Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ad Sense

There are two schools of thoughts. One school believes that sad, poignant themes touch people's heart more than happy, frivolous themes while the other school believes just the converse. Then, there are is a 'third front' - which the former two schools consider 'crap' - who don't fall into either of the categories. Their purpose is to make purposeless products (like Ghajini). I won't be talking about these 'third persons'. Sigh. I'll be talking about the former two schools.

The results of the election of the largest democracy is out. And people have given a clear mandate after a really long time. While there are myriad reasons for the winner's victory and runners-up's loss, let's look at the advertizements of the Congress and the BJP.

The advertisements of the Congress were very optimistic. Despite the turmoils which happened almost throughout the last year – inflation, terrorism and recession – the ads wore a positive outlook . Aam Admi ke badhte kadam – reiterated the pro- 'aam admi' stand of congress. Everyone in the advertisement is shown happy. Communal harmony is highlighted with the holi and rakshabandhan.
Congress have another very sell-able thing – their history and legacy. This heritage ad displays the achievements India made under the early Congress – Independence, compilation of the Constitution, Shastri's Jai-jawan-jai-kisan revolution, nationalization of banks. This heritage ad portrays more recent achievements of Congress – telecom/IT revolution under Rajiv Gandhi, Indo-US Nuclear deal, NREGA and Chandrayan under Manmohan Singh/Sonia Gandhi. The Jai Ho ad resonated the sense of achievement of winning Oscars along with the happiness brought in by the schemes of Congress. All other ads like those on – chandrayan, electricity and Rajasthan had a positive/happy feel to them.

On the other hand, the ads by BJP were more about the problems India is facing. The bhay ho ad, which is a parody of Congress' Jai Ho, highlights the unemployment, terrorism and inflation during Congress' reign. The Vijay-Sankalp ad is a very matured symbolic ad which not only hints at the aforementioned problems during congress' reign but also highlights that a strong leader (like L. K. Advani) can solve the problems. The ad in (almost) black and white with strong voice makes it a 'serious' ad as opposed to the fun and happy ads of Congress. The hai-koi ad had a similar though a bit lighter tone. This 'nider-neta', again, sells L. K. Advani as a 'mazboot neta' while attributing unemployment as unfortunate – something which shouldn't have been there while this nidar-neta ad hints at the terrorism.

Now, what's wrong with ad-fights? Cola/soft drink companies have been doing it on Indian Media – Be it 'Do the Dew (of Mountain Dew)'' Vs 'i wanna do (of Sprite)' Or 'Pepsi for young!' Vs 'sweet drink for kids (of Thums Up)'. Even the techies doesn't remain far behind – remember the Mac Vs PC ads? So, it may seem that there is nothing wrong with ad fights. My guess is - it's about Indian psyche. Indians don't like bad-mouthing about others. Now don't give me that look – don't point me to the the umpteen saas-bahu soaps or company/college 'gossips'.

So what we see is that the message in Congress' ad was 'all was great under it's rule' – India has reached great heights under it and it should be select to continue the progress. It doesn't really mention about BJP or the Third Front (Third Front – what's is that, now?) except in this 'one' where it hints at BJP very subtly. BJP, however, highlighted the shortcomings of Congress – its alleged puppet PM. It, kind of, attributes the unemployment, inflation and terrorism – which are global problems – to a weak Congress. This probably didn't strike a chord with people. People seems to be more interested into what you can do as opposed to what wrong other has done. The cheerful tone of the Congress' ad brought in smile to the gloomed faces.

This reminds me of India Shining campaign by the BJP in the last Lok Sabha elections. It was in the same line on which the Congress' ad this time is. BJP portrayed that India is shining, the sensex is surging and there's no miseries anywhere – just like what Congress portrayed. But, BJP's ad didn't work while Congress' did! The content of the ad is as important as the timing, the target audience and the way the ad reaches the target audience. The mood of the audience is also very important. If there is gloom around, the happy-toned ad may do better than the bare-truth.

Well, i know it's all over. And, hopefully, for five years we will not have any Lok Sabha Election. It's not that i am saying i-always-knew-BJP-was-going-to-lose-because-of-their-not-so-happy-ad. I am trying to reason out what could have caused the loss of BJP. There are several other, perhaps, more important reasons to it. Pramod Mahajan could be one. Even, Sam Pitroda, Kanishka Singh, etc could be another. Nevertheless, this post just looks at the whole thing from a different perspective. If these ads were to compete in an ad competition, probably Vijay Sankalp would have won the critics' heart. The fact however remains that BJP lost. As they say - future remains unknown. The predictions, at the end of the day, are just predictions.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Imagining India - Book Review

Nandan Nilekani's Imagining India starts where our history text books end. The book analyses not only the social, political and economic condition of India but also probes into the inter-relation of these with respect to both time and space. The fact that Imagining India is written by an engineer (and a software engineer at that) is evident from the style and tone in which it is written. Like a software, the book is divided into modules - each module having its own aim which aligns to the goal of the book as a whole. The book not only enunciates the challenges India is facing, but also proposes logical solutions to them. The book is divided into four parts

The first part describes the commonly accepted notions. Once considered a liability, the high population, is the biggest asset of India. The high GDP growth rate of India is due partly to the abundant human resource of India. Also, the knowledge of English language has been the single most effective tool for the upward mobility of the Indian youth. The irony is, still there are political parties who are shunning away from the English language! He also highlights the change in attitude towards businesses. The journey from the Bombay Plan to globalization through license raj is described from not only economic but also from social and political perspective. He also acknowledges the supposed shortcomings of democracy but considers it as the best form of government for a country as diverse as India. Democracy, according to him, may slow progress, but the progress it makes is robust.

The second part of the book looks into ideas that have arrived. No one today questions the importance of education. He appreciates the initiatives, such as the SSA, taken by state and central governments at this front but believes that much more needs to be done. He also delves into the benefits of developments in infrastructure, urbanization and market reforms.

In the third part of the book he talks about the ideas that are not widely accepted. Here, he talks about the equation between the state and the central government starting from when India got freedom. He also looks into the ingredients which went in creating millions of jobs and what needs to be done to create more jobs for the jobless Indians. In the end he highlights the evolution of universities and institutions of higher education and their role in the progress of the nation

The fourth part is the most interesting part. Here, he gives innovative solutions to a lot of problems which are not currently high up in our priority list but are, nevertheless, very crucial to the sustained development of India. He proposes the introduction of one ID for each citizen. Currently, we have a lot of cards and numbers – PAN, driving license, ration card, etc. He proposes that we make a central database of all these. This will ease tracking and reduce corruption to a great extent. If a central ID is used, then instead of distributing “free rice” to poor through s separate porous supply chain, vouchers can be distributed using the central ID tied to a bank account which can be redeemed at a normal general store. He also highlights the need of social security. According to him, for sustainable social security and pension scheme, participation of the individual is a must and the cost should be shared by both the government and the individual. He also talks about the need of better health care facility. This can be achieved by making the benefits of private health sector available to the poor by distributing vouchers. Currently, only the government hospitals are subsidized. And since the poor have no other option, they have to, but, go to the substandard hospitals. The use of vouchers and centralized unique ID will help in addressing the problem. Lastly, he addresses a major problem the world is facing – energy and environment. He mentions about monetizing carbon footprints so that businesses having more carbon footprints pay more than those having less. This would give incentive for businesses to invest in greener and inexhaustible sources of energy.

This is, in short, what the 531-page book has in store. Actually, i have just strung the names of the chapters together into paragraphs! The book is a huge repository of information.

I was wondering what prompted Nilekani to write this book. Does he want to enter politics? I think, only time can tell us that. But given his views, I would rather want people like him joining politics than goons having criminal charges. From his book we can see that despite being the CEO of one of the largest IT companies, he is so much in touch with the reality – with the problems the common Indian face.

This book is a must read for anyone who wants to know about the evolution of various problems India is facing and about various ways of solving them, The book is very informative and draws references the way a technical paper does. The book’s USP is the logically developed innovative ideas to resolve age long problems. It’s a must need for the coffee-table debater at office cafeteria and for anyone who wants to be a ‘know all'.

- Cheers!

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