Recently I counted the presence of two water bottles when in fact it was one bottle and a mirror image of it. As all images go, with an impeccable shiny mirror there was the similarity and the togetherness and it was easy for me to double count.
The reality of the situation, however, was that I only had access to 50% less material than I thought I had. To come to grips with the fact that I am 50% off the actual value when the outstretched hand hits the mirror can be unsettling. A wrong take based on an interpretation made with haste. It reminded me that to look beyond the picture and to be conscious of the settings and not let false settings trap you.
First impressions are not always right
First impressions are not always right. Image building is a big time activity and agencies vie with energy and enthusiasm to give you a makeover for you to race to the top. Even with websites, your primary identity today to the world, it is about search engine optimisation strategies and algorithms and not exactly on content and value.
When prevailing economic thinking decided that brands are more important than products, a long-standing manufacturing ethos came to a grinding halt. Today for successful corporations it is all about brands and the overzealous following of this dictum can really take a toll on manufacturing creativity.
Manufacturing become an ancillary activity which can be located in any low cost destination. The corporate value is less dependent on that segment of your operations.
A simple analysis of iPhone property rights, sales and production demonstrates the validity of the statement. This is equally true of any underwear sales in New York but made elsewhere! Same thinking or its adoption can push a country to believe it is all branding or nothing!
We too have allocated but are yet to spend a large sum of money on building brand value of our tea. We appear to think of the imaging and the visual promotions, while ignoring the production of tea and its nuances. Does that demonstrate our overzealous interest in promotions to give success – bringing the brew to touch the lips of many more – while ignoring the deteriorating soil to the tea process?
In differentiating it is important to understand the value of ‘property rights’. If we are to ensure rights in ‘property,’ then indeed manufacturing can be done elsewhere as then it is palming off a relatively non-consequential activity.
Peer pressure is difficult to resist
Business peer pressure is difficult to resist. So too is the prevailing common sense in marketing. You will spend hard-earned currency considering image building as the sole way to success via promotional campaigns. Boards would consider these activities as quite important.
Advertising as an operational vehicle in branding is threatening to rise to new levels and globally this phenomenon is evident.
A big multinational once promised to project the product logo onto the moon’s surface. As more money is available for advertising from corporate coffers than for research and innovation, this may well be realised and one may question the sensibility of this approach.
In modern day parlance that is building brand value and when certain practices in corporations are shown to have extraordinary value developing an image via expenditure is not an issue for much discussion.
We spent money to generate an image for others to consume about us and we know that it is not the real me. This is true for individuals and corporations as well as for nations. Collectively what we project adds up to the image of the nation as the nation’s story is the summation of the individual building blocks.
Done well with all the right attributes, the total may be better than the sum of the individual values. However, if we try spending money on image building for the nation without addressing the issue of individuals and institutions that consist of it, it is indeed a useless activity as the charade is shown through.
It is difficult to boast of high productivity, speed, agility and efficiency for the nation while its subjects enjoy a record number of holidays. A recent visitor to the island told me that he has never been in the country where he experienced a full week of five working days!
‘Let style be your substance’
‘Let style be your substance’ is a prominent tag line. This neatly sums up the nation’s psyche or at least the purpose in life of most youngsters.
It is interesting to note the proliferation of fitness centres and beauty parlours.
There is more demand for vocational training in beauty culture than for biomedical technical courses. Both these institutions are observed with very high frequencies as one cruises along a road and the nation’s fitness and beauty appears to be well on track to reach a very high value.
It is also interesting to observe the absence of libraries or resource centres as you pass through urban and sub urban towns and cities. At times you witness a really ramshackle building with the sign board marked ‘Library’ – walls usually indicate having felt a coat of painting many years back.
We have seen people being coaxed to purchase suits prior to attending seminars – coaxed into submission by prominent billboards and I am sure many followed the suggestion diligently. What may be interest to know is how much we remember of the contents of the seminar one hour after the conclusion.
‘Substance be my style’ a losing proposition
With hard evidence such as this, it is not surprising to realise that ‘substance be my style’ is a losing proposition. The young with ambitions should be pointed the right way. It is not investing rapidly in the latest gadget or the mannerism or dress type that matters, but investing in training and self development.
The story of the humble balloon seller is worth mentioning. From his stall, he was releasing multicoloured balloons to get the attention of passersby and they rose naturally as they were all filled with helium. A child approached the seller and asked if he released a white balloon whether it would rise up faster or higher.
The balloon seller’s answer was instructive: ‘My son, it is not the colour of the balloon that matters, but due to what’s inside.’ A strong lesson indeed and hope the little boy grew up lot less colour blind but content heavy!
World is changed by people with substance
While internally we worry about our looks, the world outside is changed by people with substance. The substance required in the future interestingly too may change with time. Science is infusing smartness to the inanimate and the world is changing.
We use smart phones and wish to live in smart cities where electricity is given to us via smart grids. Smart cars navigate traffic driverless and in no fear of collisions as they are smart whereas we the lesser mortals spend the best part of our lives at times cleaning and repairing dented car
fenders and body elements.
It is also nicer to wear smart clothes which incidentally is a single suit but has the power to indicate a different colour during different times of the day. As they need not be washed I am no burden to the water board and detergent companies have long bitten the dust.
Medicine-loaded nanobots cruise within my body identifying slightest cellular misbehaviour and I am a contended and relieved person knowing that I do not need to have a membership to e-channelling. I am wearing smart glasses and all my communications are linked to my modern eye piece.
This is far from fiction as some of the elements of this ‘smart’ story are slowly coming to life. This also implies that being internally smart may now not really be required to pursue a daily existence. What this means in terms of evolutionary theory time will tell.
Building substance is a planned process
We must understand that nothing of substance happened in a flash. A few brush strokes and some pampering of a surface can deliver some glow, but we all know that is not skin deep. That is why nutrition-delivered glow to a skin is much longer lasting as that is bottoms-up!
Building substance is a planned process. The fault that lies within us is that we wish to expedite the process rather than doing things the right way. An image need not be a beautiful lie if one stays true to one’s values.
David Ogilvy confessed in his ‘Confessions of an Advertising Man’: “As a private person, I have a passion for landscape, and I have never seen one improved by a billboard. Where every prospect pleases, man is at his vilest when he erects a billboard…”
The rush of blood that frequently happens in our midst with brands and promotions while we ignore the fundamentals needs some honest appraisal with action.
[The writer is Professor of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. With an initial BSc Chemical engineering Honours degree from Moratuwa, he proceeded to the University of Cambridge for his PhD. He is the Project Director of COSTI (Coordinating Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation), which is a newly established State entity with the mandate of coordinating and monitoring scientific affairs. He can be reached via email on email@example.com.]