Zomato, Radhika Apte, Netflix, #Radflix, and Me-too Marketing

If you have been online around the end of August, and you follow the really cool people online, you must have heard about Netflix India’s love for Radhika Apte – how she seems to be a part of every piece of Netflix India original content, be it movies they produce or shows. The public has been creating jokes and memes about the affinity, and it’s gone viral.

How Netflix India’s social media team handled the attention was just brilliant. They joined in the meme fest. Not just did they appreciate the memes that the public made about Radhika Apte & Netflix, they created their own memes, coined the term ‘Radflix’, made a mock trailer of a mock film titled ‘Omnipresent’, starring Radhika Apte, written, directed, shot, and what not, by Radhika Apte, and went full throttle on having fun with it.

In short, they pwned the internet at their own game.

But this post is not about the larger phenomenon that Radflix was. It’s about a simple series of ‘ads’ that appeared in a short period of time, which shows how most Indian brands cannot think beyond “yeh wala cool hai, hum bhi karenge“.

So, while Netflix was enjoying the attention that Radflix was bringing them online, the witty social media team at Zomato made a simple two-column text format of an ad, which simply said ‘And you thought only Radhika is versatile’. The subject of this ad was Paneer, which, as per the ad is present in so many dishes / everywhere, much like Radhika Apte is.

Simple, cute, topical.

What happened next was nothing short of a masterstroke by Netflix. In 3 hours time, Netflix India just replied to that ad by editing the creative, finding the letters R-A-D-H-I-K-A in the left column, crossing off Paneer and writing instead the name of their mock movie Omnipresent.

Quick, witty, playful, and funny.

The internet imploded! As I’m writing this, both these tweets have generated over 22000 interactions, almost two-thirds of which has come to Netflix’s response. And we don’t even know how many times these tweets were screenshotted and shared on Facebook, LinkedIn, Whatsapp, Telegram etc.

All well so far.

Then, the Indian thing happened. Other brands noticed the buzz. Heads of marketing & CEOs of companies said “This is so cool! I want to join in too!”

So here’s the list of brands which attempted to join the party, and my commentary on each.

Reliance Mutual Funds


This is the first me-too tweet I saw that day. Reliance MF replied to both the handles, “Only if you have the wealth to binge watch and eat whenever you feel like!”, which doesn’t fit the context in any way, placed a weird reading sentence in the left part of the ad, where each word exists solely so that the word W-E-A-L-T-H could be spelled out, and the right part simply sports their own tagline.
Talk about butchering the format.

IIFL

I found IIFL’s tweet in a reply thread to the one by Reliance MF above. It’s clear that they didn’t even try beyond copying the two-column text format. Though in terms of content style, they came closest to the Zomato ad, but sadly nobody paid any notice to create a Netflix style reply.

KFC

KFC came up with a follow-up, with the exact same approach as that of Reliance MF. Left side, let’s spell out chicken over a force-fitted longish sentence, and right side, our tagline.

Union Bank of India

A PSU bank also wanted to join in the fun. They had a strange take though, spelling out U-N-I-O-N-B-A-N-K over an insipid and weird sentence on the left, and the entire logo unit and tagline on the right. The graphic work looks like it was quickly put together on Powerpoint only.

Tata Sky

My favorite DTH service provider ;), Tata Sky, didn’t want to be left far behind. So their social media team cooked something up. But brand visibility is paramount, so they just list random keywords along with the words “Tata Sky” on the left, so that they can spell out R-A-D-H-I-K-A (thank god for small mercies!), and their tagline on the right.

Cashify

Cashify, (who are they?) made an ad, where they wrote a sentence which is just copy for what they offer, force-filled with the earlier brands’ names, just so they look like they are also “in”, and a boring “Cashify now” on the right. Wait, what does the sentence spell out? No R-A-D-H-I-K-A, no C-A-S-H-I-F-Y?

Daily Objects

This hashtag laden copy came 2 days late, where they list items that they presumably discuss on the left, only to spell out their own name, and on the right they have their logo. Narcissism much? The only connection to the original story is the tags Radflix and Omnipresent, almost as if this is their half-hearted entry to a contest called Radflix.

Indigo Nation

Indigo Nation listed its sub-brands on the left, its logo on the right, and spelt out C-R-E-A-T-I-V-E, and its tweet read ‘Creativity is where it all started, and after all humaari creativity apt hai!’, again hashtag Radflix hashtag Netflix. Because how else do you show you are creative, if you don’t write creative three times in your creative?

Fullerton India

Fullerton India, created a starkly orange creative, with an insipid tweet ‘your partner in growth’, the list of things they do on the left, but interestingly enough, instead of circling letters to spell out F-U-L-L-E-R-T-O-N, they use the crossword format. They were afraid their audience would have to be spoon fed the word in one straight line. And on the right (this is my favourite!), they cross out Radhika and write Fullerton India. Guys, Radhika was supposed to be spelt out on the left! Stay with the format!

That’s What Sri Said

Some young individual professional who is presumably just starting off also wanted to use the format to get likes & retweets, and some visibility. Let’s just talk about the creative – it’s a list of issues on the left, and the words ‘Problems after college’ on the right. R-A-D-H-I-K-A is spelt out all right, but look at what words were put in so that it could be done – ‘Kam holidays’, ‘Taunts’, ‘Hormones’! The best part of this one is the tweet ‘Radhika Apte being versatile. We found her too.’ Can someone translate this for me please?

Playgard Condoms

The only thing missing from the mix was a condom brand. Playgard copied the format, replaced the left side with types of positions, and quite ‘helpfully’ wrote Positions on the right, because wouldn’t you really want to know what the things on the left are called? No spelling out words, and no crossing out words. But look what else they have written – “the only time Radhika won’t be present”. How presumptuous! Or on second thoughts, it’s just humble on the brand’s part 😉

Buzzinga Digital

An agency called Buzzinga Digital also made an ad, listing out R-A-D-H-I-K-A over a list of things they seem to offer. Nothing on the right. And the tweet content is a slight change to what Netflix had tweeted.

IFW Web Studio

Yet another agency, but this time from Udaipur. Their ad shows the same – the left column lists out a series of places in Udaipur, spelling out R-A-D-H-I-K-A over it, with the right part saying Udaipur – shooting ke liye apt hai! And the tagline to the logo, and the tweet are little more than implorations to Radhika Apte to visit Udaipur.

Hungry Head

This was the most inane one so far. The left half lists food items (with an all-small case nachos), and the right half just says Maggi. I don’t know how the left connects to the right, and what they all have to do with anything we have seen so far. And I don’t even know why the Maggi is in a smaller type than the others even though it’s alone on the right. The tweet says ‘Not only Radhika can fit everywhere. Our Maggi does too!’ Oh and did you notice the innovative hashtag #scaredgames?

What’s common across all these attempts at marketing are a) an attempt to just exploit the trend using the visual structure and the hashtags with no understanding of why the originals worked, b) tagging Radhika Apte, Zomato, and Netflix India’s handle in an attempt to gather attention and hoping for retweets from them, c) usage of the hashtags #omnipresent and #Radflix to appear in searches, and d) a cringeworthy overuse of the word apt (it’s a wordplay on Apte – do you see how clever all these brands are?) everywhere.

Having said all of this, I came across a funny take on the whole thing as well. A kind of subversion, a tongue-in-cheek ad, by a brand called JOOG. Take a look.

JOOG

Let me know in the comments if you have found any more copies of the concept, and I’ll add them to the post.

Dear MTNL. Stop taking sips from my broadband coffee!

It’s a fine Sunday morning, and you go to a cafe with your friends, and order a nice cup of large cappuccino.

While you’re chatting with your friends, you notice out of the corner of your eye, the waiter bringing your cup of coffee. You feel relieved, and excited for your kick of caffeine. Just then, you see the waiter lift the cup to his lips and take a sip from your cup.

How do you feel?

Apart from the initial feelings of disgust, you calculate your losses. You’ve paid for a certain volume of coffee & foam, and the waiter is taking away part of it, without either paying for it himself or compensating you (since technically now you’re the owner of that cup of coffee). And all this without your permission!

Thejesh GN had written about how Airtel was injecting an iframe in the pages served on its 3G connection, though Airtel defended it saying that it’s to track our usage to help us better. How is monitoring which pages I go to going to help me better, and how the telecom company providing me the connection can’t track the amount of bandwidth I consume without injecting iframes into the source of pages I visit is beyond my understanding.

We could still say this is expected of a private company. They are, after all, after only one thing, profits. But if a PSU starts one-upping them, it’s worrying.

Not only has MTNL been injecting code into the source of pages we view on their broadband connection, they have been showing ads as well. Large ones. Sometimes larger ones.

Here’s a sample:
ads on MTNL broadband

It raises quite a few concerns in my mind, and here they are.

  1. Permission: MTNL is a service provider. And we pay them for the service. We expect a certain amount of data transfer at certain speeds, and nowhere while signing up were we informed or our permission sought that they will serve ads on the connection.
  2. Money: MTNL charges us the amount for the specific amount of bytes transferred per month, and if we exceed that limit, our connection is downgraded, which is equivalent to Shadowfax being chained to a snail. We as consumers keep monitoring our usage and reducing our superfluous consumption of bytes (stop reloading that often, watch lesser cat videos, download 720p versions of videos instead of 1080p and so on). And now we realise that a certain amount of our bandwidth will be consumed no matter what, because MTNL wants to run ads on the pages we see.
  3. As a producer of content/platforms: I run a business where we create web properties. Our clients are people who produce content or provide a service on these properties. In addition, I run this blog, and my firm has a website. It’s highly likely that when normal users (which includes me) using MTNL’s broadband connection accesses these properties, they would see these ugly ads on the pages. None of us agreed with MTNL to let them serve ads off our platforms and on our content. Some of us run ads on these properties which help us fund the operation of these properties. MTNL’s ads which ride on the connection are diluting the effect of the ads run by our paying sponsors, and are in effect robbing us of our ad revenues, in addition to spoiling the face of our properties and businesses. And there’s apparently nothing we as producers of content can do about it.
  4. Privacy: Of course the concern here is the same as in Airtel’s case. Today they’re injecting ads, tomorrow they could inject spyware (like some small-time private cable ISPs already do), or could inject ads in all corners of the page (like those same small-time private cable ISPs already do). And they have no business doing it.

On the money front, you might argue that it’s still a little bit of content trickling through and shouldn’t bother us. But I did some back-of-napkin calculations, and here are the approximate results.

Every page I visit consumes around 1 to 2mB of bandwidth. With modern browsers and content caching etc., every time a page is reloaded, the marginal consumption of bandwidth per repeat page would be in hundreds of kBs. On a page load, the amount of bandwidth MTNL’s ad consumes is around 30kB. Even if we calculate on the basis of absolute size of a page’s content instead of the marginal consumption, the noise-to-signal ratio here is 30kB/1.5mB = 2%

If I have a connection of 50gB FUP, this amounts to 1gB. I am being charged for a full HD movie download extra because MTNL wants to serve ads on their connection to us. And not even making a profit off it, because so far I’ve only seen ads of MTNL services in this fashion 🙂

How is this different from websites running ads?

Some might argue that YouTube also runs ads on the content they’re serving. कोई उनको कुछ नहीं कहता! Well, YouTube doesn’t charge me for viewing videos there. When a paid service provider runs ads blocking their own service, and consuming the service that I as a consumer am paying them for, it’s outrageous.

People my age might remember an ISP called Caltiger who started operating in the late 90s. When VSNL’s connections were expensive (Rs. 5,000 for 500 hours of browsing), Caltiger came up with an industry-changing idea – free internet. It was dial-up internet, which means that we still had to pay the per-minute rates for phone calls, but then again, even VSNL’s connection was dial-up, which meant that the total outflow from a subscriber’s pockets were around Rs. 35,000 per year including the phone bill, and not just Rs. 5,000 that we paid VSNL. But Caltiger used to run ads on our screens using its dialler software in exchange for the free internet. In effect we saved Rs. 5,000 in exchange for agreeing to have ads running on our screens. Ads served, but no money taken.

MTNL cannot do both: charge us for bandwidth, but still serve ads. And that too without our consent – both as consumers and as the real creators/providers of content.

The Tech

How do we get rid of this nuisance? Well, if you just see the source of their ads, you can see the following code that is responsible:

<div id="__BULLETIN__bdiv" style="position: absolute; z-index: 999999999; visibility: visible; top: 654px; right: 20px; display: block; transition: top 0s ease 0s;"><style> img.scalable { max-width : 100%; height: auto; }</style><a id="__BULLETIN__bdivButton" target="_blank" href="http://mtnlmumbai.in/index.php/fixed-line/landline/tariff"> <img id="__BULLETIN__bdivImage" style="height: 300px;" src="http://203.94.227.140/bg/Creative1.jpg" scrolling="no" frameborder="0"> </a> <div style="overflow:hidden; position:absolute; right:0; top:0; z-index:9999999999;"><a id="__BULLETIN__button0" href="#"><img id="__BULLETIN__button0i" name="button0" class="scalable" src="http://203.94.227.140/bg/CloseButton.png" border="0"></a>
</div></div>

Temporary solution: Blocking the IP address 203.94.227.140 in your etc/hosts file or in your router’s firewall would provide temporary relief, but since I blocked a similar address last a few weeks ago, they’ve updated the IP address in the request.

Permanent solution? What remained common was the 203.94. part. As far as I know, blocking wildcard IP entries or IP clusters using etc/hosts isn’t possible. Can any of you nice people guide me on how to block this IP cluster either using etc/hosts or the router settings?

Have you dugg this before?

Poor Top Artists Strike Back at Greedy Music Labels! The story would have had over 300 diggs as I write this, had it not been for another genius digger ‘offon’ who thought it would be a nice idea to re-digg an already dugg story – that is while the torrentfreak page shows a digg counter. This person took extra pains to make a new digg, fill up the form, go through captcha, and the “are you sure this story is original” routine (which they seem to have conveniently ignored – ofcourse who else would have come across a torrentfreak page before they did?)

But it’s really amazing! Two duplicate diggs of the same page appear on the digg frontpage at once. And even though I “strategically” digg every blog I write, I seem to have never made the homepage 🙁 Life is so unfair!

And ofcourse there are people who would love digging the same story after they have dugg it once.

See for yourself:
digg

digg2

 

Stop spamming me!

What is the problem with Just Dial?

I have never visited their site before today. Nor have I ever called on their number and left my email address.

Yet, everyday I get three to four emails from them which would be titled “Response to your call for X-Y-Z”. And for around 80% of the time, I would never have even heard of X-Y-Z. The mail starts with a section on what the media is writing about Just Dial, and then “the information I requested”, which would be the name of the company – X-Y-Z, and then their address.

This company is being covered by newspapers and such is the problem with them.

I checked their site, and there is no “don’t send me these emails” link.

From one of their articles: “Just Dial connects the seeker to the sought”. Why is it trying to connect me, when I am neither the seeker nor the sought?

I think I should send them an email with the “information” they didn’t request but require direly.

Spread the cheer

Long time Flickr users, especially the “Explore” enthusiasts obviously know BigHugeLabs and their Scout service, which lists out any user’s “Explore” pictures, either those currently in the charts or those which have ever been in the charts, depending on the settings.

Those photographers who get a kick out of seeing their photographs on Flickr’s Explore frontpage keep visiting Scout to see how many of their snaps have been touched by the Magic Donkey, and whether the number has gone up since the last time they checked. It’s an addiction for some.

So I was sort of taken aback, pleasantly, when Scout tells me today that 405 of my 407 Flickr photographs are “totally awesome”. Turns out this is part of their Christmas cheer programme. A cute red Santa cap accompanies the message which tells me that. You can go back to your routine “normal” Scout. But there’s no way to get this back as far as I can see.

They brought a smile to my face no doubt, albeit with a cute li’l lie.

How are you spreading the joy in the holidays?

Merry Christmas!

Smart Web – How Smart?

While reading this Rediff.com story about Maruti Madhavrao Phad, a Maharashtra government employee who got injured during the recent terrorist attack on Bombay, I noticed something.

It is not related to the story as such. If you scroll down to the end of the story you’ll see the credits for is particular story. It reads “Image: Maruti [Get Quote] Madhavrao Phad at his home. Text: A Ganesh [Images] Nadar. Photograph: Uttam Ghosh


See the screenshot of the line. Notice the yellow areas? These are smart tags which apparently the engine parsing the code of the pages inserts to “enrich” the user’s browsing experience, by providing additional information related to the content the user is browsing through at the moment.

Note the word “related”? Now see what the yellow highlights in the image show. “Get Quote” for Maruti. Here Maruti is the first name of the hero of the story, not the name of a car-making company. Yet, the Rediff engine treats it as the company’s name, and is offering you stock quotes for it. And for Ganesh, the link is a Rediff search link with the string “Ganesh” – marked “Images”. Which means that it would return images of the Lord Ganesha, and other celebrities called “Ganesh”. Not images of the author of the article in this case, A Ganesh Nadar.

And both these tags are intrusive, they not only break the text they are placed in, they break proper names of people. Intrusive and irreverent. Considering the tone of the article, even more so.

Were they really necessary?

Why can’t I pay my bill?

I use Tata Indicom’s broadband as my home connection (plugged into a wifi router, to allow me complete freedom of movement in the apartment, but that’s a different story), and I love it. Last I checked at www.calcuttatelephones.com (their speed checking tool has been mentioned on BBC’s Click), the connection (marketed as a 512 mbps connection) competes well with T1 lines. Impressive! There have been a few outages – 2 to 3 maximum since I have subscribed, but the helpline is helpful and they get the connection up in less than half a day everytime.

What really bothers me is their online presence.

Simple task: I have been getting calls from their collection people asking me to pay the due bill. So I want to make an online payment.

The usual routine with most vendors for this is: sign in to the website, click on Pay Bill, log in, follow instructions, enter card/account information, get confirmation from account provider, and you are done.

But with Tata Indicom, it does not work that way. What I need to do is, click on Pay Your Bill Online Here, log in, they should show me my outstanding, I select payment mode, confirm, read terms, confirm, log in again, on which I am directed to the usual post-login screen (the welcome user screen), then I click Pay Bill again, on which I am asked to log in again, and then I go through either of the two routes again (see my outstanding or the welcome screen). So far I have “logged in” some twenty five times since morning, but I have not once reached the screen where I am supposed to enter my account/card information for the payment processing people.

And I’m sure I’ll keep getting those payment collection calls. When I’d tell them that the site is not working, they’d say “Yes sir, we know it can cause problems sometimes, should I send someone over to collect a cheque?”

India’s biggest business house. Internet service provider. They are in the business of technology – the internet. Their core service is fantastic. How much effort or money does it take to smoothen this part of the user experience – the one where the customer is willing to pay their bill, but is unable to do so with ease? It’s not that they can’t do it. So why the negligence, why the apathy?

MetLotus – are they getting it right?

I came across this Facebook ad today, and clicked on it. It was an Indian site, which is… I don’t know what. On reaching the site (www.metlotus.com), I see the following:

metlotus.com screenshot, click to enlarge

What’s wrong with this? A good design, nice layout, soothing colours, slick animations. But where is the information about the site or the company that it represents? There are the generic social networking promises flashing in neat animation clips, but apart from that? What is its USP, positioning, the hook that would make me want to click any of the links on this page?

When I clicked on ‘Take a Tour’ (which I did purely for the reason for writing this blog), I am presented with another slick flash site in a pop-up window, which has description on how to use this site. Apparently it is a social networking venture. But didn’t the Facebook ad mention something about widgets? I clicked on that link thinking this might be a site specializing in making widgets that we can use on other social networking sites.

Now if it is trying to be a popular social networking site, why is the interface so unusable (for lack of a better word), and not intuitive? How many of us had to go through a tutorial when we first started using Orkut, Facebook or MySpace? Why does a new site, which no one knows about, insist that users log in on the front page without showing any tangible benefit to signing up?

And because I’m a designer of sorts, I also have a problem with the way the consistency with the sans-serifs in the entire design system is not maintained – they’ve used Arial in Flash animations, where they don’t have to worry about embedding fonts! That’s sacrilege in graphic designer-speak 🙂

Leaving this last bit about font puritanism apart, how many times did my mind go “negative” while going through that site – can you count?

Please provide a what???

A Calcuttan missing his hometown opens up the website belonging to the most read newspaper in that town. Pleased with what he saw, he clicked on one of the sections of the e-paper. The site tells him that he needs to be registered in order to go deeper into the contents. No problem. He is ready to register. So he clicks on register and fills up a form. Presses Submit. And see what he gets:

Email ID? The form does not mention email ID anywhere, let alone ask for it. Oh, the error page tells him that the “Username” field should have been populated with his email ID.

Who would have thought? 🙂

If you were that person, would you fill up that form again and continue to use the website? I didn’t. Who knows what other ‘mistake’ I would be chided for next? Is the phone number field actually supposed to contain my height?

Is it so difficult for web designers and companies that hire them to make websites that are free of inconsistencies and are helpful instead of carrying the old ’80-90s attitude of “I made this thing and it works at my end. You need to learn how to make it work for you if you want to use it.”?

It is all adding up to the user experience and thus the brand in the end.

Naukri.com and my post

Naukri.com sent out a mailer advertising its resume services today with the following content:

Studies reveal that 42% people look for a new job because of their boss. Besides a new boss, a new job brings new opportunities, challenges and scope for proving your capabilities.

With Resume Services from naukri we help jobs find you.

Almost serendipitous, is it given this last post on Naukri.com and the solution to the “bad boss” issue positioning?

Good to see that they are focussed on that one idea that has worked to gain mind share for them. But my rhetoric still remains. What are your views?