I was at a bar in Gurgaon with a couple of guys of similar vintage. We were tripping on some old numbers cranked up by the live band. It was interesting to see a sudden excitement amongst the youngsters in the crowd on hearing the opening bars of Wish you were here and Hotel California. One was written in 1975, the other in 1977 – when these kids weren’t even a gleam in their parents’ eyes.
Cut to a weekly column in The Hinduwhere people write about their all-time favourite movies. Last week’s column was by a student. Three of his five favourites – Apocalypse Now, Aguirre and Seven Samurai – were made way before he was born.
This is not just about the younger generation suddenly discovering the magic of a bygone era. It is even more pronounced in our 30-plus set.
Why is it that we still remember Sunil Gavaskar’s 96 at Bangalore in 1987 in dramatic detail, but have a hazy recollection of Murali Vijay’s 95 in the 2011 IPL final? Why is Munni Badnaam Hui fading from public memory while Piya Tu Ab Toh Aaja is belted out (at varying levels of incompetence) at karaoke nights? Why do we go into raptures recalling Borg vs. McEnroe at the 1980 Wimbledon, but just can’t remember the finalists of the 2010 Australian Open?
Has quality slipped badly? Is nothing memorable being created nowadays? Or are we suffering from a collective Ghajini-like attack of short-term memory loss?
I believe the answer lies elsewhere. I think we remember, cherish and idolise the classics because they were never marketed as classics. They are the products of authentic, grass-root social networking.
They came to life, luckily, in an era where the marketing juggernaut of today just didn’t exist. Unburdened by hyperbole, they slowly gained popularity and scale purely on their inherent ability to get people talking.
Each of these classics was “discovered” by true aficionados. We all remember friends who would hold forth on why Ritwik Ghatak was better than Ray and what made Madan Mohan more versatile than the rest of his ilk. These guys were looked up to, and their opinions mattered.
It would then trickle down to the rest. Discussed and recounted across college canteens and office corridors; heard on static-ridden transistors and cassette players, the stories became legends, the songs became anthems and the movies became cult classics as they wove themselves into the collective consciousness of their generation. They then got passed from senior to junior, big brother to little brother, generation to generation.
This was, in actual practice, what all social media marketers aim for today. The ability to spot (or even plant) a “seed”, that fosters a “tribe” and eventually becomes a “herd”
This osmotic process largely resulted in the good elements seeping through the semi-permeable membrane of our minds, while the mediocre stuff fell by the wayside in a process of natural selection.
In sharp contrast today is the barrage of overhype. Every movie is an “epic”. Every song is a “chartbuster”, played incessantly on TV, Radio, YouTube and ringtones even before the movie is released. Everything is shared, liked, re-tweeted and buried… all within a couple of weeks.
It’s a sad case of premature exultation, leading to a short-lived high and a hollow emptiness thereafter.
There is no thrill of discovery. The omnipresence of media, which brought everyone to a level playing field, also shrunk the gap between the aficionado and the rest. The “seed” either becomes a “herd” instantaneously, or perishes a still-born.
What’s worse, this “15-seconds-of-fame” plague pulls everything down to the same common denominator. The absence of osmotic filtration leads to an indiscriminate flushing out of both good and bad in a relentless surge of media noise.
The challenge for marketers is to leverage the omnipotent capabilities of social media while resisting the heady rush of instant fame. With more information, insights and channels available than ever before, we have the opportunity to identify the aficionados, provide them meaningful contexts to discover what we have to offer and platforms to share it – on their terms and at their pace. We could ruin it all by hustling them. Patience and discretion, as always,are the key.