Category Archives: Design & Innovation

Crowd sourcing keeps gathering Moss

Even more signs that this is going to be a big part of the future.

2 extracts from the post “Future of advertising” at www.

1. GeniusRocket  is nothing more than a bare-bones website that crowdsources broadcast-ready TV ads from a pool of loosely vetted talent from Poland to Guam. A CMO accustomed to handing over millions of dollars to an agency for a campaign designed around a single spot can now hand GeniusRocket $40,000 — and get seven spots, each of which will be syndicated on 20 web platforms for tracking, testing, sentiment analysis, and wide distribution. GeniusRocket gleans a 20% to 40% commission, and the rest goes to the creators. “It seemed like an interesting, cost-effective way to get some new creative ideas,” says Marshall Hyzdu, the Kraft brand manager who hired GeniusRocket. “We fell in love with one spot.

2. Former Crispin Porter + Bogusky exec John Winsor recently opened Victors & Spoils in Boulder, Colorado. Victors & Spoils has virtually no staff and “operates on the principles of crowdsourcing” — currently the most vilified term in the agency world. Since its launch last year, Victors & Spoils has lured marketers at General Mills, Oakley, Virgin America, and Harley-Davidson, which just ditched its agency of record of 30 years. “Many agencies are hanging on to this idea that creativity is theirs to own and sell,” says Harley CMO Mark-Hans Richer. “[Victors & Spoils] offered a great place to start versus sitting across from a creative who spent weeks crafting the perfect idea and gets upset if you want to change a word.

Hotel search made simple

I wonder how much time people in the hotel industry spend on designing the physical properties.

Little bit of time on the front of the virtual property might not be missed.

Why don’t  we have a homepage like this yet from any of the major Hotel brands?

Infact the aggregator sites (, Hotzebra etc)  do much better and Holiday Inn is not bad either.

China : Factory to Studio?

Read my assessment of China’s  prospects of moving from being a factory for cheap goods (and  code) to becoming an origin point for new products, designs and business models.

The Wisdom of Imitation

No supply issues on the Iphone 4G in China. The new Iphone 4G is already out in China. The cloned one, that is.

It is easy to complain about the cheap knock-offs which Chinese factories keep churning out. Perhaps there is a bit more behind it than the desire to make a quick buck.

The term “Shanzai” and ‘Shanzaism”, often used for such products, although literally meaning “Mountain Village or Stronghold” today symbolizes anything that imitates something famous. According to Li Zonggui, a professor at Sun Yat-Sen University in south China’s Guangdong Province, Shanzhai represents non-mainstream ideas and innovations, and is also a new way for common people to express what they want.

Well maybe there is also a  connection between this imitation streak and Confucius philosophy, if one goes by the quote below.

On a cheeky note..maybe the Chinese authorities can use this philosophical under-pinning to explain this culture of imitation to the Western trade representatives, next time the issue of IP protection is raised.

Chinese Men and Nappy changing

Seen at the new Honqchiao airport at Shanghai.

Sign of changing times ?? Don’t know about that, but full points for progressive thinking and execution.

I don’t remember seeing a sign and facilities for nappy changing in the men’s room in any other airport in the world, I have visited. Attention to detail is remarkable. The symbol showing the person changing the nappy is also a male, while the corresponding one above the women’s toilet  was a female figure. Clearly they didn’t scrimp on money for the signage.

Bravo !

Visual thinking

I hear talk in the communication business around the increasing importance of the key “verbal”, given the growth of consumer communities, social media, word of mouth etc. Having worked in a category where the “visual” is banned in most countries, the key verbal was bread and butter for most marketers in the company. There are enough books on the topic ranging from ones written by academics (Robert Cialdini is a leading one in the area) to those written by people from the communications industry (copywriters and DM gurus). NLP, Linguistics, Psychology all come into play here.

But don’t count out the key “visual” yet!

It is perhaps going to conquer new frontiers and move up the value chain in organizations. As we become more inundated with data and information, the ability to elegantly visualise data, information, problem, situation and solutions is going to be a very important skill. And this is not about software and technology, as this quote from an article in Businessweek says  : “Ultimately, data visualization is more than complex software or the prettying up of spreadsheets. It’s not innovation for the sake of innovation. It’s about the most ancient of social rituals: storytelling. It’s about telling the story locked in the data differently, more engagingly, in a way that draws us in, makes our eyes open a little wider and our jaw drop ever so slightly. And as we process it, it can sometimes change our perspective altogether”

Personally, I largely think and communicate in words and frameworks filled with words. This never worried me when I was on the client side. Everyone was doing decks filled with words, charts and tables. After all, even McKinsey articles and decks are replete with templates, frameworks etc. This was “the” way to do it.  Sharp, analytical, conceptual, loaded with facts and words. They represent the best of right brain thinking.

All this changed, 6 months back when I discovered Dan Roam, his books and the concept of “Visual thinking”. Brilliant Right brain thinking to turn a complex problem, situation, information/data set, solution into an elegant left brain type expression. How cool is that ! Imagine how powerful this can be in any business situation, where you have to land your point with clarity and impact in a short span of time. Don’t we all have to, all the time?

In his 2nd book, “Unfolding the Napkin”, which is the companion workbook to the 1st book “The back of the Napkin”, Dan walks the reader page by page (of course in a visual manner) on how anyone can develop these skills. The highlight to me was a case where his company summarized a 100 slide presentation in 1-2 simple diagrams for a strategy meeting for the board of one of their clients. Simply brilliant! The book is worth it just for this case.

My professional goal for 2010 is to become a better visual thinker and communicator.  I am some distance away, considering I needed “words” to explain “visual” thinking.

Out with the 40 slide strategy set up in a pitch deck. Are you wondering what implications this has for the presentation software market? I am. Steve (Ballmer or Jobs), are you listening?

Musings on Brand India

Recently read in the Shanghai Daily that the Indian pavilion at the Shanghai Expo will be in the shape of a Buddhist Stupa, similar to the Sanchi stupa, built in the Maurya dynasty (about 321-187 BC) by Asoka. From the images released to the Media it seems to be quite a humble affair, compared to the architectural beauties being erected by other countries.

As per JWT India, the agency behind the design: With the theme of “Cities of Harmony,” the building will showcase Indian history from 2,000 BC through modern times focusing on the integration between urban and rural regions. Visitors to the pavilion will be led on a journey of Indian cities from ancient times to the present day. The dome/stupa will be used as a 360-degree screen to tell different stories about life in cities through the ages.


Anybody who has been to India knows that there is nothing harmonious about Modern Indian cities. There is no town planning and the skyline is an architectural mess. The truth is closer to “City and Cacophony”. Perhaps, given the overall Expo theme of “Better city, Better life”  every country has been told to have a theme closer to it. Let us spare the Indian Mandarins (and their agency) for coming up with such a banal theme.

Made me think about “Brand India”, though. Hypothetically speaking, what is the territory India can (or should) occupy credibly. Hypothetically because nation branding is a complex matter and a much bigger endeavor than a few communication campaigns.

Here is what I would tell my communication agency, if I was the owner of the brief to create a cohesive, credible and differentiated narrative for India for the 2010 Shanghai Expo and beyond. Those interested in a more detailed analysis of India and its identity can read Amartya Sen’s book “The Argumentative Indian”.

Brand Archetype : SAGE

Brand Essence : Wisdom through the Ages

Reasons to believe :

a. ancient contribution to worldly (details here) as well as spiritual wisdom (Vedas, Upanishads, Birthplace of 4 religions)

b. unique Gandhian non-violent approach to the Independence movement

c. strong presence of Indians today in thought leadership positions in various academic disciplines, research/scientific organizations and corporates

d. innate curiosity, quest for knowledge and love for argumentation and debating amongst Indians.

e. image of a place where people come looking for answers, for ’soul” discovery.

f. more recent (last 9-10 years) image built via the IT industry of a technologically sophisticated and conceptually gifted talent pool capable of working with ambiguity and complexity.

Brand personality : Wise, Stable, Benign, Adaptive, Inclusive

Brand Values : Inner beauty over external gloss, Celebrate complexity and contradictions

Infact, if anybody should be championing a move away from an obsession with GDP growth and not seeing it as a core indicator of progress, it should be India (not Nicolas Sarkozy. Read his diatribe against GDP here). This is India’s rightful place in the comity of Nations and not being the 2nd part of the CHINDIA economic story.

“Green” pickings for P&G, Unilever, Reckitt ?








Coke has just bought a minority stake in Innocent Smoothies. Before that it was Glaceau Mineral water in 2007. Further, the $2bn proposed acquisition of China’s biggest juice maker Huiyuan will also most likely come through. While Pepsi was off the blocks earlier with Tropicana and Gatorade, Coke’s non carbonated beverage portfolio is clearly looking more sparkling now.

The  beverage giants are nicely rounding off their portfolios with the “healthier” offers.  I wonder why we haven’t seen similar activity in the cleaning products category. We have 2 “green” brands in the category which have been growing their business, profile and footprint over the last 3-4 years : ECOVER and METHOD. ECOVER is almost 30 years old, is Belgium based,  available in 26 countries, growing at 20%+ and will do $100mn+ revenue in 2008. METHOD is only available in US, UK, Canada and Australia. It has private equity backing.

Both brands offer a full range of cleaning products- laundry, household, dish, personal wash- plus  air care products. Both are premium priced and my guess is margins are also higher vs the leading brands. Either of these will be a great buy for P&G, Unilever or Reckitt. The capital infusion and distribution muscle will help immensely. Volume and margins will almost definitely be net incremental plus retailers will love the premium price ( they have already seen the magic with Organic food ranges) and extra margins.  

This is a Win-Win for everyone : company, retailers, consumers and the environment. I am sure the investment bankers have been exploring. Don’t be surprised if you hear of it sometime in the near future.

Design Thinking : A Simple Primer

“Design as differentiator. Design enables premium pricing. Design is more than aesthetics. Great Design Makes People Love Your Company. Design is not an after thought, not a veneer you add to the core product to make it look cool”.

We have all heard this before. Graphic and Industrial design firms have been around for sometime and it is now well accepted within the business community that good design enables product /brand /experience standout leading to superior business results. What is new is the concept of “Design Thinking”. Continue reading

WESTIN does it again : Puts us to sleep

 Westin has taken the high ground again in helping travellers get a good night’s sleep. They were the first to focus on this key need of frequent travellers via their hugely successful Heavenly bed campaign. They extended the “Heavenly” brand successfully via “Heavenly shower” and “Heavenly crib”. Now they have tied up with Philips to create a concept room in their Chicago property which uses special lighting technology ( blue-light ActiViva lamps)  to help travellers manage/reduce jet lag. Continue reading