Archive for February, 2011

The Oscars, Gilt and Social Media

In this post  a few weeks ago, we described how Online Fashion Websites such as Gilt, RueLaLa, Fashion & You etc market themselves. Tie-ups with celebrities, TV shows and events was one of the tactics we described :

Most such sites have tied up with certain designers, celebrities, stores, fashion magazines and blogs, TV shows and events. …… Sites also have tie-ups with TV shows like ‘LaunchMyLine’ – a show that encourages new talent in fashion designing, and with Film Festivals and fashion events, for instance, ‘Fashion and You’ partnered with Lakme Fashion Week as their official online partners.

Here’s another hot off the press example of tie-ups with events that we read about in WSJ  :

“People are turning to each other and social media for context,” said David Scacco, chief revenue officer at MyLikes Inc., a social-media advertising company that brokered an Oscars campaign for “flash sale” fashion site Gilt Groupe. “You want to be part of that conversation, not on the periphery.”

For the Oscars, Gilt Groupe is enlisting celebrities such as Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian and fashion bloggers to comment about red-carpet looks.

Starting Friday and lasting through the Academy Awards broadcast Sunday, celebrities and influential bloggers will post fashion-related messages, such as “Which fashion designer will be the big winner on Hollywood’s big night? Make your pick and see what everyone thinks.”

People who click on a link in the message will land on a Gilt Groupe site where they can vote for their favorite designer and check out a red-carpet sale.

You can read the entire article here.

A word of caution : As with all social media, metrics to measure results – such as engagement with consumers – are still evolving.

As the same WSJ article mentions :

Ad executives say the foray into real-time marketing during live events remains early and they’re still figuring out the right way to interact with consumers and measure the results. Says J.C. Penney’s Mr. Boylson: “We haven’t quite cracked the code yet.”


The Escape Velocity Team

February 25, 2011 at 5:43 am 2 comments

The Times they are a-changin’ – Part 1

As per the Indian census of 2001, the literacy rates of women aged 7+ have been steadily increasing, from 29.8% in 1981 to 53.7% in 2001. As per UN statistics, the gender parity index for gross enrolment in tertiary education inched upwards from 0.6 in 1999 to 0.71 in 2006, and the increase in the number of economically active women from 1991 to 2009 was 38 Mn.

Young women, especially those educated and working in cities, now have access to opportunities that their mothers never did, in terms of an education and a career. As a result, in ever increasing numbers, they are standing on their own two feet and are financially independent. Some advertisements for products targeted at young women are mirroring this change, and show independent, assertive, financially-savvy women. Such ads are a welcome sign of the changing times and the evolving roles of women.

There always were a few ads that stood out for being ahead of their times – for instance, a 2004 ad for Ponds Dreamflower Talc which had the Ponds Dreamflower woman deciding not to go through with her marriage when she realised that her would-be in-laws were demanding dowry; or another, practically ancient ‘Fair And Lovely’ ad about a confident woman winning a job as a cricket commentator. But it’s heartening to note that the number of such ads is now increasing.

Have you noticed the ad for Nivea Pearl and Beauty deodorant for women ? And the lady the ad focuses on? No, not just her smooth, beautiful and fragrant under-arms (as the ad claims), but her attitude and what she does. She’s confident and in-control, and the lass is chivalrous too, she gives up her seat in the metro to a man struggling with a load of books. There’s another similar chivalrous lass featured in this Nivea ad, here she helps the mail flight attendant fit bags into the overhead compartment of a plane. The strong lady helping out a man in distress – now that’s what I call equality !

There is also the recent ‘Fair and Lovely’ ad starring Genelia D Souza where she becomes a sports presenter, this one is similar to the ‘Fair and Lovely’ ad mentioned earlier. Or the one I really like, where the young heroine is mocked by her younger brother, but goes on to win a cycling competition and buy a bungalow for her family to live in.

If products marketers are waking up to a changing reality, can services marketers be far behind ? Witness this ICICI insurance ad in which the woman is assertive about making the right decisions for the future of her family and gets her husband to file for life insurance.

Don’t these ladies rock !

And haven’t these companies been savvy about recognising the change in their target audience !


Zenobia Driver


February 22, 2011 at 2:49 am 6 comments

Just what the doctor ordered for BIMARU

(Note from Ed: The following post is from a guest contributor’s blog )

Demographics is destiny.  The fate of nations is often written in the language of population pyramids and median age.  So they say.

‘Imagining India’, Nandan Nilekani’s book that was one of my favorite reads of last year, takes an interesting twist on the ‘demographic dividend’ cliché.  Before we get to the twist, let us make the basic argument for a demographic dividend in India.

The median age of the Indian population today is 25.9, making it one of the youngest large countries in the world.  Brazil’s is 28.9; China’s is 35.2 (increased rapidly from a few decades back, due to the one child policy); Russia’s 35.8; the US is 35.8 and Japan is the second oldest country in the world with a median age of 44.6 (Monaco is the oldest at 48.9).

[For a full listing of median age of different countries, see here.]

Historically, when a young population has met enabling government and adequate capital, the results have often been spectacular.  As Nandan writes –

In 2020, India is projected to have an additional forty-seven million workers, almost equal to the total world-shortfall.  The average Indian will only be twenty-nine years old, compared with the average age of thirty-seven in China and the United States, forty-five in Western Europe and forty eight in Japan.  […]

India already has the second largest reservoir of skilled labour in the world.  It produces two million English speaking graduates, 15,000 law graduates and about 9,000 PhDs every year.  And the existing pool of 2.1 million engineering graduates increases by nearly 300,000 every year.

A talented pool of workers, along with abundant capital and investment, presents us with immense opportunities for creativity and innovation, which can in turn lead to rapid gains in productivity growth and GDP.  This had once enabled Europe to emerge as a centre for manufacturing innovation in the nineteenth century; similarly, at the peak of its dividend between 1970 and 1990, the United States saw the birth of new technology-based industries that determined the direction of the global economy over the past few decades.  Such an opportunity – to emerge as the new creative power and a centre for new knowledge and innovation – now lies with India.

So that is the standard ‘demographic dividend’ argument made about India.  What is the twist?  Well, the twist is what Nandan calls ‘India’s double-hump:  The camel in our demographics’.

Demographer economist Ashish Bose first coined the term ‘BIMARU’ in the 1980’s in a one-page summary of a large population report sent to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.  BIhar, MAdhya pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar pradesh have long been the sick members of the Indian family.  In recent times, their perennial illness seemed to also catch on to Orissa, making the new, equally sickening acronym BIMAROU.  Ashish’s new take on the demographic evolution of the country, vividly captured by Nandan’s phrase ‘double-hump’ is this –

While India as a whole is young, and the population pyramid looks healthily like a true pyramid, it is not the same story across the country.  The states in the South were remarkably young a few decades back, and have tended to dominate the growth story in India in the last two decades – think Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kochi.  But now, the demographic story there has largely played out.  The real dividend now is (surprise, surprise) in the BIMAROU states.

As demographers such as Tim Dyson and P.N.Maribhat have shown, if we peel India’s demographics like an onion, we end up with two very distinct areas within the country – a north that, thanks to its recent high fertility, stays remarkably young over the next two decades, and a south which faces rapid ageing.  By 2025 north India’s population will still be very young, with a median age of just twenty-six.  But the median age in the south would be about thirty-four – similar to Europe’s in the late 1980’s.

This means that India’s demographic dividend is actually a double hump, one of which is already nearly exhausted.  The first hump in the dividend came from the south and has been ‘expensed’ in the economic growth that the south and the west of India experienced as early as the 1970s, when their infant mortality began to fall.  In the northern states, however, infant mortality has only just started to trend down.

As a result, it is the second, larger hump in India’s dividend which is yet to peak, and which will come from the northern states – and primarily from the BIMARU regions.  Ashish has estimated that the share of BIMARU states alone in our population growth between 2001 and 2026 will be around 50 percent, while the share of the south will be only 12.6 percent.  As a result, over the next decade, the north should begin to ride the crest of its dividend, towards higher growth.

So, is this just a lot of hot air, the lazy musings of a septuagenarian economist?  Not quite.  There is some real growth data that has started to support this thesis.  Swaminathan S. Ankileshwar Aiyar, easily one of the most entertaining economic columnists in India, wrote a piece in early 2010, where he asked the question – Where are the new miracle economies within India?  No prizes for guessing the right answer.

Historically, the chronically poor states were Orissa plus the BIMARU quartet (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh), of which three have been sub-divided. Have these eight poor states participated in India’s boom?

Yes, absolutely. Indeed, five of India’s eight ultra-poor states have become miracle economies, defined internationally as those with over 7% growth. The best news comes from Bihar, historically the biggest failure. From 2004-05 to 2008-09, Bihar averaged 11.03% growth annually. It was virtually India’s fastest growing state, on par with Gujarat (11.05%). That represents a sensational turnaround. Nitish Kumar deserves an award for the most inclusive revolution of the decade.

Other poor states have done very well too. Uttrakhand (9.31%), Orissa (8.74%), Jharkhand (8.45%) and Chhattisgarh (7.35%), have all grown faster than the standard miracle benchmark of 7%. […]

The elephant in the room has always been Uttar Pradesh, a huge, poor state of almost 200 million people. The excellent news is that UP’s growth rate has risen impressively to 6.29% annually. This falls short of the miracle benchmark of 7%, but not by much. […]

Rajasthan, which grew fast earlier, has slipped down a bit, to 6.25%. The most disappointing performance comes from Madhya Pradesh (4.89 %).

So are the BIMARU states starting to come around from their sickness?  Hell, yeah!

I must say though –  I find the sense of fait accompli that underlies conversations on demographic dividend in India somewhat frustrating.  Indeed, demographics is a powerful force.  But it isn’t everything.  Just because one has a good demographic story going, one can’t sit back and start counting the moolah.  Indeed, several economists have been consistently questioning the entire foundation of the demographic dividend thesis recently.

Reverend Malthus was the one who made the most infamous demographic prediction in economic history when he said that “Population has the constant tendency to increase beyond the means of subsistence.”  Maybe I am really behind on my newspapers, because I haven’t heard of human civilization collapsing under the weight of population just yet.

Why didn’t Malthus’ demography driven prediction come true?  One word – productivity.  As population increased, if there had been no scientific innovation, and human economic productivity levels had been held at the same levels, his dire prediction might indeed have come true.  What changed the story is the massive increase in productivity led by the industrial revolution.  Michael Mandel makes this point powerfully in his essay in Business World here.

The point is not that demographics are unimportant.  Indeed, there is enough data to prove that they are a tremendously powerful force.  But they aren’t enough by themselves.  If that were not so, economists over the world would have been talking about the huge demographic dividend in Nigeria!

The BIMARU states could well be the future of India.  There is enough early evidence to suggest that they are taking on that destiny.  But they could still lose the plot from here. Here’s hoping that they make it.

(Note from Ed : For more posts by the same author, here’s a link to his blog)

February 16, 2011 at 4:30 am Leave a comment

Unintended Uses – Rural India

I had heard of washing machines being used as lassi-makers in Punjab, but I recently came across an article which points out some other products used for unintended applications:

Las-sip or Lassi-P ?

 “… For instance, in parts of Northern India, condoms are used by weavers as gloves on their fingers to weave fine threads. Lubrication on condoms allows them fine control on threads and protects their sensitive fingers. Buffaloes displayed at the haats for sale are dyed an immaculate black with Godrej hair dye. Horlicks is used as a health beverage to fatten up cattle in Bihar. …. Paints meant for coloring up the rich-smooth walls are used to paint the horns of cattle to make identification easier and to achieve a long-term protection from theft. Iodex is rubbed into the skins of animals after a hard day’s work to relieve muscular pain.”

It’s fascinating how consumers have adopted these products, which are clearly intended for personal and household use, for business development instead.

Here’s the link to the article.


Roshni Jhaveri

February 11, 2011 at 4:44 am Leave a comment

Des Mera – travels through small towns

These are some of the not-so-obvious differences we’ve noticed between metros and smaller towns :

  1. In small towns, family outings are a common means of time-pass, and these outings often consist of visits to temples or to relatives’ houses
  2. Page 3 of TOI local editions show local parties and the pictures have people without make-up on. The teenagers actually look young !
  3. The curtains in the windows of many houses I pass remind me of neighbourhoods I grew up in – often the curtains patterns have broad yellow and blue stripes, with big red flowers or apples in the middle of each stripe; no Fabindia ethnic stuff here – printed stuff in artificial fabrics is aspirational, FabIndia is too plain (and probably too expensive)
  4. Language has a different regional tadkaa (flavour) to it
  5. Front page of TOI has local news occupying as many column inches as news of India-China relations, the 2G scandal etc, unlike Mumbai where local news is in the supplement, if at all. To add to the local flavour of these articles, comments from parties involved are printed verbatim with full flavour of the accent of the region.

 In Varanasi, one of these local interest articles described how villagers in a particular area got tired of power cuts and took matters into their own hands. They raided a power department godown and walked away with a 100 KVA transformer in front of the staff ! Sample this explanation for the act, from a villager called Suresh Nishad, “sahib pure gaon mein sau se zyaada connection ba, phir bhi yihaan batti ki hamesha killat rahat hai (despite the fact that there are around 100 legal connections in our village, there is an acute shortage of power).” Or Shri Shanti Patel’s excuse, ”bhaiya du mahina se batti ke bina bura haal raha aur fasal bhi kharaab hoye jaat hai, par bijli bibhaag wale kuchh nahin karat rahein (the condition was horrible in the absence of electricity for the last two months. Our crops were also getting damaged but the power department was least concerned).”

 As the lyrics of ‘Des Mera’ from ‘Peepli Live’ tell us, “Indiya Sirr yeh cheez dhurandar, rang-rangeela Parjatantar” 

p.s. Someday soon, we’ll write about the basic differences in healthcare attitudes and practises between those living in metros and those in smaller towns.

Till then, why don’t you write in to us, dear reader, and tell us what differences you’ve noticed between metros and small towns.


Zenobia Driver

February 8, 2011 at 10:22 am Leave a comment

Flash Sales – Marketing

To conclude our series of posts on Flash Sales, here’s a post on how these sites market themselves:

Flash sales are a brilliant example of viral marketing. Access to such sites is ‘by invitation-only’ which lends an air of exclusivity (although anyone can get an account if an invite is requested).  It gets referrals through users’ personal networks and offers incentives (e.g. $25 credit, Rs.1000 credit, free designer bags, etc.) to current members to invite their friends to join the community.

One of the most critical things in such a sales model is that the shopping interface be user-friendly and convey premium-ness. So most websites have used rich, deep colours to give it that exclusive feel, and ensured that the website is very easy to navigate. These websites, preferably called “premium shopping clubs” are targeting 20-35 year olds who spend a lot of time on the internet. These websites have a strong presence on social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, which act as daily reminders, discussion forums for the on-going sales as well as forums to generate interest through contests, etc.

In response to the concerns of members about the site getting too crowded, the ‘Gilt Group’ even created ‘Gilt Noir’, an exclusive loyalty program, which gives big spenders and VIPs advance access to sales, and brings private promotions from designers who refuse to sell on regular Gilt.

For differentiation, some of the websites have deviated from the original model, for instance, those visiting the ‘DesiCouture’ website do not need an “exclusive membership” to view the merchandise on sale. ‘DesiCouture’ also offers the option of special ordering – either by size or if the product is sold out. In addition, it also has the option to sort the products by product type, price, designers, etc. While most other websites sell previous season Indian designer wear, ‘DesiCouture’ works towards promoting upcoming designers by commissioning garments to be made at a price point as low as Rs.1500 alongside established designer prêt lines.

Marketing expenses are at a minimum; sales are announced by email a day to a week in advance and an email reminder is sent at the time of the start of the sale. All sales start at the same time, so as to condition members to log onto their website at the same time every day – almost making it a routine for customers – simply a brilliant way to achieving repeat visits by customers. According to New York Magazine “During the hour after its weekday sales kick off, between noon and 1 pm…its site ( is visited by an average of roughly 100,000 shoppers.

Most such sites have tied up with certain designers, celebrities, stores, fashion magazines and blogs, TV shows and events. These tie-ups vary from a features spread in a fashion magazine saying “available on”, to a small spread on upcoming sales on popular fashion blogs like or Sites also have tie-ups with TV shows like ‘LaunchMyLine’ – a show that encourages new talent in fashion designing, and with Film Festivals and fashion events, for instance, ‘Fashion and You’ partnered with Lakme Fashion Week as their official online partners. This gains them sufficient mileage without having to spend much on marketing.

These websites also have their own blogs which talk about the latest fashion trends, upcoming designers, as well as top picks for the month from their merchandising head and leading fashionistas. The blogs also link back to relevant sales that may be going on at the time. This is also a great way to keep readers returning back to the website. Here are some links…


Roshni Jhaveri

February 1, 2011 at 5:09 am 3 comments

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