Repeat After Me

Quick Read: Some deep seated cultural values that we project on to our children are in need of a massive over haul. Nike and Dove have brilliantly brought this to life in their recent campaigns. 

Handwriting just doesn’t matter.

Or does it?

For a long time it was believed that cursive writing identifies us as much as our physical features do, revealing something unique and distinctive about our inner being.

But over a century, the focus on cursive handwriting in schools actually ended up achieving the opposite. Mastering it was dull, repetitive work, intended to make every student’s handwriting match a pre-defined standard.

In fact in the 19th century America, students were reportedly taught to become “writing machines”, holding their arms and shoulders in awkward poses for hours to get into shape for writing drills.

Or take this Lego ad from 1981. See anything unusual here? 


(What it is is beautiful. Source |HT Seth Godin “Stop Stealing Dreams“)

Those were the days when LEGO blocks were sold by the “bucket” with blocks of different sizes and colors thrown in together and labelled “Universal Building Sets”.

This approach celebrated a child’s creativity regardless of what she has created. As the ad copy above goes on to say..

“…how proud it’s made her. It’s a look you’ll see whenever children build something all by themselves. No matter what they’ve created”

Sadly this approach didn’t sell a lot of LEGO blocks presumably because it required too much risk on the part of parents and kids—the risk of making something that wasn’t perfect or expected.

So what did LEGO do?

They switched from these all purpose “Universal Building Sets” to a lineup that included more of predefined kits – models that must be assembled precisely one way, or they’re wrong.

Why would these pre-defined kits of LEGO blocks sell so many more copies? As Seth Godin says, it is because they match what parents expect and what kids have been trained to do.

Lego Products Page

(The LEGO products page today, with a disproportionate focus on predefined kits)

These discourses on cursive handwriting or LEGO are metaphors of what’s happening with schools around. 

By the turn of the 19th century, the biggest challenges of our newly minted industrial economy were two fold.

  1. finding enough compliant workers and
  2. finding enough eager customers

The school system – that most of us would have been brought up under – evidently solved both problems.

But the world around has changed into a culture that celebrates ideals like ingenuity, connection, ideas, courage and risk Vs one that only promoted values like conformity, obedience and risk aversion.

Sadly our schooling system has changed little from that originally envisaged for a completely different era. (More in Seth Godin’s must read manifesto ‘Stop Stealing Dreams – What is school for?’)

So a scene with a class full of students repeating ad nauseam after their teacher, rhymes or lessons that only serve the purpose of further perpetuating outdated or worse still outlandish values against today’s realities is certain to provoke anger and perhaps even instigate an active change in our world view. 

Two brands have recently used this very scene, to demonstrate how deeply we have tried to graft our misplaced conceptions of ideas around individualism and beauty in our children.

Nike’s Minohodoshirazu

Earlier this month, Nike Japan  launched a new campaign with a spot that redefines the phrase ‘Minohodoshirazu’, which translates to “Don’t know your place.” While the term is typically used as an insult towards the overly ambitious, the anthem ad tells viewers that not knowing your place can instead be a mindset for athletes to strive for. (source)

Created by W+K Tokyo and directed by Omri Cohen, the ad manages to contrast the values being embedded in children with shots of athletic achievements that run counter to these messages of compliance and obedience. Video here.

Dove’s Is That You? 

The famous nursery rhyme ‘Chubby Cheeks, Rosy Lips…’ is used as the background score for this video created by Culture Machine (and subsequently pitched to Dove).

The rhyme and the contrasting visuals make you wonder if this is how we have sought to institutionalize a misguided set of beauty ideals in generation after generation of young girls, every single year. Video here.

It is always interesting to see different brands, different agencies from different parts of the world adopt a similar executional approach to land their respective ideas.

(Featured Image: Source)

3D Printing, Value Chain and Lawyers

Quick Read: 3D Printing as a technology can can have revolutionary implications on all the 3 key stages of a value chain –  Manufacturing, Distribution and Retail. And not to forget lawyers!

Let’s Start With Manufacturing

Today Lego finds itself going to war with the 3D Printing technology. Why?

Because, what has happened over the last decade to music, newsprint, film and photography now seems to be threatining the world of shapes and objects. As this Washinton Post says..

Soon hobbyists…. will be able to craft their own (lego) bricks, thanks to 3D printers that make fabricating those plastic parts as convenient as going to Toys R Us. With such technology, entire structures can now be reverse-engineered, reduced into a pile of components and snapped together in minutes. 

Lego’s sophisticated molding process that currently enables it to produce 55 billion Lego pieces a year is probably not under an immediate threat from the 3D printers. But once the technical challenges like being able to meet the established tolerance levels for finish, texture and fit of various materials and being able to operate at scale are solved, which –  many experts believe is just a matter of time – Lego might be at a major  risk.

lego_ironman(Lego Ironman, Source)

So the recent remarks from Lego’s CFO John Goodwin who said “3-D printing is a fascinating development and certainly opens up a lot of new avenues” gain significance as a first ever major acknowledgment by Lego about the impending storm.

This has even led to some analysts predicting that the future for Lego could be as an Intellectual Property publisher of the digital models of their blocks, not unlike the modern record company which doesn’t actually create physical tracks anymore but just owns the IP rights of their music.

Moving Over To Distribution

Distribution (and inventory management) are known to be Amazon‘s expertise. But faster shipping can come at a price. For e.g, in Q1 2013, Amazon’s shipping costs were 4.7 percent of revenue (source). So it has reportedly been testing the grounds for newer, cheaper and faster delivery methods like drones.

But here is – what could potentially be – the billion dollar question. 

What if the whole value chain starting from maintaining inventories of raw materials, industrial scale manufacturing, packaging, palletising, shipping, bulk breaking, transporting, warehousing to distributing were to become redundant? What if we manufacture goods just in time near the final destination?  

As this article says, that’s where 3D printing comes in –  by producing goods in exactly the ordered configuration precisely when they’re needed, 3D printing is ideal for filling gaps in the supply chain (which reduces uncertainty), keeping inventory low more generally (which saves companies money on shelving) and reducing waste (which occurs when the goods aren’t sold).

Called as Just In Time manufacturing, UPS has already started to venture into this business model in a small but significant way. And the initial results are reported to be more than encouraging.

3D Printer UPS Store(3D Printer at a UPS Store, Source)

So when the largest shipment/logistics company in the world begins such seemingly ‘odd’ experiment around On demand 3D printing, it can only indicate one thing.

Even the distribution behemoths are swearing by the mantra – if you can’t beat them join them. 

And Finally Speaking Of Retail

This year’s SXSW – the annual music, film, and interactive festival being held in Austin as we speak now (from March 7 – 11) has been generating a good amount of buzz.

Oreo‘s Trending Vending Machine is an example.

Envisaged by Mondelez as a fun experiment with Twitter, the concept is a mash up between the vending machine experience and social media based real time marketing. Named, Trending Vending Machine, it has been offering the SXSW attendees Oreos with 3D printed flavours picked from trending tweets and delivered to the attendees in 2 minutes (source). This marketing effort includes the hashtag #eatthetweet.

While this certainly makes for a pretty good engagement driving initiative by Mondelez where the world of social media hashtags meets cookie cutter biscuits – literally, the underlying story here could be that of the emergent possibilities of 3D printing in the retail sector where:

  • Inventories for the retailer are non-existent and limitless at the same time!
  • Shopper engagement becomes the norm, in fact the key enabler for the whole set up
  • And finally personalisation becomes a category code, and not just a fancy differentiation strategy

In fact, going by this logic, 3 D printers could even upend the very concept of retail sector as we know it today!

After all, why would anyone even bother to walk down an aisle when all they need to do is perhaps just download a design, chose a nearest 3D printer and click PRINT?

Or shall we call it MAKE?

Some food for thought on a related note: Thanks to 3D Printing, professions like Intellectual Property and Law can be in good demand for a long long time to come!

(Featured Image: 3D Printed edible Lollies at CES 2014, Source)

Growing The Core – Innovating With Constraints

In his latest book called Grow The Core, David Taylor makes a definitive case for companies to bring back  focus to their ‘core’ business and thereby SMS (Sell More Stuff that is already being made). He identifies 3 key drivers for this ‘core growth’:

  • Distinctiveness: Creating a distinctive marketing mix for the core to strengthen and drive brand salience
  • Distribution: Boosting distribution / ‘go to market’ via new and relevant channels
  • Core Range Extension: Launching value added extensions to the core-offering

This ‘back to basics’ exposition has been featured as cover story in the latest edition of Market Leader magazine. Don’t s miss it.

Grown Not Made

Successful companies are seen to be doing this really well. For example Kethcup & Sauces with sales of more than $5 billion globally (FY ’12) constitute the ‘core category’ for Heniz (source). In the 2012 Annual Report William R. Johnson CEO of Heinz proudly states (as if to prove the theoretical underpinnings of ‘Grow The Core’ framework)

Notably, we are proving that Heinz® Ketchup is far from mature after 136 years. In Fiscal 2012, our Global Ketchup business delivered excellent sales growth of 9.7% through innovation, increased distribution and continued expansion in Emerging Markets. 

Implication for Innovation 

The key insight for me here is about the possible implication that this “Focus & Grow The Core” strategy has for ‘innovation’. I guess focusing on the core and driving its growth needs an innovation strategy that is driven by tough and uncompromising choices. Tough choices based on questions like:  “What should we stop doing?”, “What should we further strip away from our new offerings in the pipeline”, etc. This might require what is called as “Innovation with Constraints”.

2 Examples:

1. Lego 


A decade ago, Lego‘s balance sheet was in ‘red’ and part of their problem was doing too much – Lego had over diversified by moving into theme parks and clothing. And the once primary coloured bricks now came in a palette of 100 colors.

In 2005, one of the first questions the new CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp asked was,“What should we stop doing?” Lego sold the Legoland theme parks and halved the number of colours of bricks they were making. They began asking their designers to innovate with constraints, but to leverage those to become even more creative. Lego returned to profitability that same year. (source)

2. The Economist

With the advent of  iPad (and tablets) while many magazines were quick to launch their iPad Apps that were decidedly rich in their interactive multimedia possibilities (videos, hyperlinks, gifs, dynamic graphs, audio etc),  The Economist tok  a dramatically different approach to appeal to its target group – The Mass Intelligent.

They defined their strategy as Leanback 2.0 and went about designing a magazine App for iPad  that facilitates a real, simple, unfettered ‘Lean Back’ experience for its readers. What does it mean? Andrew Rashbass  –  CEO of The Economist Group says this meant  a conscious editorial decision to strip out even the their basic web innovations from their iPad App (let alone introducing something new).

The Economist(Source)

 Result: A reading experience that is more focused,  uncluttered and distraction free. Go through this insightful presentation by the CEO and read how radical simplicity and ‘finishability’ constitute the cornerstones of their Leanback 2.0 digital strategy.

Do you know of any other examples where a brand chose to focus on its core and made tough choices on its offerings or where a brand innovated within constraints to remain truthful to its core?

Top things I Learnt About You


The following BrandedNoise posts are my 6 personal favorites for 2012: (in no particular order)

1. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: On Skeuomorphs

2. Stories, Grommets & Epipheos

3. The Worst Hotel In The World

4. Social Dissonance: Blasphemy or Opportunity

5. The New Theory of Constraints

6. Marmite, Mouthwash and Microsoft

Besides thanks to Google Analytics, it was immensely gratifying for me to be able to learn fascinating facts about you – the visitors of the blog in 2012.

The Top 10 visitor locations for BrandedNoise areSingapore, India, US, UK, UAE, Philippines, Canada, Australia, Japan & Germany. Of whom 52% have been New Visitors and 48% have been Returning Visitors!!


Safari, Chrome and Firefox were the top 3 browsers via which you accessed BrandedNoise (with IE being a distant 4th!). No wonder.

Mobile Access:

iPad, Blackberry and iPhone have been the top 3 mobile devices through which the blog was accessed during the year (with Samsung Tabs and Mobiles being subsequent devices in the order). And No –  My mobile device is not even listed in the top 10 (and I access BrandedNoise from my phone quite often!)


Google Organic Searches, ‘Direct Browser Access’ (special thanks to those who have bookmarked my blog), Facebook Referrals & Linkedin Referrals were the top sources of the traffic generated to the blog. It is super fascinating to even be able to see the actual ‘keywords’ searched for by the visitors who eventually ended up on the blog! 

There are many other insights that I could glean from my Analytics Page and I am sure these would go a long a way in helping me make your valuable time spent on BrandedNoise more worthwhile in the days to come.

Thank you again for your encouragement and words of support through out the year. You have been a huge inspiration. As is the world of Brands, Innovation and Design.

Wish You a Successful and a Purposeful 2013!

The 12 Most Viewed Posts of 2012


The following blog posts received the top 12 pageviews at BrandedNoise in 2012.

1. The Power of Imagination. Unleashed

2. The Best Touch Points for Marketing Fabric Conditioners in India

3. Colors

4. Minimalism and Apple

5. Marmite, Mouthwash and Microsoft

6. 100 Days of Branded White

7. The IKEA Effect

8. Pulling the Triggers on Behavior

9. The Most Iconic Photograph Ever –  On Perspectives

10. The Uninvited Design – Agencies Beware

11. The Job Hunt – Part 1/3

12. Targeted Sampling

Targeted Sampling

OK. For almost 3 weeks in a row, I have been raving about a single topic – sampling. Couldn’t help it, as I seem to be (inadvertently) running into very interesting examples from around the world and across categories. Latest case in point, an interesting execution of ‘targeted sampling’.

Reports suggest that every year nearly 1 Billion USD is sunk into food sampling alone. So with ROI measures becoming ‘make or break’ metrics for most marketing initiatives, it is imperative that sampling also follows suit. Therefore an interesting challenge in sampling is:  how do you reach out and cater exclusively to your target. For eg, for an ‘adults only’ products (like Alcohol, Cigarettes, X rated stuff etc), how do you ensure that the recipients of the free samples are almost only adults? Solutions indeed come from the most unexpected quarters. This time it is the category of, believe it or not… pudding!

The story goes that Kraft has launched its line extension of Jell-O ‘just for adults’, under the name Temptations. What separates it from the regular Jell-O variants is that it is low in calories (the copy actually says “150 well behaved calories or less”) and available in 6 different flavors like Lemon Meringue Pie, Apple Custard Pie, French Silk Pie, Double Chocolate Pie,  Raspberry Cheesecake, Strawberry Cheesecake.

Now, line extension to a target group that is not your regular base can be challenging. So how did Kraft try to pique the interest of ‘adults’ regarding a product that they had only known as kids?

Well, certainly a well executed TVC was very much in their arsenal.

While the TVC arguably does a good job at making ‘adults’ (and I would bet, more kids than adults) sit up and take note; and in a number of instances peaks their curiosity just enough to merit a purchase, how do you take this to the next level at the last mile ‘the point of purchase’? Sampling, of course.

Now if Jell-O Temptations were to execute unrestricted sampling, they would be faced with a very real challenge – kids. So how would you execute sampling targeted exclusively to adults? Kraft tied up with Intel (agency: CP+B) to roll out a set of ‘first of its kind’ vending machines that dispense free Jell-O’s almost only to adults. And if you are a kid, you’d get the following message 🙂

Essentially the camera in the vending machine scans the user’s face and calculates the distance between the user’s eyes, ears and nose to categorize him/her as a kid or an adult. While this approach might not be 100% fool proof in all cases, it is certainly a remarkable marketing initiative – for a number of good reasons.  The following video shows the interaction in more detail.

While being positively hilariously and deliberately tongue in cheek in its approach, I have a feeling that Jell-O successfully crosses the chasm and cements that bond with their new target group.

Extending to new target groups can indeed be challenging, interesting and sometimes frustrating. Reminds me of Lego’s recent bid to woo girls, AXE recent foray into deos for her and the brilliant examples of Harley Davidson’s targeting of women bikers. But more about these cases in a later post.

Do you know of any interesting instances of brands extending to the “other 50%”?

Power of Imagination. Unleashed

It’s funny – I just realized a recent happening in the world of brands that has, in a queer way, connected my previous 2 blog posts.

Speaking about Apple and Minimalism, I have posted designer Wonchan Lee’s much acclaimed minimalistic posters that are inspired from Pixar’s famous characters.

You would see that in each of these posters, Wonchan Lee has sought to, and incredibly succeeded at, bringing out  the personality of each character by using almost only the eyes, and leaves no doubt about who these characters are (to someone who is familiar with these movies – Up, Wall-E, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc, Monsters Inc (Sully), Toy Story, Ratatouille and Finding Nemo – in that order). His website says that each of these posters come in Synthetic Matt finish and an A3 size comes for 25$. Given the pull factor that these minimalist posters could have, as they challenge the viewer and plays with his/her imagination, I am sure these would have many takers – potentially also spawning fakes!

Cut to my previous post on brands that use the inherent limitations/constraints of their ‘system’ to create a commonly identifiable set of shared experiences among the user base and thereby make ‘tribes’ of them. One of the examples that I wrote about was Lego – a brand that was literally built by its famous and consistent ‘Lego bricks’. My argument was, given that each of these bricks are functionally similar to each other (for over decades!), they come with very similar set of capabilities and constraints for any given user across the world. Thereby any interesting possibility that can be realized out of these bricks tends to be limited only by the user’s imagination and subsequently spurs the other members of the tribe as an inspiration or a challenge. If you stop for a moment and reflect upon these dynamics, it would be evident that Lego is also speaking (in a focussed way) to an adult (as a potential consumer), an adult who loves to exercise his creative/exploratory capabilities to his/her ‘playful fullness’; an adult who is imaginative and yes fun loving.

Probably it is along these lines that Lego has commissioned the following line of Print Ads with the help of an agency named Jung von Matt.


Essentially, these are minimalistic interpretations of popular cartoon-characters. Can you guess who’s who? I loved their simplicity and the power of imagination that is evoked by these executions. Squarely hits at the bulls eye of their ‘adults’ target group and seeks an undivided quantum of their attention by means of this ‘Guess-Who’ kind of dialogue/challenge that they are playfully throwing at them.

Being, not super comic-savvy, I set out to Google around and tried to build parallels with the actual cartoon characters referenced in these executions. Following is what I could knit together as an exercise for myself.

(Cartoon referenced: South Park)

(Cartoon referenced: Uncle Scrooge and the nephews: Huey, Dewey, and Louie)

(Cartoon referenced: The Simpsons) – this is my 2nd favourite!

(Cartoon referenced: Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix)

(Cartoon referenced: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) – this is my 1st favourite!

(Cartoon referenced: Bert and Ernie)

I should say that I am very inspired by this upcoming trend in brand communications that seeks to engage the consumer, grab an undivided pie of their attention (even if it is for a sliver of a moment) and evoke their imagination so that they discover something by themselves and thereby are entertained.

That is the power of imagination. Unleashed.

The New Theory of Constraints

What is common between Lego, NASCAR and Instagram?

Answer: A shared set of constraints (in functionality/features) and a shared set of capabilities that form the bedrock of the whole experience for any ‘participant’ in any part of the world. Well almost.

Let’s start with Lego – a brand with a phenomenal presence around the world that charmingly scales to ‘62 little color blocks for everyone on the planet’.

Throughout its roller coaster ride, over the last 60+ years, ‘despite’ new ideas and innovations that redefined dominant themes and possibilities that can be realized out of these toys, one thing remained the same throughout the times: the Lego brick.

(Dimensions of standard Lego bricks and plates. Source)

Lego bricks have constituted the fundamental building block of any Lego toy built through the ages. While they come in various sizes and shapes opening up newer possibilities, they are basically and functionally similar (if not same) to each other – in fact it is said that Lego bricks of 1950s can connect even with their 2009 counterparts as if they have been made for each other! So barring some theme specific add-ons that are sometimes bundled along with the building kits, all Lego toys come with the same/similar set of capabilities and constraints at a fundamental level. I feel it is this shared awareness of the multitude of possibilities that can be realized using the same set of blocks and the constituent constraints (or absence of them), that fires up peoples’ imagination and makes them co-creators of the brand’s physical and virtual footprints. And thereby makes this a real shared experience.

NASCAR is different from F1 in a number of ways.F1, besides from being a race among the drivers and their teams, is also a race among the ‘constructors of the car chassis’. So there are a number of factors at play in the run up to that coveted podium position in every Grand Prix– the engine, its aerodynamics, tyres, the technical support, the strategy, the drivers etc. But NASCAR on the contrary largely remains a race among drivers – with everything else (for most part) being equal. So what essentially matters is just the competency of the drivers and their strategy. In fact, this is what makes maintaining any given position consistently (1st or the 25th), while aiming to overtake the next man (or woman) in front of you  extremely challenging in a NASCAR rally. So in many ways, it is this ‘race among equals’ philosophy that makes NASCAR for as engaging a watch and fan following that it has as of today.

Over to photo sharing.  There are many social networks predicated on the concept of photo sharing and social networks. While they must be doing a great job in terms of providing a common platform for people to share their photos with friends and others, they lack what it takes to foster a real shared experience among the users. For eg, if I want to share my pictures that I have taken with my mobile phone and hence were to be on say flickr (I must admit I really like flickr for what it is, but that’s besides the point now), I might run into tons of stunning, visually breathtaking photos posted by a number of photographers around the world. So, while I might sometimes stop by and enjoy these pictures for what they are, I don’t and cannot relate to them. I might think that these have been shot with a Full Frame DSLR by a trained photographer and even post produced in some professional photo editing software. So this benefit of doubt that I give to these pictures in deference to those great cameras / photographers and software stand in my way of seeing this a real shared experience. Enter Instagram.

There is no doubt that factors like the quality of its filters, the reach (of iPhones), a well designed interface, the access to a visceral world that it fosters and the immediacy of outcomes that it presents the user have all made Instagram as popular as it is today. But, these factors alone never answered my question as to why Instagram has become ‘this’ popular. I set out to find out and I was so glad to have discovered this great insight. Nate Bolt’s article on TechChrunch nails it when he says…

“…There’s something enticing about knowing that most Instagram photos are created on the iPhone…… That makes it fun to see what other people can create with the same technical constraints you have. Photography has always been all about the equipment, and not at all about the equipment. Knowing millions of people are creating with roughly the same camera and app as you makes it exciting creatively. So constraints, combined with quality and an audience are what makes Instagram so addictive…..”

This also answers why Instagram hasn’t been in a rush to release an Android version of the App so far; for if it does so, there could be a sudden explosion of photos taken by thousands of different mobile phones / tablets with different specifications and capabilities. Hence suddenly the whole deal ceases becoming a real shared experience that it has always been till now.

So there you go – a common thread that connects and potentially explains the popularity and the impact that brands like Lego, NASCAR and Instagram enjoy. A celebration of the lowest common denominator in features/functions and constraints.

Can you think of any other brand/innovation/business model that thrives upon fostering a shared experience for the user/consumer based on a set of common constraints (and common capabilities)?