The New Improved Indian Man – Unstoppable in the Downturn

The New Improved Indian Man – Unstoppable in the Downturn

The Indian man as we knew him has undergone a re-launch. His mindset and behavior have changed and so has his play and priorities. Not only is this giving rise to fresh impetus to many categories that have never looked at men seriously so far, but it’s also pointing us to a newer and fresher way of connecting with him. Many categories like personal grooming, premium apparel, luxury cars and even ready to cook food are discovering this new improved Indian man as a new source of joy.  But as always he is neither easy to understand nor please. So how and what about the Indian man is changing and why is it important for us?


The Indian man is coming of age. From the long haired and pot bellied hero of the 70’s even Bollywood has changed its archetype to cropped hair, bronze bodied men with six pack abs. The change however is not just cosmetic; the new Indian man is much chiseled from within as well. Forces of economic upturn and downturn, increasing demands of an upgraded lifestyle and the invasion of the workplace by his women counterparts has smoothened much of his rough edges. While sharpening his ambition and equipping him with sharper teeth to transform his ambition into action.


No wonder the angry Vijay of yesterday has given way to the opportunist Bunty of today. While Vijay helped vent out the repressed anger against the system, Bunty has realized that anger is futile. Bunty believes in working the system rather than upsetting it. And in this journey from Vijay to Bunty has emerged the new Indian man who is perhaps a little less idealist but cleverer; has less angst, more ambition; is worried less about the society, more about himself. To the extent that the protagonist in the Bollywood film Luck By Chance doesn’t mind changing his love relationships if only it means better career progress.

The Indian man of today has transformed himself from the respectable Ram to the Khiladi Krishna. He is no more burdened by the shackles of maryaada. He is today less worried about roles, more worried about goals. He is driven by success is hungry and in a hurry. He is today a performer, a manipulator, a provider and metro sexual all at the same time.

From the holocaust of the economic boom and bust, the Indian man has emerged a bigger ‘success chaser’. “Success gives me an adrenaline rush, I want to be a CEO at 35” is the answer you get when you ask them what drives the Indian man today. No wonder success has been at the heart of most men brands whether its brands in the liquor category like Signature Whisky or a car brand like Honda City. There is however a strong sense here of ‘roles’ overpowering ‘life’ as a 27 year old Bangalore executive said “I need to work all week hence weekends I like to spend with my wife and daughter. So where is the time to hang out with the guys and party? It’s a sacrifice I am willing to make I guess.” Success has had life as its casualty for the new Indian man and while he is aware of this he is compensating by celebrating his success louder and bigger.


Markers of success such as premium cars are therefore on an upswing in terms of their sales, despite the downturn blues.  No wonder the sales of premium cars have exceeded expectations with overall sales growth of 22% in financial year ‘09. Meanwhile, luxury vehicles priced above Rs 20 Lakh also posted 34% growth in sales in the last fiscal to 8,313 units, the highest among all car segments. World’s largest luxury car brand BMW sold 992 cars and gained 15% in the first quarter of 2009, while Audi clocked a robust growth of 56 per cent sales for the third consecutive month in March 2009.


For today’s Indian man fitness and good looks are his new currency to success. “I work hard and often for very late hours. I have to stay fit to sustain this lifestyle” says a 27 year old from Mumbai. “Everything is about presentation. I am careful about the way I look so that I can make the right impression at work” added a 26 year old from Bangalore. No more is it okay today for masculinity to be hirsute and rounded. Waxed chest and sculpted body image is being beamed by media with great passion and being embraced by the current generation of men. In Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, which grossed over $29 million in 2009, a style averse Surinder Suri Sahni had to transform into a dude Raj to be able to win over the heart of his young and vivacious wife.


The market for good looks for men is shaping up rather well. A Gillette India study of early 2008 indicated that men now spend an average of 20 minutes in the mirror each morning, higher than the 18-minute average for Indian women. No wonder Emami’s Fair & Handsome fairness cream for men has posted sales of more than $11 million in one and a half year of its launch. Garnier has just launched Garnier MEN, a new range of products designed specifically for men. Incidentally, India is pioneering the launch of this new brand worldwide.  According to a 2008 Research And Markets report, the Indian men’s apparel industry is expected to burgeon at a CAGR of 14.86% from 2008 to 2010.


There is a shift in the central definition of masculinity as well for the Indian man of today. From brawn as the key instrument of intervention, brain seems to be taking over. In Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na when Jai (Imran Khan) encounters the two psychos, Bhaloo and Bhageera who were harassing his ex-girl friend, Meghna in the pub, he uses his wit and presence of mind to get her out of the situation. He pretended that she had cursed him for life by transmitting the deadly disease AIDS.  Obviously the psychos dropped the girl in a jiffy and let her go. While Dharmendra the original ‘he man’ of Bollywood said “might is right”, today Akshay Kumar, Arshad Warsi & Ritesh Deshmukh use clever manipulation to get what they want in movies like Apna Sapna Money Money and Golmaal.


The newer version of Indian man is not a protector and aggressor all the time. He uses charm, wit and play as his devices with equal aplomb and more over is indulgent to his personal self. The shift is apparent if you compare the movie Don and its remake. While in the original version, Amitabh sits sober and controlled in a sauna as he calmly plots murder, in the re-make Shahrukh is in a bath tub watching Tom and Jerry, laughing maniacally. Shades of this cleverness are creeping into many brand stories that are trying to be attractive to the men folk in today’s India. From the ‘charming rascal’ stories by an apparel brand to a clever play between Akshay Kumar and his alter ego for Thums Up – the portrayal of man in advertising too is shifting from the protector or power archetype to a more playful, manipulative and khiladi archetype.


The other significant change in the idea of the Indian man is the role of woman in his life. Biwi No. 1 was the dutiful, loving, understanding wife who excelled at fulfilling all her responsibilities with extreme devotion to her husband. Aishwariya Rai in Dhoom 2 however is a partner in crime, part of all the real action. The woman has today upgraded her role from being a support function to being a partner in crime. Not only are home activities being shared but the woman is playing a larger role in areas such as household investment, car purchase and other decisions in which she traditionally had no role to play.


It’s probably time again for marketers to use the man to get to the woman, remember – ‘jo biwi se kare pyaar who prestige se kaise kare inkaar’.  Just that this time around the display of affection is not just about enhancing kitchen efficiencies. Kellogg’s special K for woman uses the husband as the spokesman for the woman and how she lost weight using the breakfast cereal. While Future Generali Life insurance weaves a story around the husband gifting his wife a policy as a shagun for happy times forever. Woman becoming a partner in crime also means increasing role of women in speaking to men, as for instance J Hampstead has Priyanka Chopra as the celebrity selling men’s suiting fabric.


Today’s Indian man has also broken out of his stiff starched hierarchical self.  He is stepping out of the traditional men roles and is not shy of being found in the kitchen, though looking a little awkward in the Act II popcorn television spot. “They (the men of today) are no longer scared to step into the kitchen. My husband in fact makes better continental food than I can and I am proud of him” claims a 28 year old Mumbai wife. Men today have crossed the boundary from the living room rocking chair to the kitchen table top and unashamedly so. Certainly there is more use of this transformation for targeting of many FMCG products.


As a father too he is transforming from being a supportive friend to being one of the boys. In Dilwaale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, which released in early 90’s the supportive father goads his son to go get the girl of his dreams and helps him in his quest.  While in a later release Kabhi Alwida Na Kehna, sexy Sam is the player while the son is the indulgent supporter of his ways. It’s suddenly cute today to cast men in boy like situations as done in the recent Fiat Linea commercial wherein the father gets stuck to the car in the window display just as his child was getting stuck to the toys and has to be pulled off by his son.


The Indian man of today has transformed himself from the respectable Ram to the Khiladi Krishna. He is no more burdened by the shackles of maryaada. He is today less worried about roles, more worried about goals. He is driven by success is hungry and in a hurry. He is today a performer, a manipulator, a provider and metro sexual all at the same time. The Indian man archetype today is more about brains than brawns; in Bollywood cinema therefore he outwits the opponent rather than picking up an open fight.  He is opening up to other facets of his life and trying to be a more involved father and a rather caring husband.  Above all, he is opening up a whole new market segment which has till now not been targeted with much priority.


(This article was first published in The Strategist)

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