Shobhaa's Take: The brand game

Once you master the art of social media manipulation, you are home and dry.

Oh come on, everyone! Get over it, already! I am not a bhakt of anybody... not Arvind Kejriwal, not Narendra Modi, not Rahul Gandhi... nobody! Samjhey na aap?

Lists are frivolous and fun. At best, they serve as momentary distractions on a slow news day. You read them, and you forget them. Or, should.

The only people who care are those who are featured on the damn lists... and those who think they ought to be featured, but aren’t!

A couple of years ago, a beautiful and accomplished woman asked me, sotto voce, what one has to do to get onto the “major” lists. Like I had the magic formula. She looked most distressed, as she added in a hoarse whisper, “Just look at my achievements! How come editors aren’t aware of me?” Her eyes were troubled. It was one of those socialite evenings in Mumbai. Some damn list had been published by a leading newspaper the same morning. And she had been overlooked! I leaned forward and said in my best conspiratorial voice, “Darling, why don’t you cultivate a few top editors... or better still, hire a PR agency. Work on them... then, perhaps next year...?” She seemed a little mollified as she considered the options. “I need the best of the best... know anyone?”

It really does seem to work as ridiculously as this. These days, any person ready to invest serious lolly in himself/herself can make any damn list going. All it needs is determination, and the right infrastructure. Once you master the art of social media manipulation, you are home and dry. Actors, sports stars and politicians are the real experts. Not just in India, but across the world. They figured it out long ago — in today’s highly competitive, market-led times, ratings count. Ratings affect your asking price. Ratings impact your celebrity status. Your brand value goes up or down based on whether you figure on the coveted “most searched” Google list. All of this can be fixed. For a fee.

I spent a stimulating evening recently with a female star, who was wondering why I had not leveraged/monetised my social media content. I told her candidly that I had zero aptitude for such manoeuvres. She disclosed a startling cloak-and-dagger story involving a lethal rival who had invested many lakhs in her — yes, that’s right. Her. Apparently, this insecure person had hired a team at an astronomical price to trash the senior star mercilessly across assorted platforms. Whenever she put up something on YouTube, she’d face a barrage of vicious criticism. The attacks would range from personal and hurtful, to cowardly and immature. She began to see a pattern and directed her own team to hit back at her rival... but at half the cost (don’t ask!).

This went on for months, till the rival finally backed off. “This is how the dirty game is played,” she told me. I was stupefied to discover that there are several people out there willing to spend big bucks — not on improving themselves, but on pulling someone else down.

After that dramatic revelation, I began to see a pattern, too. But a more positive one. There are certain columnists who command an army of admirers who publicly gush over their every utterance. Within minutes of the newspaper hitting the stands, social media goes nuts with the same tribe of loyalists showering generous praise on the writer. Often, the words and phrases are the same, week after week after week. The flattering tweets tell their own story, with monotonous predictability, calling the person a “genius” and more. This, my sweet, trusting dears, is how the popularity game is played.

Which is why I was a bit surprised to find Arvind Kejriwal heading a “Most Hated” list, followed by the usual suspects — Rahul Gandhi, Arnab Goswami, Aamir Khan. This isn’t the real thing, surely? There are many more, far more “hate worthy” individuals floating around. Crooks, murderers and... people who spew communal hatred, kill with impunity, divide and control masses for their own ambition and greed. How come they aren’t on the list? How come the most loathed individuals escaped being featured? The reason is pretty obvious. Their enemies didn’t “invest” in them. Destroying reputations has become a national obsession. Propping up the undeserving is an equally nasty preoccupation. Serious money is at stake. And there are enough techies around working like professional assassins...

In such a vitiated environment, should we bother about such lists at all? I don’t. Even when I feature on a few myself and in a flattering light, at that! I do get a momentary kick... feel amused... try and impress my children by pointing to my name/picture, and leave it there. A time will come when I’ll be dropped. A time existed when I didn’t feature. Does it really matter deep down? On a childish vanity level, it definitely does. But it’s important to get past the nonsense and get real. Did I just use the word “real”? Yup. Well... here’s real: Over a hectic New Year’s weekend in Goa, I met two or three really smart, sharp and clued in Dilliwallas (Goa has become a colony of Delhi, alas!). Separately and earnestly, they offered me priceless but entirely unsolicited advice: “Next time you are in some legal trouble over tweets, don’t be foolish and move courts — get arrested! Your brand value will soar... and you will be hailed as a national hero.” I swear I have not made this up!

So... if you see me in the nearest clink in 2016 — don’t blink! Remember, I’m doing it for the brand.

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( Source : deccan chronicle )
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