Friday, October 21, 2011

Selling Spirituality


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri Investigates his new booming form of market-friendly, Designer Moksha

It is an astonishing paradox of human life with progress, sophistication, modernity and success comes depression, loneliness, alienation, and insecurity! Today in the year 2011, as we scan the lifescape inhabiting planet earth – with special reference to the advanced and developed western countries – we find startling horror stories of dysfunctional life amidst plenty. Amongst us in India there is no dearth of mimics and westapers passionately engaged in the business of living a ‘proxy’ life – a life invested with ‘imported’ thoughts, beliefs, products and processes. They believe it spells progress, being cool, smart, belonging to the swish Page 3 set and generally being perceived as aspirational role–models and preferred objects of desire.

Sadly, nothing is further from the truth! In the insane and direction - less pursuit of a mirage called “happiness”, the first casualty is peace of mind Why? Because nothing in this world comes for free and the first and the first would joys offered by the enticing packages called ‘Consumerism’ and ‘Globalisation’ come with a sinister price – tage! Suddenly, the sexy, 10-digit paycheck doesn’t look so great because the tension and pressure that accompanies it is scary. Family life, social life, cultural life, intellectual life….everything is sold at the altar of moving up in life. So, what next? What is the solution? Where is the salvation? Enter the marketers of spiritualism!

Ad – man Gullu Sen – Founder of Delhi based agency From Here On Communications – comes up with an instant one-liner. “If you have a Sapnon Ka Saudagar, why can’t you have a guy hawking spirituality?! The con – game is the same, boss!” On a more serious note, Sen believes that in today’s troubled times where tension and pressures rule the roost, spirituality is in high demand low supply. “Hence, the smart, shrewd marketer who has his ear to the ground and is able to think on his feet, can do wonders – for his desperate clients and laughing wallet.” He cites the example of Aastha and a host of similar TV channels which enjoy a wide viewership cutting across all stratas of society.

Perizaad Zorabian, the gorgeous redhead scorching the Bollywood marquee and modelling scene, takes a more serious view. She believes that each and every human being has a spiritual side to him or her “but unfortunately, due to the pressures of everyday life, sometimes, they are forced to give it low pariority. Interestingly, in times of real stress, it is this spirituality that gives them the strength and sustenance to cope.” Although she lives an extremely busy life, Zorabian makes it a point to save some time each day for hersely “to catch up with her spiritual self that is a source of both enrichment and empowerment. “As for the spirituality – on – sale tack, the actress believes that something as sacred and precious as this should not be treated as a product or service to be hawked for consumption. “I find it a very sick line of thingking!”

Burly, bearded, iconoclast Ad-man Prahlad Kakkar is however totally comfortable with the idea of marketing spirituality. “Yaar, we live in sexy Kalyug times where everyone knows the price of everything but the value of nothing! Spirituality, therefore, for the stressful, materialistic, gimmee – gimmee community, is something they can easily connect with as a consumer,” he tells 4Ps B&M. Kakkar believes that the simple, innocent days of basic goodness that was the DNA of our forefathers, have long disappeared. They have been replaced by a turbulent and complex environment where basic values are frequently under siege. “Hence, a safety valve like spirituality is a super – seller – a presold, sellout!’

And now the latest – Spiritual Cruises! Spiritual icons like Baba Ramdev and Mridul Maharaj are said to be doing their number on luxury liners Heading overseas (South-East Asia and Europe) with an army of devotees in attendance! Theaters on board, which showcase raunchy entertainment at night, amazingly morph to sacred, incense sticks Samadhan by day, complete with chants! Hyderabad-based software company promoter Govind Kabra (who specialises in organismic these trips) admits that their popularity has grown with time. From 1,500 a few years ago the number has risen to a whooping 15,000 plus! Although the major chunk come from India, there is a growing NRI presence from places like US, UK, Italy, Belgium, Indonesia... Even special and customised requirements (midnight supper during Katha; masala tea; vegetarian food minus garlic, onion and ginger!) are fulfilled. And these trips cost approximately $150-200 per night. Jai Ho!

At the end of the day, I believe, it's like selling coal to Newcastle! C'mon guys, we are, historically and traditionally, a spiritual civilisation/nation with rituals and beliefs embedded in our psyche. Whether it's the sandhya-deep accompanied by conch-shells at dusk or the vision of what life is about – Karma, Maya – spirituality remains an intrinsic part of our being. Unfortunately, pathetic West-apers that we have become, we seem to be enthusiastically buying into their hard-selling spirituality to us in the form of a fashion thing; a with-it and under-cool solution to all worldly problems that blitzes our sense of peace and contentment. It's sold – and bought – (like in the West) as a quick-fix, a fevicol for the battered soul! Only re-affirming the savagely ironic fact that we live in an age of Vigyapan not Vigyan!


Saturday, October 08, 2011




The big, burly 'client', chewing his favourite brand of pan masala (with three rings on his right hand and four on his left, along with various coloured strings gracing his writs) dressed in a safari suit of dazzling maroon, seated on a massive, filmy, throne-like chair in a room filled with pictures of Gods, Goddesses, his late father, stared hard at the youmg, fresh-faced Account Executive from the agency they had hired. From time to time, the client sighed and nodded his head – left to right and back -indicating cosmic sorrow. Eventually, wisdom descended from those pan-masala-stained teeth. “Boss, kuch jama nahin! Kuch solid creative banao, jo hila de, ghanti baja de. Yeh sab to ghatiya, nonsense, rubbish, bakwas!!”. With these encouraging \gems, he flung the eight ads (which the agency had created in two hours, flat) towards the young man and began to speak again. “Beta, don't take it personally. I like you very much and love your English-speaking and gyan on advertising, lekin kya hai, bijness to bijness hota hai, hai naa? Your boss is my very good yaar from college days. Kammal ka tuning hai, to mana nahin kar sakta, hai naa? But you must brush up on creativity. Waise ek phone me ghumaoon to line lag jayegi Adwalon ki and you know it, lekin mind it, mein aisa nahin karna chahta hoon. Navar!” He paused for breath and an other intake of pan masala. “My 17-years-old daughter Dimple can do much better. Believe nahin karoge, by gaad, she's too creative! Angrezi poetry likhti hai, painting karti hai, aur kya GK hai, oye hoi! She only told me these designs are ghatiya, third class, not something that will hilao the junta!”

Totally shaken and bewildered at this bizarre onslaught, the young man – whose parents had invested their whole some income into making the lad what this world would call “cultured, educated, soft-spoken” - made the appropriate, polite sounds and left the office. On the way, stopping by for a 'cold drink', he reflected upon his life. Who were these strange clients – completely uninformed, coarse, totally disconnected with any thing to do with basics of good, effective advertising? Why was his agency boss always insisting on young, nubile, half naked girls to be splashed as the main focus of his ads even when all the client was selling were locks? Why did these creatures never exist six months ago in his high-profile Mumbai agency, where he trained and spent two glorious years? Why did he even shift?... The lad was now beginning to feel the stress and pressure of working in an environment that was a million light miles away from where he came... Back at the office, confusion became confounded? His boss – a proprietor who was all sugan n' spice just a few months back while begging him to join – blew his fuse! “Yaar, who told you to give him bhashan on what is good for his product? Is he a fool? Pata hai, he is one of my langoti yaars who has successfully run his Papa's business for over 20 years, making a huge profit. Also, by the way, he is the President of the Ad Club and active member of the PRSI and Press Club, samjhe?” And then, a sudden parallel track, What an excursion he organised to Amritsar and Wagah border, maja aa gaya... anyway, he called me and told me not to fire you. But yaar be dedicated to your work. What are you doing? Chal, chal get back...” This was the tipping point. It all spooled over in a millisecond – his fantastic two years at the professional agency, then the rust of blood to join this sole proprietorship of an ad agency for the so-called 'independence', and then the nightmare – bah! The young man had had it and finally exploded. “You got me here luring me with big bucks and great promises of freedom with responsibility. From an A-lister, all I've become is a Z-lister! My fault is that I didn't listen to my friends because I was dazzled by the 'seniority'. However, I've started regretting my shift more than anything I've ever done- you constantly refer to clients as Mai Baap and Bhagwan, you continuously instruct me to improve my 'setting-fitting'! What the hell are we here? Pimps? Ever-ready suppliers? Weren't we supposed to be communication consultants, solution providers?!? Or am I supposed to now always be a yes-jee, no-jee buffoon? You will never, ever understand professionalism because for you, billing is god, not quality... and that is injurious to my health?” Shocked silence followed on both sides. And then the lad blurted out, I am quitting here and no. Bye!” With that outburst that even surprised him, the young man stormed out of the office. Of course the boss was too shocked to react. No one in his 30-year stint of doing various businesses ever had had the guts to speak to him in this manner.

Readers, if you thought that you just read a fairly accurate [of course slightly doctored, for added effect] true-to-life account of the experience of a young, ambitious and enthusiastic advertising man, seduced by serious big bucks and the carrot of being allowed to effect changes when and where necessary within an agency that just refused to budge from its supplier-mode – well, you're absolutely right! This was there decaded ago, but this phenomenon is still alive and kicking, trust me! Why? The reason is simple. Like India and Bharat, there is a distinct divide between the top 20 A-listers and the ones below and although they are all – technically players of the same game, any resemblance to vision, values and modus operandi is a hysterical coincidence! When a young dude moves from a high-ticket agency to one that is hugely cash-rich, but with no name or status with people who matter, there is a 'Faustian Deal' at work. It is a conscious and tacit signing away of one's soul [read: professionalism] for filthy lucre, or in the words of our Pundits, “Mammon devouring the muse”! In these tough, competitive and inflationary times where prices soar everyday and increments happen just once year – if hyou're lucky! - the temptation to sell out is as strong as ever.

But then, what is the best choice? Should you choose to stay with the big budget Tier 1 kings or should you take the plunge and try out your deal with the devil? The choice is yours. If you chase money, your credentials become mud – but you may earn much in the short run if you hit it lucky, and who knows, even thrive. If you chase quality and excellence, chances are, good things will happen, if not soon enough, then surely in the longer run.

It is precisely here that the Big Iea is born! The one that tells you that advertising for me has never been about 'ad pass ho gaya' but about challenging the status quo, tilting at windmills, audaciously embracing both the sacrilegious and solemn, dazzling the eye, touching the heart, while reaching minds – and wallets! A pitched battle agains the maja nahi aaya vermin, marketng winbags, conceited rigid bureaucrats, research fascists, pompous, humourless, emotionless biggies slavishly wedded to “target consumers and demographic cross-sections” instead of you and I, him and her, they and them... But that's my personal fight, my individual war. It needn't be yours – or maybe it should be! Like I said, it's for you to decide.

So, for all kids wanting to sign up in this great creative calling, get your fundamentals right. Will it be magic or the honeytrap? If it's the former, the possibilities are endless for peer respect and a rewarding future. If it's quick bucks, be prepared 24*7 to hear deathless slogans like “East or West, our underwear steals the thunder and is the beast!!” [No, I'm not joking!]