By Sharan Saikumar

sharan saikumar cartoonWhen friends from college take a trip down memory lane I’m usually thrown off for the ride. The reason: I have selective memory. Large chunks of life, not just episodes or lectures, have been deleted so firmly that friends figure it’s no fun telling me about the time Momo climbed the light pole at midnight because I’m bound to ask: What pole? Who Momo?

So it came as somewhat of a shocker to me when out of the blue I remembered – of all things – the title of a class presentation. It was ‘ Behavior Changing GRPs’- which fascinated me a decade ago. This bright young man (still bright though not young anymore) argued that a campaign can trigger the desired behavior change only if it garners a threshold of GRPs.

The threshold levels of course differ in each category depending on consumer, clutter and other such nonsense. He was implying, in other words, that change is a function of repetition.

We all know what happened to that line of thinking. A new dawn presented a more pain in the ass consumer who now said – don’t just TELL ME, INVOLVE me. Well…. Fine! Marketers quickly fell in line with this and we unleashed reams of unimaginative BTL campaigns & the much-maligned 360 plan. Our learning curve obviously wasn’t fast enough because while we were coming up with our insipid interactive ideas, it appears that the consumer has once again (without informing us) upgraded himself.

Volkswagon, through its new initiative thefuntheory.com ( yeah I know theory and fun in the same sentence is a bit oxymoronic but such is life) believes behavior change (for the better) is adopted when change is made fun. Excuse me? Yes – that F-word has left youth hostels and invaded corporate boardrooms. And possibly, corridors of social governance.

Thefuntheory.com takes up serious (but mildly boring) issues like environment cleanliness and turns it into a raging fun fair. Apparently people can be made to clean garbage if the garbage can is animated. People can be made to take the stairs over the escalator if the steps are musicated (if this is not a word then it should be). OK, so if we go on in this vein… can voter turnout improve if your voting booth allowed you to throw rotten e-tomatoes at corrupt candidates? Can the birthdate be improved in, say, New Zealand (or any such empty country) if we advocate sex on a trampoline with twinkling lights? Oh, it’s tempting to take this to absurder levels but we’d be missing the point – that this tricky consumer has done it again!

He has upped the ante from Involve me… to AMUSE ME. (The cheek, I say! What’s the bugger going to say next – PAY ME?) But fun is tough. Especially if you’re a stiff upper lip bank with absolutely no sense of humor or a pharmaceutical company burdened with the responsibility of saving mankind. Can you imagine a bespectacled banker breaking into a loony tune if you contribute Rs 5 to the Presidents Flood Relief Fund? Or birth control pills in India (or any such overflowing country) coming in all colors of the rainbow and a fun pill pop box?

And now that we’re in the question mode: what the hell is a car company doing anyway talking about fun? Maybe it’s the launch of a new car with an in-built dustbin that thanks you when you fling in your empty coffee cup or a steering wheel embedded with piano keys to give background tunes to the choicest abuses?

Now that is serious fun. Not some Momo climbing some freaking light pole and probably getting fried in the bargain.

Though steamed is always healthier.