I was quite stirred by the ode paid to Stephen Hawking last week by the Star TV Network. @starindia inundated social media the day Hawking passed away by replacing its own logo with a symbolic Black Hole and a simple message, “The brightest star of our times has left us, and left behind a Black Hole. To celebrate the life of Stephen Hawking we are changing our logo display here to a symbolic Black Hole for today.” #RIPStephenHawking #SaluteToAStar. How thoughtful. How touching. It got quite a bit of traction on social media that day but I was still a bit disappointed that it did not get more.
That left me wondering on whether 1. Not enough people knew Stephen Hawking? 2. Worse, not enough people in Indian media knew about Stephen Hawking? 3. Not enough people actually cared about who he was or what he did. My measured response to all three questions is yes, yes and yes. Stephen Hawking, who? His book, A Brief History of Time may have appeared on the British Sunday Times best seller list for a record breaking 237 weeks but none of the dozen friends I called that day had ever purchased it or read it. Are all my friends ignorant, I wondered. Or is Haruki Murakami more our kind of stuff today? Would we rather spend an evening reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage than worry ourselves about gravitational singularity theorems in the framework of general relativity and the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation whether we are in the media business or not? Methinks it is alright to prefer Dance Dance Dance over Black Holes. But still Hawking was a legend and the Star TV Network homage was really touching.
Which brings me to the question: why did Star TV put out the obit-memorial if its kind of audience didn’t give a damn? To win awards? For peer appreciation? Because Star TV Network have a higher IQ than other media organizations? Because social media is a good place to look good? Someone at Star TV Network had actually bought a copy of A Brief History of Time and read it? Or JLT (Just Like That)?
No, no, no. Not true. Star TV does take these things seriously. Star TV had actually gone the full 22 yards in 2016, in the last ODI with New Zealand, when the broadcaster came up with the great gesture of the players having their mother's name printed on the back of their jerseys instead of their own names or their father's surnames. In the campaign, Dhoni's jersey had his mother Devaki's name printed on the back, Kohli was seen wearing the jersey with his mother Saroj's name displayed, while Rahane's jersey had his mother Sujata's name at the back. It was a practical demonstration of Star’s then brand positioning, Nayi Soch and Star said that since it had always put women first, told their stories, it was now all set to take the narrative to the next level – by challenging orthodoxy and stereotypes that come in the way of progress for women. I thought the entire campaign was very laudable. I did not see the full impact of it as I was in London at that time and could gauge its success only based on media coverage which was pretty good.
The moot question therefore is why do more brands not do more stuff that touches us all? A little out of the box. Sometimes populist like the mothers’ name on jerseys; sometimes more intellectual like Hawking and his Black Hole. Or do they just not care? They would rather produce mindless films on Mother’s Day or Women’s Day and do stuff that is clichéd. And predictable. And boring. And senseless.
Star TV: keep up the good stuff. Don’t let lack of traction or understanding bother you. A good idea is as much about goodness as being a good idea in itself. The social media flash on Hawking was a commendable one. We need more such stuff that stimulates. Not always stuff that titillates.
(Carol Goyal is a freelance writer who covers a wide variety of subjects with her nib and paper.)