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Exclusive Extract: The Motorola pagers story

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Exclusive Extract:  The Motorola pagers story

Veteran ad person Sunil Gupta’s much-awaited book, ‘Living on ‘Adge’ in Jhandewalan Thompson’, is set to be published by Roli Books later this week. Starting December 7, 2009 till the launch in New Delhi on Thursday, December 10, exchange4media brings you exclusive extracts from the book.

Our next story is about Motorola Pagers (don’t tell me you’ve forgotten them!) It started when the Bombay office was assigned the account (how we wished later that they’d kept it) but it then moved to us in Delhi as the client moved here. Actually, I must confess that initially we were all quite taken by this advent of ‘technology’ in our lives. We felt that at last we were in the up-to-the-minute league and that even in jolly old JhandeWalan we’d somehow sprout antennae and suchlike symbols of a brave new world.

We were also seduced by Motorola’s spiel about pagers and mobile phones being complementary and the two things no CEO worth his third martini could afford to be without. Apparently people in more advanced countries, especially the top pops, carried a pager so that they could, well, be paged, and a phone so that they could call back those they wanted to, or some such contorted logic. Not much use if the office was falling down, but then the definition of ‘advanced’ doesn’t include logic.

This behavioural pattern, felt Motorola, would be replicated by our Indian CEOs, and then followed by their minions in a bid to keep up with the Beepers. However, unfortunately for them, and us, besides the fact that one needed phones to call pagers, and the telecom revolution was still years away, two parallel trends took the beep out of the pager market: the first was that mobile phones were just around the corner, and the second, but far more sinister, was the fact that courier and messenger boys were the first to start using pagers.

Boom. That was it. There was no way that captains of industry, or even a midshipman like Mahinder would be seen champing in Chambers with a pager. Strange, isn’t it? Today, no one feels it infra-dig to have a phone that beep-beeps every two minutes, and ring-tones and caller-tunes that display musical leanings that would shame a teenager in Majnu Ka Tila, but in 1995 carrying a pager was a certain route to disrepute.

This did not dissuade Motorola from pursuing this visionary Camelot with dogged zeal. There were two acquaintances who were in charge of Motorola marketing (again, I use the word loosely): Rahul Verghese, brother of an old Mission College batchmate, Vijay Verghese, and Rajive Chandra, ex-HMM.

‘Dogged’ is the mot juste (I thought quite a lot before typing it in) because both of them displayed an admirable stubbornness in ignoring the reality that was paging them daily. I did expect this from Rajive, who we called the ‘brand custodian’ of Horlicks when he was there, reminding one rather of the guy who ensured that Guinevere put on the chastity belt and then stood guard outside her door, but I did think that Rahul would have been somewhat different.

I think, however, that the pressures of selling a product whose beep was destined to fade away like an aging roué are such that even level-headed people get rattled, and perhaps even desperate, because they know in their heart of hearts that the time’s up. When this happens, the agency is the first to feel the heat, because the easiest thing to do is to say that the communication isn’t doing its job.

The heat remained on us till 1996 or thereabouts. During that time, Rahul was transferred abroad (no doubt in gratitude), Rajive went off to Bombay as the mobile phones’ account moved back there, and our bills went all over the place (another example of the flailing MNC creating employment for those hanging around by insisting that we send our bills/estimates in quintuplet, and will then only pay if we get all the copies signed and stamped by all concerned, and some completely unconcerned, collate them and send them to a sixth party who’ll enter all into a ledger and then send them to Saskatchewan for payment).

Consider this to be Parkinson’s Twentieth Law: bureaucracy increases as sales decrease.

Now I’m going to jump the time-frame gun in the interests of continuity. After the first round of shuffling the pack was over, a certain Ajay Sachdeva was brought in from Canada to try and make the pager market for Motorola beep again. His assistant happened to be a lady named Shuchi Bhargava, lately of O&M, and so should have known better, but as we have seen, becoming a client does strange things to one’s id, ego, and superego combined.

Anyhow, Ajay, who looked a bit like a halibut with a sinus problem, and Shuchi, whose ample décolletage formed an impressive and eye-catching archway on whichever side of the table she leant (she had to), decided that enough was enough and that they had to dump all the errors and false starts of their predecessors and show the agency what was what.

Ajay, therefore, called me and asked for a full-fledged meeting with the entire team on a Saturday, as he wanted no disturbances and wanted to ‘make the entire position and marketing plan absolutely clear so that there would be no confusion’ in our minds, so that we could then go off, deliriously grateful for the clarity, and develop the magic campaign that would make pagers fly off the shelves.

I must make it absolutely clear that our actions in the next series of events were driven only by a sense of immense futility bordering on despair. Over the past few years, we had developed so many campaigns for them, that short of positioning pagers as contraceptives, we had covered all possible bases. Every time a new brand manager came in, he’d announce himself as the saviour of the brand, and want us to start again from scratch.

However, as usually happens when clients are unsure of themselves and all market indicators suggest that nothing will really work for the brand, no decisions were ever taken as to communication, though we were exhorted repeatedly with word and gesture to ‘come up with something creative’. No doubt they were hoping that we would come up with the equivalent of some pager Viagra that would lift them to dizzy heights of success. Therefore, as I’m sure you’ll understand, we were loath to run the same old gauntlet again.

We duly arrive at the Motorola office on the Saturday. Ajay is there looking like a determined halibut, and Shuchi is as determinedly propping up the table. His symbol of ‘life is stern and today’s the day to dispense with all the earlier nonsense’ is a blackboard, on which he has drawn all manner of diagrams and flow-charts that look suspiciously like the ones our bills go through. Mukul Kansal is the CSD on the account, and we’ve also formulated our plan of action, which is to carry all the campaign layouts we’ve ever done for them (and which have never seen the light of even a pager screen), and which we’ve classified and numbered according to benefit, target group, features, and any other dimension we can think of. We put the pile of layouts under the table. Ajay looks suspiciously at them but we smile beatifically and he decides to get on with the brief.

He then proceeds to regurgitate everything that we have been subjected to over the past 2-3 years, and then painstakingly and one by one, strikes out the routes he believes are unworthy of him. Finally, with the air of a triumphant fencer who’s warded off a series of dastardly foes, he stabs with a chalk (actually he underlines, but with such force it looks as if he’s stabbing it) the route he thinks will motor Motorola up the path of glory.


He looks at Shuchi.

She emphatically rearranges her frontispiece.

He looks at us, as if expecting us to break down in tears at having finally been shown the path to paging heaven.

I look at Mukul, and then say: ‘Mukul, please take out campaign 13 B.’

He does so. I put them in front of Ajay.

It is exactly what Ajay has been regaling us with for the past few hours, and what he has said he wants.

We’d done it about a year ago, before he arrived on the scene. There is a long silence.

He looks as if he’s undergone a particularly painful operation for sinusitis, which has caused his tonsils to freeze, because he then makes a series of strangled sounds that we cannot decipher.

Shuchi looks as if she’ll faint, which is rather alarming as it’ll need more than chalk to revive her.

Actually, I feel sorry for them. They’re on a hiding to nothing, because nothing will save the pager market, and perhaps their jobs.

Extracted with permission of the writer and the publisher
Living on the ‘Adge’ in Jhandewalan Thompson
By Sunil Gupta
Publisher: Roli Books
Pages: 480, Price (paperback): Rs 395


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