Thursday, June 17, 2010


There is no one single “humdrum” marketing or advertising strategy that will get you across to the “typical Indian customer”. The ball game is different in Bharat!

T ractors with green colours are not liked in China. Why? Well, let that be an unresolved mystery. Let’s concentrate on another puzzle. The third largest American tractor company realised in India that rolling out a flashy new design with a rounded hood is inviting disaster for oneself? Because in India tractors run for almost 12-16 hours a day, though they spend only half the time doing the actual farmwork. Away from the fields they are pressed into service as passenger vehicles. So a square hood, instead of a round one, is a very good feature to have because it can accommodate more people.

Welcome to the Indian marketplace and its peculiarities.


Notwithstanding the weight of mighty ones like Theodore Levitt and Thomas Friedman who pitched for oneness of the world, the fact is that there is no universally applicable marketing strategy. So you need to tweak your learnings from Kotler to adapt them to specific (in our case Indian) realities. India for example, is both young and old. Snail mails and social media co-exist here. We are modern but retain our old cultural values; both the forces operate and interact to influence consumer behaviour. Valentine’s Day and Wedding muhurat, both are prefixed. Since Indians are relationship oriented, coffee cafes are likely to work as meeting place. Yet, culturally rooted food habits will ensure that bacon ice cream (coffee ice cream with cinnamon and bacon fat) or mango and lemon grass kulfi with tandoori fruits in it will remain items for the niche market for a long period of time to come...

India actually is a sum of many parts. You need to study the market well. Ford came to India with Escort, its sedan; it did no good to the company. Mondeo provided no succour either, nor did Endeavour help to the extent expected. The Ikon designed for India created a buzz though. But the neglect of the most significant car market segment proved dear. So Ford Figo has had an India focus. Out of the 84 prototype mules that were built for it, 64 were manufactured in India. The development process involved over 8,000 individual tests, 20 crash tests, and 7 lakh km of driving on 134 pre-production models that were made.

In one of the ads in the latest four parts campaign for Volkswagen Polo, a man driving a Polo car puts a large egg in front of the car and then runs his car over it. He finds an angry mother ostrich storming towards him. The voice over says: “The Volkswagen Polo. Our engineers have tested the ground clearance. So you don’t need to.” The series is actually trying to highlight that the company understands typical needs of Indian buyer and the car has been built for the Indian conditions.
Lesson 1: Each market is unique. Study it well before attempting to serve it.


In the Indian metros, a typical youngster buys about five pairs of jeans annually for very practical reasons: Versatility of the garment. It is perfect for college, partying, and now even for a formal occasion. Yet, the ratio between ethnic wear to Western wear hovers around 50:50 for women. Even those who prefer Western attire have nearly 20-30% of their wardrobe consisting of Indian wear. To add to the complexity further, fusion wear is gaining increasing acceptance: Kurti with jeans, clinging tees with ethnic print skirts or tunics with churidar style leggings.

India is tuned to today but tagged to the old. Many Indian dream merchants have developed a thing for phoren maal, be it in the form of a Hollywood celeb appearance, fair-skinned dancers, or international trainers. Look at the Indian Bollywood industry for that matter. 27 out of the 40 recent titles had English (or Hinglish) names. These filmmakers feel English titles help draw the multiplex audiences, since such names give the movie an international feel. And since a lot of money comes from international audience, even films with Hindi titles have English taglines. This affects foreign film buffs on one side, while it keeps the name desi enough for small time cinegoers. 64% of the 600 plus prints of Avatar were dubbed in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu. Hindi version incidentally earned the highest – 40% – revenue share followed by English at 36%. Café Coffee Day (CCD) has nearly 1000 outlets which are classified under high street, highways, shop in shop, transportation hubs, corporates, hospitals and educational institutions.

Lesson 2: Indian market is highly segmented. Be clear which segment(s) you wish to target.

Ranbir Kapoor works in Ajab Prem... but fails in Rocket Singh. The segment targeted still wants its quota of songs, dances, comic tracks, over the top lines, and of course, a heroine!


Shallow ideas (and products based on them) fail to enthuse the customers. Indian audience rooted for the blood-pumping exercise of Wanted, but Chandni Chowk to China proved to be a little too cheesy. For them rom-com stands for Ajab Prem... and not Kambakht Ishq. In the past Sangam of Raj Kapoor did well with a total run of nearly 4 hours and 2 intervals, but today Kites was tweaked to a length of 90 minutes for foreign viewers (and 2 hours in India) And yet it failed to fly since 90% dialogues are in English and Spanish. Archie Comics batting for family values now has Kevin Keller, a gay character. When road network started spreading countrywide, Tata Motors sensed business opportunity in providing the last mile transportation and offered Tata Ace – a miniature version of an HCV.

Current crop of customers believe that it has very little time and a lot to do. So being impatient is OK. And the product and services too must be tailored to this profile. T20 instead of a five dayer, 5 seconders instead of 30 second commercial, speed dating against steady romances et al, cater to this mindset. Besides, when consumers have shorter lifecycles of interest and shorter patience platforms, brand loyalty gives way to brand promiscuity. So the marketer needs to develop multiple brands with different positioning. Amway sells (only in India) products in various pack sizes because consumers expect a wide range of choices. It is only in India that Amway sells low-end products as compared to highly concentrated and premium products sold elsewhere. Corporate hospitals in India are tweaking up services, working longer, and rushing medicare to the sick at a telephone call. They are opening neighbourhood clinics. Archie Comics is being launched in Hindi and Malyalam. Indian mythological characters are being modernised. In Amar Chitra Katha (Stage-1) there were divine monkey calendar images flying away with an entire mountain. Ramanand Sagar made Dara Singh Hanuman (Stage-2) with plastered lips, misty eyes, and with constant chant of Prabhu. In the 21st century (Stage-3), now Hanuman returns to bless the earth as a cherubic mischief monger dodging bullets like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. The avataar has been contemporised to suit the sensibilities of the target audience.

Lesson-3: Once you know your targeted customer group, fabricate a product, or modify the existing one, to suit his needs, whims and fancies.

Laurel & Hardy will find audience, so will perhaps Soori-Poori (a new animation series with Indian caricatures).

India has 5 metros, 5 mini-metros, 33 tier-1 towns, 28 tier-2 towns, 152 tier-3 towns, 201 tier-4 towns, nearly 4600 peri-urban markets (population between 5000-99,999) and 6 lakh villages. There are nearly 10 lakh millionaire households in India in peri-urban locations, and 13 lakh in the country’s villages. India is a huge market needing all kind of products. Only word of caution: You will invite failure if you try to sell silicon supports to Pam Anderson (of Baywatch and VIP fame) or slimming shots to Shilpa Shetty!


We are talking about bromide prints of the model, silly! But then marketing is all about delivery of right value at right price.

BMW and Mercedes have realised that by cutting down on some features and shaving a few lakh rupees off the price tag, they have been able to attract buyers who may otherwise have opted for the top of the range models from mass market manufacturers. The models priced at around Rs.25 lakh have opened up the luxury car market for buyers who would have earlier thought of them being way beyond their precious budgets.

The other India is game for a basic cellphone, a portable refrigerator the size of a small cooler and many other products which are result of frugal engineering. But mind you frugal engineering is nor merely low cost production; the focus rather is on avoiding unnecessary costs and adding more value. In case of Tata Nano for example, the space that otherwise would have been occupied by a ratio is given as storage space since a typical buyer prefers latter to the former. In the process of course, cost was cut too. Nokia provides monochrome screen not merely to make the phone affordable but also to save power, since most such users don’t enjoy the luxury of power supply when needed; polychromatic phones use sophisticated software which uses lot of power. Nokia 1100 provided non-slip silicon coating on the keypad and sides to avoid problems due to intense humidity. McDonald’s prices of course, are well known for making the brand successful in India.

Lesson-4: Indian consumer is value seeker. Only that the connotation of value varies from one segment to another.


As marketer you need to talk to the target audience in the language and idiom he identifies with. Maruti sells nearly 18% of its cars in non-urban areas. Initially the efforts to take these villagers to the dealers in big towns did not lead to much success because the potential buyers found it intimidating in plush showrooms. So, the company rooted for local talent and appointed them as sales executives in taluk headquarters.If you wish to wear the sexy biege saree look alike that Priyanka Chopra wore in Dostana then online sites enable you to browse and get the look copied.

Diesel, Timberland, or Hard Rock Café hire from amongst NIFT graduates, DJs, fashion models, yoga instructors, or Shiamak Davar trainees; in brief, youngsters who are interested in rock music, fashion, adventure sports, etc. and ‘belong’ to the target customer group itself. Advertisements and brand projection of cola drinks have a key bearing on the final choice. Youth should be able to find themselves in the communications exercise in order to build a suitable connect. M&M, Nike, DOCOMO, Quaker Oats and many more are using the net to talk to the tweeting generation. Slumdog Millionaire was promoted 90% on social media. Brands are creating communities and creating contents specifically for promotion.

Lesson -5: Communicate to compete in the language and media dictated by your target audience

That is why Dev-D and Devdas. So in less than 140 characters (as permitted on the Twitter), what is the success mantra: Identify and isolate your target audience and stitch your marketing strategy as per his dictates. Else, you will join the Hall of fame with the makers of Goal, De Dhana Dhan, Dil Bole Hadippa, Jannat and their ilk. And review your lessons of Marketing 101.