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From THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, December 20, 2001

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It's about open minds

Ranjyoti Barooah

SO times seem to be bad. What should we do? Innovate and experiment seems to be the common refrain, but not the common practice. In practice all we seem to do is go back to the old tactics of schemes and discounts — the bigger the better. After KBC, most promos have added a zero to their prize money. We also see a flurry of new creatives in advertising, again more and bigger. A Delhi-based telecom company's TVC was approximately 120 seconds. An Internet company signed up all the known icons (Shah Rukh, Hrithik, Sachin) for its ads and hoardings. The stars were so big that they left no room in the ads to tell the consumer what the advertisers made or sold.

No, bigger isn't better. I am reminded of a communications seminar that I attended where the trainer said, ``If your teenage son isn't reacting to what you're saying, going next to him and shouting at the top of your voice isn't going to help. He's tuned off, find some other way to reach him."

As marketers faced with the downturn, we're all doing more of the same. More ads, more discounts, more promos and then we wring our hands saying, "We've tried everything we know and nothing is working." Apparent downturns/disruptions have interesting economic benefits. The great wars of the 20th century corresponded with strong economic growth in the same countries, with surging growth rates and unemployment levels falling to negligible levels. The same years also corresponded to the most dynamic developments in the fields of medicine, science and technology.

Innovate and experiment

History supports the line about `The worst of times and the best of times'. Marketers of the world arise, you have nothing to lose but your blinkers. So, if all we currently know isn't really working, why not try something new? I work in an industry which has tremendous possibilities for a large and heterogeneous nation like ours. In meeting after meeting with clients I see solemn nods when they are confronted with the benefits and cost savings involved in using the Internet as a marketing medium.

Yet, when it comes to signing on the dotted line, I hear statements like ``It's a bad year, I'd rather not experiment now,'' or ``I barely have enough to maintain my last year's spends, how can I possibly make room?''

One client lamented the impossibility of releasing Rs 10 lakh for a two-month campaign because of the Rs 12 crore he was spending on TV & press over the next three months.

My cup runneth over

No, I'm not making a sales pitch, I'm highlighting a mindset, steeped in the comfort of the familiar, while lamenting the inadequacy of the same. My honest suggestion — it is the best of times. Set aside an amount for trying new things. Call in the new trainees you've hired, let them agree on one new initiative, don't reject it and let them run with it. Of ten such initiatives, at least three will bring sustained benefits.

Not all companies kill all new ideas, most give up after a few failures. So let's try to keep the spends modest in the experiments. Scaling up is never a problem, however one big embarrassment is enough for practising managers to throw the baby out with the bath water. It doesn't matter what you experiment with, ranging from innovative POS (point of sale) to never-done-before media or programmes, projects or time slots. Try it, we cannot afford not to. Banish the intellectual laziness of approving only the familiar, we need to stretch to saddle the unfamiliar.

(The author is CEO, brandquiver. Feedback can be emailed to bleditor@thehindu.co.in)

 
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