Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, March 08, 2013

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I am CEO of a marketing company. I have always thought how do I establish ‘value’ for the Indian consumers. I mean the western books teach us all about the fundamentals; but how do I reach out to the uniqueness of the Indian mass? I am not looking at a formula but just a way to interpret the ‘value’ better.

The sage Narad once put Krishna on one pan of the weighing scale, and asked the wives of Krishna to place something heavier (more valuable) on the other side. Satyabhama put gold ornaments; it was not heavy enough. Rukmini put a tulsi leaf; it was heavier than Krishna. The tulsi leaf was a code for Rukmini’s love for Krishna. Thus the thought (love for Krishna) granted the thing (tulsi leaf) an intangible value. It transformed the commodity (tulsi leaf) into a brand (symbol of love for Krishna) and its value increased exponentially. But the value is known only to those who are familiar with the codes. To make people familiar with these codes is marketing.

Marketeers embed thought into things. This thought is bhog (food) that consumers seek to satisfy bhook (hunger). Marketing is about increasing existing hunger or igniting new forms of hunger. To reach out to any consumer, we need to understand human hunger and its triggers. This is complex as the hunger is not physical: it is psychological.

Human hunger is fuelled by fear (bhaya). Fear of invalidation and insignificance. We yearn to feel significant, that we matter. Hence we crave for power and identity. And we gather this power and identity through things in which marketeers have embedded thoughts, using advertising. Thus we buy clothes, that cost nothing to make, at ridiculous prices: we are not buying a thing, we are buying a thought. The brand’s value resides in our head.

What is the hunger of the Indian consumer? It is difficult to answer the question as India is extremely diverse. We need to identify the consumer to identify the hunger and to do that we need to understand the product you are selling. Since you have not clarified that identification of the audience, their hunger becomes difficult.  There is no generic ‘Indian’ customer for all products.

Stories we consume are a good indicator of consumer hunger. It is noticed that Hollywood films tell stories with a clear plot, usually an adventure with a grand finale. Bollywood films do not care so much for stories as much as they do for a string of moments and a larger than life character (Rajnikant). You can classify Hollywood films as comedy, or drama or action or sci fi. You can never classify a Bollywood film: it is action, drama, romance, horror and sci-fi, all at once.

It is noticed that films of the 1950s, in the Nehru era, spoke of the plight of the farmer at the hand of moneylenders, films like Mother India and Do Bhiga Zameen. In the 1970s, in the Indira era, films spoke of smugglers and angry young men, with films like Deewar and Zanzeer. In the 21st century, we have films where there are no smugglers, and no poverty, and no vamps doing cabaret: we have heroes displaying their bodies and heroines doing item numbers confidently.

Different types of hungers demand different types of food hence create different types of markets.