Coffins of felled soldiers

The degeneration of media, and #maggiban

It really is true that who holds the power to disseminate information, holds the power to move human sentiment. Happens in every country, happens every day. In fact there was even a Bond movie made grossly on this subject.

The fact that the media in our country, at least most of it, is completely sold to causes nefarious is now a foregone conclusion. It chooses to show you what it wants to, what will catch more eyeballs, or what will raise TRPs and thus get more advertising. Hence you have the neurotic Goswami, or diabolic Dutt being stalwarts.

Take what is happening today for instance.

Nestle’s CEO Paul Bulcke has had to travel to India to save his brand, after lead was discovered in Maggi. The company is trying to do damage control. Media can’t get enough of it. Reluctantly, Nestle started doing a recall, but was prompt in lending support to actors who had endorsed the brand previously. Complete morons like Mahesh Murthy tweet “Nestle India market cap drops by Rs.5,500 cr. Dear VPs of Marketing, now do you see the value of hiring a good digital & social firm?” Must be f*#$@%g mad. In which world did brand protection become more important than consumer safety? In Muthy’s world perhaps.

Then, the who hullabaloo about yoga day. अरे बाबा , if your religion gets bothered by exercise, don’t do it. Why does the nation have to know your opinion and why do we have to watch endless, nauseating debates on the subject? But, switch on a tv news channel and this is what you get to watch.

What the TV channels won’t spend time on is the fact that 20 soldiers of the Dogra Regiment got killed in an insurgent ambush in Manipur. The newspapers use some space to talk about this. No imagery to talk about. Have you seen images of the burnt bodies of the soldiers? Likely not. But there are images of Paul Bulcke. Did you notice that even his initials are Pb? Heck, I digress.

The media however, protects its own and whoever pays to be protected. Certainly you remember the entire scam that Barkha Dutta was embroiled in and how TV media provided no coverage on the subject. Similarly, do you remember the circumstances that Ravi Venkatesan resigned from being the country head of Microsoft India? Remember the scam that the top leadership of Microsoft was (allegedly) involved in (along with counterparts in HCL)? Yeah? Now, try to find a news item on the web which talks about Venkatesan’s implicit /moral involvement in the scam. You won’t. Today, Venkatesan has resurrected himself as a social entrepreneur able to talk from a high pedestal. Right! That is what you can do if you can get media to work for you.

Complete morons like Mahesh Murthy tweet “Nestle India market cap drops by Rs.5,500 cr. Dear VPs of Marketing, now do you see the value of hiring a good digital & social firm?” Must be f*#$@%g mad. In which world did brand protection become more important than consumer safety?

A few days back, 104FM in Bangalore ran a program where they were asking for public opinion on the Maggi ban. The RJ made fun of the state governments’ concern, the recall, the bans and kept mentioning that Maggi will be back. Really? So may be Mahesh Murthy was wrong, and Nestle is already spending money sponsoring radio channels.

Bottom line, if you have a powerful spread out fifth column working in the country, why do you need enemies?

Do you feel as outraged about this as I do? Write.

Men in Whites – the Ranji story today

Ranji Trophy Semifinals between Karnataka and Mumbai - 2015

Ranji Trophy Semifinals between Karnataka and Mumbai – 2015. Click on the image to watch a short video

Long before the advent of pajama cricket, cricket was played only in whites. The game was always played in two innings, with a limited number of days but not limited to a number of overs. But, times change and so do sports. Limited over one day internationals started with 60 overs a side, and then were reduced to 50 a side. Then the English counties started playing 20-20 cricket which has of course now spread across the world. Cricket has changed forever and whatever is marketed better remains more popular. The IPL T-20 tournament perhaps is the most popular of cricket tournaments.

There was a time, however, when people used to throng to even watch a Deodhar Trophy game, or maybe a Duleep Trophy game. Ranji matches were keenly contested. Ranji matches threw up national level test match players. Now, of course, many players seem to be coming in through the T-20 route. The national level players have no desire (perhaps no time either) to play domestic level Ranji matches. Only national team discards do.

I saw my first Ranji match some days back when Karnataka (last year’s champions) were playing Mumbai in the semifinals at Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore. I have been wanting to watch a Ranji match for the last  6- 7 months perhaps have not found a mechanism to buy tickets. No offline ticket selling location mentioned anywhere, nor is any online selling portal mentioned. When this particular match, a call to the KSCA office sorted the problem. Did you know, Ranji tickets / entry is free? You can just walk into the stadium.

At Chinnaswamy, they had opened only one stand which was packed to capacity. Maybe a thousand odd people, all partisan, supporting Karnataka vociferously. Was lot of fun sitting through most of the second day. This was enjoyable enough to promise myself to do this again in the next season.

Did you know, Ranji tickets / entry is free? You can just walk into the stadium.

Clearly not enough people show up to see good cricket. But, why blame potential spectators.

  • BCCI provides lip service to Ranji these days. Yes, the games are telecast on the tube, but not publicized. One gets to know of the results in the next day’s papers.
  • The venues are fixed without much sense or logic. An example is that the finals this year are fixed to be held at the Wankhede between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. How many people do you think will show up? Would it not be better if the venue were in either of the two states slated to play the match?
  • The boxes, air-conditioned areas are blocked off for members, and other sundry officials. There might be members of the public willing to pay a bit. How about opening that up?
  • BCCI, in its money-making spree, has left no room for our national players to play Ranji anymore. So, you do not see the current big stars on the ground. Naturally, for most potential spectators, the attraction is less.
  • This perhaps also is time for the lesser / smaller stadiums to get used. Chinnaswamy is a decent stadium with zero parking anywhere. Given that the number of spectators is less, how about developing other pitches where people could get to the stadium with some ease rather than having to walk a kilometer.

Besides the test matches, this perhaps is the only real pure form of cricket left in our country to see. Clearly most of the people who go to watch these matches are true cricket enthusiasts, and not there for a village fair which most T-20 games turn out to be. BTW, did you hear about the senior British couple from Yorkshire who come in to watch Ranji matches every year? About time, we could do something more here and encourage people to attend.

Video – Karnataka Vs Mumbai, semifinals 2015

The Power of Tier-2, and Tier-3 locations in India

If you are even remotely interested in the progress of Retail and Ecommerce in India, you are surely aware of how large an impetus our Tier-2, and Tier-3 cities and towns can provide. In our experience, the basic factors which create an impact in consumer behaviour in these locations are:

  • Penetration of mobile technology, and hardware thus creating easy access to the Internet.
  • Availability of cash to make purchases, and the existing desire created by other media.
  • Lack of easy availability of material for purchase.
  • Lack of steady internet connections, and thus dependence on Cyber Cafes for making purchases.

Read through the slides below to know more about these trends as we discovered from our study.

Word of mouth! and lack of greed.

Retail in a way is such a strange world of dichotomies. This, of course, is where basic Wahid's biryani in Lucknoweconomic theory meets the road. This is where you are supposed to generate demand, in such a manner that it should not be underwhelming, and it should not be outstripping supply either and reach a optimal point of bliss. Of course, you are to use, direct and indirect marketing to ensure stickiness, and attract new customers. This is where, we are starting to realize that word of mouth works effectively in the modern world too.

In one of the previous posts, I had talked about the world of socialonomics. That is so alive and kicking in India, and always has been. It will continue to work regardless of whether the Twitters, the Facebooks or the Orkuts of the world exist or not. With a population of 1.3Bn, the situation is so different. Take for example Wahid Miyan’s biryani in Lucknow. His sons run the two eateries now and with great elan. The picture on the left shows you one of the places. Has no ambience to talk about, is located in a hard to find bylane and their food stocks run out by 10pm every night. He sells the standard set of kebabs available all over Lucknow, biryani and some specialty food as well.

All the basics of retailing theory fail here. No location! No replenishment till the customers keep arriving! No great shopping atmosphere! But, works purely on quality of merchandise and word of mouth. What also works in this case is the lack of interest (from the owner) to perpetually expand his business. He is very happy (I spent time talking to him) with what he makes and remain in his niche. Its completely a different ballgame out here and this is why retailing in India will always be different. and I hope it remains that way instead of the nameless, faceless retailing of the west which totally lacks character.

Over a cup of coffee!

Late afternoon on a summer Sunday in Bangalore, and sunlight weaves through the blinds across the crowded tables at Koshy’s Parade Cafe. The waiters in their white uniforms scurry around the tables serving Biryani, Kerala Beef Chilly Fry, Mutton cutlets, late breakfasts, and many cups of coffee. The patrons tuck into their food, sip their cups of coffee and moan about the fact that the prices have been revised upwards, by 25%. Coffee is now Rs 22 a cup.

Indian Coffee House, Thiruvananthapuram

Indian Coffee House, Thiruvananthapuram

Koshy’s which comprises of the Parade cafe, the bakery and Chillout (the icecream parlour) is a sixty year old  Bangalore institution. It is still family owned, and run by the multi-talented Prem Koshy. Koshy’s has been the place to be seen in, in Bangalore, regardless of who you are / were – intellectuals (or pseudo), writers and authors, theatre folk, photographers, politicians etc. The large hall lacks ventilation, but not atmosphere.

Koshy’s is one among the last set of old world cafes in Bangalore, and perhaps in the entire country where you could sit for hours, let your hair down and pursue intellectual inanities with out the servers hustling you. It has a very strong following (including a facebook fan club), with many of its patrons visiting every day (or every sunday for breakfast) for the last thirty years or even more.

Indian Coffee House, the cooperative run by Indian coffee Board workers, is another such place. It is the largest such chain in the country and is not really going through a great time. Founded in the 1950s, it was a place for cheap food, drink and the meeting place for intellectuals. The local branch in Bangalore was about to get shunted out, but got saved and relocated because of fierce protests from the regulars.

The one is Delhi (in Mohan Singh Palace) somehow survives, but gets stiff competition from the Delhi tourism board run Coffee Home (now about 20 years old) across the street. The one in College Street, Calcutta (I still prefer that name) still serves coffee for Rs 8. Kerala has about 50 branches of the chain, but a large number of them are now losing money. [As an aside – the Thiruvanathapuram one is designed by the famous British Architect – Laurie Baker]

But the rents are increasing, real estate becoming costlier and the lure to shut down or to move to cheaper premises is clear and present. The competition from the Indian chains  – Coffee Day, Barista or others like Gloria Jean’s, Costa Coffee (and Starbucks threatening to enter India) and numerous other single store places is palpable. But places like Koshy’s refuse to change or even nudge a bit.  Their website (they actually have one) has broken pages and links and might be a reflection of the attitude. The website however,   claims “served President Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and visiting dignitaries including Marshal Tito, Nikita Khrushchev and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II”. Did that read President Nehru? You read that right!

But the newer chains attract a different type (mostly) of clientele, usually younger who prefer the brighter colors, air-conditioning, newer music and a mocchachino!

The battle is on! Read more in the second part of the post.

Are retail spaces safe?

Carlton Towers

Carlton Towers Fire (image courtesy gulfnews.com)

Many of you must have read (or watched on the telly), about the fire in Carlton Towers Bangalore. It is not really that tall a building, and houses many offices, servicing centres, some retail (regular stores and restaurants). Essentially a mixed bag like about all other such buildings and complexes. And quite like many other such buildings the regulations and norms had just been flouted. Sanctions are taken on buildings with illegal modifications and additions. Emergency exits in tenanted facilities are blocked as the corners get used as storage spaces, or are just locked away. Fire drills and trainings are few and far between. Traffic in most of the larger cities crawls, thus ensuring that emergency vehicles never manage to reach early enough.Presence of water in the hydrants is not always a fair expectation either. In addition to all that, people gather around for a free show (check the crowd on the left of the building). Now, this was primarily an office complex. A larger retail space (e.g. a mall) will become a very different ball game. With the type of footfall that most of the larger malls get, you will have thousands of people in a large mall at any time. The flouting of laws and regulations happens in these places too. Emergency routes get blocked too, and regular drills and exercises (if they happen) are suspect. Central, and the Forum Mall (both in Bangalore) had caught fire in the last two years and both in the food court areas. Central had illegal construction. Large over capitalized construction might look great, but lack of basic safety makes the entire structure shaky.