If agencies remain married to ‘ads’, agencies are doomed.

Traditional advertising agencies were essentially amoral tongues on rent.  In the pre-digital age, where there was no other way of knowing the truth (or rumours) about products and brands, advertisements was the only major source of opinion/ information (after WOM) about the product’s usefulness/ efficacy/ likeability.
There was a role for advertising in the lives of people. It was global village’s emissary of good times. It was the window to a new lifestyle. It was the helpful aunt who knows solutions to all our problems. And it was all in good cheery humour. Oh, golly-gee. What a wonderful world advertising was building for people. In a media-starved world, people lapped up the shiny world painted by advertising. The modernist utopia was painted by advertising.

Internet broke that world. It made the world transparent. People could verify claims, could complain, could rally fellow consumes into shaming advertisers who were dishonest. Advertising just didn’t ring true any more. At best they were entertaining distractions. At worst they were insidious worry-mongers who amplified the worst aspects of humanity – misogyny, racism, greed…Mostly they were an annoyance best muted or ignored.

From a brand point of view, ads were not efficient anymore in telling consumers anything they didn’t already know or wanted to know. Advertising simply had lost the plot.

Then came Amazon, facebook and google. And boy did they take the life out of advertising. Many agencies are dead, they just don’t know it yet. They see pitches, dwindling margins as symptoms of economy, politics etc. They don’t see the picture. The disease is different. The disease is ‘death of brands’. And with it, traditional agencies.

People do not need ads anymore to inform/ educate/ convince them about anything. thank you very much. They have google, facebook for that. They stream their brand experience (mostly if it is bad) live on facebook. They pummel the brand social media handlers when brands do a faux pas. They’ve got the power and they know it.

People buy ‘products’ on amazon and flipkart now. They don’t care for brands anymore.
With Amazon’s Alexa and Prime, amazon will ‘seamlessly’ relieve the burden of choices and chore shopping for wealthiest of consumers. That means hello private labels and small players, bye bye big CPG brands.

Sure, some people might continue to believe that they must drink redbull and eat tacos and drive audis and exhibit iphones… but the vast majority of non-lifestyle CPG brands, daily use brands – brand on which we spend most frequently. They will see erosion in their ‘brand value’.

Go niche or go big. There is no middle ground anymore for most brands.

What that means for agencies? Forget the age of ‘lines’ and brand ethos. ‘brand with a purpose’ and ‘lifestyle defining brands’ can only be a handful. Most of agency clients are not these brands.

Agencies of the future need to help most brands become more ‘uniquely useful’ to the consumer. Agencies need to be able to create opportunities and harness unexpected opportunities for brands. Here are some interesting brief to work for.

‘How can we ensure that the consumer searches for my brand name and not the category name when buying on amazon?’

“How can we change the amazon prime habit and get the consumer to buy stuff at my store on his way home?”

How can my brand reach consumer better, quicker, more delightfully than amazon/ google can?

and so on.

The point it, days of ‘lines’ and ‘scripts’ are gone. We must be able to solve real business growth problems and be ready to leverage any medium/ expertise/ experience. If agencies remain married to ‘ads’, agencies are doomed.

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OpenAI is not enough: On why Elon Musk must also disrupt the education system and ignite utopian imagination

Elon Musk is one of the few powerful people in the world who actually cares for the world, has a vision and has the ability to steer the world in conscientious directions. And Elon Musk is worried. He is worried about our probable future overlords – Artificial Intelligence (AI) , and rightly so. (“Not all AI futures are benign.“) And his response to that threat is characteristically ambitious and well targeted. He has started two new ventures in that field – Neuralink and OpenAI. Neuralink hopes to create ‘neural lace’ that removes the middleman of hardware between our thoughts and computing power. OpenAI hopes to democratize research about AI so that the advances of the technology are evenly distributed.
I am interested in this promise of OpenAI. Access to technology gives one power. And the currently powerful people, can buy access for themselves and create false barriers of access for others to technologies that are powerful. And OpenAI hopes to subvert that dynamic. The wish to democratise access to knowledge is at the very source of the Open movement. But for the wish to be fulfilled, much more needs to be done than OpenAI.

As it stands now, the two companies, by design, will only contribute to acceleration of AI adoption among elite without actual democratisation. OpenAI stops short at making the advances public, without ensuring that the public has the capability or intent of using those technologies. The current educational infrastructure is tremendously inadequate to educate enough people who could take the research at OpenAI and do something with it. Also, there is the issue of convenience and intent. Look for example, the promise of ‘sixth sense‘. Its been 7 years since that technology went open, but we don’t see people leveraging it widely. Or take the case of 3D printing. It was supposed to revolutionise manufacturing – but it didn’t.

Secondly, look at the world – everyone is building walls. To an extent that is inevitable.What happens to technologies in a world full of walls and xenophobia? Technology gets weaponized and secretive, not open.  

Like I said, there are two key issues here – capability and intent.

First, we need people to have skills in applied sciences with capabilities to leverage AI tech. Second, we need to show people the positive future that they can be a part of. We need people with imagination to dream of positive futures, before we can make the positive futures true. This will help in making it convenient and desirable for people to be part of this open alternate system for AI knowledge.

In both the cases of sixth sense and 3D printing, there simply was not enough public will to disrupt their existing lifestyles in favour of a more empowering tech that is less convenient. They were not emotionally moved by these tech’s promises. In absence of emotional will, people always choose convenience over empowerment. That is the great threat that Aldous Huxley warned us against in his ‘Brave New World’.   People will choose Soma that is detrimental over inconvenient though beneficial changes, because that is in service of prevalent power structures. Status-quo must be maintained, until it becomes unsustainable – That is the rule of the game. People and the power centers are geared for this behavior.

Musk understands the power of convenience well. His wealth is built with his ideas that made transactions convenient (Paypal), alternative fuel convenient and desirable (Tesla). So he is well positioned and capable to do the things necessary to make OpenAI’s promise a reality.

So Elon Musk, please invest in world’s (not US alone, since the promise is that of equality) educational infrastructure.
And secondly, propagandists/ strategists like me can help in making OpenAI a part of our cultural fabric, so that its adoption becomes easy. We need utopian ideas that people get motivated with – ideas that people want to be part of, to participate in. And this is where the strategy would be very different from any of the Elon Musk companies before. You would actually need to do propaganda/ marketing for this to work. We need utopian ideas that ignite people with imagination, for this to work.

Future of work

In response to a quora question – Future- How will the future of businesses and management look like and what changes should we expect?

1. Jobs for the Hyper-specialised

2. Second economy = computers transacting, interacting with other computers. the economy that is completely run by computers and algorithms, with little human support. Read this excellent article from HBR. I have taken inputs from it liberally to answer this question. Second economy will be worth $7.6 Trillion by 2025.

2. Future of robots replacing the workers – 100 million workers to be replaced in US alone by 2025, where the total workforce today is 146 million.

What this means is, the world as we know it will have to change – culturally, economically, physically for a peaceful future. The second economy is inevitable to a certain extent. It will replace jobs and no new jobs will be created. The prosperity created would be accessible to fewer and fewer people. Most of us will lose out. For a peaceful future, perhaps the governments would have to consider a golden mean of expanded social security + lifestyle allowances for the vast majority of people, and high taxes for the controllers of the vast systems.

3. Very high rates of change – As it is, we find it difficult to keep up with the changes affecting our work – may it be managers or workers – newer systems, newer softwares, newer ways of doing things. The rate of change will only accelerate here after.

This poses problems not only for the employed (increasing pressure to keep up. besides how many would be ready to compete in such a scenario?), but more so for the unemployed. There simply would not be enough jobs for unskilled/ semi-skilled people.

CEOs and CXOs shouldn’t be too smug. Even managerial positions would very likely be occupied by algorithms and servers. There will be an app for everything.

4. An Alternative to central bank money – Globalisation and intelligent algorithms = consolidated control in the hands of a few people. Which means concentration of money in a few pockets. Which means, for the vast majority, for their lives to have a meaning, their lives need to divorce from the current currency of money. P2P, bitcoin money could actually be the spiritually and technologically relevant form of money for future.

5. Media and communications will become the most important industries – To control perceptions, mass trends, mass opinions.

In the immediate future..

1. Importance of Social media influencers – directors of curiosities. Makers of sense of ever burgeoning mass of choices and information.

2. Loss of ‘security’: high churn and abrasive growth of ‘Human resources’. Social security weakened.

3. Predatory giant corporations:

a. Amazon started it. Their policy of pricing for a loss to edge out the competition has become the mantra for most big corporations. Before internet, this would have affected a retailer in a city. Now, such policy affects business across industries across the world. Amazon is making retailer businesses insecure across the world. They hope for retailers across the world to shutter down in a few years so that they could enjoy monopoly later on. Same strategy is used by Flipkart, OLA and so on.

Look at OLA for a second. It under prices local taxi drivers. OLA Taxi drivers get subsidy over the fare earned. This unfair advantage is pushing out local taxi businesses. In the short term, it is good for the consumers – with low fares, good cabs, good service… but in the long term, who is stop the monopoly of OLA to charge consumer thrice the amount of a normal fair? The payout to drivers too is not consistent. In a short period of a year, the payout policies and amounts have varied tremendously. (according to a few drivers I spoke to.. apparently it was a healthy sum a year ago, 6 months ago they stopped paying subsidy.. ad hoc opportunistic policies).

Essentially, we are encouraging assholes to run 21st century businesses.

b. Qualities such as kindness, consideration of human life outside of their job role are already absent from much of the work places. The newer breed of startups such asapple, Uber, Zomato have a terrible moral compass. They see nothing wrong in hiring and firing indiscriminately. They see nothing wrong in finding loopholes in policies and laws to earn more money at the cost to the wider world. They see nothing wrong in being ridiculously selfish. This has spawned a new culture of impunity and apathy in the search of rapid growth of riches.

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Originally published here

‘What will our life be like in 2065?’

This entry is in response to a quora question – What will life to be like 50 years from now?

Future gazing is tricky because, we can affect it to an extent. And ‘we’ don’t act unilaterally, and ‘we’ don’t comprehend the ‘extent’ of our acts and our limitations.
Having said that, here are some trends, in no particular order, which might continue for the next 50 years.

1. Climate change
Humanity has dug its own grave with 2 of earth’s 9 ecological boundaries in the red zone. Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet.
There is no doubt that our efforts of survival against climate change will shape our life in future. Again, since there is no unified ‘we’, we humans compete against each other. So there will be winner and there would be losers. Rich have an upper hand – escape from shrinking shores, access to machines to compensate for toxic weather (Air purifiers and ACs for example), money to buy scarce resources (water, food etc.). The poor will undoubtedly suffer the most. The next big wars would be fought for survival.

So if you are rich, your life would be lived in well-defined cocoons of some sort. If you are not so rich, a major part of your life will be spent in hospitals/ working overtime to pay the bills/ being an eco-refugee.

  1. Globalisation

Globalisation has far reaching consequences. It is now irreversible and entrenched. The power is increasingly getting concentrated in the hands of fewer people. ‘Interests’ of a few corporates, financiers and nations now dictate global flow of money and events. Many of today’s events (rise of ISIS, middle class’s rising prosperity, disenfranchised aboriginals across the world, weakened labour forces, secret global deals and so on) are directly an effect of Globalisation.

Read Noam Chomsky for better appreciation of what has been happening. Start here.

Effect on life: Your life will be affected by people and events far removed from you. For example, the economic meltdown in US had a direct impact on my paycheque six years ago. This trend will only strengthen.
You might have to go farther and farther in search of jobs, as disparity between wealth of people from metros and non-metros widen.

New technology is being continuously created in service of the richer class. The benefit to the poorer people is largely accidental.

Read ‘A brave new world’ by Aldous Huxley for a taste of the world we are heading to. It is a bit dramatized and extreme vision of the trends, but a good indicator of our life in future.

  1. Rising Inequality

Globalisation enables the middle class to prosper on one hand, while making the workers/ labourers more vulnerable. It is easier for the rich to get richer, quicker. The access to tools (such as internet, public transport) while democratising to an extent, is leveraged more strongly by the more powerful. (Internet was a haven for minorities and persecuted in its infancy. Now it is the eyes of the big brother governments and worse, the giant corporates.)

Effect on life: Disaffection with life. Rise of media, drugs and such other opiates to keep the masses from revolting.
If you are from a marginalised community, your identity will be eventually ‘sanitized’. The future is one massive mass of homogenous people.
Read here to understand who will succeed in the rat race of survival in the future.

  1. Loss of privacy
    Prism surveillance program

Ever present and larger powers (governments, corporates) will control individuals and know about your thoughts, actions, routines, interests and so on. If you are inconsequential, then this might not bother you, but if you are in some way annoying to the global system, then the lack of anonymity will be the noose around freedom’s neck.

Check out the excellent, albeit dark, TV series ‘Black Mirror’ that paints a grim picture of our lives in future.

  1. Rise of the machines
    a. Humans will rely more and more on machines.
    b. Humans will become redundant in most of the workplaces. HBR’s article on AI
    c. AI will be integral to the system of the globalised world
    d. Reduction in human dignity, empathy

    6. The Culture is dead. Long live the culture.

Most likely new interactive technologies will be leveraged by the powerful to homogenize identities and your experiences. What I mean by that is, cultures will be flattened, and there will be less number of languages, customs, and rituals. You will belong to either of the handful of religions. You will be speaking in one of the few hundred languages. You will share the same holidays with the rest of world. (Bye bye gudi padwa, hello Christmas.)

New immersive Medias and interactions will create new global rituals and experiences. People across the world will live in identical cities, eating identical Mcburgers, dying of identical cardiovascular diseases.

False identity markers must be created to give a sense of solid identity to individuals. And this is where brands and marketers will come to play. Supermarkets are the new temples. And brands are the chosen gods of affirmation. My career as an advertising guy has a bright future. (Well, almost.)

Here’s something to read about the future of ideas.

7. Connected and opiated mind

These days we are most fascinated with advancement in Interface technologies… touch screens, virtual reality, 3d printing, and tactile sense transmission and so on. The sum total effect of it will be for you to be ever connected to your job, your government, and your brands. You will be inured to the experience of bondage. You will expect and want your thoughts being governed by these large gratifying forces.

  1. Man will be root-less.
    Globalised world is corrosive to simplistic myths and beliefs that help men make sense of their world. He is reminded every day that what he knows is incomplete and wrong. His heroes, customs, symbols are under threat. To protect his sanity, he will either fight or become root-less – adrift in the all-consuming vortex of globalised despair.
  2. Health

Rich will live healthier and far longer. The poor might live longer too, but pollution, lack of public support will run down most poor people of the world. Rich people will have AI enhanced bodies and minds.

10. Powerful Corporates subverting national structures
Corporates will become more important than nations. Few billionaires would have outsized impact on policy making through either direct interference (what is called ‘lobying’) or through philanthrocapitalism.

  1. Demographic spanner in the wheels

    Read this excellent article from WSJ about demographic trend of the world through 2050.
    My broad stroke implications from that work :
    a. Rich countries will have elderly people living with robot assisted services. Indians and Africans will make up a sizable chunk of labour for these advanced nations.
    b. Poorer countries such as India and African nations will face demographic pressure – large population, inadequate infrastructure, low productivity of labour. If education and skill building becomes a priority, then perhaps these countries might grow in influence, with improvement in lives of people. Otherwise, the under prepared young would be ready fodder for sectarian/ identity/ resource based skirmishes, wars, agitations and what not.

So in sum,

You will be root-less, consequence less, in search of meaning. You will be heavily under the influence of opiates of some kind – either concerns about sport teams, music, movies or buzzfeed listicles. (And drugs too, obviously. A root-less (spiritually bankrupt) man must dissolve himself in spirits.) What this means is, you will most probably find purpose in abstractions, the finer things in life, while your actual life is being completely out of your control.

You might enjoy a few technologically advances, but the more powerful will always have a stronger leverage on that technology than an individual.

But all is not lost. What one needs to appreciate is the fact that we now have the power to define the course of our future, to an extent. Fight the forces NOW for your right of privacy, of dignity, of access to good health and education. What you must do for a better life tomorrow is fight today.

There is hope in democracy 2.0. With digital technology, let’s empower democracy and thereby empowering individuals.

Inventing indulgent future for the rich

Saw this promotional video for Bosch’s automated driving system. There are similar efforts being attempted by other corporates too, notably Google.
But here again, I feel corporates are trying to answer the wrong question.

‘In the future’ – we shouldn’t need to travel unless we desire to travel (that is to say, travel only for leisure and not because you must to earn your bread). Our scientific endeavors need to be geared to completely remove commutes from our lives. In which case, driving would become an activity largely undertaken for leisure.
But the fact remains, the way our economy is geared, people must leave there homes and travel greater and greater distances to bigger and bigger cities to earn. In China alone, 120 million youngsters leave their homes to find jobs in a year.
Why is globalization only aiding economy and not human will? (Jobs migrating to cheaper and cheaper venues, forcing people to migrate towards jobs. As against, people moving to different places on their own volition without economic coercion facilitated by globalized economies that only aid mega-corporates.)
In the age of cloud-this and cloud-that, why do we still need to commute to earn? Why are companies not trying to reduce commutes and are instead are trying to automate commutes? Even Google, which is in the business of cloud this-that.

We need our best minds to focus on the way we are going to work together, live together; not on the way we indulge ourselves.

P.S.
Also, where are all the new cars going to go? the virus like expansion of cars on our roads will make it astronomically costly in future to own/ operate one. only a few would be able to afford mobility. Drive around Delhi and know what a dystopian future of road looks like. there are no more roads for more and more cars! We will be forced to de-incentivize individual driving.  

Why invent for a future that is not going to present itself ever? why invent for indulgence of the rich?

What good are Google glasses? OR How tech companies can choose not to be evil.

Why invent Google glasses?
Here’s Sergey Brin trying to answer that question.

Doesn’t his argument seem a little unconvincing – a weak reason to deploy the best of the brains on the planet and 3 years worth of efforts.
The primary pivot of his argument is the glass’ ability to improve social posture (?). He talks about how when interacting with your cell phone, you look down, away from the rest of the world. How when nervous, one fiddles with cell phone to escape the real world.
So how is Glass a solution? It is an even more ‘evolved’ tool to keep the outside world ‘out’!

Ok, so Glass frees your hands. for what? for better documentation of our narcissism? These series of innovations (social media, smart phones, glass) are answering the most base yearnings of our narcissistic behavior.

When you look down, at least there’s that bit of honesty – ‘yes, I am looking away from you. Sorry for my awkward inability to be social.’ With Glass, how honest are you with your interactions in the real world, if you are constantly mindful of the online world at the corner of your eye. (Social media is the magical mirror for the narcissists. Google glass makes the narcissism even more intimate.) Obsessive Facebook users know the urge to check notifications. Imagine that with Glass.

Watch ‘Black Mirror’s this episode for another perspective of how this tech might evolve. (Must see the whole series. work of genius.)

More importantly, I feel that technology giants like Google and Apple can’t really prioritise well. The world has stepped back and given the mantle of technological progress to these few companies it seems. There is this unfortunate tendency where excellence in one aspect is taken to mean a general quality of excellence – cricketers as politicians, businessmen as policymakers… wrong wrong assumption.

Human ingenuity can certainly do much better than what Google or Apple have done. Well, to begin with, we need to get our priorities right.

The starting point should not be ‘what can technology do?‘. Because, it is with questions like these that Google Glass gets created and one has to see Sergey Brin trying to force fit a weak reason for its creation after the product idea had already been thought of.
Perhaps, the starting point should be ‘what do we really need right now and how can technology help us get it?’

We don’t need more ways to shut off people, we need more ways to be confident in our social interactions.
We need to be able to protect what is sacred & personal to us. (Hence always opt-in as default, not opt-out option as default.)
We need control over what we say, do, hear, see.
We need a better understanding of what we consume and how it affects the world.
We need technology that doesn’t eliminate another human being from interaction/ work/ jobs.
We need technology that  doesn’t increase the gulf between the haves and have-nots.

We need a non-Luddite, but a realist, humanist manifesto for technology companies to follow. To not be evil means eternal vigilance of the effect of one’s own actions.
Companies are eager to ‘lead the change’, ‘make a dent in the universe’, but with what effect? with what cost?
Apples and Oranges of the world need to think not only of the superior interface designs, but also about how the ones who cannot afford these elitist fruits would react to this new exclusion? How is it making obsession about trivial material issues fashionable and what does it mean to our ecology, social interactions, our economy?
If you do not want to be evil, be a little more circumspect.

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Originally published here.