creative, digital, insight, mobile

From Big Ideas To Little Ones

We’ve grown extremely used to clients – and indeed, Creative Directors – asking for the Big Idea.

The Big Idea is the sacred cow of advertising. The rock around which campaigns – and agencies – are built. Businesses are won and lost, brands are built and torn down, careers are made or unmade, by that elusive Big Idea.

These are the kind of words we bandy about to describe the Big Idea:

What is a Big Idea?

How we describe a big idea.

Jaago Re, What An Idea Sirji, Daag Achhe Hain, Open Happiness, Real Beauty…these are the kind of ideas that we identify with as Big Ideas. The kind of ideas we’re benchmarked against, the kind of ideas we’d kill to come up with.

They’re gargantuan. They go viral. They’re loved, they’re hated, but they’re universally spoken about. The media picks them up. Celebs tweet about them. Inevitably, they become part of popular culture and lingo. (And the agency’s showreel.)

But when it comes to digital, the world of software-driven marketing, there may be a different approach.

When it comes to agencies trying to develop a great app for their brands, they might want to start by identifying a small niche. A small problem, left unresolved.  A small opportunity to do something better than someone else has. A small gap in a market that nobody may have noticed.

Little ideas which may not sound earth-shattering, but which turn into brilliant, useful, engaging, entertaining apps.

We’re seeing app developers take this approach, and churn out apps that fill small gaps and suddenly become the de facto solution. And brands need to follow.

Some already have.

Pampers’ Hello Baby Pregnancy Calendar took away the need to visit a baby website to track your unborn child’s progress.

Walgreens, the local pharmacy, removed the need to manually set prescription reminders by automating them and allowing users to order through the app.

ColorSmart, by paint company BEHR, allowed you to choose paint colours to compliment an existing colour in your room, and held interior design angst at bay.

A really brilliant one was Chase Bank’s Quick Deposit feature on their mobile app. Which eliminated the need for a user to go to a bank to deposit a cheque. All the user had to do was scan the cheque number and details, verify the amount, and VOILA! (A great example of digital transformation as well.)

All of these are based on real human truths, and sound like little ideas, almost not worth doing.

Yet, they stand head and shoulders above the ruins of failed branded apps.

So the next time you’re trying to crack a branded app, put away the pressure of the Big Idea, and focus on the little one. Try and solve for the real problems, the ones we moan about in the privacy of our minds.

You might find truth in the old adage, “Less is more.”

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design, digital, industry, insight, trend

Digital Thinking. Design Thinking. #SameThing, I’m Thinking.

The real insight that came out of Kyoorius DesignYatra 2013 was, simply, this:

Digital and Design have a common goal – to solve human problems.

The notion occurred to me sometime on day one, during DigiYatra. It could’ve been sparked by the conversation that I had with a colleague on the flight to Goa. Or by the conference theme itself – Create Change. Or by something one of the speakers on the first day – Sanky, Joao Cardoso Fernandes, Laura Jordan Bambach – said.

You’ll find the proof in any products, digital or design, created by a brand or otherwise. As illustrated briefly below.

Granted, the scale of the problem may vary wildly, from personal to societal. But the essence is the same.

Identify a problem. Then build something to solve it.

The theme was hammered home on day 3, when Raj Kurup forcefully put a message across.

Everybody is a designer.

It’s true. In our world, you don’t need Photoshop and Illustrator to be called a designer. It’s not about what you do, it’s about the problem you solve.

In fact, tomorrow’s creativity may be all about identifying the crux of the problem, for the solution is often obvious.

The best digital and design agencies do exactly this. Identify a problem, design something to solve it. As do the millions of startups that churn out product after product, hardware and software, to address problems they think are worth the effort.

If those solutions can also solve a brand’s needs, then you have truly great marketing solutions.

It’s all about a human-centric approach rather than a brand-centric one.

Not a bad way to attack your next brief, no?

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communication, content, how to, social media

Enough With The Social Media Pissing Contests!

Statutory Warning: Angry rant ahead.


Image credit: Funny Eye For The Corporate Guy

There are two phrases in social media that are beginning to annoy the living crap out of me.

“We have 5 million fans on our Facebook Page.”

And, “We got #ComeTakeAFreeIPad trending number one in India!”

They piss me off. Because they make me feel like social media agencies aren’t delivering real returns to their clients. And I don’t want to be counted among those who don’t deliver real returns to clients.

Let’s start with the “5 million fans” argument.

For the last couple of years, I’ve run some of India’s largest Facebook Pages. Across categories like beverages, fashion, beauty, technology, entertainment and more.

Each of those pages had fan-bases ranging from 100,000 to 5 million. Large communities built up over time through a mix of good content, fan acquisition campaigns and contests.

The assumption is, or should be, that this community the brand and agency have so painstakingly created, is extremely relevant and highly engaged.

If that is truly the case, why do the same set of (a few hundred or a few thousand) people keep engaging with the Page’s content time after time?

Why is it that one out of three comments on the Page is spam?

And why is it that the numbers increase only when there’s a freebie to be won?

Go check every large Page you can think of. Scroll through the posts. Do the math. 

And then consider that only a small percentage of the people engaging with you will actually click through to your site or walk in to your store.

Is that good ROI?

5 million fans is not your goal. Driving online and offline sales – through direct product push or brand imagery – is. And Facebook is good at it.

Let’s debunk the trending topic thingy next.

As recently as 18 months ago, we used to create interesting conversations around an entertainment channel’s TV shows, and get them trending. Worldwide, even. It was even harder considering that we had to not only pick the right hashtag, but pick one that’d get people tweeting even without a giveaway.

Today, that approach is dead. I’ve seen as many as seven branded hashtags running simultaneously on my Trending Topics pane, jumping up and down the list, fighting for popularity. 

What did they have in common? They were all contest hashtags. “Tweet with #ILoveBrandBecause and win an iPad/smartphone.”

Meanwhile, a brand trying to have a genuine conversation gets confined to trending on TrendsMap.

It’s no surprise that the contest brands have a huge following among people who use the words “Contest Lover”, “Contest Junkie” or “Contest Freak” in their bios. A quick scan through some of these users’ tweets reveals that all their tweets are contest-oriented.

If you’re a social media manager, you’ll know the way they work. One person will notice the contest and tag in several of their friends. Before you know it, your hashtag will be trending as several people tweet rampantly to win the prize.

Now, let’s walk back to that slide you presented the client during the pitch. You know, the one where you told them that Twitter is an influencer medium, and that you’d use it to build positive word-of-mouth, brand advocacy, brand imagery and loyalty through influence.

Now look back at the morons tweeting out your contest hashtag and tell me, hand over heart, that you’re delivering on your promise to the client.

Basically, social media agencies are getting into pissing contests and tom-tomming the size of the splotches as real ROI for their clients. 

And ill-informed clients are biting into it hook, line and sinker!

And you’re all giving digital marketing a bad name.

The solution?

This is the age of doing, not talking. This is the age where brands stop spewing empty words and start acting on them instead. Just look at all the Cannes winners, for instance.

Here’s what I would recommend.

Don’t waste your money buying every fan you can on Facebook. Target your stamp ads tightly. And pay more attention to your content. Run more promoted posts. That way, your content will bring in the right audience. Digital in India is about quality, not quantity.

It’s the same with Twitter. Focus on getting the right audience to your Page. Follow and engage with the right people. Interact with them offline. Be human. Show them you value them. They’ll spread your message exponentially, with more meaning and value than the contest whores.

And, when it comes to getting on the trending topics, I have a suggestion that might make sense to you.

Don’t talk. Do.

Do something small. Something big. Something funny. Something senti. Something low-key. Something magnificent. Something that’ll get people talking about you because of the nature of that something. Rather than for a fucking iPad.

If Twitter’s the world’s newsroom, then make the fucking news!

We did something like this last month for one of our clients. A small, senti activity. It wasn’t huge. But it earned us tremendous love and goodwill and a whole bunch of influential followers.

Trending is not your goal. Influence is.

Yes, it’s slower growth. Yes, your community is smaller than your competitor’s. But it’ll cost you less. It’ll drive better results. Each post will pull some weight. And you won’t keep wondering who your top fans are and what ROI you’re getting from your effort.

Don’t take the easy way out. Work for it.

It’ll keep you from looking like a fool when your clients wise up.

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challenges, digital, india, industry, trend

The Battle To Own Digital In India

I was at the Effies the other night, and something struck me hard.

We, Jack In The Box Worldwide, were the only digital agency shortlisted in the category Digital Advertising.

We got a bronze. But the golds went to Ogilvy and Taproot.

It’s time those who claim that mainline agencies don’t ‘get’ digital shut up and take a long, hard look at the awards tallies.

Image Courtesy: rotane.deviantart.com

At the Abbys, Ogilvy’s Fox Crime campaign swept the Digital Grand Prix. The same story was just repeated at the Effies last Tuesday.

And media agencies, the third wheel of our growing ecosystem, were nowhere to be seen.


Let’s face it – at both of India’s premier award shows, where digital agencies and mainline agencies compete in the same field, the mainline agencies have come out ahead. 

They may not have won as many awards as the digital and media agencies but they have won the top prize twice in a row now.

The disparity in the number of medals can be explained by the fact that mainline shops get much fewer digital briefs than digital and media agencies.

In fact, the only place you’ll find digital and media agencies competing and winning are at specialist digital award shows – Campaign India’s Digital Awards, the IDMA, etc.

But, and not very quietly either, mainline agencies have been working to catch up and get past the competition.

Lowe, as Joseph George announced in a recent interview, is working to ‘mainline’ digital.

Ogilvy presents and executes an integrated campaign for almost every brief.

JWT has, under Bobby Pawar and Max Hegermann, set up a very capable pan-India digital team.

Leo Burnett’s Creative Directors are, in their own words, asked to crack the digital idea before the TVC.

BBH is competing with their clients’ digital agencies, pitching digital ideas along with their mainline campaigns.

BBDO has integrated so closely with Proximity that the latter even pitches (and executes) TVCs, on occasion.

It won’t be long before they’re winning digital duties, either as part of an integrated package, or stand-alone.

They have the clients, they have the money to hire good digital people, and they can play the long game more easily than small digital shops. 

They also have better creative folk than media agencies, whose key business is in the planning and buying of media space, not creative solutions.

And which client wouldn’t want to give their business to a place that has proven their understanding of the brand time and time again, and shows that they can do it in digital as well?

Us digital folk are fighting a battle we haven’t fully realised we’re in. And we have two options in front of us now.

One: Sell out. Every network agency is shopping for digital agencies in India. There are at least two digital shops I know of in serious talks, and another that has already been stealthily acquired. Integrate with the network agency and play in a larger field, quicker than you would’ve otherwise.

Two: The option former Campaign India editor Anant Rangaswami suggests in his tour de force, The Elephants In The Room. Hire people who ‘get’ brands, across servicing and creative. Show clients that digital agencies can act as brand custodians too. And once you’ve consolidated your digital business, start attacking the mainline agencies by pitching for their mainline business.

What started off as a niche industry has become a full-blown battleground. It’s the Jedi versus the Sith, and it’s unclear, as of now, who’s going to emerge the winner.

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design, digital, insight, trend, ui, ux

The Future Of Web Design

On 26 October 2012, the digital world changed forever.

That day, Microsoft unveiled Windows 8 to the world. A revolutionary reimagining of the world’s bestselling OS, one which blurred the lines between the computer and the tablet.


We’ve known for some months now that it was coming. And I’ve believed for some months now that Windows 8 heralds a complete reimagining of web design principles.


More and more, people are accessing the web using their mobile and tablets. Most of which are touchscreen devices. We’ve seen the stats for other websites we’ve built and maintain, and the ComScore reports too.


Microsoft realises this. That’s why they’ve built an OS that supports touch gestures on laptop and tablet screens as well as laptop trackpads.


Yet, websites continue to be designed for the point-and-click generation. They’re “optimised” for the mobile, and display on a tablet as they would on a PC.


But is that the same as “designed for touch”?


I would think that if a site were designed for touch, it wouldn’t have tiny hyperlinks you can’t put your finger on.


It wouldn’t force you to pinch-zoom to select text or a link.


It wouldn’t have plugins that don’t work on tablets and mobile phones.


It wouldn’t make you touch-and-drag the site around so you could see what’s hidden in the margins.


There’s clearly a big difference between “works for touch” and “designed for touch”. 


The strange part is, the same publishers design mobile and tablet apps that are absolutely gorgeous and work the way a touchscreen user would want them too.


So why should the touchscreen experience on a website be anything less than gorgeous? Or different from the experience on a computer?

I believe that it’s up to publishers and digital marketers to drive a change. A new language of web design for the touchscreen generation.


A few days ago, we at Jack In The Box Worldwide took a small step towards that change. With the launch of the all-new Louis Philippe website, designed using HTML5, jQuery, JavaScript and CSS. A site born from the belief that web design needs to keep up with changing technology and user behaviour.



When we were designing the site, we threw all standard website references out of the window. And immersed ourselves in the world of mobile and tablet apps. 


Every element on the page, the way the wireframe has been planned, has been adopted, from tablet apps. As have all the little usability cues.


The site is responsive. It smartly resizes to fit any screen. Or any orientation.


There are no tiny text hyperlinks. Only buttons you can press comfortably with a finger or a thumb. 


On a touchscreen device – tablets, mobile phones, Windows 8 hybrids – you navigate with swipes. Swiping horizontally lets you navigate between sections; swiping vertically lets you explore a section further.


We wanted to keep the user experience consistent across devices. So you can also swipe through the site using the trackpad on your Win8 and Apple laptops, which support multitouch gestures. An aspect that should build familiarity through consistency and sheer novelty.


We haven’t sacrificed basic usability, however. You can also navigate by clicking through the links. Or using the arrow keys.

We learnt a lot about touch UI while working on the site. Every few days, we’d have to get together to solve a design or usability issue that popped up while developing. There are still features we need to add and problems we need to solve. That’s why we’re still iterating, and will be constantly trying new ways to solve old problems.

It’d be interesting to apply this thinking to other websites – like news media, for example, or e-commerce. Each of those will have their own problems, and we’ll have to find new, interesting ways to solve them.

A first step…and in my mind, a necessary one.

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careers, challenges, creative, industry

Confession And Inspiration

Advertising is supposed to be the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

But somewhere down the line, you tend to forget exactly how much fun it can be.


It begins when you allow yourself to get sucked into the quagmire of briefs, deadlines and client issues. Before you know it, the term “fuck-all” has become a part of your daily lingo.


“This is a fuck-all brief!”


“How can I crack a great idea with this fuck-all deadline?”


“What a fuck-all client! He just doesn’t get it!”


The attitude you develop in your formative years is the attitude you take with you into your middle years. 


At some point, you realise that your Creative Director is being paid a lot of money. And you start thirsting to reach that same level. The journey is forgotten – all you think about is the end destination. You lose the Zen, the ability to focus on the here and now, and life suddenly becomes about hitting a target. And whining when someone hits that target before you do.


Along the way, the nature of your work changes. Gone is the edginess, gone is the humour, gone is the youth. You end up trying to play Creative Director when you’re not ready to yet. You may not notice. But your bosses do. And in that process, all you do is push that end goal further and further away.


The time comes when you manage to put out a significant piece – or pieces – of work. Or you take a path less travelled. A couple of jobs later, you’re where you wanted to be. The designation. The salary. The cabin overlooking the sea. A bunch of bright young people reporting in to you. And the ego boost to go with all this.

Then you find yourself in a rut again. Caught up in “senior management” things. Targets. Results. Client relationships. Processes. Evaluation. Playing mentor. Board meetings. Visions and missions. The whining begins. Again.

Slowly, it begins to feel that your job profile is, very simply, to deal with shit.

Where’s the fun in that?

Sound familiar?

A few days ago, I finished reading Dave Trott’s Creative Mischief.

Creative Mischief. Available on the Kindle store: http://amzn.to/NrBh2p

Dave Trott is one of those names you’ve seen in the award books fairly often. A former CD at BMP, he’s now at CST The Gate, a London-based agency with a global presence.

Creative Mischief isn’t the best primer on advertising there is. But it is by far the best primer on the attitude you need in the advertising business.

It’s exactly what you need when you’re feeling mentally jaded at any point in this exciting, fun, dirty, all-consuming, incestuous, joyful, overworked, underpaid, vain, glorious industry of ours.

It’s certainly reminded me of the mindset I had when I joined Lowe fresh out of college. It’s made me think, once again, of how much fun this business can be. It’s made me want to feel the fun again. No matter how long it takes. No matter what stands in my way.

It’s made me write this blog post. And, for the first time, write on this blog as the Creative Head of Jack In The Box Worldwide.

To all those young men and women in my team, I say this:

Find the fun in your job.

The fun isn’t about joking with your teammates and colleagues, or downing a beer with the boss on the terrace. It’s about the fun of coming up with an idea – under extreme stress, for a tough client, without a clear brief – that’ll solve a business problem. A headline that’ll make people laugh or cry. A web design that you’ll be proud to show off to your mom. The process is fun. The idea is fun. The joy is infectious. You just have to want it to be.

If you can’t find the fun in your job, maybe this isn’t the job for you. Maybe you’ll be happier doing a similar job in another agency. Maybe your fortune isn’t in advertising. In either case, I will be very sorry to see you leave. But I will be the first to encourage you to find something that makes you truly happy.

Don’t crib. About deadlines or briefs or clients. Look at it this way. Somebody out there is giving you the license to get creative by developing a campaign for their brand. Without them asking, you’d never have gotten the chance to show off your creativity. Yes, you need time and clarity to create the work, you need support to sell the work. But remember: the shit will always be there. It will only increase as you grow up. Whining won’t clean it up.

Don’t get bogged down by rules and restrictions. Yes, your work will always need to be on-brief and on-brand. You can’t do a sob story for Happydent. Or an adult joke for Surf. But ask yourself, “What are the boundaries and how far can I push them today?” If your idea isn’t doing that, push harder. Boundaries only expand when you push them. If you don’t, they’ll close in and strangle you.

Don’t knock the mundane processes. Job lists and job status meetings exist to make relatively unimportant tasks mindless and easy. Every ounce of your attention should be devoted to one thing and one thing only – pushing that boundary to create the best work you can. Work that solves the problem and makes you happy. Make the job list the mundane, not the job.

I could go on, but I’d rather advise you to buy Dave’s book. It’s the best $9.99 you could spend. 

Happy people = happy work = happy clients = happy people.

We all have big dreams. For ourselves. For our company. And we can only achieve them if we’re happy while achieving them.

And if I seem to be forgetting these thoughts at any point in time, you have my express permission to whack me over the head and remind me of them.

Let’s do this.


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influencer marketing, insight, reputation, social media, trend

#TomatoGate: How Twitter Got A Restaurant To Change Their Business Practices

The Story
It all began on Saturday, 5th May, when my wife, a friend and I decided to drop in at Burgs, a gourmet burger restaurant in Bandra. 


In a nutshell, they refused to remove the tomato slice from my burger, stating that it was against their company policy. 


Feeling rather angry, I wrote a blog post about my experience on Sunday, 6th May, and put it up here for all the world to see. I urge you to read that story before continuing to read this post.


How It Spread
I was so angry that I didn’t want to just vent through a blog post. I wanted to make sure that everybody who googled up Burgs saw my review of the place. I spent an hour posting my review to websites like MumbaiBoss, Zomato and Burrp, as well as foodie blogs like The Big Bhookad.


Around the same time, I picked up on Burgs’ Twitter account, and reached out to them as well. My wife, sitting next to me, started scrolling through @BurgsIndia – and was shocked to see that their attitude existed on their Twitter account as well. Here’s a selection of their tweets.

That’s about when some folks on Twitter picked up on my story, and started tweeting back. Here’s how it unfolded.


A glance at their Twitter profiles will tell you that these guys are popular, influential on (and off) Twitter, and have possibly been rubbed the wrong way by Burgs. The reply from Burgs was the last straw.


Within the hour, most of Twitter had started chucking virtual tomatoes at Burgs. They flayed Burgs alive for not customising my burger and for their couldn’t-give-a-fuck attitude. And  also started cracking tomato jokes all around. The Tomato Tweeters included stand-up comics like Tanmay Bhat and Rohan Joshi, journos like Ashish Shakya, foodies like Adarsh Munjal, Sahil K and Aneesh Bhasin, fashionistas like Latha Sunadh, and the ones who’d started it all off – Nik, Rahul Chawra, Mithun K, Roopak Saluja, Roycin D’Souza, RanjitOne Black Coffee, et al.

Soon enough, ‘tomato’ was trending on Trendsmap Mumbai. And if Satyameva Jayate hadn’t hogged the Trending Topics pane on Twitter, ‘tomato’ would’ve been up there for sure. It got better. Somebody went and created the official Twitter account of the tomato in the burger. Finally, Burgs India responded. Announced that tomatoes were now  optional. Put it up on their Twitter bio even.

But even then, the attitude persisted. And the Tomato Tweeple picked up on it.


Finally, around evening, the story died down. And Burgs could breathe a sigh of relief.


Why #TomatoGate Went Viral
Two reasons, in my opinion.


One: Who hasn’t been at the receiving end of poor service from restaurants (and other service businesses)? We hear stories from friends and acquaintances about their experiences every day. My story was no different – but it was completely relatable. It became all about sticking it to ‘the Man’.


Two: Burgs India shot themselves in the proverbial foot. They were rude to guys like Adarsh and Roycin. And too proud and insensitive on Twitter overall. Their reply to me was the icing on the cake. And they still haven’t apologised to me. Nobody trolls someone who’s made one mistake and shows that they want to rectify it. But if you’re going to persist in being a smartass…be prepared to have your ass handed to you.


Lessons learnt, I hope.



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