Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Truth in advertising


All the blog discussions (and other developments) about IIPM are being tracked by the excellent Desi Pundit team. This is the place to go to if you want the latest.

In this post, let me start with some questions.

First, there are umpteen shady 'educational' institutions in India. Bloggers don't go after them all. Why?

The JAM article observed, "From what we gather, ... the students seem satisfied with the college's permanent teaching staff".

IIPM may actually be a decent institution (not great, not good, but passable). Again, there are 1029 MBA programs in the country, and by definition, all of them cannot be in the top 20, or 50, 200. Bloggers do not target all of them. Why?

The original JAM article was not about how lousy the institution was, or how bad the faculty were, or how bad the infrastructure was, or any of these things. Its main theme was just one thing. What is it?

The answer, clearly, is Truth in Advertising. Since some people think that this is an oxymoron, let me rephrase it. Lies in Advertising.

When people see flashy (full page!) ads for an institution that make wild claims about how great it is, they feel intuitively that there probably is something deeply wrong with it. Instead of leaving things to such gut feelings, JAM just went ahead and tried to find evidence for or against the claims made in IIPM's ads. IMHO, it did the job it is meant to do: top class journalism. But, my central point is this: the JAM article was more about truth in advertising, than about IIPM. I am absolutely sure they would have done the same with any other institution that advertised in a similarly flashy way.

I think we have to keep the focus on this theme. But how?

There are many things individuals in right positions (I didn't say high positions -- though that would help!) can do to unearth some more evidence. Sure, it will require some work -- but not necessarily too much.

Why is it important to do this fact checking?

First, these things can be aggregated -- a la Desi Pundit -- so that there is a public record that is available for potential students and their parents. Second, it may dissuade IIPM from going ahead with its legal notices against Gaurav and Rashmi. Third, this exercise may help some legally oriented folks to throw the law book at IIPM! And finally, IIPM may actually decide to live up to all the greatness it claims in its ads, in which case, it is a win-win for everyone!

Frankly, I don't believe the last two may ever come to pass. But still, the first two alone are worth trying. Bloggers are certainly in a unique position to do it.

Let me point to at least two possibilities from the ad for IIPM carried by yesterday's ET. Here are some of the claims in the ad.

First, it lists the companies that took part in their 2005 placement season. The long list has many companies. I am listing them at the end of the post. People working in these companies can find out through their internal channels if this claim is true. BTW, the JAM piece has actually done this fact-checking with some companies; it's an eye-opener. But, it has not done an exhaustive checking (nor does it really have to). Interestingly, McKinsey which figured in earlier ads (and JAM wrote about) does not figure in this ad!

In addition to what JAM did, individuals can certainly alert their HR about IIPM's falling reputation, and about the need to get their companies' names off from IIPM's ads. If they are upto it, they may even take it up with the Press Council or any other organization that deals with complaints about truth in advertising.

Second, the ad claims that IIPM students are so great that 'no wonder they have won the maximum awards amongst all B-schools in India including 1st Prize in Debates at ...' There are so many institutions in this list (which appears at the end of this post) that you would think that IIPM students did nothing else! This again can be checked by people studying in these institutions. [I do not want to be misunderstood here. I am not here to denigrate or attack IIPM's students. I just think that this statement in the IIPM ad may not check out with facts.]

Well, I did some fact checking with whatever resources I have (dial-up connection!). Here is the gist of what I did. Any academic institution aspiring to greatness would want to advertise how absolutely fantastic its faculty are. Does the IIPM ad do that? Certainly! It says:

Note the mix of singulars and plurals in this description. The sentences with 'singular' are probably true!

IIPM's permanent faculty (250 plus) goes regularly to teach in leading B-schools across the globe. They are the best in the country in terms of Industry Interfaces, Consulting & Communication skills. IIPM faculty undertakes the maximum amount of EDPs for corporates in India. [emphasis in the original]

Doesn't it make you go "Wow! These guys must be GOOD!". If they are so good, one ought to get a lot of information about them (their names, their qualifications, where they got their degrees from, where they worked prior to joining IIPM, and a list of their publications -- with soft copies of some of them, if possible) from the IIPM website, right? That way, One is able to judge for oneself how much of their claim is 'subjectively true'. Well, check out their faculty page. It's empty! [Well, I realize that this situation may change quickly, so go there immediately!] I think this negative result says a lot! If the situation changes, and this page actually gets some content, one can do further fact-checking.

In sum, I suggest that we keep the eye on the ball: Truth in Advertising.


Companies that participated in the 2005 placement at IIPM, according to the ET ad, are: ABN Amro, HSBC, Standard Chartered, ICICI Bank, Citibank, HDFC Bank, ING Vysya, Max New York, Kotak Mahindra, India Bulls, ICICI Prudential, Met Life, TATA AIG, American Express, Citifinancials, GE Money, Asian Paints, Coca Cola, Berger Paints, Oracle, HP, Hutch, GE Consumer Finance, Yahoo, Essar Group, Crisil, Times Money, Bharat Shell, Skoda, Group M, HCL Infinet, Schneider Electric, Evalueserve.com, I gate, Reuters, Shoppers Stop, Bata, Fortis, Hindustan Levers, Deloitte Consulting, Primus Telecom, Oswal Group, NEC, ...

The institutions where IIPM students won 1st prize in debates are: IIT-Delhi, IIT-Kanpur, IIM-Bangalore, BITS-Pilani, IIT-Roorkee, ICFAI-Pune, NMIMS, and JIMS. They also got the best debate team at Symbiosis, ...

6 Comments:

  1. Niket said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
  2. Dilip D'Souza said...

    Abi, in the case of BITS Pilani, I did some checking with people I know who are students there now. They confirm that IIPM students did win those debating and quiz prizes.

  3. Charu said...

    Abi,thanks your comment on my blog - when I read this post earlier in the day, I thought hey, great post- balanced and lucid, as always. I think your idea about taking this to aome authority - in this case, it would be the advertising standards council of India is a good idea.

  4. Niket said...

    This was the comment #1, which I deleted because I hadn't actually read AC's books. But, the comments are still valid. So here is what I said:

    The thing that is likely to happen is that the students face the effects of all the ill-will that is generated against the diploma mill (aka IIPM). People like Arindam will just move on to hoodwink other folks.

    One constant thing I found in his lectures, books, discourses: how India is great and will (can?) overtake US. He hits at our "id" and that might explain his success.

  5. Abi said...

    Dilip, Charu, Niket: Thanks for your comments.

    Dilip: Thanks for that fact-checking with BITS. I know others are doing it at various levels, and let us hope something comes out of it.

    Charu: Before we take it further to the Ad Council people, we have to do the hard work of gathering the evidence. As I said, quite a few are at it.

    Did you notice that the their ads have stopped mentioning McKinsey since the time the JAM article appeared? So, at the most the Ad Council can be expected to give them a rap on their knuckles, and their future ads will withhold all misleading info involving facts that can be checked. But, I am sure they will then find some other way of misleading the public about how great they are.

    As I see it, all this information gathering will serve one immdediate purpose: to help the bloggers who are being sued. That is good enough for me.

    Niket: Thanks for re-posting your old comment, and posting a new one! Regarding AC being a moving target, I am sure some of that will happen (see my reply to Charu's comment). But that just implies that battle will need different tactics than just fact checking. As for his appeal to our 'id', perhaps it gets through to some people; but, as for me, his speeches and IIPM's ads just sound so self-serving that they just irritate me.

  6. Anonymous said...

    Has the faculty page on the IIPM site been recently modified? I was confused since http://www.iipm.edu/economics.html seems to have some names. There seems to be no other information on the faculty other than names, however.