The two types of Japanese quality

japenese quality.001

Came across these two beautiful Japanese words today thanks to Kevin Hale’s talk on Building products that people love. The Japanese define the quality of a product in two ways:

One is atarimae hinshitsu - the idea that the product will work the way it is supposed to. It’s the basic functionality of the product. The other is miryokuteki hinshitsu which refers to the enchanting quality of the product.

When it comes to a pen, its ability to write is the minimum expectation or atarimae hinshitsu. But the weight of that pen in your hands, the way ink flows out if it when it touches paper, what the viewers of the handwriting imagine the pen to be, are all miryokuteki hinshitsu. 

Isn’t it admirable that the Japanese have articulated these two types of quality, so that enchantment, soul, personality are not mere afterthoughts but clearly articulated expectations from a product? These aesthetic principles are are so deeply engrained in their creative culture that it’s hardly surprising that the world looks up to Japanese design. This has just raised the bar for me. And now, let’s put this in practice..



Advertising in Vacuum – The Airtel ‘Boss’ Ad

Generation Unsanskaari

A recent article on how youth in India are hacking mainstream culture and what brands can learn from them.

“The number of 40-year-old CMOs chasing 22-year-old consumers in this country is growing. And with it is the marketing machinery that’s spewing out well researched, link-tested, SM-seeded, snazzy productions aimed at engaging this audience. Yet they fail to impress the youth as much as videos uploaded by a tribe of clever college students with low budgets but a sharp point of view. With a series of million-plus hits on Youtube, groups like All India Bakchod and India Viral Fever have hacked mainstream culture and made some space for the real voice of the youth to be heard. Their brand of satirical, sharp and politically incorrect Qtiyappa and Bakchod has hit the right notes and is a rage on social media. And their success reveals a lot about what’s brewing in youth culture and offers lessons for brands on what it takes to make a real connection with this generation.”

Read the rest of the article on Campaign India.

Fix the ‘Why?’

When Steve Jobs wanted his team to shave off a few seconds of booting time for the new Macintosh he didn’t bother them with what they could do, or how they should go about it, instead he devised a unique pitch for his engineering team -

“You know, I’ve been thinking about it. How many people are going to be using the Macintosh? A million? No, more than that. In a few years, I bet five million people will be booting up their Macintoshes at least once a day.

Well, let’s say you can shave 10 seconds off of the boot time. Multiply that by five million users and thats 50 million seconds, every single day. Over a year, that’s probably dozens of lifetimes. So if you make it boot ten seconds faster, you’ve saved a dozen lives. That’s really worth it, don’t you think?”

He fixed the ‘why’.

He gave them a higher purpose for an other wise mundane task. He lifted their ambition. They were going to save lives. Not just optimize booting time.

Similarly the strongest, most enduring ideas are built to answer the ‘why’ question.

Amazon exists to enable freedom of choice & discovery.

Coca-cola exists to inspire moments of happiness.

IBM exists to build a smarter planet.

There is a purpose. A higher ideal to strive for. Purpose simplifies your story, purpose scales, it rallies your troops, it goes upstream and as this study suggests it works magic on the markets too.

Brands with a higher purpose performed better over a 10 year period

This is one of my favourite ways to look for a brand idea. Find a higher purpose.

Fix the why before you get to the what and the how.

Selfishness & the Shampoo

Finally published in the Financial Express. Or read it right here..

“You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.”

-Don Draper, Mad Men (Smoke gets in your eyes)


Take a look at your bathroom shelf. How many bottles of shampoo do you see? I just realised that I had five bottles of these gooey liquids in my bathroom. That’s two and a half variants per person. Every individual has their own preferences and their special solution when it comes to personal care. And shampoos, I believe, are the leading indicators of selfishness.The Indian value system has always prescribed the virtues of collective good, the need to opt for a single solution that serves many, muting the individual voice for the sake of a collective whimper. This tradition is being knocked down by a stubborn, unrelenting culture of selfishness, which manifests on the bathroom shelf. Why shampoos one may ask? I think it’s something to do with the role of the woman in the changing family dynamics.Aarti (27) came to Bombay six months back when she married Siddharth Dandekar. Originally from Nagpur, she always aspired for the big city life. Before marriage she worked as a pharmacist at a laboratory. She was increasingly bored of the job and was happy to start a new life in Bombay. They continued to live with Siddharth’s parents even after marriage. His father had just retired and his mother managed the household. And now, Aarti happily took over the reins. The ways of the Dandekar household were new to her. The food, the lifestyle, the daily routine and even her toothpaste were all different. She wasn’t at ease but tried to fit in. She felt somewhat stifled but her mother had told her to expect this, and that over time ‘you’ll adjust’. Every month, Aarti and her mother-in-law would draw up a list of groceries for the house and they’d visit Ramesh Bhau’s kirana store. On one such visit, Ramesh Bhau started drawing out the listed items from his shop and just when he plucked out Clinic All Clear shampoo, Aarti interrupted and asked him for the new L’Oreal Total Repair 5— swiftly adding ‘the one from the Aishwarya Rai ad’. This was quite a moment. The shopkeeper looked at the mother-in-law as if he was seeking her approval and slowly picked out the pack from the shelf. It cost more than double the price of the family shampoo but Aarti didn’t flinch. They paid the shopkeeper and the two didn’t say much on their way back home.
Like Aarti, millions of Indian women are breaking out of their cornered existences in the social structure that is the family. A sudden awareness of her ‘self’ has found expression in her everyday life. It’ll only be a matter of time before the Dandekar household will experience its first taste of pasta, Friday night-outs and will eventually skip the judgemental eyes of Ramesh Bhau for the flirtatious pleasures of a supermarket not so far away.

Thus emerges a new family portrait—the in-laws relegated to the role of figurative heads, the husband happy to play the sidekick, evolved enough to give her space (and his credit card) and the kids know who is the boss, submitting to her verdict when it comes to their noisy needs. She is the new locus of control. Armed with this new found belief, the erstwhile self-sacrificing Sati-Savitri has now discovered that ‘she’s worth it’. But this is just the beginning. We’re not talking about an individualistic, feminist streak that our advertising often mimics. It’s a deep-rooted consciousness, a zeitgeist for the changing India story that will impact our economics as much as it will re-design our culture. And it all begins with a systematic deconstruction of the old archetype and followed by a journey of self-creation that, for once, puts the ‘I’ at the centre of her life.

For example, children still take up a lot of time and head space, but she is not pinned to this axis nor is she pinned to her role as a wife. She seeks an identity independent of these crutches. And often there is a conflict between the role she is expected to play and who she wants to be. Sure, her multi-dimensional act as a home-maker, care-taker, working professional, mother, wife and daughter-in-law has given her more latitude than ever before, but she doesn’t want to be a super-mom. Selfishness has seeped in. A line has been drawn.

That being said, I view selfishness as acting in one’s self-interest—a virtue that does not have to conflict with someone else’s interests. The selfish person will act rationally in a social set-up without sacrificing what’s ideal for them. And this gets most interesting when you look at what’s changing with young, urban women. Today, it’s culturally acceptable that women need enough room so that they can juggle life’s demands. However, a woman who’s maximising her own happiness is an entirely new breed. And yet, she feels responsible for her choices, not because she is obligated towards the expectations of the family. All her time is ‘me-time’. She is the centre of her universe. Welcome to the Woman 3.0—‘Sati Savitri’ was phased out by ‘SuperMom’ and now ‘SelfishMe’ is making ‘SuperMom’ look like a beta test. Of course, this leading edge of cultural change is most visible in elite, urban women and will slowly trickle down the socio-economic pyramid, and men will happily subscribe to this virtue.

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of a man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as a moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute,” said Ayn Rand in her novel Atlas Shrugged. Had she written this from the current Indian perspective, she would have chosen the gender more carefully. Of course, Rand’s protagonist is incorruptible and always lives up to this lofty ideal, this generation settles for more everyday selfishness. The disenchantment with a routine overlapped with trajectories of other lives much like Julia Roberts’ role in Eat, Pray, Love seems to resonate with young women. The search for self-identity is often in conflict with the traditional roles she is expected to play. Interestingly, the movie shows the helplessness of Tulsi her confidante in an ashram, who like Julia Roberts’ character is seeking a bigger meaning in life but is trapped being ‘born Indian’ and wants to ‘roam’ like her friend and ‘live in Hawaii’.

A lot of friction in marriages is blamed squarely on this phenomenon. Divorce rates are on the rise and Pratima Gupta, an eminent HC advocate and a mother of two, who addresses cases of divorce among others, says, “Divorce rates have gone up because women don’t want to ‘adjust’ in a marriage anymore. The problem is compounded because ‘I, me and myself’ is taking precedence over everything else. Compromise is a big word. If the grounds on which they want a divorce are trivial, I always ask them to reconsider.” She may not admit it but selfishness is good for her business, as much as it is for the Unilevers and P&Gs of the world.

Which brings us to shampoo. A woman’s face and her hair define her personality. Of all the personal care items that deal with these -hair oil is passé, face washes are important, but one can’t experiment with the face in a way one can experiment with hair. And only the shampoo has both intrinsic as well as extrinsic qualities that can help in defining who she is. Aarti’s choice of shampoo was not just about her evolved understanding of different hair types. It was her declaration of independence, and more importantly an act of self-definition. Think about it, shampoo is used at a time which is most private, it is used to bring out the most defining attribute of femininity. In the words of Shana Alexander: “Hair brings one’s self-image into focus; it is vanity’s proving ground. Hair is terribly personal, a tangle of mysterious prejudices”. She won’t let her mother-in-law invade the last sanctuary. This was her own space, her own time, and the beginnings of selfishness. And it all started with a shampoo.