Sales and marketing

On Saturday evening, I drank a Pepsi.

You might wonder why I’m making such a big deal about it. Because it is a big deal. Because I don’t normally drink pepsi. My preferred choice of cola is Thums Up, and if it’s not available I have a Coke. The only time when I have a pepsi is when both Thums Up and Coke are not available. There are times when I end up at PepsiFoods only stores, and sometimes I even have dew instead of pepsi.

You might think I’m extrapolating based on one data point. But I know more people who swear by thums up. For whom Pepsi is only a third choice cola.

The reason I’m bringing this up now is that Pepsi has spent a bombshell on sponsoring the IPL. Yes, despite being on HD, I managed to see a number of their ads. Pepsi Atom seems cool but they didn’t seem to have had its distribution in place when I wanted to try one. I reverted to my old faithful thums up. Now, I hear news that the India head of Pepsi has been sacked because he was deemed to have over spent on the IPL.

Why someone like Pepsi would spend so much on advertising is beyond me. Yes, they need to be on the top of people’s minds. But considering that everyone they advertise to has tried each of the major colas once, and loyalties to cola brands being rather heavy, I don’t see how they seek to influence sales by advertising. That Shah Rukh Khan drinks pepsi doesn’t alter my opinion one bit – I’m loyal to my thums up. I would think the same to be true to a loyal pepsi fan.

After having said so many times that I’m a loyal Thums Up customer, you might want to know why I drank Pepsi on Saturday. Because that little shop in Malleswaram I went to stocked only pepsi products. And he didn’t have dew. Faced with the choice of Pepsi or Mirinda or 7Up, I opted for the first. It was that exclusive agreement that PepsiCo had with that shopkeeper that made me consume their product.

Pepsi should invest more in this. Give higher margins to retailers who are willing to stock only pepsi products. Cola is something in which people have loyalties, but those loyalties are typically not so strong that the shop tends to lose business if the customer’s favourite brand is not available. Given lack of choice, customers will switch.

But then I guess the problem is that Pepsi is a “marketing-driven” rather than “sales-driven” company (we used to hear a lot about this distinction during recruitment time at business school). And the thing with marketing everywhere is that they are not measured. Like this friend who markets phones once gleefully told me that an advertisement he put out had a million likes on facebook. I asked him how many extra phones his company sold as a function of that ad. He had no answer. Marketing is like that everywhere. It is not judged based on real tangible numbers. And I hear that marketers like to keep it that way!

The last time I was in this guru mode I had commented that Nokia’s strategy of promoting Lumia by the strength of its camera was doomed to fail – for people don’t buy phones because they want a camera. Nokia seems to have learnt. The latest ad for the 520 talks about the apps that are available. This time they seem to have got it right.

 

Brute force and elegant fight scenes

About a month back I happened to watch some random Kannada movie playing on TV starring wifebeater Darshan (it was called “Boss”, I think). It seemed like yet another of those typical masala flicks, with twin brothers and a weeping mother and lots of rowdies and corporate rivalry and all that. Overall it was a mostly sad movie but for me the biggest turn-off was the final fight-scene that takes place in some warehouse.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a big fan of action movies. After we got our VCP, I remember going up to the videotape rental store close to home every Saturday evening and asking for “some fighting movie”. I didn’t care at all for the story or the lack of ¬†it in any movie I saw. All I cared about was for “action”. After I had whetted my initial appetite for “fighting movies” by watching a bunch of Shankarnag action flicks (CBI Shankar, the Sangliana movies, etc.) my father started bringing home James Bond movies. I remember watching You Only Live Twice and Moonraker back then. I remember watching The Spy Who Loved Me, too, but there was a problem with the tape so I wasn’t able to watch it fully.

Coming back to Darshan and Boss, the turn-off about the fight scene was that it was an unbelievable “brute force” scene. The hero, a rather muscular sort of guy, singlehandedly beats up a whole bunch of bad guys. And it’s not even in the traditional form where the bad guys come one by one. They all come together and attack him and he repels them all simultaneously by means of sheer superhuman muscular strength. There was absolutely no fun in watching it. It was a similar story with the Puneet Rajkumar starrer Jackie, which I saw on TV last weekend. Though it was a rather well-made movie with a nice (and unusual) storyline, it again suffered from the problem of a superhuman hero who would overpower bad guys by means of muscular strength.

Earlier today I happened to watch the “Indian James Bond movie” Goadalli CID 999 starring Dr. Rajkumar. A rather poor attempt to make a “James Bond style” movie in Kannada, with a rather lame plot and underground hideouts involving automatic doors and the likes. The redeeming feature of the movie, though, was the fight scenes, especially the ones with Narasimharaju (who plays CID 888, 999’s sidekick). Clearly recognizing that this fellow didn’t have any means of brawn to beat up the bad guys, the fight scenes were “elegant”, where the good guy uses his brain rather than muscular strength in order to overpower the villains. So you have a gun that fires ten seconds after the trigger is pulled, and you have the good guy getting the bad guys to shoot each other, and things like that. It was a joy to watch.

The unfortunate trend in recent Kannada movies, though, is to make a superpower hero who simply beats the bad guys, which completely takes the joy out of fight scenes. That clever movement to deflect a punch, the use of easily available props to get away from the bad guys, setting bad guys against each other, stuff like this is completely missing from these movies. One reason could be that directors are not imaginative enough to put more care into fight scenes to make them enjoyable (though this is doubtful given that the general quality of Kannada movies in the last 5 years is better than that of earlier movies). The other reason has to do with the actors who play these roles. Perhaps they want to build up a superhero kind of image among their fans, one in which they can do no wrong and are supremely powerful. And a scene where they have to rely more on their intelligence and trickery to win a fight might go against this kind of an image they want to cultivate. Whatever it is, it only goes to remove entertainment value from a fight which could have been a joy to watch.

My all time favourite movie fight scene is from the “original” Don, featuring Amitabh Bachchan. The centre of attraction in this scene is this little red diary which contains all the information about the bad guys, and the good and bad guys are fighting for it. In the mix are a bunch of kids, the heroine, a paralyzed stuntman and of course the hero. The good guys play “monkey” with the diary, and in the process beat up the bad guys. It is an absolute joy to watch and for me that was the high point of the movie. Sadly, they don’t make movies like that any more.

Life expectancy and other stories

Ever since my parents both passed away in their mid-fifties, I’ve had a problem in dealing with the news of deaths of people who I think are past normal “life expectancy”. Despite my best efforts to control myself, and try look respectable, I begin to laugh uncontrollably, especially while reporting the news to someone. People might think I might be irresponsible, or a crack, but I like to think I’ve attained a higher plane of existence.

We need to accept that we are mortal. That everyone has their day, a day when they are going to die. It is only a question of when. So when people who have led “full lives” go, and relatively painlessly at that, I think it is only a good thing. Yes, at every stage of your life, there is something to look forward to, and irrespective of how long you’ve lived people will still count those things you missed thanks to your passing (say a grand-daughter’s graduation, or the birth of a great-grand-kid or whatever). Unless you live a completely lonely and boring life there will always be regrets. But looking at it from the point of inevitable mortality lessens the pain.

I was thinking about this while my grandfather-in-law’s last rites were being performed yesterday. He was seventy seven when he passed away late on Saturday evening. He had four children, all grown up and with grown up happy families of their own. Just over a year back, he had witnessed the wedding of his eldest grandchild (my wife). His wife is in pretty good health, and will continue to get a pension (since he had worked for the government). And he had not been in the best of health ever since I saw him two years back, requiring assistance to walk and largely confined to his house. My only regret then, was that, he had to undergo a great deal of suffering in the last few months (he was suffering from cancer which had been diagnosed quite late), and died a painful death.

You might be thinking here that I’m an ingrate and that I wish that people die once they cross a certain age. That is simply untrue. I don’t ever wish for people’s deaths. I only wish for longer healthy and happy lives. It is only that I recognize the mortality of human life, and don’t really grieve when the eventuality happens for someone who I think hasn’t died prematurely.

Of course I understand the sentiments of the bereaved family. Irrespective of the person’s age and health, I know it is only natural for the families to grieve, and that they invariably have a huge task adjusting to the new void in their lives. The fact, though remains, that death is inevitable. And unless you are like the Bangalore based doctor family which collectively committed suicide last week (a most unfortunate and unnecessary way to die), it is inevitable that some people will pre-decease others, and the latter are bound to grieve the former, and go through considerable pain adjusting to a new life.

I know this might be too heavy an argument to appeal to people who have been bereaved, and their emotion is likely to overpower the argument, but my only hope is that they soon accept the new reality and rebuild their lives around the new (but ultimately inevitable) void. It’s easier said than done but it has to be ultimately done.

Making Religion Fun

Having spent the day before Sankranti (pongal) cribbing about how festivals mean so much work and how they are designed especially to create marital discord I was pleasantly surprised to see this amazing religious event on Saturday evening.

I was at the inlaws’ place in Rajajinagar, having spent the day doing two pradakshinas of Bangalore, and visiting some twenty relatives and distributing sugar figures¬† and sesame. And I was taken to the nearby main road (Dr Rajkumar road) to watch the ISKCON chariot festival.

And what an awesome event that was. While the chariot was some distance away volunteers came around distributing prasada in leaf bowls (donnes). And then there were some ISKCON Akshaya Patra vans that came around doling out yummy juice to all passerby. And then there was a mountain of people. And there were thousands of people lining the roads on either side.

There was a generator van, followed by people who were dancing as they marched along. The atmosphere was electric (pardon the Ravi Shastri-ism) and it was impossible to be not taken by it. I wanted to go join the dancers but there was more work to be done that night (visiting another half a dozen houses distributing sugar figures and sesame) so I stood by.

Then the chariot arrived, being pulled by two long ropes with some fifty people each. It was gender-segregated and the rope towards my side was being pulled by women so I didn’t have the opportunity to touch it (apparently if you touch the rope you get some good karma as it’s as if you’ve pulled the chariot). And volunteers continued to dole out prasada (sweet pongal) and juice.

I must confess I didn’t see the idol. When the chariot neared me, my focus was on catching the sweet packets which a monk seated at the side of the chariot was throwing. I must admit I missed quite a few good chances and let packets of coconut mithai fall into the gutter behind me. But i did manage to catch one, my days patrolling short midwicket in inter-section matches having come to good use.

It was awesome. It was so awesome that even a normally-non-believing me was completely taken by the whole festival. All the gloom of the previous day and tiredness of having driven around the city vanished in that moment.

And it made me wonder why we don’t make our festivals more fun. About why we don’t make religion more fun for people to follow, and instead waste our time and energy in mindless rituals. Thankfully Pinky also shares my thoughts and we’ve decided to celebrate only the fun festivals – where we have fun doing the required work.

But seriously, it would help making our lot more religious if we could let go of some rituals and adopt more of the fun components of festivals. But then people think they get good karma by enduring pain and all that..