Stop bitching. Start acting.

Exhibit A

Have you seen posts like these on FB lately?

What are they about?
A person witnesses some ‘wrong’ act. He/ She promptly takes a picture of the wrong act. He/she hurries to upload it to social media in an effort to shame the person in question.
Earlier, a photograph of a car’s number plate did the rounds online. apparently, the guy driving the car had spit on the road. and so on… all misdemeanors that should ideally be sorted in ‘real world’ of flesh and bones through polite conversations.

Exhibit A-
Here, a grey haired gentleman opened a door to a cafe for two other gentlemen. The other two gentlemen supposedly did not say ‘thank you’. Were they too busy? Were they in a serious discussion, the sort where you forget the world altogether? Do we know anything about them at all? No. We don’t.
All we have is this one photo that the indignant-FB-guy (IFG) took without asking the two people in question.

and look at the reaction – It ranges from ridiculing these two strangers to turning this non-incident into a symbol of all that is wrong with India.

“whn ppl do that to me I say ‘You’re Welcome’ loudly.
.OMG ##### the man has the biggest HORNS on his head……..what did you expect…..Cattle class !!”

As an Indian, I always wondered if its the sheer number of bodies perpetually jostling around us, which make us immune to so many civil and civic sensibilities… but then I think of Japan, which is even more congested than us, bowing their butts off..”

Lovrd this. The so called educated forget basic courtesy and need to be publicly shamed

I know them. They share the same name: “Most Indians” “

What does it tell you about how these online people see themselves? 
They are ridiculing strangers for a misdemeanour that they did not know for certain if it happened or not. But one serious breach of manners and ethics went unnoticed.
No one is asking IFG, if it was right of him to take a picture of stranger without their permission. Is it good manners? Is it ethical to invade privacy like this?

Secondly, see how quick we distance ourselves.
me who knows better v/s most Indians, the cattle class. 

On social media, even I am a theorist and intellectual. So obviously, there are a few ones who dissect the incident, albeit in a congratulatory tone. 

Its like an online group of bullies, trying to bully someone who is smaller than them, not present at all!

Everybody relishes in this online distance – I can safely be a voyeur and a judge! I am omnipotent and always right!

What do you think should be a pre-digital, pre-cowardice reaction to the incident? Wouldn’t it be easier to go over and ask for that ‘thank you’ that you think was a right response?
It’s quite certain that IFG wanted to ‘teach a lesson’. Everybody online feels that way, so I don’t blame him. But why not teach a lesson there and then. Wouldn’t it be more effective?
Or was IFG too scared of a possible altercation afterward? Or did he think that he would receive more satisfaction if he posts it online.

Why am I bothering to write about this at all?
I don’t mean to disrespect IFG or commentators. But I am worried about a growing trend of voyeurism and cowardice. We are so afraid of interacting with other people, that we would rather take their picture from safe distance and post it publicly, than go and talk with them and try to understand them. We are so afraid of interacting with other people, that we are becoming less and less human-like.

Why is it a worrisome trend?
Do you remember reactions of people who were passing by naked limp bodies on the street that fateful morning in Delhi’s winter?
Do you remember the incident in UK where a person was busy taking picture while he could have saved a man’s life?
and there are so many other such stories.. it just fills me with hopelessness. and it feels even worse when I resort to blogging about it.
And there is really only one thing we need to do to change things. To react at all time. question the wrong. Talk. Help. Prod. Call someone. tap on the shoulder and say thank you/sorry. whatever.
But we must REACT as and when a reaction is due. A delayed online reaction for self-gratification will be the doom of our civilization. I am not exaggerating here.

In real life, often we have immediate costs and uncertain gain. We chose online because it gives you immediate satisfaction with seemingly no cost.
If we converse with a stranger in real life, there is a risk of having to waste hours if the stranger turns out to be a bore/ danger of a psychopath… versus the possibility of pleasure in conversation and learning new things. We are increasingly choosing to converse online since you can shut out anytime online, but if the conversation is pleasant, one can take it forward.
Similarly, even about social consciousness – India is starved of volunteers who do actual work, but there is no dearth of online campaigners.

and worse of all, in times of distress. Honestly ask yourself: The last time you saw someone in distress, what did you do? Did you help the person? or did you walk away after telling yourself some comforting fiction? (‘There might be someone else who is helping her/him’, ‘there are already people there, what is the need for me?’, ‘I really shouldn’t get involved in things like these. It might be dangerous’)

Long term scenario
Imagine our dependence on law and authority that this kind of behavior will necessitate. Imagine the sheer terror as people relinquish reactions and stop even acting in self preservation. We are becoming so fragile and wary of danger. We are increasingly less alive.

Answer to all current questions
Questions like – increasing safety concerns for women, increasing feeling of purposelessness, increasing distances in relationships and even the prevalence of bad manners…
Answer to all these question is in a shift of our behavior.
We have to consciously make an effort to react with action, thought and empathy right when it is due. 
If you see someone throwing trash where he shouldn’t. Help him be better.
If you see someone trying to harm someone else. raise an alarm/ call police/ use your brain.
If you see someone in distress. You better help him/her. If you don’t, you are just as responsible for his/her plight.
If you see someone who doesn’t appreciate your good manners, tell him what you think of it. Don’t worry, no one’s going to bite you. most of us are quite decent folks. (scared and with different world view, but decent nevertheless).

If your action is to only post about it online, it really is an exercise in narcissism. It is not a benevolent act. It is a selfish act where a person could have been helped, instead you chose to victimize him and derive pleasure out of this public shaming.

Here’s a little chant that you could memorise and tell yourself at all times – ‘React! React! React! React! React!… 108/42/786 times (depending on your religious inclination) and repeat.
If we all react when it is due, the world would surely be a much more safer, kinder, confident place.

Originally published here.

“Moment of Truth”

“Moment of Truth”

Sometimes, weird vowel-less sounds (?) stumble out of busyfolks’ mouth. When they utter these sounds among themselves, there is an implicit expectation that the meaning is understood. Its amazing really, a fence made of sounds.

Recently, I was confronted with this particular sound -“FMOT”. It took me  a while to hear sideways and decipher the words hiding behind the capital letters. “First moment of Truth”.
Most marketing students, including me, would know this as legacy of the store shelf Gladiator – P&G.Its an elegant concept really from a marketer’s perspective – it is that decisive time frame when a customer first sees a product in the store shelf and gets sufficiently curious about it to buy it or not.
It’s a crucial time for the product – ‘it’s showtime!’
But is it a “moment of truth”? err.. i won’t want a single moment of my life to be that shallow.
What does ‘moment’ mean? what does ‘truth’ mean?P&G’s ‘Moment of Truth’ feels like the worst kind of doublespeak.
It essentially indicates a consumer reaction to the brand. Though ‘moment’ in MOT seems to give importance to the ‘when’ aspect of consumer reaction, its relevance largely is in engineering the ‘how’ & ‘why’ aspect of the reaction.

And if brands spend billions of dollars a year in engineering these ‘moments of truth‘, where does the blameless essence of the word go? (engineering the truth?)

From ‘reaction’ to ‘truth’, it is a huge shift in gravity. Reaction is merely an automatic small act in the grand narrative of life – mundane – sometimes even thoughtless.
The other is a moment with neutron star gravity that pauses time. Truth transforms lives. Truth changes the course of histories. Truth transcends the mundane.

What is your moment of truth? choosing Pepsodent over Colgate?

An excellent salesman will engineer his truth at aisle #42 day-in, day-out.

(Is that why we are incapable of describing ourselves beyond our jobs and designations?)

If the salesman stop engineering the truth, he will be left behind. (‘Colgate is better than Pepsodent!’)

What he is left with is the most flexible thing in the universe – his personal truth, and an incessant appetite for change – the ever moving truth.

consumerism’s heirloom – a flexible moral compass and an ever running treadmill.

What does the ford figo controversy mean?

1. What is it all about?
A few risque ads were released on a showcase website that features ads from across the world. I won’t get into details here as it has been amply dissected everywhere else already. (this one reading might help get you up to speed.)

Lets get the obvious out of the way – Of course the ad is appalling. (and of course scam culture must die.)
Perhaps its existence is unwarranted. But the reactions to it were confused. What I am interested in the curious collective response: It is a mix of regression, repression and pandering to powers that be.

2. What are they exactly reacting to?

God knows.
Some people read the ad as ‘condoning of rape culture’. Some were reacting to ‘Berlusconi’. Some to existence of ‘scam ads’ and quite a few others to the fact that it came from Ford.

In the absence of context, all readings are fair. But the absence of context itself is unfair.

The context in which the ad was created is this one – The ad was intended for other ad folks who appreciate bad communication (the kind that is needlessly layered, needlessly twisted, needlessly ‘smart’). Irony is in fashion. The ad was ironical. It was sure to be a success in that context.

The context in which the ad existed – of wall-less web: The web necessarily destroys walls and hence creator’s control over the message. and hence the hate that Justin Beiber receives, unjustly. Justin’s audience perhaps are the 13 year old girls (or the ones who feel that way). So if you are not a 13 year old girl, perhaps you should simply not listen to his songs. The hate mongering is unjust. The absence of walls, puts the onus on the listener to chose what he listens to.
So the first reading is who chose to read it? – The media.
Media is doing its job of magnifying things that need to be magnified. Is it’s reading unjust? Perhaps, because it pushes out the creator’s intent altogether. (However, the intent itself is problematic, a subsequent issue that was thankfully brought to fore and would hopefully culminate with the end of scam ads.)
It is also unjust because media must be conscious of the effect it has. The superficial analysis in most media outlets, created confusion regarding the outrage. Everyone was outraged, but no one could exactly put a finger on what.
The confusion is terrible because it creates uncertainties. In uncertainties, when you want to play safe, the casualty would be the space for brand’s interaction with the greater society.
This uncertainty is the mother of ‘doublespeak’. Welcome 1984.

3. Would it have been such a scandal if Berlusconi was not featured in the ad? Replace him with say N.D. Tiwari. What would have been the reaction then?

Certainly, it wouldn’t have received the international fame (infamy?). cries ‘off with the head’. Agency complies.(and here Slate is being irresponsible for not analyzing the issue, but raging like a troll.)

A frequently reposted FB meme, words of Voltaire apparently, tells me that “To learn who rules over you simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”
If the ad is read as a social commentary on Berlusconi’s misadventures, the reaction tells me that Berlusconi was not too pleased with it and turned a few wheels to make himself feel good.

If brands and corporates are increasingly becoming more powerful than entire nations, and are the central arbiters of culture, ecology and our fate, Brands must interact with and communicate broader social issues. 

5. Which brings me to the question of authenticity. How does the brand-agency complex address the authentic voice issue. If someone else (agency) is paid full time to talk on your behalf (brand), the other person at best will be communicating what he ‘feels’ is authentic voice of the person who is paying him.
To ensure authenticity, unfortunately the dialogue between the agency and brand is about ‘control’ – Guidelines, checks and balances.
The ford incident has turned into a statement about the slip in control – hence people getting fired and apologies being extended.

A relationship hinged on the language of control is a prelude to crisis. (Go on, try controlling your friends/ spouse)

6. Ford didn’t intend to say what this commercial said, but it possibly didn’t intend to say what it said with its earlier commercials as well. It was the clever JWT sweet talking me into buying a ford car all this while!

a. Isn’t there something gross about outsourcing your speech? Is outsourcing speech similar to outsourcing cooking your food and laundry? Surely, outsourcing labour is different from outsourcing thoughts and communicated intent. That is why we have the farce of ‘Vedanta’ and ‘Coca cola happiness’. (The issue here is of reading a communication alone (open happiness) v/s reading the communication with the cognizance of who is saying it in what context.(merely saying ‘opening happiness’ while harming local cultures and ecology.))

b. Often agencies present to brands, alternatives of what the brand could say/do. and like a restaurant patron, the client chooses from the menu, what he might want to say/do. The dialogue is in essence in a binary language – yes/no. Imagine, how limiting that is! (Vocabulary of a thousand words v/s vocabulary of ~ 2 words)
If a brand of today was a person, he would be without lips. (how often do clients write actual briefs for an ad? (rhetorical question.))
He needs another person to do its talking. This other person (agency) would be entirely made of sensory organs only – eyes, ears and a big mouth. (Agency = Brahmin. Brands = Kshatriya.)

The reaction tells me, that the organs have failed to evolve together as a single organism. We need more ‘authentic’ voices from within the brand itself, rather than the voice being packaged outside.

Times has come for renegotiate the modern imperative of super specialization – for the sake of authenticity, more producers themselves should also talk. Agencies perhaps need to take on the role of training producers in talking truth engagingly. (hey, big monies there. white space.)

Brands, often lacking in imagination, needs agency’s creativity to appear in sync with the times. Agency people need the podium that brands’ money can buy. Currently, the incentives are structured in a way that will only increase such incidences. (scam ads, misfires, public oops, inauthentic messages)


Originally published at



The N-generation

The N-generation

Just read a post from the crowd-sourced diary of narcissists –

The post is called ‘Why I’m Trading A House And Salary For A Motorcycle And Map
Please read it, because this blog post is a reaction to it.

Let me quickly summarise here the intent of the post anyways. Its a self congratulatory essay that crowd sources validation for a seemingly ‘crazy’ idea of the author. And apparently there is a moral to the story. Curious thing to note – the gratification is pre-action – the author has not actually done anything of note yet. He plans to. Maybe. and that is why this post is such an important artifact defining the current times.

The author is an adult. (atleast 30 years old. Also the fact that he owns a house that he can sell. and in his words “I’ve officially notified everyone who works in my office“.) But not quite. (the entire article. Also, he mentions the word ‘motorcycle’ gushingly 6 times.)

Some of his gems.
1. “People are legitimately awesome!”
This realization came to the author when he saw people encouraging him.
yes sayers = awesome.

2. He has a plan where he will

“try to be a coffee farmer in Jamaica with a man named Thunder, attempt to build houses in El Salvador, and try to work at a Sky Diving school in Utah”

He plans to try. these awesome hipster things in third world countries/ state.
He is planning his facebook feed, not his life. 

3. “They said they wanted to follow my blog.”
He is building viewership for a reality show that has not even started yet. The objective of the project is not traveling. It is the spectacle, it is the image. That is why he already has an idea about what he will do in his travels – farming in Jamica with Thunder! planned!
Where is the uncertainty? The author has already read ‘the alchemist’, ‘Siddhartha’ and such. He already ‘knows’ what he will learn.

He is already far into the future where he will write his illuminating experience. In the future, he will be looking back at social media mentions and pop philosophy books to inform his eyes about what to see, ears about what to hear and mind to what to experience.

4. “sharing dreams that they had and plans they wanted to make”

The N-generation wants to make plans. Not necessarily execute it.The thrill is in the plan and in the acknowledgement that others know of your plan. If there were no others, there would be no plan, no thrill.
The joy is crowd-sourced. The plan is cowd-approved.

5. “off the cuff speech about following dreams”
a. Appearance of spontaneity is important. (off the cuff) For a generation that is neck deep in images, the biggest concern is about authenticity. Hence ‘get real’ black music. Hence clinging to brands for identity. Hence organic. Hence ready outrage.
b. Author mentions casually about his ‘speech’ (college kids?) where he exhorted them to follow their dreams. Obviously, the author places himself firmly at the center of the universe. Has he achieved anything? Has he created anything? No. He is merely planning to try to build houses in El Salvador. may be.
Why is he going all TED on poor college kids? Isn’t ‘following dreams’ a tried old message that everyone hears about 1548435024 times a month at least?
Has his ‘following dream’ served him any good? why should he talk on the subject?
Its not about the students or the institution. Its about his image of him sharing his wisdom in an institution.

6. The prof. who coordinated his little talk “emailed me and shared so many awesome things that she was doing and things she wanted to accomplish.”

a. He finds needs validation. from his coworkers (“come into my office with tears in their eyes”) and more importantly, a professor – an authority figure. Obviously, he subscribes to the educational authority. That is why he is maybe planning for a PhD. For quite a few confused souls, PhD is an excellent break (atleast in their heads before they enroll for the course) to postpone their life – to push confrontation with life’s issues even further. To evade adulthood.
(Maybe planning – that deserves a separate post altogther. Something that I am guilty of too.)
b.  In author’s narrative, the prof. rushed to share her accomplishments and wishes with him. Because in his narrative, the authority has been subverted. In his world, now he is the authority in whom the prof. wants validation.

8. Then the author meanders through old lame complaints before getting here –When a person bottoms out they start from zero. They get to recreate the rules.”

Our generation is in desperate need of ‘bottoming out’. We want an antihero who would bring down the ‘system’. But as TLC says, the problem is not the system, the problem is you. (Read the blog cautiously. Very insightful stuff, though cloaked under a high amount of sarcasm, smarty aggression and American references that we might not always be aware of.)

We don’t want to build incrementally or bring in a revolution. We want to ‘recreate the rules’.

9. “So to everyone who is just now inheriting the world…”
Inherited the world. INHERITED.

10. “We’re going to create something. We’re not hippies. We’re something new that has yet to be determined.”

We are desperate to build an identity. But we just can’t choose. So we start with exclusion. ‘we are not hippies.’ We are afraid of concrete realities. Hence we are ‘something’s. We are ‘new’ and ‘creators’. Everyone is an artist.

30 and still a man-child. that’s the N-generation.

Originally published here.

Irresponsible brand #56: Bisleri

Irresponsible brand #56: Bisleri

See these ads -> Bisleri500 Angry bride, Bisleri500 Casanova, Bisleri500 Superhero

Tell me you didn’t find them disturbing. If you did, stop drinking this irresponsible brand, and if it can be helped, bottled water altogether.

Story of the bottled water

If not, let me shepherd out the outrage.
What do you think is the brand trying to do through these ads? Its a classic advertising attack on your current behavior.
Not all behavior change objectives are bad, but they always have a big responsibility – In your quest for increased usage/ preference, you don’t want to bring harm to a culture or people. I believe Bisleri has been tremendously irresponsible in multiple ways.

The behavior shift sought here is that from shared drinking to individualistic drinking. While traveling you would often see us Indians sharing a bottle, sharing food. Sharing is a big part of how Indians define themselves.
However, sharing is perhaps a newer value that India tried to inculcate in its socialist days. Deeper in Indian psyche is the notion of ‘impurity‘ – the impurity of low caste that might pollute your food/ drinks. In marathi the word for a vessel/ plate/ food item that is eaten/ touched by someone else is ‘ushta’. In Hindi, is it ‘zootha’ (false?) All local cultures have a word for this sense of ‘pollution’ of food when it is touched by someone of lower caste.
The socialist ideal sought to change this corrupt culture. The culture of sharing was born in reaction to the divisive culture of caste. And Bisleri goes and sabotages the whole 60 year exercise in undermining the caste structure.

See the reactions of all girls in the ad film. Then see this documentary – ‘India Untouched’. (Every Indian must see this documentary.)

 India untouched

What do you think now? What is Bisleri advocating? Why the outrage? why the slap? Bisleri is asking Indians to react strongly to anyone drinking from ‘your’ bottle.
I work in an advertising firm. Ads try to propel individualism further as it is usually beneficial for brand. But the objective here is not individualism only. The objective is the reaction – a violent reaction. 

Perhaps there is a slight distinction here. The purity sought here (consciously. Though subconsciously this ad will turn the wheels of caste) is not from a caste perspective. Its from the modern phobia of ‘germs’. See any westerner in India – how obsessively they drink only mineral water. They have a valid reason for the same, India is a large dumping ground and hence dangerous to their health. If you drink from tap in Mumbai, you might as well be drinking from sewer. It would be absolutely foolish for anyone to drink from open source water in urban India.
But what has happened is, carrying a mineral water bottle (Plastic) has become a ‘class symbol’. You would see idiots buying and then throwing the plastic bottles near the pristine Himalayan streams in Uttarakhand and Kashmir. Monkey see monkey do – Indian ‘aspirers’ see westerners drinking only from plastic bottles, and then mimic them blindly. (And then restaurants (the modern arbiter of class) use this wonderfully to their advantage where if you ask for tap water, the server would look at you quizzically – as if sizing you up. )

Bisleri is not trying to instill a new culture. It is taking a small culture of fear of these aspirers and then propagating it further.
Why is it always women who get angry in the film? Its not a coincidence. The pallbearer of hygiene and traditions, women are the early adopters Bisleri is after. There’s another insight about Indian women here. You won’t find as many Indian women traveling alone as you would foreigners in India. Why do you think that is the case? Yes, India is a despicable place when it comes to Women safety and hygiene. But how do so many westerners manage it, whereas so many urban Indians cannot? Why do urban women forever live in bubbles of their own? What does it say about us? Perhaps a debate is to be had later.

Finally, I come to the ecological aspect of this brand exercise. What is the ecological cost of a individual plastic bottle used once, shared never? Undoubtedly, the brand is trying to increase its usage – frequency and units (more people more often). So this translates to quadrupling of plastic waste. How is Bisleri going to do its bit to unclog Indian waste?

I believe brands must be taxed for the cultural costs, ecological costs that they outsource to tax payers. Right now the Bisleri500 bottle is priced at Rs. 10. Which does not take into account its ecological cost to Indians. The bottle will wound up in a sewer, clogging it, causing floods. It would stay around for thousands of years polluting the atmosphere. It is undermining traditional practices of water harvesting/ water distribution and even the traditional free tap water distribution systems. (Why do you think, these days so many of the public drinking water faucets are broken or tampered with? The local Bisleri dealer had nothing to do with it?)

Lastly, see the end of all the TVCs. Everyone is as if slapped into behaving in the new 3 step way. Isn’t it time, India slapped brands like these into behaving more responsibly?

P.S. – You might like to join this community started by a friend ‘Planet trash’. and also check out the cool venture called ‘waste ventures‘.