Tag Archives: Advertising

E & E Squared: Matt Beaumont – There’s Never A Dull Byte In The Inbox

e E Squared
A good friend gifted me ‘E Squared‘, a novel about a cutting-edge/crazy-ass advertising agency, entirely told in the form of electronic communication (blogposts, emails, chats and SMSes). I loved that book so much that I couldn’t wait to read the original that sparked off the idea.

E, even better (aren’t the originals always?) is only in the form of emails since it’s set in 2000 before the advent and popularity of some of the other forms of electronic communication. E Squared was spread across a year whereas E deals with solely the first eighteen days of 2000. Admittedly the plot stays a little closer to realistic, with very minor diversions from it for humor value (an employee who is a doppelganger of a TV celebrity sharing a beach with her, hire-and-fire-and-rehire-on-whim practices) and most of the funnies come from extremely believable, if somewhat grisly situations (idea theft from students, leaked sex tapes, assault charges) looked at in a witty manner. In comparison, E Squared really pushes the envelope with bizarre twists (teenagers running away to foreign countries, Nigerian spammer heiresses). And with all these differences, both books were absolutely delightful.

The email/electronic communication only format worked perfectly and never lost the wry wit to confusion or blandness. I’d recommend both books for anybody desperately needing a good laugh about the burdens of the working world. Here’s my Goodreads reviews of E and E Squared.

E.E. by Matt Beaumont
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Miller Shanks is a fictitious advertising agency whose London arm is depicted as they enter the turn of the millenium. In the first 18 days of 2000, which spans the length of the entire book, the Miller Shanks team deals with embezzled ideas, international diplomatic incidents, a sexual assault case, wrestling secretaries, broken doors, fake suicide attempts and a sex tape. It’s brilliant and funny.

E is a frothy, light look at advertising and modern office life. It also happens to be a novel written entirely in the form of emails. No conversations, no descriptions, no scene-setting; everything from characterisation to dramatic build-up and other plot elements occurs in the timing, from/to people and tone of inter-office emails. Surprisingly, this never gets in the way. It’s really easy to keep the situations and people straight, even with the lack of background information.

This might be because Beaumont puts his finger on the nub with every character he creates – all rib-tickling archetypes of people that everyone experiences in any office in the world. We meet the tyrant boss, the politicking middle manager, the bitchy secretary/receptionist, the distant God-type owner/President, the puritanical/randy client, of course. But there’s also the agenda-pushing headhunter, the utterly-devoid-of-social-skills-but-very-efficient accountant and the much-hated/long-suffering IT department. There are also all the familiar social set-ups of lunchtime buddies, inter-department grapevine and cubicle romances.

There’s never a dull email in the inbox. I loved the book!

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

e Squarede Squared by Matt Beaumont
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bitching about the boss, trying to hook up with the office hottie, watercooler gossip, mad clients, madder colleagues and the maddest workplace of them all – E Squared pulls you into the surreal corporate soap opera of life at ad agency Meerkat360.

The entire novel is in the form of blogposts, chats, text messages and emails. Surprisingly, the novel format doesn’t hurt the reader at all and within minutes you are drawn into the lives of the Meerkat360 staff (and some others). Anyone who has ever worked for an agency, been bullied by a boss (or a junior), juggled a weekend marriage with a demanding career or simply lagged behind their peers in the ratrace, E Squared will feel familiar.

It’s probably telling that the stories of our lives, in the future will be documented in digital mediabytes. It’s a regular Dilbert meets 2 and a 1/2 Men.

View all my reviews

Ideamarked 8-14Apr: Real Life Is Tragicomic

I’ve been in an indescribable frame of mind all week, well I tried anyway but couldn’t accurately put a word on it. There’s nothing really going on in my life. I don’t exactly feel depressed about it. Most  of the time it’s a nice kind of emptiness, one that gives me the space to fill it with funny, sweet thoughts. But when I meet other people, there’s an impending sense of gloom. There is much that is wrong with the world and the fact that laughter is not clean anymore, is the least of it. Here’s what was mirroring my mood all week:

  • #GenuineKoshan from the irrepressible twins to their mother: Finger Business
  • So bad it’s good from the 90s: Altaf Raja‘s Tum To Thehre Pardesi. Enjoy!

Catch the links as they appear on The Idea-smithy Facebook Page. If you’d like to see a link appear here, send it to me and I’ll feature it. Email me at ideasmithy at gmail dot com or
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Gillette Soldier for Women – Regressive & In Poor Taste

This ad by Gillette has been on TV for awhile now.

It started off with the intriguing ‘Soldiers wanted’. The build-up was great. And when it ended, I was groaning. Really now? We need to recruit men into ‘supporting women’? Like it’s a cool thing to do, not the have-to thing to do.

Worse, my overriding impression is that this is such a desperate attempt to cash in on all the hoopla around the Nirbhaya Delhi gangrape case. Very, very poor taste indeed. I mean, everyone and their sister and brother has felt the need to outrage and say something. Granted the numbers may have given this incident the required nation-wide attention that was long overdue. And admittedly the reportage on violence-against-women cases has snowballed because this news is hot, but what the hell, it’s getting people’s attention. I’m willing to be the realistic cynic in all of this. But hang a brand logo on that and attempt to ‘own’ the idea from a marketing standpoint and I’m sorry – you’ve alienated me.

Kiran Manral has a Facebook discussion going on this where she says,

“My issue is the throwing back of the debate into the ‘women to be protected by men’ category.”

Yes, that’s a valid thought. But it’s a whole other discussion that I’d get into if this were a short film or a Public Awareness video instead of a damn ad commercial.Atrociously poor form, Gillette.

* Also posted at XX Factor.

Jaipan ‘We Want A Revolution’: Regressive & So Bad It’s Good

This ad fell in the category I call ‘So bad it’s good’. What’s really funny is that it lasted so many years. I still see this ad on old movie VCDs and occasionally on the cablewalla channel.

If it ran today it would offend at least some of the following groups. The first two would probably be enough to take it off air:

  • Hindu fundamentalists: How dare they show people worshipping a mixer-grinder at a temple?
  • Muslim fundamentalists: How dare they depict a Muslim woman gambling?
  • Feminists: Why are even careerwomen & female college students shown getting excited over what is a completely domestic product? How does owning a mixer-grinder signify a revolution?

It hasn’t ceased to entertain, though. 🙂

The Middle-Class Indian Family – Then & Now

I spotted this advertisement for Luna motorcycles from back in the 1980s, in my Youtube travails. This wasn’t one of the top-of-mind campaigns like Nirma or Rasna. But when I saw it, I knew ‘Chal meri Luna‘ was coming even before the clip ended.

The advertisment depicts the average Indian family (0f the times), with a hardworking, harassed-at-work husband and a wife who waits for him with the kids. The high point is when he is able to take his entire family out on the Luna moped. That’s a long way off from the luxury lifestyle that ‘middle-class’ families are shown to be enjoying in today’s times. If the advertisements are anything to go by, the middle class certainly is shrinking.

I remember the Luna ad as being imminently relatable. That was us, our families and their dreams. 30 years later, two-wheeler ads target young bachelors and students, not families. Small cars have taken the place of the Indian scooter/moped. After all, the Maruti 800 (then only called the ‘Maruti’ as it was their only model) was the Indian middle class family’s entry into car ownership. However, even that story is over 25 years old. The car segment is intricately broken down into SUVs, luxury cars and status symbols of various sorts. Even the family-targetted ones depict affluent, breezily-enjoying-life people.

I wonder if this also indicates a shift in our sensibilities. Hard work is not a value we want to look at. We may not even want to admit to it. As viewers (who I presume are the primary driving factor in changing advertising styles), we don’t want to be reminded of our middle-classness; we want to be offered reprieve from it into something else, presumably better. Relatable has given way to aspirational.

While on this, I’m reminded of the big hoopla over the Tata Nano, the 1Lakh car. There were innumerable office cubicle & drawing room conversations that expressed the sentiment that, “Now that everyone can afford a car, the traffic is only going to get worse.” Many of the people holding this view were part of the Luna-style families in their childhood. Somewhere between globalisation, India Shining, recessions, the IT bubble and the call center boom, we fell into a ‘they versus us’ mindset that wants to deny the privilege of comfortable family transport to others, while being able to enjoy it ourselves.

Hmm, that’s a long train of thoughts to originate from an old moped advertisement. Chal meri Luna, indeed.

Missing Person Notice Turns Out To Be Kahaani Movie Promo

Here’s a poster I spotted on the walls of Tulsi Pipe Road, at Lower Parel. Think it’s a notice for a missing person? Look closely:

The text on the poster says:

ARNAB BAGCHI
Age: 31years, Complexion: Wheatish, Height: 5’11”.
Please share any information with Vidya Bagchi at
http://www.facebook.com/kahaanithefilm

This strikes me as a really cheap marketing ploy to grab your attention. Using something as vital as a missing person notice for an advertisement, makes it so other genuine missing notices will be mistaken for promotions and ignored.

Remember a movie called Criminal, featuring Manisha Koirala, Nagarjuna and Ramya Krishanan? A leading daily carried a piece right in the center of their news spreads, reporting that one of the actresses had been found murdered. It turned out to be a promotion for the movie. That was in extremely poor taste and I think, so is this advertisement. What’s a movie that associates with the likes of Sujoy Ghosh and Vidya Balan, doing with an ad like this?

I wouldn’t expect a marketer to think beyond his/her product and be willing to go to any extent to generate buzz. But what about the channels that carry these messages? Does it occur to them that these commercial messages masquerading as actual news/information, comprises their validity?

Posters not being under the control of any one entity, are difficult to monitor. But in this case, they may be violating other laws by putting up the posters in the first place. Incidentally, this isn’t the first time Bollywood posters have been problematic. The Kahaani poster is a stone’s throw away from the Wall Project offenders.

Ek Anek By Films Division

If you grew up in India in the 80s, you’ll remember this short animated film that would show just before the Sunday morning specials and on occasion, before the Saturday evening movie.

“Hind desh ke nivaasi sabhi jann ek hain.
Rang roop, besh bhasha, jaati anek hain.”

Maths (1 to many), sociology (group formation), management (organized effort) and national integration – that’s a lot of ideas to pack into 7 minutes. We’re not in a day and age that values the last idea very much. Here’s remembering.

Racism Earns You A Cadbury’s Bournville

Take a look at this Cadbury’s ‘Only the best cocoa from Ghana goes into making a Bournville’ advertisement:

Am I the only one who thinks this advertisement is a metaphor for racism and actually glorifies it? Look at the situation being set – A white man in an oldworldly suit, a fastidious accent scrutinizing a dark-coloured object (a coffee bean).A group of black men whose dress and body language indicate a much lower economic and social strata.

It hit me right between the eyes when I first saw the ad, but I thought I might have been imagined things. Then the ad moved to the next step. The black men crowd around the table, waiting with bated breath for the white man’s scrutiny, until he pronounces his judgement,

“He’s nothing.”

The object of his derision, ostensibly a coffee bean (!!) whimpers and sheds a large tear. It gets even more appalling. The white man looks confused and says,

“Tell him I’m sorry.”

The black men look embarassed until one of the younger men tosses it off the table and grins around.

This advertisement has been on air for a few months. I’m both appalled and bewildered by the fact that there’s been so little talk about it and that it continues to air its terribly offensive stance into our homes every day. What has Cadbury’s got against the black community? And how are they allowed to get away with this?

Dark chocolate has been ruined for life, in my eyes. I used to be a Bournville fan. But if this is what it means to ‘earn a Bournville’, I’ll stick to being ordinary and treating human beings like human beings.

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Update 1: Sumant sent me this article by Nisha Susan for Tehelka. I wasn’t aware of the issues in Ghana over cocoa, when I wrote the post. Sumant’s comment and this article only add to my conviction.

Update 2:  A friend sent in a link to a Facebook Note. In it, the writer addresses both Cadbury’s & Ogilvy (The agency that created the campaign). In the discussion that follows, the writer & some of his associates draft a complaint to ASCI. Note however, that this discussion happened in August 2011 and as of January 2012, the advertisement is still on air.

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Does Tanishq GlamGold’s Advertising Understand Women?

Tanishq has a new campaign on air and I don’t think it works. It’s not that I don’t like their designs. Indeed, they were probably one of the first brands that brought contemporary designs to gold jewellery in India. But their recent advertisements leave me cringing.

Here’s one of them:

The storyline goes as follows: A book launch is in progress. At the party afterwards, the author hugs a dolled-up lady (presumably a friend). The friend is wearing a lot of gold jewellery and the crowd starts to flock around her. She looks up, sees the author looking left out. So she feigns a headache and leaves. In the car on the way home, her companion asks her why she lied. She says its better than ruining someone’s evening. This last line may also translate into, ‘It’s better than making someone burn with jealousy’.

I’m not going to comment on the cleverness of that, since presumably the ad industry usually tiptoes that fine line between smart and smart alecky. But I want to know what the woman in the ad was doing dressing up all that much for a book launch. Did she really realize only at the event, that she’d be the center of attention? And when she did, was it self-consciousness (embarassment?) or generosity that made her leave?

And another thing, jewellery is 100% accessorial. It exists for no other purpose but adornment, so people will look at you and admire how you look. What’s the point in jewellery that you can’t show off?

Now let’s look at another ad, which is currently on air now.

The storyline of this one goes as follows: It’s a wedding party on an open-air dance floor. Suddenly it starts raining and the guests run for cover. One of them, a bejewelled woman pats herself dry (showcasing an elaborate necklace in the process). In the mirror, she notices the bride looking wistfully at her ruined party. Immediately, she moves onto the dance floor in the rain and starts a sensuous writhe in the rain. She’s joined by the guests shortly after and finally, a smile from the bride.

This one actually sounds better in copy than it did on screen. I saw this with the boy and was trying to articulate exactly what was wrong with it. He summed it up succinctly so I reproduce his words:

“A woman doesn’t want another woman to be the center of attention.”

All I had to add to that was, “Especially on her wedding day.”

How come the advertising & brand teams over at Tanishq didn’t get that? Advertisements which make me think that they don’t understand me, the consumer, put me off a product that I may even have been interested in the first place. I’m also not buying into the idea that the team is evolving existing notions of vanity & beauty. The product they’re pushing is the most established symbol of that archaic structure of beauty. Even if you can change minds with a slick ad or two, these really aren’t doing it for me.

Note: Thank you @pankajsabnani for finding me the videos!

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