A minor disagreement in the office resulted in the author discovering new opportunities. The 17th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
Our trip to the UK was useful in meeting one of the most reputed and strongest of the competitors in the field of manholes, but we could never compare apples to oranges, considering ours was grey iron castings, while they specialized in ductile products. These were more expensive too, but, all these depended upon usage and the costs for the user.
Their directors’ visit to Agra did help them to realize that there was always more scope for collaborations, in one form or another; maybe not be feasible between two organizations, but nothing really prevented our agents to co-operate with each other. In the end, of course, was always the question of completing projects on time, so that public could benefit. This has always been our moto.
The construction activity had not slowed down as such, but it was not at the great speed at which work progressed at various places, a few months earlier. There were a number of importers who had secured poor quality materials, which were at so called “floor price”, but, in fact, inferior all because they were ‘underweight’ and not to specifications. The contractor, for example, just wanted, say, an ‘elbow’ or a ‘P-trap’, and it did not matter much if they did not conform to standards; as long as they passed the visual tests, but enabled handing over the ‘completed’ job. This sort of sloppy work brought bad names to all concerned, but, only at a later date!
One of the things that we did, just to beat these bad quality material suppliers was to simply list out the most essential items (representative products) that are required at any given site, and gave a fixed cash price for sale, on a first come first served basis, and had the advertisement appear in the newspapers. Both Khaleej Times and Gulf News, if I remember correctly, carried the ads on the same day, and the phones never stopped ringing. By the evening, our warehouses had no stocks left. In fact, this ‘stunt’, as I would call it, brought into the picture many actual consumers into the forefront; they not only picked up their requirements, but were able to see for themselves the range of other building materials that we carried, and had in stock! The impact of this move was reverberating in the market for months to come.
Meantime, all was not well in our relations, and we felt the undercurrent in one form or another. I think, what broke the camel’s back was the owner’s attitude to a public holiday that I had announced, due to incessant request by the staff that there should be a holiday on the New Year’s day.
This was overruled by Ajay, much to my displeasure, and I must confess, that I walked out of the office in anger. I had never enjoyed even the weekly holidays, nor took vacation of any kind, as such. Nor did I ever crib about the working hours; most of the time, I was the first to come and last to go, and yet, on a very simple issue of a public holiday, the rigid attitude was unacceptable, and that too, in full view of the staff.
I was very angry, upset and brooding over the issue, on the following day also. But, the angel that Sheikh Rashid was, he simply announced that henceforth, there will be a New Year holiday for one and all!!
The New Year eve was celebrated in Prem Dayal Sinha’s house, and most members of the staff attended, and enjoyed the evening. But for the next two days, I simply absented myself and did not attend the office. Moves were made by some interested family members, but I decided that perhaps the time has come for me to move on. I did not go back to office at all, not even to collect my dues.
I did not have to get up early in the morning to rush through the rituals to reach office by 0745 hrs; nor go round the bend looking for a suitable parking space. I did not have to move at snail’s speed on my return for lunch, or take a quick nap before pushing off at 3 45pm to be in office at 4pm. There were no late hours either. Leisurely, at 5 pm, I would simply go to the club, which was not far from home and enjoy the evening.
Before she returned from the office, sometimes by 4pm, my wife would phone to ask if I wanted anything; invariably, I would ask if she could pick up a pack of cigarettes (only on some days); she did, though, smoke was not conducive to her health. On one such occasion, when I was returning from Sharjah, after discussing with a prospective employer, I stopped over the St Mary’s church, which was across the Indian High School. In my sincere and silent prayer, I asked Mother Mary to give me the strength to give up this bad habit. “Please give me the strength to give up this nasty habit from tonight”.
I smoked the last cigarette before midnight, crushed the rest of the pack and threw it down in the garbage chute in our building. Well, that was in 1984. I have not touched the cigarette again! So, this only means that if anyone of us make up our mind, and of course get the divine blessings, we can achieve anything in life!
As I sat relaxing, I received an unexpected call from Bharatkumar J Shah, an old, highly respected friend from Yemen, whom I had met several times earlier in Beirut as well as in Jeddah, confirming his final plans to settle down in Dubai.
We met immediately thereafter, as he was setting up an office, he needed some assistance; I gladly agreed, and, I should imagine that within a month or so, he became associated with the Reliance Debenture Issue (F Series). This was not a permanent feature and would only last for a couple of months or so and I was glad to assist in the whole issue. This also gave me time to sort out my outstanding matters with my former employer.
This was the time, when almost every week, we had couple of IPOs coming into the market, specifically offering NRI quota for allotment, and every such investors’ meet was met with tremendous enthusiasm and public support. Every issue was oversubscribed several times over; it took months for certificates to arrive and the refunds to be effected. The outstanding issue was from ITC, which began the NRI allotments as the pioneer.
Both Khaleej Times and Gulf News had a field day in covering these events, and we had brilliant writers like Kumar Raj (Gulf News) and Raman Kapoor (Khaleej Times) who took care of the investors' needs. I must say, that the credit for championing the cause of permitting direct import of gold should go to Kumar Raj, as he extensively covered this issue, which was first proposed by him. It was his idea and credit must go to him.
Reliance F series was oversubscribed beyond belief. Everyone, who subscribed, by whatever means adopted, was confident that these non-convertible debentures would be converted by Dhirubhai in due course. It is sad story that, due to the animosity that VP Singh had developed for Dhirubhai, architect of India’s stock market popularity, this did not happen a year later....
It was at this point of time, I had the opportunity to meet Rupak, who wanted to investigate the possibilities for my working in his organization; for I had met him many times earlier, and had known his father well.
This was an unexpected development, about which I shall write later.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
You may want to read more:
Given a chance, what are the advertisements you would like to disappear? Here is what noted film maker Shekhar Kapoor found out, using Twitter
Like them or not, advertisements are unavoidable. Whether your daily soap takes a break after a very dramatic disclosure; or the screen splits in two to advertise the merits of an energy drink while Sachin is about to hit a sixer—there is no escape from them. That is unless you prepare to pay more to your DTH service and enjoy a break-free viewing. Since that is unlikely to have much appeal, getting rid of them is mostly wishful thinking.
But given a chance, what are the advertisements you would like to disappear?
Noted film maker Shekhar Kapoor recently found a unique way to use social media to get public feedback. He created a hashtag #adswedontbuy and tweeted his 1.5 lakh plus followers asking their response. In a matter of hours, the #adswedontbuy was trending on Twitter, as hundreds of people hammered out their views.
Of course, its scope is fairly restricted to a certain clique, but there were some interesting and identifiable trends.
Expectedly, fairness creams topped in what would be a list of ads that we hate. Showing a triumph of light over dark, literally, a typical advertisement in this category shows a girl (and now, even a man) who is a loser by all counts because her dusky skin weighs her down. So this ‘unfortunate’ woman with clearly artificially darkened skin, applies the magic product and voila—she is a success. Watch this Fair & Lovely ad.
Be it winning a singing competition to snaring a husband or even getting a job or winning at chess (?)—being fair is the only way to be. Which is a particularly offensive thing to say in a country of brown people who have endured almost 200 years of colonial rule. Viewers find these advertisements ‘racist’ and many are dumbfounded. “You want to be a singer? Use Fair & Lovely. What’s the connection? Oh fair people are good singers!” tweeted an incensed viewer. Another one said, “Fair & Lovely Cream. Why don't try it on Serena Williams and show us the result?”
Will manufacturers be detterred by the public response? Or will they cynically decide that after all the hot air; people will still rush off to buy lotions and creams that promise to make them even a shade fairer? After all, Fair & Lovely has so much of competition today because it was an undisputed money-spinner in the Unilever product portfolio.
Male deodorants and colas seem to be runners up on the hate stakes—and this was even before the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) came up with yet another expose of their unhealthy ingredients. Be it the obnoxious “Darr ke aage jeet hai” or “Taste the Thunder”—claims made by these sweetened beverages are difficult to digest. Want to jump off a cliff or outrun lions on the prowl? These ultra “macho and sporty” concoctions will make you invincible. And you should really risk your life and limb and jump before a bullet train to get a bottle, because it is totally worth it.
And what is the best way to get a girl? Get a deodorant, of course. Because once you smell like every other cologne, dames and even angels will come flocking. “Axe Deo. Axe effect or Vaporized Viagra?” tweets a respondent with a wink.
There are other macho products that seem to have drawn their fair share of flak: like vests and shaving razors. Saif Ali Khan’s head scratching ad for Amul Macho commercial is the most disliked ad in the former category. One blogger has gone on to describe that the advertisement is as ham handed as chhote Nawab’s latest movie, Agent Vinod.
Razors put up even bizarre claim—which show them glide fast across a nearly hairless chin, and inexplicably, a female waiting to touch the handsome man in question. “Gillette Mach 3 Turbo... where the razor slides with the speed of a red car.. Well last time I tried d same it left a red scar!” confirms a viewer.
Cynical marketers could well say that it is the only way to stand out from the clutter of products struggling to be seen and heard. But ‘creativity’ can backfire spectacularly. Consider the Reliance Internet data card commercial. With intense competition in the sector, every service provider shows how fast its service is. Reliance goes a step ahead. The commercials show some smart, urban individual stuck in an adverse situation—like in a car with its trunk on fire, in the middle of a jungle with an elephant charging behind, or in a brake-failed subway train with his hands tied. The idea is to use the USB and the speedy Internet service to come out of it.
“It is fast enough. Are you?” asks the commercial. The viewer wonders why should one go to a forest with a laptop and nothing else. Referring to another variant of the advertisement, a viewer commented, “Reliance Netconnect dongle, guy opens up his knot in 10 seconds and escapes from train wreck, we can’t skip YouTube adverts here.”
The other pet peeve seems to be the telebrands products, featuring foreign actors with Hindi voice-overs. While the merits of the products they endorse are unconvincing, what viewers find unintentionally hilarious are the common starting point of them all—which is an actor coming up and starting with “I was so depressed before I started using this”. Then there is the advertisement for Colgate Salt toothpaste, where a starlet asks a guy suffering a toothache with the intensity of a police interrogator, “Does your tooth paste have salt?” “Kya aapke toothpaste mein namak hai? Jee haan abhi daal mein do spoon tooth paste dala hai,” hits back a member of the Twitteratti.
It appears that a bad advertisement is like a burn mark. Its atrociousness ensures that it is imprinted on the viewer’s mind long after it is withdrawn. Like a strange advertisement by a cement company which showed a bikini-clad woman coming out of the sea. What’s the catchphrase? “Vishwas hai, isme kuch khas hai.” There is absolutely no relation between the product and the representation.
This commercial went off air more than a couple of years ago, yet many commentators name it among the most bewildering commercials.
There are others, however, despite being on air only for a short time, cement their place in the hall of shame. The “Blackberry Boys” commercial seems to have achieved that. Then there are those advertisements which started off endearingly, like the “Daag Acche Hai” of Surf Excel featuring a brother and sister. However, the slogan has been milked dry, yet the advertisers refuse to give up. “Agar “daag acche hai” why buy Surf and wash them off?” asks a person.
There are other bizarre claims which seem to be ticking viewers off, like that of paan masalas and similar tobacco products. “Since when did ‘Rajnigandha Pan Masala' help us to build our pride and feel important?” asks a viewer. Others have come down on products like fruit juices and food items. “Tropicana ad almost shows ‘skip breakfast, have a glass Tropicana’ which basically is skip real breakfast and eat junk”, retorts a disapproving micro-blogger.
Products aimed at women have also drawn much criticism. Claims by anti-ageing creams and shampoos have been challenged. “Dove shampoo with damage meter! What on earth is that?” Many believe that De Beers advertisements are misleading. “How can diamonds be scarce? Who has asked for jewellery and not got it?”
At a time when the ministry of consumer affairs is seriously working at setting up an independent regulator to supervise advertising, maybe the industry could do well to put their ludicrous claims about the efficacy of their products or be prepared to prove them. Negative representations, too, are being called into question. Interestingly, the Goa government has forced Airtel to withdraw the commercial for Airtel Money which showed a man being robbed off and left stranded with only a towel in a beach, where he stayed one night with a girl. A call from the chief minister’s office slamming the advertisement on the presenting Goa as a sex-addled crime made the company jolt into action immediately.
So, it is no wonder that people have started to question even the age-old commercial claims—like the Complan boy being taller; or even those by big brands like L’Oreal, which promise that their hair colour wouldn’t be harmful. Another trend, of using children for all product categories, seems to annoy many viewers. Many have expressed their concern about showing children kissing each other on-screen.
Celebrity endorsements have met with many disapproving comments. Leading the pack is of course, the new Nawab of Pataudi for his Amul Macho commercial, followed by Big B with his advertisement for Gujarat tourism. Katrina Kaif follows closely with her Yardley, Nakshatra, Lux and Slice endorsements. But the winner is this one, “Idea. If it hasn’t changed Abhishek Bachchan’s life, what are the odds it would change your life? Haiin??”
It is unlikely that the irritation they cause to the television viewers would translate into decline in sales. However, it does reflect that many viewers want to watch good advertisements. After all, they are primarily consumers, and if they see something appealing, they will pick it up. It takes a master to make even the most ordinary stuff appealing by focusing on the product’s merits, instead of making outlandish claims.
A great example is Fevicol, which has stuck to the same theme, focusing on the product, while giving us many memorable commercials through the years.
In order to make the products appealing, commercials should make them relatable to the consumers. For example, how many would have really subscribed to Vodafone (then Hutch) if the pug wasn’t there? Or, would you not be curious to find out about an insurance policy which gives you the confidence to take on Gabbar Singh?
The main aim of an advertisement is to make the consumer curious about the product. Better, if it makes them buy it. If they cannot do that, the least they can be is to be entertaining and make our commercial breaks more enjoyable.
Call rate as half paisa or one-fourth paisa per ‘second’ would be considered misleading if the actual rate is 1 paisa per two seconds or 1 paisa per four seconds Consumer organisations have lauded the move but have also demanded concrete action from the regulator
Advertisements that were claiming call rate as “per second” or “per minute” would be deemed misleading if the pulse rate is higher than one second or one minute, said The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). TRAI has issued guidelines on misleading traffic plans advertisements for mobile service providers after noticing non-transparency and ambiguity in these ads. The regulator has asked telecom operators to withdraw the ads which are inconsistent with its directives within 30 days. Consumer organisations have lauded the move but have also demanded concrete action from the regulator.
“Thus, declaration of a call rate as half paisa or one-fourth paisa per ‘second’ would be considered misleading if the actual rate is 1 paisa per two seconds or 1 paisa per four seconds”.
Anil Prakash, president, Telecom Users Group of India, “The directive issued by TRAI is laudable and consumer friendly. Nearly 96% of the mobile users are prepaid subscribers, and majority of them do not read or write. They get their recharge done by a third party or verbal recharge. Why there are too many tariffs? Tariffs should be fixed to one only, and then the regulator does not have to explain so many combinations.”
Tariff-related advertisements will be considered misleading, if the reduced call rate/SMS charge does not indicate that such reduced rate is applicable only after some usage. Plans under a title which suggests absence of rental if the tariff plan has recurring mandatory fixed charge in one form or other and tariff plans with titles such as ‘Zero Rental’, ‘Rental Free’ will also come under this category.
Experts suggest that such clarity in the tariff-related advertisements is in the favour of the consumers but more awareness and continuous monitoring is required.
Hemant Upadhyay, advisor-IT & telecom of Consumer VOICE, an online magazine on consumer awareness, says, “These regulations were overdue in view of new operators coming into play. You would also appreciate that by its very nature in spite of TRAI regulations there is ample scope for mischief by TSPs (telecom service providers). Hence we, the consumer watchdogs, need to be continuously alert to these wrongdoings of the TSPs.”
He adds, “However we need to wait and see how the TSPs behave in light of these new TRAI regulations which came into effect from 1 April 2012 regarding Tariff Voucher system wherein all the tariffs chargeable to a consumer have been classified under four different voucher categories.”
The association representing service providers have also welcomed the move.
Rajan Matthews, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) told Moneylife, “We certainly agree with TRAI on this. It will bring more clarity to the tariff-related advertisements. All telecom players will comply with the directions.”
Sector regulator TRAI has also asked the TSPs to file a certificate of compliance with them on a half-yearly basis, on the 15th of January and July each year, confirming that all tariff advertisements issued by the access service provider during the preceding six months were in compliance with the provisions of this direction.
TRAI has also given examples of misleading advertisements.