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January 18, 2020

Fearing the Free! - The Puzzling case of the FREE "NO PARKING" boards

The most often repeated saying from an Economist! “there is no free lunch in this world”. If anyone offers free lunch, there is always a tag (or a price) attached. Finally, someone pays for that free lunch, many a time we pay the price! 

First used in the saloons of the USA, free food was offered which were high in salt (e.g., ham, cheese, and salted crackers). The customers who ate the free stuff ended up buying a lot of beer (as salted products induce thirst). An Eatery offering a free lunch is likely to charge more for its drinks!

People park their vehicles illegally in front of apartments in India, creating problems for the apartment owners. It is quite a nuisance to navigate when someone else has parked their cars and motorcycles right in front of the apartments, on the road itself. 

Many companies have come out with a very innovative idea (at least creative from their perspective). These companies make small metal boards which say “NO PARKING” and to promote themselves they have the name of the company and their product or service also displayed on the same metal sign. In many cases, the boards have the address and the phone numbers of the company sponsoring the metal board. So far, so good!

These companies employ urchins to fit these boards on the gates, boundaries or on the small curbside gardens fences of the apartments. No permission is taken from the owner/s or the apartment owners' association. And adding salt to the festering wound, the board is ridiculously loaded in favour of the advertising company. 

NO PARKING SIGN occupies only 20 to 25% of the space and 75% space is used up for advertising! But surprisingly these boards are tolerated and even welcomed! They are hung up grotesquely and are an unwelcoming eyesore! 

Apartment owners and apartment owners’ associations welcome these as they are FREE! One of my friends wryly commented, “we Indians, we will even drink Phenyl if it is free”. I added, “not only will we drink the free phenyl we would sell the empty phenyl bottles to the raddi (recycler) guy and try to get some money!” 

My conviction that this is not a fair deal has meant that I have never allowed anyone from getting free publicity from our house. As soon as they are fixed, I scrupulously remove the offending NO PARKING boards and throw them away in disdain! 

But it is a cat and mouse game. The boards are back like unwelcome guests, and I need to be extra vigilant to see that our curbside garden fence is pristine and free of unwanted graffiti! 

I wanted to share some snaps of gates with these ugly no parking boards. Surprisingly the apartment owners have caught on! The watchmen are cleaning the gates and throwing all the no parking boards into the dustbin. What a waste of resources. The creativity, the effort, and the money spent on making and seeing that they are fixed are wasted. Money down the drain. I found only two new ones “Green Leaf Stores and Swiggy”. These may have been fixed only today or at best yesterday! 

Some companies may laugh at my assumption of the waste of resources! They would snigger, “It only costs 10 rupees for each board, and it is worth the effort, even if they last for a day or two”. But they are missing the point. They are alienating people and creating a negative image for themselves. 

I have taken a silent vow not to patronize these companies which brazenly fix these no parking signs and that too without any permission. In the process of fixing they damage the foliage of these small gardens. 

But all is not lost, the companies can get the owners on their side. It is all a matter of planning. There are 1200 plots each ad-measuring 400 to 500 square yards in Matrusri colony, Miyapur. That is a whopping real estate as far as NO PARKING SIGNS are concerned! 

Most apartments have small curbside gardens, and most of these gardens are fenced. But the gardens are not well maintained as most apartments do not employ trained gardeners and are at the mercy of the apartment watchman for the upkeep of these small green lungs (curbside gardens). 

The companies that want to put up the NO PARKING signs can enter into an agreement with the owners, employ gardeners and maintain these small gardens and then request if they could put out a board that says NO PARKING (50% of the board), and the rest 50% space can be used up to advertise the products and services of the company. This way, it is a win-win for all. 

Marketers need to look at problems more objectively and come out with innovative solutions that solve their problems and as well as solve the issues and concerns of the customers whom they want to serve. 

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