What Ticks for Indian Consumers/ Family – Shashi Sinha and CVL Srinivas

09 Oct,2014

Continuing with our extracts from the second edition of the MxMIndia Annual, we present contributions by Shashi Sinha and CVL Srinivas.



‘The need is to reach out to the value-conscious consumer’


By Shashi Sinha


As much as everyone was hoping to see their fortunes being revived on the back of a lacklustre 2012, the year 2013 too fell short of expectations where economic growth was concerned. While I don’t think that in the FMCG and regular consumption space there is much of a slowdown, but what is also noteworthy is that this country is very value driven – so people may upgrade, downgrade based on the value proposition. People might change their brand preference based on the value they see in it. I also believe, like most people say, that small town India is not as affected as big cities.


India moving from collective to individualistic society

Western society has been an individualistic society and hence there is digital penetration of a particular kind. India, meanwhile, has been a collective society and hence digital would come in; everyone would have access but consumption would be of a particular kind. For us it is collectivism – going out together, watching TV together, eating out together… That is what I used to say very strongly and religiously, because that is what I used to believe – that is our DNA, that is our upbringing, that is our religion. I used to stand up and present all over the world that Indians are different, Asians are different – internet would come in because it is an enabler but it would never overpower our lives because our culture is not individualistic. Now I am beginning to have doubts on that philosophy.


Purchase decisions

Purchase decisions in India, as compared to the Western world are still very collective. We are brand conscious but beyond a point we would not kill. While it comes to personal products it is not a question of life and death that I would buy my own personal products. Today, a lot of decision making is by the family and it is happening all over. Youngsters are more involved in such activities and chances are that they are better informed; I am not saying that they may be better educated. They are better informed because of the power of information, communication and the internet; they are more savvy. Finally, there are social codes of conduct as to who would close the decision, so all that would not change dramatically. There would be influencers but decision making would not change dramatically.


Changing man’s role in the family

While working woman is a big thing in lower SECs, in higher SECs it is relatively speaking a small market. Decision making process today has become more democratised. Earlier, it was like father said it all – and nothing could be done, it was a diktat. Now there is a bit of a collective discussion but finally at the end of the day it is the man who is the chief wage-earner and he makes the final decision. So it has not swung the other way – it has changed definitely – there is lot more democracy, discussion and dialogue. But the man is still at the epicentre of it all. I don’t think the role has changed. It has however, got a wider set of influence.


Where traditional media is concerned, it is not about reach but engagement. Numbers today might show that some of the target groups can still be reached. But for me what matters is engagement – and that is the big challenge. There are specific silos. For too long, India has been a one-size-fits-all market. Be it from a communication standpoint or advertising or even media. What worries me is that many people still look at digital as another medium. They do not see it as another way of communicating. So the same message will be tweaked a little bit and put into the digital medium. I don’t think we that marketers and advertisers have kept pace with that change. All said and done, India is a hierarchal country, and the policies are predominantly set by the seniors. So frankly speaking, it is fashionable to say digital.


Social media

On one level, I can say that social media is here to stay and that one cannot get away with it. However, some people are also using it as a fad. Many companies want to be there on social media because it is fashionable. If we remain a collective society social media may diminish, however, if we become an individualistic society, social media is the only way to stay connected. Today, India is the second or third largest country on Facebook and Twitter. A lot of it is relevant. Finally, we have our own echo system – I go back to my own community or society people. Sunday mornings are spent having breakfast or watching a movie together with family, but if there is an escape mechanism here then social media would always remain on the fringe. If you are left by yourself for four to six hours a day, then it becomes tough and you need social media.




‘Consumers are equal participants in terms of value creation’


By CVL Srinivas


At the start of the calendar year 2013, we at Group M projected an approximate nine per cent growth rate for the advertising industry. The first six months from January – June went pretty well. As an industry, we did better than what we had projected. As per our estimates, we grew 15 per cent in the first six months of the year. However, July onwards things definitely started slowing down. The sentiment was a bit negative towards the end.


Consumer offtake

What we pick up from our clients is that consumer off take has slowed down in the last few months. There is a slowdown in terms of discretionary and premium items being purchased. Overall slowdown and sluggishness seems to be more in the top tier cities. As far as the smaller towns or the rural markets go, the results published by large FMGC companies have shown a pretty decent off take in terms of rural demand. Given that we had a good monsoon, and given all the schemes being announced by the Government, it appears that going forward rural demand should not get impacted much.


Increasing consumerism

Consumerism has been growing over the last many years with more and more people moving above the poverty line and coming into middle class. FMGC products which are, by and large, more of a necessity in big towns among higher SECs, will soon start becoming a necessity even down the pop strata, and that is when we will start seeing huge growth in FMCG consumption.


Stratification of society

India will always have its own unique position when it comes to questions like stratification of society. To some extent higher SECs in urban India are mirroring what is happening in the western markets and in the more developed economies, where it is becoming a more individualistic unit. For instance, media consumption is becoming highly personalised. Having said that, there will always be segments of consuming class, whether in bigger cities or in smaller towns, where the family as a unit will get a very important consideration from marketers, and the whole collective force of society will continue to play a role in decision making.


Man’s role in family dynamics

Traditionally, we used to look at the male to be a breadwinner of the family who didn’t know much beyond his profession. However, in the last five to ten years, we have seen quite a shift in the urban society with the man playing a pretty important part in helping the wife in bringing up children, and also doing a lot of other household chores which earlier they were not getting into. Today it is far more equitable distribution of tasks both at home and outside between the male and female – they both wear multiple hats.


Impact of Digital media

With the proliferation and the consumption of digital media having gone up in larger towns, family viewing time in front of television is definitely coming down. We have moved to an era where each of us gets engaged with our own screen whether we are at home, or whether we are in the office. We consume media, content and advertising the way we want it, at the time we want it. The challenge for marketers is to be able to adapt to this form of consumer behaviour.


In smaller towns, as of now, because of the infrastructural and bandwidth issues Internet penetration hasn’t gone up. However, there we see a lot of traction for the mobile phone. In the smallest of towns in India today there are consumers, both male and female, who are pretty adept at using mobile phones not just as a means of communication but also as a means of receiving brand messaging. Mobile has almost removed the divide between the top tier and smaller towns.


Consumer expectations in next five years

Consumers today are, first of all, far more exposed to the available options. Thanks to digital media, people in India pretty much know about new trends, products or services almost at the time they are launched in any corner of the world. The whole awareness level has gone up tremendously. The second development obviously has been the way digital social media has provided consumers a platform to voice their opinions. Earlier it was just one way communication between the brand and the consumer but today it is pretty much two way.




Where mobile is concerned, everyone says that mobile will do well because it is so cheap; smartphone penetration is also increasing. But its capabilities are limited. So it all depends on when the capabilities improve in terms of what all you can do. Again the fashionable thing to say is that mobile will do well because the numbers are huge.


Consumer expectations

India is a very value conscious society. Value does not necessarily mean cheap, but it is a very strong value-conscious society. And I believe that will always remain. Secondly, sometimes marketers, and more than marketers, advertisers and advertising agencies, in their desire to find a difference make a lot of claims but the consumer sees it as a simple filter. Our culture, our history is so strong that finally it is not about education but that our mental knowledge is so strong. As long as you talk simply, and you talk genuinely, it works. I have been with ASCI for over 10 years and have observed that the first 50 per cent complaints are from competitors. But there are also a lot of complaints that come from consumers. A lot of them ask us why are we doing this. For every 10 consumers that write to us there would be a 100 that do not write to us. And the effect of this is that they stay away from that product. We are lucky that we get some customer complaints and we can read their mind. We make silly claims, silly statements…we think we are too clever. But the Indian customer is very intelligent and is also very valueconscious. You have to treat them with dignity and respect.


Marketers of today are keeping pace with the evolving customer. A whole lot of marketers do a lot of research. I think where marketers are getting caught up is in their competitive pressures. So it is not that they are not keeping track of evolving customers – they know how he/she is evolving. But too often we look at competition more than desired rather than focussing on the consumers. We have to learn to look at the consumer first.


Where a happy family is concerned, it is important to strike the right balance. My two children were overseas but now both of them are back and we are happy together. We have a formula for being a happy family. The formula is we stay together – we so have some separate time and some bonding time for ourselves. Some days they do their own stuff and we do not ask questions but there are days where we spend time together. True happiness is found in striking the right balance.



A number of brands have today realised that consumers are equal participants in terms of value creation, and they are willing to listen to consumers a lot more. Such brands will continue to have a loyal following and would thrive. For the brands that would continue to believe in one way communication, the consumer base will obviously get eroded over a period of time.


A happy family

My definition of a happy family is a family that still wants to be together despite all the attractions and distractions that are there in this world. The family that can still be together and share common interest and common bond is a happy family for me.



Tomorrow: Friday, October 10: Men – Indranil Roy and Ishan Raina


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