Toilet Signage as an International Cultural Artefact: Guest Article by Prof. Lynne Ciochetto for Checkposts



Toilet signage is such a deeply embedded part of contemporary life, writes Lynne Ciochetto, that most people are oblivious to the layers of meaning embedded in the signs themselves.

As Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller once pointed out, people never read the signs as saying ‘man or woman for sale’. The specific meanings ascribed by the particular context have been learnt across cultures, though the first assumption seems to be universal: men and women’s lavatorial activities need to be segregated.



Toilet signage itself has a relatively young history, following that of the public loo, which only became common in the late nineteenth century, stimulated by increasing mobility and the separation of work from home. Public conveniences first appeared in British railway stations and department stores, but the practice was then exported through the British empire.

Mandawa, India

Mandawa, India

These early signs were text-based but increasingly mobile populations in the twentieth century encouraged the development of pictorial systems that did not require shared language. Visual languages such as the US Department of Transportation symbol system designed in 1974 – the first comprehensive pictogram system – and systems developed for the Olympics aimed for universality but very much reflected their Germanic roots in abstract systems such as those of Otto Neurath. Once embraced by international communications and business, they became part of the International Style.



With accelerating globalisation of tourism and business, toilet signage has become an international phenomenon, especially in airports, train and bus stations. With the growth of tourism and the increasing frequency of eating out as entertainment, signage has become more common away from such mass transit zones, too. In these calmer places the lavatory becomes a gallery of folk art, a vehicle for representing universal gender differentiation, local culture and personal expression.



Gender representation in these signs is both representational and symbolic, with images of men and women, or emblems of of their supposed differences, being used. However, women are never depicted in the actual act of sitting on a toilet, let alone using one, though sometimes men, and children of both sexes, are.

She Can You Can: How Tupperware Captured the Indian Imagination

tupperware One campaign that has truly wedded an innovative business model with an equally impressive marketing campaign- is Tupperware’s She Can You Can. The campaign leveraged Print, PR, Social Media and Microsites to position the new powerful She Can woman- the essence of the brand. The marketing team had a very well defined idea of this person and pushed it cohesively and effectively through all media channels:-

•A person who chased her dream, even if it meant going against the tide
•A person who had risen through her own effort- A woman next door
•Not very old, early 30s- since the company wanted to recruit a younger profile amongst its sales force
•Someone who has achieved recognition in her own circles, but not a celebrity
The trick was to go beyond the the Tupperware sales force- and make this a campaign for women empowerment. Two protagonists were shortlisted for this:
–Saloni Malhotra: Engineer, but went to rural India to start a BPO
–Chhavi Rajawat: MBA, but gave up her job to become Mayor of a village
Stories were pitched in Mid-Day. Teasers were launched on Facebook. A Microsite was created: as was a YouTube channel. The campaign achieved phenomenal results- more than 20K SMS enquiries and 10K from the website. But the biggest acheivement was that it inspired many Indian women to transition from being housewives to business consultants.

Latest Stuff:) India Inc- The Global Branding Challenge

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A recently released research from Boston Consulting Group states that the next wave of international corporate success stories will be authored by none other than the movers and shakers of India Inc. As India continues on its journey of billion dollar acquisitions and bullish stock exchanges, there is a significant question that looms large on the horizon of such economic growth: “Do we have strong global brands?” Indian companies are in a very interesting position which can be aptly summarized in a debate after none of the India based brands made it to Interbrand’s international brand survey. The question posed was:”How is it that the fastest growing free market democracy has not produced a global brand to rank among the Top 100 in the world?” 

While what led to the exclusion of Indian brands from the glitterati might largely be due the criterion that the brand consultancy chose to prioritize, what is of interest is the duality. At one level, India is being associated with economic growth and global power, at the other level it is still perceived as a low cost provider of goods and services (being associated with quantitative as opposed to qualitative deliverables. India, very much like China, runs the risk of falling prey to the cheap, cheaper, cheapest trap. Since much of India’s success has come in the services sector, there is a significant challenge that the country faces of high impact corporate branding.  Companies are beginning to take stock of the situation and are focusing on branding as a strategic boardroom activity.

These are, no doubt, very interesting times when Indian companies are positioning themselves as international players while Multinationals are trying to capture the Indian markets with their highly focused regional marketing programs.  Branding on the international stage is replete with its own set of complexities. For Indian business conglomerates like the TATAs who have always had a strong Indian grounding, it has been a significant challenge to project the apt brand image while entering the global markets. No organization would want the kind of bad press and monopolistic allegations that accompanied the Mittal- Arcelor deal. The TATAs have established their presence in newer markets and have accompanied the same with new branding activities in places like South Africa, China and US. The TATAs are working with local bodies like the South African Marketing Council to develop branding and communication campaigns for TATA Motors in particular and the group in general to project the South African establishment as a local company that is promoted by an Indian group.  

Global branding by Indian companies, particularly in the West, will involve a very subtle balance of highlighting and underplaying the indigenous connection as the experience of Kingfisher has shown. While it cashes on its Indian connection in UK where there is a significant population of Indian immigrants, it chooses to project a more global image in markets where the demographics are different.   Indian companies are no longer willing to bite the dust as low cost service centers of the world’s leading brands, a challenge that is looming large on the horizon of the IT companies. India is still to find its place under the sun as manufacturer for leading products. As services and especially IT and ITes continue to contribute more and more to the national pie of GDP, branding on the global stage becomes imperative.  

Wipro has done well with its “Applied Innovation” campaign. The IT major has upped its marketing and branding budget by 70% over the previous year. There has been a realization that communicating a unique value proposition is of paramount importance as the struggle intensifies globally as well as domestically.  This signals a significant shift in the marketing orientation of these firms as it is being reflected in the massive budgets that are being allocated for their branding initiatives. IT services firms have overcome their callousness about branding with these expenses amounting to a measly 1% of their revenues hitherto.

wipro.gif  Divakaran Mangalath, Chief technology officer, Wipro Technologies said, “In today’s competitive environment, it is extremely important for organizations to invest and innovate with their product design and customer service. Competitive advantage can be generated only through innovation and doing things differently from others. That havng said, one can not afford to lose sight of the mundane operational aspects of large businesses and realize that most of the times innovation would be about day to day improvements and changes in terms of people and operations. This, in my view, is a much more sustainable way of applying innovation as opposed to the top down approach of bringing about a paradigm shift in products and delivery mechanisms.”  

The other IT bigwig, TCS, is planning to spend $8m to $10m over a period of one year on a program of advertising and branding under its new marketing initiative, the essence of which is the slogan “Experience Certainty.” The branding is expected at two levels. It will help the corporate giant consolidate its identity and place it at par with global maharajas like IBM and EDS apart from endowing it with an identity that will facilitate the hiring and retention of the right talent. In the first phase of the campaign the focus is on print media. TCS has come to terms with the challenge that it was suffering at the hands of global leaders like IBM, EDS and Accenture because of their focused branding which has given them a substantial recall value as well as an enviable mindshare.  

According to Mrydul Vats, Assistant Manager, Software and Services Research, IDC, Indian companies face multifarious challenges with respect to branding and these challenges are all the more glaring in the IT services domain. In an exclusive interview to 4Ps: Business and Marketing, he said, “Today if you look at the international market, the Indian companies are at the lower end of the market. In a lot of areas, they don’t even have the infrastructure to compete with players like HP and IBM. Both Infosys and Capgemini had an employee force of 60-65,000 employees. However, while Capgemini managed a revenue of 13 billion with the same workforce, Infosys could only manage 3 billion. The other challenge that Indian companies face is that they are not perceived as vendors who can provide high end services. They are still known as vendors who have merely perfected the offshore delivery model. For instance, internationally TCS has never managed to create waves unlike Infosys whose “Think Flat” campaign has got it decent attention from the international business community. The point is that consulting that is perceived as a lucrative option is still not considered the forte of Indian companies and this is where branding can play a very important role.”  

The “Applying Innovation” campaign at Wipro aims to break through the glass ceiling. The idea behind the campaign is to position Wipro as an Innovation Leader by analysts and industry influencers alike. The company is trying to position its corporate brand as a strategic innovator. According to Azim Premji, Chairman, Wipro Ltd., “Innovation is about action versus just ideas, as much about implementation as about design. It is not about mere incremental improvements in our course of daily operations or a one-off new brilliant idea. It is a culture that needs to be created consciously and pursued assiduously by an organization.”          

The theme is reflected in every aspect of its branding like its website, collaterals, brochures, events, media messaging, analyst relations, influencers.  With the larger than life media hype projecting India as the next global ddestination, the efforts seem understandable. Even though organizations are not dreaming of corporate branding in their sleep, the campaigns show that they have certainly started thinking in that direction! 

Preeti Chaturvedi   

Adding Value to Mobility: The growing VAS Industry in India

aaj-tak.gif   itimes.gif  mauj-logo1.gif  hungama.jpg There’s a storm that’s been brewing in the last two months in the already whizzing world of mobile telephony in India. The nation has become the fastest growing mobile market in the world with over 100 million of its population already part of the mobile subscriber base. This growth has been accompanied by the cultural transformation that the concept has witnessed from being a voice base device to an extension of one’s personality. The catapult in this regard has been the Value Added Services. According to a recent IAMAI report, the VAS industry in India is estimated at Rs. 2,850 crore and is suppose to grow at 60% to touch Rs. 4560 crore at the end of 2007.  

The VAS segment can be categorized into Entertainment, Infotainment and mCommerce. While analysts predict that the real value addition in times to come will be generated by mCommerce and user generated content, at the moment the segment continues to be dominated by the entertainment content. This can largely be attributed to the fact that VAS consumption is currently by youth who has a high appetite for P2P networking and mobile entertainment. Companies in the VAS segment are ready with their running shoes on ! Anupam Mittal, CMD of the People Group- Mauj Telecom, observes, “Within a short span, Mauj Telecom has carved a significant niche for itself in India in the mobile value added services industry. As we scale to the next level, operational excellence, disruptive innovation, and an unflinching focus on discovering customer needs is what we will need to distinguish ourselves.

The key players in the category like the telecom companies, marketers, content providers and aggregators alike have realized this and are trying to reach out for the low hanging fruit. The interesting part is that even though mCommerce continues to be promising, there has been very little investment and interest in the same. The low level of awareness, coupled with the apprehension of conducting transactions on mobile are the key reasons for the sluggish growth in this segment. There appears to be a need on the part of the regulatory authorities to take initiatives and policy measures to increase mobile based transactions.   The other prominent challenge that faces the industry at the moment and is likely to be the determining factor in its growth in the future is the revenue sharing mechanism in the industry between aggregator, copyright owner and the operator. The categories sometimes overlap as more and more copyright owners like the media companies get down to bypassing the services of technology companies who provide short codes by buying their own short codes. Revenue sharing is going to be a major issue as the content providers gear up to meet the demand for regional content. This is a real concern according to Rajiv Hiranandani of Mobile2win, one of the biggest players in the segment. “A lot of investments and resources go into creating and developing regional content. This can only be covered if telecom carriers give us a higher revenue share.” In fact, the discrepancy in revenue sharing is deterring a lot of VCs from investing in the segment. With operators retaining the biggest chunk of the revenues, the proposition of investing in content companies from the point of view investors becomes less lucrative.  The other major challenge that the company will face is that of brand building and creating a mindshare for these players which will make them an interesting value proposition. To maintain and retain a stronghold on the market, companies now need to create a strong demand for their applications instead of coming across as accidental distractors! 

My article on “Retail Branding” in Brandchannel

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My latest article “It happens only in India: A Unique approach to retail branding” ( has recently been published on Interbrand’s “brandchannel”. The paper basically analyses the Indian players like Pantaloons, Big Bazar, Subhiksha in the retail segment and how their branding strategies need to be conditioned according to the Indian socio-economic and cultural makeup.

Let’s Talk! ~ The Xperiential Marketing Mantra

                           epinions_sdc_home_189.gif               xm.gif                

With the death of distance and the rapidly multiplying opportunities and avenues for communication, companies are trying to come to terms with a novel phenomenon- the ever increasing power of consumer generated content. Marketers are realizing that the new age consumer is extremely intelligent, exceptionally well connected, substantially well informed, and unscrupulously spoiled for choice. To repeat the old marketing cliché, if ever the customer was king, it is today!  This renewed and increasingly dominant status of the masses has largely to do with the internet culture and connectivity. John Hagel and Arthur Armstrong had remarked this pretty early on in their book “Net Gains”: “The notion of barter and fair exchange has been an important element of the culture and etiquette of the early internet.”  “Virtual communities” they had observed, “not only gather potential purchasers together, but they also arm them with far more information than they have typically been able to access conveniently and cost effectively in the past. Moving away from this traditional information asymmetry is likely to create reverse markets in which power shifts to the customer. These reverse markets highlight two other defining characteristics of virtual communities- integration of content and communication and emphasis on member generated content.” This was and still is a feature that characterizes much of consumer dominated online activity. Communities like and have harnessed the full potential of online consumer involvement and knowledge sharing. With the growing usage of internet and the enhancement of communication infrastructure, such activity has become all the more critical from the point of view of organizations in the emergent markets like our’s.  According to a recent research report released by the IAMAI titled, “E-ntertainment, Eyes and Ears tuning to the Internet”, India’s current internet population stands at 25 million and is estimated to grow fourfold to 100 million by 2007. Of the current internet users, 94% lie within the 18-45 year age group and 28% use the internet for shopping. Clearly, the majority of buyers are net navigators.  Online forums and communities have ensured that the consumer’s voice is heard loud and clear and marketers have realized that consumers can no longer be treated like passive listeners. Lectures are passé, it’s time for dialogue. Customer camaraderie is shaking the foundations of many an old guard. Consumer forums and now blogs have altered the connotation of “feedback”- that symbolic pile ticked matchboxes that hitherto lay in the hinterland of corporate consciousness. Consumers are leveraging the new media to rave, rant and express their opinion on pretty much everything. 

Websites like, and have taken consumer empowerment to the next level., for instance, houses reviews of about 75,000 products from across categories. For the uninitiated, the next time you think of buying a car, type “Swift + Mouthshut review” in Google and you will know exactly what we mean. Hundreds of authentic reviews from customers who have been there and done that and have no vested interest in sharing their opinions with you!

 Added to this is the fact that other readers have the power to rate individual reviews. Faisal Farooqui, CEO, calls this phenomenon “The wisdom of the masses”. He remarks, “The boundaries between the publisher and the public are dissolving. The new journalist or reviewer is the passionate consumer who has invested his money and had a personal experience with a product or service.” Companies are realizing that they need to gear up really fast to meet with the challenges that this development will throw upon them. Like it or not, they have to deal with it. One way of doing this would be to confront the consumers. But doing this would in effect tantamount to digging one’s own grave! The second and more feasible option then is to engage in the culture of dialogue. Dina Mehta, renowned consultant on Corporate Blogging, shares her sapience. “The socio-cultural environment of a huge chunk of the urban consumers is becoming increasingly well connected and transparent. Companies are confronting a huge cultural risk. The need of the hour is to reorient their thinking from communication management and think in the direction of risk management.” And that is precisely what some forward thinking corporations are doing., for instance, has come up with a one of its kind solution for anxious companies desirous of addressing the grievances of existing consumers and influencing the opinion of prospective ones. The website will now have exclusive corporate blogs whereby companies will get a fair chance to interact with the consumer community and present their case on a platform where they are sure of being heard.  Farooqui makes a fairly interesting point. He says that consumer activism and the reorientation of corporate communication is reflective of a larger cultural transformation. “We are living in times of consumer democracy. This trend is becoming both conspicuous and powerful in all industries, entertainment also being one of them. The increasing popularity of reality shows is also testimony to the fact that power is passing on from the hands of the consumer and manufacturers to that of the common man.” The mushrooming of online forums and the fast catching up phenomenon of Blogs mark a new phase in the saga of citizen journalism. Effective consumer generated content has instigated companies to refashion themselves. Companies are now really learning to say, “Let’s talk!” 

Spreading the Ideavirus in India: Viral Marketing Unleashed

vm1.jpg The leading Bollywood web portal, India FM, recently launched a viral marketing campaign for the Abhishek Bachchan-starrer Bluffmaster. Net surfers were lured to play a game, and subsequently informed that they had won a staggering $100,000. And as the winners began to bask in the glory of their newfound fortune, they were told that all of this was mere buffoonery! These users had the option of forwarding this bluff to their friends. Net result: A total of 30,000 users participated in this campaign, and sent it to another 78,000 people.

Slowly but steadily,
India is waking up to the huge potential of viral marketing. Interactive marketing agencies are increasingly trying to maximise the effectiveness of their campaigns through this new form of marketing. Agrees Manish Vij of Quasar Media, an agency that has successfully completed campaigns for Motorola, Samsung and “The rise in media outreach and word-of-mouth beyond users of the same publisher are only some of the benefits of viral marketing. For good campaigns, the increase in reach could even be to the tune of 150 per cent.”

FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp, also launched a region-wide viral marketing campaign in
India recently. Centered on the FedEx ads with comic sketches, some of which are already popular in
India, the campaign aimed at increasing brand awareness and promoting key FedEx brand attributes. The advertisements were available for viewing, download as well as for emailing to friends through a micro-website (, and were communicated to customers and prospects through banner advertisements on key websites, email communication and the distribution of a CD-ROM.
 Vij feels that viral marketing campaigns need to have an element of community. As such, viral marketing heavily relies on an individual’s impulse to share information. While in some cases, this might be the result of an incentive, it is also born out of a sense of sharing information with one’s social network. In fact, the uniqueness of a successful viral marketing campaign can be judged by its ability to proliferate itself without any material incentive to the customer. This can be triggered off though humor, privilege (creating exclusive mental and physical spaces) or some other form of emotional appeal.
The FedEx campaign, for instance, deployed humor. Google, on the other hand, capitalized on the values of privilege and community to promote its Gmail through viral marketing. The campaign started with a small user base, from which a club was formed leveraging member contacts to expand the user base while retaining the element of exclusivity through special invites, access, passes and so on.

Companies have been smart enough to realize that one of the triggers to create a recall value for brands is by encouraging consumers to actively engage and interact with brands. Corporates are focusing on enhancing the reaction quotient of consumers towards brands. The Internet happens to be one of the most critical media in this regard. This is not confined to entertainment and FMCG categories; technology companies are also deploying this as a useful tool. One of the most recent examples of the successes of viral marketing in
India was Samsung’s campaign to promote the Samsung X series of Notebook PCs. The campaign sought to increase brand awareness among target consumers (Internet users in the 24-45 age group) through an online contest that users were encouraged to participate in and refer to their friends. The prize of the contest was the product itself: the ‘X’ series Notebook PC. This campaign managed to pull 50,000 participants to the site and delivered very good results:

Number of visitors to the demo: 1.42 lakh
Number of friends referred: 76 per cent
Visitors referred who came back to play: 42 per cent
Total interactivity: 1.25 million
Total OTS: 7.1 million
Total unique reach: 5 million
Media reach: 185 per cent

(Source: Volume No. 11, Internet and Mobile Association of
India Newsletter)

 Marketers abroad have already experimented with viral marketing with great success. In
France, Adidas is generating buzz (via JDN) around its brand by targeting soccer fans with an integrated campaign. A website with some funny content featuring popular comedians Omar & Fred is at the centre of the stage, but the campaign idea is to drive 15-24 year-old guys to the Adidas stores around the country. The concept particularly targets the fans of Olympique Marseille (sponsored by Adidas). An email marketing campaign (currently with an amazing 96 per cent opening rate) invites young people to visit the website, download a postcard, answer the questions it presents, and deliver it to the local Adidas store for the chance of winning tickets for Olympique Marseille’s matches.

The entertainment industry too is testing the idea flu. For its debut in
France, Desperate Housewives has come up with a site that opens a Brave New World for women. The site gives you the opportunity to buy and sell your husband online. You can select him by region, age (over 86-year-olds are also available) and by ‘perfection level’. The site offers great deals and most of all, the delivery is free!
In Asia, viral marketing has started picking up in emerging economies such as
India, which has a growing Internet user base and technology penetration. Realizing the potential, companies like Coca-Cola have promoted quite a few interactive features. The company’s website, , won the Gold Trophy at ‘The Promotion Marketing Awards of
This award along with other brand initiatives, like Internet marketing, SMS viral campaign for Vanilla Coke and on-ground consumer activation across the country, have helped Coca-Cola India emerge the ‘Marketing Company of the Year’. The beverage giant also came up with another feather in its cap: With its focus on being a hub for teenage music lovers, it has managed to get over a million page views a day, an average growth of over 200,000 unique visitors per month, and average visits lasting longer than 25 minutes.
In an age where optimum utilization of resources is the only way to survive in an otherwise crazy market, viral marketing is a charming and cost-effective alternative form of promotion. The Indian market, given the state of brand clutter, online explosion and media boom, is ready for a virus attack. For marketers, the option really is to innovate, communicate or to stagnate!  

A career in Quick Service Restaurants~ think again!


What was once a stop gap arrangement for teenagers to make some quick buck and earn their own pocket money, is today becoming an increasingly viable career option in a fast emerging industry. The quick service restaurants have not only redefined the concept of eating out in India but are also becoming the stage for playing out interesting professional bildungsromans. Mr. Ranjit Paliath who started 10 years back as Trainee Manager at McDonalds is today the Director Operations (south). With the growth of retail as an industry in the country, the attitude of the entry level workforce has also undergone a change. This has further been fuelled by the big brands like McDonalds and Café Coffee Day investing meaningfully in the development and growth of their employees especially at the entry level.

Investment in training to manage and retain good talent has become an imperative, especially when attrition in the industry hovers in the range of a mind numbing 50-90% at the entry level. Mr. Raj Bowen, CEO, Dale Carnegie Training India, makes an interesting observation, “ Corporations must realize that the phrase ‘entry level’ is actually a misnomer- this may be the entry level for employees but most often, this is the ‘exit level’ for clients and prospects who could have become clients!”   Organisations have realized that investment in the training of senior level staff alone is not the solution. There is an increasing need to evolve from a seller-dominated market mindset and realize that in the services industry, the so called entry level workforce actually constitutes your most potent brand ambassadors. That’s why companies are coming up with exhaustive learning programs for the attitudinal and knowledge based training of their workforce. McDonalds, for instance, has a Graduate Career Advancement Programme that facilitates the transition from the level of Crewmembers’ to that of the Second Assistant Managers. The organization also runs an MBA program with Welingkar’s Institute, designed especially for its employees. As Mr. Bowen says, “You don’t get a second chance to make the first impression. In a competitive, multiple choice scenario ( which India is fast becoming, but was not, earlier), untrained and inefficient employees could cause irreversible damage to the brand’s very existence which will be of a magnitude much higher than what it would have cost to train them.” The HR departments have realized this and the efforts have paid off. The effective training programmes have resulted in the increase in the number of people rising the ranks to occupy leadership positions. Says Shyamala Deshpande, Senior General Manager, Human Resources & Training, Café Coffee Day, “People working here understand that they will have a fabulous career if they stick around and perform.  We make all efforts to keep our best guys.  They mean a lot to us. In fact close to 75% of our supervisory positions are filled by internal promotees across all departments.”  Organisations are coming up with interesting initiatives to ensure that the quick service eateries industry jobs are not seen as mere part time options but proper long term careers. Adds Mr. Amit Jatia, MD,McDonalds “As an organization we have believed in giving challenging assignments and job rotation as an effective way of growing people. Charlie Bell, our ex global CEO started his career as a crew. Today across the globe, there are many who have started as entry levels and reached the level of global senior management. In India, we are a very young organization; but already there are middle level managers who have started as crew trainees with us. We have senior and middle level managers in functions like Real Estate, Marketing, and Business Development who had started their careers in Operations and Corporate Relations and then moved across various functions.”Training of entry level staff continues to demonstrate multiple benefits across levels both for the organisation as well as for the employees. To put it in the words of Mr. Bowen, “In this business, you have no choice- you have to spend on training- today for doing it, tomorrow for not doing it- take your pick!”. Well, the choice is obvious!