ALTHOUGH THE INDIAN SOCIETY, ECONOMY, AND PSYCHE IS CHANGING, THERE EXISTS A CONTINUUM. AND THAT’S WHAT MARKETERS NEED TO KEEP IN MIND IF THEY WANT TO TASTE SUCCESS IN ONE OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST CONSUMER MARKETS
In the recently released movie Cocktail Deepika Padukone plays Veronica (remember Archie Comics?): glamorous, sexy, yet feminine and stunning at all times. For her, the dress mantra is: the skimpier, the sexier. All the time, she shows off one or the other part of her body to her advantage. Her hair is of an auburn/coffee shade and is puffed up with a volumizer. Her body is always glowing with a bronzer. As a fashion trendsetter she mixes & matches patterns, adorns adventurous silhouettes and chooses unusual designs & labels. All accoutrements – from her hair clips to handbags to shoes – make a style statement by standing out in colour and design.
And then we have Diana Penty a.k.a Meera, much like Betty from Archie. She has an easy, simple & earthy fashion personality. Her hair is of a darker shade of brown. She wears little makeup, goes for anti-fits, androgynous or functional clothing, and dresses more for comfort than getting noticed. So no bright colours, prints, or form-filling silhouettes.
Aki Narula, the costume designer, went and bought a phiran from a salesman – which he was himself wearing – for the rockstar Ranbir Kapoor. Jordan’s intricately styled and unusual wardrobe reflects the character’s journey and the various phases he goes through.
I quote these facts to emphasise that the Indian audience is veering towards realism. Conviction about the character in the film comes in part from the clothes and accessories s(he) wears/adorns. The costumes are fundamental in allowing us to make decisions about the character. And this is mandatory for storytelling.
Big budgets demand careful scrutiny of changing profile of consumer, and then devise and execute a marketing strategy accordingly. Since July 1, 2012 Channel [V] is no longer a music channel, even if earlier it was airing about three hours of Bollywood music. Why this about-turn? Well, India is the world’s second fastest growing mobile market. Indians aged 15-24 spend an average of 13.6 hours on the net, a lot of that on music videos. Digital music in fact grew by 24% in 2011 while physical form fell by 19%. Hence the channel wants to reposition itself as a youth general entertainment channel. Even MTV is concentrating on building original programing in the form of MTV Coke Studio, MTV Roadies, etc. to engage the viewers. As a matter of fact a youth channel can remain relevant only if it is present across all platforms that youth engage with.
The Indian youth is getting fitter and is demanding slim, super slim, and skinny fits to accentuate narrow waistlines, broad shoulders, and well toned bodies. So Raymonds has launched slim fits and super slims. Now these two account for 60-75% of the overall business. Whereas at Allen Solly, earlier sizes 40 and 42 were lifted off the racks most often, now 70- 80% sale comes from the 39 and 40 sizes. The Indian male is getting health conscious, pays enough attention to grooming, and is no longer speed shopping. He is eager to receive information about styling, fabrics, and colours to create customised look for himself.
Wedding frills too are undergoing changes in colour and scale. So the demand for professional wedding planners is rising by the day. While the rich are going in for concept and destination weddings, the middle class is assigning the management of the event to specialised professionals. Men and women both are willing to go under the knife for cosmetic reasons. So the short-stay medical centres dealing in less complicated surgeries and needing a patient stay for less than 24 hours have started mushrooming even in Tier-2 towns. Earlier ‘extra’ coaching was for ‘weak’ students; now a whopping 78% parents believe that it is unavoidable to ensure that their child stays ahead. 60% of primary school children and up to 83% of those in high schools now receive private tutoring.
Since Indian cinema audience is becoming more accommodating to alternative opinions and views that it may not agree with, movies from Maqbool to the Dirty Picture have attained box office success. The women in them are real with their sense of individuality, greed, determination, ambition, and sexuality. Mother India and her league have had a serious makeover therefore. The halter blouse has replaced the white saree. The pout queen does not bat an eyelid before indulging in abusive verbal diarrhoea. Younger filmmakers are discovering new formulae for success. An ‘A’ certification is welcome, even if not actively sought. The song in a movie may be sung by housewives (O Womaniya in Gangs of Wasseypur); it need not be melody driven. Lyrics may be in bol-chal ki bhasha so that people can relate to them.
Then at times a marketer wishes to change the consumer behaviour in favour of his brand. It is another matter whether he succeeds or not. For instance, Kara Skin Wipes face a tough challenge since these are trying to force a change of habit so deeply embedded in Indian psyche. Besides, the brand is seeking to promote a ‘use and throw’ product which again is culturally not acceptable to the Indian consumer. That too at a price of Rs.30-35 for a box of 10 wipes when much cheaper options are available.
Nevertheless, the Indian consumer is changing. And this is prompting marketers to change their spots too! But wait a minute! The more things change, the more they remain the same! Marketers need to tune their antennae for discriminating between right and wrong signals. Savita Bhabhi, the porn toon character on the Net, was forced to go into oblivion. Yet Sunny Leone’s porn background is of no concern to the Indian audience. The colour of her skin, her accent, & her passport stand in her defence. And why not? In India, gods are fair skinned while demons are dark. What’s more? There is even a cream available to whiten a woman’s private parts. Bollywood junior artistes now are foreign ‘Goris’.
Talking about Indian cinema, neither the audience nor the cinema has evolved; it has merely got segmented: On one hand, it is made for the metro multiplexes, Net, and DVD consumers; on the other, single screen audience is still alive and kicking. For a brief while, the working class male vanished in the late nineties in the face of glamorous realism of the Yash Raj films kind. Then came Chulbul Pandey and Lovely Singh (and now Rowdy Rathore) to remind us that a large chunk of consumption of Hindi cinema comes from lower middle class for whom Salman’s muscular bare chest represents body ideal. Salman dresses in Indian style with earrings, bracelet, bright clothes, lives in the same building as his parents, and thereby his star persona embodies many of the values that have endured over time for the Indian lower middle class. Movies like Agneepath are still about maa ka pyaar, behan ki izzat, and bete ka badla. Katrina reminds the audience of raunchy eighties’ style dancing. The dialogue-baazi of Singham will never be over the top for this audience.
L’Oreal realised, as did Amway, that in India there is big masstige segment. So L’Oreal has decided to offer a lower priced hair care range, including sachets for its shampoos. Elle from France recently launched women-wear at Indian prices. While usually, facilities at a typical international budget hotel are at best of the basic level, in India, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Inn or Formula I all provide multi-cuisine, including regional cuisine, restaurants in their properties, dustbins in the rooms, as also full length mirror for the convenience of saree draping women. So what is the takeaway?
The Indian society, economy, and psyche are changing. But there exists a continuum. At the same time, deep-seated values, beliefs, and habits are hard to change. So a marketer has to understand that the Indian market is an aggregation of many diverse sub markets. Some evolving, some transiting at a fast clip, while some are already globalised.