Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A good brief for a not so good product – A battle won.

This happened when I was handling one of the big mobile telephony service providers operating in the state of Tamil Nadu in India.

Mobile telephony market was just maturing. The government had just brought about some changes in the regulations. This made the operators offer a more competitive price and an array of products and services. This made the market bleed. The operators saw huge churn of customers every month, growth wasn’t that obvious. The market was reaching its saturation levels. The result was low ARPU but increased usage of the basic service – making and receiving calls.

In order to increase the ARPU the SMS rates were lowered. The client started offering value adds through SMS like cricket scores, astrological predictions etc. But still people weren’t using SMS. We had a problem. I managed to convince the client on doing a small research to find out why the people wouldn’t use SMS services. The results we got from the research were baffling.

Tamil Nadu is the southern most state of India. The people speak Tamil. Most of the mobile users were traders and businessmen who couldn’t even properly read English, leave alone speaking. We found that they mocked at their friends who used SMS to communicate as “Englishkaran” (English man).

So language was a barrier for them not using SMS. I presented our findings to the client. After a couple of weeks the client called us over for a meeting. He said his product team had made the breakthrough. He thought he finally had a winner of a product which was SMS in Tamil.

I wondered how, he showed me how it worked. It was a little complicated. Those were the days when you didn’t have language keypads on mobile phones. So you had to type the transliteration (in English) of what you wanted to communicate in Tamil. When you send the message it would reach the operators server where this message would get converted as a image file and would reach its destination as a picture message.

I too believed that we had a great product that would do well in the market. We had a reasonable budget for this campaign, there was press and BTL. I was so happy when I cracked the brief, it touched the emotional chord of the audience. We had a series of three adverts, which we were sure would win some awards for us.

It was when we finished work and I was supposed to present it to the client when I had some doubts about this product. This doubt stemmed from the research we had done earlier. The research said people hated typing something in English because of two reasons

1) They were shy about their knowledge of the language
2) They didn’t know the language

So how on earth would you expect this guy to transliterate (in English) something he wanted to say in Tamil?

Had he had the knowledge to transliterate something, he could as well use this service in English.

So the product was flawed. It would be a huge failure if were launched. This time around I didn’t have a boss, the one I had quit a couple of weeks ago. So I marched straight to the client, presented the layouts we had for him and then told him why I wouldn’t want to launch this service in Tamil Nadu.

The client was impressed. He was happy that we presented the creative as promised but still told him about the flipside of launching the service. The result some revenues lost for the agency by suggesting that we not do this campaign. The client felt bad having to kill a campaign which could win some awards.

For me personally this was a battle won. I felt that some work I was doing for the brand would be an absolute waste of resources – money and energy. And therefore I wanted the client to scrap the project. The client agreed to what I had to say and appreciated my proposal.

This client still respects me, I have moved a couple of places since, but his respect for me is not gone.

The moral of this story – Respect thy clients business, and he would respect thee

PS: Incidentally some other executive from the north of India wrote a similar brief (after an year of us scrapping our campaign) and his creative team produced a very similar campaign for a vernacular newspaper. This campaign did win some awards nationally (and may be internationally too). But I should acknowledge that there was no way that they would have seen either our brief or our creative. It was pure coincidence.

1 comment:

Sajan said...

Very interesting. Very True.