Taped Together

The lovely Mel Exon (@melex) invited me to be a part of her Christmas crowdsourcing music project with Maria Popova (@brainpicker): Taped Together. This is how they describe it:

Each day of December, we’re uploading one season-inspired song, curated by a different person. On December 31, we’re putting the compilation together as the world’s first crowd-curated holiday playlist for anyone who wants one.

Mine is today, and it’s All Over the World by the Pet Shop Boys. The project is shaping up beautifully. Some of my personal favourites so far are Here’s To You (Ennio Morricone and Joan Baez), Big Jumps (Emiliana Torrini), The Star of a Story (Heatwave), Hands in Pockets (Laura Gibson), and Happy Christmas (John Lennon and Yoko Ono).

It’s a great collection of songs in general – you should go and give it a listen.

Mango & Paulo Coelho

I was walking by Mango the other day and spotted a sticker on their window mentioning a collaboration with Paulo Coelho. I couldn’t think of any other collaboration between an author and a high street brand off the top of my head, so I was intrigued enough to walk in to check it out.

Mango is selling T-shirts emblazoned with quotes from Paulo Coelho’s works for a limited period, the proceeds of which are going to the Paulo Coelho Institute which supports underprivileged Brazilian people. The box in which they are packed looks like a book (nice design touch), and I can see them being quite popular with most women who’ve read Coelho – I remember I went through a phase when I was younger, when I faithfully wrote down my favourite Coelho quotes in a notebook as I was in the process of reading his books.

Nice one.

And the mountain gets higher…

Another tweet that caught my eye the other day.

Lately, I have been feeling this way too. Boing Boing is just one of those blogs that have a lot of posts every day, but there are quite a few others. I don’t know if the people who run those blogs are aware that sometimes it is just too overwhelming. Similar to the way you can miss others’ tweets on Twitter if you are not logged in at any given point in time, excessive posts on a blog in a day result in me allowing them to pile up in my feed reader, and then eventually hitting the ‘mark all as read’ button just to get back to the starting line again (I’m one of those people who has to have a clear inbox everyday). I’m not sure if this is something the editors/writers of those kind of blogs even consider, but surely they must? Or do they know about it, but ignore it because of a business need to stock up the posts to get advertising revenue?


The long and short of it

Spotted this on Learn Something Every Day. I was intrigued to know there was actually a war that lasted all of 38 minutes, and fairly easily found out which one it was – the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896, the shortest war in history. From Neatorama:

The whole thing started when the Sultan of Zanzibar, who had willingly cooperated with the British, died on August 25, 1896, and his nephew Khalid bin Bargash seized power in a coup. Thinking that another candidate would be easier to deal with, the British delivered an ultimatum to force the Bargash to abdicate.

…and so a war began, which wrapped up fairly soon, as we know now.

The longest war lasted 335 years, on the other hand! That is just crazy!

Thanks, British Airways

You cannot imagine my amazement when I saw this email in my inbox today. I’ve booked to fly with British Airways over the Christmas holidays, and when the whole brouhaha about the cabin crew strike came up last week, everyone and their brother was advising me to cancel my booking. I didn’t.

Everyone knows BA has been in a lot of trouble lately, but it’s nice to know that they’re taking the time to show that they value their customers in the midst of what is clearly a big financial and business mess.

I appreciate this, British Airways.

Brand delight

I was down to the last slice of bread in the bag the other day as I was making some toast for breakfast. When it was ready and I started to eat, I got a phone call. As I was speaking on the phone, I suddenly looked at the slice of toast on my plate. I had completely serendipitously placed it face down, and I made out the word ‘Hovis’ stamped on the other side. For a minute I stopped speaking, and just looked at it in wonder, as if it had appeared by magic. I didn’t even know companies stamped their bread – which is silly because there’s no reason why they shouldn’t, sort of like labelling a bottle. 

It sort of made my morning. I love those moments of delight. Like a virtual easter egg.

Paris, je t’aime

Ah, Paris. City of love. City of art. City of fashion. I’d like to see Paris for more than just the romance it inspires in people, though, or even the sense of history, art and culture that begins to feel overwhelming after a couple of hours in the Louvre. Paris must be so much more – there IS after all a Paris that most of us probably don’t see.

I’d like to see Paris the way the swish set see it.  

I’d start with a long, wine-filled lunch at Ducasse in the Hotel Plaza Athenee. Headed by Chef Alain Ducasse, I’ve heard that the food is excellent, as are the extremely luxurious surroundings. It is apparently one of the few restaurants where guests can create their own menu if they so desire, though I am unlikely to exercise that choice!

I’d then go and spend an hour at La Hune Librarie, a storehouse of books on design and art (including film and music) started by architect-designer Sylvain Dubuisson. I hope to add to my collection of coffee-table books there.  

Believe it or not, I still haven’t seen the Moulin Rouge, so that would be a must-see, touristy as it is. I know this sounds cheesy but the film reminded me of Bollywood (they even had a bit of a Hindi film song in it), and I’m a sucker for over-the-top productions of visual grandeur involving dance and music anyway.

Dinner would be at Les Bains, where this site recommends the Thai restaurant as a way to get in to the club that was formerly the site of Turkish baths. How exotic does that sound?!

The next day, I’d make an early trip to Versailles to see the Palace. One look at the image on the homepage will be one of the many reasons I’d love to go there, apart from the history that oozes out of it in cascades, of course. 

Finally, another plush lunch at Le Cinq in the Four Seasons. Just because. And because I love my food. 

I watched this movie a couple of years or so ago. You should watch it if you haven’t: Paris, je t’aime.

P.S: Full disclosure, this sudden ode to Paris is part of a competition to showcase Le Nouveau Paris. That apart, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn new things about a city I’m not as familiar with as I am with London.

Mobile in India – Jumping Ahead to the Future

This is a re-post from BBH Labs, where I co-wrote this post with Chandrashekhar L from BBH India and Ben Malbon from BBH Labs.

Image credit: Dipanker Dutta (cc) via Flickr

Brands in India are still struggling with advertising on the internet, even as mobile services steadily explore new territory.

Both mobile and the internet comprise what is popularly known as ‘digital’, yet unlike in Western markets such as the UK or the US, the former is much more powerful and prevalent than the latter. The reason for this is primarily the drop in the cost of mobile usage over recent years, versus the increasing cost of broadband usage. As this blogger says:

“What the Indian telcos should do is adopt a model that was instrumental in driving mobile usage in India. Drop the price points so that even the average person (living on Rs. 100 per day), would find Internet usage compelling, useful, and not frustrating. If they were to adopt a mass usage policy and not price their broadband products based on margins, I believe that in 5 years, India could have at least 100 million broadband users (via DSL, cable modem, Mobile 3G, wiMax, etc.).”

The mobile industry in India is witnessing rapid changes, with voice and messaging charges dropping drastically. Tata Docomo started the concept of “pay per second” not too long ago, which was replicated within a fortnight by all other major players like Vodafone, Reliance and Airtel. Less than a week ago, Reliance (the largest CDMA player) introduced the option of choosing between 1 paise per sms (a measly 0.02 cents) or 1 rupee for unlimited SMS per day (2 cents per day).

The interesting paradox is that while basic call and text charges have dropped to unbelievably low prices, GPRS costs have yet to come down. Therefore, the trend suggests that the evolved value-added services (VAS) will definitely grow at a much lower pace, as those costs aren’t coming down as steeply: accessing services on the phone still costs a lot in India, even though phone tariffs are amongst the lowest in the world.

As more and more people in the country jump on the mobile phone bandwagon, from small villages to large metros, innovation is growing apace. Consider, for example, the new business deal between DirecPay, a bank-neutral payment aggregator service from Times of Money (part of the Times Group, India’s largest media conglomerate) and PayMate, a wireless transactions company. The deal will provide an extended mobile payment facility to merchants who sign up, and with the current rate of penetration of the mobile device in the country at 35% (the number of GSM users alone is at 335.5 million currently), it is likely to bring even more consumers into the considered set of e-commerce users, as Avijit Nanda, the President of Times of Money says.

Image credit: Ken Banks (cc) & Kiwanja.net via Flickr

Mobile phones in India are also extremely powerful social and commercial tools. Nokia handsets are the instruments of choice of the majority of the population in the country (the company owns about 65% of the market share).
Where educational iPhone apps are less than 1000 in number (737 in November 2008) and certainly not as popular as gaming and entertainment apps in the Western world, in South Asia, Nokia has understood the market and is investing in Mera Nokia, a tool that provides farmers with useful crop-related information, Nokia Life, which offers agriculture, education and entertainment service apps specifically targeted at the market in smaller urban and rural areas, Nokia Tej, a mobile order management system, and Nokia Point and Find, a context-aware service that recognizes objects through barcodes and GPS. (Nokia has embarked on the last two as part of the Progress Project, in partnership with Lonely Planet). Airtel (another popular Indian mobile operator) and Thomson Reuters also offer services similar to Mera Nokia.

If the market offers a completely different set of challenges, the only way to counter them is to understand how to leverage the instrument that is clearly succeeding. We imagine something along the lines of the Blyk model would work well here: where advertisers subsidize the cost of mobile usage via targeted advertisements. It may even be possible to build a two-tiered offering like Spotify has for it’s Premium and regular (free) offerings. What Hugo Barra, a Product Manager at Google says is particularly resonant in this respect:

“People will not want to pay for services that they can get for free, and the services will be free because there is a massive opportunity for advertisers to come onto the mobile platform. This is still untapped. Thanks to the proliferation of location information, specific advertising, and I mean non-intrusive advertising can easily come onto the mobile.”

Another opportunity that can be tapped into is the growth of social networks in the country. India is now only behind the US in Twitter usage, and it is 5th in the world in Facebook usage. An interesting model would be to explore a hybrid that combines the extensive usage of mobiles and social networking.

The big players are already realizing the opportunities for promoting social networking services. For instance, Aircel Telecom launched the biggest advertising burst in the telecom category (before Tata Docomo) by showcasing Facebook on mobile while Airtel has launched a campaign of 4 TVCs promoting the use of Twitter. Here is some of the creative from those two campaigns:

According to a 2009 Trendspotting report, online ad spend is only 3% of the total ad spend in India, compared to 8-20% in developed markets. But advertisers are evolving in their use of the online medium by going beyond banner and keyword advertising to creating campaigns that leverage social networks and connectivity, while the use of the mobile phone for advertising is still very rudimentary (mostly used for text-based promotional offers). The increasing use of the internet and especially social networks on the mobile would automatically mean that the online advertising approach gets extended to the small mobile screen as well: 63 million Indians already access internet on mobile as compared to 45 million on the PC (Source: IRS and TRAI estimates).

What’s fascinating – and perhaps instructive – for those involved with making sense of all this in Western markets such as Europe and North America, is how telcos and marketers in India seem to simply be jumping over some of the phases and issues the typical North American marketer might face. Despite the fact that in many ways the technologies at their disposal are less sophisticated than in Western markets, they seem further ahead in terms of mobile utility, mobile commerce & micro-payments, and in many cases more adventurous as far as advertiser-funded mobile platforms are concerned.

We have much to learn.