Interview with Justin Rabindra, acclaimed photographer and Former Vice President, Training & Knowledge Management, Ogilvy

Justin Rabindra

Justin Rabindra talks about the role of visual memory in brand building; the noise on social media and how adversiting still pays or pays off..

Do you see any synergies between your years in advertising and your current passion/profession?

Yes, advertising is a very visual business and my early influence has been from the business as an account management person when I accompanied and supervised shoots with people like Pradeep Dasgupta, Akash Das, Adrian Steven and others.

At a less obvious level, while there a several technically fine images out there, I judge a good image by its ability to move me emotionally. This is something that can’t be taught and I believe I acquired this skill from many years of working in a visually rich industry like advertising.

At it’s most obvious, when I shoot a product for a client, I try to communicate (or sell) without words, and that’s definitely a synergy that exists with the ol’ industry.

How important is visual representation for brands? Do you think Indian brands are cognizant of its importance?

It’s extremely important. Indian advertising and marketing people learnt that early on in the evolution of the business, in large part because a significant portion of the Indian market is semiliterate or illiterate and depend on visual cues to recognize and decide on brands.

Thanks to Facebook and other social networking sites, every one wants to be projected as a celebrity- most importantly through pictures. What sort of opportunity do you see for personal branding in the future?

That’s so true. Like a joke that goes around on Facebook, ‘Are people’s lives really as amazing as they make it out to be on Facebook?’ A lot of what’s happening on social media is just noise, the equivalent of a offline brand that blasts media with overkill because they have the budget. Consumers in the offline world were intelligent enough to filter out the chaff for the wheat. Similarly the online audience takes branding activities online with a pinch of salt. The beauty of it is that the truly beautiful brands, the ones that succeed do so despite less advertising frequency (or eyeballs or pageviews) and less strategic behavior because if the brand has talent it will eventually leak out for the world to see and admire, despite having a smaller budget than their giant rivals.

How can photography contribute to branding- corporate or individual?

Visual memory is a lot more enduring than the other kind. For several products the image in an appropriate context tells a more evocative story than any advertising created by an agency. Jeremy Bullmore said, ‘Brands are built the way birds build nests. With scraps and straws they happen upon.‘ Photographs are those scraps and straws. They could be taken professionally or they could be random, casually shot images taken on an iPhone. They add up. Conversely, photographs can also damage a brand. That’s the beauty of social media. It’s no more in the marketer’s control anymore.

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.

Social Media: Beating the Hard Times

According to a recent report by Brand Finance, the recent economic recession has wiped $67 billion off the brand value of Top 100 Global brands. As organizations struggle to maximize ROI on their advertising budgets, this could well be the year when we witness digital and new media coming into the mainstream of the marketing and advertising strategy of corporations.

In most cases, online media is far more measurable in so far as user behavior and sales can be traced back to the original act of click throughs. Having said that, one is skeptical about the blind enthusiasm that some internet advertising enthusiasts- (Read SEM firms)- have been displaying at the cost of more traditional forms of media. One of the dangers of such evangelism is that it misses out on certain nuances of internet and digital media per se.

To begin with, internet aka banner advertising and pay per performance models are designed more from a sales orientation. But there is more to digital media than sales. One of the biggest benefits that it offers is in the form of engagement and thereby long term brand building. This engagement with the target audience can be through blogging, photo sharing, and Audio-video viral campaigns, to name a few. While the immediate objective need not necessarily be increased topline growth, social media can help organizations create strategic brand advantage.

One of the other challenges that marketers are likely to face in such times is the sales promotion doom loop. Social media engagement can help marketers get out of this reductive spiral by helping create brand equity through sharper positioning and targeting of customers. One can identify buyer behavior and activity on social networks, target niche bloggers and forums and initiate a more meaningful dialogue with the customers. According to a recent research by Forrester, evolved marketers are likely to use social media to motivate consideration through discussion boards. The research has also come up with findings which reveal that niche communities like Proctor & Gamble’s result in far greater ROI than similarly priced campaigns in mainstream media. In our own backyard, we have already witnessed the success of initiatives like Sunsilk’s GangofGirls community and the more recent gaming application of Marico on Orkut.

Similarly, blogging can be leveraged to create brand equity through thematic thought leadership blogs, of which Infosys’ blogs happen to be the best example from India. Other interesting ways in which Indian companies are using this media for stakeholder engagement is blogs that showcase organizational culture and its management ethos. From FritoLays and Tata Interactive Systems to Mahindra and Wipro, Indian corporates are getting onto the blogwagon. The who’s who of India Inc., like Rajeev Karwal, Vineet Nayyar, Sanjeev Bikhchandani and Ajit Balakrishnan have started leveraging the medium of blogs to establish strong personal brands which thereby consolidate the market position of their own organizations and stand them in good stead in turbulent times.

The year ahead will be interesting to watch out for. In their research, “India Online 2008”, JuxtConsult shows that 81% of the Indian internet users interact using one or more of the social media platforms. Another interesting trend that it reported was that 80% of these regular internet users also shop online! Based on industry surveys and sentiment, looks like “innovation” will rule the roost with most companies going after highly targeted audience for most of their marketing campaigns- what with the more sophisticated marketers endorsing engagement too!

India’s first book on “Corporate Blogging in India” launched today

It seems like it has been a really really long time since a colleague had asked me, “You don’t know blogs?”. What started as a layman’s fascination with creating content and then finally seeing it appear on the push of a button has culminated in a book  🙂 Yuppie. My first book and India’s too on Corporate Blogging!

Co-authored by India’s leading CEO blogger, Mr. Rajeev Karwal, the book will be launched today at the Oxford Bookstore, Barakhamaba Road, New Delhi. corporate_blogging_in_india_invites1

Social Media in Recession

If one rises above the bias of “lies, damn lies and statistics”, surveys across the globe seem to be crying hoarse that social media marketing will thrive in these times of recession. And this seems to be the verdict at both global and local/ Indian levels.

Millward Brown recently conducted a survey on behalf of PRWeek which indicates that 68% of marketers expect their advertising budgets to decrease in the coming year while 75% of those same marketers expect to spend more money than what they had  budgeted on digital marketing programs.

Closer home, a poll of around 50 marketers by R3 shows that 3/4ths of Indian companies will either not up their marketing budgets in 2008-2009 or slash them down further. However, 40% of the respondents planned to spend more than originally planned on digital media.

Accoding to a paper by Forrester Research, “Strategies for Interactive Marketing in a Recession”, email marketing is likely to increase in recession even as marketing budgets get channelized towards more trackable online media such as search marketing programs. The research findings are also very optimistic about interactive social applications and word-of-mouth marketing because they depend on conversations of customers as opposed to a declining and limited ad budget.

Awareness Inc., a social media consultancy presents an interesting model to distinguish social media from direct marketing and brand marketing. See this fig. below:


I seem to be turning an evangelist of the cause..which I am, on second thoughts 🙂

Getting Hired Through Social Media

In times like these, one doesn’t hear the word “hiring” too often. However, of late, I have come across a few posts which provide an interesting perspective on getting hired through social media. Since most companies these days have started jumping onto the corporate blogging bandwagon, it might be a good idea to deploy social networking to the best of one’s advantage.

One could begin by doing some elementary research about the company’s culture through its blogs (if any), check out the Linkedin and Facebook profiles of its senior and middle management, set Google News alerts, read reviews of the company’s products on online consumer communities.

Something that could work to one’s advantage is that most companies these days look at social media savvy with a lot of appreciation and interest; and of course if not more, you at least have the advantage of familiarizing yourself with the organization.

Online Gaming Article in the PC Magazine: Some Highlights

It’s no more a child’s play! Online Gaming is fast catching up in India. According to a research conducted by the Internet and Mobile Association of India, the nation now boasts of 2.8 million online gamers. Unlike more developed markets, online gaming in India is currently dominated by casual gamers, who play majorly for relaxation and leisure. This is primarily a youth driven segment of males in the age group of in their early twenties. But many industry analysts believe that the trajectory of online gaming in India will not be very different from that of China. Chinese market witnesses major growth in the period 2001-2005 to reach its current gamer base of 30 million.

But Online gaming in India is fast catching up with its global counterparts. According to a study conducted by IMRB, the online gaming industry in India is already a USD 210 industry. The market is expected to grow to USD 200 million by 2009.  At the moment, the market is concentrated in the Top 8 metros. 99% of Indian gamers belong to the metros.

Challenges: The major revenue for the industry is generated by cyber cafes. The challenges are majorly pertaining to the infrastructure which can support the right gaming environment. This would mainly entail PC Specs and broadband connectivity. However, the rapid penetration of broadband is also expected to fuel the growth in the industry; more so because most games are designed with broadband rather than dial up in mind. The number of internet subscribers has been increasing steadily and has grown steadily from 25,000 to 2.9 million in the period 1997- 2006.

Rohit Sharma, COO, Zapak shared his views on the subject with me:

India has a Gaming mindset waiting to explode. With the fact that 54% of the Indian population is below the age group of 25yrs and having the world’s largest youth population – India’s only getting younger. Entertainment features as one of the predominant spending areas amongst the Indian consumers. Internet usage has seen an upward swing in the last few years and the way ahead looks more promising.

Alok Kejriwal, CEO, Games2Win

If I were to ask you – on what day and time of the week in India does online gaming activity ‘peak’? I would probably get an answer like – Saturday or Sunday, maybe late evening time. Yawn…yet another ignorant fool randomly answering, without a clue in the world about ground reality. Believe it or not, online gaming traffic from India peaks on MONDAY between 2-4 pm in the afternoon.

What’s going on? It’s not that difficult to understand. Millions of India’s digital jungles (a la offices) come alive on the first day of the week! Just blink and think of those thousands of BPO’s and IT parks and Service business offices coming back from a lunch and ‘gamertaming’ themselves before logging back into work.

Web 2.0 and Ambush Marketing

An article on the marketing in and around the Beijing Olympics and the ones scheduled in London in 2012 offers an interesting insight into the world of ambush marketing in the post web 2.0 era. It uses the successful examples of viral marketing campaigns by Pepsi and McDonalds which have leveraged the concept of consumer generated content to skirt the strict advertising and sponsorship norms of the International Olympic Committee. The regimentation of the outdoor advertising has been hugely undermined by the smart virals. Jesse Kanclerz has an interesting article where the author observes that “Ambush marketing is at its worst when the company misrepresents itself as the official sponsor of the event. ” However, in Pepsi’s case, the cola giant played upon national pride while skirting clear of any hints of formal tie ups with the event. It would be all the more interesting to observe how lesser known companies with limited marketing budgets use the web 2.0 and buzz marketing campaigns for share of voice. Will get back with some interesting cases.

Blogs: The New Serial Killers?

So will blogging really kill us? C’mon! Let’s grant reality TV that priviledge. Of late, I have been noticing a lot of feeds on how compulsive blogging can impact health issues. But the fact is that internet related psychological disorders and complexes will become more and more conspicuous as internet gains further stronghold. According to Dr. Pinhas Dannon of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, 10 percent of Internet surfers are afflicted with “Internet addiction disorder,” which can lead to anxiety and severe depression. So, I personally feel blogging is not a disease. It may be a micro manifestation of a larger lifestyle disorder. And if you don’t believe me, just take a quick look at how irregularly I blog, despite being a self proclaimed pundit of the cause!!

All New Open Socializing

So if leading a virtual life through social networking wasn’t enough, we now hear that players like Google and Yahoo are working on a project which would make it possible for your online profile to be portable as well. What this implies is that user profiles would be shared across websites without the risk of exposing sensitive site specific user information.

Amit Ranjan, one of the founders of the popular Power point sharing platforms, Slideshare, traces the precedent of this in the Single Sign On alias Open ID project. The idea behind it was to create a single username and password which could be used to sign into different social networking sites. One question that comes to mind though, is who stands to gain the most. If experts are to be believed, the smaller players would stand to gain the most. Ranjan says, “You can draw an analogy with the mobile telephony sector where users can retain their numbers while moving from one operator to another. This benefits the smaller operators the most since it helps them seamlessly increase their user base.”

But if this is the case, then how does one explain the advocacy of this initiative by the leading online players, especially considering that they enjoy a vantage position in terms of user base and community? If experts and industry analysts are to be believed, this is a response by the biggies to the heat being generated by the enviable success of Facebook. Zuckerberg’s brainchild had pioneered this idea in 2006 when it allowed developers to use its platform to create applications. It created massive buzz and a huge user base for Facebook which was instrumental in fetching it a valuation of 15 Billion USD. So what Google is doing with Open Social and Yahoo with its Open Strategy is something similar i.e. to develop a common application programming interface (API) for social applications across multiple websites. By doing this, they hope to combat Facebook’s growing domination in the social networking space and create a similar impact in terms of user mindshare. With these standard Javascripts and HTML codes, developers would be able to create applications that can access the participating social network’s friends and update feeds.