Vinay Kanchan
Jan 04, 2011

Opinion: Of the fascination and obsession with numbers

Vinay Kanchan is a brand consultant and author of 'The Madness Starts at 9'

Opinion: Of the fascination and obsession with numbers

Pitamaha Bheeshma exploited an insight into the human mind, when he offered the Kauravs that he would kill a lakh odd other soldiers every day, but would not slay any of the Pandavas.
Numbers entice, fascinate and overwhelm. At times they override judgment.
Right from the moment India perhaps institutionalised the numbers race (courtesy Aryabhatta and his invention of the zero) to the present day, numbers have maintained their stranglehold on human thinking.

Schooling children suffer an ‘apartheid of numbers’, as grades often govern the manner in which peers and elders classify them. Young people benchmark popularity basis number of ‘friends’ on their profiles or the giga bytes at disposal with their favorite hand held devices.
People take additional efforts to give children names having precisely those numbers of letters in them. They go have license plates and phone numbers which seem to ring true.
There is the perennial fixation with the waist and other anatomy related sizes. Your weight is a number that never ceases to haunt your sanity.

Health has become a numbers report card. The concept of well being has poured an entire stream of new numbers into our consciousness.

The Sensex is an index which might find a high correlation with blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The cricket score is a number which relentlessly interrupts the working day. Today, the experience of consuming cricket in many ways in indicative of how much this malaise is rampant. For from the time a batsman walks in or a bowler takes the ball in his hand, we are inundated with countless statistics which offer a historical precedent to what might unfold.

In Olympic Games and the like there are medal tallies. In football crazy cultures, there are league standings, points accrued, goal differences etc.

The Media and News industry is constantly toying with what is the maximum number of inputs that the viewer can actually digest on screen. Hence the flurry of scrollers, pop ups and other intrusive elements that might make most self respecting art directors raise an irate eyebrow.
The Corporate world also really has been largely all about numbers.

Despite Tom Peter’s exhortation about no worthwhile vision having anything to do with numbers, most strategic initiatives start with quantitative targets in mind. There are market shares, sales numbers and employee turnover ratios. There are stock prices and exchange rates monitored on a secondly basis and these are just a meager few of the numerals involved.

At a personal level in the corporate world, people flaunt the number of people reporting in to them, to the mandates, territories and departments under their command. Individual worth at the company is often benchmarked by the number of zeroes on the paycheck.

Somewhere this ubiquitous exposure to numbers has been exploited by brand marketers as well.
There are claims about one brand being more effective than its competitor, say, by 14.5%. This almost assumes that some poor misguided soul somewhere is sitting with a pad patiently in hand, his sole purpose in life being the wait for that statistic to arrive.

Then there is the trick clubbing of inane benefits into neat ‘number sensitive magic lots’ like 3, 5, 7 and 10. For some strange reason, we seem to care more about low value purchases and copiously pay attention to the laundry list of these benefits (supposedly). And yet seem comfortable with no rationale supplied at all when it comes to extremely high ticket items.

Brands love loading consumers with the number of years they have been in business to the vast multitude of consumers that are satisfied with them. Some point towards the proportion of category experts that are smiling their way. Others drone on the number of countries where their very name sends an expectant shiver down consumer spines. And this list is just beginning 

Within a world where nations seem to be consumed by figures, there is the inspiring example of Bhutan which measures the gross national happiness of its citizens. Even within the numbers race there are lessons to learn.

I could go on, but I restrict myself to just so many words per post…

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