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Bad Apple

November 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Okay, fine, Steve Jobs was a great man. Or something. And he was also often an asshole. But the eulogy by his sister published in the NYT is just so, so completely cringe-inducingly embarrassing. It’s perfectly normal for family, especially family that didn’t get a chance to live as a ‘normal’ family, to over-compensate at important times like at births/weddings/deaths, but to publish it in a newspaper is just – setting yourself up for some serious criticism. When the public mood shifts (and it already has moved from mass shock and universal grief to eye-rolling at the shock and grief), you’re either going to end up as the over-maudlin sister or the opportunistic sibling.

And I find it silly especially because I’ve never been an Apple fanboi. Their products don’t “just work” for me the way Google’s do. The interfaces are not intuitive to my mind. My eyes are not bothered by clutter but stimulated by it, so I find their products uninspiring-ly simple. And I don’t want the machine itself to “get out of the way” – the machine is part of the fun! I *like* tinkering with the innards, and like how Windows PCs are the equivalent of an industrial loft with the exposed heating pipes and vents, but Apple products are the stark beauty of an empty, freshly painted room. I’m a New Yorker, really – I like exposed brick and pipes and industrial things. The empty room evokes nothing more than a sanitarium or a lunatic asylum to me, or at best, a suburban house expecting some crappy Rooms-to-Go furniture. On the other hand, I *do* want things to work in intuitive ways and for me not to have to re-learn everything or create workarounds for presumably basic tasks. I want to be able, therefore, to connect an iDevice to a computer and transfer stuff both *from* and *to* the iDevice without having to download third-party and illegal software.

For instance, iCloud and iOS5. Given that cloud computing has been around at least from 1996 when Hotmail was first launched, and really took off at least 13 years ago with Yahoo Briefcase and Gmail and Google docs, etc., Apple had absolutely no excuse waiting until 2011 to release their version – that is simply not what an ‘innovative’ company is supposed to do. And oh, Apple definitely NEVER had an excuse for needing everyone buying their phone to have a computer. Let me repeat that, because the absurdity of this situation hasn’t really got the coverage it deserves: in order to use your “smart” iPhone, you need to ‘sync’ it with a computer! The first time you open the shiny new box and unwrap your shiny new iPhone, you won’t be able to use it for at least an hour (or longer) while you download iTunes onto your computer and then make oh, about 200 selections and key in your credit card details to create an Apple ID, etc. and set up your phone. If enough noise had been made about this, surely we’d’ve had muggers waiting outside homes that had little white boxes delivered to them, because you can’t even call 911 before you create an Apple ID.

And now that they’ve launched iCloud a century after everyone else and to some mega fanfare, it still doesn’t work half as seamlessly as it should. I updated my iPhone4 to iOS5 recently (by tethering it – and myself – to my computer for 2 hours and restarting my laptop twice during that time). Out of no where, iOS5 created an encrypted backup file of my phone’s contents with a password. Some random password. So I couldn’t use my phone and its existing settings. I tried all possible password options, wondering if the software picked one that came right out of Mr. Jobs’ (or is it Saint Jobs yet?) innovative ass: my Apple ID password, my phone lock screen password, my iTunes password, my computer’s password (it’s a Macbook. I am totally masochistic, of course, why do you ask?), my Gmail password, my Seamlessweb password (just because I use that so often) and my Amazon password (just because – well, isn’t the new Kindle Fire supposed to beat the pants off the iPad?). Nothing worked. And it wasn’t just this one instance. When I updated P’s phone, an iPhone 4, using his work laptop and the iTunes on that PC, it was the exact same issue, even though I had created an encrypted backup of his phone and saved the password *before* downloading iOS5. This time, the software wouldn’t just create its own password in the absence of one – it overwrote my created password and denied us access to our perfectly-functional phones. Both times, we’ve had to restore our phones and thereby destroying all the app architecture (app folders, which app is one which screen, etc.) and the settings and the screens and the contact files, etc. And using up precious hours of my life.

And the new iCloud? I couldn’t figure out how to sync Google contacts onto my phone and/or to iCloud. So I looked it up, and apparently there’s this incredibly complicated, back-ass-wards workaround which makes sense because the creators of iCloud (Apple) basically want everyone to start everything from scratch and make it as hard as possible to re-use and re-purpose their systems. So now I have contacts from my Macbook on my phone: and these are crappy contacts, really – the Macbook contact system basically clubs together all ’email-only’ contacts which don’t have a name or phone number into arbirtary sets of three. It sticks weird email addresses together like misfits at a party with bad seating planning, like a plumber I once emailed, with my ex-ex-boss, with P, in one contact. And the only way to set this right is to add a name to the contact of EVERY person I’ve ever emailed, or to go into these 300-odd ‘contacts’ and delete two of the three email addresses. Ugh. It’s as painful as it sounds. Why couldn’t these guys just offer the exact same option as before, to just sync Gmail contacts along with the email and calendar? Or if the whole confusion was in creating two sync sources, why not just make the address-book a super-set, like it was earlier, and you could see either ‘all my contacts’ or ‘all gmail contacts’ or ‘all exchange contacts’? WHAT is so complicated about giving that option? Or is it just not pretty enough?

It’s like earlier, when I wanted to get the latest version of a software I was using, I was told it’s no longer available on CD. It’s only available as a download on the Mac App Store. Alrighty, I said, fine, I’ll download it. But whoa there. To get anything from the Mac app store, you can’t just go to the Apple website and click a ‘download here’ button. No – you need to download an ‘app store’ client. Okay, fine. I set out to do so, but I couldn’t. You see, I needed Mac OS Lion for even downloading the ‘app store’ client, it wasn’t supported on my 18-month old Mac OS X. Basically, I needed to overhaul my entire operating system to get a piece of software I wanted. Even if I wanted it that badly (I didn’t) that I was ready to overhaul my operating system (which, given past experience, will take 1 day to backup my data and 5 days to download and de-bug the software and re-learn all the settings and re-customize it for my needs, so is in effect a week-long project during which I will not have use of my laptop, which is unthinkable)…..where was I? Oh, yes: even if I was ready to upturn my life and install Lion, I couldn’t. Why? Because Lion is also download-only. From the Mac app store. Hahahahahaha.

Of course, there is a workaround. I could go to an ebay reseller, or to a small, unnoticed section on the Apple website, and buy a CD for Mac OS Snow Leopard. That OS was launched a year before Lion (I think). I could only install Lion if I already had Snow Leopard (my 18-month old Operating System was not just past its generation, it was a Grandparent already. Look how time flies!) This is because Lion is built on the skeleton of Snow Leopard, not Mac OS X. The equivalent in simple language would be if you wanted to upgrade from a Toyota Camry to a Lexus, and the dealer told you you would first need to trade in your Camry for a Prius, learn everything about the Prius, transfer your stuff there, drive it round for a bit, get used to it for a week, *then* trade in your Prius for a Lexus, also, btw, taking the finacial hit of buying BOTH the Prius *and* the Lexus.

So, yeah. Steve Jobs may have been – and was – a brilliant guy. And I’m the first person to decry products made by committee or by market research. But even brilliance needs an editor, and brilliant products need to be put through a logic testing phase or through market qualification. Not to have great sales – no, I think Apple’s numbers speak for themselves – but to avoid user frustration. And to avoid me having to spend energy on long blog rants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Zoya Factor

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Just finished re-reading the excellent chick-lit “The Zoya Factor“. For the record, I have no major qualms about using the word (phrase?) ‘chick-lit’ to describe the broad genre of easy-breezy reads involving contemporary-to-the-times characters, a female protagonist – a usually ditsy and often extremely insecure female protagonist – dealing with relationship issues, presented to the reader with situational, self-directed humor, and involving a happy ending. I wish we could come up with a slightly less condescending name, but I can live with ‘chick-lit’ because it captures the spirit of the books themselves – irreverent, playful, self-deprecating. It’s the covers of these chick-lits – uniformly involving red stilettos, ‘cartoon’ drawings on the cover, primary/pastel colors – that usually get my goat. And the utterly boring, predictable plots that some of them have – seriously, even if it is ‘chick-lit’, you still need to put in *some* work, Ms./Mr.Author!! Oh, and yes, the irritating stupidity of the heroines, who just can’t seem to handle the fact that they have actual brain cells in their heads.

But The Zoya Factor is not irritating. The Zoya Factor is not thoughtless. For the most. And Zoya, the protagonist, is sily, but not teeth-grinding-inducingly stupid. I love that it is set in the familiar world (for me) of advertising/marketing. I love that it involves a seriously ambitious love interest – it doesn’t get bigger than the captain of the Indian cricket team. Oh, and did I say the humor is spot-on?

I’m not going to review this one thoroughly, because there isn’t much to review – it’s a pretty straightforward story that makes fun of ‘India shining’ while also being reclaiming ‘India shining’ for itself, in the whole Luck-by-Chance/Om-Shanti-Om style. Anuja Chauhan, the author (who’s from my college!! WHEEE!!!), doesn’t waste too much space setting context or even background for Nikhil Khoda, and with good reason. Her secondary characters are excellent, the love story holds your interest, the conflict could’ve been better – it is contrived in places, but not terribly irritating, so I’ll let that go. And the romantic pay-offs are superb.

Oh, and Nikhil Khoda has to be the dishiest romantic hero EVER. Really. He’s in Rhett Butler/Mr.Darcy league. That is all.

Anuja does the cricket well, though I do wish she’d spent just a little more time, but that’s a personal preference. Of course, she does the cricket-and-advertising pitch perfectly (see what I did there?), she does cricket-as-national-religion and cricketers-under-pressure pretty well. She’s also incorporated the whole Greg Chappell-Saurav Ganguly-Jagmohan Dalmiya fiasco, leaked email and all. Unfortunately (for me), she takes Chappell’s side very, very unambiguously, and makes Ganguly and Dalmiya look like buffoons. During the controversy, I’d felt – along with most Indians – that the Australian-import Chappell was being totally unfair to Ganguly, so here I will need to disagree with Chauhan. But of course, she probably has loads of better information. Maybe the former Indian captain was a shoe-stealer and weight-thrower during her Pepsi shoots? And this was her way of getting the perfect revenge? And maybe Red Chillies optioned for movie rights *after* Ganguly was out of KKR? Huh? Huh?

Because the script hews closely to actual current events, it’s fun to play guess-who. Khoda is Dhoni, despite the author’s protests. Sorry, but I just.do.not.see a ‘younger, unspoilt Rahul Dravid’ there. If anything, I can see a bit of Ganguly in the arrogance. Of course, Khoda is too metrosexual, dripping sophistication, compared to M S Dhoni’s earthy-cool. But the records are similar, and there’s just too many parallels.

Harry/Hairy is very likely a mix of Harbhajan and Yuvraj Singh (‘cut surd’, juvenile antics, aggressive on-field, etc.). Zaheer Pathan is, of course, Irfan Pathan, who was looking really good in 2005-6 when she was likely writing the book. Soon after, his luck turned south: but he’s been immortalized in the book, good for him! I’m guessing the others: Monita-Rinku-Chachi-Zoravar-Papa-etc are from Chauhan’s family/friends/acquaintances circle.

And now that the movie is being made, these are my picks for casting choices:

Zoya Singh Solanki:

  1. Preity Zinta, 10 years ago, would be my top pick. And if Aamir Khan can play a 17-year old in 3 idiots, why can’t Preity Zinta play a 27-year old lead? I would totally cast her. With crazy curly hair, of course.
  2. Amrita Puri. She could do the ditzy stuff well, and of course be Karol-Bagh-Solanki to the tee. And I *think* she could pull off the advertising executive work – but that needs to be seen.
  3. Konkana Sen Sharma. I can see her do both the ad-exec and the Karol-Bagh thing well. But she’s probably a bit too self-possessed to do the ditzy stuff. Well, she’s an actor, who knows. But this would be an interesting choice.
  4. Anushka Sharma. But I’m so, so tired of her being the Punju babe.
  5. Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor, etc. – too urbane. But who knows, maybe they can pull off this role.

Nikhil Khoda – oh you dreamy, dreamy man.

  1. Farhan Akhtar. Top pick, hands down. Looks like a sportsman. Can totally do the intense, brooding “leader of men” thing. And looks dishy, oh, so dishy (forgive me, I just re-watched Luck by Chance recently!). Can do the romantic/angry/sexy scenes SO WELL. And is probably one of the three ONLY actors in Bollywood who can say ‘musical soiree’ and ‘pyromaniac’ without sounding like he had to practice in front of his bathroom mirror for days (the other two being, maybe, Abhay Deol and Shah Rukh Khan).
  2. John Abraham. Needs to stand up straighter to pull off the sportsman thing. And has been playing too many wing-man roles for me to be able to picture him as Alpha Male quite as well. But he does have potential.
  3. Siddharth (the guy in Rang De Basanti). Intense, brooking, blah, blah blah. Also, looks a lot like a younger Dhoni, but pseud-er, which is what we’re looking for. I just can’t picture him being masterful enough, but you could probably compensate with camera angles or background score or something.
  4. Imran Khan. In a pinch. Can’t act for nuts – yet. Especially not the angry/intense scenes. But he looks the part.
  5. Ranbir Kapoor – NO NO NO. He’s over-exposed, and a real-life d*ck. He’ll totally make the movie about himself, instead of supporting the woman lead. Doesn’t look the part ONE bit (dark, sportsman, intense, etc.). Can act all right, but is – and looks – too entitled to be a hungry-to-prove-himself-rookie-Indian-skipper. I only added him to the list because there’re rumors doing the rounds that he’s playing Khoda. Please, SRK, NO!! Don’t destroy Nikhil Khoda for me!
  6. Hrithik Roshan – Not really. Too old, for one. And too, too good looking. But he has magic, and can probably pull off the role better than others who’re more suited for it.

So that’s my take. Can’t wait for the movie, especially since Reema Kagti is supposed to be working on the screenplay (SQUEEEEEE!!!!).

Lorenz attractors

November 22, 2009 Leave a comment

The problem with picking marketing/brand management as a career is that your earning potential is definitely capped. It’s like picking supply chain management as a career option – even the absolute best experts in the field, the people right at the 90th percentile and above, only earn about twice that of someone just starting out. In brand management, the ratios are slightly better since general management is infinitely more accessible, but even the GM in my Southern company makes only ~$200K as his base pay (and add another ~$300K or so as a bonus).

This is totally different from, say, finance. Or even sales. If you’re an entry-level sales person, or someone without the best pedigree or connections, you start out as a door-to-door salesperson or someone selling sabun to kirana stores, making the equivalent of ~$50 a day. Slightly better educational qualifications, or slightly better connections, keep getting you higher in the food chain – to pharma sales, to CPG/FMCG sales, to regional sales/distributorships, to financial sales, to the investment banking sales/trading floor. In the last category, a person 5+ years in earns ~$5-10 Million per year, about 300X of the door-to-door salesperson.

I can’t think of the equivalent ‘big bang for your buck’ niche in marketing.

Women typical use considerations like work/life balance, etc. when picking a career – even us ‘high-powered alpha women’ from ultra competitive business schools. Which is why brand management is a disproportionately favorite choice for so many of us. This means we think short-term, and forget the long-term career-long implications of our decisions – we earn less than our classmates for ever, even if the (often male) classmates weren’t all that great to begin with, they quickly overtake us in earning power because of that career line advantage. Marketing therefore gets us on the mommy track before motherhood/families even get a chance to hit us.

And this is the kind of stuff one should be taught to analyze in business school – not double-entry bookkeeping. Or, you should be smart enough to figure this out before you go about picking a career. Clearly, you get the profession you deserve!

Categories: diary, management, marketing

Cool FAIL by Burger King – again

July 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Russ Klein evidently spent his childhood ringing the doorbells of neighbors and running away and got caught plenty. Or John Chidsey, CEO of Burger King, had friends who did that, and he never got the guts to do so himself, so he’s making up for it now (no surprises here, apparently: “We want to stay on the cutting edge of pop culture,” says CEO John Chidsey, 44, whose office is lined with photos of himself with celebrities from Sheryl Crow to Tiger Woods.).

First off, you can’t be entirely cool-based if you’re aiming to be a high market share brand selling at a low price point for your category. That’s way too many things at once for too many people.
And second, One can be ‘kewl’ or edgy without falling off the edge entirely, really. Someone please show this awesomely written article to Burger King, stat:

Burger King’s MO: Offend, Earn Media, Apologize, Repeat

CHICAGO (AdAge.com) — How’s this for a global marketing strategy? Each month target a different international market with an ad that offends some segment of the population, then, after earning a lot of media attention, apologize and pull the ad.

That’s the pattern of offense Burger King has established in the past few months. Most recently, the fast feeder had cultural and religious groups screaming today in the latest installment of what has become a series of monthly melees. A few hours after an ABC News reported that ads in Spain depicted the Hindu goddess Lakshmi atop a ham sandwich — with the caption “a snack that is sacred” — Burger King announced that it would pull the ads. Many Hindus are, of course, vegetarian.

According to the statement: “Burger King Corporation values and respects all of its guests as well as the communities we serve. This in-store advertisement was running to support a limited-time-only local promotion for three restaurants in Spain and was not intended to offend anyone. Out of respect for the Hindu community, the in-store advertisement has been removed from the restaurants.”

This has all become familiar. In April, Burger King pulled and said it would revise a European TV spot for its Texican Whopper that had proved offensive to Hispanics. In it a small, masked wrestler draped in a Mexican flag was carried around by a tall gent in jeans and a cowboy hat. Parents expressed dismay in the chain’s online promotion of “Star Trek” in May, in which the chain’s iconic King character kicked a succession of people in the crotch. Last month brought “The 7-incher,” a promotion in Singapore for a long, fat burger that was sure to “blow your mind away.” A woman’s head with an awed, open mouth accompanied the picture of the sandwich.

Emphasis mine above. So they did put out and them withdraw the ads that were offensive to Hindus and to Hispanics. Good for that. Of course, they never withdrew the advertisements that were offensive to women (Pshaw! Our ‘superfan’ is 18-34 MALE, y’know!) – e.g. the woman’s head ad (also called the ‘blow-up doll’ ad: here), or the pedophilic Spongebob Squarepants ad (here).

My issue here is not just that the advertising is provocative, or that it’s really insulting – my bigger problem here is that the advertising is SO pointless! It’s (A) bad, (B) ineffective advertising that is (C) NOT built around a solid insight and (D) does not communicate any real benefit. The (E) drama is all misplaced, and the (F) branding is really non-existent. Finally, (G) there’s really poor benefit vizualization – and the (H) execution is poor – the food looks unappetizing!

Any one of the eight strikes above, and at P&G – or where I work now – we’d’ve been forced back to the drawing board. I can just imagine the Burger King ads being shown at a advertising workshop as an example of ‘how to spend Millions of $$ and not communicate effectively’.

Look at the Spongebob ad, for instance – at the end of 30 seconds all you remember are square butts on little girls, and a sick Spongebob going around measuring the girls with a measuring tape. They’re not advertising a square burger, or a larger burger (to explain the tape) – they’re advertising their version of the Happy Meal. There’s no logical link (unless it was a convoluted pun on measuring tape = ruler = king = Burger King. Really?). I didn’t even recall that it was a Burger King ad until I went to register my outrage.

Or the Lakshmi ad mentioned above – how is a ‘sacred snack’ a meaningful consumer benefit or drawn on an insight? Do you eat more of a sacred snack than one that’s not? Do you plan for it and schedule your day around it, like you would for a religious event (uhm, isn’t it supposed to be fast food)? And if you HAD to go with that benefit, isn’t there a more effective, relatable way to depict ‘sacred’ to Spaniards than via Lakshmi? If you wanted to show a new Asian line, or spicy food, or new exotic items, I can imagine this kind of an image making some convoluted sense to a small-town, unsophisticated, untraveled creative director. But a Hindu goddess to sell a hamburger? Massive FAIL.

It’s gotten so bad I can’t be bothered to put out an action alert – I can just sit here and laugh my ass off at these idiots working in the ‘Miami-based Burger King’

Ooh, look, shiny Twitter!

April 22, 2009 Leave a comment

I was reading this post the other day and realized I’ve grown up, finally. My old boss at the fuddy-duddy-but-hugely-successful-global-CPG firm would heave a sigh of relief….

A few years ago, when I was there, all I could think of was ‘new media’, ‘interactive’, ‘internet’, ‘360 degree’. I was so caught up in the buzzwords – each time I heard of a new way to sell things, I was hooked. Excuses of top management didn’t make any sense to me – of low penetration, of mainstream moms not caring for high-technology, of low costs & high reach of TV, of lack of measurement tools, even of medium unsuitability (“oh, people don’t go to the Internet to buy detergent or paper towels” – WTF? they don’t watch Lost or 24 for paper towels either!). It took a lot of my ideas being shot down for me to start realizing I wasn’t going to succeed by putting those in front of management.So I stopped – but I never stopped following them myself, or caring for them. I even got my Twitter account back when they had ~5000 users. Oh, those days.

Half of my early excitement for new media was that this seemed like something I could ‘own’ within the firm as my specialization, and I couldn’t own say, rural sales because being a girl those things came with safety hazards and hoops for me to jump through. Second, the Internet, in its early days was completely gender-indifferent and seemed like a place I could finally forget what was between my legs and focus only on what was between my ears – and have everyone else focus there too (this was, of course, disproved pretty badly last year, with the uber-geeks and Internet gods being the worst sexist offenders every.single.day, and threw Hillary Clinton and Palin supporters out of mainstream online discourse and left us cowering in the deep dark ‘safe spaces’ that we could create for ourselves). Finally, it made me think I would help empower all those millions of Indian moms by giving them an easy way to network, connect, communicate and make their own Girls Clubs so that they would no longer fall for our silly, tall, often-asterisked claims.

But these last two years, I’ve grown up. I believe as strongly as any Proctiod that traditional marketing, – measurable, reliable, boring, designable – works. For consumers, and for us – marketers and advertisers, who, frankly, don’t know yet how to really use these new powerful tools. The people who seem to be winning in the new media are exactly the same people who won in the old media. People with power and money and clout in the bricks and mortar world are using their heft to succeed in the new world, too. The offline bullies are the online bullies, only now they don’t even use deodorants. A NYT reference gets your average political blogger-boy very happy indeed, because it means newspaper gigs for him, and maybe leading to a book deal. Most of the time now, new media is just an amplifier (see Anne’s predictions on what will be in the news tomorrow). The paradigm hasn’t changed, the patriarchy hasn’t been dismantled, and the paths haven’t shifted.

No wonder I’m disillusioned. So much so, that I can’t be bothered that my company blocks Twitter and FB and all of these new media. So much so, that I can only smile at Critical Mass’s Riot excitement and shake my head. I don’t mean that it won’t work – I mean I don’t care that/if it does because there’s nothing in it for me.

And seriously, who buys toilet paper on Twitter, anyway?

Strangers have the best candy

April 4, 2009 Leave a comment

So I’ve been on Omegle for the last few hours, referenced via Randall’s blog (why, yes, I’m on first name basis with him. Didn’t’cha know?). But I’ve been upto no good, really – I’ve been enticing poor unsuspecting strangers looking for quick excitement online into reading this and this, and into watching this. I leave them with the thought that women are 52% of the world but only have access to ~15% of the world’s resources.

Try it, it’s fun. Knowledge is power – and yes, sometimes you can use it to hit people on their heads when they aren’t lookin‘.

Well, do remember to tell the li’l ones strangers have the best candy. Har har har.

Categories: action, humor, marketing, patriarchy, web

How high is too high?

March 25, 2009 Leave a comment

I was looking at a vendor’s presentation today that showed a research technique, and it struck me – we, i.e. ALL CPG companies – base all our millions and millions of $$ of product development and innovation on a choice made by a sample consumer in 0.7 seconds on one-sixth of a computer screen. Then, of course, we spend months and months and plenty of $$ refining that one choice and pretti-fy-ing it…

No wonder we have idiot-proof stuff, and idiotic stuff that all looks similar. We make junk, and consumers get junk, and they end up then selecting new junk in research that is familiar to them, therefore most similar to their existing junk. Then we launch it and then plan another line extension or a new ad campaign to keep the junk alive in the market.

Anything that takes longer to figure out and say ‘ah-ha’ to, is lost in the packaged goods business. Anything that takes time to know and like and love, aka Rahman’s music, is lost forever in the CPG world.

I’m not sure I believe any longer in the Procter school of brand management. After having worked there and after a hundred years of that model in the marketing/management world, we definitely need something different.

Categories: management, marketing