Thursday, May 31, 2012

Satyamev Jayate, Mr. Aamir Khan !

I think there would be over a million blogs and articles written on Satyamev Jayate. Most of them have praised the show and Aamir Khan, and some of them were typical cynics. It was quite obvious that people find it difficult to accept honesty these days. "Nobody is honest" sounds truer than saying "Mr. X may be honest".

I was invited to one of the episodes of Satyamev Jayate that dealt with dowry. The research team of SMJ found that dowry as a practice doesnt exist in the culture and traditions of the people of the Northeast India. I gave the Assamese perspective to that debate.

After interacting with Aamir and his team for 2 days, I see myself completely enamoured by Aamir Khan, his team and the concept of Satyamev Jayate.

Aamir Khan is genuine, hardworking, creative and meticulous. Above all, he is humane and he is an active member of the society. By being active, I mean that he is not oblivious to the good and the bad things happening in the society. Like many of us, he and his thoughts are not cocooned within the limits of his family, friends and profession. He feels part of a greater society of people irrespective of religion, caste, creed and social/economic status.

In Satyamev Jayate, he is practically using his celebrity status, money, influence to a good cause. It is an example of 'popularity being put to better use'.

Let me mention some of my observations that amazed me and made me a fan of Mr. Aamir Khan. I am a communications MBA and let me tell you that he is the God of Communications too. I could see great communication strategy at every point of interaction. One needs to be genuine in his objectives and a maverick to pull such a well planned communication and marketing effort.

All of us felt that we are friends of Aamir Khan.

When we went for the shoot, he welcomed and appreciated each one of us with lot of respect and humility for taking the time out to participate in the show. After a gruelling shoot that went till 11 hours, he spent another 1 hour with us casually talking to all of us, discussing issues and taking opinions, making us feel part of a greater initiative. I could feel the whole air of genuine efforts being put in for the show.

He took photographs with each of us. Few weeks later, I was pleasantly surprised to see a handwritten appreciation letter with a few gifts, thanking me for my participation, hand delivered to my house.

From a communication strategy point of view, Aamir and his team knew that the participants will be the brand ambassadors and word of mouth generators for the show. I have surely become one. My tweets and Facebook updates are proof enough. Another point to note is that nobody spoke a word about SMJ before its launch. Wasn't that amazing?

Aamir Khan feels for his commitments thoroughly.

I was told that Aamir Khan has cancelled all his ad contracts to do this show. It didn't have much meaning to me until one day when I read one of his article that appeared in Tehelka. He was quoted saying, "I just felt that while I’m doing this show, I didn’t want to be selling something. I don’t know how to say it. It didn’t feel right to me." This sentence opened my eyes to this new perspective of looking at one's commitments.

Later in another show, he mentioned that he had endorsement deals of about Rs. 100-125 crores per year ! As per another report, Aamir Khan paid 23 crores to some of the brands as penalty of the breach of the ad contracts. I personally can't think of anybody who would ever say no to Rs. 100 crores for a social cause.

To put this debate into perspective, Aamir Khan is getting Rs. 3.5 crores per episode. But this amount includes the production cost of the episodes as well. The bulk of the money has gone into the production cost and in fact some of the episodes may have overshot the amount budgeted. The research for this show has been going on for the past 3 years which involved extensive travelling with camera and crew. It is said that Aamir Khan has spent Rs. 32 crores in the making, research and promotion of the show. If you add the 120 crores (approx) that he decided to fore-go, the total cost of Satyamev Jayate comes to around 150 crores.

In return, he is getting a meagre Rs. 46 crores (3.5 crores per episode) from Star Plus.

Aamir Khan cannot relate to frivolity and to entertainment for the sake of entertainment.

Star Plus had invited him to host KBC and would have offered similar amounts per episode. He could have agreed to do KBC and earned a few crores doing almost nothing. The questions are set by someone else. The set design and the whole episode is done by someone else. You need to just host the show. Effectively repeat the same dialogues for innumerable episodes. For Aamir Khan, KBC was frivolous and he politely refused. Later, when Star Plus approached him again with complete freedom to do whatever he liked, he came up with this difficult idea of 'Satyamev Jayate'. He contacted his close friends - Satyajit Bhatkal, Svati Bhatkal and Lancy Fernandes. They structured a 15 member fully paid professional team and went into research for three years collecting data. That takes some conviction and guts in today’s world of frivolity and sarcasm.

Aamir Khan is the God of Communications

This is completely from the eyes of a communication professional. That is me. Aamir Khan considers the episodes on Star Plus as just one media vehicle. He knew that all his research has to reach the maximum number of people in more than one ways for the research to have a long lasting impact.

Idea 1:
To compose a song for each of the episodes / issues. As music is an effective social media vehicle, he decided engage experts to write / compose one soul-full song for each episode. The strategy was to release an audio CD of the compilation after the television episodes are over.

Idea 2:
To broadcast the episodes in multiple channels including Doordarshan. Not only the idea had revenue potential for Star Plus, but also it created immense reach of the message that Aamir Khan wanted to communicate. What's more, he decided on the Sunday Morning prime time slot, which was once a prime time slot during the Ramayana / Mahabharata days. It was innovative thinking, which created curiosity and inquisitiveness for the show. Overall, these decisions had immense PR / news potential. Everybody was talking about these decisions, which created a media storm that we all have experienced.

TAM (Media Measurement Index) data shows Satyamev Jayate has delivered a historic reach of 33 crores people over the first 3 episodes. That is about 1 in 3 Indians. Phew!

Idea 3:
To utilise the digital medium to reach the youth of the country. The SMJ team designed an interactive website where users could even upload videos apart from writing comments. They created presence in all the popular social media platforms such as the Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Creating these avenues are perhaps easy, but actively managing these platforms are quite difficult and arduous. All of these initiatives have professionals managing them actively.

It is quoted that Satyamev Jayate has reached out to more than 80% of the Twitter audience and has generated a record 19 crore impressions

Idea 4
Involved NGOs for credibility and support. Aamir Khan ensured that qualified NGOs are found out for each of the issues so that a credible NGO takes the activism forward. He effectively involved multiple NGOs actively and structured a way to gather funds for them. This brings in immense credibility to the social messages that Satyamev Jayate is trying to communicate to the larger audience.

To my mind, he has devised a true 360 degree marketing strategy that can be a case study in Harvard Business Review. :)

Overall I see SMJ as a great social movement started by Aamir Khan. He would continue the crusade, is what I would tend to believe from my experience with him. Even if he does not continue the movement for whatever reasons, I would consider this itself as a great contribution to mankind. This show would help us take a pause and think if our civilization is going in the right direction.