February 16, 2016

The day “lead in Maggi” news came out; I was least worried about being poisoned by lead. There was enough poison in our water, air, fruits, veggies, street food to make my immune system weather mild lead poisoning. It was also difficult to believe an MNC like Nestle would flout food safety guidelines. Then came the ban and that made me heart broken. Taking away the 2-minute solution to hunger pangs that was developed over years of childhood, college, and adulthood was a nasty blow. But who can challenge the rule of the land?

Mothers and wives are similar. For them ban on Maggi meant that the entire category of instant noodles was the culprit. While the rule of the land banned Maggi from stores, the rule of the house banned Yippee, Wai-Wai, Top Ramen, and anything slurpy and resembling noodles. I was crestfallen and without any escape route. Which husband in India would dare to change the rule of the house stamped and approved by his wife.

Then came the day Maggi was re-born post ban. I was excited like a kid in a circus. I was one of the first to buy a couple of packets from market. But the delight was short lived. Wife was not pleased to see me with packets of Maggi. I was reprimanded and given a quick gyan on health, excess lead, junk food, et al while she so gladly devoured paani purias if it was the food of the Gods! No amount of logic, cajoling, whining helped to convince her that the newly re-launched Maggi could be consumed without harm. All that she allowed was to finish off the couple of packets and never again buy them. That was the last time I and my family ate Maggi. After that it was only memories.

A ray of hope streaked through when Baba Ramdev announced that Patanjali Noddles will bring healthy atta noodles in the life of poor souls like me. Even though I am no fan of Baba Ramdev, I started eagerly waiting for Patanjali noodles. The hope was based on the fact that under the guise of Ayurveda and desi healthy noodles, I could savour the closest taste of my favourite Maggi. The day I heard it has reached the Patanjali stores, I promptly made a visit and bought a packet to try it. I went home excited and hoping for a pat on my back, proudly showed it to my wife. What I got in return was again an angry face and sharp rebuke, “It is still Maggi whether it is from Nestle or Patanjli. It is still unhealthy and it may still contain Lead.” I pleaded to at least taste a packet that I had brought with me. “I will give you tomorrow in breakfast and never ever after that.” From that day onwards, every morning I eagerly wait to see the Patanjali Noddles on my plate. And the wait continues.

The marketer in me quickly realized that this whole saga of Maggi has tormented the entire instant noodles category. Mothers being the primary gatekeepers of what their kids (and husbands) consume have suddenly become apprehensive. Perhaps the “lead in the noodles” still plays around in their minds as if cast in concrete. This sounds like a bad omen for Maggi, the fallen king, as well as Patanjali, the challenger. As exaggerated as it may sound, the category may take a lot of time and astute marketing to recover and stand up again. Or am I totally off the mark?

February 10, 2016

Indian advertising is evolving for the better with a surge in women centric communication that challenges thesanskari line of thinking. It perhaps started three years back with the revolutionary Tanishq film on second marriage and ‘Hawa Badlegi’ film of Havells fans that showed a man taking his wife’s surname after marriage. But 2015 was the watershed year for bringing the image changeover of the female protagonist to overturn male hegemony. A slew of films whacked the traditional male ego out of the senses.

‘Respect Woman’ series of Havells gave it in the face of people who think women are the home appliances of the house. Biba film introduced the concept of ‘ladka dekhna’ to test the cooking skills of the groom. Titan Raga beautifully portrayed how dumb and losers some men could be in their expectation from women. The ethnic apparel brand Anouk’s long format films touched some of the sensitive but stirring contemporary themes of lesbian relationship, single motherhood, a single woman enjoying her drink in the bar in such a way that it could have given heart attack to thesanskari thekedaars of India. Similarly, Zipy and Dabur Vatika ‘Brave is Beautiful’ films brought out the different dimensions of a contemporary woman’s personality.

It’s going to become mainstream

The trend is here to stay and will only grow stronger. Although objectification of women is still rampant in Indian advertising and marketing, the new trend of putting the women at forefront is like a fresh breath of air. This is a refreshing change for society that would encourage more such marketing campaigns. It is also reflective of the growing maturity of Indian society in acknowledging the uniqueness and empowerment of women. With the increasing number of women working in the advertising and marketing arena, it is a matter of time when such line of communication becomes mainstream.

The reality of women consumer

This is also an acknowledgement of the growing economic power of women as consumers who can confidently and independently take decisions about their lives. But the best thing about this shift in portrayal of women as an equal to men is that it will create a spiral effect in reinforcing the message and will encourage more and more women to break the unfair barriers created in the name of culture and tradition. This will lead to an entire generation of women emerging out from the shadow of men to create their unique identity.

A new challenge for brands

All these developments pose a challenge to the brands on the role they should be playing to ride this social wave of unshackling the India women from the patriarchal bondage. Putting the women equal, if not first, would make or mar the future of many contemporary brands. Time has come for the brands to change the frame through which they view Indian women. The message is clear. In the land of powerful Goddesses, no brand could afford to ignore the growing empowerment of women. Brands that proactively bind themselves to celebrating women by breaking thesanskari barriers are going to reap the biggest rewards. They will soon realize that when you ally women, they gladly reciprocate.

Let the refreshing surge continue.

February 8, 2016

Business environment had never been as fluid as it is today. Change is the new constant in the life of any organization. Accept it or reject; change is not going to vanish! Unfortunately, change is never perceived kindly by people who keep an organization running day in and day out. This throws up the biggest challenge before any leader - how to take people along the road to change by making them so excited that instead of fearing change, they look forward to it. The age of pied piper has arrived; someone who can weave a magical tune (or a story) to put a diverse set of people in a trance, dancing and walking to where the leader leads.

Let’s take an example of a mid-sized company where a new leader arrives to undertake a complete business transformation. Obviously, as is human nature, people are excited as well as apprehensive. In such situations, the regular folks don’t open up easily. In absence of engaging communication from the leader, the entire environment becomes a breeding ground for heresay and rumours. First priority must be winning peoples’ confidence in the leader and his story of the magical world. So what’s the way out?

Everyone is important; respect wins

Nobody wants to take orders (except if you are in military) but everyone wants to walk by the side. So as a first step start respecting people as equals and forget judging them. Believe they are as good as one can get. Then comes the fine art of storytelling to spur the action.

It’s not about you; it’s about them

Weave the story around your people not your pompous self. Make people the hero of the story. Show them how “they” and not “you” will lead the transformational journey to the wonderland. Thicken the plot with the drama of your message so that they feel a tug at their heart that inspires action. Moving them emotionally to embrace change and winning their confidence is the first step to successful transformation.

Simplicity wins

A good story is simple, memorable, relatable and sharable. It not only is able to tell the message but also acts as a reinforcement agent. People talk about it with pride as if they are the primary drivers of the story. The message sticks and creates positive vibes.

A story is a journey, not a destination

The most effective stories are not about one product, one initiative, or one transformation. They are like continuous episodes of a soap opera where one episode links to the other and keeps the audience engaged and asking for more. The business leader who wants to use storytelling effectively must find a way to link up one story to another and keep the people engaged with multiple initiatives that make a successful transformational blockbuster.

Humility trumps superman

Every story needs an engaging storyteller who brings alive the story vividly. Story tellers who are loved by their audience are humans and not “exalted egos on the high pedestal.” A CEO aspiring to become a master storyteller to transform the business must start behaving like a human first, someone in whose company an average mortal can feel comfortable. Then both story as well as astounding results would flow!

So let the journey of a story begin. Miracles do happen in stories!