The Folly of Exam Scores

As the CBSE 12th grade results were announced today, something I wrote a year ago comes into relevance. #CBSEResults

Beneath The Froth

Source - http://news.distractify.com/culture/satirical-paintings/?v=1 Created by Polish artist – Pawel Kuczynski

“I started studying from the beginning of the year; I revised daily, attended extra classes and even went to coaching institutes in order to excel in my examinations. I am very happy with the outcome, all my hard work paid off,” – says the UAE topper in the CBSE board exams to a newspaper.

The results of the 12th Board examinations (CBSE) were announced on 29th May, 2014 and to the amusement of many, these were some of the best scores in the recent years. The student quoted above scored a staggering 98.2%. The toil of the thousands of students had finally come down to a number, that, though expresses in absolute the achievement of the individual,  will always be inevitably held relative to the performance of his or her immediate peers and the school at large. The final reports on the performance of students…

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Ramadan Campaign Watch: #SplashHeartOfGold

The holy month of Ramadan will begin on the 17th or 18th of June in the United Arab Emirates this year. Celebrated as a time of religious reflection and spiritual rejuvenation, Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk.

While corporate activities do slow down owing to shorter work timings and the lethargy that kicks in after the initial hours, the only trend witnessed in commercial activity would be the increasing one. There’s a visible surge in shoppers who buy and stock up food and beverages that would otherwise not make it to the kart in months out of Ramadan. (Rooh Afza is my favourite example)

What would be wrong to assume, however, is that marketing and brand communications activities observe a fast too, avoiding any campaign that has the potential of staying relevant in the 4 special weeks. Brands that do not wish to merely see off Ramadan usually churn out that one big idea months in advance.

A notable example is Du’s #30DaysOfSharing campaign last Ramadan. Social Media users were encouraged to send in their precious moments which made Ramadan special.  Every post composed using the hashtag #30DaysofSharing had Du donate Dhs10 to its annual Iftar tables initiative, from which Iftar meals were distributed to the less fortunate. The results & reach of the campaign is shown in the short video below –

With enormous potential comes cultural and religious sensitivities attached to a campaign. There’s no margin for frivolity, and any attempt of merely trying to fit in with the spirit of a festival can lead to sharp criticism – both from passive observers and the religiously inclined. Finding the right space of creativity for a ritual guided by religious beliefs and practices poses an interesting challenge too. How does a brand go beyond the obvious leads of hunger and thirst, and place itself in an area respected & lauded by the people?

The ‘Heart of Gold’ Campaign by Splash

Splash – part of renowned Landmark Group based out of UAE – is one of the Middle East’s largest fashion retail outlets.  In just about a month from Ramadan, out of complete randomness, I chanced upon Splash’s sponsored tweet inviting people to participate in their Ramadan campaign.

The campaign uses the App medium for participation and aims to celebrate the human spirit of giving. Splash will be honouring 30 ‘unsung heroes’ throughout the month of Ramadan, which means a hero thanked and celebrated for a unique contribution each day of the holy month. In their own description in the App –

At Splash, the cause of humanity is one that’s always been close to our own heart. We believe there are numerous people out there, people from every walk of life, who espouse the cause of humanity in their own unique way without expecting anything in return. People whom you may have seen, known or heard of who strive to improve the lives of their fellow beings around them.

Splash ‘Heart of Gold’ has been instituted not only in the true spirit of giving during the holy month of Ramadan, but also as a tribute to these unsung heroes who devote their time, money and effort selflessly to the cause of humanity.

Points of Impression

As a retail outlet that decks up wardrobes with fashionable clothes and accessories, being relevant to Ramadan would certainly have been a challenge. The brand is not a consumable food item that can make it to the table during suhoor, nor is it a restaurant that people can flock to for iftar. They deal in products that are often displayed on lifeless mannequins,  and yet here they are hoping to acknowledge the goodness in selfless giving.

By indulging in this campaign,  in my humble opinion, Splash goes beyond the mundane obvious. It has identified a key element that is actively promoted in Ramadan – charitable behaviour towards society. By rewarding this act of righteousness, Splash will garner the respect of the public at large and those particularly involved in charity work.

The Clothes Connection

To talk purely of Splash’s main product offering, clothes come nowhere close to hunger and thirst – 2 things commonly (and sometimes narrowly) associated with the month. However, they’ve always been an important contraption in contributing to charity. Be it donating clothes to the poor or in areas afflicted with a calamity, the product association with the core of the campaign is not amiss.

In addition, people frequent clothes and accessories retail outlets to shop for Eid al-Fitr. This brings Splash another challenge of integrating their online efforts with their store customers, and to familiarize them with the campaign.

The #SplashHeartOfGold widget, Source: Splash Website

Democratizing the Nomination Choice

According the campaign, nominations will be sought from whosoever wishes to name their choice. Anyone can access the App, write the details of his/her nominee and justify the nomination in a 1000 words. The 30 winners will be chosen by a jury from the brand. The opportunity to nominate serves several benefits – the pool of nominees would be extensive and diverse (in nationality and sector of humanitarian work), and would encourage people to spot a potential nominee in someone who could be casually generous in expending social services.

[It would be nice though if Splash spelled out this jury and make this a more transparent affair. Knowing who selects the final winners would bring more credibility to the activity]

PR Potential

A campaign of this scale and philosophy can be expected to make its mark in media too. The print media in UAE has seldom held back from recognizing Good Samaritans in society, especially in highlighting stories that reflect honesty and nobility in their day-to-day dealings. The story behind each of the 30 nominees would certainly make for an interesting read.

Splash’s CSR in the past

This will not be the first time that Splash exhibits its relationship with societal responsibilities. Recently, the brand was recognized at the Princess Haya Awards for Special Education as an ‘Outstanding Institutional Supporter in Private Sector‘ for its work with students of Special Needs Future Development Center (SNF) in Dubai. I learnt from first hand account of a student & friend from SNF about his induction into the Splash workforce in one of the Splash stores, and being acknowledged by the management as ‘best employee of the month’. Such initiatives are a major boost for special education training centers as they search an inclusive environment for their students, especially adults of the working age,  to learn and thrive in.

Ms. Safia Bari, Director of SNF (left) with the CEO of Splash Fashions, Mr. Raza Beig ; [Source: SNF Facebook Page]

Ms. Safia Bari, Director of SNF (left) with the CEO of Splash Fashions, Mr. Raza Beig ; [Source: SNF Facebook Page]

It will be interesting to know how the #SplashHeartOfGold campaign pans out for the brand. If successful, Splash could well set an example for other brands to buck up and come out strong, or look on as the sun sets on their Ramadan activity.

Is there a Ramadan campaign that has caught your attention from this year or the past? Contribute by commenting below!

[To participate in the #SplashHeartOfGold campaign and nominate someone, click here.]

#EtisalatChallenge – A Case Study In Poor Foresight

When six heavyweights of the entertainment & sports arena from South-Asia & Middle East are used for a brand campaign, the message is certainly expected to hit home. But in times when the fundamentals of the message are built on loose bolts, even the most trusted faces on television cannot salvage a campaign that backfires.

Etisalat, UAE’s first Telecom company and also the sole operator till 2006, is holding a 360º communication campaign titled ‘#EtisalatChallenge’. The ambassadors of the campaign, most of whose fandom we maybe a part of, challenge the masses at large “to find an offer that Etisalat cannot match or beat.” Before I shed light on the gaping holes, it’s important to list down the celebrities roped in for the campaign –

  1. Gerard Butler – Scottish actor particularly known for his roles in the films P.S. I Love You and How To Train Your Dragon series
  2. Hrithik Roshan – popular Bollywood actor
  3. Atif Aslam – Pakistani singer with a massive fan-base in Dubai
  4. Ahmed Helmy – Egyptian comedian and drama actor
  5. Ali Mabkhout – Emirati footballer who plays for the Al Jazira Club
  6. Lea Salonga – singer and actress from the Philippines
The fault is not in these stars Image source: alexofarabia.com

The fault is not in these stars
Image source: alexofarabia.com

Now for the catch – Etisalat’s challenge has no more than just ONE contender in the country. The telecom industry in the UAE is a duopoly comprising of Etisalat – owned by the UAE Central Government, and Du – jointly owned by Emirates investment Authority, Mubadala Development Company and Emirates Communication & Technology Company.

Personal experience, complaints from friends & family and a cursory glance of their social media page shows that enviable services are not really Etisalat’s forte’. Inflexible and relative expensive calling rates, and a ban on most third-party VoIP services adds to its unpopularity.

Dial 1 to gauge reactions –

When a people that rank first in the world for trust in its government display a marked cynicism towards its Telcos entity, there’s much insight to be mined from humour.  The ground reality of services notwithstanding, #EtisalatChallenge turned Twitter into a breeding ground for some tongue-in-cheek reactions.

Kindly hold the line for conclusions – 

Few countries are as determined to raise service standards like the UAE. The country’s exponential growth in smart-innovation merits, in the least, the bare-minimums expected from a telecom company. With the country’s active propagation of ‘All Things D’, what matters to the tech-savvy customer is a refreshing offer in services and price, not a marketing gimmick. Spending a fortune for marketing campaigns, reigning in faces that are familiar with the consumers and accepting challenges on its offers are usually tactics of a brand with unfettering loyalty. There would not be anyone better than the brand & marketing managers to understand the pulse of the consumers. They hold the keys to identify the leaking taps. Those leaking taps will tell you that a passionate fan-base for the brand is still some rings away.

The #EtisalatChallenge, far from filling gaps, has united people under a common grievance. Instead of introducing plumbers, Etisalat has welcomed architects with a design that customers cared little about. From a purely campaign perspective, the effort comes about as flashy yet unintelligible, engaging yet awkward. The messengers are pleasing to the eye, the message – the soul of the conversation – defeats the intellect.

But here’s the silver lining. UAE is a country the progress of which is faster than our imagination. It’s fixation with improvement and superior services has positioned it alongside tech-advanced and developed countries in the world. Instead of shying away from future campaigns, brands like Etisalat have an opportunity in social media to directly interact with customers and know what clicks with them. Ultimately, the user is a reflection of the brand’s services. It’s only natural that a telecom entity relies on conversation rather than commercials to improve its ratings.

The conclusion part can also be summed up in the following 140 characters –

For another interesting take on the campaign, check out the blog Alex of Arabia, maintained by Alex Malouf – a renowned commentator and collaborator of news on media in the Middle East.

For an Emirati take on this topic, read the views of Khalid Al Ameri – one of my favourite columnists – in his open letter to Etisalat.

The Commentary Box Vocabulary

If you’ve made the right choices in life, you would have watched cricket with the commentary in English. As someone who likes to tour the space of words and literature, listening to cricket commentary offered me more than analysis of matches. I heard new words and phrases, some stuck in my mind and some slipped away like the ball that goes past Ravichandra Ashwin in the outfield.

Here are some of the phrases that come to mind, as I reflect on the times I’d been a couch potato watching…and listening cricket.

Richie Benaud

Known as the ‘Voice of Cricket’. Richie Benaud passed away this year.                                               [Image source – PA Photos via espncricinfo.com]

1 – Well begun is half done

2 –  Chink in the armour (usually a batsmen’s weak zone)

3 – ‘Flash in the pan’ performance

4 – Well-knit unit (speaking of team bonding)

5 – ‘Penultimate’ over

6 – Playing for pride (when a team was out of contest but still had an inconsequential match to play)

7 – Dead rubber game (an inconsequential match)

8 – Handing down defeat

9 – Touch-and-go (usually used when analysing run-outs)

10 – Moral victory

11 – A heavy downpour (something between a drizzle and a full-fledged rain)

12 – Batsman’s ‘blind-spot’

13 – Little niggle in the arm (when someone is visibly uncomfortable with muscle movement)

14 – Making a come-back

15 – The match is anybody’s for the taking

16 – Textbook cricket shot

17 – Sent him packing

18 – In the nick of time

19 – Dampening the spirits

20 – Making the right call

21 – Not in favour of the decision

22 – Lofting in the air

23 – Using the ‘weaker’ arm

24 – Long walk to the pavilion (to accentuate how the batsman must feel after being dismissed)

25 – Whizzing past

26 – Smack in the middle

27 – Butter fingers

28 – Reading the surface well (adapting to the pitch)

29 – Nuances of the game

30 – Shot in the arm

31 – Calm and collected

32 – Scripting a success

33 – Fortune favours the brave

34 – Right on the money

Are there more additions that can be made to the list? Feel free to comment below and contribute!