Creativity overdose in advertising

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted at 09:06 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:16 IST)
I have to seriously question the role of advertising in today's media - particularly television. There is an overdose of creativity and smartness that just annoys and repels common people away from the products that these ads serve up.

I think that advertisers need to take a serious look at their own creativity and ask themselves this question: "Am I going to sell a product by using this particular advertisement?" If they answer that question honestly, a majority would understand that what they're doing by way of advertising is simply to serve up flashy, pretty picture-perfect images and sometimes going overboard with creativity. They tend to forget that their role is simply to sell a product and not entertain people watching television. Sure, an advertisement needs to attract eyeballs, but there can be too much of a good thing and pretty soon the impact of a particular advertisement can fall dramatically in the minds of prospective customers. Worse, the advertisement can actually start acting as a negative influence turning away and repelling even existing customers.

The biggest risk that advertisers take is in taking an aggressive approach. Particularly when it comes to demeaning its competition or its target audience. This is completely needless to sell products that would otherwise sell without any substantial advertising. Take the case of a motorbike ad that came out recently on Indian televisions. I'm taking about the TVS Apache ad which takes on a brash approach of belittling middle-aged and elderly people. The tag-line is: "It's now or never." Now it's so obvious that their target audience is youth - particularly college going kids in the teenage bracket with a carefree, happy-go-lucky life. But without realizing that the persons who're going to shell out the money for their customers are probably the parents, uncles or elder brothers (since financial independence is relatively rare among college going teens in India) the ad simply demeans them by making them look ridiculous and "uncool." Although the marketers of this bike have targetted a minority, they don't realize that the majority of bike customers in India are probably the middle-aged, office going types in the 30-55 year old age group - totally unglamourous people who work hard and live typical middle-class lives. By convincing themselves that their target audience are are free, brash, confident teenagers, they do themselves an injustice and negate their own message. I know all about "market segmentation" but sometimes advertisers get too smart for their own good in identifying target markets where there aren't any. The "cool, teenage college kids who own bikes and go around town with their girlfriends in the pillion" are a relatively rare group in India, even urban India. It's a media creation and a myth. The majority of students are responsible citizens who would find the portrayal of youth in these ads quite repulsive themselves.

There are definitely a lot more examples of this kind in the current generation of advertising. I think the issue definitely is one of perception. The media created the myth and they are now caught up in their own myth while the real world is completely different from their images. Spending crores of rupees on advertising, the agencies probably convince themselves that creativity is the way to reach out to an audience and stay in their minds. Armchair creativity probably rules the roost, while it's necessary to pull the hard yards and go into the market and analyse the minds of target customers. Sometimes, to sell a product, you simply need to place the product in the right markets. I don't think a majority of products being sold today are influenced to any substantial extent by advertising in the media. A lot of goods are bought and sold by unglamourous people living ordinary lives. Many people make choices based on a lot of factors like availability, the opinions of their friends and relatives, the recommendations of shopkeepers and salesmen, the brand image and reputation and so on. Brands aren't built by advertising. Rather, advertising reinforces an already existing brand image. People aren't going to change brands because famous actor X appeared on a commercial and said so while dancing to the tunes of a popular movie song. What a waste of so many crores when the message itself is so ineffective! But this is exactly what so many companies are doing - wasting an enormous amount of money in needless, superfluous advertising.

The key then to good advertising, is not in being creative or being funny, but to put across a simple, effective message in a convincing fashion. A good advertisement cannot always be flashy, funny or glamourous. It's as important to know what not to say in your communication as it is to know what to say. And above all, a good advertisement shouldn't irritate the audience, alienate potential customer groups in the name of "segmentation" or demean its competition. Take the case of the soft drink Sprite ads. Almost every Sprite ad is a reaction to its competitor in a manner which pokes fun and demeans the other side. While such a strategy might amuse and entertain the audience for a while, it doesn't actually sell anything other than a negative image. In the long term, the negative brand image sticks in the minds of the customers. And that can do the product a lot more harm than no advertising at all.

Ultimately a good advertisement helps in enhancing a brand, a product or a company's image in the minds of people. Every single idea, word or image served up by the advertisement should go towards that effort rather than being funny, ridiculous or derogatory for the sake of being creative or entertaining. If most advertisers realized this, television viewers would heave a big sigh of relief and TV channels would probably see a drastic fall in ad revenues.

SP Rajadurai

Filed under: Artwork/Portraits/Caricatures by Hari
Posted at 18:44 IST (last updated: Fri, May 29, 2009 @ 21:24 IST)
My next cartoon character is here: Rajadurai, SP Rajadurai!

Rajadurai

Name: SP Rajadurai
Occupation: Superintendent of Police
Quote: I'm not a policeman. I'm a porukki (translation: tough guy).
Favourite pastime: Encounter shooting of dangerous criminals; barging into politicians' houses and screaming - "This khaki uniform is more powerful than your white uniform!!"

DesktopBSD: a review

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted at 19:07 IST (last updated: Thu, May 7, 2009 @ 21:10 IST)
In the past, I've tried FreeBSD on my system on a few occasions only to be put off by several serious hurdles. First of all, FreeBSD is not a GUI based BSD, meaning that its learning curve is quite steep. One would think that a fairly decent Linux user like me would be comfortable with the BSD command line. But that is not so. Because, the BSD shell uses sh by default and not bash and therefore feels a bit awkward to those who are used to the tab-autocompletion. This sounds like a small thing, but believe me, it was really awkward to work inside the BSD shell. Another factor which confuses a Linux user further is the new device naming scheme (like when we had to get rid of the C: prompt from our minds when we first learnt Linux) and of course, various other factors like configuration file locations, settings related to xorg which worked differently in *BSD, the package management system and of course ports. All said and done, it proved to be a mighty intimidating experience for even a fairly experienced Linux user.

Well, I asked myself. What is the best way to start learning BSD? As I have mentioned in the past, I am a firm believer in accumulating as much knowledge as possible and BSD is only the logical step forward from Linux. Well, for any newbie from Windows, SUSE Linux is a perfect choice. A similar choice in BSD is of course, DesktopBSD. I downloaded the DVD ISO image from here.

DesktopBSD is not a fork from FreeBSD, but rather it is a customized, desktop-oriented installation of FreeBSD with a nice, graphical installation. The installation is fairly simple although the lack of package selection is a minus. It installs the entire DVD onto your hard disk and though this is good for newbies, it can be a limiting factor for more experienced users. Of course, I must add that the experienced BSD users would probably not use DesktopBSD in the first place. There is another limitation when it comes to installing BSD and that is, it requires a primary partition to install into and will not install into any logical partitions like Linux, which might be a problem for some users.

As far as GUI is concerned, DesktopBSD uses KDE, which is a nice choice for most users since other desktops can be limited on a BSD system. KDE is a safe, good choice for any *nix and particularly BSD since BSD by itself can be intimidating and KDE can help soften the learning curve somewhat by providing at least a familiar desktop to work on.

Hardware detection is quite good - if anything, far better than some Linux distros I can think of. DesktopBSD autodetected all my network interfaces and my onboard nForce sound, so little, if any configuration was required on that front. It's also quite easy to graphically edit your network card settings. (stuff like IP address, netmask, gateway, DNS etc. etc.). It also has a graphical package manager front end for the binary and source package management on BSD. Getting started is a lot, lot easier this way. In general, DesktopBSD seems to be a lot friendlier than vanilla FreeBSD on many fronts. I especially like the fact that server elements are left out of this OS making plenty of room for the desktop goodies. It comes with a much bigger KDE menu than FreeBSD by default and that's a good thing. Most of your familiar Linux applications can be found there.

All in all, what are my impressions of DesktopBSD? It's a great way to begin the BSD journey. It reminds me of SUSE in many ways, particularly the friendly graphical configuration tools (although it doesn't have as many tools as SUSE has in YaST). If DesktopBSD grows as a project, I can see a great future for BSD as a desktop alternative to Linux, although I'd assume that the availability of hardware device drivers for BSD might not be as comprehensive as in Linux right now. Even so, DesktopBSD has a great start. I, for one, will be keenly watching the development of BSD over the next few years.

Learning *nix beyond Linux

Filed under: Tutorials and HOWTOs by Hari
Posted at 13:35 IST (last updated: Wed, Oct 29, 2008 @ 22:01 IST)
As a new user you've installed and used Linux. You are quite happy with the way it works for you over a period of time. You're comfortable with KDE and all the GUI tools that Linux provides and you are itching to explore the *nix world beyond the fancy graphics. Now that your system is stable and running, you're not sure what to do next or how to continue in the learning curve without messing up what you've achieved so far. Well, here are some of my tips for those wanting to make the next step.

If you're happy as a Linux user, stop here. Here are some ideas meant for those who are really interested in digging deeper into *nix as such.

Stop using KDE

Stop depending on KDE and its useful apps. This way, once you force yourself to look at alternatives, you'll actually find yourself using the command line a lot more. This is the best way to learn it. Man pages are your friends. If you're looking for a WM I recommend fluxbox or IceWM.

Try a different distro

Assuming you have free partitions on your current setup, you can try installing another distro to multi-boot more than one distro. It's actually easy to add more entries to the existing grub or lilo configuration. In case you don't have free partitions, consider getting a second hard disk. Otherwise you can get hold of an old machine and try installing Linux on it.

The advantage of using more than one distro is that you learn more distro-specific tools and also you can experiment with one distro without the fear of messing things up, while keeping your main distro stable and running as normal.

If you're comfortable with GUI-based distros like Fedora, Suse or Mandriva, I suggest Gentoo or Slackware.

Compile a kernel

Get the latest kernel from www.kernel.org and compile your own kernel. It's actually very easy to compile a kernel. This will also allow you to learn more about your hardware specifications and how device drivers are actually used in Linux.

Push productivity to its limits

How much can you do with a minimalistic set up? Can you switch from your favourite GUI editor to vi/vim? Can you find alternatives to perform certain tasks from the command line? Can you switch from a WYSIWYG office program to LaTeX? This will be a good challenge over a period of time and should be fun learning too.

Another opportunity is to try and build a system from scratch. A good way is to try and convert a bare minimum Linux installation into a fully functional media workstation or a production server.

Learn a programming language

Take your pick: Shell scripting, C, C++, Perl, Python, PHP, Java among others. Programming for *nix can be fun and challenging. Apart from the language, try and learn different GUI toolkits, media libraries and so on. The list of opportunities is almost endless.

Learn BSD

When you are finally confident that you can handle Linux and all its vagaries including compiling a kernel, consider moving on to FreeBSD or a similar OS. BSD is closest to the original UNIX platform (BSD is UNIX ported to the PC). Now you can proudly proclaim that you know UNIX! ;)

Mark Anthony

Filed under: Artwork/Portraits/Caricatures by Hari
Posted at 10:05 IST (last updated: Fri, May 29, 2009 @ 21:24 IST)
Here's my next cartoon character: Anthony... Mark Anthony! :)

Mark Anthony

Occupation: Underworld don
Favourite quote: "Don't mess with me. You're a little child in this business."
Business: Smuggling, weapons trading, organizing attacks on political opponents
Ambition: To be the sole ruler of the underworld

Case study - the story of Monopoli

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted at 22:09 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:16 IST)
Some time ago a very innovative enterpreneur started a car manufacturing company called Monopoli. It was a revolutionary idea at a time when cars where only driven by the elite few and the rich of the country. This company actually introduced cars that could be driven by the man in the street. It created a revolution in the transportation industry by allowing a majority of the people to own cars. For a while Monopoli were hailed as great leaders in the industry and received a lot of accolades.

Soon this company reaped rich dividends and became a major player in the Automobile industry. Soon they had a great idea. Why not buy the roadways as well so that they could control the entire road transportation system? This was exactly what they proceeded to do. They slowly bought up all the major roadways in the country and started extracting a road tax from all the citizens for using the roads. Now, not only did they own most of the cars on the road, but the road as well and using their control over the roads, other automobile companies started feeling the heat. Their cars were not allowed to run on the streets without a fee, but Monopoli's cars were freely allowed. This led to a decline in sales of other cars. Many of these automobile companies actually tried to take action against Monopoli, but they failed miserably. Soon Monopoli was virtually king of the road. Although quite a few people avoided paying road tax by sneaking through the bylanes, Monopoli were not unduly concerned by this development.

But what Monopoli didn't realize was that over time, people started getting frustrated of paying road tax to Monopoli. With rapid strides in technology, they had other choices which became much cheaper. Like Air Travel. With such a wide variety of choices, more people started travelling by air, therefore avoiding paying road tax altogether. There was a small section of people who preferred deluxe rail travel, but this was such a small segment that they really didn't bother. But the Air Travel was really worrying them because more and more people were using Airways because the roads started getting bad with more potholes.

Monopoli found the costs of laying and maintaining the roads increasing by the day since the traffic involved was huge. Monopoli found their road business a serious worry because the road tax wasn't bringing in enough revenue to keep patching up the potholes on a regular basis. And the people were also starting to grumble that their cars were running up a huge maintenance bill thanks to the bad roads. The only way Monopoli could survive was to increase the road tax, but this was such a move that could only drive away more people to using Air Travel. Monopoli were in a big fix. How they now wished they had never entered the road business and stuck to fighting out the competition in the automobile business. Their bills were starting to rise slowly but steadily and even though they were still in control of the roadways, the general sentiment of discontent was a worrying sign. They tried their best to make people stop using Air Travel by publishing campaigns like "Air Travel is Dangerous" and "Planes Get Hijacked regularly" and such stuff. But people knew that hijacking was a relatively rare phenomenon in certain Airlines because of the high level of security they maintained. And besides they knew that certain highways were always dangerous to road users because of bandits on the loose. At several stages Monopoli even tried to outlaw Air Travel by using their power but it failed miserably. Not understanding the airline industry, Monopoli were at a loss at what to do about it.

Where will this story head from here? :)