Pizza Do-Pyaza

I love Pizza, but I never used to find anything fancy about it. It was a simple recipe: grab a flat pie of bread circular in shape, spread cheese & tomato paste and throw in vegetables, maybe some processed cold meat too. Bake it in an oven and there you have a pizza. Well, not quite … you might argue! The pizza, in today’s avatar, is much more than just a simple snack. It’s a foundation on which innovative ideas are being applied, and a few million rupees of advertising bucks too.

More than a decade back, when I tasted the pizza for the first time, it was at a small bakery in New Delhi. When I took the first bite, there was lightening in the sky and time stood still. Well, not really! But yes, I had my first pizza at a neighborhood bakery and honestly, I don’t remember the experience clearly so I guess it wasn’t anything extraordinary. But I do remember that I grew to be very fond of baking pizza at home. It was a simple recipe and the end-product was interesting too. I remember treating my sister to many a home-burnt slices of Pizza. The microwave hadn’t come out in the market back then and we had the conventional oven in which it was difficult to figure out when the temperature got too hot.

Since then, I’ve seen numerous creative brains trying to do things to the good old pizza and making consumers pay for their creativity. The mission, should anyone choose to accept it, was to sell the Pizza in India. And so, the fun began.

First they saw the pizza base: plain Jane & not sexy at all. Mr. A attempted to change the pizza base from circular to square and renaming it to Pizza sandwich. It didn’t work. Then Mr. B figured that the pizza base lacked identity, and tried to stuff it’s insides with cheese. That impressed people but made the pizza base feel very sad & bloated. Mr. C took a clue from that and figured out that if veggies get to eat pizza base stuffed with cheese, non-veggies deserve chicken in the base. The bones were spoiling the shape of the base, so they decided to go with Chicken Ham. Mr. D noticed that the pizza base was putting on weight so came up with the idea of thinning it down, and so the Thin Crust was born. The pizza base today feels insecure in our country and is fast losing its original identity. Then they saw the cheese and tomato and alas, it failed to impress them much. They moved on to the toppings next and instantly saw vegetables. “If Vegetables are fresh, so will be the pizza”. A great idea, and they tried to create a brand called Freshizza. Then one fine day, a regular guy was cooking up a quick meal at home and realized that all he had in his refrigerator was a pizza base and leftovers from last night. He put his culinary skills to test & Eureka!!!: the idea of Indian pizzas was born … Tandoori aloo Pizza, the Murg Makhani Pizza etc. I’m sure that the road that lies ahead promises an adventurous ride on a plate (literally), the Fat Man predicts that Samosas and Dhoklas will soon make appearances on your Pizza.

Well, the Pizza is not a very complex product and numerous diversifications had been tried already. What remained was the price & presentation. Massive wars have been fought between competitors on these two fronts. Carefully laid out combo deals, discount coupons, Happy hours, guaranteed in-time home delivery: it’s amusing to watch that majority of the marketing campaigns don’t talk about the product at all. But they do guarantee that they will deliver in 40 minutes, whether or not the toppings arrive on the pizza base or piled-up in the corner of the box. They do claim that you will get 4 pizzas in 200 bucks, the pizza base may be stale though. There will be 9 toppings on the pizza, but did someone mention what quantity of each.

In the war for selling Pizza, each brand has established its own brand image and corresponding place in the market too. Some brands have the infrastructure to deliver a decent product at a high cost though, but they are too fascinated by Indianizing the Pizza. Someone else has an OK product but doesn’t offer a dine-in; home delivered pizza when reheated in a Microwave doesn’t taste as good. Someone else sells awful stale pizzas but priced cheap, if that makes you happy. When you find that the product is satisfactory, pricing is right, taste is authentic, you come to know that the chain doesn’t have a budget to print menu fliers; you have to take pains to connect to the Internet & refer the menu on their website while ordering for home delivery. Makes you wonder whether that’s a strategy too … working for their rivals maybe.

Marketing wars between competitors is expected and natural too. But, ruining the product’s identity in order to sell is pure manipulation.

One of the many definitions of Marketing is “the commercial processes involved in promoting and selling and distributing a product or service”. When marketing begins to influence the product’s identity, it crosses the line principally, even though it might manage to sell. The true test of marketing is to sell a product as-is, without distorting it. If we have to convert the good old pizza to a product that has a base stuffed with rice & rajmah and topped with daal makhni and shahi paneer …. well, then we should accept that either the product or the market segment being targeted is not quite right. If the consumer wants Rice, rajmah, daal makhni and shahi paneer, you can give the customer what he wants and save My-Dear-Pizza the sacrilege.

Look beyond the Pizza and you will start to see a similar trend all around. International chains like Subway & McDonalds have a prominent Indian section in their menu. Some see it as a positive thing for the Indian cuisine, but is it really so? An Indian restaurant becoming popular in the west may be something positive, but indianizing international cuisine to reach out to volumes: definitely not.

The Fat Man likes the good old pizza and loves Tandoori Chicken too, but Tandoori Chicken on Pizza, No Thanks!

Munnabhai, Vinamrata and The Macho Indian man

First things first, Munnabhai and Circuit ROCK, and so does their creator Rajkumar Hirani. The series started with a “Gangster goes to Medical school” storyline, which took the country by storm and metamorphized Munnabhai & Circuit from screenplay characters to a Brand. The Brand’s identity is now further strengthened with the sequel Lage Raho Munnabhai, which thoroughly stimulates your appetite, and leaves you wanting for more. LRMB is an example of effective story-telling and Hirani has very beautifully managed to deliver age-old Gandhian principles in a package that people can identify with.
I must admit though that based on what I see around me, I did feel that the movie might land up in trouble soon with some political group asking for a ban on it. Strangely, for some reason, everyone has accepted the “Gandhi-giri” sportingly and I do wish people would stop telling us what we can or cannot watch.I watched LRMB twice on the same day and each time, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and never for a moment felt the 3 hours pass by. This, in a way, symbolizes the repeat-business potential of the product. To appreciate it deeply, you should try comparing it with an average product experience, like any Emraan Hashmi movie, and Voila, you instantly see the Magic woven by Hirani & team.In the movie, Gandhiji teaches and proves to Munnabhai that Vinamrata (Politeness) and Ahimsa (Non-violence) can work in today’s world too. Well, if you take that teaching out-of-the-movie and into-your-life, you start seeing that these principles do work, albeit, with persistence. The problem is, over these years, society has started associating arrogance and a short temper with Machismo. We see that no matter where the Indian man is, he wants to start a fight and win it too. The typical Indian man today is not as conscious of being right, as he is of delivering the first and last blow to his opponent. And when I use the term “Indian man”, I do so with deliberation since things aren’t the same in the west, where macho men are not necessarily considered desirable.As Gandhiji said in the movie, accepting your mistake takes more strength than fighting and winning a battle where you’re in the wrong. How many real-life examples have we seen of people coming ahead and accepting they are wrong? It surely does take strength and when you come across a person who has the guts to do so, you get a really positive vibe. A wave of such transformation has the potential of saving so much energy and so many lives; lives that are lost in incidents of rivalry, road rage and many such situations of conflict, aggression and confrontation.

Politeness isn’t cowardice and I’m happy to know there are many people who agree. The climate is right for Munnabhai-2, and it’s proven by the news pouring in …. “Books on Gandhiji flyingoff the shelf since LRMB was released”, “Munnabhai-2 made tax-free in delhi”… the magic seems to be working so …. Lage Raho Munnabhai!

So…Do you Blog?

Well, I’ve been asked this question a couple of times. My reply’s always been in the negative but each and every time, the question has surely made me think. Why should I blog? Or rather why do people blog? Logic instantly provides the following answers:

  • To air one’s opinions.
  • To have a living identity online, which is more than a profile and less than a website.
  • To solicit feedback or bounce thoughts off an open audience

Each time that I’ve thought about this, I couldn’t relate with any of these reasons enough to start blogging. But last week, I was discussing this with a friend at work. When I asked her the same question, the reply was something I could instantly identify with. She said writing maintaining a Blog is like maintaining a diary; you write to capture your thoughts and feelings. The only difference between the traditional diary and the new-age Blog is that a diary is private and a Blog essentially is public, though you could very well write some things and not make them public.

That made sense but it got me thinking on another level. The purpose of writing is to communicate, so then why do people write diaries? Anyone who’s ever maintained a diary would vouch for the fact that putting something down on paper relieves you instantly. Why is it so? Does it have something to do with the fact that when we’re carrying out a complex thinking process, we find that it helps to scribble on a paper or white board. People who design (mechanical parts or devices or software) often find that simple tools like a pen and a paper aid the thought process. More often that not, people don’t put down sentences or bullet points when they’re thinking, rather they draw shapes and diagrams.

Closer to the work area, we often see that when you get people into a room to brainstorm, a lot of interesting ideas come up. And brainstorming is most effective when everyone sticks by the thumb rule: when you get an idea, state it immediately, don’t validate and re-validate it. This may have something do with the fact that it’s the nature of creative ideas to pop up unexpected and not seem feasible at first sight. Once you stop questioning their feasibility, the approach starts becoming clearer. Probably, that’s why creative thinking is called thinking out-of-the-box. So, Writing or expressing yourself surely helps you think clearly.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend Steve Bender’s Project Management Plus workshop. Once of the work-management techniques discussed in the workshop was a best practice of recording notes (whether in writing or talking to a Dictaphone) at the end of the day. You can then read/listen to previous day’s notes before you start your next day. This, according to Steve, helps on two accounts:

  1. It helps you download your thoughts before your get home. So you tend to stop thinking about work problems after you’ve downloaded them.
  2. Most of the time, when you’re persisting your mental state and reloading it the next morning, you get fresh ideas and solutions.

Another practice which works on the same lines is talking to someone about a problem, you feel light even if that someone has no idea of the complete picture. The person listening just has to be a good listener and the conversation almost always has a relieving effect on the person talking. The age old saying “Baat karne se dil ka bojh halka hota hai” (You tend to feel light if you talk to someone about a problem)So expression, it seems, in whatever form it manifests, helps you see things in perspective and aids clarity of thought. So I’m convinced now, ‘cos these things do make sense.

The Fat Man shall talk and maybe he’ll become lighter in the process :D!