December 22, 2009

DEIN LE FOODS Ludhiana Launches GEINS

Mr Kamal Bajaj of Dein Le Foods Ludhiana held a formal launch ceremony of thier product brand GEINS at hotel Parkinn on 16 December 2009. It was a glittering ceremony done with a finesee never seen in this industrial town.

Mr Kamal Bajaj is a foreign educated professional who has travelled extensively at such a young age. GEINS has launched its dairy range of desi ghee (Clarified butter), Curd, Butter & Milk powders. Other products would soon be in the market. The company aims to create an Indian brand of global quality standards. Let us hope the company succeed earlier than the bajaj team expectations as Punjab needs a bursting food brand.

November 29, 2009

Poll strategies for Punjab assembly elections

Political parties in Punjab India have started preparing for the assembly elections two years away. While SAD and BJP alliance would be contesting under the leadership of Sukhbir Singh Badal  having  the senior Badal as the chairman. This allaince would be presenting its performance record to the voters and hope to engineer a better on the ground poll management. From the Marketing perspective, SAD would have to offer something NEW to attract the floating voters in Punjab known for changing loyalties every five years. SAD would do well to engage a profesional market research company to find out the mood of the masses while going into elections.

Indian National Congress in Punjab has yet to decide its state ledership. Perhaps the party belives that it can win elections in Punjab on the strength of Manmohan Singh and the Gandhis' chrisma coupled with the anti incumbancy factor. It would be very naive to go for state elections without a powerful leader. Congress certainly would have learnt some lessons from their defeat in Gujrat and victory in Andhra pradesh. Strong state leadership is imperative in Indian scenario to win elections. Congress could hope to defeat Modi by offering a NEW leader in Gujrat who has the chrisma.

I believe the state congress would do well by offering a NEW package to the people to enhance its chance of victory in Punjab polls. Punjab and India has changed and moved on from the segmentations based on rigid caste and religion lines. It would make a better marketing sense if Congress in Punjab opens up the leadership role to every community and declare that anyone from any community could be the next Chief Minister of Punjab.

The choices are many infront of the PPCC for the next Chief Minister of Punjab. Its time we have a new face in the driver's seat in Punjab. As a political marketing profesional my research indicates that such a move could ensure the congress government in the next term in Punjab.

November 23, 2009

The Illusion of the End - Baudrillard

When ice freezes, all the excrement rises to the surface. And so, when the dialectic was frozen, all the sacred excrement of the dialectic came to the surface. When the future is deep-frozen – and, indeed, even the present – we shall see all the excrement come up from the past.

The problem then becomes one of waste. It is not just material substances, including nuclear ones, which pose a waste problem but also the defunct ideologies, bygone utopias, dead concepts and fossilized ideas which continue to pollute our mental space. Historical and intellectual refuse pose an even more serious problem than industrial waste.

Who will rid us of the sedimentation of centuries of stupidity? As for history – that living lump of waste, that dying monster which, like the corpse in Ionesco, continues to swell after it has died – how are we to be rid of it?

(Baudrillard 1994, p.26)

November 20, 2009

Rahul Gandhi way of marketing

Rahul Gandhi is a sincere young leader that India needs. But we have to see how many youth follow his path to find meaning in life. Rahul could win from almost anywhere in India almost unopposed. But can we say that he can successfully spawn an entire generation of sincere dedicated leaders like him? Probably he understands it that’s why he ends up with strange bedfellows in various states.

Rahul Gandhi is a kind of leader that we need direly. But if he could create even 100 leaders who are even fifty percent like him then India would surely become a world power and Rahul would be known as a greater Gandhi than the Mahatma. Can you do it Rahul?

Why MBAs lack aptitude for management ?

Despite large quantity of MBAs coming out of various institutes & b-schools the industry generally bemoans the shortfall in supply of trained professionals. Why do the new MBAs lack the industry relevant skills to enhance their employability quotient? Reasons are many fold encompassing syllabus, non-availability of teachers, lack of exposure and a general absence of aptitude.

The students who join the MBA & PGP courses are not to be blamed only; it is the manner the course curriculum is delivered. Firstly MBA cannot be taught in group settings alone as it is against the basic principle of adult learning. Students coming from different backgrounds must be taught separately. The lack of exposure of the teachers to the business complicates the matter further. Therefore the teacher ends up teaching MBA students as if they were doing some accountancy or economics studies. Lecture after lecture continue without learning about the industry and business domain.

How could a student study the marketing of passengers’ vehicles without knowing the name of major players and the product mix? Umpteen numbers of teachers discuss Coca Cola Pepsi etc in the classrooms without knowing the turnover of these companies. We, the teachers, must bring industry knowledge into the classroom if we wish to produce a student that could be employed in some industry.

October 23, 2009

Political advertising lessons from Haryana

Communications is part of the product experience. But still you millions of smart products failing in the market due to poor communications. And sometime poor products succeed on the basis of some great communications. Political parties also face the same situation in their pursuit of influencing the voters’ mind.

Before October 13 election day in Haryana most political pundits, and all Congress men, were talking about the sure shot victory of Hooda government. Strategically speaking Hooda government would have won the elections by better tally if they had not messed up their own campaign.

On September 1, 2009 my opinion on the possible defeat of Hooda government had appeared in the Times of India Chandigarh edition. And it has been proven. I still insist that political marketing should be left to political marketing professionals otherwise the political parties could lose a perfectly winnable election.

Hooda government had done good work and could have managed a better election result only if they had not gone for the ill advised Haryana No 1 campaign and would have maintained a low profile.

September 18, 2009

Beware of No.1 Advertising

The Haryana number one campaign by the state government may hurt its prospects of winning the next election scheduled for October 13. Though the incumbent Congress government led by Mr. Bhupinder Singh Hooda may have done good work in the state and also the disarray in the opposition ranks certainly would work in favor of party victory but lack of professional handling of political advertising may jeopardize its chances of an election victory. The late august advertising campaign by the public relations department of Hooda government goes against the time tested principles of advertising. Marketing thrives on innovation and freshness of the campaign theme. The present campaign lacked both. It was no different than ‘India shining’ campaign of NDA government.

There are approximately 1.20 Crore eligible voters in the state for ninety assembly constituencies. The august advertising campaign tried to target all of them in the crude mass marketing manner by employing all the traditional media of print, television and the radio waves. The marketing agency responsible for planning and execution of the campaign followed one-size-fits-all approach by bombarding all the sub segments of the electorate with the same message and frequency.

There have been many studies that suggest that the incumbent party should spend less than the challenger party for success in elections. A vast majority of such studies have been carried in America that has two party systems. Similar researches in the European democracies that have multi party systems like India also point to the same outcome. The winner’s curse or what’s otherwise known as anti incumbency also puts the burden of proof of delivering good governance and economic progress for a majority squarely at the incumbent party’s doorstep. Anti incumbency in Indian context operates majorly at the level of party in government than for an individual politician. Study of various factors that influence the probability winning in India reveals that for an election victory the candidate’s own appeal has less role to play in comparison to the party appeal. Similarly the anti incumbency also works more severely at the party level than at the candidate level.

Does the Hooda government think that all sub segments of Haryana population have benefitted equally in the 
last five years of their government? If the answer is how it could be so, then why not take a carefully calibrated approach to segmentation and message appeal and frequency. Large number of eligible voters may have benefitted from the current government but surely a vast majority would still have been left out. And those who are left out may react negatively to the claims of prosperity in the neighborhood and express their disapproval by voting against the incumbent government. Such voters tend to react less sharply if they hear less stories of development and may vote for future promise of good governance. Moreover opening critical message appeal card well ahead of the elections gives the challenger to prepare better in their rebuttal of the government claims. Therefore Congress party in Haryana would do well by focusing less on their past and talk about future plans.

It happened to NDA government too in 2004. The NDA government lost despite good performance and the ‘India Shining’ campaign. Mr. Vajpayee led government had a reasonably good track record of performance but they went overboard in their advertising proclamations of their achievements without regard to the fact that it is not really possible for a government at the centre or states to bring some benefits of progress to a majority of the voter citizens in a five year term. And when the governments go on claiming their high achievements, they actually end up adding insult to the injury, because for the larger segment of the voters the life is not comfortable.

India still remains a developing country with vast majority of poor population having access to mass media that regularly reminds them of their real condition in comparison to the others within the country and globally. The success of saas-bahu serials has queered the pitch for such brash self projection political advertising. The citizen voters’ exposure to saas-bahu serials reminds them of their own poverty and living conditions. Such programming due to its own compulsions has to be about the economically well off strata of our society, so that the viewers could aspire for that living style. It is not the behavior or the moral values of these saas-bahus characters that keeps these serial rolling endlessly for years but their projected life style that attracts the viewers who aspire to live like them. A rich household, expansive saaris and lots of gold jewellery are enough for most of our Indian women to die for.

India has distinction of consuming almost of twenty five percent of the global production of gold every year. But how many Indian households have gold in their possession? So please remember that when you are claiming big in your mass advertising it could lead to severe negative reaction amongst the targeted audience. Had the NDA government used the ‘India Shining’ campaign with a lower frequency and after a careful segmentation of the voters the results would have been much better. The Haryana government could learn from history and also from the Congress party campaign of 2009.

It has become a routine for the union and the state governments in India to release advertisement campaign in the media to showcase the achievements of the party in power. Such campaigns are funded by the public relations department or some other such constituent of the government that has been allocated funds for promotion. Most often the incumbent party goes overboard in its claims of achievements to positively influence the eligible voter citizens. They are being no different than an average commercial advertiser that promises a lot more than they could deliver. But how many products get a successful reception in the market is anybody’s guess. How could an election promise have a different outcome under the same conditions?
Though political and social organizations have taken to advertising for marketing themselves and to promote their programs. But most such organizations have not learnt the technique and skills to use such a potent marketing tool. Therefore even when the party or the individual invests a significant part of their budget on promotions still they have no clue to estimate its effect. Several measurement techniques are available in the business management literature to estimate the impact of advertising campaign effects in the market. The political parties and individuals hardly take the trouble to go for such a study post elections.

An advertising campaign needs to be designed on the basis of carefully laid out qualitative and quantitative criteria for achievement of the planned objectives. Therefore a seasoned professional would be required to manage the promotions. Unfortunately a politician would rather believe the judgments of the party based media managers or professional journalists who certainly may not have any specialist expertise of how the advertising works. Political organizations would do well by outsourcing their marketing completely to an independent agency. That would ensure an optimally calibrated approach to quality and quantity parameters in the communications. It would also lead to a greater efficiency in advertising and fixation of responsibility.

Gurinder S Ahluwalia is a marketing consultant and Director GNAIMT, Phagwara, Punjab.

July 25, 2009

Near-Total Eclipse

God invented man now we manufacture them in India. In fact this is probably the only ‘thing’, product/service, where no one can compete with us on productivity parameters. Now let us not blame the Chinese alone for large scale manufacturing operations churning out poor quality products. On the other hand we have grown up reading from the Darwinian dude that man has evolved from a monkey and not fallen onto earth from somewhere. Let us clear this muddle for once and all. God could not have done such a mistake. Let us dig a little deeper.

July 22nd 2009 was a momentous day for people living in high rise, read story above the ground floor, apartments. Their homes were flooded with fresh sparkling water at 6 am from the always open taps in the kitchen sink and washrooms. These taps remain dry almost always therefore people never turn them off. Living at 2nd floor in India’s designer showcase city conceptualized by Le Corbusier I too had that welcoming wet feeling on the twenty second July morning. My kitchen sink was overflowing with pearls of water. I dare not disturb the tap and kept looking at it with gratitude and pleasure. I generally believe in hard work over luck. But that day I was plain lucky, otherwise how you could explain the real running tap with serene water bubbles oozing out like a milk streams in my house. I realized later that I was not being lucky. It was a case of Solar Eclipse in India. If you are not from India you cannot understand the phenomenon. As an ancient custom people are forbidden from working during the eclipse as it may bring bad omen. Although we have surely realized long ago that work is a four letter word, must be shunned with all your might.

We have been told by our wise people, who do not themselves go to work and become preachers that everything that needs to be known has already been explained in our ancient texts and it is for the west to create new stuff that we have already experienced in our glorious past. And moreover we know the future too. Our astrologers can tell us all future events with six sigma accuracy. Therefore we Indians are advised to go back to old books so that old glory can be achieved. These self professed wise people use cutting edge ICT tools to propagate their back to future ideology. Steven Spielberg, I love your films but why did you make a film with such a title? Well you may disagree with us.

So a solar eclipse can happen anywhere on earth but in India it was a unique experience. The media with the advice of great astrologers cautioned the public about the impact of the eclipse. On a cursory look India seems to be divided along religion, caste, region and profession lines but the astrologers divide us on the basis of zodiac signs. You never know in future we may have zodiac signs as family names. These wise sages tell us to suspend all work during eclipse and sit down and sing religious songs and mantras. Such events often remind me of the tale about a yogi’s encounter with the Prince of Macedonia. It is told that after conquering India when Alexander was returning back he saw an old man lying on the ground in hot Sun. When the prince stopped to ask him the reason for taking rest in such odd circumstances the yogi told him that he was enjoying himself like this. Yogi asked Alexander why he was running like this from place to place. Alexander replied that he wanted the make the world a better place so that he could enjoy in it. The yogi replied that he already is having loads of fun so why try to go to battles.

There was another side to the eclipse in India. People thronged the rivers and ponds for a bath during the eclipse. It is said to be opportune time to wash your sins. Our government spent millions to make safe arrangement for people to take bath but did not spend a single paisa on educating the masses and children about the modern scientific living. That’s why it is not uncommon in India to see professionally qualified people doing round of astrologers and wearing stones and other talisman to get lucky in life. Which stone does Obama, Sarkozy or Manmohan wear? Come on Indians let us be futuristic and move on.

July 20, 2009

Balle Balle - Punjabi food, wheres the brand ?

Punjabis are known for hard work and entrepreneurial nature. Punjabis happily venture out on roads where few dare to trot. We have considerable expertise in manufacturing as some punjabis have done quite well at the global and domestic level. When we discuss cycles, milk products, yarn, hosiery, knitwear, hand tools, sports goods there are some sparkling stories. But why do we not have a 'brand' like Amul, Dettol, Britania etc ? Punjabis are popular for thier appetite and fine eating, what stops us from creating a brand ? Lassi has market potential, why not have a branded lassi ?

As consumers are becoming more demanding the food companies have to work overtime to convince the buyers to depend on them for offering nutrition combined with pleasure. Therefore food companies are taking fatty foods off the shelves and replacing them with the healthier foods. You may segment the food along four benefits; Nutrition, Taste, Health and Pleasure. What are the alternatives with the Cola majors like Pepsi & Coke? Would they be able to sustain a strategic attack on their consumption? Could they survive by asking consumers to go for cola drinks for pure pleasure? Or could they pass off as the tastier water available? They would find it very scary to go for a pleasure tag. Certainly they would never imagine killing their market by hawking Cola as a health drink. How the future is going to play out is a million dollar question.Snack food market in India is dominated by the unorganized sector.

Future may be different. The organized retail revolution unleashed in India would change the contours in no time. Most retailers have or are in the process of launching their own snack food brands. The local small snack food players would be edged out from the market and would remain in business as vendors of the large stores.

The evolution of biotechnology would also upgrade the snack food portfolio.The sweet snack food segment dominated by biscuits is experiencing real tremors with entry of new competition from within and global market. Players in biscuit market are planning to launch biscuits as a healthy snack food. We are all convinced with cereals and dalia etc as a healthy food. But a snack is a snack.

How can you force fit a biscuit to pass of as a health food? Surely a snack food product positioned on health benefit segmentation is in nothing but a horrendous idea here in India.

Hope no snack food player would like to present their products on the lines of Chawanprass or some Churan. If they do how would the packaging look like? Would it look like a health product, a medicine or some happy pleasurable packaging? How many snack food players have we got in the Punjab region? Not many! Why is it so when there is huge market available in the region? When you shop for a snacks all you see if Frito lay, Haldiram, and 2-3 local players.

We know that being a developing country that has recently come out of a total regulatory regime, our entrepreneurs are more comfortable with production than being adept in marketing their produce. Every big small town in the region has 1-2 famous snack food player. How we all miss the great retail effort undertook by Lovely Sweets from Jalandhar. Gopal from Patiala has also flexed its muscles but have not taken a real shot at becoming an established player. Dhoda sweets may have shifted base to Ludhiana but their product line is woeful short.Cremica has opened up into this domain but they seem to be satisfied with organic growth only.

When would we see a snack food brand leveraging the worldwide appeal of PUNJABI DHABHA and SHER-E-PUNJAB? Is someone listening!

July 10, 2009

Crime & The Watch- a short story

Ghosts are dead and only those close to death could be afraid of them. It is the living who scare us. Decades ago I stayed in the hostel at a university campus near Chandigarh. It was a unique experience  for protected youngest child of north Indian Sikh family. Hostels are generally dingy places engulfed in seething smell of suppressed dreams, of boiled stupid food, butter lonely living and made worse under the specter of an insecure future. Loneliness makes people treasure their independence because they learn to adjust with it over time. Millions are pushed out every year from the imaginary security of hostel walls out into the shelterless job market painted with crude hopelessness. It is like the trauma a child experiences emerging from the safety of mother’s womb into the big bright world. 

Life in India is like travelling in an underpowered vehicle swerving and screeching on some frozen snowy kutcha road hoping to stop someplace with least injuries.It’s normal during summer vacations for students staying in the university hostels to head home. If you happen to visit a hotel at that time you would be drenched in strong scary smell of vacant locked rooms. With ninety percent students gone home, and one of the two main kitchens shut, hostel wears a strange lean look accentuated by silence of falling water from some leaky dark washroom and an occasional grunting of the solitary guard trying to establish his presence while sitting on hunches at the entry gate that is hardly used by most. When wind picks up a little in the usual pre monsoon season you could also be visited be the fragrance of unripe mango fruits from the trees in hostel compound. The unkempt hostel building, walls, mess and lawns tend to look much worse with the swarm of students gone home and their absence leads to greater attention to the state of such things. Although we do not complain about the quality of infrastructure of the hostels as most are mature adults are expected to be resigned to the destiny in India.

Well hostel look much the same even after a gap of twenty years. It is like an unbelieveable near super natural experience. Ghosts do not threaten the youth anywhere. Probably it could be explained as the willing suspension of disbelief of fear during the youth period. It is the living who threatens us. In India we avoid working hard as we understand that life is going to be very hard here so it would be wise to keep the hard work off as long as possible. But still there are exceptions to the rule. Some Indians start working hard early in life and some of them succeed also. I had a friend who lived in the next cubicle and attended the same class with me in the faculty of business management. He was of slight build, fair complexioned and had naughty eyes and a brooding forehead. He walked slowly and spoke in a loud clear voice. We were known for making a quite a noise in debates on issues threatening the existence of India. These issues have failed India time and again in the last couple of thousand years and have once again at work to push us away from the march of life and living on the Earth into the ghetto of our so called ancient wisdom and glory.

Such debates and discussions are quite common amongst the youth in the university campuses all over the world. Why our country is not among the league of rich and developed countries? What are the reasons, and who are responsible for the current state of affairs in India? Why have we not solved our major problems of abject poverty, weak moral values, and lack of work culture, illiteracy, population and mushrooming of so many varieties of religions, sects and complete lack of trust in fellow humans? Finally what can we do to solve such dreadful problems? The question is do we need to look backward in order to succeed in the future? University are ideally suited to find answers to the problems facing humanity though our Indian Universities have seldom tried to even attempt in such a direction but the young restless minds swarming the university compounds have head full of bright ideas that could lead us onto the path of glory amongst the nations on this beautiful earth. Off course sexual escapades and the lack of them also form a major part of our discussions. Why religious people are afraid of discussing sex openly? Why they deny its power?

Such debates turn quite noisy and would also eat into time kept for studying to pass in examination after examination so characteristic of our education system. You must have noticed that some young people debate very passionately even if they do not much substance to contribute. And some of us would keep on zealously defending our view point once made that we also find weak or wrong on second thought. One evening while gossiping about girls, we stumbled to discussing the impact of near death experience early in life on the personality of person. Some of the great persons had to go through near death traumatic experience very early in their life. Who can find fault with Hemingway’s life and death? How many of us had felt the chill running down our spine on learning about Dostoevsky’s sentencing to death by a firing squad at age of eighteen? Youth gets excited by exciting stuff. No one aspires to be a sitting duck. It was during such a discussion that we started discussing the idea of Sin and morality in life. Please do not presume that the young are generally not careful about moral issues. In fact it is the youth who would surely be bothered about the moral side of an act before going through it unlike the mature middle aged wise persons, who let themselves be guided by their objective and interest without much regard to the moral aspect of an action.

It was unusual for that a discussion point would become a serious issue of debate that would continue to generate heat and adrenalin for days. What is sin? What is a commensurate punishment? Let us imagine that someone has slapped a hardened criminal and then a genuine good fellow, is the crime same in both the cases? A hardened criminal may not mind it much but the other guy could kill in return for a slap. The debate kept going on for days and many other joined in with their positions. It was during those days that something unusual happened with my friend that stocked the fires within us. He used to get up little late around lunch time and would emerge from his tiny room at the university hostel. Since he was particular about taking bath every day, not a popular activity amongst youth, would straight head to the common bath room. Bathroom in university hostels are like jails, dark, dirty and dingy almost like the enlightenment our universities profess to promote in the minds of people.

Therefore he would start his bath even without opening his eyes fully. It was a custom to open the eyes only after the classes were over for the day. The silence in the hostels in June to July is over powering as the place remains virtually empty. One Tuesday when he woke up at noon, shove the toothbrush into his half open mouth, and picked up plastic bucket with left hand, threw the towel on his shoulder and headed to the great refreshing place for a bath. Since bathrooms do not have a place to hang clothes some students hate to carry unnecessary clothes, so he too would not break the rule. Our bathrooms do not have the shower attachment and the water falls like a thunderbolt from the pipe directly on the head or the place chosen by the person. So generally you offer your feet first followed by shoulders and then the head. And the complete bathing is over in less than a minute due to the smells filling your nostrils coming from the adjacent toilets. When he was about to wrap the towel around his waist he spotted an expensive wrist watch lying on the floor. It was a truly expensive Swiss watch. Some of the students bring expensive cars and other stuff to hostels. He took the watch and after dressing up went to the warden’s house to hand over the watch.

The warden did not like his visit to his home and took the watch from his hand coldly. He was expecting to be appreciated for this act of honesty which was not at all a common here. Moreover the watch was worth the price of a car so he didn’t expect a cold reception. He met us in the common room and explained the incident. All of us advised him to ignore the event. He did so promptly. But we were amazed when he found another expensive watch in the same bathroom. Then he brought it straight to us. He was not wearing anything except the wet towel. We went together to the warden’s house to return the watch. It was lunch time and the warden was sleeping after a heavy meal. We woke him up and got the expected cold reception from him. He looked at the watch and took it inside to show his wife. He was reminded promptly by the lady that her father had given him a gold plated watch studded with diamonds in dowry gifts.

The following day our friend got up early and went to the bathroom on the other side of the building. He promptly finished his bath and headed back to his room. In the long passage way he saw a cheap watch like object lying on the floor. On reaching near that he found a very cheap watch of Indian make that most students from poor families get to wear. He left the watch in lying there and went into his room. There he thought that if this watch gets in the hands of someone who did not care to return it then the poor owner of this watch may be hurt. So he went out again and picked up the watch. He brought it back into his room and leaving it there headed for the mess for food. He was disturbed and amused about his watch finding expertise. Why was he the only one to score a watch finding hat trick? He did not share the latest find incident with anyone and went alone to see a Hindi movie in a newly opened multiplex in a mall. He did not return till late in the evening as he felt disturbed. What the warden and others are going to think of him when he would go to return third watch in exactly same number of days.

When he returned to hostel it was after dinner at around ten. He saw warden addressing the assembly in the common room. He went closer. Warden looked at him and asked him to come by his side. The warden told the gathering, “Look at this boy he found two luxury watches and brought them to me. He is our hero. This is an example of good character and moral values. And now when a poor boy has lost the only possession of his life given by his father some bloody immoral person has not cared to return it, what a shame. What a shame. How i wish to fish out that thief.Isn't it is a cold blooded crime to steal a watch”.

July 6, 2009

World’s largest exercise in democracy 2009 edition

Month long exercise, having 5 phases, Indian General Elections 2009, to the 15th Lok Sabha- the Indian parliament, began on April 16 and closed on May 13, could rightly be called the greatest spectacle of democracy in the world. It was an opportunity for 714 Million eligible citizen consumers to exercise their franchise at 828,804 polling stations using 1,368,430 electronic voting machines across India to elect 543 Members of Parliament to sit in the lower house of parliament called the Lok Sabha. India’s first elections in 1952 had only 176 Million eligible voters. Whew.

Imagine 7 national political parties along with some 22 state level parties and a smattering of 1000 odd registered unrecognized political parties in the fray for voters’ approval. That’s some competition. Moreover the consumer side is no less amazing scenario for a marketing strategist responsible for the task of succeeding in such a market. The linguistic profile of India is as colorful as it gets. It has 22 officially recognized languages and 1500-2000 spoken dialects. This becomes a real challenge to the media professionals and political parties to bridge them all into few groups so as to target the advertising messages to the appropriate segments.

Literacy in India has been on the rise ever since first election. Compared to only 15 percent of the eligible voters during those times we had a much respectable figure of 54 percent for the 2009. Besides you have six major religions, caste divides, and few hundred very influential religio-cultural groupings that follow the community chief’s command as gospel truth and vote together as per the chief’s dictates. Even in more economically developed and globalised states like Punjab major political parties shudder at the idea of earning disfavor of such ‘Dera’ (literally translated as a settlement) Chief.

The election exercise involved an estimated expenditure of close to $ 3 billion by the political parties and the candidates. Don’t be surprised if the figure seems more than that of recently concluded elections in the United States. Well in the US you don’t have many astrologers to pay off to propitiate the Gods for a favorable outcome in the elections. And there were those mundane affairs like political advertising, transportation including air travel bills of the leaders, and off course some loose cash to share with the voters who eagerly wait for elections to bring some work and money into their lives. One survey indicated that even in the national capital of Delhi some 25 percent voters received the money for votes.

The Election Commission of India conducts and regulates the election process. They have implemented a model code of conduct for the political parties and politicians that include caps on election expenditure and the general conduct of campaigning. The restriction on media translates into a major expenditure allocation moving towards the television, away from the traditional print and other below the line media. The use of internet, mobile phone advertising and other digital media has been on the rise. The 400 million mobile phone base in presented a ready target for the short text based messages to the ever eager voters. There have been several technological innovations in the 2009 elections such as use of social media like Orkut, Facebook etc by the leading parties to attract and satisfy the younger interactive generation of voters. Lal Krishan Advani of the Hindu ultra nationalist BJP went on to leverage digital media with dedicated website a la Obama complete with a blog and blogger outreach program. In the din of election fever he conveniently forgot that media is the message. Digital space is not a suitable media fit for any narrow parochial message based on religion, culture, caste or national orientation. It is pure democratic space for all of us who find it easy to accept each other with open arms.

Main political parties Indian National Congress (INC) and Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) did not contest elections individually but as a group of parties with pre-poll alliance as most thought that none of them can expect to form a government on their own without forming some sort of a coalition with others.INC led the United Progressive Alliance whereas the BJP contested as National Democratic Alliance. It presented interesting communications challenges. Besides the plight of the marketing researchers who predict the elections outcome has been no less miserable. It is customary that in a country with powerful independent media the press would like to have their opinion on such issues like politics and elections with great zeal.

The Election Commission does not allow the media to broadcast or publish any opinion or exit polls during the election process to safeguard the possibility of swaying the public sentiment. But still media organizations as well as the political parties commission such polls to feed the 24x7 news channels. This time too, like in the 2004, most polls went completely way off the mark. Not even the Exit polls could predict the results with some degree of success despite being carried out by the world’s leading marketing research firms like AC Nielsen.

The Indian National Congress was the first political party in India to use a professional advertising agency for political advertising in 1989. Similarly leading advertising agencies were engaged by the political parties in these elections too. The Congress party had hired two advertising agencies namely John Walter Thompson (JWT) and Crayons to design its advertising campaign whereas BJP engaged Frank Simoes-Tag and Utopia for their campaign. The challenger BJP led NDA alliance went on attack with a negative advertising campaign. The incumbent stuck to largely defensive low profile positive messages.

The BJP talked about its ability to govern better and tried once again its Hindutva (Hindu Nationalism) based rhetoric but without much success. There were glaring contradictions in the message content and selection of media to disseminate the messages on the part of media strategist in the BJP’s war room. They used digital media profusely to convey its ultra nationalist agenda without any regard to the profile of the target audience. Educated Indians, particularly the youth, has global outlook and modern perspective on life. It is not possible to sell them such ultra nationalist policies as they are already living or aspire to live a modern materialistic globalised life without prejudices. Therefore it resulted in defeat of the party in major metros like Mumbai, New Delhi etc. In fact the political parties that broke away from BJP alliance or did not share their ultra nationalistic agenda have done significantly better than BJP or INC.

BJP had nothing ‘new’ in its message therefore it failed to excite the fence sitters. The congress party had a defensive low profile campaign with substantially ‘new’ offers in its promise to the voters in form of projecting Rahul Gandhi as genuine youth leader and the incumbent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the next prime minister. Well the economist Manmohan Singh with impeccable credentials of sincerity & humility, coming from a minority Sikh community does not fit the traditional profile of an Indian politician fit for PM’s office, offers quite newness in the promise to the electorate. INC did not even try to repeat the mistake of projecting India as a country on the threshold of becoming a super power as was done by previous NDA government in 2004 though its ‘India Shining’ campaign. Persuasion remains the objective for the political players during elections. The parties in general stop short of finding out what the electorate wants from them; instead they claim to know what people must expect from them.

The elections were unique in more than one way. Three leading commercial brands released social advertising campaigns to motivate voters to exercise their franchise and consequently build their own brands. Tata Tea’s Jagoo re (Wake Up) campaign, Idea cellular’s ‘Janta ki Awaz’ (Voice of people) and Lead India campaign of The Times of India group were directed to motivate the voters to cast their votes. Because large sections of middle class in India refrain from casting their vote due one reason or the other, major one being their lack of faith in the electoral process and its impact on their lives.

Indian elections are not contested on serious national issues alone. Different regions have their own local issues that take precedence over the so called national issues. The previous incumbent government of the UPA was subject to show of strength on the floor of the parliament when the major part of alliance represented by leftist parties choose to withdraw support as a consequence to the signing of the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement by the Congress led alliance. But still this crisis did not form the major issue in the elections. Cheap food rations still remain a vote catcher in this developing country more important than the deal. Some political parties openly distribute television sets other items and even cash to win the support of the electorate.

Another facet of Indian elections in the last few decades has been the rise of elite political families. BJP generally accuses the INC party for being led by the Nehru-Gandhi family. Current president of the INC is Sonia Gandhi whose husband, mother in law, grandfather has been the Prime Minister. Her son Rahul Gandhi and daughter Priyanka are tipped to be the next political elite. Although BJP has several leaders in its top positions who are promoting their children to inherit their political space. There are several political parties that operate like private family dominated organizations such as Shiromani Akali Dal led by Badal family that is in power in Punjab, AIADMK in southern state of Tamil Nadu is led by Karunanidhi, his sons, daughter and other relatives. INLD in Haryana belongs to Chautala family. Samajwadi party of UP is dominated by father son and uncle triumvirate of Mulayam yadav. RJD operates like personal property of Lallu yadav his wife and other family members. Shiv Sena of Bal Thakeray has his son in command. There are others parties that swear by one or other leader’s legacy making elections in India as more of a personality dominated affair rather than issue based service organizations. This leads to almost complete obfuscation of people’s issues and their genuine needs.

June 25, 2009

Marketing Challenges to SMEs in Punjab

Do you have a happy order book? If not have you been careless about keeping track of your old customers? Do you wait for a customer to come in or be proactive in approaching her?These probably may be some of the cliched questions you have come across on your quest at the various seminars organised for the Small and medium enterprises. Marketing that is searching, identifying, satisfying, delighting and keeping up with customers remain the most important challenege for the SME sector.

I have often faced this question while at trhe ice breaking meetings with family held organisations i approach for business. Most realize that there are many things that they would like to improve in their businesses but how should they approach & fix the problems.

Well first of all select a prticular goal you would like to achieve faster but do not know which direction to head. Would it be possible to grow both top and botom lines in tandem? Would it be possible to scale up operations withour defining the span of control leading to less clear division of the task within an orgaanisation.Let us begin at the beginning. Take help to structure of your organisation. This may help you to discover underutilised assets and overlapping & conflicting jobs.

Well an enterprise has the principal purpose of delighting the customers which leads to higher value for all the stake holders. A great organisation never takes its eyes off its customers. Investers need only monetary benefits, that a delighted customer may provide in any quantum.

June 23, 2009

A communicative India

Aren't we a country of people eager to talk and talk, but we revere the silent ones. Just see what happened to the talkers in last elections, and the silent ones kept standing in the end. Talking is no virtue in India

May 8, 2009

Dishonest B schools- taken from yahoo on May 08, 09

"But perhaps the most troubling studies reveal that M.B.A. students are more likely to cheat than other students. As found by Donald McCabe, a professor of finance at Rutgers University, and Linda Trevino, a Cook Fellow of business ethics at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State University, 56% of M.B.A. students admitted that they cheated in class, versus 47% of non-business students. McCabe and Trevino compiled data from 2002 through 2004, studying 5,331 students, and published the results in "Academic Dishonesty in Graduate Business Programs: Prevalence, Causes & Proposed Action."

But what can be done? Pfeffer says that business schools can improve their quality by taking their eyes off their rankings, which have become like the sword of Damocles for many. The problem with this, he says, is that the rankings are poor indicators of school quality. Also, schools often rate their faculty by how often and where they publish their academic work, which is again a poor indicator of actual quality of scholarship, let alone what is taught in the classroom. Also, schools need to account for how well their grads do over the lifetimes of their careers, versus the present focus on starting salaries" on May 08,09.

I have experience of learning and teching at b- schools in India. The above observations are correct. Most teachers in b-schools have never experienced any commercial activity accept reading about it. It is crazy. Teacher without any industry experience would begin discussing the real marketing issues and asks fresh college grads about their opinion. It is crazy. How can one teach something without experiencing it in real life, withour practical experince.

April 15, 2009

How the politicians find out what people want

Political parties in a democracy are answerable to the electorate goes the cliche, but do our parties undertake any scientific research to enumerate the priorities of the masses? Well in Indian democracy leaders assume that majority of the people do not vote on a rational basis. Those leaders are right as the results of elections indicate.

Majority still vote for caste, religion, regional and ideological orientations. Economic issues do not seem to motivate the masses to vote in large numbers. But how do the parties find out what the people are thinking in their constituency? Politician in India seems to go by judgement approach and expert panel opinion taken from experts from within the party.

I have undertaken a focus group exercise in the youth segment to unravel their mind and the issues that they think are extremely important for the nation. The list in the order of priority is given under;

1. Population: Surprisingly no political party has talked about it in 2009 elections. What can the electorate do? Population growth remains the most critical issue that is slowing down the growth of India.

2. Respect for talent: Most participants feel that there is no room for talent & talented individuals in India. Youth is perturbed that the talented individuals do not stand a fair chance of achievement in our society. People still give too much importance to other factors over the talent of an individual. Students believe that it stifles the growth of talent, consequently growth of country.

3. Corruption: Why we have accepted bribery and corruption as part of life in India? Corruption weakens the country but no party seem to make it as an election issue and has offered no solutions to curb corruption in public life.

4. Economic policy: Major political parties do not present a clear cut industrialisation plan that could create jobs for the educated. All parties make similar noise about their economic policy.

5. Removal of poverty: Youth do not find mention of how much growth in per capita income would the political party would like to achieve in their tenure of five years.

April 11, 2009

Role of media in election spin !

Just the other day i have been asked to comment on the role of media in elections. Well media like anyother other industry has had commercial plans, though it has to abide by ethics as its influence on the lives is more prominent than fmcg or durable firms. Media do influence the public opinions. Thats why during elections they become target of election managers seeking to spin doctor the public opinion in thier own way.

Media organisations world over take sides in political process depending on various factors including commercial considerations. We too are no different. Moreover the elections are being held in recessions times when the leading media companies have already suspended thier standard tariffs to encourage the advertisers to bring in advertising revenue. It is not unusual for media in such trying times to make commercial compromise.

Ethically media are obliged to ward off spin doctors and never allow the political players to use news and views coloumns for promoting thier agenda. But reality is much different. Media organisations willingly peddle political info for revenue. Electronic media in particular seem to be jostling with each other to garner maximum revenue for carrying blatantantly biased political info for one party or other.

February 26, 2009

India Shining to Incredible india, Elections 2009 in the Slumdog Country

We are in 2009 election season in India. The print media, electronic too, has got a God send savior in the form of political parties/politicians that are raring to spend big bucks in these turbulent economic times. They are geared to spend any money so that it could impress the citizen voters to vote in their favour. Therefore the newspapers are replete with huge adverts daily about the glorious achievements of the politicians and their parties.

The political class in office has the luxury & good fortune of spending public money on adverts that eulogise their leaders and parties. Oh, well, they have a right to inform public about their achievements. But about their responsibility? Don't they have a duty not to spend public money on promoting their political agenda? well this topic is well left to the public to debate. Let us look at the marketing of the political parties and politicians.

India loves its heros more than any other country. Since we don't have many heroes therefore we keep on inventing them regularly. A politician becomes a hero when s/he gets a z- security cover and gets to sit in luxury hotels and cars etc. How many of our great leaders have good solid education is a point of discussion? Mr LK Advani and others who wish to lead our poverty stricken country could never have hoped to a clear the IIT or IIM or AIMS entrance test? Our leaders do not take public service as work or profession. They treat it like a lifestyle. That's why India remains a slumdog country.

When you see the adverts of various state and central government carrying numerous photographs of their leaders announcing some foundation stone ceremony, inauguration or some ubiquitous public meeting by the name of rally how do you expect the reader to respond? Aren't all the adverts looks and feel the same? And if all the adverts are the same what response they would get? apathy!

When would the political parties and politicians let the professionals do their job of creating political adverts, like you have it in the developed world and stop pretending that they know it all? Till then we would have huge adverts in papers that treat the advertiser and their cronies as the target audience without enlisting an iota of interest by the fence sitter undecided voter whom political adverts aim to target.

Same messages, same layout, similar pics but by different political parties during election campaigns can only convince a voter that now the politicians have started to use the powerful tool of advertising. This would certainly not lead to change of behaviour and attitude. We have so called media advisers and ex-journos turned politicians doing the all important work of deciding how to target the citizen voters during elections. Their claim to such work is the knowledge they have gained by hearing jargon during various presentations served to them by agencies looking for their account. would we learn? perhaps never.

In the west centuries old political parties go for re branding, and all set up their respective war room full of top grade professional to plan and execute this all important task of getting to the seat of government so as to implement their own programmes in the interest of the nation as per their different perspectives.

I would recommend some political party to actually democratise the process and content of political advertising. Why can't a party be brave enough to stop publication of their leader's pics in government funded adverts? And during election campaign too they could keep those pics to the minimum and show the comments of the opinion leaders in sports, films, academia and other public celebrities endorsing the good work done by their party? It is time to bring in professionalism in very sphere for real progress of the country and rid us of the stigma of being a slumdog country. Someone listening !

February 5, 2009

What marketing can do for SME in Chandigarh region

Often i have faced this question while ice breaking meeting with family held organisations that i approach for business. Most realize that there are many things that they would like to improve in their businesses but how should they approach & fix the problems. Well first of all all would like to grow faster but do not know which direction to head. Would it be possible to grow both top and botom lines in tandem? And the scale of operations and span of control ends up with less clear division of the task within an orgaanisation. Let us begin at the beginning. Take help of an outside consulatant to have a broad look at the very structure of your organisation. This may help you to discover underutilised assets and overlapping & conflicting jobs.

Well an enterprise has the principal purpose of delighting the customers which leads to higher value for all the stake holders. A great organisation never takes its eyes off its customers. Investers need only monetary benefits, that a delighted customer may provide in any quantum.

January 16, 2009

New in Product Development in 2009

NEW is always the desireable. What 'new' have you got? Well, besides the new year.How do the marketeers come up with new servings for the unsatiable appetite of the comsumers? There are several ways to come up with new products. I am currently occupied with assisting my clients with creating new offers. Well the most suitable way that i would recommendis to focus on the need gap in experiencing the product. Let us make products in a manner that fits the way consumers experience them.

It is not enough to create a product unless you make it in a way that customer can experience them with delight. Innovation in packaging would be the new mantra in the new year.

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