Tag Archives: advertising

an open letter to our omniscient friend, Shahrukh Khan

(Astute readers will remember when we stumbled upon SRK. The letter below details what we now know to be the TRUE meaning of that experience.)

Dear Shahrukh,

I use your first name because I see us on intimate terms.

That’s not because you’re the spokesperson for every single brand that has ever advertised in India, though. No, it’s because you and your marketing people invested millions of rupees to target my wife and I in your most clever image campaign to date.

Money well spent, I’d say. It’s amazing how perfectly your team pinpointed our habits.

You knew that Jenny and I would use that pleasant February morning to wander an area of Delhi we hadn’t yet explored.

You knew we’d stop to gape at the ice factory.

And you also knew we’d stop again to write in the dust on a nearby car.

These conclusions were critical to your strategy, because they predicted the exact moment when we’d reach Lala Hardev Sahai Marg. With that knowledge, you knew exactly when to flip on the red light so we would impatiently turn down Zorawar Singh Marg instead.

Which meant you knew exactly when to clear away the clouds so that we’d walk under the trees to avoid the sun.

Which is where you knew to place your ads.

What perfect research your team did! You’d learned that your Om Shanti Om posters had imprinted your ab muscles so indelibly into our skulls that we’d conditioned ourselves to ignore all subsequent posters of you. Which is why you chose NOT to hang a poster, but instead to drape strips of film over those trees in the exact configuration we were sure to notice.


Just as you predicted, we stopped. Just as you predicted, we saw your face. Just as you predicted, we took pictures.

And now, just as you predicted, I’m praising your cleverness on our blog.

You, sir, are a marketing genius. You, sir, are the king of all media. You, sir, are—


What if… what if this article isn’t your goal at all? What if this whole thing has been a clever campaign… to reach whoever is reading these words right now?

Reader! You’re reading this because Shahrukh KNEW you’d read it!

Did you just scratch your nose? Shahrukh knew you’d do that, too!

You have to ask yourself: what else does Shahrukh know you’re going to do? And what does Shahrukh want from YOU?

Shahrukh, I’m frightened by your omniscience. I want to cower under my desk. Except… you already knew that, didn’t you? Who knows what you have waiting for me under there?

Your unwilling pawn,

Dave Prager

a zoning violation

The smell would appear suddenly every two to three weeks, billowing up the stairway from the basement of Jenny’s office building, each time making her think that something had gone terribly wrong and that evacuation of the office was imminent.

“Stench” is a better word than “smell”, Jenny tells me: these were terrible stenches for which Jenny had no frame of reference within an office environment. It wasn’t stagnant urine from improperly-plumbed urinals, as plagued my Gurgaon office’s stairwell; and it wasn’t rot from a refrigerator opened after weeks of forgotten festering lunches. It saturated all four floors of this nondescript four-story building; it crawled underneath her office door and stabbed at her nose while she worked.

But only Jenny seemed bothered. While she coughed and choked, everyone else went about their business.

One day, fed up from mouth breathing, Jenny made some enquiries. While the top four floors of her building were home to one of India’s best-known advertising agencies, the basement housed a distributor of raw and processed meat products. Among their clients, it was rumored, were many of the Subway franchises that had sprung up all around Delhi.

Which meant that the smell was meat-related. Whether it was meat being cooked, strips of flesh curing in the basement heat, or blood being burned off a killing floor, nobody knew; all anybody knew was that it was meat. Which made it all the more surprising that an office of vegetarian Hindus were so complacent about the awful airborne particles polluting their bodies by way of their nasal passages.

One day, on a day I happened to be with her, Jenny investigated. There was no smell this day, but she marched smartly down the stairs anyway, with me following mutely along. We entered into a small office area with a single desk, a solitary phone, and a man in a button-down shirt bent over some papers. Through a door on the right we saw a large room, a half-dozen workers sorting meat into plastic packages, a few red-stained rags on the ground, and a few cardboard boxes that were open to reveal more meat. One man was wiping at some red liquid pooled on the packages.

No refrigerators were in sight.

Jenny walked up to the man sitting at a desk: the one employee in the establishment not wearing meat-stained clothes. Behind us, the workers had noticed us, and had crowded around the doorway to watch.

“Hi!” Jenny said. “How are you! I work upstairs. I heard you sell meat. Do you sell meat?”

The man, who hadn’t seen her come in, looked up sharply. His mouth dropped open. This was a distribution point, obviously; customers were neither expected nor prepared for.

“I heard you sell meat to Subway,” Jenny continued. “Is that true?”

“Yes,” said the man. “No! I mean, can I help you?”

“Do you sell meat?” she paused. “Uh, I’m having a party.”

Behind us, somebody said something in Hindi, and a few guys laughed.

“Yes, chicken and pork products, ma’am. Salami. Pork chops. Sausages.”

“You sell to Subway?”

“I’m afraid I can’t discuss that.”

“Uh… do you deliver?”


“OK! Thank you! I’ll let you know what we decide.”

“But – ” But Jenny was already leaving. I looked at her walking away, looked at the man staring after her, shrugged, and followed her upstairs into her company’s lobby—the owners of which, incidentally, were the one bribing the local authorities not to notice their four-story, fifty-employee violation of the local zoning laws.

unexpected, even for SRK

Shahrukh Khan is everywhere. We’re not talking about his ads or his movies, either, even though his face makes me and a billion others run out and buy Pepsi, Compaq, DishTV, Linc Pens, and Emami Fair and Handsome Fairness Cream (the ad for which makes every  post-colonial liberal feel guilty and ashamed, even without understanding the dialogue), and a hundred other products.

No, this weekend we spotted SRK’s beautiful face hanging from trees on a some random street during a wander through North Delhi. You had to look close to see it, though.


It’s Shahrukh’s most subtle ad campaign to date. We like it.

the billboard walkers

My commute through Gurgaon takes me past dozens of massive billboards advertising whiskey, rum, and newspaper contests. (“Want to party with us?” asks the dapper young Bollywood B-listers, giving sultry looks to the passing cows. “Read HT City!”) On each liquor ad, below giant logos, below vagaries about “living the good times” and “making it”, below bikini-clad beachgoers and self-satisfied Saif Ali Khans, presumably to skirt some anti-liquor advertising law, are the words “Music CDs” set in small type. So Bacardi can point to these words and say, “No, we’re just advertising our latest mix!”

The ads themselves are printed on some sort of pliable tarp-like material; after a strong wind, you see the pieces of it hanging off nearby trees, with tatters still clinging to the metal frame supporting the billboard. The billboard frame thus sits empty for a few days until the billboard walkers come: dozens of young men, lithe as spiders, climbing up and down the frame without safety harnesses, somehow hauling up the 2000 square foot ad using ropes, pulleys, and their own sweat. You see them at work in the morning; by the evening, they’re gone, and various brands of whiskey are once again imploring you to enjoy your success by drin— I mean, by listening to their CDs.