Media Watch: To play the keera’s advocate



    It’s gone viral, the Kingtox insect repellent advertisement has.



    The ad ticks all the boxes. It’s funny. It’s relevant to the product at hand. It stays in your mind.

    And, like (most) responsible comedy, it punches up, not down: it doesn’t take some lazy, classist potshot at the beleaguered peon; it’s the boss that’s being skewered here. And not some exaggerated caricature of a boss. No, this is real enough to make some of those in positions of authority uncomfortable. As you read this, co-workers are sending each other the video on WhatsApp, some not even bothering to mention the name of the boss it made them think of.

    Hats’ off to the team over at Arey Waah, the agency behind the ad.




    On the dozenth watch, the ad made me think of economics. In particular, the field within called Mechanism Design (referred to by some as Reverse Game Theory.) The 2007 Nobel prize for economics went to those who laid down the basis of the field.

    A Mechanism Design example: you have two kids who have to divide a piece of cake amongst themselves and are fighting over it. You have a headache and can’t be bothered to do it yourself. So you design a mechanism for a peaceful arbitration. Get one to cut the cake, and the other to choose either of the two pieces. Since the cutter doesn’t have the first choice, it is in his or her interest to be judicious while cutting the cake. The other child, having the first pick, won’t have a problem either.

    It’s all about elegantly managing incentives.

    An interesting example of Mechanism Design was, surprisingly, the rock band Van Halen.

    They were an immensely successful rock band in the ‘80s, famous for their elaborate concerts, with much fireworks, lights and electric wizardry.

    And they were famous for being divas who would throw an absolute fit. Much, much worse than the boss in the ad above. Not over how their tea and biscuits were served, but over M&Ms. Yes, they wanted for M&Ms to be served backstage by concert organisers. And they wanted for the brown M&Ms to be taken out.

    Keep in mind, the colour of individual M&Ms has no bearing on the flavour. They are all the same candy shell-covered chocolate. But if David Lee Roth and his boys were to find a single brown M&M in the bowl backstage, they would throw a fit, immediately refusing to perform, regardless of how big a concert crowd had already showed up at their stadium venues. In one instance, David Lee Roth actually destroyed his dressing room and kicked a hole in the door. They would also not only refuse to give back their advance but would also ask for the rest of the full compensation!

    The media lapped up their rockstar attitude and the band did little to deny.

    It was only much later that the band revealed that there was some mechanism design at play.

    You see, the current era of a huge “show” by the bands, used by mega bands like U2, was pioneered by Van Halen, where the band would travel with a whopping nine tractor trailers containing thousands of lights – unheard of at that point in time – a rolling stage and a grid to suspend the lights from because the lighting system itself would move. (Again, it was quite a show.)

    Well, the downside of these splendid shows was how dangerous this all could be. Light towers could fall. The stage could collapse under the weight of all that gear. People could get hurt. Or killed.

    The security and safety standards, therefore, were fastidiously, and meticulously, laid out. The band had a 53-page contract for the concert organiser, containing very specific instructions like, for instance, the following: “There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, spaced evenly, providing nineteen amperes total, on beams suspended from the ceiling of the venue, which shall be able to support a total gross weight of 5,600 pounds each, and be suspended no less than 30 feet, but no more than 37.5 feet, above the stage surface.”

    But how to make sure that the organisers would read these instructions with the scrupulous diligence that was expected of them?

    A simple, elegant solution. Article 126 of the standard Valen Halen contract read: “There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

    This was a good metric for the band and its team. If they found brown M&Ms, it meant that the contract wasn’t read carefully. Which meant that the safety precautions of the rest of the contract weren’t met.

    The saheb in the Kingtox ad was clearly on a power trip. Or he might have been a poor soul suffering from OCD. Van Halen, on the other hand, had a point.

    All M&Ms might be the same. All keeras aren’t.