Want to Play?

This is a post that I had written over two years ago for my earlier blog. Though the formats of the SMS games has changed a bit in this time (and 4-digit numbers have given way to 5 and sometimes 6 or 7-digit numbers), I see that what I wrote back then is still relevant today.

What do you think?

Want to Play?

SMS QUIZ to 9999 to play
Quiz. Chargeable at Rs. 9
per SMS. Download exciting
tones at 9999 for Rs...

Looks familiar? Well most cellphone users in India have come across such a message some time or other in their stint with their service provider, most of the times piqued by such messages on count of invasion of privacy, but every once in a while paying notice to an odd one, hoping against hope to maybe get some stimulation for the brain, or worse still, a prize.

I’ve also fallen for these a couple of times. And here’s my take on such contests the companies run. The first message asking you to participate asks you to SMS a keyword to the 4-digit number (not 5-digit) to play. You send the keyword. And after losing the money for one SMS (anywhere between 3 to 10 for any 4-digit number in India) you are told the first question. That’s right – money worth one contest SMS just for showing interest in playing the game!

You look at the first question. It is something like: “Who was the first PM of India? (A) Benazir Bhutto (B) Sachin Tendulkar (C) Jawaharlal Nehru. SMS A, B or C to 9999 (now 59999) to play the quiz”. Now if you’re not a braindead guy or an alien on a tourist visit to India, you’d definitely know the answer to this one. And you will also know that every other person who got this SMS also knows the answer. Sounds like child’s play? What happens to the odds of you winning this ‘game’ then? Your response is one in a million correct ones. And you’re expected to pay the same amount (which lies between 3 to 10) again for answering this question – with no expected returns except the chance of having a shot at the next question. Now you know that the next question may be a bit tougher than this one, but will very well be another no-brainer. In any case you will be spending a lot on these SMSes before any good, mind-teasing question which has a chance of being a decisive question, because very few people would have the correct answer to it, is fired at you. And when the tough one comes you would be hooked, not by instinct but by a phenomenon called ‘escalation of commitment’ – since you’d have spent so much money on answering the preceding questions already, you’d nevertheless take a shot at answering this tough one – even when you may not know the answer.

This structure may have been modelled very similar to other quizzes that are played in levels, like your normal school/college/university/office quiz or even BQC or KBC, where the initial levels are very easy and the toughness keeps on increasing with increasing level. That means that as the player gets more and more involved, the questions keep getting tougher. This helps generate interest in the initial rounds, because every player finds the initial questions easy enough to send in the answers and keep playing. To a certain extent this also relates to what is generally called “beginner’s luck” – a phenomenon which draws the first-timer in the game by showing the initial lures of easy victories, though in this case it is more by design than by chance.

Now on to the inherent flaw in the model. You might have already guessed what I’m getting at: it’s the cost per answer. In every level the system aims to eliminate some users – the ones who give the wrong answer (in the first few levels it’s stupid to think that’ll happen – look at the question I quoted earlier :-)). And in each subsequent level that the player crosses, his/her chance of being the winner if a lottery was conducted then and there in place of further rounds improves, because the number of players still in the game keeps on reducing. I’m still under the assumption that the game’s difficulty level indeed rises as players keep on playing (if that assumption is untrue, I doubt if anyone interested in such games would patronize this model). Think about it: the initial questions are absolute sitters, you know the answers by default, and so does everyone else. The only reason you’d want to send in the answer is because you’d be curious what the next question might be, and having a shot at it… maybe if it’s good enough, some people would be eliminated with that question and your odds at winning the final prize would improve. The cost of playing the level seems quite huge at this point, especially because you don’t know the level of questions to come next, you’re not aware of the total number of questions in the game – which means you don’t know your total possible outward cash flows in playing, and there’s little or no possibility of your odds improving due to answering this question. Will you be interested in playing this game? I doubt it.

What could be a possible alternative to this structure is differential pricing for answering each level. Maybe the first few levels could be answered for free – just to create the initial pull. Subsequent levels would get expensive as they would get tougher – that is as the chances of winning increase your bet on yourself increases. A person who’s answered 10 questions and is on the 11th one would definitely want to pay more for answering the 11th question than the guy at the 2nd question attempting the 3rd one, because he’s perceptibly closer to the final stage and the prize. In this model the guy who knows he’s one answer away to glory (the finalist) may even want to pay up to say a hundred bucks if he knows the prize is worth more than that (again go back to ‘escalation of commitment’ to support this claim).

Benefits: More players. Players won’t take the game as just a money-making exercise on the part of the service provider. More revenues, since more players would filter out to the tougher and more ‘expensive’ questions.

Another model could involve charging the players upfront for playing. As of now you have to send in a keyword (PLAY, QUIZ etc) to receive the first question. You pay for this as well. Why not charge the player the whole money (in the name of entry fee) here itself? And this does not have to be equal to the number of levels times each message as priced currently, since as of now very rarely does anyone play the whole game. Charge the user a little more than the average spent by any player on the game right now, and you have a model which earns more than the current scenario.

Benefits: One time money – whether the player continues to play the game or drops the game in the middle due to whatever reason – the income is fixed. Players will take the game seriously – more like a contest – rather than as a timepass. More players will try answering as many questions as possible because answering each question is free – which leads to better visibility and recall of the game and the service provider – might even lead to better word of mouth if the game is good enough.

Want to play now?

Hypnos
PS: The title of this blogpost has been borrowed from P. J. Tracy’s suspense thriller novel.
The inline image is courtesy stock.xchng – one of the most wonderful stock image sites out there.

The Good, The Bad and The Excellent: Recent Telecom Ads

Here I pick three new advertisements from the stables of three Indian telecom houses — Idea, Reliance and Vodafone.

The Good: Let’s start with Reliance, which I’ll call the good. It’s not actually an ad I’m talking about, it’s a campaign — to advertise Reliance’s new caller tune copy service. The advertisements show one person swinging to some popular song that is playing with colourful musical notes surrounding their head. Then the person tells you that this is their caller tune, and you can press * on your Reliance mobile phone to copy it to your number. Then some other person who is in the frame, but not facing the first one hears this, presses * on a virtual keyboard that pops up in front of them and gets the same colourful notes around their head, to denote that the caller tune has been copied. The service has been around for quite some time on some other operators, and if I’m not mistaken, Idea Cellular was the first one to come up with this service and an advertisement (probably made in a south Indian language and dubbed in Hindi/English later on?) to promote it.

The execution is well-done. The camerawork and the graphics etc. along with the choice of songs is good, and the ad grabs attention. The “Hi this is my caller tune…” approach has been consistent in Reliance’s communication regarding caller tunes now, with the first campaign with lots of spots featuring different celebrities.

Interestingly the spots also have a karaoke-style line on the screen while the character is speaking, with the familiar ball-bouncing to denote the word being spoken. This is quite an unnecessary frill in the overall well-done ad, and ironically, this is the one thing where they’ve goofed up. If you look carefully, the words appearing on screen are not the ones being spoken. Why would you have it then? Especially in karaoke-style?

The Bad: Then you have our new Vodafone “musical greeting” promotion. O&M has done some really good spots in the Vodafone VAS campaign, with the man waiting in the lift for his soulmate, the man stocking up on onions in a supermarket, and the cutest one so far – the girl chasing a goat for its milk. But I think they have gone a little too far with the “down to earth, real, slice of life” approach. Three girls, holding a guitar and some other instruments standing beneath a man’s window, singing “pehla nasha”, all out of tune, rhythm and in my opinion, the guitar is being insulted in being handled that way. The idea could have run if the execution was any good. But the execution has left the idea, which is a decent one by the way, struggling. Are the greetings that Vodafone is offering us as “musical” as these girls are? If they are, then thank you very much. I’ll prefer silence.

The Excellent: My favourite commercial from the recent days is the new Idea commercial. Abhishek Bachchan is playing a tourist guide in Agra, who tries to talk to a foreigner lady for selling his services, but she seems not to understand. He assumes there is a language problem so he hands her his card, and turns around. He turns around to see her friend come to her and talk to her in sign language — they were both deaf-mute. Just then he receives a text message from her that they need a guide. We then see Bachchan tell a group of tourists about the Taj Mahal, and along with that he texts the woman whatever he is telling the others. She replies with a text – ‘what an idea’.

Truly, what an idea! To position text-messaging as a communication tool for deaf-mute people and thus increase the user base of mobile phones is truly a marvellous idea. This one is a fitting sequel to the earlier Idea spot, with Abhishek Bachchan playing a village head who replaces the usage of names for people with their mobile numbers, thus solving the caste problem plaguing his village. The spot is executed well, and the actors have played their part well. Hats off to Lowe people for an excellent campaign and another excellent advertisement in that series.

Fame on flickr


sun god
Originally uploaded by recaptured

Well the picture of the piano keys that I had shown you here did not make it in the Orkut contest I mentioned in that post, but for quite some time it was the most appreciated and popular photograph on my flickr album. Things have changed today though, this silhouette of buds against a setting sun has become my most popular photograph there.

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?

Irony? Hypocrisy? Need a job?

Do the top Indian placement websites have a pact among themselves to not air their commercials when the other parties’ are on? For quite some time now Monster.com was advertising like crazy with its “caught in the wrong job” spot while Naukri.com was off-air. Now that Monster is not that visible on air, Naukri seems to have woken up.

Let’s keep the market dynamics aside for a moment to discuss another issue, shall we?

The Naukri.com spots, the most famous of which has been the ‘Hari Sadu’ one, where an employee spells out the name of his bad-tempered and abusive boss as “Hitler Arrogant Rascal Idiot”, all have one idea – that if you have lost your job, the place to go to is Naukri.com. Pretty strong idea I must say. Everyone who is working in a job either empathises or sympathises with the protagonist. The ad simply rocks, because it demonstrates a problem most of its target segment is troubled with – that of a bad boss. The commercial is indeed one of the most famous ones of these times, especially among office-goers. We have all played the ‘game’ of expanding the names of our respective bosses at some time or the other after this commercial started airing.

Now one of the reasons for changing or quitting every placement consultant out there will ask you to avoid mentioning is that you and your boss could not get along. It is a taboo to mention in an interview that you had a ‘bad boss’. Isn’t it ironic then that the most famous and talked about placement agency advertisement is centred around exactly this one issue? The sticky-ness of this ad bears testimony to the fact that this remains the leading reason for people to look for change from their current jobs, so why are we so wary to own up to it and say clearly to a prospective employer that “yes I quit because my previous immediate superior and I could not get along, and I hope that you and I will not go down that path”?

Long Live Indian Journalism!

How does it go? “The King is dead, long live the King!”

Around a week back, the Pointy-Haired Dilbert aka Chandoo wrote a blog entry about the “must read” section of a famous Indian news channel’s website. That just corroborated the general sentiment prevalent among people who care about journalism and news and its present state in the country.

News channels have been serving us items about ‘ghosts’, supernatural ‘incidents’, television soaps news, page 3 type parties, kissing scandals, timeslots dedicated to comedy shows, while keeping journalistic professionalism at bay. A ghost story or a faith story is covered with sensationalism, but without any coverage on the rational angle as is done by any self-respecting news agency. Page 3 scandals are covered with juicy gossip intact. And half the time when you switch to these channels they are either discussing cricket with a has-been cricketer, or showing a comedy gig featuring one of the new crop of Indian stand-up comics.

And ofcourse the love affair of these news channels with India’s first family – no, I’m not talking about Mrs. Pratibha Patil & family – the famous Bachchan family of Allahabad to Juhu fame is there for all to see. But they took it too far today with this:
Breaking News: Amitabh Bachchan ko thand lagiThe “Breaking News” ticker reads: “Amitabh Bachchan ko thand lagi” (Amitabh Bachchan catches cold).

Sing-me-a-song

Can’t find a new idea? Write a song instead.

Is this the new mantra in the Indian advertising world?

Take the new LIC commercial – “ना चिंता ना फिकर ना है डर…”. What is the idea behind this commercial? What are they trying to tell us that they have not already told us in their scores of advertisements in the past? Any new product? Is the execution any fresh? And doesn’t the song seem like a bad rehash of an old Hindi film tune?

Do you remember an ad for a construction / construction equipment company from some time back – the song went “जो भी बनाते हैं हम…”? Sounded like an insipid composition from mid-90s Hindi movies.

And while we are at it, can you tell me what is the link between “Mind & body, heart & soul”, cricket, Shankar-Ehsan-Loy and Visa? Beats me.

But don’t take this as a blanket critique of music in advertisement. The song used in the first Lead India advertisement that spread on the internet as the “new national anthem” – with words like “बढ़ाओ हाथ के सूरज सुबह निकाला करे, हथेलियों में भरे धूप और उछाला करे” and a strong idea and execution, this ad is a sure winner.

And if you’re not particular about understanding the lyrics, there always is the astounding Nike street cricket commercial, and the Bajaj Pulsar 200cc launch bike stunt commercial, which if I’m not mistaken was shot in Morocco.

What set these three apart from the former three is the presence of an idea, and freshness in execution.

Just singing songs won’t get you a place in the customer’s mind.

Streaks!


my very first proper light trail picture
Originally uploaded by recaptured

This is something I had wanted to do ever since I took up photography as a hobby.

This was framed from the footbridge on that crossing, and while I was taking these shots I had gathered quite an audience around me, who were all curious as to what I was shooting and what kept appearing at the “back of the camera”.

Do you know your dentist’s brand preference?

Have you seen the Colgate toothbrush advertisement on television with dentists telling us that Colgate is the toothbrush most dentists use?

Now I couldn’t care less which toothbrush my or any other dentist uses. But there’s something wrong with this commercial. And looks like it’s everything.

Let’s begin with the strategy: what is the ad trying to position the product as? A toothbrush dentists use. But isn’t that already taken? Oral B already occupies the seat of “the toothbrush dentists use themselves” in our minds. So what is Colgate trying to achieve with this attempt at occupying this unavailable position? Beats me. Add to that the fact that the moment you decide to do a me-too campaign trying to position yourself in a spot your competitor already is occupying, it is to be taken for granted that the prospect would inevitably be comparing your communication with your competitor’s, and the odds are it would not be favourable towards you. You are, after all, copying your competitor’s idea.

Oral-B, in its ads, uses Rob the dentist, whose face is always hidden, to stand for all dentists that supposedly use Oral-B toothbrushes. Their commercials even state clearly that they can’t show the face of the ‘dentist’ because he is a real dentist (rather than a paid actor). This makes it believable. Sure on the cognitive level, the prospect would think that it is obviously staged since it is an advertisement. But on an affective level, the claim that it is a real dentist seems believable (Why else would they not show his face?)

Here Colgate falter. They show the faces of their dentists, smiling, holding the brush and talking to camera selling the product. Can medical professionals appear in paid communication endorsing products? I don’t think so. These are paid actors. And it is evident. We have seen these actors in other commercials. Yes sir, Colgate has come out as a liar, trying to pass off actors as dentists. What good would the certification from the dental association be if you are undermining your own credibility this way? Sure all ads use paid actors and we know that, and sure all oral care ads have shown actors dressed as dentists, but did those ‘dentists’ directly promote any brand (as opposed to just educating you about dental hygiene) on the basis that the community of dentists (which is real, rather than the fictional character the dentist in the ad is) prefer. That is a serious claim!

And in the end, what is happening to copywriters? Lines like “अगर स्वस्थ मुंह चाहिए तो कुछ और क्यूं?” (why anything else if you want a healthy mouth?) and “मैं कोलगेट की सलाह देता हूं क्योंकि यही इस्तेमाल करता हूं, और बाकी डेंटिस्ट्स भी इसी की सलाह देते हैं (I recommend Colgate because I use it, and rest of the dentists also recommend it) are only weakening an already doomed campaign.

I think the folks at Gillette should be celebrating the way Pepsi folks were celebrating way back at the launch of New Coke. To make the market leader forget their strategy and instead launch a me-too campaign based on your positioning is a compliment to the marketing department of your company. The Oral-B strategy is just right, now if only they stick to it and not let themselves squander based on “country-based research-based strategy”.

Classics Revisited: Tata Safari DiCOR

After reading the content of the last ad-dissection post someone on the same Orkut forum recounted a favourite ad of his – the Tata Safari DiCOR ad, the one we are familiar with as the “Reclaim your life” ad, and requested a writeup on that. Guess what? I also love that ad, and loved writing the following.

Company: Tata Motors
Brand/Product: Tata Safari DiCOR
Tagline: Reclaim your life
Storyboard link: courtesy agencyfaqs!

What is this advertisement selling, if it does not talk about the mileage, the grip on the road, the boot space, the leg room, the head room, the interiors, the paint, the look? It does not talk of the car at all. What is it trying to get at?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places esteem (not the car from the Maruti stable) at the fourth level, above physiological needs, safety and love/belonging and lower only to self-actualization. What needs does a car satisfy? There is a basic (call it physiological if you will) need, which Kotler calls “core benefit”, of transportation, and there is safety – you would prefer a car to a motorcycle to a bicycle because it is safer to the latter options. Lastly, there is one need that a car satisfies, more in the younger crowd, and that is esteem. A 14-year old is thrilled about getting to drive a car, and a 24-year old is thrilled about owning one. The world over, a car is one of the most treasured possessions of a man. Your car in a way defines you. Why else would wannabe playboys drive around in big shiny sportscars hoping to impress the women?

With the economy moving the way it is and with the average age of the first car buyer coming down (with the result that people are buying their first cars at 25 rather than 35, which was the norm 15 years ago), along with the fact that more and more younger professionals are getting their dream jobs with dream salaries, dream locations etc. (with the result that even the first car can be a B+ or C segment instead of the earlier 800/Alto/Santro class), it is a good idea for a SUV to focus on the young professionals as their consumer segment.

So what this ad does, is that it takes the aspirations of young and otherwise successful people, people whose parents would no doubt be proud of them, and shows that the ‘normal’ life is keeping them from pursuing what their heart desires. They would rather be doing something else.

Now what works here:

  1. The positioning – bang on. The car for the young successful professional who wants to be a maverick. With the new-style Safari, the designers at Tata successfully moved away from the boxy Bihar/Jharkhand-road chhaap Sumo image and delivered a sleek, sophisticated looking SUV.
  2. The immediate connect – if you are a young successful professional, you definitely have a wish to do something extraordinary with your life which you are unable to do right now because of the rat race you are stuck in. You have to identify with the faces in the ad.
  3. The tagline – reclaim your life. This urban life with the 9 to 5 job and pressures of the family etc. have taken away your life from you — the life that actually belongs to you, which you should be able to live your way. You should now get up and reclaim it for your sake. Notice the direct call to action – it’s not a ‘buy now’ or ‘hurry till stocks last’. It is so much of a non-hardsell line that it appeals to you much less like an ad but more like a caring friend or a movement that you’re part of (why am I reminded of Woodstock?).
  4. The production – there are two parts to the film: the first where the people talk about their unfulfilled dreams, and the second where the car is shown. First you feel connected to the people and as soon as you feel comfortable, a high-speed unstable film appears with a powerful SUV negotiating tough roads like you would like yourself to be doing right here right now. The director of the spot has done his job brilliantly in getting both parts of the film to talk properly to the target audience.