Be Water

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” – Bruce Lee

Too often we are caught up in our need to conform to patterns laid out for us from the time we are born. Thinking “out of the box” is not something we are trained to do even if we are asked to do so. Because it is not an easy task. After all it has taken a lifetime of conditioning to get to this point. Let’s for argument sake call it Point B. So, to move from Point B to Point B (iii) will take some more conditioning and some more effort, effort no one wants to put in.

Change is constant, but change of the mind requires a paradigm shift in thinking, breaking of rules and a constant endevour to evolve as people. Like I said, we are caught up in this inherent need to conform to the set standards and patterns.

Think about it, a good child does this, a good son does this, a good daughter, a good brother, sister, wife, mother, father, grand parent……in this persistent quest for “goodness” we forget the rightness of it all. Norms were set for a reason by our forefathers so there was no eventual breakdown of society as they saw it.

But they also did not foresee the changes in the environment, the competitive work and study structure, the advent and invasion of technology which has opened our eyes, not necessarily our minds to the ever-changing world.

I am not going out on a limb to say that conforming is bad, conforming is fine as long as we understand the limitations of it and find ourselves not getting lost in the bargain and moving away from who we were meant to be.

Let’s take an example, when people say, “oh I cant live in a Delhi or a Mumbai or a small city, or a large city” what is our response to that?

Why haven’t we ever questioned, why not? I mean, what is the issue? Is it the city, is it the temperament, is it the pace, the greenery, the attitude etc etc the list is fairly endless. Ask that question and be amazed that there is no definitive answer. There is no definitive answer to why people don’t like a city.

But I have one, its quite simple really.

People don’t like change. People don’t like to adjust. People like to hang with their own “kind” and people are afraid to move from their comfort zones.

So when you don’t like something and don’t know how to explain it. The simplest thing is, there must be something wrong with the place for me to move. That’s an easy solution.

So why do people not push their envelope then? Push their limits, their boundaries and break out of the chains that hold them back? Because they need to conform, they need to belong. They need to feel secure. Stepping out changes all of that which is necessary to exist.

So here’s my bit. Like Lee said, be like water, amiable, malleable but hold your own characteristics. Water in a bowl is a bowl of water, but water nonetheless. In a bottle, it’s a bottle of water. Water and whiskey does not become whiskey it becomes a drink. Different from one with aerated water. Stay true to who you are. But embrace the change. Because change is constant.



It was an interesting day, I was going through my LinkedIn page and the usual updates on improving my life, improving my communication. Those feel good posts about fire and character, people and movements and I chanced on an article about Dolce & Gabbana. Now, I’m not a fashion fiend or a brand conscious person but what caught my attention was this article on how D&G faced a crisis with their colossal political faux pas (my words, not the article headline).

So I read further and discovered how D&G in their sheer brilliance created a campaign for the China market, showcasing a supposedly Chinese lady trying to eat burritos and pizza with chopsticks. I’m not Chinese and I didn’t find it one bit funny.

Of course they have faced flak to the tune of losing out on the Shanghai show as well as the products being taken off the shelves. ( for any brand this spells disaster since China is 1/3rd the luxury brand market.

But it got me thinking.

Do brands know and understand the culture they operate in, or do they just replicate what works in other markets? Specially when it comes to Asian markets which are steeped in tradition and the old ways. Where their sensibility means everything to them.

Of course there are many world famous brands who have made serious errors when either entering a new market or creating campaigns in existing ones. Companies and brands need to comprehend the subtleties and sensibilities of the market and the people who make up the market and understand what works and what doesn’t work for them.

I came across and article written by someone in the fraternity (I like to use that phrase since it makes me feel like I do belong)

by @MikeFromowitz wherein he has showcased some brands one would not believe could make mistakes like these. But they did and much to their eventual revenue loss or business loss, they learnt the most bitter lesson of all.

Sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander.

So how important is it really for communication specialists and marketers to understand the nuances and characteristics of any region?

Agencies and marketers need to go beyond the standard “demographic” profile of the TG as we like to call them. In fact interestingly, when I started my career in advertising in Trikaya Grey, one of the key aspects in defining target audience was to actually profile the audience. And not just use the standard of 18-34 millennial, smart phone user, likes to dress trendy blah blah. We were trained to actually visualize and create a profile of the people we were talking to and if we could, attach a picture for the creative.

This way, not only did the creative understand the target group. We had a clearer understanding since identifying the TG meant studying them and their behavior. Identifying their idiosyncrasies and finding ways to circumvent the hurdles we might encounter.

Understanding was the key element in all things communication related.

To exemplify the point, we used to have these brand reviews when I was an AE. Junior and wet behind the ears as I was, my supervisor, a senior planned and worked on the presentation to the bossman, Mr Ravi Gupta. I was mortified of course, I mean I was a lackey who didn’t know my ass from my elbow about brands and advertising etc.

The review began and in the first slide and I assure you, it was slide 1 on Arrow the clothing brand by Arvind Mills, the line read THE ARROW BUYER IS A SOPHISTICATED BUYER. I have never known terror like the one, when Mr Gupta lost his cool and slide 1 was the end of the review. He iterated that the whole assumption on the brand was wrong, how the hell could anything else be right? He was the most genteel and kind person I ever met. This avtar was not one I recognized, but that of a brand custodian that made Mr Gupta who he was. He said know your customer before you attempt to manage the brand. Of course his tirade ended with, sit in the outlet to know who buys. Sit there for a week.

Guess who had the fabulous task? Of course the buyer was not sophisticated, of course he was nothing like I had imagined when I saw the ads or read the copy. He was the man who aspired to wear an Arrow. Where he came from was as important as where he wanted to be seen as heading. He was anything but “sophisticated”. Thank you for that crash course in consumer understanding Mr Gupta. 22 years later I still remember it.

This became the cornerstone of my education in advertising and brand management. Consumer understanding is one of the most interesting subjects if only we pay attention.


What works in one market may not work in another, and you wont know it doesn’t work till you don’t attempt to understand the people you are communicating with.