Road Ahead For Media Planners

The Original Article

Future is always complex. Predicting future is fraught with danger. Chances of getting future wrong are bright. However future is always built on contexts that are current. Future is always shaped by the challenges faced in present.

There is a lot happening in our world at this time. Technology is progressing at a pace that is hard to keep track of. Just for example in last three years the mobile penetration has doubled, homes with digital TV subscription have gone up exponentially; the FM stations have moved from metros to class one and class two towns. The changes are not just tech driven.  The demographic changes are re-crafting the entire society. The rapid urbanization is throwing up challenges not faced before. There are no indicators suggesting that the speed of change will slow down or the transformation is eased off.

Here are three challenges that we are likely to face in coming years. First is the challenge of nomadic audiences.  Second the challenge of contexts. Last is the challenge of measurement.

Challenge of Nomadic Audiences

Media planning and buying is dependent on a set of audience being available to receive the message. The process of enumeration assumes that the audience is stationary, and once counted is always available. In today’s technology empowered scenario, the audience is not stationary. Rapid adoption of net enabled personal devices like tablets is making media portable. This has serious implications. It means that mass media will get empowered by personal media. It means that that notion of fixed audience will have to shelved. It means that media buyers will have to find a way of synthesizing the broadcast media with new age portable media. Nomadic audiences and personal portable media are forces that have will permanently change the media landscape

Challenge of contexts

Let’s take this rise of portable personal media and the possible stagnation of traditional mass media forward. Till now the media planning was built on increasing salience, so that it impacted interest in brand so that it lead to positive action on retail point. This is straight forward and linear in approach. This has delivered great results for brands. Today, the entire context of brand consumption is changing. Salience matters and salience impacts the interest in a brand, but from here on two new forces comes into play. The personal portable media is the transformational force. It makes Search and Share more important than mere Action of the traditional AIDA theory. Today everything is searchable, and people share everything. We know that this peer to peer network has an amazing power to influence brand choices. This change in context is already a reality and will only grow in future.

Challenge of measurement

The concept of fixed audience is ingrained in the existing media measurement systems. With the nomadic audience and the rise of personal portable medium will require a new type of measurement system to be created. Media agencies have tended to merge TV with online TV, press with Digital media and events with outdoors. Tomorrow they will have to find a system of one composite measurement that merges the traditional with new. The search and share impact on brands health will have a far greater bearing than mere rise or drop in reach and salience

Future is complex, and it is often not possible to predict it with certainty, but the present has a way of showing the impending challenges. We need to be prepared

Published in 4Ps of Business and Marketing, November 4th, 2011 Issue

Branding New Avenues

Brands and branding are much debated and written about terms. The book stores are full of books on branding; Google search will throw up more pages on branding than one can read in a lifetime. A whole enterprise has been built on one word: brand. It is not my intention to discuss what a brand is or what it stands for. It is my intention to discuss where we can take the process of branding and what new challenges we face in the future. Just for the sake of argument, let us assume that in simplest terms branding is about stimulus and response. A brand is a stimulus designed to impact behavior. It changes, reinforces, and maintains the behavior in such a way that brands become desirable. And in the process become a sort of pattern, which the consumers keep repeating, as a response to the stimulus. There are three new challenges that the world of branding needs to tackle:


Branding has traversed the world of product and services. However, one area where it has barely scratched the surface is in how to brand a country. Creating a country mark can actually be a fairly complicated and challenging task. From “Proudly South African” to “Cool Britannica” to “Incredible India,” nations are trying to create country marks. But have they really captured the entire reality of the country. Can the country as a brand be reduced to one or two or three facets? And should these efforts not traverse from the world of tourism to encompass a wider arena? Nation as a brand is far more complicated. National brand is a sum total a country’s history, culture, its products and services, its people, its customers, its financials, its operations, and its leadership. Maybe it’s time for nations to define their values, beliefs, and even appoint a minister of branding.


Technology is changing the world rapidly, and the world of branding is not able to keep pace. Internet, cell phones, gaming devices, software, and the like are change agents. And the changes they drive are not a progression of current realities but a brand new reality. They create new categories that challenge the old ones. In the process, they kill the old categories. ’Net telephony challenges the long distance telephone companies; text messaging creates a new behavior that kills writing letters. Brands have to be ready to face the challenge of category. And unlike in the past where the rise of digital photography was slow and staggered, the new technologies are far more democratic. They seep into the world much faster and give very little time to react.


The world of branding needs to go beyond the world of profit and that too fairly quickly. Brands have the ability to create mass movements. They have the ability to foster a new social behavior and in a fairly positive way. Almost like a bloodless revolution. Most of the efforts in the world of branding have been only towards creating a brand that generated profits. Time may have come to generate brands that generate a positive feeling. Many of the modern world’s worries need the attention of branding: controlling pollution, eradicating inequality, protecting the world’s climate, and controlling new diseases. Not through coercion but through willing participation. These three new challenges can expand the world of branding, its expertise, and its ability and make it relevant to today’s world.

It may even get itself an appreciative pat on its back in these days of “No Logo.” •

Appeared in Internationalist Magazine, published from New York in March 2005

101 New Heroes

Between 3rd and 14th October 2010, India has seen birth of 101 new heroes. These heroes are ordinary Indians like you and me, who through their talent, determination, grit, hard work and dedication have made the country proud. Each one of these 101 new heroes is a symbol of the new resurgent India that the world is watching with awe.
One of the ways of defining the richness of any culture is the number of heroes that they have. Heroes infuse new thoughts, show an alternate path, shape new rituals, and become role models. They are leaders in their own right, they are epitome of excellence. For a long period of time we have had just a handful of the role models. Cricket has contributed a few, and movies have contributed a few more, and the world of business too has had its share. Unfortunately we have had just a handful of icons. More so the world of advertising and marketing has always felt this lacuna where icons from popular culture help in creating engaging messages. It has always fallen short of the role models and has ended up choosing either cricketers or glamour stars from world of movies. Once in a while there have been odd beauty queens or glamorous tennis players.
Clearly the new heroes have caught the nations fancy. People came out in large numbers cheering for them. They braved many negatives and inconvenience to come out and connect with their new found idols. The cheering and the celebration every time they won indicated that there is public following for them. For once India stepped out of their homes to cheer for players who are not cricketers, and also who are not hockey players. Shooters, wrestlers, squash players, athletes, boxers all were adopted willingly.
For once we have a host of icons that can be leveraged to push a new agenda for the society. These are icons that will have far greater credibility, power to engage and power to craft opinions. One of the biggest issue that any brand faces is the credibility of the icon it wants to use and more often than not the communication fails to work due to poor fit of celebrities.
So what are the new possibilities? Here are a few
Haryana has redefined success in sports, and not just men, women have been leading the charge. How about the state of Haryana launching a campaign to promote gender equality, adopting the girl child with open arms and giving the infamous Khap Panchayats a new agenda to follow. Who can say it better than the winning grapplers and runners from Haryana?
The anti smoking lobby can do with a host of heroes who can motivate the impressionable young minds to kick the butt and kick some ball. Kicking the ball is in reality far cooler than lighting up.
Strength is a big dimension for many brands. There are a very few icons that represent strength in a real meaningful way. We have icons now that represent strength in the best possible way. Who can better personify strength than the boxers and wrestlers who have nerves of steel?
Commitment is another huge dimension that the brands strive to build. There are a host of heroes who represent commitment in ample measure. The relay runners, the discus throwers, the gymnasts and even the swimmers are great examples of heroes who are symbols of commitment
There are many more dimensions that the 101 new icons collectively can open up. Team work, pride, passion, nimbleness, triumph over adversity, unconventional path to success and above all a never say dies spirit.
By learning from and working with the new icons the world of advertising and marketing should start a completely new conversation. Conversation that is more real does not have cynicism and drives new behaviour.
The 101 new icons have opened up possibilities of shaping a new India. Let’s not lose the advantage. And let’s also build on their success to create a new culture of success.
Published at

The New Middle Class in India

It is now official. First time in the history of modern India, high income households will outnumber lower income households. According to latest NCAER estimates India will have 46.7 Million households in high income category and 41 Million households in lower income category.

Households earning up to Rs 45000 per annum are dubbed as lower income households, and those earning over Rs 1.8L per annum are classified as high income households. But the real story lies in the number of households that are between Rs 45000 to 1.8 L per annum. This number has now reached estimated 141Mn households, out of a total of 228Mn households in the country. This is what is called the middle class in India. This middle class now is over 60% of the entire country. This is a stupendous turnaround that we are seeing happen to our country.

We often assume that the entire middle class is ‘one class’ and we can try and paint them in one go. The truth is that the middle class in India is a constantly evolving mix of audience. The current decade has seen a very strong growth in middle class. The economic growth, the rising prosperity, more and more people moving up ladder has created a new class of customers. These are the new members of middle class of India.

What is fuelling this new middle class? What are the trends that they will trigger? After all they are a very potent group of consumers

The new middle class has been powered by women. Just look at the long term literacy data of India and the impact women are having will be clear. The female literacy rate has risen from 8.6% in 1951 to 54% in 2001 census. The 2011 census I am sure will show that the number may have crossed 60%. Interestingly the growth of female literacy rate was 15% between 91 and 2001, as against just 11% of male literacy growth. Clearly the women are catching up with males, and this too is triggering a set of new trends.

Here’s a look at some of the new truths about the new middle class

The growth of the new middle class is powered by women. With better education they are joining the work force in a greater number. With this they are taking control of their future, having a greater say in their wedding, deciding on when to have kids and how many. Apart from the demographic impact they are also driving their partners with a greater zeal to improve their future. They are making the most of change in their demographic and social status.

The new middle class will impact the travel choices in a big way. The new found economic freedom will translate into a greater desire to explore the world. They will pack their bags and take vacations at a greater frequency than ever before. And they will not always be looking at visiting their relatives only when they do so.

The new middle class is very serious about securing their future. One of the first serious buying decision they will take will involve buying a house. They will look at buying their own house even before they decide to buy a car. There is no better way to announce the transition than by buying a house. This means that the small home segment will boom in a much bigger way in coming decade

The new middle class is truly driven by dynamism of its own members. They are literally writing their own destiny and crafting their future. They are hardworking, optimist, smart and not driven by the rules of past. They will impact the world of marketing and branding in a big way.

The new emerging reality will be very exciting

Sports is bigger then Movie Industry

The challenges that face sports as a brand are very different from any other product. Suppose you bought a product and didn’t like the quality, you can get it fixed, or exchanged. Now if you bought a ticket to a sporting event and didn’t like the quality of sport being played, there is no refund that you will get. And if the result is not to your liking, than all you can do is suffer. There are no guarantees, no consumer courts, and at the end of it, nothing to show. And therefore marketing is a very difficult concept to grasp for sports

Yet sport is a multibillion dollar industry. There are no authentic figures, but it is upwards of $200Bn globally. This makes it much larger than say movie industry or music industry, larger than possibly both combined. In developed markets sport contributes between 2-3% of GDP of the country. By implication than sport can only be next to tourism as an industry.

What makes this an extremely challenging service to market is people’s enthusiasm for sports. People follow sports as a religion, and the sport stars as gods. And despite a Tiger Woods or Ashley Cole, there are more role models than fallen angels. It has long been believed that generally men follow sports with much greater involvement than women. I am not sure if that is necessarily true. There are two kinds of sports followers, one who is rigorous team sports enthusiasts and who follow team sports. These are people who drive the following of cricket and football and hockey. Then there is the relaxed individual sports followers who love golf, and shooting and snooker and chess. In both the sport there is no reason for women to not get involved. It’s less of a sport and more of a cultural thing. As the culture evolves, women power will grow in sport fandom.

Sport has existed in culture for generations. From eons back rulers used sport both as a tool to test human endurance and to create a feeling of superiority between kingdoms. Somewhere along the way sport started to merge with entertainment. This too is a fairly old trend. Now in modern age, its entertainment that has become the prime driver behind sport. And with people having a far greater involvement with sport, brands have leveraged them to create engagement with their consumers. This merger of human endeavour, with need for entertainment has made sports sponsorship a very sophisticated service. And with media getting fragmented sports sponsorship is possibly the best bet marketer has to aggregate eyeballs.

So what are the challenges that the marketers will face in coming years?

One big issue that sports marketers need to address is kids dwindling interest in sports. This will have a large implication on future of sports marketing. It is in marketer’s interest to work at grassroots level and keep kids engaged from an early age

The other big issue that sports marketers need to invest in is measurement of effort. This will go a long way in keeping the brands interested in sports

Sports marketers also need to expand their ambit. In India cricket dwarfs every other sport is partly also because brand marketers only market cricket. If the sports marketing pie has to be increased than sports marketers will have to ensure they expand their basket

And finally in future consumers will question the kind of brands they see involved in sports. Alcohol, tobacco and fast food brands will be seen with increased skepticism and they might find their investment not giving them optimum return

In these days of fragmented media and widening consumer power, there is no better way of creating enduring consumer engagement than through sports

(part of this article was published in Business and Economy Magazine’s March 10 Issue)