The Wrong Chase – Five things marketers got wrong about the Indian consumer


The Wrong Chase – Five things marketers got wrong about the Indian consumer

The Poor Want Purpose

Without it’s branding by Mahatma Gandhi, Khadi would have remained hand-woven cotton fabric, good for sweaty climates. Mahatma Gandhi elevated Khadi into a larger purpose for the masses – swadeshi and swaraj. What Mahatma Gandhi did with Khadi, Baba Ramdev did with yoga, may be not with same magnificence. Baba Ramdev preached spiritualism on the one hand and sold cornflakes and anti-dandruff shampoo on the other. What Kellogg’s couldn’t achieve with Iron Shakti in 20 years, Baba Ramdev did with Yoga Shakti in 5 years. Disclaimer – cornflakes is Patanjali’s top seller, though not the only product. So what’s going on here? The poor, mass consumers of India seem to be self-actualised. They want purpose. All this, while we believed Maslow and sold functionality to them.

Aspiration Before Affordability

‘Frugal Innovation’ may qualify as one the buzziest terms in emerging market lexicon, contested closely by Jugaad (more about that in a bit). However, taken out of context, frugal innovation has meant that we take a car or a refrigerator or mobile phone and strip it down to a level that it stops looking like a car or a refrigerator or a mobile phone. Inspired by frugal innovation, Nokia built the Asha series, which was a feature phone pretending to be a smartphone. Close on the heels of the Asha series, Samsung launched real smartphones in the same range, Samsung Galaxy Y. As it turned out, Samsung’s desirability was a bigger pull for the mass consumer than Nokia’s frugality. The poster child of frugal innovation, Nano attempted to solve the wrong need, it went after mobility while the mass consumer wanted status. Nokia’s Asha series or Nano aren’t failures of product design or marketing strategy. They are a failure of how we think about mass markets – through the lens of affordability, not aspiration.

Jugaad Is The Enemy Of Excellence

This second buzziest term in the emerging market vocabulary, essentially means fix by hook or by crook. A couple of years ago, a Bulandshahr district hospital was in news for ward-boys stitching up people’s wounds and giving injections. As it turned out, this was ajugaad for a lack of trained medical staff — an explanation that didn’t convince too many people. Jugaad means it’s okay to skip standard operating procedures. It means the roadside mechanic will fix the hole in your car’s silencer, so what if it turns the engine into junk? Jugaad subtracts value. There can be no patli gali to excellence.

Chase youth not stereotypes

The portrayal of youth in India is caught between stereotypes. On the one hand is the mean guy, mouthing expletives, as seen in MTV Roadies, on the other is the guy from SOBO (south of Bombay) who, when he misses his college friends, takes a trip to Spain as seen in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Between these two worlds lies the real youth of India in mug shots for ads by IIT JEE coaching institutes. Media and advertising have fed this amorous, mean and manipulative archetype of Indian youth. An Outlook survey asked 18–35 year olds how old they were when they had sex for the first time. Theaverage turned out to be 20, not 16, as we have been led to believe. Clearly, there’s more to being young in India than getting laid, attending raves, sporting tattoos, and watching expletive laden content.

Unity More Than Diversity

Indeed marketing has made a big deal about India’s diversity. So if languages change every 100 kilometres, how is that information actionable? Should we create different products? How do we reach micro audiences? Where is the targeted media? Doesn’t this defeat the promise of one big market? On the other hand, what’s more interesting than the diversity spiel is the rise of a national culture. Our regional influences that divided us are now powering up a rich, textured national culture. In this collage, Vada Pav, Momos,Salwar Kameez, YoYo Honey Singh and Rajinikant sit next to each other with pride. Our diversity then, is a source of inspiration, not a sign of complexity. Jeans pockets with Lucknow chikankari, anyone.

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