Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Creative parenting

 Not everyone is creative minded. 

It doesn't take a lot of effort to just hear the words someone says to you if you don't consider what happened before that has led them to utter those words. That takes a spark of imagination and what Sherlock Holmes might call deductive reasoning. 

I'm calling it creativity. It doesn't matter what you call it. But this is what I wish to talk about today.

When a child comes home from nursery or school to say, "I drew a picture for you daddy!", you might have a quick glance, admire the squiggles vaguely and dishonestly, then move on. 

But what if I told you the child had a meltdown at nursery because they felt alone, or because kids in the class were being unfair or mean, or because they had a fall, and all they wanted to do was get a hug from daddy? What if it was hard for carers and teachers to console the child, and the child simply kept wailing, "I want my daddy!"

What if the situation became a bit impossible until one of the teachers said, "how about we draw a picture for daddy?" And just like that the tantrum was over because the child had something to look forward to. 

You can swap 'daddy' with 'mummy' in the scenario above for higher accuracy. After all, mums are the ones who usually do this kind of creative reasoning and digging more. But really, it's something all parents should try to do.

As a parent, you know your child best and with a little bit of creativity, you can almost always tell what may have happened in school or at nursery. But you do need to spare a moment to think about it. 

Ours is a dual income household, so moments to think and ponder are rather precious, and even in a single income house, I think time is always quite precious. 

But if the most precious thing you leave behind in this world are your kids then it follows that the most precious commodity - your time - should be allocated to them too. Especially when you're home.

The child may not be able to explain to you why they are so excited to show you the picture they drew for you and what compelled them to even draw one. But it is your job as a parent to free your mind from whatever occupies it to give your child due attention. Especially if you lack the imagination or creativity to fill in the gaps.

We are constantly telling kids "you're okay!", "you're fine!" in moments when they clearly are not. They trip, or they bump their head, or they can't get their favourite toy and we have the audacity to tell them they're 'okay',  without giving it a second thought, just to improve the situation for ourselves. 

They clearly are not okay.

By doing so we are normalising not being okay. 

We might as well say, "it's okay that you're not okay".

Remember, children's emotions are as real as yours. You need to sometimes make an effort to step into their world and see things from their perspective. 

Just because they don't understand why you had to throw their drawings in the bin does not make their feelings about it any less real. 

If you can't help but laugh at something like that, you're staying in your grown up world, making the child think they're stupid, showcasing how unimaginative you are, and essentially, acting like a child who doesn't know better. 

Remember, creativity is a bit like a muscle. You may not be very good at it, but spare your moments, give it time and you will get better. And maybe in the process you might even feel a bit like Sherlock Holmes. 

Oh, you want to know what inspired me to write this? 

My child told me after school that kids in school didn't like her purple jacket. When I tried to talk about it (she's 4) she either deliberately or accidentally changed the subject and I couldn't get her to talk more about it. 

Now, I'm testing my deductive reasoning abilities and hopefully I will get to the bottom of this. It will probably cost me a jacket, whatever the case. But I want to understand why anyone would say anything mean about her jacket. 

And I've been wondering what else goes on in her day that I will never know. Perhaps when she is older she will fill me in because she will be able to explain better. 

A picture from our recent trip to Windsor Castle

Friday, December 20, 2019

Just a quick update (after 5+ years)!

I know I pretty much ghosted this blog but as a university era blog, I've been really conflicted about keeping this up as I am in an advanced stage of my professional life now.

So what's been up with me?

Well, I got into digital marketing right after university and I've been doing this for over 10 years now. I've worked in-house and on the agency side and have had several successes to be proud of.

My career journey has taken me from Singapore to Karachi, then Lahore and now I'm in my fifth year in the UK. I also got married and will soon my celebrating my 9th anniversary early in 2020.

These past few years in London have been mad. When I quit my fabulous job at a top IT consultancy in Lahore and moved to London, I almost started with nothing.

Homeless. Jobless.

And a baby on the way.

Yes, I had a baby on the way which is why I quit and joined my wife in London. It was a mad transition.

But I was extremely fortunate. Within a month we found ourselves a home (in Balham) and I got a job on the agency side in central London (near Victoria).

And then the baby arrived. What a permanent change to our lives!

Needless to say, with two working payments, no support structure like immediate family or friends nearby (who are baby-friendly) and no financial backing from parents, it's been a busy time.

My wife has since returned to training as an Accident and Emergency specialist in Medicine, and I have founded my own company called Locals Talk (I almost never find the time to update my company website), but we're doing well and growing month on month.

We also have an online clothes store for cute baby clothes with free delivery to Australia, UK, USA and Canada. I need to setup a Boxing Day sales campaign for it soon.

I've somehow managed to find a great work-life balance working only 3 days a week and making more than I did when I was working full-time at a company in central London that has now gone into liquidation. I'm not sure if I will pick up another job unless it allows me the kind of growth and flexibility I have become accustomed to.

This year, 2019, I've also managed to fit in a bit of travelling around Europe, which has been a dream for my wife and I. We first went to Venice in Italy and then Barcelona in Spain - the two most culturally-rich countries in Europe.

Hopefully I will keep this up in the following year that starts with a visit to the parents in January.

Now that you're all caught up, here's wishing you a lovely Christmas holiday and a Happy New Year!

I'm going to try and keep this blog running again with tids and bits.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sponsored Stories No More!

I love the fact that new media such as Facebook is pushing profit-maximizing businesses to take a more creative and proactive approach towards engaging consumers on their channels. Many of us have been complaining about how Facebook has begun emulating popular culture as seen on TV - especially in terms of promoted content. The internet is a place for niches, so after this new update, we’re cheering.

Ever since the dot com era in the 1990s, brands have repeatedly misunderstood this new environment. Their focus on ROIs and other numbers always means that there is a sales message attached to every piece of content they put up. But consumers have never liked advertisements. They may respond to them because they keep them informed about new products, but they have always been an interruption. So advertisements managed to drive awareness and later, conversion. But in the digital space, consumers couldn't care less. Once someone hides a brand from their feed, the brand doesn't exist for them any more.

Subservient Chicken is eager to listen to the commands you type in. Oh, BK Tendercrisp!

Of course, there are some brands (as is always the case) that lead the way for others. One of my favorite digital activations is Subservient Chicken by Burger King. There are many others, but the point I wish to make here is that brands don't have the choice to treat digital like they do any other medium. Not anymore, at least. I laugh at the brands that ignore this advice. But only because I have been trying my level best to articulate this simple truth about digital – just to get them to do something amazing (only to hear how their PR department had a near heart attack at the suggestions). Some have been more receptive to these ‘crazy ideas’ though.

Public relations, although conceptually still applicable, has dissolved into HR and digital. PR is a dead hen that doesn't lay golden eggs any more. And most brands are having trouble making that jump from PR to digital. Especially since it is still a very experimental medium. 

The message from Facebook, in this light, is clear. Get creative or get lost.

There is still hope for brand managers though (yes, they can keep their jobs). They need to learn to deal with digital data themselves. They need to start relying on psychographics rather than demographics. They need to recruit creative people who understand digital and make them a part of their team. Sure, they have digital managers (usually just one for all the company brands), but every brand team needs to have at least 50% people who can lead digital using their creative abilities, while paying absolute attention to digital data such as ad analytics and performance metrics, themselves.

Crafting engaging stories doesn't come from the copywriter sitting in a corner at a digital agency full of geeks. It comes from the top, with the geeky copywriter sitting next to the brand manager. This is the only way brands can truly understand their audience and engage them in real time.

Until they learn to do that, they will keep hiring digital agencies as the middle men, missing out on the bigger picture, until other brands go ahead and incorporate digital into their everyday workflows.

Content marketing strategists must be really happy right now. I know I am.

Thanks, Facebook!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Johnny Rockets Fixes Its Typo

One of the major issues that digital agencies face today is the prehistoric concept of 'media buying' which is always done in 'bulk' to save costs. While that may be true for traditional media, new media really doesn't work that way.

Here in Pakistan, you will see that most brands tend to allocate their digital channels' management to one digital agency and media buying to another, which just doesn't make any sense. That's like going to get your car washed from one service station and windows wiped by another! It's preposterous! So here's one example to highlight the disconnect such an arrangement may cause:
Johnny Rockets' media spend has been massive, ever since their launch. They've gone above and below the line and they've also gone digital. Sources tell me that, like Mobilink, Unilever, Nestle, and so many others, Johnny Rockets also gave away its digital media buying to a company that was NOT managing its online properties (Facebook page, primarily). Here's the result:
"Let the good time rolls" - apparently Johnny Rockets is competing against Karachi Silverspoon 
After running these ads for more than month, I noticed yesterday that they've finally fixed this grave typo. It was probably not even that visible when it was advertised like this on the side, but they had the same typographical error on ALL their featured ads, and if I were the brand manager, eardrums would've ruptured.

This is but one example that shows how awful it is when the same people who are creating/curating content and managing your digital strategy are NOT managing your ads as well. This digital business is best managed by a singular team, and it is high time that brands started to understand this.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Much Needed Improvement from Facebook

For digital managers running campaigns on Facebook for a number of clients, between brand managers, VPs, account managers, digital strategists, copywriters and page managers, it had always been very difficult to monitor interaction with fans - we could never tell who had been posting on behalf of the brand!

Often, we'd pick on a comment with wrong grammar and the typical response from the page manager would be, "But that's probably the brand manager who posted this comment!" Needless to say, since we couldn't tell who posted that comment, everyone could go on pointing fingers at each other forever.

There was this one time a well-known glue brand's franchise owner insisted he be on the admin panel for their page, only to post some unrelated ad on the page every now and then regarding jobs for doctors in KSA, confusing every one of us at the digital agency.

It seems that Facebook has finally identified this problem and plans to fix it soon, as I just came across this notification on one of the pages:

New: See Who's Posting as Page
A little tweak to save page managers countless headaches, yay!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Why I think Flappy Bird has done so well

Promoting an app, a service or any other content organically is tricky business. While paid campaigns tend to ensure reach and visibility, 'virality' comes from the users/consumers - they HAVE to genuinely like it for it to go viral.

For this reason it is always a good idea to work on your game dynamics - make it fun and addictive. Flappy Bird is doing well primarily because only ONE person worked on the game and put his heart into it. Now people can't help but return to the game over and over again, perhaps in an attempt to challenge themselves.

The game has occupied the number 1 spot on both iOS and Android app stores the past week, even though it has been uploaded since May last year. It seems its following got that critical mass that pushed the game into viral mode.

Flappy Bird Rank History
The gameplay is extremely simple - simply tapping the screen makes the bird fly. Yes that's right, the birds are flying in a manner similar to Angry Birds, and if you take a look at the pipes in higher levels, you might experience stronger waves of nostalgia hitting you back from the good old days of Mario World.

I think the Flappy Bird is rather ugly, but yay pipes!
Dong Nguyen, the Vietnamese guy behind Flappy Bird has been pretty busy with people calling in for interviews and sundry. Given that he does incorporate some standard advertising in the app, I hope he is starting to make some cash. Maybe a next step after this initial success would be to add some in-app purchases to increase his earnings. That way he might have some extra dough to spend on advertisements to try to prolong the lifespan of his game's virality and become bigger.

But first, he must integrate Game Center into the app (he says it's coming soon in the next update) so that players can at least see where they stand. If the game continues to do well, there's room to add social media plugins as well, especially for Facebook, but the server costs can add up so he must be careful in making this consideration.

Flappy Bird is a great example of keeping it simple and focusing on user-interaction. #TeamDong now has the opportunity to incorporate some feedback and improve the game in terms of graphics and design as well. Just continue following your philosophy to keep it simple in terms of graphics as well to keep the size of the game low in your future updates.
I am rather proud of my high score. Post your screenshot if you beat mine!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

My Relocations Through Spammy SMS Texts

Sometimes I think these spammy SMS texts allow me that chance to have a reality check. It has now been more than a year that I've moved out of Karachi but all the spammy texts I received in this period were mostly for services and products based in Karachi. More recently, however, it seems that the spam SMS operators have figured out that I am not in Lahore and the texts I receive now are more for products and services that are Lahore based.

I still remember when I arrived in Karachi from Singapore, like, 4 years ago and reactivated my Lahore number and started using it in Karachi. Back then, there were fewer spammy texts, but because of the number format, perhaps, they figured I was from Lahore and so most of them were for Lahore.

It's almost as if these spammers knew how long it would take for me to get adjusted to the new place I had relocated to, before making their adjustments.

So there you have it - my life relocations through the lens of spammy text messages on my phone. I probably couldn't have picked up a topic that was more odd.

I do wish there was a way to stop these texts though. I've ignored so many important texts from clients, bosses, family and friends because of them that it is ridiculous. Unfortunately, most of them are sent by the telcos themselves, perhaps because they view it as a lucrative marketing activity. But honestly, it really is just spam. Because when you enter my private space, you have violated my sovereignty - yeah, like a drone attack. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Innocence of Muslims, indeed

I think it is ironic how the videomakers have experienced fame at the expense of Muslims’ innocence. The quality of their work is so bad that they would be chased out by rabid dogs if they ever stepped into Hollywood. But not now, I fear.

Now they’re famous – all because of sentimental, ignorant, emotional and passionate Muslims. If you are lost and still don’t know why I am ‘attacking Muslims’, please allow me to try to explain.

There are millions of websites on the Internet that generate content (videos, articles, photos, etc.) through users. With thousands of submissions each day, they usually push the most-liked or most-clicked content to their ‘front’ pages. This means that if you click on a YouTube video a lot, it will be pushed to the main landing page of their site, get noticed and get EVEN more clicks!

A ridiculous attempt at offending Muslims through the ‘movie’ called Innocence of Muslims would probably never have reached the viral potential it has now achieved if offended Muslims had not talked about it, written about it, or signed petition after petition asking for it to be removed. Silence is the best weapon here – the same way you ignore irritating beggars on Kalma Chowk.

Perhaps you and your friends were not stupid enough to search for the video(s) and view them, but the majority of Muslims give in to their curiosity, clicking-through to the video to see “what’s so offensive about it after all.” You might even have stopped watching it after the first minute or so but your ‘view’ has already been counted in the statistics and given the video an additional viral buzz.

I have received an overwhelming amount of invites through Facebook Causes and other badly designed Facebook applications asking me to sign a petition or support a cause by clicking through, but I refuse to comply – because I probably have 1000+ non-Muslim friends on my list, and I don’t want news of the video (or angry Muslims’ protesting violently) to be made known to them.

But my efforts are always in vain. Thousands of Muslims have already protested over the short film by burning tires, and damaging property – even killing a person who had nothing to do with the making of the film. I am worried that some Muslims will kill themselves when they realize they were responsible for the short film to have achieved headlines across the world.

I understand your intentions were genuine – you could do nothing else but raise your voice, but when you raise your voice, some of us get carried away by emotion and do some stupid things. In fact, when you ‘raise your voice’, you fuel the viral spread, and now, because you got upset and shared it with your friends, your friends are upset too, and their friends are probably also upset – and so on and so forth till such videos become #1 on the “most viewed’ lists.

I hope I have managed to make my point. Maybe next time, Muslims – upon seeing or hearing about something offensive to them – will quietly report it, not talk about it and try their level best not to make headlines. I sincerely think that is the best way to avoid such offensive content to be promoted by Muslims themselves.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012