Archive for transparency

Lose-Lose Situation

Posted in India, Internet, Social networking with tags , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2008 by manuscrypts

That, I believe is what Hasbro and Scrabulous have gotten each other into. In case you guys have been tardy and not playing Scrabulous on Facebook, Scrabulous, a popular app on Facebook, modeled on Scrabble – the board game, has had to remove its application from the US and Canada, (for IP – the intellectual property kind, infringement) and Hasbro, who hold th rights for North Americsa,  has done enough successful PR to be seen as the evil corporate monster. I hope Mattel is listening, as its case is awaiting resolution, and will affect the rest of the world. This is a worthwhile read on the finer legal points in this case, in terms of the American Copyright law.

I’ve been an avid user of Scrabulous and even joined the petition to ‘help save scrabulous’, which has about 50,000 members. I did that, then, on an emotional appeal level, without getting it into the right and wrong. The Agarwala brothers, who own the application had maintained that their intention was not to make money. Maybe it wasn’t initially. But, later too? Funny, considering that Scrabulous, at its peak had about half a million users and was generating $25000 per week from advertising. Funny also, that they didn’t just take the first payment agreement option that Hasbro had proposed. (rumoured to be around $10 million)

All this triggered a few thoughts. The makers of Scrabulous would definitely have known that they were on slippery territory as far as IPR goes, why did they have to do it. Yes, they did the world a favour by recreating a favourite game, and if, having realised their error, they accepted the Hasbro offer, all would have ended well. But perhaps, our democracy has also left us with a legacy of disregard for the law, of forcing grays between right and wrong, and turning a blind eye.

For me, it also brought to light a not-so-great facet of the crowd driven, transparency seeking, web 2.0.  The founder of the group I’d mentioned earlier, a 15 year old, has collected a list of 1000 people who have promised never to buy a Scrabble board if Hasbro forced Scrabulous to close down. A guy who tried to start a discussion within the group on how Hasbro was right, got booed out of the place, with an allegation that he worked for Hasbro in some capacity. There was a scare that Hasbro’s official app on Facebook had been hacked. Hasbro might have acted in the most stupid manner possible on this issue, but they were in the right. So, the question is, in the ‘crowd controlled world’ we keep forecasting, if there’s enough of a crowd that believes in a certain thing, irrespective of whether its wrong, unethical, does it still get done?  Mob Justice, isn’t that the term? It reminds me of India’s democracy, where technically the people rule, but we all know how that’s working. So, if the crowd controls the world, who controls the crowd?

As for me, I’m out of the group help ‘save scrabulous’, and have already started a game with a friend on this new application, Wordscraper, from the makers of Scrabulous. It looks considerably different from Scrabble, but is as enjoyable as the original.

until next time,”with great power comes great responsibility”

PS: Pacman has been there before 🙂

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Tata Shy?

Posted in Advertising, Brand, India, Social networking with tags , , , , , , , on July 16, 2008 by manuscrypts

I saw an ad for Tata Sky yesterday for one of their in house channels – Active Darshan. That, coupled with the announcement of Aamir Khan being made brand ambassador for the brand would have made for a nice plain brand rant post, but try as i might, I have not been able to get hold of that particular ad.We will come back to that. Meanwhile, Aamir is not the first person to star in Tata Sky ads. Kirron Kher, Paresh Rawal, and even Hrtithik Roshan have appeared earlier. They have also used regional actors.

This pits Aamir squarely against SRK, in addition to the competition in handset manufacturers (Nokia vs Samsung), watches (Tag Heuer vs Titan), car manufacturers (Hyundai vs Toyota) and even biscuits (Monaco vs Sunfeast). Dishum karo 🙂 Wonder when Reliance launches its DTH, Big B will be made the brand ambassador.

Now, back to the ad, I wonder why brands still don’t make the efforts to share their ads online. There is no one single source where you can be at least 75% sure to catch the ad. Afaqs relies on ibanklive, which I am yet to explore thoroughly. I have also tried the new entrant – Buzzar.tv, and the usually dependable YouTube, where at least a consumer usually loads the TVC within a couple of days of launch, but with no luck.

Why are brands so shy? Is it due to lack of knowledge or interest; or a deliberate policy of not sharing. Before you laugh off the last one, it ties in well with the lack of transparency i keep ranting about. I personally feel that ads are perhaps a very good Step 1 to encourage conversation about brands. The amount of facebook status messages I have seen of Sanjooo (of Max New York Insurance fame) and the kind of stories I have read (look at this one for example) means that there is an audience ready to even generate buzz. Of course, it may not always be positive. Is that what’s scaring away brands? But isn’t it better to experiment a little, learn the art and make some good use of it, before it gets relegated to a commodity status? The other point is that all this will happen with or without their assent anyway.

I’d  go on and say Tata Sky shouldn’t stop with just their brand. They can actually build entire communities around serials. Maybe it can even be a tool to lure housewives on to the net. Imagine the amount of gossiping that could be done online, complete with links to trivia and news on serials. It can even be in hindi. Hell, there is already a family tree website (via Indianweb2) in India, so why not an entire social network in Hindi? And its not just housewives, lets assume I am a fan of Doctor Who on BBC Entertainment, there’s a big chance ( i am basing it on some personal experiences) that I am also a fan of Battlestar Galactica. When audiences get connected, they help each other explore new worlds. The channels are happy, because they get new audiences, and they wouldn’t mind doing some advertising here. So, isn’t it a win win model for both the consumer and business audiences? Oh, okay, laugh, but one day when you have a K Kliq that’s stronger than all the ‘I hate Balaji’ groups on Orkut, you’ll know that i was right. :p

The other vertical social network I see that has great potential is an entity like agencyfaqs. It is practically begging for more conversation. I’m sure they understand that conversations cannot be simulated by just having a comments box, though they are much better than exchange4media. It would make a great hangout for planners, creative guys, art guys, brand managers, media owners etc to discuss brands, ads, strategy and so on. But i guess, when agencies and channels are trying to be better and bigger rats, i am doing too much of ‘wish karo’ 😉

until next time, don’t be santhusht!!!

Social Ambassadors

Posted in Advertising, Brand, India, Internet with tags , , , , on June 30, 2008 by manuscrypts

Yes, it is the age of conversation, but in India it is also the age of brand ambassadors. And not just the average Joe Ambassador, but ones who blog. I, for one, subscribe to Big B’s blog, because, from his posts, i think he is a natural. And even if this is true, he’s doing justice to the job.

Anyway, after blogging for a while, it was quite understandable that with his hectic schedule, Big Adda should make his life easier by giving him a mo blog. And now he’s having a blast with microblogging @160 characters. Updating multiple times a day and speaking his mind.

The entire activity set me thinking. So, what happens when the transparency of social media meets brand ambassadors?  How would, for example, the Big B (as brand ambassador) react, if God forbid, a pesticide (Pepsi) or a worm (Cadburys) issue erupted again? What role would he play? Blogger or Brand Ambassador or a boring diplomat? Assuming that he uses the products he endorses (okay, stop laughing!!) would he sometimes play the dissatisfied customer?

I got a glimpse of perhaps what lies in store, thanks to this entry of his. A tale that most bloggers would be familiar with. Sit and write an entire blog post and the server conks out without saving!! In this case, he was blogging on Big Adda. Bad publicity, I would think. Thankfully, someone there was smart enough, and pretty soon we had another entry, this time thanking a Big Adda official. Wonder if they’d do that for mere mortals though 😉

But back to the point, in an era of instant communication and celebrity bloggers, would brand ambassadors  now have revised contractual obligations that draw a clear line on transparency? One that would bring brands back to the familiar comfortable opaque territory that they have been operating in? Or will the celebrity be true to the spirit of blogging? (read the poetry – header on Big B’s blog) 🙂

until next time, brand bloggers 🙂

Opacity

Posted in Advertising, Brand with tags , , , , on June 25, 2008 by manuscrypts

Read two interesting posts, seemingly not very connected, but actually so. The first one was here, (don’t miss the article it has linked to either) and it talks about brands including an RTI clause in their charter, and anyone from a stakeholder (thats including consumers) to competition being able to demand answers from the company/brand and more importantly, being able to get it. I wonder though, how an RTI clause could co-exist with competitive advantage (brand strategies).

The second post talks about Friendfeed being a great tool for brands since it aggregates the contents from blogs, microblogging platforms, photo sharing services, social bookmarking sites and most possible social media. The snag though is that a Facebook or an Orkut are not accommodated there, yet, and the crowds frequenting the two kinds of sites are not exactly duplicated.

But yes, the connection between the two posts is transparency, and i feel that in india, we have a long way to go before we reach that state. That’s because more than a certain set of processes, we are talking about a philosophy here. In the first digital (mini) wave and its aftermath, when blogs became a corporate mantra, how many companies/brands took it seriously and how many have persisted? For a transparent system to get established and flourish, it needs to start with a strategy thats consumer centric, a strong rationale for why x strategy was chosen over y to achieve a certain strategic objective, the wisdom to understand that we are human, and plans can go wrong, inspite of having backup plans running from b to z, and most importantly the maturity to listen to feedback, accept responsibility and take criticism, but learn from it, fix it and get better.

When i hear people ask for changes in communication strategy based on very subjective likes and dislikes (sorry, its not always purely subjective, i have also heard ‘my wife likes pink’ for a campaign theme color), and when i get this response from them when asked about consumer preferences, and when, on hearing that I blog, I am asked to write good about the brands I work with, irrespective of reality, and when FYI (F*** You Instead – courtesy ‘One Night at the Call centre) responsibility strategies are given more importance than the brand’s performance, and many many more such occurrences, it gives me enough reason to believe that transparency is a long way off.

On an aside, I read here that apparently the blogosphere was abuzz today with the Vodafone ad for iPhone. Interestingly, I saw three tweets today basically asking why the Vodafone customer service couldn’t be manned by people who knew about iPhone. 🙂

until next time, mind set

The long tales of brands

Posted in Brand, Internet with tags , , on June 9, 2008 by manuscrypts

A few days back, I read a post by Seth Godin. To summarise, it was about how people in general, and especially marketeers, put on a show, on purpose. That might be simplifying it, and while he does say that “if you’re transparent about your motivations, putting on a show is productive and highly leveraged”, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the last line in the post is an advice to think about the above, when you’re putting up a booth, answering the phone etc.

It was a bit disconcerting, because it wasn’t exactly what my notions about social media and Brands 2.0 in general were. After all, how could sharing and collaborating be based on something that’s fundamentally a show? While the audience could accept this in say, an entertainment show, would the same happen when they were dealing with brands and people? Isn’t the ‘brand’ supposed to be a promise to the customer?

I do agree that it would be naive to believe in an utopian way of functioning, but social platforms and the new ways of communicating could take us quite close to it. Thankfully, i was quite buoyed by another superb post from Chris Brogan. While the post gives more personality examples than brands, it stresses the need to be really ‘you’, and I think, that should apply to brands as well, because in a highly connected world, it doesn’t take too long for the roleplay to be seen as exactly what it is, and the true brand DNA to come out.

Rather than trying to build a story about a fictional character, wouldn’t it be much better to make the brand’s story interesting with its core characteristics? It is a perspective that would affect the way brands behave, even in a relatively less connected country like ours- the brand endorsements, the blind ‘branding’ without any idea of context, the fine print in communication, the sales guy’s promises, customer service and every thing that creates a brand experience would have to be done keeping the story in mind, and doing it in such a way that the customers believe in that story and communicate it themselves, by choice.

Meanwhile, less connected we may be, but that doesn’t stop us from having our own brand tags. Do take, part, the results would be fun.

until next time, what you say can and will be used against you 😉