Posts by Ajinkya Pawar

Strategist. Keen on partnering with smart people to help ad industry evolve. https://www.linkedin.com/in/ajinkyapawar/ Student of Marshall McLuhan, Chomsky, Mahashweta Devi, Iain Banks, Hans Rosling... essentially anyone who understands reality with critical eye and has the empathy and imagination to create new better paths to a better world, better ways of living, better ways of being.

Live commerce is inherently anti-humanity.

First-principles.

  1. Live commerce short-circuits desire.
    Live commerce’s raison d’etre is reducing friction between impulse and action. It came into existence because of the phenoenon called ‘cart abandonement’. This happens when people pick stuff to buy, but then don’t complete the transaction. for fashion industry, cart abandonement is 90%, it seems.
    Often because better-sense prevails. An hour logged out from the desiro-rama that is online shopping’s infinite scroll is often enough to turn ‘I NEED that shirt’ to ‘Do I REALLY need that shirt?’
  2. Desire deferred is desire tamed.
    Live commerce = desire untamed.
    That influencer-n-infinite-scroll-free awareness is essential for mindful consumption. Live commerce exists, precisely to turn that into a distant, uncool, inconvenient, unrealistic option.
  3. Live commerce v/s Mindfulness
    Mindful consumption is effectively a break on the growth engine.
    Economic growth in the current paradigm, afterall requires ceaseless, mindless consumption.
    Imagine if people woke up from their stupor and stopped buying clothes, phones, gadgets, cars that they don’t really need.. Mindful people are mindful of what they need, what they desire, why they desire. That consciousness alerts them to their privilege, their impact on the world around, the boundaries of their needs and desires… If these people become a majority, the economic engine of the world will come to a grinding halt.
  4. Mindless consumption is a fuel for climate change.
    Accelerating mindless consumption leads to climate change. For the worse. Undoubtedly.
    And don’t fall for the greewashed promised of recycling and ‘good for earth’ brands. there is this thing called entropy and then there’s this other thing called incentives. neither of them favour true recycling or being truly, completely good for earth, while being mindless.And climate change’s negative impact is detrimental to humanity, not to the planet. The planet will go on. Humanity won’t. (Hence, stop saying ‘Save the Planet’. Start saying ‘Save Yourselves’.)
  5. Live commerce = commerce for a hacked-brain era.
    THe smartest brains in the world are busy unleashing data science and behaviour science to hack our desires, our impulses. Live commerce thrives on removing this barrier called mindfulness and driving us to surrender to our impulses.

Hence,

Live commerce = commerce for a mindless humanity = feast at the end of the world.

2021. The Year of Humanity’s Burn Out.

One of the defining experiences of the pandemic has been the constant anxiety grating at our conscience, not letting us recharge completely – the burnout. The overwhelmed medical fraternity experienced it. So did the migrant workers orphaned from the mai-baap sarkaar. The anxious and overworked security guard felt it. So did the digital worker straining his will along the extended hours of zoom calls. The overworked workers felt it who were saddled with extra workload of all the others who had been fired (sometimes opportunistically to improve short-term margins). So did the unemployed who were truly ‘full time’ occupied with the efforts, concerns, fears and preparations of getting a job/ making a living. Kids felt it who couldn’t go out to play nor could afford quality digital education. So did the women who lost their jobs, were saddled with double the household responsibilities than normal and had to run their uniquely dysfunctional homes even as the regular support systems evaporated.

2021 is truly the year of burn out.

A role to play

We must make sense of our lives. Without the anchor of ‘meaning’, we suffer an existential seasickness as we float uncertainly in the ocean of possibilities. The pandemic tsunami tore at the foundations of our indentity. Who are we if we are not working/ pubbing/ travelling/ minting money…?
Without someone else to tell me/ buy from me/ look at me/ yell at me, do I even matter?
stock market is up, billionaires are in space, acquaintances have been promoted… I MUST be doing something terribly wrong!?

Routines and habits

For many of us, as we retreated into our shells, we lost our rhythm. We realise that the rhythm is not set by us. It is set by the sun, by the weather, by the people around us, by our roles, by our surrounding. As we retreat from them all, we lose our rhythm. Day segues in night. Minutes into hours into weeks. The weight of all the things not-done weighs heavily on our conscience and makes it even harder to return to that rhythm of the previous principled life. Without rhythm, there’s no recuperation, no action, no meaningful progress. There’s just stasis, a hibernation without rest.

The blurred boundary

Public and private; as video calls seeped into our homes and soaked up all its grimy details.
Night and day; as we retreated from the natural world.
Digital and real; as we doomscrolled and revenge-shopped and daydreamed with an existential urgency.
Appropriate and inappropriate; as social mores had to be invented for a new reality of video calls.
Reality and unreality; as we lost our bearings about our place in the world, about our thesis of the world, about trust in our leaders.

Things we mistake/ conflate with freedom

Capitalism taught us HOW to desire, how to socialise, how to express one’s freedom.
Outdoors, SUVs, Drinking without abandon, Eating-out, parties, travelling obsessively, Drinking unhealthy colas, eating shitty burgers, Buying new clothes…. Are we free if we are not doing these things?
People tried to answer that question by buying things, experiences online. Only to discover that buying is a cheap, unsatisfying substitute to what those things actually were only a means to. We misunderstood symbols for the real things. We discovered that there are two kinds of people – one for whom the symbols are enough and that they live in that metaverse. And the other who realised the distinction.

The uncertainty

Cascading uncertainties. Climate change. inequality. fast pace of change with technology and pandemic fuelled new orientation of markets.
There is no certainty in the meta-narratives with these big changes happening around us.
There is no certainty in the micro-narratives of our own little bubbles. the changes are very visibly altering our lives.
The uncertainty, that until now lurked at the edge of our conscience, has taken a solid and heavy presence in our psyche. It is here to stay.

“Insights” as revelations of hidden optionalities

As the world moves faster and drags the advertising industry along with it, the concept of ‘insight’, which resolutely stood at the centre of the advertising industry for long, is appearing blurred.

Often, we find ourselves in meeting rooms sharing a scratch of the head, “what’s an insight, anyways?”. Here’s my take.

What is an insight?

Firstly, when we talk about insights, we are talking with the purpose of effective inception – an ‘a ha’ moment to convince someone of something. (Unlike insight in literature or art where the only subjectivity that matters is that of the creators. And therefore, advertising is not art.)
It is purposive.
It seeks a response/ influence.
It requires an ‘other’ to incept in.
An insight that cannot trigger response is not useful.

Secondly, insight is relative. What is insightful to me might not be insightful for you. What is insightful for me now might not be insightful for me when I am older.

Thirdly, insight illuminates the beyond. People don’t find what they know, insightful. So, the playground of insight starts beyond their knowledge, their feelings, their experiences.  

Simply put, I find something insightful if it was something that I didn’t know before.
I find something exhilarating if I had not experienced it before.
I feel I have grown, only after experiencing something, often a failure, that makes me reassess my previously held beliefs.

Insights push the boundaries of knowledge, feeling, being.

To create an ‘a ha’ moment, we need to drive the person right beyond the edge of his knowledge, his beliefs, his perspectives.

So, it is not enough to know what your consumer knows, feels, believes in. We need to know what the limits of those ideas in their mind and heart are. We need a humanist perspective to expand their boundaries of tolerance, beliefs, knowledge (which is relevant to the brand in question).

Insights as the revelation of a hidden option

A precise purpose of the ‘insight’ then is to convince the consumer to push their boundary; to step beyond their normal; to step beyond their range of feelings. An insight makes an option accessible, that they didn’t know of, or couldn’t access, or didn’t think they deserve it.

An insight is an invitation and encouragement to expand the boundaries of our lives. It propels us to seize an opportunity hidden to us for so long.

An ostrich, an Albatross, a beaver and a phoenix walk into a pandemic…

Ostrich buries its head in the sand.
(actually doesn’t. but metaphically does)
Brands that never got out of the PSA mode. Brands that actually could do something useful, but instead chose to eject platitudes out of their insincere mouths (with those ‘unprecedented times’ and ‘we are here for you’ ads). The Marie-Antoinette of Brands who managed to be tone-deaf inspite of having actual humans running the show.
And then there are brands that actually do amazing commercials – commercials that move you, spur you into action. You wish you had done such ads. But then you realise who the ad is for. A platform of misinformation, an enabler of autocracies (Sheryl Sandberg actually wrote ‘I am fine with this.‘ when shutting down voice of Kurdish minority seeking support while getting bombed by the Turkish strongman. Well, listing all of facebook’s misdeeds would turn into a tome. Read Antisocial Media by Siva Vaidhyanathan instead or An Ugly truth by Sheera Frenkel & Cecilia Kang.)

The majestic flying beast falters.
The mighty flying beast, The Albatross, unaccustomed to walking on ground, much less the uncertain and treacherous ground of pandemic, falters, gets taken advantage of, is jeered at. His giant wings coming in the way of walking, it falters where it could soar.
Airline brands, lifestyle brands, hospitality brands even Healthcare brands… The uncertainty and ugliness of the times cost some businesses heavily, without their own fault. Fate was unkind to them. Many of them chose to be mute when it comes to branding and communications. And it was a wise decision. The time demands us to be useful, to be silent comrades. So when brands could, they did try to be useful. Like hotels turning into health infrastructure, factories manufacturing ventilators, and that’s something to be proud of. No matter the weak sentiment now, the weak performance in stock market for such businesses now, they stand to be repaid in gratitude when situation eases. They need the ramp of digitization, tax breaks to take off again. Hopefully, they will get the help they need in time.

The beaver soldiers on.
The beaver keeps building what he was building before the pandemic. He is stoic and agile. If his dam gets damaged, he promptly gets back to repairing it. There’s no place for sentimentality or pause for him. He has domesticated his feelings and is on work-mode, all the time.
We need the stoics. The FMCG, retail, logistics companies and brands that ensured that the people staying home have access to all necessities and the ones who are desperate find some support, some subsidy.

These are institutions like Tata that stood by their employees unreservedly. These are also brands that pivoted with emerging challenges like Marico prioritising easy to make food categories or FMCG players expanding their hygiene offerings.

These brands find a way to keep going on. They reframe the conversation, and respond to emerging situations as necessary.
These brands also aid in escapes. escape is vital in recovery. As we recover from the pandemic, we need humorous and inspiring escapes. (BurgerKing, Cheetos, etc.)

Here are some examples.

Check out the cannes Lions winner playlist to see more good work.

The phoenix soars out of ashes.
The phoenix that rose in the ashes of pandemic. Well, the metaphor is slightly skewed here. Here, the ashes are external not Phoenix’s own. the phoenix is an opportunist siezing the day, dragging the world ahead in its wake.

Digital platforms. Green energy. Surveillance economy. Meme stocks. The pandemic was a gulf stream of accelerated trends.
When it comes to brand and comms – check out Tesla’s stunts or food aggregator apps’ social presence.

Which acts/ campaigns were phoenix in your perspective?

2+2: Cascades of Capabilities

We are increasing risks, and decreasing our collective capabilities to do something about it.

We are doubling down on singular vision of capabilities at the expense of many.

In a global world, growing increasingly fragile, this can lead to catastrophic failures.

to survive, to grow resilient, we need a new perspective about capabilities. Here’s some thoughts about it.

2+2: Greenwashing

I felt confused recently when a recent Mastercard campaign elicited positive response from a lot of industry veterans on Linkedin. To me, it was quite clearly a greenwashing campaign. I felt that either I am misunderstanding something or people are used to seeing this campaign in a certain way – “Admire me for my cleverness. Don’t bother about the actual intent being communicated.”

So I wrote about the campaign here and improvised a checklist to know better. I would love to learn here. Please let me know if I am mistaken in any way. How can I improve the checklist?

thank you.

Greenwashing extinction

Mastercard’s greenwashing campaign

Donation from this campaign per new card: $1
The average value of a typical gift card: Guessing, more than $100 at least.
CLV of a typical credit card: US$ 3,600 – US$ 48,000
(Fairly rough estimate courtesy of a Quora user. This campaign and gifted cards will likely lead to new user acquisitions beyond the actual card bought. So the likely payoff is much higher.)

PR value: Priceless

Credit card companies are at the very center of the capitalist structure that endangers ecologies by promoting unsustainable growth in consumption.

So this campaign ends up precipitating exactly the opposite of what it intends. It is encouraging needless consumption (worth hundreds of dollars more than the donated amount) while it talks about conservation efforts (which get $1). Do the math.
It gives mindless consumers an easy way out of their guilt.

If this is not Greenwashing, please tell me what is.

Can the ad agencies please stop greenwashing for award considerations?
Also, please tell me if this campaign doesn’t exist, just because someone thought the wordplay on ‘expires’ is amusing.

This is another good reason to do away with Advertising awards. They incentivise disingenuous shit like this.

“Raising awareness”

Do campaigns like these that aim to ‘raise awareness’ really make a dent?

The key questions to know if the campaign has its heart in the right place are –

  1. Who is it aimed at?
  2. What is the Behaviour change/ Call to action?
  3. Who benefits the most out of the exercise?
  4. Consider the total budget of the campaign. Is this the best use of the money for the stated goal?

This campaign is aimed at credit card users among the elite of the world. The call to action is to buy a gift card. 99% of benefit goes to the credit card company. (1$ is nothing compared to CLV of a typical credit card user). The best use of the money, IMHO, would have been to straight away donate the entire amount (the creative agency fees, the cost of PR, the future cost of award entry etc) to the NGO in question.

A better brand would have ensured that –

  1. the campaign be aimed at people whose behaviour change/ act would actually make a meaningful impact for the cause.
  2. The behaviour change is permanent or atleast long enough to see the change through. A better brand would have clear objective of change. Even if the objective is not measurable, it should atleast be definite.
    How many people’s / animals suffering are we a alleviating? What useful information are we spreading among the affected?
  3. The campaign should actually benefit the people it is supposed to be helping more than the brand, in some concrete way. Otherwise it’s just a narcissistic play.
  4. the client should think through about their intentions and costs. Is it the best way to spend this money on this cause?

I know that this campaign was probably born in an agency which thought ‘expiry’ wordplay was interesting. The client was on-board because it didn’t seem like a costly affair to do and might actually help the brand appear more humane. they would have said, ‘what’s the harm?

The brand might not get harmed. but the world does get harmed.
With communications like these, we are spreading a dangerous belief system that sharing, liking or feeling sorry for something for a few seconds makes a difference. The viewer has not been engaged in any meaningful way. So the person remains ignorant, but feels that he is doing something good for the world.

It is perpetuating a fiction – their useless gestures matter. the world is actually running out of time when it comes to climate change. we badly need actual allies, helping actually move the needle on the ground.

it infuriates me to see such mindless drivel being appreciated. Because it sucks away the oxygen for actual meaningful dialog about real issues.

***

The checklist mentioned above, is also available here – https://rewiringchaos.com/2021/06/14/22-greenwashing/