What Ticks for Indian Consumers

11 Aug,2014


Last year, when we carried the contents of our first Annual, the articles went on and on and on. So this year, we thought we’d give it a slip and just restrict the Annual to the print (and eventually archived in an e-edition). But given the treasure trove of content and knowledge, there have been several requests from our readers (and some of our guest writers) to publish these every day over the next month.


Given that there are over a hundred articles in the second edition of the Annual, we will carry two or three articles every day and try and conclude our series by early September.


The insights and views were broken down into the following strata and components of the average Indian household: Family, Women, Men, Young Adult/Teen, Kids.


So, read on and with the first of our two writers: R Balki and Sam Balsara from the ‘Family Section’:



The changing family dynamics


By R Balki


There are two parts to this change. While of course there are more and more independent nuclear families with one or two children, there is still a huge part of India that lives in joint families. The most interesting change is here, in the dynamics within the joint family. While two or more families still live together there is more and more focus by each individual family, within the joint structure, on its own needs. It is no longer one rule, one way of life for the whole group. There is an unsaid, unspoken understanding of the need for independent progress in a seemingly dependant framework.


In the nuclear family, while the concern for children, their schooling, and aspirations for their higher education is still foremost in a couple’s life, there is an increasing focus on their individual futures too. It is no longer selfish to worry about ‘myself ‘ and ‘my’ future and ‘what I am going to be professionally’ while taking care of children. Of course, there still are some women who give up everything for their children’s sake or some men who put their careers on different tracks from what they like it to be for the sake of their children. But I think this sacrificial number is fast decreasing.


Couples with no children are on the rise. They make a conscious decision not to have children and focus on themselves. There are more and more examples that demonstrate that a child is not a necessity for happiness.



‘Fragmentation is never a friend of advertisers, segmentation is’


By Sam Balsara


The consumerism story is likely to continue in India for a while. We have a one billion-plus population and there are several people who are continuously coming from the non-consumption segment into the consumption segment. Indeed there is plenty of headroom for consumption in India. Though there might be some disturbances, on the macro level, the consumption story of India is very strong.


Even today, for instance, there are millions of people who are yet to enter the toothpaste market, they use dant manjan. These people will come in the toothpaste market… and that will happen irrespective of the growth rate. In the 1960s and ’70s we all thought that population was a major concern. However, we have now realized that it is actually a source of strength. What we need to focus on is to have an educated and employable population, which is the key concern area.


From collective to individualistic society

India is moving from being a collective society to an individualistic society. It is an outcome of westernization and urbanization. Everything is becoming very individual and one family-centric. It brings about its own opportunities for the marketer. The concept of a family soap that existed until recently probably is dying. You create products and you create advertising for almost each member of the family – the mother, the father, the grandmother, the grandfather, married son, child, teenager… It creates opportunities for marketers to further segment, target and appeal to each of the individual people.



Socio-economic reasons for change

Awareness is the biggest reason for change. People of every region are more aware of how life is led in the world outside. Examples open the mind. There’s a belief that there can be a better life and it is possible to experience it. Earlier women were always made to feel guilty if they were worried about their future. It was always about the children’s future and the man’s progress. Today women are clearly saying, ‘I am equal, I have my future too’. It is like a volcano. The years of suppression is making this change so powerful that it is the biggest driving force of our times.


Rural and urban family

It is difficult and dangerous to generalise families as rural and urban. Many urban people behave like Neanderthal families stuck in the past, while several families from villages or small towns think and behave like they are in some of the most developed countries. Be it environmental consciousness, be it entrepreneurship or just social thought process. There can no longer be a blind generalisation that if you are in a certain place or from a certain economic background this is how you will be.


Again awareness, exposure to life outside the community, an increasing respect for the Individual in the smallest sections of society is the reason for this behaviour.


From collective to individualistic society

It is indeed a paradox. As we are talking of the emancipation of the individual, male, female or family there is a parallel push that is driving us back to togetherness. Bad governance, the state of our bureaucracy, the increasing corruption that is threatening to ruin our nation… All these threats are going to need collective solving and a spirit of togetherness like we have never seen after Independence. There are too many wrongs, too many fears, too much to lose. Funny. Just when we were beginning to enjoy our selfishness and individual progress after years, we have to, with far greater awareness, make some sacrifices and come together for survival. The small spurt of selfish behaviour will have to go back to collective consciousness, collective thinking and collective living. We can only be ok if we are all ok.


Man’s role

The male species is at last truly evolving. It has had to unlearn or re-learn a number of things. It is learning a different kind of sensitivity. The era of blind dominance of ‘I earn so I am the king of the family is gone’. Men are being forced to acknowledge and appreciate the role of the home-maker. In fact, with women double hatting, co-earning and managing homes, things are changing so rapidly that men are slowly getting prepared to be formally relegated to second place, way behind women. In the family and society. Of course, there are cases where this is not true, but they are all fast changing. Sometimes by force, sometimes by just awareness.


Brands & families

Today when a brand connects with one member of the family, other members of the family too get connected with it quickly. They communicate with each other far more. Children are more intelligent than parents in a lot of cases today. They are more technologically sound, aware and solve a lot of their parents’ technological problems. Today’s family is actually more like a group of friends.


India’s consumerism story

Yes, there are malls. Yes, there are more international and national brands than ever before. But this is just still a teaser of things to come. Indian consumerism has just begun.


Increasing population a problem

Population still is our biggest problem. We may have very cleverly converted what was our biggest problem into an asset as far as the world market is concerned. But it is still our biggest threat. Consumerism is only one small corner in the asset list, there are so many liabilities. Where is the infrastructure to support this kind of population? Everything is crumbling. Social and health issues abound. Economic disparity is growing dangerously. You can sense the turbulence and restlessness. India is the most polarised nation, where the rich are few but very, very rich and the poor are many. As the population increases further, this polarisation will only increase.


We Indians have always been fantastic at leaping. We have leapt straight from no telephones in most houses to the mobile digital world. From illiteracy to the internet. Consumerism will also leap many phases because of the internet. From not even being aware of a thing called ‘marketing’ to almost an all knowing cynical attitude to every marketing push. Today consumers are far more intelligent about marketing and how things are marketed. Marketing can no longer be a ‘permissible con’. It needs to respect this evolving consumer.


Future readiness of marketers

Any marketer who believes in leading the consumer is future ready. Any communicator who believes in adding to a consumer’s life is future ready. Those that just follow the consumer are always behind. And will never be future ready. Consumers lose respect for brands that just look at their lives and borrow from it to momentarily connect with them. Consumers look up to brands that have shown them a new way. Always. These brands will always be future ready. As they are leading the consumer to a new future.



On another dimension, to make an impact in media today is becoming increasingly expensive. To make an economically viable product that can be marketed to individual members of the family and to make it commercially viable is a challenge. Going forward as you get more targeted media, things hopefully will ease out.


Changing family dynamics

Man’s role has substantially changed from being an autocrat ruling the family with a heavy strict hand. The change is definitely more visible in urban areas. He has become more responsive to his family’s needs, their likes and dislikes. What they eat, what they wear, car they use, school children go to, holiday destinations have all become participative decisions where the entire family participates.


I think children are becoming difficult to reach partly because of the advertisers own stringent guidelines based on their social responsibility. Many of the large advertisers impose restrictions on us not to directly reach children and try to influence them directly because that is considered socially irresponsible.


Consumer expectations & marketer readiness

Consumers are becoming more demanding, less tolerant, more finicky, more discerning, choosier; this is a continuum where everyone is moving up on the scale. Are the marketers ready for the consumers of tomorrow? I guess not. I don’t think we are ready for every change but obviously nobody is really ready for all change. Marketers do a lot of research on their products and in what consumers need but possibly not enough research is done on how the consumer is thinking and how his lifestyle and habits are changing.


Having said that, marketers have realized that it is a folly to launch products ahead of their time. For example, some 10 years ago, many advertisers had made big splash about bath gel and it did seem it was a little ahead of its time then. I believe that from a marketing point of view and from economic viability and sustainability point of view, it is always better to be few years late than a few years early.


Key challenges for traditional media

The biggest challenge is the problem of plenty. There is just too much of media, too much fragmentation and media is not well segmented. That is a challenge. Fragmentation is never a friend of advertisers, segmentation is. Fragmentation makes impactful communication difficult.


Social media has emerged strongly in India in the last few years. Marketers have been quick to jump to this bandwagon. I don’t think we have really been able to exploit the power of this medium though. Facebook is also becoming a little cautious, they don’t want to commercialise it too much and make their users unhappy. We should be able to figure out a better way for engaging with this community of millions of users that is readily available.


Mobile as a medium of advertising

Mobile would emerge as a strong advertising medium in years to come. It is a medium that is always on, and is personal. It can also be voice-based, breaking the illiteracy barrier. The price of smart phones is also coming down. It has a lot going for it except its small screen size.


Theoretically, precise targeting should be possible but in actual practice it has remained restricted to targeting by time and by geography. According to me there are too many regulatory issues that prevent it from becoming a dream medium. Once these are taken care of, mobile advertising would definitely grow exponentially.


Happiness quotient

It is definitely true that happiness has become more elusive now. Despite so much of material wealth, the level of unhappiness seems to have gone up. However, this is nothing new or unexpected. It is again the consequence of westernisation, urbanisation and more prosperity.


Possibly there is opportunity for marketers to capitalize on happiness as a product benefit in an abstract way and not in a material way. Instead of saying it makes your hair darker, or makes you taller or thinner or things like that, they can say buy my product and it will make you happy.


– (As told to Ritu Midha)

Tomorrow: Men – Rana Barua and Ashish Bhasin


Post a Comment 

Comments are closed.

Today's Top Stories