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.

The End of 13 Llama Studio – and What I Learnt From It

It has been a year and a half since the transition started, and it just got over around last week.

Prasad’s and my labour of love, 13 Llama Studio, has officially ceased to exist. As you were aware that we had started on our journey of entrepreneurship around five years ago, with an agency named 13 Llama Studio. In the summer of 2016, I decided to end my stint with it, and Prasad decided to pivot to a pure digital marketing agency called 13 Llama Interactive.

Things weren’t looking really rosy for the development part of our business for a few months then. There were a few things we could have and should have done differently. Some time in the spring that year, we took a call that our friendship is more important than a business partnership, and we decided to streamline projects and teams under either of us. Some time around June, I took stock of the situation and realised that I was bleeding at a rate higher than all of our billings combined were able to sustain. If I had deeper pockets, I would have tried to restart everything and take another shot at the kind of company I had dreamt of making.

Sadly, that was not the case. Soon after deciding to shut down the development business, and putting away the name 13 Llama Studio, I was out in the job market looking for openings. Friends were contacted, headhunters I had not spoken in half a decade got calls from me, and resumes on online sites were dusted and preened.

Thanks to many friends, I had interviews soon after, and after converting three of them, I decided to join ICICI Securities Private Wealth Management as the marketing guy. It’s been seventeen months here, and I’m loving every bit of it. The transition was a bit difficult, but owing to the way this place is set up, it wasn’t that difficult. How I have fared here, and what plans I have over here may be the subject of some other post in the future.

Today I would like to share what I learnt from this entrepreneurship stint:

  1. Vision: Every business needs to have clarity of vision — where you want to be in a year, in 5 years, in a decade, and a clear plan of how you plan to get there, not just an industry and a product/service you are going to offer. You can’t wing this.
  2. Being on the same page: No matter how strong your friendship is, your business wouldn’t survive unless all founders/partners agree on the vision and ways of doing business. And constantly communicating with each other about this and whatever you think is important for the business. Skip this step, and you risk your friendship.
  3. Hiring: I had read in the book Ogilvy on Advertising, that if everyone in a company hired people smaller than themselves, it becomes a company of dwarves, while if everyone hired people bigger than themselves, it would become a company of giants. We could not adhere to this principle, despite seeing the merit of it and being awed by the simplicity of it. But to be fair to us, we weren’t spoilt for choice when we first began operations — though I believe that had we acted right back then, it’d have become easier for us progressively.
  4. Hiring the right clients: A small company is eager to survive, to grow, and to thrive. And for each progressive stage, one has to get progressively selective with the kind of projects one onboards and the kind of clientelle one associates with. Through our journey we had a handful of amazing clients, who, no surprises there, are now at the peak of their respective businesses, and are overall happy in life – because they operate out of a sense of fairness and abundance. On the other hand, we had quite a few clients we should have said no to, or should have been careful with while laying down the rules of engagement – these clients operated out of a incessant drive for extracting maximum bang for buck combined with disrespect for what we did for them.
  5. Valuing ourselves: For too long both of us worked at the company with meagre salaries. Either of us still drew more pay than any of the rest of the staff, but that doesn’t say much. This led us to believe for long that we were profitable. We were growing no doubt, in billings, in the size of office we could hire, in getting a coffee machine, and somewhat respectable furniture, but we weren’t valuing ourselves, the founders, at our full cost. The only saving grace was that we began with very little capital, so the return-on-investment seemed respectable optically. But given our backgrounds, and the kind of opportunity costs we both incurred, it was criminal the way we ignored it while doing a health check of the company.

Having run that company we both loved for around three and a half years has left us only wiser. And our friendship remains strong. Whatever we do now is guided by experience and wisdom.

Here’s to the future!

Jargon of the Day: Vendor’s Guilt

It’s been almost three years since I quit the folds of a job with a private limited company, with a regular monthly salary, and almost a year since Prasad and I started off our own firm.

It was the beginning of a new continuum of professionalism, applying whatever we know & understand, making mistakes, learning from them, and trying to turn those experiences into repeatable behaviour.

And amongst all this, we observe each other, learn from each other, and try to correct each other from time to time.

One trait I’ve observed in our behaviour at times is what I’ve started calling Vendor’s Guilt (and Prasad does refer to it in a post a couple of months back).
Here’s what it is.

One of the reasons we wanted us to start on our own was to become a rare type of IT vendor: the kind who gives full value of the client’s money, does not act hostile towards the client or their work, and always has the client’s best interests in mind.

While all this is fine and a noble, the fact of the big bad world out there is that any business would try to hold back in negotiations and payments, and try to extract the most bang for their buck. I’m not sitting in judgment on anyone here — it is because businesses are closest to what we learnt as the rational person during our microeconomics classes — they aim to maximize gain while minimizing expenditure. Of course as people many of us might think it’s a crummy thing to do, but as people managing a business we get rid of the guilt associated with such behaviour, and thus we get the every day client.

Often times a well-meaning vendor (the one who goes by the principles I listed two paragraphs ago) gets carried away with the well-meaningness, and goes into altruistic territory. The classic symptoms of this behaviour are:

  • Relenting during negotiation (they can’t pay more than this, how will they get it done at the prices we quoted?)
  • Starting work without receiving any payments (of course they intend to pay, they can’t NOT pay, right? They are good guys!)
  • Volunteering to give advice not asked for at times which would reduce the size of our engagements (as a partner, shouldn’t I be concerned about saving my clients’ costs?)
  • Getting anxious whenever the client would raise even a small concern (how could we let this happen? how would this affect our relationship, and reputation?)
  • Not chasing clients for pending payments often enough (how would it look? he’s the brand manager, the payments are processed by the accounts guy, they have run out of their monthly budgets already)
  • Continuing work and taking on more pressure despite payments being delayed inordinately (they can’t pay, they don’t have money, and unless we deliver this, how will they earn and pay us?)

Please don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have good intentions for clients and prospects as a service provider. And it’s a bit scary for us to imagine turning into the other vendors we all have burnt our fingers with.

But when these concerns overshadow our own survival, and especially when we are dealing with clients who are bigger in size and turnover than we are, yet somehow they don’t have enough to pay us for our services, out comes this term: Vendor’s Guilt.

How was this affecting us? At times we were feeling the pressure from both ends: work was piling up, but money wasn’t trickling in, often due to the same clients. We would keep debating hours about why we are letting this happen to us. And in those hours of debate, it became clear that we were letting this all happen, and maybe were driving ourselves towards this, because we were striving to set ourselves apart from the run-of-the-mill vendor we hear stories of who shut down servers, or put up a nasty message on the homepage, or overcharges for superfluous services.

How did we manage our way out of it? It was a three-point realisation:

  1. That we really aren’t ‘that’ vendor. When we stepped back and assessed our work and engagements, we realised we were a high-performing considerate vendor, and most of our engagements are really healthy. Most of our clients respect us and our work, pay up on time, and barely haggle. And we have always strived to deliver the full value of what we’re paid. Plus, we have not abandoned on bad terms a single project because of payment or personality issues (touchwood), a problem that I increasingly see is quite common at least in the Indian market.
  2. ‘That’ kind of vendors still exist, and we still keep hearing about them. But there’s another realisation we’ve had: that the vendors aren’t always at fault. There are clients who give vendors a hard time, hold back payments, and misbehave with vendors. And there’s just so much that a business owner can take from a client before protecting their own business interests. I’m not condoning that behaviour, but if we haven’t stepped into their shoes, how can we judge them so harshly?
  3. We are a business, being managed and powered by people, who have bills to pay and dreams to fulfill. And at the end of the day, if we can’t pay the wages all these people are here for, and are struggling with working capital and profitability after working so hard, is it really worth it?

From the point that we’ve had this discussion, we’ve decided to keep a tight check on all engagements, raise flags whenever we realise it’s veering towards exploitation, and take appropriate measures. These measures are nothing more than getting clarity amongst ourselves, meeting with the appropriate people at the client’s end and apprising them of our situation. In all the cases, the other party does appreciate our concerns and our sharing with them.

Meanwhile, we continue to deliver value for all our clients, strive hard to get the best done for the best costs, because that’s what we set out to do and not out of any guilt, but we don’t make ourselves bleed to fill anyone else’s cups.

It’s not that difficult, really.

Castrol Active ad: Analysis

Before & After: You must have seen this format.

[before / after]
Gyms, diet plans and hair loss repair clinics practice a crude form of such advertising. Dishwashing liquid/bars also advertise in this format. Fair & Lovely made an assembly line of such ads, though their ads are one level higher on the story bit.

It is quite a general way of selling you something.

“Without our product, your life wasn’t that great, you had such & such problems, and when our product entered your life, it changed, for the better.”

But there has to be a connect in this line.

Which is what the makers of the last two Castrol Activ TVCs seem to have forgotten.

The script of both the ads is similar: An elder is teaching a young one (son/brother) to ride a bike. The drill is simple: clutch, accelerator, brake! Why brake? Because in city traffic, you need to brake more often than accelerate. Enter the helpful mechanic, who tells him that he’s right, but braking too often leads to extra pressure on the engine, which is harmful. Which is why you need Castrol’s new Activ engine oil. Problem solved. And the after scene shows a happy father asking the son if he’d only keep braking or ride the bike after all, or the younger brother just riding off without waiting for his elder brother to get on the bike, to which an elated big brother says “Munna rider ban gaya!”.

Castrol ad: father & son
Castrol ad: father & son
Castrol ad: brothers
Castrol ad: brothers

What is the issue with this, you ask?

Well, let’s analyse.

The ad has 3 parts – problem, intervention, solution (before, product, after – familiar?). The problem was two-fold – the young rider is not happy with the pillion who is not letting him ride and is asking him to brake too often (to simulate city traffic), and the elder pillion is not happy because city traffic is a b*tch.

The intervention is an engine oil, which reduces the strain on the engine which it faces in city traffic.

The after (solution?) is a happy father, who is not asking his son to brake anymore, or a happy elder brother who is happy that his younger brother is riding well now.

Did you notice the disconnect?

The problem that the mechanic mentioned was not on the minds of our protagonists until he came in the picture. He solved a problem they were least concerned with. In fact, he does not address their problems at all – city traffic still remains a b*tch, and thus elder person should still be concerned with it. What does his intervention do? It assures you that your engine will be OK even if you braked like mad in city traffic.

And somehow, this intervention manages to make both the protagonists happy. The elder one is not at all worried about the b*tch like city traffic anymore, even though common sense says that now that he knows the bike’s engine can take the strain of repeated braking and traffic has not at all improved, he shouldn’t be worrying about the engine’s health and should be pushing the rider to keep braking more and more. But he doesn’t.

Microsoft says “I’m a PC” and well… thanks Microsoft :-)

When Microsoft released ads answering the “I’m a PC, I’m a Mac” ads from Apple, the blogosphere is bound to write about it.

Chandoo has also done that. And while reading his post, I wrote the following myself.

Stuff I appreciate about the ads: it fights the idea of stereotyping users, though that is not the intent of the Mac ads. It’s a good strategy – take the strength of the competitor’s communication and turn it around as their weakness. It celebrates diversity – that the hardware I use does not define me. And ofcourse PC (the x86 PC architecture to be precise), being the open systems format, is the perfect “mascot” for that diversity.

And that’s where it does not fit in with M$. It does not work. Why? Mac-vs-PC works because Apple OWNS Mac – the software as well as the hardware. PC is not OWNED by anyone. IBM invented it, and it’s been since taken over by the open market. Even Intel can’t claim to own the PC market. There are many more players who define PC – there’s HP, Dell, AMD.

And Microsoft does not run on just PCs anymore. After Intel entering Macs, Windows also is aiming for people owning Macs.

So why is Microsoft spending so much money on promoting a franchise which it does not own nor which comprises its entire target market?

Note that none of the people say “I’m Windows” or “I’m a Windows user”, nor would it fit if they did.

I guess if they are serious, specialized PC users, they’d NOT be using Windows, let alone Vista. How many of these “PeeCees” were Linux users, how many were BSD users? How many use XP (remember the ad ends with a Vista graphic)?

Next, since the ad celebrates diversity so much, does Microsoft support the idea? Is its software or UI that customizable? The idea that the computer you use should not define who you are or what you look like – shouldn’t it be carried forward in the goods delivered? Why does M$ software (Vista) hog so much of resources that it does not let the real software which DOES define what us PC users are work properly?

Just making smart ads isn’t going to get M$ back in the good books of computer users. Making software that works properly would.

In the end, if you’d remove the last screen mentioning Microsoft, the ads make a stronger case for the x86+OSS systems (read Linux/BSD on PC) rather than Windows/Vista.

Being a devout x86+OSS (rather x64+OSS) user myself, all I have to say is “Thanks Microsoft ;)”.

Choices

Which do you think makes a better connect with you, or whom would you buy from?

We are your only choice
The only company selling blah-blah with blah-blah technology.
We are the only option if you want blah-blah on your blah-blah.
(In other words, if you want blah-blah and not choose us, you’re doomed. Where will you go, eh?)

or

We appreciate your choice
We are equipped with blah-blah on our blah-blah, but we appreciate that you have a choice of going to other people but have chosen us.
We appreciate that you have chosen us amongst many others who are giving similar (not the same) offerings.
(In other words, we are better, because you chose us; The blah-blah on the offering might be just one of the reasons you did.)

The Hare & The Tortoise – Rethink

The tortoise did not win the race. The hare lost it. The tortoise is a winner only because his competitor was an idiot — who was complacent and slept off.

There is a take-away in the story. But it is not that “slow and steady wins the race”. It is that “no matter how skillful you are, never underestimate your competitor”, and “if slow and steady could win the race, think what fast and steady can do”.

If the hare had not slept off, the tortoise would not have been celebrated. Slow and steady wins the race only when fast and steady isn’t around.

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?