Home > Uncategorized > Genie in a bottle

Genie in a bottle

Last month I was chatting with someone who’s spent his whole life in Chennai, a city in South India. I was commenting on the absolute state of chaos on the streets where no rules are followed, cops are ignored and paying your way out of any trouble is the norm. This against the background of a government that is thought to be among the most corrupt in the history of the state. They have allowed hooliganism to prosper, even encouraged it. This person then remarked how when he was growing up, about 30/35 years ago, Chennai was one of the strictest places in the country.Bicycle riding without front and back lights meant a definite booking. He remarked how once when he was walking on the main road, rather than the pavement got a tap on his leg by a traffic cop who asked him to get back on to the pavement. The transformation within a generation was incredible. He linked this change to the change in governments. To win elections the opposition positioned themselves as the most ‘poor friendly’. In India this usually means legalising illegal structures, free food, free other stuff. Successive governments have tried to out do the previous ones to garner votes. And once the genie was out of the bottle it has proven increasingly impossible to put it back.

Then a few weeks ago has been the story of Tunisia’s government overthrow. Lots of reports of how social media played a big role in achieving this. Twitter especially played a big role in allowing the citizens to express their opinion. This led to people on the streets and the consequent exile of the president and his wife. Celebrations followed of course. Have you seen the news lately though? Protests, sit ins etc continue. And no clear leader who seems capable of taking control emerges.

The reason I refer to the above here where I usually talk marketing/advertising is because I see a huge similarity between political protests like the one in Tunisia and Social Media.

The emergence of channels like Facebook and Twitter allows people to express themselves freely. They are no long bound by what editors of main stream media decide is good to publish, nor the cumbersome ‘letter to editor’. Here the distance between a thought and the published word is just a click away. This is great for marketers to hear/learn about what their customers are thinking.

This has tempted many marketers to jump into the fray with social media strategies. Consumers are excited with the chance to deal directly with brands they love, or hate.

I believe this is letting the genie out of the bottle, unless there is a clear strategy of directing the genie to a meaningful end. Else brands run the risk of being run over by customer opinion and what started off well can well be a huge headache.

The political world is full of genies out of control…Tunisia, Iraq, Tea Party Movement, Thailand, Tamil Nadu etc etc.

We don’t need to add to it.


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