This blog has moved

We are happy to announce that RK Swamy Interactive’s blog has moved to its own web location. You can now see all old posts and all forthcoming posts on

Thank you It was fun being with you.

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In our post ‘barkhagate: We, the Twitter people‘ we had incorrectly mentioned that Expressbuzz is owned by the Indian Express Group. It is in fact owned by The New Indian Express, and its editor is Aditya Sinha who does not host any show. Thank you Dinesh Chanchalani for the information.

The error is regretted.

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WikiLeaks: Y2K redux?

Remember the Y2K crisis that gripped everybody, a thousand years ago*, in 1999? There was panic worldwide that computers would crash on January 1, 2000 because their internal timekeepers, running on two digit years, would reset to 00. It gained a mini-vocabulary of its own, going by names like year 2000 problem, Y2K problem, the millennium bug and the Y2K bug. It also cost individuals, governments and companies a whopping $300 billion to rectify.

Imagine that. An entire industry was spawned by the need to add two digits to every computer’s internal calendar. And it spawned ancillaries in practically everything – from new computers that were Y2K-compliant to back-up devices, to programs that helped secure your computer against all manner of vulnerabilities. And I suppose it added something to India’s GDP, as many of my generation were just joining the IT workforce, with Y2K often being their first ‘project’. But still, look at the price tag – $300 billion.

Now think – what could the IT industry do to get such fast money again? A spectacular new demand, with a matchingly spectacular growth rate? My answer – WikiLeaks.

Oh yes, it is an opaquely-hosted website which embarasses governments and is run by a roving ‘free society’ idealogue. Whose arrest might lead to an awkward diplomatic row. So what is it that makes it look like an IT-industry conspiracy?

One might be the threat it put out that the next victim of its leaks might be an American bank. A lot of people might look forward to this, hoping to get a glimpse of what happened in 2008. But from that, I get a chance to spin my own conspiracy theory.

Folk have wondered how very, very sensitive military and diplomatic documents could have reached WikiLeaks. We know Assange is an ex-hacker. Put two and two together, and you get the following question. If WikiLeaks could have hacked into the American government’s computers (though there is no proof that it did), how would you be sure it wouldn’t hack yours next?

Imagine you are Nestle (who kills orangutans in Borneo as Greenpeace alleges), BP (leaking petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico), AIG (who underwrote Wall Street’s CDOs and CDSs) or Areva (who is allegedly trying to push an untested reactor onto India). There’s a lot of data on your machines, that in the wrong hands, and leaked to the public in a selective way can do enormous damage to you. You’d hardly be able to react, and the legal remedies would take time in the courts. You’re really anxious about securing your data. You’ve banned CDs and pen drives from your office. Computers that connect to the net are isolated from computers that store data. You’ve tried snooping on your employees. And you’re still scared.

In steps an IT firm, with a new programme. That will ensure your machines are rendered proof against any kind of hacking attempt. Hundred percent hack-proof. Cannot be hacked, even if it was the CIA trying to do it. The only thing that can hack your machine is a pickaxe. A very heavy one, with a sharp blade.

The cost of installing the software on all your machines (say you have a 100) is only nominal. Say about $ 3 million or so. Negotiable. Say we’ll do it at $2.5 million. With a free, latest antivirus that kills 99.99% of all viruses thrown in for free. Really. That’s cheap. Any cheaper and we’re cutting our throats. And it’s cheap considering the billions of dollars you’ll hemorrhage if your data was leaked. Right, here’s where you have to sign.

Satire apart, this promises to be a growing industry. Could potentially rake in hundreds of billions of dollars, making Y2K look like small change. That’s a lot of business for IT companies, as American & European companies ‘offshore’ the software to India. That’s a lot of employment for fresh-faced graduates from the engineering colleges that have mushroomed all over rural South India. That’s a lot of code to write, to test, to debug, to alpha-test, to beta-test, to go critical. That’s lots of opportunities for our young men and women to go abroad on ‘onsite’ missions. Simply put, that’s a lot of money.

So why wouldn’t some IT chaps get together and hatch this brilliant conspiracy? You only needed a fall guy who sincerely believes in freedom of speech and the right to reject authority. Who’ll set up a site like WikiLeaks, figure out the laws that make it possible, get hold of friends like Bradley Manning. And embarass a few governments, just enough to make companies – big, medium or small – panic. And throw a lot of money at your data security product.

A lot of money for companies to not face what financial folk call ‘headline risk’. But that might be a lot of money saved on hiring PR agents (sorry, Niira Radia), issuing counter advertisements (though that’s a loss for ad agencies) and having to implement expensive structural changes. And then having to buy the anti-hacking software anyway. Apart from board members looking awkward after details of what they said about each other behind their backs turns up in the Ecuadorean press, in the section between Lady Gaga and the three-headed cobra from Calcutta.

Never mind that the cables disclosed on WikiLeaks were actually passed on by a disgruntled employee. Who (apparently) simply downloaded the stuff onto a CD lalbelled Lady Gaga, and passed it on to the guys at WikiLeaks. Who might have not done it had the HR in the US State Department been better. Or not. I mean, who is going to get into appraisals, salary bands, promotions, job descriptions, KRAs and all that stuff, just because there’s an anti-secrecy loony out there? So much more cheaper to buy an anti-hacking software, and pray that it really works when the crunch comes.

For all I know, you might as well buy a fairness cream. But as an advertising strategy for selling anti-hacking software, I think it’s hard to beat WikiLeaks as a strategy.

Anyway, thanks Julian Assange, for this opportunity to write a conspiracy theory.

*It’s an exaggeration, but in this era of rapidly changing technology, doesn’t 2000 sound like a thousand years ago?

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Our blog post gets tweeted about

Our take on the Radia tapes and its consequences on old and new media is a hit on Twitter. We’ve noticed quite a few people have chosen to tweet the post through their Twitter handles.

While this might not appear to be significant, it is a window into how the new media is going to affect everybody, and especially advertising agencies.

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#barkhagate: We, the Twitter people

Saw TV last week? Or read the papers? Did you hear or read of India’s latest scandal, as it unfolded with Outlook’s latest expose. Amidst the parliament disruption and any number of scams (adarsh, CWG, 2G, BDA) this one never got an airing or a printing. But on the online space, it caused a huge Twitstorm. The scam that takes its name from its Twitter hashtag, #barkhagate.

In short, the Income Tax Department of the government of India has secretly been taping conversations made by Niira Radia, a corporate lobbyist to various journalists. These include her conversations with journalists like Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi to ‘fix’ coverage, among other things.104 such tapes found their way into the hands of Prashant Bhushan. He put them as evidence in a public interest litigation (PIL), and also let Outlook and Open magazines have a look at them. They published transcripts of these tapes in their November issue.

Several news-sites have reported on these tapes, and their aftermath. Midday (no stranger to sensationalism) published the raw transcripts, WikiLeaks-style. Barkha Dutt’s employer, NDTV published a rebuttal on their site, which triggered a rebuttal of the rebuttal by Open magazine. You can listen to the tapes on YouTube; there are several postings. To keep up with developments in this ‘scandal’, you can follow the Facebook page set up for this. Read the Wikipedia article, which already has 33 references. Or simply follow all tweets with the hashtag #barkhagate. And a number of angry, angry blogposts. Anant Rangaswamy of Campaign India is effusive in his praise of Open’s publication of the tapes, happy about the daring route it has chosen. DNA’s G Sampath expresses consternation about the compromised role of the mainstream media. Betwa Sharma took the matter to the Huffington Post, the USA’s much revered (or reviled) online magazine.

As the storm took hold on Twitter (which has had the honour of bringing down Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor), the print & TV media finally stirred. Sevanti Ninan sums up the old media’s reaction here, including Hindustan Times own defence of Vir Sanghvi, and Deccan Herald’s stinging editorial. The Hindu group cleverly published an op-ed in its Hindu Business Line, but not the main paper. Similarly the Indian Express (whose editor has a show on NDTV), put an article on ExpressBuzz, a website of the group, rather than in the main paper. And of course the incredibly clever way of having your reporters blog about the issue, as DNA did, but not report it.

In spite of the old media black out, the Twitstorm has had its effect, as CIOL notes. News media have started reporting the facts, as Niira Radia offered to cooperate with investigating agencies.

So why’s an ad agency blogging it?

To this blogger, #barkhagate is a sign that new media has arrived in India. What WikiLeaks was to the West, this case is to India. When the online media generated enough firepower to make the country notice.

And when a medium comes alive, should an agency stay behind? Yes, there’s money to be still made in the old media, we can’t burn our bridges yet (atleast till the saas-bahu serials are still airing). As a medium not (yet) controlled by a tiny oligarchy, the internet has become the place where you might see more exposes and ‘daring’ stories like these. (Though if Google and Facebook have their way, there is going to be a new breed of Murdochs, Goenkas and Jains). The new media is where the the thoughtful, intelligent, educated people are spending their time and effort today. Blogging, Facebook-ing, tweeting about Niira Radia.

The very same people who buy life insurance, airline tickets and e-books. Who will respond to banners advertising these things. Can an ad agency affords to miss these people? Because it’s running ads on channels that have (temporarily) lost their sheen?

I remember when the Satyam scandal broke out. I was in a search marketing firm then. We did this trick: we created a tiny campaign around keywords related to the scam – Ramalinga Raju, Satyam etc. This was for a company that teaches management courses online. We wrote ads that roughly said, “Learn accounting management so the next scandal doesn’t have your name”. It was quite a hit. I’m sad there are no ads that have exploited this poortunity. Isn’t there a company making anti-tapping devices who could have benefitted hugely?

This is an extreme case of contextual marketing, I’m sure, but it serves to highlight the role the new media can play. Especially when the old media won’t.

(And yes, this blog was written with a gloating smirk, as new media scored 1-0 over the old)

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A byte of magnetic code. A $7 billion business.

Would you think it clever business sense or rank insanity if you mortgaged your home to raise $100,000 to buy an virtual asteroid? Yes, you got that right, a virtual asteroid. It looks and feels like an asteroid, but rests as a lot of binary magnetic codes on an unnamed server somewhere out there in the world. At risk of electricity failures, hacking, cyberwarfare or plain vandalism.

If you thought it rank insanity, you must meet Jon Jacobs. In 2005 (way before the online multiple-player gaming fever caught the rest of us) actually mortgaged his real roof to buy an asteroid on the game Entropia. It was big news when he bought it (I suppose acts of apparent insanity always are). He spent six years developing it into Club Neverdie. That became the Mecca of the citizen avatars of Entropia, who spent a collective $200,000 every year on its dozen biodomes (no idea what those are), nightclu, stadium and mall. He sold Club Neverdie recently, earning $635,000. So here’s somebody (who lives in Hollywood and came there to try his luck in films) who earned about $1,635,000 from real people spenidng real money to play poker in cyber. Woof!

But he isn’t the first of what the BBC calls ‘virtual entrepreneurs‘, (people who make money by selling you virtual stuff, not people who are always talking about how they are going to be an entrepreneur but never come round to doing it) others have been there before. Last year’s big sale was Crystal Space Station (also on Entropia) which went on the block for $ 335,000. Indeed Entropia has seen so much trade on its portal that it applied for (and actually got) a banking licence. So now you can not just buy and sell virtual estate, you are even qualified for sub-prime loans with teaser interest rates (OK, that was just a joke).

Except that getting into debt is serious matter, even for virtual goods. After all, it is real money, to be owed by real people. And Facebook, which runs any number of games full of virtual goods (think Farmville, Mafia Wards, Restaurant City) wants to go the Wall Street way. Get you into debt by buying the goods now and paying later. That’s because a lot of gifts, that retail for a dollar or two, must right now be bought straightaway, causing the buyer to enter credit card details every time. That apparently is causing resistance. Instant gratification, followed by a consolidated bill later, might improve the situation for Facebook.

Wow! Like one recession wasn’t enough.

Why do all of this?

Because virtual goods have now become a business with a turnover of $7 billion every year. Where once computer games were the realm of hormonal teenage boys with a lot of unreleased aggression, today social games like Farmville & Restaurant City have attracted other types of people, like single-old-ladies-with-cats, murderous single mothers, and fat-copywriters-with-no-social-life-after-work (aka yours truly). These games require the exchange of a large number of virtual goods (like strawberry pigs and Viking-themed restaurant tables), the kind of activity that appeals to Asia-Pacific peoples (who drove 70% of the revenue).

Virtual goods seem to have a strong attraction. You can send your girlfriend real flowers, which she’ll have to keep in a vase in her home and throw away after withering. No one can see it unless they come to her house, so she has no social gain from it, apart from a vague notion that you care for her. Send her a virtual bouquet. It will never fade, and it stays on her social network wall for all of her friends to see. It even shows up on their feed, so there is instant social gain. She is seen as being loved and cared for. And you save a fortune on prize roses!

Indeed, you can see some interesting stats on games and virtual goods at the Penn-Olson site. Of the 53% Facebook users who play games, full 20% have actually spent moeny. (Given Facebook has 500 million members & growing, that comes to around 53 million people, that’s more than the population of Burma). With all these people paying the game developer, Facebook has chosen to tighten its grip, so that money flows its way. Games developed by Playfish, for example, must now be paid for through Facebook Credits, and not directly. That means you pay Facebook for buying stuff, and Facebook pays the developer. Did anyone say meddlesome middleman?

For all it’s lucrativeness, people who pay for games are still a tiny population. So how do game developers make money? The old-fashioned way of course. Advertising.

Game developer Wild Tangent offers you a deal – you watch somebody’s ad for 30 seconds (and you have to sit through the whole thing), in return for a prized virtual good you otherwise would have to pay real cash for. A strategy that Zynga has already perfected.

Get your brand in there

This is the part where I stop dishing data and start dishing out gyan. So people are quite willing to buy virtual goods. So why not make them yours. When they are buying virtual bags, why not put your brand label on it? Sign up with a game developer to creat limited edition virtual goods that carry your brand name. Sell a virtual Gucci bag at a virtual premium (i.e. charge $5 where the ordinary costs $1), virtual Audis, virtual Raymond suits. Your Hawkins cookware can be sold virtually on Restaurant city. Imagine!

You get your brand name right in front of eyeballs which are not staring at your billboards, press ads, TVcs or even online banners. They get the pride of associating with a luxury or aspired-for brand. They get to show off to their online peers that their avatar owns a virtual Gucci bag. Try it out – it’s a luscious $7 billion pie out there for you!

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The ‘Good’ Old Days?

As we grow older, there’s always the refrain of the ‘good old days’ we start spouting. (I’m beginning to spout some of it already). Do aging advertisiers too yearn for the good old days? When it was still about a TV commercial and the odd press ad, and not have to bother with newspangled methods like polite banners, local SEO and corporate blogging? A time when one didn’t have to walk on eggshells about not offending minority groups or women, could freely use babies in ads and openly show that smoking was cool?

I remeber a time when washing powder was of, for and by women (remember Lalitaji?) and financial services were handled by men entirely (I remember a TVC from the early 90s in which a woman had to pawn off her mangalsutra because her husband did not buy life insurance before he died. It seemed to imply that a woman was completely hopeless and helpless without a man.) Here are a few iconic ads (mostly American), which could never, ever be made today.

You can’t advertise the product today, and forget about the messaging.

Could you issue this ad today? Babies promoting smoking?

This very iconic ad of the 50s and 60s would be completely taboo today.

And this would get you sued in I-don’t-know-how-many countries for racism.

So were those the good old days after all? They were creative, yes; persuasive, yes; and popular, yes. But they were the type that told a woman her position in society, told non-white people they were unclean and made smoking look cool and healthy. There’s no way the Advertising Standards Council would pass them today.

For forty-four more ads like this, each iconic in its time and yet completely unacceptable today, do look up OWNI.EU’s blogpost here.

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A new Facebook Wave?

On November 15th, Facebook announced, in a touching blogpost, the launch of the new ‘Facebook Messages’. It began the blog by invoking the American family:

Imagine the kind of family you might see in a modern American sitcom: loving parents trying to maintain a family unit with a teenager engrossed in text messaging, a college-aged child who is always chatting online, and various wacky relatives who spend their days sending “funny” emails to the family.

(As an aside, it’s interesting to note a company full of geeks, headed by a notoriously unsocial CEO (as the movie paints him) to invoke the family, something a politician is more likely to do. Some good PR management going on here?)

Joe Seligstein (who signed the blog) goes on to say:

…but there is still a feeling that the technology can also act as a barrier between us. When I want to share with someone it should be as simple as deciding who I want to share with and what I want to say. It should feel more like a human conversation.

That is apparently the premise behind the new service, which aims to combine chat, messages, email and SMS into one platform. While we’ve always wanted a platform like this, I suppose the alarming thing is the that it has a Facebook brand to it. Perhaps it seems all the more foreboding given that rumours of a Facebook phone in the air.

Well, I am here to evaluate the idea, not describe it (for which you should read the Facebook blog here). it is supposed to be so cool that Seligstein says,

I’m intensely jealous of the next generation who will have something like Facebook for their whole lives.

Then he goes on to say,

It seems wrong that an email message from your best friend gets sandwiched between a bill and a bank statement. It’s not that those other messages aren’t important, but one of them is more meaningful.

Huh? Speaking from personal experience, while a mail from my best friends will normally have something inane in it (if it’s serious, they tend to call over the phone. Voice-to-voice Alexander Graham Bell messaging.), a mail with a bill it puts me in touch with fiscal reality.

Of course, since it is so-cooler-than-thou, Facebook Messages is only on an invite basis, and that too you have to cadge for invites. And the new world was supposed to be so flat! Since My ivite is still some way from coming, I’ll refer you to’s walkthrough of the new service (or privilege, come to think of it).

But since I’m a curmudgeon who hasn’t converted to the new Messiah yet, I’m going to use the rest of the space to look at current online reviews. The Register thinks it’s a safety risk. Facebook Messages opens you up not just to your ‘friends’, but also ‘friends of friends’. So if you have a ‘friend’ who has a thousand ‘friends’ (most of whom she or he will never meet in life), all of them can reach you. If you are a professional spammer, what a joy. And even better, if someone’s account is compromised (a polite word for ‘hacked’), it’s a field day for spammers.

Techtree thinks a lot of Facebook users aren’t going to sign up for its mail service (You can get an mail ID if you ask for one). Largely because of brand inertia, having to tell everyone in your mailing list that you are shifting. And Facebook Messages is causing consternation in people who are trying to get to grip with it, from the guy at ZDNet to the one at TechNewsWorld. Bloggers at the venerable Washington Post and Computer World are fretting over privacy issues.

PC World has a happy take. It thinks Facebook Messages will bring ‘authenticity’ to internet communications, since everyone has to use their name directly, rather than a username or nickname. Spoilsport that I am, I have two objections.

a) One of the great benefits of the internet was that it could give you anonymity and an escape from your mundane existence, by letting you assume a weird name that suited your fantasy.

b) What makes a name displayed on Facebook authentic? If you’re an ordinary person, you will likely use your own name. But I’m the goat’s beard if you think Osama bin Laden is going to have a Facebook account under the name of, well, Osama bin Laden.

But nevertheless, they have something of a point, would you make an e-bay transaction with someone called Slinky?

Now my last comments. Facebook Messages is supposed to be the future, the technology that went beyond email. Well, wasn’t that what Google Wave was supposed to be? And Google Buzz after that? And pessimistic kvetch that I am, how long before people adapt their lives around Facebook Messages, just as they have adapted them around Facebook?

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The Raymond Store Walkthrough on YouTube

17th November 2010: R K SWAMY Interactive launched an interactive campaign introducing The Raymond Store online. The campaign was hosted on YouTube. This was the first time a Raymond commercial was aired online before being released nationwide on television.

About the campaign

The focal point of The Raymond Store’s interactive campaign was an expandable roadblock YouTube property, fixed for a day. This means that anyone who is logging onto YouTube was privy to the premiere of the new commercial. Clicking on the ad would cause the video to expand and play on the YouTube homepage. A separate ‘The Raymond Store’ YouTube channel has been created to host the video. Banner ads promoting the new campaign link to a landing page which not only integrates the video but uses Google Maps to display The Raymond Store outlets across India.

Update: As the event has now passed, we created a video walkthrough of the premiere. You can see it here:

Incidentally, that’s also the first video on the RKS Interactive channel on YouTube. Keep a look out for more such videos!

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The Raymond Shop premieres ‘Come & See’ TV Commercial on YouTube before releasing in television for the first time

R K SWAMY launched an interactive campaign premiering The Raymond Shop ‘Come & See’ TVC online. The campaign is being hosted on YouTube ( This is the first time a Raymond commercial is being aired online before being released nationwide on television.

About the campaign

The focal point of The Raymond Shop’s interactive campaign is an expandable roadblock YouTube property, fixed for a day. This means that anyone who is logging onto YouTube will be privy to the premiere of the new commercial. Clicking on the ad causes the video to expand and play on the YouTube homepage. A separate ‘The Raymond Shop’ YouTube channel has been created to host the video. Banner ads promoting the new campaign link to a landing page which not only integrates the video but uses Google Maps to display The Raymond Shop outlets across India.

Go check it out now!

Hat-tip: Hemen Patel

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