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?

You won’t sell to me?

The other day I went to a medicine shop and asked for a medicine from a prescription. The pack of 10 costs four-fifty. I open the wallet and find that the smallest paper currency I have is a fifty. The second smallest? Five hundred! And the loose change all totalled up to two rupees fifty.

I gave an apologetic sigh and offered the shopkeeper the fifty hoping that he’d give me change. With a stern look the shopkeeper took back the medicines from my hand, gave me a hand signal denoting refusal and put the medicine back in the shelf, without saying a word. I asked him why. And he says “We won’t entertain this”. That’s all.

I walk over to the next shop, which was like two blocks away, enter it. The guy looks friendly. I thought let’s take a chance. So I asked him for the medicine, and while he’s taking it out of the shelf, I casually ask “You have change for fifty, don’t you?”. He looks back at me, and politely says “No”, keeping the medicine back in the shelf.

So I ask him, “You are a shop. How come you don’t have change?” to which his response is “If you can’t produce change for 4.50, how do you expect us to keep change for 45.50?”

So is having a bigger note worthless if you’re buying a small item? I know that if you offer a pan-wallah a thousand rupee note for a five rupee cigarette it’s absurd, but this is not a difference of 995 we’re talking about or a small pan-wallah. Both shops were decent-sized medicine shops, which I’ve grown up seeing and buying from. What is the reason for their refusal? Is short change really short in the market? Is day-to-day liquidity so low that people are clinging on to any short change they have and are refusing business? Or is it just a stand they have taken that they will not entertain business which makes them do this ‘heavy work’ of counting and returning change?

What use is a bigger currency note if I cannot buy small things with it? I had over a thousand rupees with me right then, but I could not buy medicines worth less than ten rupees.

If there is a liquidity problem, then it is worrying. But if the problem is in the mindsets of the store owners, then it is ridiculous. If they are facing a real short change problem, I think they should offer other channels of payment. Accept credit/debit/charge cards, accept cheques.

Why lose business over this issue, and why dishonour a customer even when he has more money than needed for the transaction?

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?

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.)

Frankfinn & doing your own thing?

See here, this:

A TV spot for Frankfinn air-hostess training institute. Well-made, well-executed, but it’s a surprise everytime the ad ends, because apart from the last vignette there is nothing to indicate that it is talking about an air-hostess training institute.

Why are you talking about girls being themselves, not caring about the world, about their individuality, in an ad for an institute training girls for the stereotypical female profession?

Plus the brands that have been using the air-hostess aspiration on Indian television lately have been all the stereotypical female ones: fairness creams etc.

In my opinion, the entire spot fails to connect with the brand being advertised.

My take is that this ad will build recall, but not for the brand, but just for itself. I don’t think that is what any marketer wants for her communication, or does she?

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.

Who?

For the last six months, I have been seeing TV spots by this one advertiser: V-Guard, who claims that this is a name you can trust.

Pretty tall claim for someone about whom I don’t know anything – not what they make, not what they sell, not where they are from, not who the chairman/CEO is, not even an idea of the broad sector or field they are in. Since their ads have been on TV, they have not talked about any of these things once. All I see is “V-Guard: the name you can trust”. Yeah, you wish.

Pretty clumsy way to be bit by the “build the brand, not sell the product” bug.

Is Originality Dead?

First we saw how Colgate is trying to position itself in a position that is already occupied by arch rival Oral-B. Then there was Havell’s, who copied the idea of doorbells delivering shocks from Anchor. Then it was Samsung Guru and Idea on the tourist-guide-meets-foreigner-tourist-and-communicates-with-the-mobile-phone- in-a-special-way concept.

And today I noticed something. Not only did Tata Motors launch a vehicle named “Magic” (remember that Airtel’s prepaid service has been called “Magic” ever since it acquired Spice’s networks), but take a look at their identity, and then see Airtel Magic’s identity.

I don’t say this blog is best…

There was a time when promoting your business meant saying out loud “We make the best stuff”. But who would trust you when your competitor also said the same thing?

Then there was “We are the best makers of stuff”. But who would trust you when your competitor also said the same thing? And isn’t vanity a sin?

Then you hired someone famous to say “These blokes make the best stuff”. But then people figured out that these famous chaps were paid to say this, and were lying.

Then you hired someone not so famous to say “These blokes make the best stuff”, so that they do not look like highly paid famous people, but genuine users of stuff. But then people figured out that no matter who is saying this, they are paid. And were lying.

Now you say “We don’t say we are the best makers of stuff. You (or ‘Our Users’) say.” Aaah the smugness! The subdued, almost veiled, confidence! The assumption that the receiver of the message is such an ass that he would not get that the message is just twisted around – and the money that would have been spent on getting someone to say it is also saved. And I see it everywhere… not the big makers of stuff, just the small shops who sell stuff.

How long do you think it will last?