Navratri Lessons in the Value of a Brand Name

(This was first published on The TBBE Blog.)

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose; By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Juliet says this in William Shakespeare’s legendary play, Romeo & Juliet. By virtue of the message behind it, this quote speaks a million truths. A rose will smell just as sweet if it is called anything else. The software I’m writing this on would do the job just as well if it was called something else other than MS Word. But ask a rose if it wants to be called something else, and it’ll probably say no.

A rose isn’t merely a name anymore, it’s a brand. It’s not merely a flower, it’s a symbol of love when it’s red; it’s a symbol of purity when it’s white. All through the many years of its existence, the rose has become an icon. The flower’s name means a lot, which is probably why it wouldn’t be the same with a different name.

The importance of a name is for us to see all around us today, particularly in the world of communications. The brand name of a company, a product or a service is of immense value. Every piece of communication is built around the brand name. And no one is ready to give away an established brand name.

I came across an example of this in the past few days during Navratri. For a few years now, one of the finest garba events to attend in Ahmedabad has been the one organised by a group called the Friends Group. The Friends Garba is the place to be seen, having passes to this garba has been a matter of pride and prestige. The crème-de-la-crème of Ahmedabad attends the Friends Garba.

There are many stories about how the Friends Group originated, I am not sure which of them is true, but in the last couple of years, the group is said to have split up. So now we have more than one Friends Garba, organised by different people. Which group is the original one probably depends on where you get the free passes from, but the interesting thing I noticed this year was the brand extension of the groups. This year we have garba events by Friends Lite and Friends Fusion.

The point here is the value of the name. The Friends brand has been built up so well in the past few years that no one wants to let go of it, and understandably so. The word ‘Friends’ in the organiser’s name is enough to draw a good crowd; it’s the garba everyone wants to go to, after all.

In the coming years, Ahmedabad might end up seeing too many variants of the Friends Garba, and someone might start building a garba brand in a new name. But as of now, Shakespeare Sir, there’s a lot in the name.


Whatever Works

Whatever Works (2009) will probably not make it to anyone’s list of the finest Woody Allen movies, but it gives out a subtle, yet very relevant message. The gist of this message is the title of the movie, ‘whatever works’. Elaborated, it would be – ‘the purpose of life is to be happy, and you should do whatever you can do to be happy’.

Whatever Works

It might be something small like stealing away a couple of hours from work or study, or something big like going on a week-long vacation, do it if it makes you happy. A holiday in the hills might work for you; a holiday on the beach might work for someone else. Partying in a noisy, smoke-filled pub might work for you; reading a book under the covers might work for someone else. As long as it makes you happy, it’s alright. Whatever works.

Life is unpredictable. It always will be, no matter how much we try to control it. People die unnatural deaths every day, people get hospitalised after road accidents even when they were driving carefully, people get diagnosed with illnesses and diseases that crop up out of nowhere, none of us what the next moment is going to bring. Heck, my laptop could get infected by a deadly virus before I finish writing this blog post, something I have been meaning to publish for over a week. I’ll be happy even if one person finds this post helpful, but it might never get published and read. The point is, don’t procrastinate with something that makes you happy. Do it when you have the chance. The best time to be happy is now.

Like Boris, the protagonist of the movie, tells us, “Whatever love you can get and give, whatever happiness you can filch or provide, every temporary measure of grace, whatever works. A bigger part of your existence is luck, whether you like to admit or not. Whatever makes you happy, whatever works.”


The Problem with Seeking Success

My son is nearly 3 years old, and I am already under the pressure to ensure that he grows up to be ‘successful’. Life is one big competition and for this kid, it’s already started. Of course, he doesn’t know it yet, but his parents are acutely made aware about it through almost every waking moment.

Around a year back, he hadn’t started talking. In fact, he started around a month after that. But every time we met someone, we were asked if he’d started expressing himself verbally. The inevitable comparisons came up as well. Someone else’s 2-year-old was already speaking full sentences, and we were given such examples from all and sundry. However, the only thing we could do was be patient. And much to our delight, he began talking out of nowhere. Today, he knows words in three different languages – Gujarati, Hindi and English.

Now that that’s out of the way, I know other comparisons like this will crop up all through his growing years. And they’ll continue through the rest of his life. We are already hearing about how he isn’t able to run properly as yet, or how he can’t cycle as yet, and etc. Of course, no one commends the things that he does do very well, like recognizing all kinds of shapes and colours and alphabets and numbers. But then, to boast about these tiny achievements is the job of the parents. Obviously!

The point here is that he’ll be gauged in comparison to others, on yardsticks made up by someone else’s achievements. This is the unfortunate way by which we measure success. While each one of us strives to be successful, dreams of our children being successful, we forget that the meaning of success isn’t the same for everyone.

Success is a personal thing, something that gets defined by a person’s aspirations, desires, goals and choices. While success could mean a senior-level corporate job for someone, it could mean a business of organic farming for someone else. But just because the corporate executive drives a BMW and the organic farmer rides a cycle, you can’t say that the former is more successful than the latter. One shouldn’t even compare the two. Maybe the farmer has chosen to ride a cycle because he’s concerned about preserving the environment and his own health, while the executive is in love with swanky cars. If they’ve both fulfilled a goal, they’re both equally successful.

However, most of us don’t look at it that way. We are groomed and nurtured to believe that more money = more success. We study and work to earn money. But we never have enough, because there’s always someone who has more than us. And then we do the one thing we shouldn’t do – we compare. Success becomes something that someone else has.

Well, I am going to try and teach my son otherwise. I want him to be successful, but I want him to figure out what success means to him. I’ll teach him to not live on other people’s yardsticks. I’ll teach him to understand his personal aspirations and desires, and try to become successful by achieving them. I’ll teach him to not fall into the trap of the ‘ideas of successes’ created by the world around him.

I’ve begun to understand this, and I’ve discovered that when you know what success means to you, it becomes easier to achieve.


Idea + Execution = Great Advertising

(This article was first published on The TBBE Blog.)


Often, also called ‘concept’. While I like the word ‘idea’ a lot more (primarily because it’s more basic, and at the same time, encompasses a lot more), both words define what great advertising is all about.

I say ‘great advertising’ because all advertising isn’t about the idea or the concept. Most advertising ends up being about just a couple of words making a headline or some pretty pictures used as graphics. The idea is what separates the good from the just-about-okay.

But what makes any kind of branding or advertising message great is the brilliant idea behind it. There might not always be a woman behind every successful man, but there’s definitely an idea behind every successful ad. But mind you, just a great idea isn’t ever enough; the idea needs to be executed brilliantly as well.

Ask yourself about your favourite ads, or think about the ones you remember off the top of your head. All of them would have been centred on a brilliant idea, which would have been executed equally brilliantly. Allow me to elaborate with the example of the Vodafone Pug ad. The idea was to show a dog being omnipresent with a person, which would imply that wherever you go, the company’s network would be there for you. By itself, the idea is great, but would it have been brilliant if it wasn’t executed so well? Probably not. I am sure the ad wouldn’t have the same appeal if a run-of-the-mill Pomeranian was following a dull teenager. It had to be a relatively unknown breed following a cute, enthusiastic kid. The execution made a good idea great. But without the idea, there wouldn’t have been anything at all.

Like David Ogilvy said, “We (ad agency) are paid to provide ideas, and then window dress them accordingly.” No one could have put it better.


The Importance of Avoiding Clutters in Advertising

(This article was first published on The TBBE Blog.)

Late last week, in a meeting with one of our accounts – Five Town Club, we had a discussion about an ad they wanted to release today, i.e. on the 15th of August. FTC is a fitness club, and they wanted to take out an Independence Day ad that talked about something like ‘freedom from health issues’.

We were fine with working on an ad that revolved around this concept, but we didn’t like the idea of releasing the ad on the 15th. This was because, as is usually the case, our newspapers turn into ad catalogues on major public holidays. Be it political holidays or religious holidays, our newspapers are filled to the brim with ads. And most of them are on the same theme, which in this case is freedom from something or the other.

This results in a huge clutter of ads, and one of the basic tenets of advertising is to avoid clutters. When you’re part of a crowd, you’ll get what the crowd gets. You don’t get the attention you’re paying for, you don’t stand out. And what good is an ad if it’s not given the chance to be noticed?

Today, the Times of India edition is carrying 39 ads, 17 of which are talking about freedom and Independence Day. These figures are 29 and 14 for Ahmedabad Times, and 25 and 12 in Ahmedabad Mirror. (The ads in the classified display sections haven’t even been counted.)

We expected this, which is why we recommended FTC to release their ad on the 14th of August. This is the full page ad we conceptualized and designed for them, which carried the Independence Day theme, but was released a day earlier to beat their competition and avoid the clutter.

FTC Ad - Ahmedabad Mirror

And for the record, the 14th August edition of Ahmedabad Mirror had only 14 ads.


Lessons on Writing from Stephen King’s ‘Misery’

“The reason authors almost always put a dedication on a book, is because their selfishness even horrifies themselves in the end.”

Stephen King’s Misery is filled with brilliant lines like this one. Because it is the story about a best-selling author and his number-one fan, Misery is a must-read for any writer.

A writer can always learn a lot about plotting, storytelling, dialogue writing, character building, etc, from any Stephen King novel, but Misery offers much more than that because here you’re taken into the mind of a novelist.

It is fascinating to read about how an author begins to hate a character that he has created. Misery is a popular character, created by author Paul Sheldon, one of the novel’s two protagonists. It’s the other protagonist, Annie’s favourite character, but Paul hates her and kills Misery off in the final book of the series. However, when he has to bring Misery back to life, Paul learns that he finds comfort in Misery’s world. This astonishes him, and he begins to hate himself for it. The lesson, for me, here was the power of building a character. It’s not surprising to find readers getting influenced by a character they read about, but for the creator to get worked up over his own creation…now, that’s powerful. That’s the kind of characters every writer wants to write about, but few can.

Paul is also the kind of writer who can’t write if anything’s even a little bit off. It could be something as small as a headache or a tiff with someone you love, but if things aren’t right, Paul can’t write. I could totally relate to that. I can’t write if I’m feeling down about anything at all. I’ve experienced this numerous times, although, to be brutally honest, it’s often been an excuse to procrastinate as well. But Paul taught me that it’s okay to not write if you don’t feel like it, sometimes, without turning that into a habit.

All of that apart, the most important thing to learn from Misery is that a writer shouldn’t cheat his/her reader. Quite often, a writer knows that what he has written is mediocre, but he/she still tries to get away with it. That’s wrong. That’s like taking your readers for granted. Even if your readers are not as good a writer as you are, they will still be able to figure out that you’ve passed off something ordinary in the guise of something good. Rewrite it, till it’s the best. Even more so if it’s not just about the language, but a plot in the story. Don’t wiggle your way out of a tricky situation in your story, make it fair. Realism isn’t always necessary, as long as it’s fair.

This brings me to a small game that Paul played with himself – the game of ‘Can you?’ You think of a situation in your story, and you ask yourself ‘Can you?’ Can you take the story forward in the most realistic way possible? Can you involve your readers to the extent of making them laugh or cry or scared? Can you do better than what you have? The game doesn’t end till you can honestly tell yourself, ‘Yes, I can.’ And then, you do.

There you have it, a few lessons on writing from Stephen King’s Misery. And of course, it goes without saying that if you haven’t read the book, read it before you read anything else, whether you’re writer or not. It’s a gem.