Friday, January 18, 2013



Notwithstanding the recent outburst and censure against Honey Singh’s songs, since 2006 he has been consistently delivering one hit after another. So what sells? His songs catered to the archetype of Jathood, celebrated Jathood and gun culture. One of his songs says: “I have blood in my eyes today, I have to kill some body.” He uses swear words which occupy the lexicon of Gen Z and Y, since that is how you become cool dude. His songs enforce a particular idea of masculinity. And of course his songs commodify women, an accepted norm in India, howsoever much it might be abhorred as a value.

In fact, where is the sober dress for soulful music? All music genres have their own particular brand image, projected by artists themselves as a part of the total recital package. So rock & pop artists’ attire would be wild & vibrant, flouting established norms. Even Carnatic musicians have now become display conscious, since the ethos of the society from which they derive their psychic cues are changing. Kanchipuram silk, dazzling danglers of diamonds and other accoutrements are on full display, in sharp contrast to austere and sober dress of the singer in days gone into hibernation.

The difference between a brand and a commodity can be summed up as ‘added value’, tangible or intangible. But ‘added value’ can be created only when the marketers understand the psychological makeup of consumer that tells them much more about consumer’s actual motive to consume than demographics and other mechanical methods of classification do.

All material possessions carry social meaning. Goods have a double role; they provide subsistence on one hand and create lines of social relationships on the other. Physical properties of goods can never explain their demand. A modern brand secures an emotional involvement rather than only meeting a functional need. Earlier a QSR meant availability of food with minimum fuss, now it means fast serve but not necessarily fast consumption. Look at CCD or McDonalds ads.

Brands now aim at three things. First, they attain success by satisfying more than one (relevant) goal. Obvious examples are mobiles and tablets. Failures of course are available in the shape of e-readers, standalone cameras, etc. Second, they enable buyers to cope with role conflict. Allen Solly has succeeded through ‘Friday Dressing’ concept. ULIP plans are picked up because they act as tools of insurance and investments together. Third, they sometime focus on satisfying neglected goals. Royal Enfield has attained success because there is a niche segment opting for individuality and freedom. SUVs are huge sellouts in India since they introduce an element of adventure into mundane task of driving, and that too economically.

People actually live in a double environment, the personal inner world of feeling, emotion, and thoughts as well as the outer world of people, places, and possessions. So rational, conscious motivation are important but so are the mental vision of the brands that the customers create of the brands in question and the feelings that they associate with that image. It is important that the marketer understands clearly as to why people choose to behave in a certain way. Needs, simply put, are felt state of deprivation. There are physiological needs, psychological needs, and learned needs (due to socialisation process). Physiological (hunger, sex), cognitive (affection, social), emotional (security, stability) and environmental (success, prestige) are the four distinct type of stimuli that arouse needs. Needs and their arousal owe their birth and sustenance in part to consumer psyche which is really a very complex phenomenon.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs addresses the issue of motivational needs. Each manager worth his salt knows about them. However, we propose a two-pronged modification here. One, that in a collectivist culture like India we must question the definition and even existence of the need called self actualisation. As a personally directed need it is perhaps replaced by a socially directed one reflecting a desire to enhance one’s image and position through contribution to society. Here in India personal level of needs (emphasis on achieving independence, autonomy, and freedom – characteristics of western culture) is conspicuous by its absence, though gradually taking roots. The highest level of satisfaction is not derived from actions directed at the self but from the reactions of others to the consumer. Therefore personally directed self actualisation need has to be replaced by social needs. The social needs of belonging and prestige can be broken down into three levels: affiliation, admiration, and status.

Affiliation is the acceptance of an individual as a member of a group. In the family this acceptance is automatic but in most other groups certain qualifications must be met to gain membership. Once affiliation has been attained the individual will desire the admiration of those in the group. This is the higher level need and requires effort. An admiration can be earned through acts that demand the respect of others. Finally, the individual would want the status arising from the esteem of society at large. Fulfillment of this need requires the regard of outsiders (to the group), whereas fulfillment of the admiration need occurs on a more intimate level. The status level most closely resembles the western need for prestige and manifests itself in conspicuous consumption.

The second modification that we propose is to large the list of these needs by including two more, aesthetic and cognitive. Aesthetic (beauty and balance) needs are becoming more conspicuous among new generation. These sit above the existing needs. Besides the modern SEC A, B, C youth, with enough moolah in his purse and a large credit limit, wishes to lead a liberated life, even if on EMIs. He has the need to acquire knowledge (read self awareness). Therefore brands that allow for expression of aesthetic and cognitive needs are increasingly being included in the consumption basket. As an illustration we have taken Wellness industry to provide the new framework (figure 1 and 2).

So now you know why in the aftermath of December 16 tragic event, nobody wanted to listen to Main Hun Balatkari from Yo Yo Honey Singh; psychologically disturbed nation has put the whole popular culture of which music is an integral part under scrutiny. Precisely for this reason the misogynist context in advertisement is being objected against, as for example in the commercial of a phone brand that shows cricketer Virat Kohli tricking an unknown girl into sharing her number with him. However, if you permit me, this is transitory reaction. The society at large thinks nothing of such songs or ads where it comes to actual consumption behaviour. Value system does not necessarily govern our consumerist psyche.