Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Brand Worship

As a Marketing Communications professional, I have found 'religion' to be a well oiled marketing machinery that has built some of the most powerful brands in the history of mankind. It involves all elements of Marketing communications; for example: very strong brands with clear brand messages, icons (or idols), rituals, brand ambassadors, activation programs, ambient advertising, merchandising et al. With changing times, they have also embraced online and digital communications.
Binding faith or brand loyalty is the hallmark of the brands that are active in this industry - with the 'marketers' and brands literally taking to fight wars for market dominance.

However I have not been a great endorser of the expositions conducted by many these brands. Over time, most of these 'marketers' have moved  beyond their raison-d'etre and as a Hindu loyalist, I could not help but cast my critical eye on some of the activties by my own faith. While most of the religions have their own brand book or code of ethics, over time, the loyalists and practioners have given their own interpretations to these philosophies thereby stretching the liturgies far from the realms of reality.
A case in point is the Ganesha Festival. It is a yearly activation program of brand 'Ganesha', held for around 10 days and usually falls between August and September. One of the largest of the Hindu festivals, it makes it to the Top 3 in terms of inconveniencing vast swathes of people.
Gaining popularity as a community program during India's freedom struggle, the festival has continued, more as a symbol of entrapment of India's middle class and milked by political affiliates.

One of the highlights of this program are Ganesha 'Pandals' - temporary structures that are erected right in the middle of the road. While they tend to cover the potholes that exist as a portraiture of the exchequer's apathy, the festival widens its canvas as well as the coffers of civil contractors- thereby living up to its reputation of ushering prosperity to its believers.  In front of these pandals, many of the brand loyalists, known as 'bhakths', bow their heads in shame for mouthing expletives when the Sewage Dept. bariccaded the same spot for an emergency work a few months back.

The processions for ushering the Ganasha idol to its temporary abode and its farewell on the day of immersion are a sight to behold. This sight is captured best in the expressions of passengers stuck in road for hours, most of them caught unawares in the unfortunate coincidence. If calculated, the combined cost of the fuel burnt in these jaunts can easily make it to the 'Ripleys - Believe it or not' series.

Another spectacle seen during the festival is when a few chosen ones especially from the community of the elderly & the sick get a chance to go to hell (and sometimes back) as there is no way to reach a hospital even to get emergency first aid. The festival makes special provisions to make even the dumb and deaf  citizens jump to popular Bollywood Chart busters which are played right next to their ear drums.

Owing to the vast popularity and following of this festival, other religions have also adopted certain best practices. Brand loyalists point this out as an example of "universal appeal" at the "All Religion Nuisance sweep-stakes" and is lauded at various award shows.

A popular dish that is enjoyed after the festivities is called "PoP flavoured Ganesha Dumplings". The preparation of this delicacy starts with immersing 1/3/5/7 or 11 day Ganesha Idols in the sea along with other offerings. Once the sea is polluted and the marine ecology asphyxiated after ingesting the poisonous mix of Gypsum or Plaster of Paris (PoP), many of the fishes die. The surviving ones can be bought off fish markets along the Mumbai coast. These fishes are then cooked and served according to ones preferences. Many term this experience as a very fulfilling one.

Despite many citizens warning against the abuse of the delicate marine life, loyalists continue to uphold this ritual of idol immersion in the sea as a mark of their brand loyalty. Both vegetarians and non-vegetarians join in this ecological pogrom, thereby building a sense of unity in practicing this ritual.

With revenues in excess of 20,000 crs,  the campaign is highly effective with a YoY increase of 30%. That is approximately 4 times the budgetary allocation for poverty eradication in just 10 days!

But if the poor gets eradicated and their basic needs gets fulfilled, who's left to beg for prosperity?
Looking forward to another 10 days of chaos.

Disclaimer: The autor is a practicing Hindu and celebrates religious festivals as an occassion to rekindle bonds with divinity. He abhors all public expositions that pauperise this belief.

Some references:

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Notional Indian

I have realised that the concept of India thrives best in our minds and not in reality. India survives in each of our conscience as a concept loosely strung together by our virtues or by the lack of it. And it is not uniform. As an identity, it can be best described as an unfinished dream trying to complete its play before reality ends its climax.

I might be chastised for blasphemy and sedition, but I don’t think that the real concept of India is going to play out very soon. And my interpretation is as follows:

The constitution was framed in the midst of a reality defying orgasm called freedom. The drafters of the "World's longest constitution" were learned-no doubt, but were obviously feeling high and self righteous about framing policies that sought in all good faith-to reshape the mindset of a faction rid nation into believing in the power of 'one' India.
In drafting this, they gave absolute freedom to everybody to follow everything they wanted- faith, religion, gender, class, caste, language and at the same time tried to unify it through this elitist notion called the constitution. I am not sure whether many of these "cut & pasted" laws can stand a scrutiny of the times that we live in. Amendments have mostly been representative of the demands of coalition politics rather than providing a uniform identity to the question of nationality (though I will wilfully change my stand if any constitution expert points out otherwise). So today, we have notional rituals and symbols like a common currency, national flag, a national bird, national language, national bandhs and so on but we keep fighting for divergent causes. We don’t seem to have a national agenda. Nationality is more often used for jingoistic entertainment at the Wagah border, during cricket matches or when some neighbour pees in our backyard.

Each one of us is fighting individual battles of freedom to ascertain an identity, faith, religion, language, region etc which is pulling us sideways as we try and move forward. And for power mongers and politicians, this is an opportunity - an absolute feast to ride these multiple factions.

For lack of a better word- I genuinely feel that we don’t have a national narrative. The fight against corruption is definitely a good direction. But I am not sure whether this is the cause or the result.

Is it corruption?

The egalitarian dream on which the policy makers started running the country still continues like an episodical play called the 5 year plan. There have been achievements, no doubt-but it fails to evoke the feeling of a national movement. It does not seem to have an overpowering national cause. The root issues like poverty, healthcare, infrastructure, employment are all bed ridden with implementation ailments.

I am not sure whether the policy makers were really prepared when they started doling out the benefits of freedom. With a queue of 1 billion people, we are in a hurry-to get there before the other. We are ready to trade flesh for an opportunity to end years of oppression and insult. We dont care about others or the means as long as we get our pounds worth. Even today, we suffer from this chaotic clamour to climb out of the cage faster than the others.

If you are not convinced, just observe how Indians behave in a queue or the way we treat our open space and public utilities.


Liberalisation and the new consumerist mind-set have started an even more tumultuous, no-holds barred struggle to reach ahead of the other. Morality, ethics, empathy and even basic civic sense have been the casualty. Righteousness has become relative to "if he can, so can I". In our eagerness to taste a better life, we complicitly ally with deceit, inefficiency and mediocrity.

For me this impatience to wait out our turn, selfishness and our acceptance of mediocrity are the root causes for our under development. In short, there is an absence of a moral fiber that unites India. So while we blame the politicians for all the ills that plague India, the reality is that they represent our mindset. If they have to change, we have to change. And it does not stop from giving or accepting a bribe. It starts with accepting our place in the 'queue' and moving forward by merit of effort, not loopholes and reservations. It might be a simplistic solution - primary school moral science values, but better than none at all.

Each day a million mutinies (borrowing shamelessly from Sir Naipaul) take place in India in this fight for identity, for individual freedom. And dying slowly in those mutinies is the collective 'India'-failing to find a voice that unites it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Thanks to the new job, my visits to Europe has doubled since I was born. That makes it two. Many of my friends were surprised that I didnt post pictures of yours truly saying 'prost!', but dint tell them that "I wannabe, but was cannab'd". However I would have loved to tell them about a new zing that opened somewhere close to my hypothalamus the first time I set foot in Bavaria. It should have been the near absence of fault. Or it should be the civic sense of the inhabitants, it could be the cleanliness or it could be absence of noise and people. But I could not tell them out of fear of being dubbed as the new globe trotter on the block and be subjected to other user experiences. Guess I overcame that fear today.

Of late, I've been wondering how long it will take us to have atleast one of the cities like there. The infrastructure was not all. The citizens there seemed to be driven by a completely different set of values which made visitors follow them too and not out of fear of any punitive reprimands. A well travelled friend who would welcome a social app for posting his visa stamps, professed that while on the outside, it might look all good, those countries are not friendly to brown skins. As if they have to pay obeisance to us for being the best country on earth for foreigners.
Why on earth do we expect the world to respect us...but for a few men who slogged their asses off to be where they are, and not because of any government grants or citizen charters. Every time the world toasts a new Indian, the media works over time to do a DNA study with a family tree. And then the goverment follows suit with garlands and cheap publicity charades. Till he becomes part of the 'comittee' trail and undoes his good work.
To continue from the earlier point, many of the European towns have been rebuilt post world war II, just around a decade before we celebrated our Independence. Social indices consistently rate the Europeans higher than any other part of the world while our motherland figures are way down the averages. How come we are still amidst the ruins of our servility and they are resplendent in their achievements, overcoming their ghastly Nazi shadows?

To digress a little, when I started work in Mumbai I started admiring the zealousness & bohemian views of its inhabitants and a belief in making things work for them rather that wait for it unlike my home state Kerala. There were completed roads and highways, relatively efficient public utilities, engliss ispeaking women, late nights and dance bars. Towering buildings, unscrupulous real estate agents, eerie alleys and gangster stories co existed with stories of toil and hope. After a decade and shifting loyalties from a migrant to a resident, the above euphemisms haven't gone beyond the list; many of them soured after its initial appeal. The promises have been packaged and sold to hedge funds and the returns have been re invested in the private coffers of the political class who withdraw little sums to buy apartments reserved for war widows and other hobbies. The citizens are in a daze and given a choice to elect the next council of ministers, they will get away to the nearest rain dance venue to practice their favourite Bollywood act. We danced till Ajmal Kasab & Co. raped our city and like thieves in twilight, marched to an agenda which returned nothing but burnt fingers.

The 'argumentative Indian' postulated by some author has now become a fundamental right. We just talk. Some people uphold this as another legacy of our oral tradition- which in my view is the closest we have ever got to calling ourselves as a nation of suckers. Another adjective that has pride of place in describing the Indians are 'value conscious'. "We are great bargainers", as identified by a retail tycoon. That is another bullshit synonym for penuriness and utter lack of trust. We go for the cheapest possible and the most short term solution for everything. And then we use it for the wrong application and wait for the rest of the population to follow. And then call it Indian ingenuity. Then we brand it and sell it to more such lazy morons. Till some one writes a book on this. And then it becomes a tourist attraction and a cultural scar almost forcing the Egyptians into a tourism campaign saying that the pyramids are still in Giza and not in Dharavi, Mumbai. Our penchant to bargain on everything has ensured that there is an inherent mistrust in the buyer-seller equation which translates to shitty prtoducts with shitty properties - almost akin to shit wrapped in toilet paper. Come on, if we were great value seekers and ingeneous, atleast couldnt we have bargained for better roads, education, sanitation and health facilities?

That takes me to the national brotherhood of being spoon fed; we keep asking. We want everything done by some one else. If we dont get it, we break what we paid for and think that belongs to the government. And if it does not belong to the govt, we take sides and point fingers. And then some politician comes over and makes this a political agenda. If he succeeds, another one will build a masjid or mandir on that spot and we start offering coconuts and our behinds. Because by then we realised that what we asked for can only be realised by god-and by the way, we have a great choice here. Some, one million versions across different colours, shapes, genders, beards and geographies. But who do we ask?
Oh! For that, we have different days to ask different gods. We block roads, burst crackers under each others asses, put strange colours on the privates, fast for days together and make up for it while others go to bed and through the rest of the year, walk naked or barefoot hundreds of miles or through buring coal, kill all kinds of herbivores including sometimes children and many more. We celebrate with a vengeance. And then we 'post' the spoils on social media, completely detached from the real world because we got a holiday: another euphemism for saying 'screw the work'.
And what happens at work? We look forward to the next holiday apart from giving commitments on behalf of others. And some other people will have to do it because some one else committed it. Now, the ingenious Indian discovered a new industry to run this sham called BPO which now contributes a chunky share to our GDP. We are okay doing shit as long as we dont take decisions. We like the feeling of 'sitting on it' after getting our asses sore travelling in our 'langots' for so long.. Today we are thankful to our servile past for leaving us with a language that has given us an identity. And with that, we are looking forward to our servile future carrying out the left over work of the world. Amid stories of economic slowdown, we blame the policy makers and they blame it on global outlook. And the baton passes on while the onlookers have gathered -waiting for the India story to turn another leaf. They are the same friends - the boisterous, pan chewing and crotch scratching ones. The hawkers have also set up their illegal stalls peddling nimbu paani and bhels. They are the farmers who survived the agricultural genocide. guy just got arrested for calling a populist bengali drama as a porn flick. Yet again, people have started taking sides. Where are you?

Europe can wait for now.