15 February 2018 11:06:40 IST

Making inroads in India

India has provoked Google, which is not a big advertiser, to look at traditional mediums of advertising

I have always been enchanted by the subtle and not-so-subtle manner in which brands try to become an indispensable part of our lives. As someone who grew up in Madras, I was intrigued by the average Tamilian's dependence on The Hindu newspaper and a cup of piping hot coffee to start his day. If this did not happen for whatever reason, you would witness chaos!

Today, I observe an even greater dependence on another brand — Google. When we were children, we were taught ‘Mata, Pita, Guru, Daivam’. It means your father, mother and teacher are God. Today, most people would cheerfully say ‘Mata, Pita, Google, Daivam’ — so complete is the domination of the technology major in our lives!

While Google continues to be one of the most valuable brands in the world, it has historically not been a large advertiser. Yet India, the land of infinite possibilities and enormous challenges, has provoked Google to look at other mediums to advertise for the vast Indian middle class. Despite the digital medium being the fastest-growing in India, print and TV tend to be extremely important for this vast population.

India may soon become the country that has the largest smartphone population in the world, but no advertiser can afford to ignore the traditional media. Do you remember the high profile launch of the Google phone with full-page newspaper ads?

Indians and directions

India can be a misleading country in more ways than one. Directions and signs are rarely found. People tend to ask others for directions and people are always willing to help — even when they haven’t the faintest clue of where that place is!

This does not seem to deter people from asking, and later, curse the people for misguiding them. The dependence on maps is minimal.

However, Google is slowly but surely changing this. A few years ago, I became a total convert and an unabashed admirer of ‘Googleavalli’, as my family cheerfully calls the lady who flawlessly guided us through Mannargudi and Mayiladurai (Mayiladuthurai) . While a majority of young, tech-savvy urban youngsters have taken to Google Maps like a duck takes to water, a number of others haven’t.

Advertising can make a difference

A lot of Google’s acceptance happens through word of mouth. India, however, presents different challenges given its diversity and complexity, in addition to the issue of poor connectivity. How do you reach out to people of different demographics and psychographic status, who live in the same city and struggle with the same traffic snarls?

This is when Google started its city-centric outdoor campaigns aimed at inducing more people to use their maps. Here’s a sample of what the brand did some time back.

The ones that followed on television showed smart, young people who stayed away from crowded roads caused by marriage processions and victory processions after the inevitable cricket match. One of India’s most frustrating feature is the absolute lack of concern that people have for everyone else, and nowhere is it in greater display than on the streets. Which is where Google Maps comes into play.

Of marriages and tension

The most recent commercial is an interesting one, as it is set in a typical Indian wedding scenario with its share of tension and drama. The bride’s mother is tense and starts worrying about the garlands, that haven’t reached the marriage venue yet.

She keeps calling florist, who keeps getting stuck in one traffic block after the other, even as he keeps saying ‘ paanch minute’ (five minutes), like most Indians who are invariably late for most places and events say. There is an element of humour, as the lady uses the same ‘ paanch minute’ technique to delay the florists’ payment!



So what do we learn? That even big, global brands like Google realise that India and its consumers are different. It may be a vast and often untapped market, but you do need a strategy to tap it. To equate it with Mexico or Philippines would be replicating the mistakes other big multinationals who have bitten the dust here, make. As Steve Waugh, the Australian cricketer discovered, you need to embrace the country and its people before you attempt to conquer it. The same philosophy applies to its consumers too.

Are you ready to embrace India and its consumers?