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Not every observation leads to insights, says Santosh Desai of Futurebrands

On Day 2 of ZeeMelt, Desai spoke with Melt Editor Anant Rangaswami about culture and its role in advertising

Santosh Desai

Looking at the past is a very important way to understand the present, said Santosh Desai, MD and CEO, Futurebrands Consulting, during a session titled ‘Dirty Soap, Documenting Culture and using it’ on Day-2 of the annual conference ZeeMelt. He spoke about the everyday culture we see around and explained how it is an invisible lens that people share.

Quoting Krishna Kumar from his book ‘The memory of coming to life’ Desai said, “Think of culture as a soap, which rinses away the impurities that result from the daily struggle of living; miraculously the soap is made up of the used dirty rinsed water.”

Desai gave various examples of cultural observations around us and spoke about brands that are based on the ever-changing culture. He spoke elaborately about Lenskart and explained how the brand is based on the changed attitude and outlook of people towards eyewear.

“Historically, it (eyewear) has been a traditional category driven by opticians. It is about precision and science. This was a very clear, small world with its kind of code. It was almost like going to a doctor. It had an air of seriousness about it. The idea or culture around glasses/spectacle has been associated with seriousness, studios, behaviour. As a consequence, you found that all the brands echoed this.”

“However, the world is changing. If you look at it today…you will find that our identities have become multiple, they have become fluid. Look at people’s bios on Twitter and Instagram. No one is describing themselves in one way; you will describe yourself in at least seven-eight different ways,” he said.

“Eyewear, as a result, is really about expressing identity and multiplicity; you're experimenting with who you are. That became the central story for Lenskart. Beginning with the identity, which was the logo, the infinity sign: to signify a completely a new language for the category. Even the films channelled this with a person trying different looks and getting different reactions. The notion of experimenting with who you are and how you appear became the heart of the brand. It came from not any other place but purely by reading cultural shifts,” Desai said.

The importance of traveling to observe cultural shifts

During the conversation, Anant Rangaswami, Editor, Melt, spoke about his experience of travelling to Prayagraj with his team and observing the people, food, spending habits and behaviour there.

Desai said travel is important because it gives you a first-hand feel, and you're able to see things that otherwise you would have no access to. He said they have understood this as a team and carry out an exercise called Bharat Darshan, travelling in teams across the country over three weeks. “This is not for any client and this is not for syndicating and selling research. This is purely for self-education,” Desai said.

He said while there is no particular pattern to note cultural differences, people must observe articulate symbols and not every observation leads to insights. “Look at what is being advertised; the gender ratio on streets in the evening, whether men and women are travelling together or separately. Look at hairstyles, look at fashion, look at clothes. Shop signs are a great way to look at what change is happening. You'll find an enormous amount of material that comes out of such stuff,” he said.

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