the number one slot, making the singer Taylor Swift most wanted. It’s remained the top film for three weeks and even the mighty Titanic could not overshadow it. Doing a business of over $300 million, the film shows no signs of slowing down and neither do the marketers who just can’t stop finding ways of making the most of this mania.

One story changed the fortunes of not just the author (she is the best selling author on Amazon and everywhere else), but also of a host of other businesses. The power of an idea could not have been better explained than the way it was done in the movie Inception, where Leonardo DiCaprio is on a mission to plant an idea in the mind of the heir of a business tycoon to dissolve his deceased father’s business empire. He rightly says, “What’s the most resilient parasite? An idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.”

In fact, a whole lot of new inventions are doing just that. If the iPad shook up the world in 2010, then wait to see what these can do. A new technology named DIDO will eliminate the need for cell phone towers and you can say goodbye to slow download speeds forever. There is a printer, which will be able to print skin. You can keep your palm on the device and the cartridges filled with skin cells will print out your skin. Although still in the development stage, a lot of burn victims and soldiers are eagerly waiting for it.

There is going to be a world of opportunities that is going to open up; just keep a lookout for the new ideas around you and within you. Be not afraid of expressing your view even if it sounds silly; for most often, that is the foundation of a successful idea. As Einstein said, “If at first it’s not absurd, there is no hope for it.” Remember that there is nothing more powerful than a good idea. Have faith in your ideas and don’t let somebody’s yawn or sneer kill it. You owe it to yourself and the world, for you know what a good idea can do.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


The one quality that is most essential for success is ‘courage’. As Winston Churchill once said, “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities… because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” On the 8th of every March, we celebrate the ‘International Women’s Day’ and the one thought that comes to my mind about women leaders is – would we as women have achieved more if we were more courageous? The answer is a resounding ‘YES’! My favorite leader Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook since 2008, while speaking at the graduation ceremony of an all-girls college, asked the young girls to answer one question, “What would I do if I were not afraid?” If they answered this question honestly and did all the things they wanted to without being scared of consequences, scared of what others would think, scared to tread the untrodden path; the results would be dramatic, for they could do much more, take more responsibilities and in the process, be better leaders. The reason a lot of women aren’t seen in top leadership positions is because they are afraid… afraid of making their own rules in a “man’s world”. It is not that they are less talented, or that they have less experience and less opportunities; it’s mostly because they are not bold enough to take that extra step. If you want to change the world, if you want to stand out and make a place for yourself, then you must also have the courage to make your own rules and live by them. Women who did that not only achieved personal success but also made the world a better place.


“Attacking is the only secret. Dare and the world always yields; or if it beats you sometimes, dare again , and it will succumb.” --William Thackeray

Do not be afraid to do different things; things, which had never been done before by any woman; for if a whole lot of women had not dared, the world would not have been the way we see it today.

If she had not dared to enter a “man’s profession”, we would not have discovered radium. Marie Curie went on to become the first woman to win the Nobel Prize; and she said, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” If it hadn’t been for these daring women who took enormous chances and made great discoveries in spite of or rather because of the resistance they faced in the male-dominated field, a lot of mysteries would not have been solved. If research is to be believed, then according to the book The Madame Curie Complex, women scientists have often asked different questions, used different methods, come up with different explanations for phenomena in the natural world, and in doing so, have transformed forever a scientist’s role. They have also proved that the concept of ‘male professions’ is a myth. If decades ago, Madame Curie had to fight hard against the general perception of people that science was not for women, then today a whole lot of women are fighting the perception that ‘technology’ is not a field for women. Those are daring women like Sheryl Sandberg and many more who have worked hard to change this mindset and pave the way for future female leaders. It’s not surprising that this time, IBM decided to appoint Virginia Rometty as its first ever female CEO, something unheard of in technology companies. However, women like Meg Whitman (e-Bay) and Carly Fiorina (HP) have already shown that women are as capable of handling technology as men!

The world may not always have been fair to the fairer sex, but it has not deterred many from daring to live their dreams. According to an old Chinese proverb, women hold up half the sky. Do they get their ‘half’ of the pie on earth too? We still live in a world that does not do justice to women, and this fact has been highlighted in the numerous true stories compiled in a book aptly named Half the sky. The best part is that these are stories of courage, of hope. These are stories of how women across Asia and Africa turned oppression into opportunity. One story is of a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery who had the courage to run away and start afresh. Today, she runs a thriving retail business. Another heart breaking story is of a woman from Ethiopia who suffered devastating injuries during child birth. Not only did she fight for survival but in time, became a surgeon. Ordinary women, but with extraordinary stories. They may not have changed the world. No, not yet. But they dared to change their world; that’s what courage is all about.

It’s time each woman dared to change the rules and dared to live her dream.


“Men rule because women let them. Male misogyny is real enough, and it has dreadful consequences, but female misogyny is what keeps women out of power.” --Germaine Greer

“What will electing a woman PM do for Australian women?” --Sun Herald, June 28, 2010

For any company to be truly successful and for any country to truly become a powerful nation, the rule is the same – making the women powerful. If there is one country that has done it and shown the world what a difference it can make, it’s China. Compared to 1949, the status of Chinese women as of today has changed significantly; and this has been possible due to (apart from numerous other factors) one milestone, which came when in 1954, a clause on men and women being equal was included in the country’s constitution. This meant that women had the same status as men; politically, economically, culturally and educationally, in all aspects of life. Additionally, this equality status became formally protected by law. China was now ready to take on the world, because a country that looks after its women grows the fastest. It is the best growth strategy that any company or country can adopt. After all, the world’s greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. The ones who have this foresight will stay ahead of competitors and lead.

One organization that realized this early was Google. When Marissa became the first woman engineer to be hired by Google, this is what Larry Page and Sergey Brin told her, “You know, we have seven engineers, and they’re all guys. But we’ve thought a lot about how we want to start our company, and we’ve read a lot of books, and we know that organizations work better when there is gender balance. So it’s important to us that we have a strong group of women, especially technical women, in the company.” Today, numerous Fortune 500 companies are being headed by women. They bring along with them two qualities, which are distinctly female; that of ‘patience and compassion’, which makes them better leaders. It’s said Krishna was a better leader than Ram because he had these two qualities, which Ram did not have. So though Ram became the perfect man, it was Krishna who became the perfect leader.


“The highest courage is to dare to appear to be what one is.”
-- John Spalding

Do not be afraid to accept who you are, as you are. You are as strong (or as weak) as you think you are. Rejoice in who you are, and be honest to yourself. You are a woman, but you can be as competent as any man if you fearlessly chase your dreams. Every generation has its set of problems; those are the strong women who make it easier for the next generation.

So women of today, remember that you owe it to the future generations; come out from behind the curtains and show the world what you are capable of doing. As Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Believe in you, believe in the power of a woman and say it out loud, “I’m not afraid.”

Thursday, February 23, 2012


There is a new guy in the world of ‘brand ambassadors’ in advertising. He is a quirky little character named Mel, who suffers from an identity crisis, for he does not know whether he is milk or granola. To put it in short, Kraft has launched a new product ‘MilkBites’, which is actually granola bites baked in milk. It’s supposed to be for people who don’t have time for breakfast. But this MilkBite needs to be stored in a refrigerator, so it’s a ‘pre-made, refrigerated cereal’. It’s a complicated product, which required a different positioning; for here is a cereal, which has to be picked up from a refrigerator in a departmental store! So Kraft decided to use this strange positioning to its advantage and came up with the character Mel, who battles with low self-esteem and deals with identity issues (something we too battle with often!). The character Mel is turning out to be an interesting fellow as you get to know him better through various advertisements; where he tells the story of his confused life, and in the process, also tells us how he is to be consumed.

MilkBites is going to be Kraft’s biggest launch this year and it’s using an underdog to win market share. No great stars, no super achievers. We have a little confused fellow as the brand mascot of Kraft. He is a misfit who has a sad story to tell.

Why would Kraft choose such a character? Think about it. On a TV channel full of happy mascots, here is a sad character, a misfit. As a result, Mel is instantly noticed. More importantly, he is instantly sympathized with, for we all love the underdogs. This is human psychology and it remains the same, whichever part of the world you go to. Everybody sides with the underdogs. Kraft probably is placing its bet on a winning strategy. Look around you and you will find that quite surprisingly, the underdog always wins!


Go back to your childhood and think of all the stories you loved and chances are that most of them were around a character who no one expected to win, but he/she fought against all odds and pulled off the most unlikely of victories. Cinderella became a princess. Rapunzel was united with her parents and even found her Prince Charming after all the hardships. These are very old tales. Yet, till date, they do not fail to inspire, not just us but even Hollywood and Bollywood. Cinema is cinema because of the underdog. Be it James Braddock from the movie The Cinderella Man, an impoverished ex-prize fighter who went on to win against all odds and ultimately even take on the heavyweight champion of the world; or be it Vijay Dinanath Chauhan of Agneepath, who, in spite of all difficulties, managed to avenge the killing of his father – our hearts always reach out for the weak. Julia Robertsmade us fall in love with her as the underdog in the movie Pretty Woman, where life gave her a second chance to make things better. Be it Seabiscuit, Karate Kid, 3 Idiots, Taare Zameen Par, Guru or Koi Mil Gaya; we love to watch the small guy win. This is a story line that always works. This is a strategy that never ever fails.

Take sports, as an example. Today, there is only one player in the USA who is making waves and is being talked about today. He was a star basketball player at Harvard, but after graduation (in 2010), no one showed interest in him. He spent most of the season at the end of the bench and his career seemed to be in the doldrums. But Jeremy Shu-How Lin never let go of his dreams and stuck on.

Then something magical happened this month (February). His team New York Knicks was losing and the coach decided to bring Lin in the game against Jersey Nets. This was the ‘golden ticket’ he was waiting for and he dazzled everybody by scoring 25 points and leading his team to victory. He repeated the same magic in the next match, and the next. The man from nowhere has built a frenzy around himself. He has created a new phenomena called ‘Linsanity’. He is a hero who appeared from nowhere. His story is inspiring kids to believe in their dreams, in who they are and to keep going; even when the going is tough. It’s similar to the storyof the movie ‘Rocky’, where Sylvester Stallone made it, in spite of all the odds against him.


When a loser wins, it catches our attention like no other. This is one strategy that is bound to attract the attention of the consumer who would look at you in a more endearing way than otherwise and all intelligent brands have used this ‘underdog positioning’ strategy to pull your heartstrings and eventually your purse strings! Be it Apple, Amazon or Virgin, we all know about their humble beginnings, for they have always been very vocal about it and never ever lost an opportunity to remind us where they came from. Come to think of it, our most loved brands actually started in a garage. Harold Matson and his friend started making picture frames in a garage in 1945; and to be cost effective, used the scrapes to make dollhouses. They soon found that their dollhouses were selling better than their picture frames and soon started focusing on toys. Their company Mattel Inc. is today the highest grossing toy company in the world! Bill and Dave founded HP in a garage. That garage is today known as the birthplace of Silicon Valley and HP is today a huge company. William and his friend Arthur started making a small engine to power a bicycle from a small shed in 1901. Today, their company is the most iconic motorcycle brand of the world. William Harley and Arthur Davidson founded Harley Davidson. Microsoft may be big, but there is something different about Apple. Maybe that’s because it also started in a garage just like Amazon, Google and Disney. When you know they started from nothing, you like them much more, you believe in them much more and you forgive them much more easily for their mistakes.

In a world of cutthroat competition, this is one strategy that brands should use to connect better with their consumers and win their respect. We all look up to and appreciate someone who, despite all odds, puts up a fight. It’s much like William Wallace from the movie ‘Braveheart’, who as a child watched his father being killed and later saw his wife being murdered. This simple farmer decided to fight against injustice and lead his people to victory. Though he too was captured and beheaded; but his last words were ‘Freedom’, which motivated his people even after his death and helped them overthrow the king. These stories are what make life go on. These are stories that get woven into the very fabric of life andmotivate generations. If your brand has such a story to tell and has not told it yet, it’s time you reworked on your branding strategies and shouted out loud about how you became a hero from a zero.

When a small company takes on the giant, there is a different thrill in that. There is a unique charm associated with ‘challenger brands’. Come to think of it, even our mythological heroes were the underdogs. The Pandavas were the underdogs in the epic Mahabharata, and the story of their victory over the Kauravas is so mesmerizing that it has transcended all barriers of borders and language and has been adapted and recreated in so many lands and in so many languages.

The story of the underdog has a universal appeal, which very few stories have. It’s the little guy, the one with faults, who we like more than the ‘perfect man’. No wonder then, that for many, it’s Batman who is the real superhero and not Spiderman or Superman. This is so because Batman is human and he has his weaknesses that he has mastered. He is a hero not because he was born with special superpowers, but because he worked hard to develophis physical and mental capacities. He is the best detective and the greatest scientist who does not ‘fight off’ his opponents, but uses his intelligence to outwit them. He is someone we can aspire to be. He is someone who dares to fail; dares to dream. He is similar to our corporate heroes like Richard Branson, Narayana Murthy & Steve Jobs who started at ground zero, and through sheer hard work and courage, made it big.

Similarly, we all love the brands that are ready to fight the biggies, believe in something and have a vision. We like brands that have the courage to put up a fight; like the Pandavas, who fought the war against the mighty Kauravas, because it was the right thing to do. We get inspired by stories of underdogs. So if you want to stand out and get noticed; if you want to be loved and idolised; let the world know your ‘underdog story’, for that is the best marketing strategy. The Mahabharata did it, so can you!

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Sunday, February 5, was a big day for advertisers in America. The Super Bowl, the most watched show on TV, was aired that day. For the third year in a row, Super Bowl has set the record as the most watched television show in US history. Not just the game, the Super Bowl has become a showcase of some of the most remarkable advertisements, and people wait to see the commercials aired during this time as much as the game. After all, some of the most iconic ads have made their debut here. This year also witnessed some of the best ads and taught us a thing or two about what good ads are made of.

An estimated 111.3 million people watched the Super Bowl this year. The only other program that beat this record was Madonna’s show during halftime of the game. It was viewed by 114 million people . There seems to be something about ‘halftime’, for the most acclaimed commercial during the Super Bowl was Chrysler’s ‘It’s Halftime in America’. Aired during the game’s halftime, the commercial started by equating the game’s halftime with America’s halftime. Just as during halftimes, teams are discussing strategies to win the game; America also needs to find a way out of this mess that the country is in right now. The one city that is showing the way is Detroit. It lost everything with nearly all car companies going bust, but it did not give up and today, it is slowly but surely making a comeback. The Americans should do the same. After all, as the advertisement says, “This country cannot be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do, the world is going to hear the roar of our engines”. The commercial was so inspiring that in many places, people gave it a standing ovation.
The message was right, the time it was aired (during halftime) was right and the star of the commercial Clint Eastwood was just right too. He had starred in the much acclaimed film ‘Gran Torino’, which was set in Detroit City, making him the right choice for the commercial. Overall, it worked out to be the perfect package, which is why, out of the numerous ads aired during the game on Sunday, this one stood out. No blondes, no blokes, no stunning locales; just a plain simple message that touched people was what was responsible for its success. That is the power of a commercial. It makes a place for itself in your mind whether you want it or not. It’s much like ‘Jerry’, the cute little naughty mouse in the Tom & Jerry show, which we loved watching as children. If advertisements are ‘Jerrys’ then we are the ‘Toms’. Tom, like us, believes that Jerry cannot overpower him, just the way we as viewers believe that advertisements cannot influence us. But just as Jerry always wins, good ads always manage to make a place inside our subconscious mind and influence our buying behavior. How many times have you caught yourself singing the tunes ‘Har ek friend zaroori hota hai’ or ‘Hum mein hain Hero’? Good ads have the power to remain in our minds and our thoughts, and even change them.


If you can make someone laugh, it is the quickest way to bring down barriers and make a friend. A lot of advertisers use this trick. It is very effective, but it is also very risky; for if humor goes wrong, it can seriously offend people. This particular commercial managed to offend its competitor. Aired during the Super Bowl on Sunday, GM advertised for its Chevrolet Silverado. The commercial showed how the world would end in 2012 (according to the Mayan calendar) and only those who drove the Chevrolet Silverado had chances of survival, not the ones who drove a Ford. The advertisement showed how a man and his dog managed to survive the catastrophe because they were safe inside their Chevrolet. As he drives around, he meets his friends who also survived because they were inside their Chevrolets. However, one friend is missing, so he asks, “Where is Dave?” His friend answers, “Dave could not make it; he drove a Ford.” As expected, Ford did not take it lightly and its legal cell filed a complaint demanding that GM apologize and withdraw its ad from everywhere. GM, in return, said that the ads were over the top and in a fun filled manner, they tried to bring out the fact that their pick-up truck was dependable even in the most dangerous of circumstances. They believed in their claim and were ready to wait till the world ended to prove their point… and then apologize if needed. But till then, all people who were worried about the Mayan calendar prophecy coming true had better buy the Chevrolet Silverado!! Not only did Chevrolet get noticed and talked about, but Ford was left rubbing its hands for it had not aired any commercial during the Super Bowl and therefore could not make its presence felt.

The Super Bowl actually turned into a cheeky war zone where brands took a dig at their competitors. After all, not everyday do you get more than 100 million people to watch you. So Samsung continued to take a dig at Apple. Its positioning strategy is to be remembered as the ‘anti-Apple phone’. Apple, on the other hand, is known for its most iconic Super Bowl ads (remember the 1984 ad), but was conspicuous by its absence and Samsung had a field day advertising its phone as the ‘next big thing’. The oldest rivals Coke and Pepsi had a face-off too. While Pepsi played it safe with an interesting commercial featuring Elton John, Coke decided to poke Pepsi; albeit in a very pleasant, interesting and indirect manner.

As the Super Bowl started, so did Coke’s Polar Bowl. Two polar bears rooting for opposing teams, drinking Coca-Cola and watching TV in their igloos were seen in the Coke commercial featured during the game. However, viewers could visit cokepolarbowl. com, which was hosted within Facebook, to see the bears watch the game. Now why would you do that? Because the bears were reacting to the action in the game and also to tweets and comments from viewers.

The cute polar bears made an interesting view and soon more and more people logged on, to see how they were reacting to the game and the commercials and their tweets. Their reactions had the social media world buzzing. The bears crossed their fingers during tense moments of the game and they stood with their paws to their hearts during the Clint Eastwood commercial. They dozed off during the Doritos ad (it’s a part of PepsiCo!), and they walked out of the room during Pepsi’s ad. They even read out interesting tweets from fans. Getting the polar bears to respond in real time was a difficult task and the team at Coca-Cola rehearsed for three months, using footage of old games to prepare themselves. It all paid off, for viewers enjoyed it so much that not many left the page after logging in, increasing traffic way beyond the expectations of Coke. Many even put their laptops next to the TV to enjoy the game and the reactions of the bears simultaneously!

Polar bears had been a part of Coke’s commercials in the 1920’s, and Coke decided to bring them back. This was the best way to bring back the old mascots and also take the old rivalry (with Pepsi) a notch higher!

The right dose of humour wins all battles, especially those of market share. And Coke has once again proved with this strategy why it’s the ‘Real Thing’.


The cute ad of McDonald’s, where a little boy refuses to be a boyfriend of the little girl because girlfriends are too demanding, but changes his mind instantly once he comes to know that all she ‘demanded’ was a McAloo Tikki burger, makes you smile. The innocence touches you. So does the Cadbury ad where the wife asks the husband, “When was the last time you said ‘I love you’?” and then blushes as she realises that everyday that he gave her a Cadbury bar, it was his way of saying, ‘I love You’. Sweet gifts for sweet words.

Indians love emotions and feelings and ads that make them smile or laugh are always a big success. The Tanishq diamond jewellery ad starring Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan made many men smile.

Be it advertisements or movies or even your Tom & Jerry show on TV, the reason they are so popular even after so many years is because they make you smile & laugh and no one gets hurt. A good advertisement makes you smile without poking fun at others. So if you want to make a good ad, it’s time to watch some TV shows, and get inspired.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Oprah’s visit to India has created quiet a stir with everybody wanting to meet her, and why not? She is, after all, the most powerful woman in America. What’s commendable about her is that she was not born this way; but worked her way up the ladder, and the success and fame she has got is very well deserved. She is a true ‘rock star’. She was poor and she had no parents to pamper her and take care of her (she was born to two teenagers who ended their relationship once she was born). She however had one quality – she learned to read before the age of three. That was the only possession she had and she used it to develop herself and her career. She was a great student and was able to impress everybody with her knowledge (because she read more than others). Today, any book that Oprah picks up is guaranteed to become an international best-seller. A strong will and a steely determination are what made her a success.

Another child born to unwed parents not just rocked his career but also the world. Steve Jobs had the passion to follow his dreams and face all the ups and downs in his career without ever giving up. He was the biggest ‘rock star’ of business.


The ‘V’ sign made using the index finger and the middle finger used to be considered a rude English hand sign in the Middle Ages. The French would cut off the middle and index fingers of any English bowman so that they could never shoot again. The English would taunt the French by raising their fingers to say, “I can still shoot you…” However, this ‘V’ sign changed its complete meaning when Winston Churchill raised his fingers to depict ‘victory’. He was the man who was the ‘rock star’ of World War II, for he never gave up and told his people to do the same. He prepared the nation for battle with the Nazi army and after five years of fighting and a near defeat, victory was finally theirs. It was this attitude that brought them success and ‘victory’. He was one of the finest leaders of Britain and his leadership capabilities were best displayed during the Second World War. Consider the fact that this was the same boy who stuttered as a child, did poorly in school and was rejected by both Oxford and Cambridge. Churchill never gave up till he succeeded.

He also did not do well in school, so he decided to grow Christmas trees and raise budgerigars. Both his projects failed. However, by the age of 16, he was able to publish a magazine and start a small mail-order business. Today his group ‘Virgin’ is a conglomerate of 200 companies present in 30 countries. Not just this world, Richard Branson soon plans to expand his business beyond the planet. He plans to take ordinary people into space on Virgin Galactic. The man thinks, looks and works like a rock star.

He grew up in an orphanage as his widowed mother could not support him. He worked in a factory that made moulds for auto parts and frames of eyeglasses. At 23, he opened his own eyeglass frame shop and today, his company ‘Luxottica’ is the world’s largest maker of eyeglasses, glares, et al. Today, Leonardo Del Vecchio is valued at $10 billion!

It’s been noted that two-thirds of the world’s billionaires made their fortunes by starting from zero. It was not inheritance but persistence that made them succeed.

Easier said than done, but this is the true spirit of a ‘rock star’. They never give up, they never say die.


Just a mention of his name brings a smile to anyone’s face; yet this man lived a childhood that gave him very few reasons to smile. Jim Carrey, the rock star comedian of Hollywood, had to work long hours while still in school. He and his family used to live in a camper van. But Jim knew that he had the ability to make people laugh. He decided to pursue his passion and at 16; he dropped out of school and moved to LA. It was a big risk, but he knew that he had something different to offer. Most importantly, he knew that this was what he wanted to do most; so he put everything at stake to follow his dream. If you are focused, you are bound to succeed. He landed himself in a part in a sitcom called ‘The Duck Factory’ and soon, his career was rocking!

As Steve Jobs had once said, “Life is too short. Don’t live with the result of other peoples thinking.”

She was divorced & had a small child to take care of; yet she decided to follow her heart and do what she knew she was best at – that was to write. So she did not pick up a regular job and instead wrote a book based on an idea that came to her on a train ride. Her book summary was rejected by many publishing houses till one liked it. J. K. Rowling took a huge gamble, for it is very difficult to be noticed in the publishing world; but she believed in herself. Today, she is the first author to become a billionaire and her book sales rocked the publishing world and set new benchmarks.

The one business Lakshmi Niwas Mittal understood best was his family business of steel-making. So he ventured out to do what he knew he was best at and did not hesitate to buy a run-down plant in Indonesia and start Mittal Steel. Today, ArcelorMittal is the largest steel company in the world!

He always had a knack for business. As a young boy, he found an easy way to make money. He would buy matches, fish, pens, Christmas decorations, et al in bulk and sell them for a profit to his neighbors. He knew he was best at business; so when he got good grades in school, he asked his father for a loan and started his mail-order business. He knew the importance of keeping prices low if one wanted to make it big. This business acumen has made IKEA the biggest furniture company in the world today and its founder Ingvar Kampard is one of the world’s richest.

Think deep and find out what it is you can be the best at in the whole world, and then devote all your energies to that; without bothering about initial failures, without bothering about other’s opinions. Stay focused and success is bound to happen. All stars will tell you this.


“I was worth over $1000,000 when I was 23, and over $10,000,000 when I was 24, and over $100,000,000 when I was 25, and it wasn’t that important because I never did it for the money.” These were the words of Steve Jobs, who showed the world how to live life on your own terms. His stepfather chased him out of his house when he was a child. He became a salesman but lost his job and his wife left him. He had only one mission, and that was to be able to keep his son happy. He slept in the subway station bathrooms, but he did all that he could to keep his son happy. A job in Bear Stearns, days and nights of hard work and things finally did change for Chris Gardner, when he finally could manage to open his own brokerage firm Gardner Rich & Co. His story became the theme for the Will Smith starrer movie “In Pursuit of Happyness”. Life is actually not very different from the movie title. Pursue happiness and not money, and it (money) will eventually come to you on its own.

Traditionally, rock stars were defined as people who were part of a rock band. But today, rock stars have come to be known as people who don’t follow rules. They are not happy being good, but go out of their way to be extraordinarily good. There is something totally unique about them. Today, in business, those are the ‘miracle workers’ who are called rock stars. Some call them ‘rock stars’ because they are the best of the best and super experts in their field. For some, ‘rock stars’ are ‘brands’ of success. They are larger than life. For still others, they are those who believed in themselves and went ahead and did exactly what they believed in.

Whatever your definition of a rock star, remember that anyone can become one, and in whichever field he chooses. If you have the faith, if you believe in yourself and if you are ready to put everything at stake to achieve your goal; then you too could be a rock star!