The Yuppies Return

April 21, 2009

I am in grave danger of becoming as obsessed about my hippie-yuppie-lala theory as much as Skimpy is about his studs-and-fighters theory. But there’s now a new Madhavan/ Vidya Balan Airtel ad, and considering the original set of ads was one of the original inspirations for the theory, I can’t resist. Especially considering the new ad unleashes yuppieness far more than the original set did. It’s not on YouTube yet, but the Airtel website has a low-res flash version – click the My Airtel My Offer link. I’m thrilled about this – there had been no yuppie ads by Airtel for almost a year – only ones featuring Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan as themselves, therefore hippies.

In addition to all the yuppieness that was there earlier – the contemporary furniture and the clean haircuts – Vidya Balan is reading a pink newspaper (I can’t make out if it’s the Economic Times or Business Standard), and talking about slowdowns and cutbacks. As we know, hippies inhabit a non-cash economy and lalas inhabit a black-money economy, so slowdowns and cutbacks hardly register.

The new ad also raises a question – if yuppies are back on advertising, does it indicate that the recession is drawing to a close?

Devangshu Datta of Business Standard has a theory that RK Laxman notices the state of the stock market only when valuations are so unrealistic that the market can’t get any higher or lower. So whenever there’s a Common Man cartoon that has a punchline about the stock market, it means that it’s hit a peak or a valley and has to change direction – that’s when you buy or sell. Leading on from this, I naturally want to know if a similar pattern exists with advertising. Do ads that mention a recession get aired only when the recession is about to change course? Are they as exact as the Common Man, or do they lead or lag the actual turning point by some amount of time? Or is it just completely random? I appeal to the current batch of MBA students to run the regression analysis as a term paper.

Recession Honeymoon

February 4, 2009

Saileshbhai had been able to get some good out of a bad situation since he was a boy. In those days, his mother used to insist that he drink milk everyday though he hated it. So he would take the glass down to the housing society’s playground and give it to the Kapoor’s Alsatian Jupiter. The Kapoors, who were Punjabi, thought they should have a big dog with a pig name. Pluto was the smallest planet and fit only for Pomeranians. Anyway, after a week of this, he became friendly with the Kapoors, and Cuckoo Aunty started calling him up to have Maggi. In this way the young Sailesh turned milk into Maggi.

He continued to get some good out of everything his whole life. He had bad marks in maths in Class IX, but this meant that he joined maths tuition classes along with Savita Patel, who allowed him to squeeze her breasts. Three years later, Saileshbhai couldn’t get into Narsee Monjee for his B Com. So he enrolled in the nearby Thakur College and used the time he saved commuting to start his business doing wholesale trading of electronics. Now Saileshbhai was the biggest distributor of iPods and Sony Handycams in the Western Suburbs.

But even the current recession had Saileshbhai stumped. Business had dried up. People were so busy paying their home loan EMIs and credit card bills that they were no longer buying consumer electronics. He would lie awake, wondering what good could happen now.

After a month of sleepless nights, Saileshbhai had a brainwave and got into the package tour business. He catered to honeymooners who had to economise because the recession had wiped out their demat account balances. He offered two weeks in Singapore and Penang for five thousand rupees, All Countries of Europe tour (Jain cuisine available) for twelve thousand rupees, and East-to-West America Las Vegas Special for eigtheen thousand rupees.

The competition was stunned. They couldn’t understand how he made any money at those prics. But the honeymooners poured in. The tours were a roaring success. And the honeymooners recommended Sailesh Honeymoon Travels to all other newlyweds they knew.

Saileshbhai had understood his target market. He knew that honeymooners didn’t want to travel, but to show their relatives pictures of themselves in foreign. So he sent them not on Amazing South Africa Tour, but to a guest house in Alibag where they were left to themselves to do whatever they felt like. Being honeymooners, they usually didn’t leave the guesthouse much. Two weeks later, he would drop them off to their homes (Free Home Pickup and Drop!), along with a photo album with their photos morphed in front of the Eiffel Tower or Mount Titlis. He also tied up with the Original Equipment Manufacturers in Dharavi for the I♥NY souvenirs and the Merlion keychains. And he offloaded his electronics business inventory to the couples who wanted to show that they had shopped while they were abroad.

Eventually, the India Tours and Travel Journal interviewed Saileshbhai to undestand how he offered such incredibly low prices. Saileshbha smiled and said that he was always able to get some good out of bad. He never revealed anything more.

Jet Airways

October 16, 2008

We now interrupt our current run of TV-blogging to abuse everyone involved in the Jet Airways fashla.

Jet Airways

What the hell went wrong? What were they thinking when they fired people overnight? The only possible answers are colossal stupidity or desperation.

Desperation – we know that they haven’t been paying their fuel bills for a while. And with eight months of running losses, banks were refusing to provide working capital. And with the financial crisis on, raising long term capital looks practically impossible. They’re bleeding cash, and firing their newest employees probably seemed like the quickest way to staunch the flow.

Colossal stupidity – is a stereotype that usually goes well with HR departments and senior managements. But in this case, it looks like they really weren’t thinking the consequences through. They now have Raj Thackeray, the CPI(M), and news channels baying for their blood. That will probably pass, but they’ve lost their reputation as a good employer. When the business cycle improves, they’ll have to deal with not being an employer of choice. (That assumes they’ll survive until then.)

Back in the last recession, there were a bunch of IT companies which made their layoffs/ salary cutbacks as painless as possible and got written up as case studies. I think Mindtree was one of them. Jet Airways didn’t learn. (But then Ajay Shah has written that nobody in India even understands that business cycles exist and a recession will eventually come along…)

Jet Airways Employees

OK, being told in the morning that you’re fired and you shouldn’t show up for work is definitely a shock. More so, if it happens to 1900 of your colleagues simultaneously. But if their sob stories are true and they are sole breadwinners who have taken out home loans and are worried about how they’ll pay their EMIs, then I have to say that they were idiots. They were on probation. They knew that they’d been hired for a one year period before being confirmed. They knew that house prices were higher than ever before. They knew that they were employed by an airline that was losing money and that job security apart, salary increases were probably not coming soon. And knowing this… they went into debt. FSM preserve them.

Hopefully, the ones shouting on TV about their EMIs were a small minority who the news channels picked to add to the drama.

News Channels

Dear news channels. This is not the largest layoff in India in the recent past. Banks have been shutting down their associated consumer finance/ small business loan NBFCs left right and centre over the past year, and the total layoffs in these have been much higher.

This is merely the largest layoff in India of attractive young people who speak good English. Please insert the appropriate disclaimers. And stop trying to project the temporary plight of young middle class Indians who are otherwise employable as the end of the world. Okay?

The CPI(M)

The CPI(M) is pretty much complicit in bringing Jet Airways to this state. All of last year, they sat in the way of price hikes for petrol, diesel and kerosene. So the oil marketing companies raised the prices of air fuel instead in an attempt to survive. And now Jet Airways is bankrupt and has to sack employees to survive. After this, Nilotpal Basu has the gall to go on TV and say that the CPI(M) won’t allow Jet Airways to operate from Kolkata.

Also, demanding reinstatement? Firing employees isn’t pleasant, but at least it does stem the cash outflow a little. If Jet Airways kept them on, then it would keep losing money until it couldn’t even pay the confirmed employees, who’d been on the payrolls longer. The CPI(M) seems more concerned about a thousand jobs today than twenty thousand jobs next year (and CEOs get abused for thinking in the short term!). (Related reading here.) Either the CPI(M) is (shock! gasp!) a run-of-the-mill political party, concerned only about the next election; or it doesn’t understand reality. Or both.

Oscar Fernandes

Because when he was asked for a soundbite, he smiled and said that he didn’t know anything because he had been at a junket labour ministers’ conference in Bali.

Praful Patel

OK, no abusing Praful Patel. Because he’s actually refused to bail anybody out, pointed out that this is to do with ATF prices, and has generally not played to the gallery.

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