For the sake of news

Q) Should the sanctity of News be sacrificed at the altar of profits? At the end of the day, the channels have to be profitable?

Conversely if the news channels truly focus on giving you a path breaking news experience they would have audience flocking to them. Once audience comes in advertising is bound to follow. There are too many content calls that get taken basis brands that can be attracted to that content. This needs to stop, and more and more focus should be on creating consumer engagement

Q) Should News about Entertainment and Reality Shows be a part of Prime Time News content? What if this is the case today?

The news channels have to decide which business they are in. If the viewer wants to watch soaps and gossip about soaps, they have a variety of channels and facebook and you tube and net forums. The last place an average viewer wants to catch soaps are news channels. I know the channels will quote that these programmes are successful, but have the channels ever evaluated the impact of such programmes on its brand equity? Does this not dilute its ability to deliver authenticity and believability? There is a serious crisis of trust that most news channels are facing, and they seem to fuel the flippant side of brand, rather than the authentic side Q) Earlier, news channels and their people were popular enough to pull TRPs riding on the hardcore news content. Now they say they had to change because of the audience choice. What exactly is responsible for the current scenario? The news channels themselves are responsible. It’s the news channels that decided to dilute their ability to deliver news in an engaging manner, and invest in programming. They looked at easy way out, and do programming that costs next to nothing and try and get advertising revenue. Unfortunately it is hurting them and brands that are being advertised on them. They are sitting on a tinderbox that will explode, and in the process force them to reinvest in news.

Q) Besides self introspection by the channels, what factor can bring the news back?

Nothing, but self introspection. They need to take a longer view of the business they are in, and build muscle in that arena. No channel ever faced a crisis if it did what it is supposed to do in engaging ways, and in a manner that made it an icon. Deliver news in the most authentic way, with most engaging tone, and you will have audience flocking to you

Q) As an industry observer, do you think that the current scenario is really helping the channels to earn as per their potential with the fact that the difference in the market share of two channels is almost negligible?

The channels are making it difficult for themselves by becoming like a commodity. CNN is not same as BBC. There is a brand tonality, and a brand personality that is reflected even when they report on same thing, with same news feed. Unfortunately that is not true of most Indian news channels. The fact is that most of these channels are new, they don’t have the baggage of heritage, they can be lean mean and hungry, they can add a dimension to news that has been missing, they can reflect the viewpoint of a young and restless nation, sadly none of this is visible with the news channels today

Q) Advertisers look at the TRPs and content both before spending. Do you see any way out for the channels and the audience? Is there any ray of hope?

I think there is a space for a true news channel that reflects the reality of the audience that is today. I personally believe that the channels need to step out of self imposed boundaries, be serious about their craft, put a value of seriousness on themselves, or may be launch a show called ‘news ke muzrim”. Till then they will live with this persecution complex and feel that audience is not interested in real news. Sad news for news channels is that they have got it all wrong. As always the issue is will they listen?

Done for Zee News for the sake of news initiative

We have the cup, do we have the buzz?

As Dhoni swung the ball high over the bowlers head and twirled his bat after hitting the shot, India achieved its 28 year long dream of recapturing the cricket world cup. The nation erupted in joy, and the party lasted the whole night. The party actually is still on, and IPL 4 may just bask in the post effect glory.

With India setting up a semifinal clash with Pakistan, and then setting up a final clash with Sri Lanka the advertising fraternity was presented with a tailor made opportunity. Here was an event that was galvanizing the whole nation, was promising sky high viewership and could be remembered by the nation for many years to come. The opportunity was grabbed by the eager advertisers, but did it work for them?

But first, what has baffled me is the TRP data. Take the semifinal clash between India and Pakistan. The interest was so high that the nation declared it as a holiday. Offices closed half day, giant screens were put up in market places, offices which did not shut down, organized mass viewing. India had come to a grinding halt. Streets were deserted; even the electronic shops beamed only the match on the TV sets. You could hear the roar on streets when Sehwag was murdering Gul, you could hear the roar when Tendulkar reached his 50, and you could even hear the silence when Yuvraj bagged the dubious glolden duck!

Everyone knew that the nation was glued, except the rating agencies. The match had a TVR of 22. They would like us to believe that this rating broke all records, and had set Tendulkarish high benchmark that will not be breached in a hurry.

Seriously 22! So what were the other 78 watching? Soaps? Dexter? Movies? If this is what the Indo Pak match delivered as TRP, than either there is something wrong with us as a nation, or something is wrong with the measurement system. My hunch is that it is more the latter than the former.

We did go on to win the World Cup, and expectedly the TRP didn’t cross the Indo Pak level, but the whole nation came out to party, and they partied through the night.

May be going into future we need to apply a factor of 4 to every TRP that the rating agencies release. There is no other way to explain the levels that the agencies are telling us.

The channels too leveraged the rush very well, with rates crossing 2Mn for every 10 sec. Brands willingly shelled out 6Mn for a spot. In a cricket match about 200 ads are telecast. The sheer commerce of it is staggering.

The brands though need to look beyond commerce. Did the commercial create the desired impact? Did it persuade the buyers to change their behavior? Not many brands may have succeeded in that endeavour. Possibly the most successful brand would be Nike, who managed to make their campaign into a sort of anthem. Bleed Blue became the clarion call, and it united the cricket lovers across the world. It did end up trumping the Change the Game campaign. May be a Sony, may be a Revital, but beyond that the ads remained mere intrusion that the viewer had to suffer through, rather than watch and enjoy.

India has won the world cup, and in the process has demonstrated that rules of engagement need to change. The old measurement system needs overhaul, and chasing most expensive ad slots may not guarantee impact


Future of IPL

When I did my last article about IPL, it looked like everyone wanted to be a part of the IPL gravy train. Then the controversy broke over the Kochi bid and a string of bad news about the administration that ran the event, and even more damaging reports of financial improprietary. To top it, there are even rumors that the matches were fixed and nothing seemed right about IPL. Expectedly media went to town debating the future of IPL. If media owned IPL, it would have been shut down, and the entire cricketing fraternity made to disown the game.
The real inkling of what the future of IPL may hold was answered on the evening when the final was being played. The stadium was packed to the gills, the noise was deafening, the players had the intensity and cricket being played was top class.
So in midst of the entire circus that seemed to say that IPL is over, and there may not be IPL4, the average cricket viewers have given a very clear indicator that IPL is here to stay.
Are there lessons for us to draw from the mess? What is it that is keeping the event alive? What is it that will keep the brand IPL going from strength to strength? This mess of IPL may give us clear answers in managing a brand in crisis
Continue to build credibility: the real reason why IPL is able to draw the crowd into stadiums is the belief that cricket on display is fair and is played with the right passion. It is clear in this moment of crisis that the game is not owned by the administrators or team owners or even the board, the game is owned by the players. It is the credibility of superstars of cricket that is keeping the game alive. So when the game’s biggest icon says, the game will recover the whole cricket loving public agrees
Be authentic: Any brand to create a long term following needs to be honest and open about self. The consumers constantly search for experiences that are real and authentic. The real reason why the brand IPL took off was because it promised an authentic experience. There is no doubt that the current spate of bad news will affect the following of the game in the long run. It definitely will survive this crisis, but recovery from another round of bad news may not be swift and painless
Create high standards around the brand: while credibility and authenticity are the tactics to build a successful brand strategy, there is no going away from offering extremely high standard quality and service. The more the consumers feel that the brand takes itself seriously, the more they would trust and follow a brand. High standard of service and quality is the best way to generate a buzz. It’s not the fan pages on Facebook, or the blog on website that creates the buzz, the brand generates it by offering high quality
Involve the followers: IPL is a unique brand where the users interact with the brand for just 45 days in a year. For the rest of the year, it is a dormant brand. This is a very challenging situation for the brand, especially when it is bogged down by scandals of all kinds. This becomes critical for the brand to constantly ‘hear’ from its followers and make a virtue of it. There is no better way to fight bad news than to generate good news of your own.
Well may be the league will have to put its plan to get 300 brands in its fold for a hold. May be just for a while.
Published at

Integrated Communications: the new reality

Change may the only constant, but change is most hated by everyone.

Look at every new idea, and the people refused to accept the innovation.

Video didn’t kill radio, calculator didn’t make a whole generation dumb, computers didn’t make us lazy, remotes didn’t turn viewers into constantly surfing junkies

They actually did exactly the opposite. Video made radio smarter. Calculators opened up new possibilities. Computers made a whole generation smarter. Remotes forced the TV programmes to become more entertaining and less preachy

What’s my point?

We may as well see this happening with this entire theory of integrated marketing and communication.

The whole practice of Integrated Marketing is based on the belief that consumers are fragmented, and no single medium can reach them with optimum efficiency. Hence we need to surround them with as many mediums and make them see our brand in the right light. In the morning when they wake up, they must see us on newspapers, thought he day they must see us from billboards and radio. In the evening we must blast them with constant ads on TV. These days’ consumers also watch TV in morning, and hear news on TV throughout the day, so our message must be there too. Rise of mobile and internet means new mediums to should be added to the mix. So not just conventional mediums, but also new mediums. Surround the consumer with as much noise as we can, make sure that that the brand is always around them.

And we do it very simply by taking the TV idea and taking it across every medium. So one visual, one colour or one music note and the brand can communicate with its audience consistently, constantly. We can also measure not only the intensity of our message, but also the effectiveness of our message.

There is a big issue with this approach though. This approach believes that consumers are individual islands and the brands can control the interaction. Almost like what Simon and Garfunkel said in their super hit song “words of prophet are written on the subway wall, and people bowed to their Neon God”

The consumers are no longer fragmented; they have started to become collective, become one and are finding their voice. And not through the old world of unions and forums, but through the new age world of online forums, blogs, communities, Facebooks and Mouthshuts.

And the consumers are shunning authority. We no longer live in a world where people instinctively trust authority. As much social research shows, we’d rather trust our own instincts and the information we learn from our friends. For the brands, it’s better to be talked about by consumers than to try to out-shout the crowd.

These are fundamental changes that will make every theory of Integrated marketing stand on its head

The new world than is not about dominating, but is about engagement. It can sound chaotic and scary, but it needn’t be either

So what is it that the brands need to do to engage consumers?

Make the consumers look good: its not about giving the shine to brand, but to the consumer. The Coke Mentos videos on youtube made the consumers into heros for the brand

Give the consumers a platform: learn from them, see how they interact with the brand and make them central to your brand. This is radically different from the existing thought of being idea central. The idea has to take a back seat.

Let them have fun with the brand: let them customize it, use it the way they want to use it, and allow them to tell the world that they have found their own way of using it.

Speak to them in their language: for a very long time, brands have spoken to consumers in their own vocabulary. In the decontrolled world brands will need to speak with consumers in consumers’ own language

What it means is that the old rules of Integrated Marketing have to undergo a change. The centrality of TV is no longer enough. The consumer is finding a voice, and their own voice, and the brands will have to put them in centre. It is no longer about surrounding the consumer, it is about engaging the consumer

May be there are no rules in the new reality

Published in 4Ps of Marketing, January 15, 2010 issue