Tag Archives: Advertising

And then there were words…

31 Jul

When Swapan sms’d me to ask if I would review his book, I readily agreed. And then, I procrastinated for reasons too complicated to explain.

Swapan is now a neighbour but has been a friend, colleague and competitor for almost two and a half decades; so, I have known him in more ways than one. And yet, I was surprised to learn that he had failed once in school.

Now, several weeks after carrying the little book around (it’s size, and much more besides, reminds me of The Little Prince that I was gifted in college) I sat myself down to review it. Actually, you can’t read This is all I have to say…you race through it and, before you realise it, you’ve reached the end. Which, I guess, is how it’s meant to be. So, you return to it to nibble on its maxims and, if they seem familiar, it’s only because they’re all (well, almost all) so very apt.


Swapan Seth's Book Debut

Swapan Seth’s style has always been pithy. And this book is very Twitterish: it’s alliterative from the start (“An assortment of angsts. A cauldron of concerns.”) aphoristic, crisp and often clichéd. But, as we’ve always been told in advertising, clichés invariably work. Advertising runs not just in Swapan’s veins but also through his pen (or iPad or whatever digital device he used while writing this 95-pager) and its impact shows in everything about the book. It’s been written to a brief; with a sharply defined core target audience (his two sons) and a larger – yet niche – set of folks in mind; its positioning is unique (which may also be a bit of an issue because conventional booksellers won’t know which shelf to stock it in) and it’s exquisitely designed by Bonita Vaz-Shimray whose use of a wonderfully-named font, MrsEaves, adds to the crunchiness of the words…. like almonds in muesli. I do feel, however, that towards the second half of the book, the designer got carried away and readability does become an issue. But packaging is essential for any creative person who secretly worries that his ideas may not otherwise be expressed as well as they were originally envisaged.

There are gems tucked away in this book: “Parenting is a relay race.” And almost the entire chapter on love: “One day you will find love. Or rather love will find you” are among my favourite lines. If, in any book or film, you can find even one line that you relate to instantly, consider yourself as having received more than what you paid for the book (Rs 195 in this case). I found some sections reminding me of others that I had read (the chapter on Friends brought back memories of Desiderata, for instance) but even if Swapan has been inspired by all that he has read (and his appetite for words is XXL) there is nothing wrong. James Webb Young, an early 20th century practitioner of advertising said that ideas are nothing but an original combination of old elements. And Ms Rowling is known to have written that words allow us to create magic like nothing else can… this book comes close to it.

There are, however, some things I would have done differently.

The title, for instance, seems to eliminate the possibility of another book – and that would be a shame. If this is really all Swapan has to say, I’d be surprised. I find the front and back covers trying too hard to impress the reader that some well-known folks have endorsed the book: not really required, my friend. I have a knack for finding typos and would like to meet the editor in Roli Books who let several slip through her pencil. Most of all, I would have liked to see the names of people who played a role in Swapan’s life instead of their being relegated to pronouns: a teacher and his first client as an entrepreneur are the only ones named.

The book is dedicated to his sons with a line “May love be the ampersand between the two of you” and perhaps that’s why I love the book: the ampersand is a delightful but undervalued character that connects almost everything epigrammatically. And I tend to overuse the word “and”… often violating the most fundamental tenet of Wren & Martin.

But, for now, this is all I have to say and you should go find the book. You don’t have to be a lover, a husband, a copywriter or even a parent to enjoy snacking on Swapan’s words… bon appetit!



24 May

There is an unwritten law that says that the time taken to get your purchases billed at a supermarket will be inversely proportional to the time taken to actually buy them. And so, I tend to avoid large-format stores like Spencer, Reliance etc. Someday, they’ll get their act – and billing processes – together but until then I’m content to steer clear.

The only problem with this attitude is that one tends to miss out on what’s new. So, off I went to Spencer’s in Gurgaon yesterday.

And learned three things.

First, don’t leave your car in a ‘no-parking’ zone. In a stupid attempt to save forty rupees and to exit faster, you’ll end up at the local police station where it’ll cost you 300 rupees plus a 50-rupee rickshaw ride in temperatures approaching 50° Celsius. No greasing of sweaty palms though – just pay, sign the form, get scolded by the policeman in the tow truck (who’ll also shake your hand) and you’re on your wiser way again.

The second thing you’ll learn is that commodities tend to move up the consumer value chain and start becoming brands in a funny sort of way. I refer to the humble imli-goli made popular by Jet Airways (in the bad old days of full-fare flights). This little tamarind ball of spicy sweetness became so popular that even the erstwhile Indian Airlines had to introduce it and frequent flyers were cajoled into bringing back as many as they could glean away from possessive air-hostesses for friends on terra firma. This, despite the fact, that it was available for years at the local churan-walla or grocery store…“but not hygienic, you know!” as the aunty-jis of Defence Colony would dismiss with a manicured wave. Today, several local brands have mushroomed – or goli’d their way up – and the imli-goli is now available in sundry brand names. The one that caught my eye, though, was simply called Aero Goli and was sold loose out of a tin container within Spencer’s. Ironical that something as traditional has had to resort to the airline industry to gain acceptance. But that’s the way it is with most traditional commodities that are being branded I guess. Or is it that kids – and many adults – continue to see a flight as something aspirational?

Lesson #3: with plastic – as well as Sodexho Passes – becoming omnipresent (it’s not yet God though) and cash rarely being used at supermarkets, there is an interesting lesson in the use of coins. For some time now, we’ve been used to getting candies in lieu of small change but the sight of red-wrapped shiny Nestlé Eclairs sitting in the cash-box at every counter in Spencer’s set off a bell: officially, the 50-paise coin is no longer acceptable (nor is the 25-paise one and anything below that) which is why stores will give you a Nestlé or Cadbury Eclair if they owe you 50 paise. But while you chew away, you may be oblivious to the fact that you’ve been made a bit of a sucker in the process: the candy that’s sold to you at 50p costs the retailer a bit less, so he’s making money on the loose change he owes you as well. Sweet market economics at play.

So, if you’re off to the supermarket this weekend and do spot something interesting, drop by here and update us.

P.S.: the Safal stores in Gurgaon are selling the sweetest, juiciest, fattest green grapes I’ve ever seen. For some reason, they’re branded Bollywood and the pack states they were packaged for Germany. Don’t be surprised if you spot them at Alexanderplatz the next time you’re in Berlin.

Bananas in the Republic

25 Jan

Every Republic Day, India finds itself caught at the crossroads of celebration and self-crucification.

This year’s been no different: while we’re trying to say that the world’s largest republic is still sexy at sixty, we’re also asking whether we’ve been honest to the very idea of being the republic our founding fathers wanted us to be. All in the same page of the broadsheets and in the same capsules of prime-time news. Almost predictably, the same opinion-makers appear, by turn, to be questioned by M/s Roy, Chandra, Dutt, Goswami and Sardesai.

They say the same thing but with shades of wit and vitriol that vary depending on the character of the TV channel they’re on. Split screen. Split persona.

The question, however, is not what we’ve achieved or haven’t achieved. That’s a debate done to death.

The dilemma I face is of a republic that’s at odds with the Internet.

Internet? Now, where did that come from, you ask! He’s off his clicker – or whatever they call the old rocker these days, you mutter!

But, here’s where I come from.

On a Tuesday, last week, almost 25% of advertising and marketing professionals from a range of industries and cities, in their early-mid 30s couldn’t recognise the Twitter logo. This is not hearsay but the truth: I ran the poll as part of the Advanced Program in Digital Marketing I run at NIIT Imperia which the IAMAI certifies. It amazed me at first, but then I consoled myself saying these 70 people were here to learn because they did not know. Simple.

Cut to Friday. The venue is The Shri Ram School at Vasant Vihar. The audience: approximately100 students of class 5 – age 10 or 11 years old – and a few of their teachers. Unlike the Tuesday session, my mandate here is exactly the opposite: dissuade these children from Facebook, etc and caution them of the perils of the Internet.

(If I go schizophrenic someday, you’ll know why.)

Surprise, surprise: all of the kids recognise the Twitter logo! They’re not on it – not yet anyway – but they know. (A dozen of them, however, did admit to being on Facebook and to having fudged their ages to bypass the site’s rules.)

Does this mean that people who should know a brand like Twitter don’t and those who needn’t, do?

Does it mean that obsolescence will hit this generation harder and faster? I’d like to go back to another batch of Class 5 next year and see if they’re already on Twitter.

Or does it mean that digitally-savvy kids will be self-taught and courses like the one we now run will be redundant?

You’ll say that I state the obvious. Which may be true, but parts of a nation are gearing up to show off their military might tomorrow morning and others are cursing this extravaganza that closed the foggy airspace over Delhi for days, thus delaying their delayed flights even further. Others are wondering how a former Pakistani Air Force Chief could find his way into a Government-sponsored ad while yet others are scratching their heads trying to calculate the cost of those ads and what they could’ve fetched the girl child who was meant to benefit that day (if not every day).

I am reminded of the 1999-remake of Inherit the Wind (the Jack Lemmon & George C Scott version) where Matthew Brady says: “ I do not think about things I do not think about.”

Instead, I tell myself, that there is a power up there somewhere who knows what He’s doing in collaboration with Darwin himself.

And, hopefully in our own way, we will all evolve. Eventually.

Law of Busts

19 Jan

Mohitoz’ Law #215

For women whose cups runneth over, it’s happy hours in Singapore.

Because Bar is an Anagram of Bra

The OverEasy Nightclub in Singapore offers women discounts on their drinks depending on the size of their cups (Photo courtesy: The Electric New Paper)

Second Law of Beer

13 Jan

Mohitoz’ Law #208

Heineken will also refresh the tarts other beers cannot reach.

Heineken Beer

Once promoted as the beer which 'refreshes the parts that other beers cannot reach'...

Law of Blue Moons

1 Jan

Mohitoz’ Law #194

See one, get to see another one free in the same month.

Blue Moon Eclipse

Brands offered a one for one free in 2009. So did the moon. (Image courtesy: Gulf Daily News)

Law of Proofreaders

14 Nov

Mohitoz’ Law #144

The penis mightier than the sword.