Thursday, May 30, 2013

Share My Dabba: The Big Impact Of A [Small And Sticky] Message

My Ministers of Design Blog Post

Mumbai is a city of gross disparities, a monolith of have and have nots, where the chasm between the rich and the poor is more like an uncrossable abyss than a gap, with over 8 million of its dwellers living in slums. The growing income disparity is a sweeping trend that has, sadly, become all too prevalent in an increasingly globalized world, driving a wedge between the rich and the poor, who are having a hard time accessing even the most basic of social services. As the Share My Dabba video shows, every day 1.6 million people in Mumbai have food in their dabba, while 200,000 children go starving. The Happy Life Welfare Society, an Indian NGO, decided to do something about this, having worked on previous campaigns like Spread Some Warmth and Share Your Wealth.
Advertising agency McCann came on board to help the NGO figure out the strategy and came up with the "share" sticker. Whoever wanted to share his/her lunch put a sticker on the dabba. Next, however, came the more difficult step--how to collect the food and distribute it to the children without disrupting the to-the-minute-precision of the daballawah system, a Forbes Six Sigma certified system for its accuracy and a Harvard Business School case study. Every day, 5000 Dabbawalas deliver 200,000 boxes per day using only bicycles, relying on a complex series of collection zones, sorting points, and delivery zones, supported only by a manual coding system.
So as not to disturb the intricate time balance of the system, volunteers gathered at the point where dabbawallahs assemble after having collected the tiffin boxes after lunch; there, they initially used to empty the food from the containers into plastic bags and plates and give it to the children. But a much better system was devised--The Happy Life Welfare Society went to the slums and told kids and their families about the distribution point so, now, they just come there with their own utensils and are served food directly from the dabbas. All of this has to work with clockwork precision as there can be no delay in the dabawallah system--so the whole process is completed in 15 minutes.
The lesson that The Happy Life Welfare Society also learned is the importance of actually talking to people to get one's message across, i.e. literally the legwork. To accomplish the involved planning needed for the success of this operation, volunteers had to talk to shopkeepers, workers, and office goers to make them want to share the dabba and involve them in the process, as well as the children living in the slums and their families. It would be impossible to introduce the system into a new part of the city without that educational campaign, states Kanupriya Singh, the Vice President of The Happy Life Welfare Society. There was a PR challenge from another avenue as well--addressing the critics who took umbrage to children eating messy leftovers, so the people sharing their dabbas had to also be encouraged and educated on only sharing clean food.
Share My Dabba is an excellent example of the wonderful confluence that happens when the message aligns with the successful execution of the thought behind it. A minimalistic approach lends itself well to snappy branding and messaging, but the importance of some good ol'-fashioned talking to people is also clearly underscored in this example.

Crossfade Roulette--My Weekly Music Column

Crossfade Roulette

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hipper Than Thou--The Ever-So-Elusive Search For "The Authentic" In A Cleverly-Consuming World

My first post for The Ministers Of Design Blog:
The search for "the authentic" has become one of the most dominant spiritual, moral, and consumerist quests of our time, states Andrew Potter, the author of The Authenticity Hoax and The Rebel Sell. Too bad that it is about as elusive as the Abominable Snowman—the author argues that there is no such thing as authenticity. Before you go hi-fiving your college cultural studies professor for teaching you that in the first place and leafing through your Cultural Studies Reader, let's hash out the argument.
The obsession with "keeping it real" and "keeping it underground" has been a veritable mother lode of satire-worthy material, creating a whole new genre, the consumption critique, and launching Portlandia and Stuff White People Like into the popularity stratosphere.
But isn't Look At This Hipster hilarious precisely because it is the ultimate [and very meta] hipster thing to laugh at other "poser hipsters"? With all this meaning upon meaning, and layers of meta upon meta, how is one to parse out what is happening?
Let's start with the concept of selling out. How does one express one's individuality without "selling out" to the man or the machine or some permutation thereof? Potter defines this "eternal trope of American life" as the idea that “once you had principles that were dear to you and you have given them up in exchange for comfort, material wealth, a job, etc." It seems that the ultimate litmus test of a band "selling out," for example, is when their music is used to shill some product for a corporation. So if consumerism is anathema, then why has the response to the "corporate" smacked of consumerism with no less intensity? Are these values we are giving up genuine values or were they a front for status seeking in the first place? This is the question posited by The Authenticity Hoax.
Take the organic/local food movement--clever consumption has become the new keeping up with the Joneses, argues Potter. As he explains, the in thing du jour has shifted from eating organic, to eating local, and then even further, eating artisanal, ramping up the exclusivity factor.
Ultimately, this quest for the real, the authentic has become no less corporatized than anything "commercial." Begs the question--is there nothing real under the sun anymore?
One of the most seminal counter-cultural parables Fight Club and others of its ilk (Matrix, even) posit this idea that society is a land of falseness and illusion and that all one needs to do is wake up to this fact to escape its evil spell.
But how does one go about escaping this? Our culture is undeniably a countercultural culture and corporations have become incredibly good at selling rebellion to us. Potter argues that a common and very prevalent misconception is that capitalism requires conformity. As he explains, “capitalism relies on the concept of the constant churning of desires among consumers. It simply does not require conformity at all—quite the opposite.”
Consumerism (and more specifically clever consumerism) has become the hallmark and the vehicle for social status expression. In the decades of yore, one would argue there were more opportunities for standing out and finding one's place in the social hierarchy. With the dwindling opportunities, social status is currently negotiated by consuming and displaying what you have found to be “authentic.” This "clever consumption" is the yard stick at present—why? Because consuming something different, something obscure grants one an especially coveted social status cache.
So now that the proverbial curtain has been pulled from your eyes, what is your take on this? Is it a case of “I faked it so real, I am beyond fake?” Do you agree that clever consumption is the new social ladder climbing? Comment and let us know your thoughts.