No pride in vanity metrics

I read a short story once, avatars of which I have seen appear across several motivational talks. You know where I am leading you if you have heard this story before. Then, you may directly skip to the later part of this article.

For those who haven’t, here’s how the story goes…

Once upon a time, a girl watched her mother prepare the fish for her classic fried fish recipe. The girl attentively noticed her mother pick the big fish and cut it into three small pieces. First, she chopped the head off, and then the tail.

Perplexed and brimming with questions, the girl asked, “Mother, why do we cut the head and tail of the fish before frying?”

The mother was already tired of the inquisitive behaviour of the kid. She quickly brushed off the question, saying, “Because that’s how it is done. Now don’t bother me; I have a lot of chores to complete.”

The girl wasn’t satisfied, so she pressed. “Maa, tell na, but why the head and tail? Why not cut it from the centre?”

Now the mother was furious, so to just avoid answering the kid, she said, “Run to Aaji, she will tell you. She taught me to fry the fish this way. Now, will you let me work? Off you go.”

Her granny lived just a few houses away, so the girl felt no harm in trying.

The grandmother was sitting on her bed, combing her hair, when she saw the little girl approach the hut. “Come here, sweetie,” she held out her arms.

The girl quickly embraced the granny and moved straight to the point. “Aaji, why do we cut the head and tail of the fish before frying? Maa said you would know. And please don’t tell me that’s how it’s done.” Granny realised the girl meant business, so she said, “Hmm… I really don’t know. Your Panji, that is my mother, taught me the recipe. Why don’t you ask her? She lives just two blocks away.”

The girl was tired but determined. She wanted the answer anyhow. Fortunately, the great-grandmother was also alive. So, the girl jumped and hopped to her house and asked the great-grandmother. “Panji, nobody is giving me an answer. And I really want to know why we cut the fish’s head and tail before frying?”

Panji smiled and responded, “Those days, dear, we were really poor and didn’t have big utensils. I had only one small frying pan, and if the fish was big, it wouldn’t fit in. So, I used to cut it into three pieces.”

Why the inertia?

The story reminds me of all the vanity metrics that continue to prevail in the industry. Some years ago, similar questions were posed to the OOH and later to traditional media. The question was: When the digital media industry can dole out figures, why can’t others have tools which can make it easier to measure impact.

Despite an unequivocal statement at the Barcelona Convention to do away with a few of the prevalent matrices used in the PR business, it continues to make its way into client and pitch presentations to showcase impact. Why the inertia?

With the advent of digital, one would have thought the number’s issue stands sorted. However, today we see how numbers can be used for misleading. For instance, estimation based on the total number of website users per month still makes way into measurement tables.

In several digital engagement campaigns, we continue to see the selection of the influencer is solely based on the total number of followers. We continue to ignore that the influencer market was recently in serious trouble when the can of worms (buying followers and engagement) finally reached the media. Most digital communication professionals and agencies knew, but they seldom addressed it publically. Similarly, the virtual events soon fell into a similar situation and started highlighting ‘total registrations’ as a metrics, whereas total attendance hits closer home.

With the increasing winds of reputation risks threatening brands, the pandemic offered the communication professionals a closer ear with the management. It’s an opportune moment for the fraternity to return to the drawing board and re-assess what matters. If the intention is to gain a place in the boardroom, we must put forth a concerted effort and denounce matrices that contribute nothing to the communication fraternity’s effort and impact other than adding more confusion. A good start for this would be to perhaps start with a question.

One that I want you to leave with today is: Is there truly any pride in holding on to the vanity metrics?


The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Supreeth Sudhakaran
Supreeth Sudhakaran is a Manager in the Corporate Brand and Communications Team of Godrej Industries Ltd. He is responsible for the owned media platform - Design Dekko, research-driven narratives, hybrid media engagement, and brand communication mandate for the Godrej Agrovet Ltd.
Supreeth is a journalist by education, he started his career working as a desk editor at the digital arm of the Dainik Bhaskar Group. He later worked at senior editorial roles with several leading general and trade media publications such as the Indian Express Group, IPP Media India, Haymarket Media Group, and Geospatial Media, writing and editing stories on various niche subjects including marketing technology, printing, packaging, publishing, and geospatial science. His first stint as a communication professional was with India’s largest PR firm, Adfactors PR Pvt Ltd., before moving to his current role.

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