Warning: Another random post from a man down with cold, fever and unable to do what he loves best – sleep! ‘
Hey buddy, how are you? Is this your friend?’ asked a young couple to my colleague when we got out from my car. The husband was about to turn the car key and drive away, but stopped. They also showed a lot of interest in trying to get to know me – both of them flashed a wide smile at me and the guy extended his hand out of the car window to shake my hands vigorously and with a lot of excitement. My colleague politely smiled, then ignored them and hurried towards our building entrance with me running behind him to keep pace. He then said, ‘My God, those guys are just too much!! They called me and my wife over for dinner last Saturday and it turned out to be a 1 hour presentation on why I should sell Company X’s products because I had said that I wanted to be financially independent. Like us there were three couples and five other unmarried men and women’.
I could understand the multi level marketing loop that so many people get into and while there is nothing right or wrong, it is sad to see that such folks cross the line even with close friends. They are convinced that they ‘really’ want to make a difference in others’ lives. The same is true of many other courses / companies like Art of Living (AOL), Landmark and other religious associations. For example, I went to the Landmark Forum and found it to be a great 3 day programme where a lot of life’s fundaes become clearer. But then, I also see a lot of people assuming Landmark or AOL to be the one and only way to solve all problems.
A: “I think I should look out for a new job”
B: “Hmm, do Landmark or try AOL, you will know if you should look out for a job or not.”
A: “I am not sure if I should save more money in the US or keep sending money to India”
C: “Hmm, do AOL”
D: “Try reciting the Shantimantram 3 times a day daily for 28 days followed by a dip in the Ganges, or if you are in Pittsburgh, even the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania will do.”
How many guys from Amway have not spoken to you about Amway more than once if you have not responded favorably to them the first time? List of such examples is endless …
When my cousin brother did not find a suitable girl to live happily ever after even though he was advancing in years, an all knowing gyaani Maami suggested an easy solution to his mother. ‘Oh, ask your son to go to temple ABC which is in village XYZ near Kumbakonam. They will give him a glass of water and lemon, squeeze the lemon, drink the lemon water and he will be married in no time. They will also give him 2 garlands that he needs to return whenever he gets married.’ Eventually, most people do get married and return the garland which usually has brittle decomposed flowers. Such successful couples have many other men and women for company. Some who would have visited the temple 6 months ago, some 6 years ago and some others re-try and squeeze more lemon juice this time and blame themselves for not squeezing properly the first time. The sight of ‘successful’ couple reinforces the belief even further. My point here is how word of mouth marketing becomes a powerful publicity tool in such cases. To buy ‘an own house’, an astrologer might ask you to visit a particular temple. At times, an iterative exercise regimen is suggested as a solution. There is a maami (yes, yet another mami!!) that I am not too fond of because of her ever protruding nose. Her always ready nasal instinct to sniff gaps in others’ lives and offer solutions is extremely irritating. Despite her extraordinary capabilities, she wasn’t able to play Cupid to her daughter, who was about to celebrate her 27th birthday. Mooky maami lived in Mumbai and on one (read, one more) of her horoscope matching trips to Chennai, decided to pay a visit to a renowned astrologer. This swami would either give you special powders (usually a mix of kumkums / turmeric / viboothi (ash)) or suggest specific travel trips to specific temples to help you get rid of your past sins that were acting as speed breakers on your road to achieving your objectives. In this case, he suggested a 32 week solution, where the Mooky maami was supposed to walk up the steps of a temple near Chennai every Saturday morning. She had to pray along with a generous offering of ghee, rice, flowers, sari, blouse pieces, peas pulao and paneer butter masala, hee hee, the last two items were obviously my additions. So the Mooky stayed on at Chennai for 32 weeks and this iterative solution from the swami meant mami didn’t go to Mumbai for 8 months! She migrated from one relative’s home to another and landed at the same house with bag and baggage almost once every 3 weeks. Needless to say, this particular temple witnessed many mamas, mamis and even unmarried men and women to give her company. Along with company, by the third week, Mooky began interfering and offering her own solutions to their other problems too. How do so many people know about this temple in a far off deserted place and take the pain of going there to seek blessings in the hope of getting married and that too for 32 consecutive weeks? Hee hee, Mooky was of course not too happy when she found out the number of weeks depended on the extent of past sins as calculated by the swamis and varied from 1 to 32. Frankly, I was wickedly thrilled – it was as if the swami was hitting at a different tooth of Mooky every Saturday!
Amazing, isn’t it, how word of mouth as a marketing tool is not given the due it deserves from companies and so much is spent on advertising. The idli kadai at Malleswaram is crowded because of word of mouth selling, but take a look at that lazy owner and you know, he got lucky. After all, he closes his shop from 12 to 430 pm for an afternoon siesta – how I envy that lucky son of a idli batter!! The pani poori waali at Southern Avenue in Kolkata, Tundey Kabab in a crowded bylane in Aminabad, Lucknow, a dosa cart near the famous Ananthapadmanabha temple in Trivandrum, the ‘famous’ hot dog cart vendor near Times Square in NY city, the bajji shop on Sampige Road, Bengaluru and the list is infinite. We use external additional opinions to reinforce our own opinions / feelings but I am not sure how marketing companies can devise strategies that can leverage the benefits without being a pain in the ass like many of those Multi Level Marketing people who would have irritated you some day somewhere. If they haven’t yet bothered you yet, don’t worry, one might be lurking around the corner, and it could well be your closest friend! After all don’t you want to be financially independent?