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After a long time, I had the opportunity to visit the Garuda Mall last week. I had a three hour layover between two meetings and I thought it was most apt for me to spend time there and I also had a lot of reasons to visit (I am not an avid shopper though, rather an ever-curious retail student who prefers to watch people buy!).

In just over a month, the sequel Jurassic World Alive hack will roar in theaters, picked up four years after the events of the last film. Owen Grady by Chris Pratt is called back to action on Isla Nublar when a volcano erupts threatening all life on the island. Pratt is currently busy fighting Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, but a great summer blockbuster is not enough for him, since he can now be seen in Jurassic mode on the new cover of Total Film, along with the terrifying new creation of the series: the Indoraptor.
Each Jurassic Park film needs a new monster, and world live is from the Indoraptor, which has recently been causing havoc in the final trailer. A genetic hybrid, the Indus is something like a large Velociraptor, designed to be the best killing machine, what could go wrong? What we are sure of is that the #Indo Raptor will be even more difficult to beat than the previous Indo Rex, the combination between agility and cunning

It was quite easy to reach Garuda – I was coming from Marathalli so, after some twists and turns, finally reached the place. Parking was smooth – found a good spot in Basement 2. Bright Red Advertising from Airtel welcomed while claiming proudly that there were full signals and network there – I didn’t test as I use a Vodafone, but it was a strong communication and reaffirmation of their service, I thought.

Whenever I visit a mall, I usually start from the main entrance – and that’s what I did. Something’s never change – I wondered where these fence sitters come from. I was part of the clan a few years ago and now I am not. It was our favorite spot to sit, smoke, chat, take crucial business decisions, et al. And I found similar instances even now. Bustling of people entering and exiting the mall, continuous but moving traffic on the roads (that have a traffic flow that only the creators would understand) and a light drizzle – a great environment to get parked! But I wasn’t there for that, of course.

Entered the Atrium – again as crowded as ever. There were simultaneous promotions happening – a couple of MCs engaging the crowd with various activities. Walked all along the floors – Marks & Spencer’s announcing their “Final Reductions” and the new Esprit Store attracting a few good shoppers. Westside and Body Shop tucked in their corners and the Swatch island replaced with some popular brand that sells Jewelry and Watches. Nothing much was different in the first and second floors – except some changes in the Brands that occupied earlier who chose to move out – Benetton and Bossini among them. Then walked back to the Ground Floor to enter Shoppers Stop – it was the last day of their “End of Season Sale (upto 51%)” and as always, last minute shopping by busy-bees who had no time to shop earlier.

There is something that this Retailer has done – which probably no one else has in that way. They attract the highest number of footfalls into the Store. The most relevant, the least relevant, the irrelevant, Jack, Jill, Tom, Dick, Harry and Me. Notably, the conversions increase during the Sale, as many shoppers love to take advantage of the season. Am not sure how many hold back their purchases like before – after all EOSS was only twice a year. But this has changed now. With Factory Outlets springing up all over the city and specific shopping districts getting created, the essence of Discount shopping seems to have lost its relevance anymore. So what if one doesn’t shop during the Sale, the Discount Store is a (fun) drive away anyway. I guess EOSS would slowly but surely lose its sheen significantly. Something that’s not so good for Brands, as a tenth of shoppers who visit the stores during the Sale come back to buy merchandise later on. All the three floors were so crowded and as usual, air conditioning not at its best, suffocation was sure in sometime. After visiting almost all corners, I exited back into the second floor.

And noticed there was a near-stampede in one of the shops. Curious enough, when I went close by, I was told that a new Brand was being launched and a mini catwalk being organized inside the 50 sqm store! Wow. No wonder, there were more people outside the store than inside. The event promoters who were standing outside hosting chocolates, snacks and some tit-bits proudly offered and claimed the Brand was doing all this for seeking attention. Fake Customers – I remembered I have read this before. I believe some brands, especially high end fashion brands and some jewelry stores actually bring in fake customers to crowd the outlet, thereby increasing the visual appeal of the Outlet from outside. They don’t buy anything buy generally hang around till such time crowd picks-up. I hope what I read this somewhere was untrue.

Later moved on to the Food court – named Pit Stop. There was nothing sporty or F1 related there but for a rare poster of some racing car or driver. Many of the initial occupants have moved out and some who came later have also moved out. The ones who still continue are either making money marginally or are forced to stay on for other reasons – mere presence being one. Subway and Shiv Sagar (who sells the local snacks) were attracting the highest footfalls – one which offers consistent high quality food and the other, that’s easy on the wallet. The erstwhile fine-dine restaurant has been replaced by another – don’t know if it makes any difference to mall hoppers – after all, the Mall Restaurants are rarely destinations.

And the floor above, INOX Cinemas, was the biggest surprise. Most of the movies on the menu screen were showing green – indicating that seats were still available for the upcoming shows, even for the latest hits across all languages – Kannada, Hindi and Tamil. Wonder, if people are shunning the cinema halls mainly because of the content or other fears such as H1N1 or if the “recession effect” had still not reduced. Whichever way, the “once-busy long queue” sight of the Box Office (the ticket counter) looked deserted – with very few aspirational ones standing for tickets.

Overall, the Mall looked an old wine in a new box… errr, bottle. Lot’s more needs to be done – to attract shoppers to this place; to begin with, better maintenance of rest rooms and orderly car parking at reasonable rates. Remember, a new one is in the making, giving final touches at Malleswaram.

Coffee Conversations…

It’s almost a year since I started writing this column – recording my own observations about the Retail Industry as well as analyzing and interpreting decisions and actions of Retailers and their activities. I must admit that I have acquired a lot of admirers and a few critics on the way – not on a personal note but more on a professional stance. To make your reading more interesting, I am introducing a new column titled “Coffee Conversations”. In this section, I seek answers for queries that I have from Industry experts and stalwarts, while also discussing my own thoughts about the same. This is not mainline journalism – and I am not a journalist. Nor are those who opine spokespersons of their respective organizations. They are mere professionals who share their thoughts on certain specific topics.

The first such column is about the recent advertising fiasco featuring the world’s best known Ice-Cream Retailer and one of the most respected agencies. Many of you would know the fauxpas already – the agency communicated on a signage that entry to the newly launched store was “restricted only to holders of international passports”. What they meant was something else but this irked the Indian sensibilities almost immediately and what followed was brand bashing – offline and online. They say “Any publicity is good publicity” but I guess this is the last the Brand would have wanted even as they move into one of the toughest consumer markets in the world. The agency has been removed from the services of the company with immediate effect and it is yet to be seen what happens next.

I spoke to my good friend Akshay Ananth, a young and energetic advertising professional who leads the Client Servicing Division for one of the best known agencies in the world, which is also the most popular and respected one in India. Excerpts from the conversations that we had recently over coffee:

Shriram (SS): Tell me Akshay, how important is the role of the Advertising agency to get into the DNA of the Retailer or the Brand, especially if it is new in the Indian market?

Akshay Ananth(AA): Whether the brand is old or new it needs someone to communicate with the consumer. It’s the agency that does it right now. The whole idea of an agency is to talk the consumer’s language as opposed to manufacturer speak. Some of the best brands have been created by the agencies. E.g. BBH raised Johnnie Walker to where it is now. Lemon, Axe, McDonald’s. The list goes on.

SS: Is it important for the Retailer/Brand to engage the agency at a very early stage – say, even when the Brand plans to enter the country?

AA: Yes absolutely, the brand that will win the war over minds is the one that makes the consumers tell the right story. If the entry itself provides a story, why not?

SS: Is the agency solely responsible for all internal and external communication that goes out? What about the Brand Management Team?

AA: When s**t hits the roof, somebody has to be holding the can – accolades to the brand team and all s**t to the agency. It’s a hurting fact but its true… Globally.

SS: When there is a result that is not the most desirable (like in this example), what is the stance that the agency and the Brand should take? Defensive? Mud-slinging? Does sacking and replacing the agency help?

AA: I guess there are two things here, do the due diligence (also get someone to wear the black hat) and the second is, get a crisis plan ready.

Mud-slinging is our national sport, so I guess that’s good entertainment. Other than that, if you do not stick with each other thru thick and thin, what team are you? Firing the agency was a knee jerk reaction and an easy one. I would have started with firing the brand manager.

SS: What happens with the image of the Brand? Is it true that Consumers forget and forgive? Can you cite some examples?

AA: Yes, to a great extent. With all the clutter in the consumer space, nobody is an Einstein. People do have very short memories today and a lot of brands to take advantage of this fact. For examples, I will only say Lexus, Mattel and Cadburys & Pepsi.

SS: Last words of wisdom for Brand Managers?

AA: The agency is not your slave, but a partner. If you treat as a slave, like all slaves it will run at the first sign of trouble. A partner will see a problem and solve it, have a back up plan or atleast stick with you. Additionally, clients that treat agencies like dirt always end up paying the price. They see attrition rates shoot through the sky from the other end.

Only one word of wisdom to the agency crowd: one of my bosses was fond of saying: “client ke client ko samjho”, believe me, this piece of advice is invaluable.

Thank you, Akshay for your time and keep up the great work. Best Wishes for your future endeavors. Cheers.