Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

March 14, 2012

Shame on you tobacco! Update

March 14, 2012

C$27 billion suit vs Big Tobacco starts in Montreal


January 27, 2012

If this can happen in the US it can happen anywhere: “On the other hand, the tobacco industry didn’t let a bad economy keep it down: spending on new products meant to entice younger people to start using tobacco — like nicotine toothpicks and breath mints — is on the rise, while state childhood smoking programs are being reduced.”

November 10, 2011

And the latest in the battle between Tobacco companies and those who would like them to show a far greater degree of responsibility than they do now: an US district court has ruled in favor of the tobacco companies and asked the US FDA to not insist on the graphic warnings the latter wanted placed on all cigarette packs. the graphics are so frightening that it is possible people will either never want to start smoking or do their best to give it up. And this “emotional appeal” apparently is seen as not fair by the cigarette manufacturers. The Association of National Advertisers in the US applauds this decision and sees it as a “violation of the First Amendment rights of all marketers…..”


This couldn’t possibly be true. This goes beyond cynical and self serving to total cruelty.

And Now Tobacco Companies Are Brainwashing Students At China’s Poorest Schools

Read more:

February 26, 2012

The Maggi-c Nestle made

When you do good it must be acknowledged. And while Nestle’s marketing of Maggi Noodles has been unabashedly aggressive across the developed world, the brand has obviously answered some deep seated consumer need for it to succeed as well as it has. The story of how in Kerala people were replacing rice with Maggi has not been confirmed by any one I know, but it is still being told. And now here is Nestle spinning the Maggi magic in Africa. Read the story of the Cooking Caravans which travel through Central and West Africa teaching people all about diet, hygiene and micronutrients, something even we in highly urbanized areas do not yet know fully. By the way Maggi is 125 years old this year.

February 9, 2012

Ready to Eat…false promises

The Mint today has an article on the failure of ready to eat branded foods in India. Not surprised. I have tried almost all the top brands in India and have to say that the combination of high price, small quantity and almost ‘foul’ taste leaves me disgusted. As stated in the article, the spur is convenience. Anticipation builds as you read the advertising and on pack  promise. When opened and consumed, however, the disappointment is overwhelming.

As the article states these foods which include noodles, pasta, snacks, desserts, meals and curry pastes are targeted at the working woman/mother. Unless single, she cooks on average for a house of four. These foods given the cost and measure cannot be a daily solution. They are for extreme situations.  And unless they meet her taste and quantity requirements, extending the range will not solve the problem these brands face in the market. So if the brand guardians are looking for growth through extending the range they need to stop and take another look at what they are putting inside these packs.

Where are the consumer panels that should be testing these foods before they are put on store shelves?

January 12, 2012

Media is business and business corners media.

It started with media becoming a business. Newspapers and magazines became ‘products’ to be marketed as you would any other brand. Now business is buying into media more actively than ever before. Is this a blatant attempt to further jeopardize the  independence of the media? Some of this independence media had already sacrificed in the interest of commercial gain. It did not always pan out as expected and there are instances of subsequent divestment.

Why would the readers of media ‘owned’ in this fashion be trusted by readers at large? Or are we expected to believe that there will no pressure put on these business owned newspapers, magazines and TV channels to curb negative news on their business stockholders?  Media content has deteriorated to an extent where reading anything in the morning is now a chore. The writing quality is dismal, comments and analyses either missing or superficial and advertising to editorial ratios completely haywire. If shortage of funds is an issue with print and broadcast media today then they need to restructure their finances not by reaching for business funds with strings attached but in some other way.

We, The People, are the only ones who can keep these  intellect and information driven ‘products’ alive. We do not mind entertainment, we enjoy weekend banter, we want accuracy in business reportage and we want economic and political analysis that helps us make more sense of what is going on around us? Maybe media need to sit together with the big space buying agencies that have both hands around their throats to keep bringing down rates. Bad advertising, most of the time, buying up huge amounts of space at lowest possible rates – that could just be the real problem.

Trust in media is going down and this collusion with business is likely to lower it even more.

December 22, 2011

What is Innovation?

A question that has inspired stacks of books and reams of newspaper articles. But let us pick the latest row in this context: Malcolm Gladwell of the Tipping Point fame saying that he doesn’t think Steve Jobs was an innovator. S o he covers himself by saying ‘ not a classical innovator’ which is like splitting hair. Invention and innovation have  for a long time been fiercely debated words in terms of their differences, connotations and denotations. Some of it semantic confusion, the rest authentic investigation. But in the context of business it should be relatively easy to separate out enough to give us satisfactory working definitions. We understand that inventors are ‘discoverers’ whether they work outside the system or inside it. Being an ‘outsider’ should not be a critical condition unless by saying this we mean that they respect no boundaries.  Innovators are ‘collators’ who bring together into a new combination elements that have existed in different contexts and when combined into a new configuration – which you, I and Malcolm certainly think of –  produced something totally new and revolutionary. And in this sense Steve Jobs above all others was an innovator. And finally to call the sub prime bunch innovators is to really stand things on their head. Jeff Bezos of Amazon is an aggressive, savvy business and marketing man but not an innovator, not by a far stretch. “Innovators need more than an idea, they need a thick skin”……well that doesn’t sound too profound does it? Malcolm G was very fortunate with his first book that brought him to fame but it still sits in the category of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne….a collection of little so called ‘principles’ strung together to make it all sound new. No issue with this. This is as much creative thinking as anything else. But when some of this begins to aspire to high intellectual pronouncements it becomes irritating.

December 17, 2011

Brands invade schools!

Today’s front page news in the Economic Times on brands giving price off on shoes and back packs and even iPads for use in schools and colleges sounds both interesting and alarming. On the face of it giving discounts for clothing and other personal effects needed for school sounds fine but under question right now is the intention. The ET story quotes several child experts who think that ‘hooking’ kids this early on branded goods is likely to increase what they call the pester power of children,. leading no doubt to expensive purchases which may or may not be affordable for parents. We know that kids can and do impact brand choice and engagement with this group has become central to strategy for many brands. Are there any moral issues here? Marketing experts do not see any short to medium advantage in this strategy. Some of the more responsible brands see this as crass and not something they consider expressive of true social responsibility. This is a stance worthy of respect and endorsement. Brands that make food and other items for kids have in many cases voluntarily taken the ethical route of NOT targeting children in their brand communication. Manipulating social values is an accusation made against marketers off and on, raising the anti consumerism pitch to new levels. Psychologists and sociologists have been co-opted into helping brands target children more effectively. And the jury is still out on whether this is right or wrong.

What do you think?

December 8, 2011

Multibrand Retail in India: Where are our own big boys hiding?

Our indigenous retail changeover started a while back. Looking back it seems that what drove this change was the opening of imports on the back of which Indian packaged goods got “re-made” and priced. At least four of our biggest corporate brands started “department store” operations that resembled multibrand retailing, with fresh produce available along with a range of personal and household packaged goods.  Anjou pears sat alongside Nagpur oranges and we all felt lucky! The came Spanish olive oil, Italian pasta and Turkish dried apricots! And our lives felt richer.

These stores all had many problems.  Irregular stock, unacceptable pricing, bad customer service. There was confusion on which set of consumers to target: high end with all sorts of imported goods or middle class with routine middle priced Indian stuff. Most likely these operations lost money. But they are still around and hanging in there. So what do the owners of these operations need to do to turn things around and create our own multibrand retail chains that can offer the same economy of scale, brand choice and service excellence  that we are told only the multinationals can bring to India.

The argument goes that we do not have the back-end skills to organize ourselves for multibrand retailing. We do not have the backward linkages to bring produce from the farmer to the consumer sales counter. We do not have the logistical know how to streamline operations and make them work seamlessly. Alongside runs the economic argument…..we need the dollars. All hard to accept since our businesses have the skill to play on the global stage and can hire talent from anywhere they want. There is nothing here that cannot be brought into India by Indians. Why should the profits from one of the largest consumer markets in the world go out of this country with no benefit to business and labor in India.

This is not about the little grocer getting squashed it is about where profit from retailing should go: into Indian pockets or into American and French ones.

November 21, 2011

The conundrum of Pharma Research and who pays for it

The biggest challenge today is how to reach new drugs to  the poorest people in the world particularly for life threatening diseases such as cancer. Effective new molecules apparently cost a great deal to be brought to the point of commercialization and the finders want patients to cover the price of research as quickly as possible. Except that there are large parts of the world where patient cannot afford to do this. So effectively they have no access to new treatments. Fortunately for them in these parts of the world there are some very clever people who are able to copy these new drugs pretty quickly and make them available at less than half the price. And this becomes a deeply contested quarrel where words such as ‘piracy’ are pitted against ‘legitimacy’ etc.

If the developing countries such as India had relied only on the multi national pharmaceutical companies their patients at middle and lower middle levels would have been almost completely deprived of modern cancer and HIV molecules. It is the Indian companies that allegedly ‘cracked’ patents and produced the drugs in large enough quantities for Indians to benefit. India pharma is now supplying the drugs at ‘affordable’ prices in India and abroad.

So the debate that Indian patent laws need further amendment continues.

What the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has done in this respect therefore could be the model of the future. Where research is co funded and amortized over a longer period so that new drugs and treatments can be available for the rich and the poor at the same cost. I bet this sounds stupid and idealistic to most but it is in fact the most humane way of looking at this twisted problem.

A different example of cooperation is available for malaria research. As with TB this is likely to be one of the frontiers that medicine will have to breach for the global challenge to be met. Again the incidence and severity are the highest in the developing world. So the need is for cost-effective readily available antimalarial for both prevention and cure.

Novartis appears to be laying down a viable track for more than one company/group of researchers to move towards the solution.

The pharmaceutical companies are unable to fill their pipeline for ‘block busters’. They are investing less in R&D because they are finding that returns on investment are slowing down. But the growing epidemics of communicable, non communicable and chronic illnesses need a fully engaged and enthusiastic pharmaceutical industry committed to finding new treatment. “Co-opetition” gives them the new route if they will take it.

November 20, 2011

Benetton’s new ad campaign……not so funny after all

We had no intention of commenting on this crass and crazy “Unhate” campaign, but after today’s defense in the Economic Times something needs to be said in protest. Freedom of expression is not in dispute here, nor is the fundamental attempt to make enemies love each other, if the naiveté of this situation can be accepted. What is being questioned is the particular style of expression, which on almost all levels violates sensibilities and social protocols and ends up with the brand raising a maelström to no purpose. So here are the key issues:

Brand communication ideas do not get creative legitimacy when they break with socially acceptable value systems largely because their wider resonance depends on broad based acceptability. Anything else is self indulgence.

Communicating social change issues through visual or verbal shock does not guarantee long-term embedding of key change parameters

Brands cannot and should not break the social contract with their stakeholders. This is not responsible behavior.

Stretching ideas to breaking point only ensures that communication snaps back to hurt rather than help branding. This is like taking such a big leap that you land in the deepest pit. And you may never be able to get out of it.

Advertising communication is first and foremost brand communication and should not go on to espouse so-called “artistic” pretensions.

For brands to embed socially relevant messages in their advertising communication is great, and they have done this in the past, but the best ideas have NEVER ever been crass.

72h for Peace on the other hand is worth endorsing in full.

November 20, 2011

Dow and Bhopal….dragging the nightmare along wherever you go

Dow is a sponsor of the London Olympics but probably never thought that Bhopal would follow them around to London and emerge like their worst nightmare one more time. The tragedy of a flawed inheritance compounded by corporate resistance to do more than legally mandated, the fire of social protest fed by an unrelenting sense of moral rightness….how much longer will this go on? The Economic Times today has the latest on the London protest

January 28, 2011

Dow makes $10 million commitment to sustainability. Is any of it coming to Bhopal?

Bhopal disaster: Amongst the 10 worst according to environment experts….. 

In terms of death toll, lasting injuries, and damage to the environment. Also seen as the worst industrial tragedy of all times. Wholly man made and a result of total corporate negligence. The Gulf Oil Spill has displaced all such earlier tragedies in people’s minds but when this kind of “do good” news comes out this question must be asked. Dow bought out Union Carbide. Union Carbide was the culprit. Dow preferred to look at legal and statutory agreements and not at the moral and ethical requirements. Up till July 2010 the people of Bhopal were still fighting it out in court with Dow.

This sites tell it all: