Saturday, January 9, 2010

Joh Dhiktha Hai, Woh Bhiktha Hai

You can fool all the people all the time if the advertising is right and the budget is big enough - Joseph Levine

As per Wikipedia (the modern age Encyclopedia), advertising is a form of communication used to influence individuals to purchase products or services or support political candidates or ideas. But this definition is incomplete because it does not state that the influencing is done by misinformation, false claims, and often, lies. This enrages me so much that I think I have reached a state of ‘ADnauseam’ – I get nausea, when I see an ad!

Advertising should be redefined as the art of convincing people to spend money they don't have, for buying things they don't need. In fact, advertisements make people think that they have longed for something all their life that they had never heard of before seeing the ad. Just take a look at the Sky Mall magazine in a flight, where there are products like Hollywood Cookie Diet, Aquabell Sets, Active Sitting Discs, etc.

They say advertising can sell any product and I couldn’t agree more. It is easier done these days as the world today is driven by a lot of hype and less of sense. People are willing to believe anything a scantily-clad sexy woman says on an ad. Appeal to reason in your advertising and it seems you will address only 1.37% of the human race! How else does one explain such products in the market? – Relaxing Magic Showerhead, Nazar Raksha Kawach, etc.

The sad part is that advertising has us working jobs we hate, so that we can buy shit we don't need. Advertising has also changed our thinking. Last week, I saw my wife put on eye shadow, eyeliner and eyelashes. I asked, "What are you doing to your eyes?" She said, "I'm making them look natural."

My biggest grouse against advertising is how it takes gullible common people for a ride. H G Wells said, “Advertising is legalized lying”. What is the difference between unethical and ethical advertising? - unethical advertising uses falsehoods to deceive the public, ethical advertising uses truth to deceive the public.

Advertisers have taken more money from people than what government and mafia have taken put together. Like I saw an ad last week that said, “Buy one and pay for the other”! When I asked a family friend of ours, a clergyman, about his opinion of the advertising business, he refused, but he did offer to pray for those that make their living at it.

However, I have to admit that advertisers are one of the best users of humour and sex. Though there have been no studies that link humour and sex in ads to its effectiveness, more than a majority of ads use both, and use it well. But funny for funny sake could backfire, like the case of a health club whose billboard read "When the aliens come, they'll eat the fat ones first."

It is often funny to hear the claims advertisers make. Like the claim of introduction of ‘lite’ - the new way to spell 'light', but with twenty per cent fewer letters. I am told that the first strategy of any new marketing campaign is to add the word ‘new and improved’ to the product. Isn’t it obvious that a ‘new and improved’ claim is false? - Because if it is new, it couldn't have been improved and if it is improved, it can't be new! I still remember the days when razors used to have one blade. Slowly it became two and then three. Now I hear there are four-blade razors in the market. But the quality of the shave has still been the same! Hear George Carlin’s take on advertising and advertising claims (statutory warning : contains profanity).

However, advertising has become a necessity to stay in business and I doubt if a business can survive without advertising. Though half the money spent on advertising is wasted, the trouble is, you don't know which half. I was shocked when a friend of mine, who had a good business idea, said he failed because of too much advertising. On further probe, he confided that it was from the competitors.

I will end with a quote from Philip Dusenberry, an advertiser, “I have always believed that writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing. The first, of course, is ransom notes...”

* This blog is inspired by and dedicated to my cousin-brother Suraj

Friday, December 4, 2009

When you have ‘nothing’ to do, do it on social media

A hacker attack briefly shut down Twitter yesterday. Millions of twitterers were forced to talk to each other the old fashioned way - through Facebook!

We all agree that social media is a wonderful invention of the 21st century which helps us to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances. If you don’t agree or you don’t have a profile on at least one social networking site, I would strongly recommend that you go back to the 20th century, where you belong. If Shakespeare was still around, he might have remarked 't
witterers never quill, and quillers never tweet!'

I am an avid social networking user. However, I have to confess that it has been a love-hate relationship, though mostly it has been love. Despite its obvious advantages and even if one doesn’t misuse it (i.e. where one doesn’t use it as a ‘chat and cheat’ tool), social networking is not without disadvantages. Few years back, when I met family and friends after a long time their complaint used to be that I didn’t write. Nowadays, the complaint seems to be that I didn’t write, I didn’t call, I didn’t fax, I didn’t email, I didn’t page, I didn’t text, I didn’t blog, I didn’t scrap, I didn’t tweet…….

I like staying in touch with friends. I would like to know about their whereabouts and updates. But do I really need to know that Sanjay is enjoying his ravioli, or that Sarah’s flight has again been delayed, or that Tina is feeling sleepy during her meeting? I don’t think I do. Nor do I like navigating the minefield of postings about picnics and parties, or worse, Farmville, Fortune Cookies and Quizes.

Secondly, there is the uneasy feeling about being
at the epicenter of ALL the friends and acquaintances of my ENTIRE life AT ONCE. They may no longer be the people I knew, and I, certainly, am not the person I was even two years back. I worry if I will be able to ‘effectively’ communicate through my updates without offending anybody or making them feel as if I am a stranger.

Imagine my situation where I have all of the following and more on my contacts - three of my old girl friends, my school mate who knows that I once cheated on my test, another school mate who knows the teachers and girls on whom I had crush, a college mate who knows that I was the one who wrote the love letter which was blamed on another college mate, a neighbor who saw me peep at the bedroom of the beautiful girl who lived across my house, a fellow intern who knows that I once cheated on a travel claim, a colleague whom I backstabbed during my previous job, etc. To add to the complexity, it also has my current friends who think I am decent guy, my current colleagues who think I am a good colleague, my current boss who thinks I am an okay employee, my (current?) wife who thinks I am a not-so-okay husband. Above all it has a certain set of people who look upto to me (such people do exist, atleast in my imagination).

And so, how do I communicate to ALL of them at the SAME time? I come up with one-liners and (not-so-)wise-cracks that is so impersonal that they will never know the ‘real’ me! I am getting accustomed to such impudent social behavior. Because I don’t want to land in this kind of situation. If what I write on my blogs and social networks can be used as evidence, my wife would divorce me, my employer would sack me, my neighbour would sue me and my friends would leave me. But thankfully there is no handwriting detection on the net as anybody can write in Arial 10 font!

The other mistake people do is being injudicious about the folks they add to their contacts and add anybody who invites them. They seem to have more school mates on their Facebook than they ever had in school! I just hope they are comfortable sharing their personal moments with these strangers. I am not. I add only people whom I have met or atleast know very well. Despite that, I have 200+ contacts. Can you imagine how many hours it would take to just do the “hello, how are you doing?” bit with everyone!

Thirdly, there’s the whole voyeurism issue. I always believed that if someone followed me, I should be worried. Now because of ‘tagging’ there are thousands of people, albeit friendly, who have access to places I have been and people I know. And worry about it, I cannot, because that is the cost of virtual existence.

The other unique problem that I have is that if I secretly meet somebody (why, because I am a married man, you see), the person immediately puts up an update with a photograph disclosing the meeting. Hence, I have stopped dating women with Facebook profiles! Also if I conduct a party and invite a few friends over, as per my estimation, the chance of it hitting the net the SAME day is 82.34%, for the entire majority who were NOT invited to see.

Above all, the biggest drawback with social networking is that it deprives a person of the much more valuable ‘real life experiences’. More often than not, people who are active on social networking sites, do not have many ‘real’ friends. Soon we will need to set up social networking rehab centers, like where Bill Zucker was taken. But one also have to admit that it is not a new demon in the house – television has had its share in making humans less social and sociable.

However, as I said I have more love than hate for social networking. I have found and interacted with people in a way that I never imagined possible. In the older days, you really had to DO something to be social - helping your friends, baby-sitting the neighbour’s child, giving a poor guy something to eat, and other terrible selfless things. Nowadays, you just have to tweet every few hours via your cellphone and you are done!

And I just love the way it works; instant karma at its very best. Don't you agree?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

No excuse for no exercise

The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you would rather not - Mark Twain

Virgil once famously remarked that the greatest wealth is health. I think people ignore that advice. They spend their health to gain wealth in the first half of their lives, and then spend their wealth to regain their health in the latter half. In fact, a person's health can be judged by which the person takes two at a time - pills or stairs.

As I approach middle age, I realize what 'middle age' means : it is when your age starts to show around your middle. A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me, I'm afraid of widths. I have been employed for the last 12 years, and my only savings have been the added girth around my equator. But I feel better off than a colleague of mine, who has what one would call a soldier's stomach - everything that he eats goes to the ‘front’. He also has flabby thighs, but fortunately his stomach covers them. If he had acted in the place of Russell Crowe in Gladiator, the character would have been named Gluteus Maximus instead of Maximus Decimus Meridius.

For a large part of my life, the only exercise I got was eating and sleeping. I can imagine a lot of readers nodding their head as they read this. No, I am not implying that that is the case with them (though honestly, I am). In fact, if it weren't for the fact that the TV and the refrigerator are so far apart, some of us wouldn't get any exercise at all. I guess women are better off, since they get a lot of exercise doing shopping, as they walk up and down giant shopping malls, occasionally resting to make a purchase.

Then computers arrived, and I started getting my exercise by swiveling on the computer chair, typing on the keyboard, and clicking the mouse. Once I got employed, I got plenty of exercise at work by jumping to conclusions, beating around the bush, dodging the issue, going back on my word, swimming against the tide, and pushing my luck.

Despite all this, I have always ‘wanted’ to be healthy and fit. But as they say if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. I have this constant fear that if I don't take care of myself, the undertaker will overtake that responsibility for me. In fact, I have become so obsessed with health these days that I sense there is something fundamentally ‘unhealthy’ about it.

I do exercise once in a while, if only to hear heavy breathing again. As I have to force my body to exercise, I do it early in the morning before my brain figures out what I'm doing. At other times, when I feel the need to exercise, I lie down until the feeling passes. Like every one else, I have 'joined' several health clubs and spent a lot of money. But I haven't lost a pound. Apparently, you have to show up! I guess if I were born in UK, I would have lost a few pounds (GBP).

Though there are a host of health books, articles, blogs, etc, I never read them heeding to Mark Twain: “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.” Also I never bought any home exercise equipments, because everybody I knew used them as clothes hanger. In fact a friend of mine argued that his food is enriched with high iron content because he uses his dumbbells to bash meat.

Walking/jogging/biking could help stay fit. As per research (my blog, my research!) for every mile that you jog, you add one minute to your life. This enables you, at age 85, to spend an additional 5 months in a nursing home at $5,000 per month. Talking of that reminded me of the famous joke – “My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60; now she's 97 years old and we don't know where the hell she is”. How I wish I could say that about my wife one day (Rakesh, this joke is dedicated to you). By the way, I do enjoy long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.

Then, there is dieting. It is an alien concept in the part of world where I come from, where people think that they exist on this world to eat. When I heard about the benefits of a healthy diet, I switched to 'fat-free' chips and 'light' beer. The diet experts claim that red meat is bad for you. I don't believe them because I have never seen a sick-looking tiger. If you see blue-green meat, now, that might be bad for you. By the way, have you heard of the cardiologist's diet: If it tastes good, spit it out!

Everybody these days are advising me to buy Wii Fit. Of course, I would need to buy a TV and Wii before that. But isn’t it ironical to think that you could be fit by playing games on TV? However, it is not too funny if you consider that most people do seem it logical to 'drive' to the gym doing their best to avoid walking, or to order a 'diet' coke along with a 'double cheese' burger.

I got to work out. I keep saying it all the time. But it has been about three months since I have worked out. And I just don't seem to have the time. That is funny considering that I do find time to go out on long lunches and dinners. To watch movies. To update my Facebook status message and to write blogs. But the question that I keep asking myself is - Do I exercise to keep fit? Or do I need to be fit to exercise, in which case do I need the exercise?

So my dear readers, here’s wishing that you live as long as you are fit, but no longer. Or, may you rather die before you cease to be fit, than after. Ok, if that sounded awkward, then here’s a tip to keep fit!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

History was made on this day

It’s been one year, 365 days to be precise. Earth has gone around the sun once. It seems like it was only last month that it happened. Maybe earth should slow down!

On June 28, 2008 I wrote Gratitude Note. Even my wife did not read it. Only one person read it - Joseph, the person who influenced me to join the blog world. See, I am not responsible for this space. You should send those hate mails to him. But in all fairness I must add that he did not know what he had bargained for when he asked me to write a blog.

It has been a very interesting (actually it has been silly and an absolute waste of time – but I can’t say in public) journey over the past one year. Has it been a success? Apparently yes, because nobody has stopped me yet. See, success is a relative term!

A handful of people with nothing better to do visited my blogs. A few among them glanced over the posts and even fewer actually read the blogs. Some were so infuriated that they left unpleasant comments. But I converted those nasty comments into an appreciative one. And then, yours truly replied to each of them in all humbleness and modesty. Of course, that also gave me the satisfaction of having had the last say.

The first couple of blogs I wrote were personal stuff. But I quickly learned that my friends and family in ‘real’ life are not interested in reading my blogs. Only strangers read my blogs, who incidentally (and rightfully) are not interested in my personal matters. So I switched to writing opinions and thoughts, mixed with humour, which was soon accepted for two reasons. One, everybody has an opinion about everything, even if they don’t know anything about it. Two, since it is humourous, even if they really don’t like it, they cannot admit it, because then they will appear to lack a sense of humour.

I have gained a few ‘virtual’ acquaintances and couple of ‘virtual’ friends along the way. Can one call them ‘real’ friends and acquaintances? NAH! They are busy writing their own blogs and attracting readers to their blogs. The bare minimum conversation that they have with me is with an ulterior motive to attract me to their blogs. But what they fail to understand is that I too have the same motive.

Now that I have become so famous because of my blog, I am seriously considering contesting elections. Probably I will contest in Thiruvanthapuram in 2014 against Shashi Tharoor. You know, Shashi needs a worthy opponent; he won so comfortably last time.

I am an accountant. I say it with numbers. So here are a few stats (see, I told you that I count my blessings):

Number of blogs written: 23
Average number of blogs per month: 1.92
Number of followers of the blog: 29
Number of readers subscribed for email updates: 8
Number of readers who have left comments: 143
Therefore, number of readers visited the blog: >143
Average number of new readers per month: >11.92
Number of comments: 387
Average number of comments per day: 1.06
Average comments per blog: 16.8
Number of blogs with no comments: None

Top five commented blogs:
I am sorry, are you sorry? (36 comments) - not surprising; everybody felt apologetic
I don’t forget anniversaries (32 comments)
The older I get, the better I used to be (31 comments)
Gifting, my Achilles heel (30 comments)
There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there is credit card (29 comments)

Finally, the five top commentors on my blog:
Joseph (14 comments) - he was obliged to comment since he dragged me into this!
Devika, Gazal, Shri Ramesh Sadasivam (13 comments)
Blogger formerly known as Sansmerci (12 comments)
PRG, Usha (11 comments)
Ganga, Renu, Shail (10 comments)

* Comments exclude duplicate ones, by anonymous readers and mine
** These stats are despite me not being a woman. Oh didn't you know, if you are woman blogger, you attract comments like how a sweet attracts ants.

Readers mentioned above, I would have liked to thank you from the bottom of my heart, but for you my heart has no bottom. I admire your forbearance for having survived the blog and commenting on them, even though most of you never read the posts fully. Please keep your acceptance speeches and interview notes ready, because you don’t want to be taken by surprise when CNN, BBC, NDTV, TOI, Asianet, etc approaches you for your response to the recognition.

Readers not mentioned above, no donut for you! You were informed about the benefits of leaving comments on my blog but you ignored it. Now, the above set of people has stolen the limelight and has left you licking your wounds. You will get your chance next year, in 365 days to be precise. Earth has to go around the sun once again, but it will go by like a month. Maybe earth should slow down!

PS : Gratitude is merely the secret hope of further favours.