23 September 2016 12:49:47 IST

MNCs wake up to advertising in India

Smarter brands talk interestingly to Indians irrespective of their global nature

There have been many MNC brands that entered India with the objective of making history in this country with its vast middle-class population. Sadly, some have become history, while others, who initially lost their way, discovered the magic formula of sustaining here, a bit later.

The smarter ones, particularly those who came in later, realised that Indians don’t like to be talked down to. They found out that to succeed in this country, you need to talk to Indians in their language, use celebrities they adore and make advertisements not only in India but for India.

Yes ‘Make in India’ may be making waves in manufacturing right now but smart marketers have realised that for advertising in India to work, it must have the average middle class Indian squarely in the middle, instead of relying on something made elsewhere in a different cultural context, which has limited or no relevance here.

The connect

So how do you do it?

For the purpose of this discussion, I am keeping out brands like Cadburys and the many brands of Hindustan Lever, which are more Indian than some of us. Indians were born into a country which had these brands and embraced them as readily as they did an Amul or a Nirma.

Post-liberalisation, names like Kelloggs, which came into the country, struggled as Indians did not take to breakfast cereals as easily as the rest of the world did. Imagine an idly-vada loving person like me accepting corn flakes or oats easily. In fact, some of us would have Kelloggs only when we had fever!

Though the road was arduous and success slow, Kelloggs hung in there, learning on the way. Now, it is one of the real choices available in most urban middle class homes. Some others who refused to learn (like Henkel) never really made it here as they refused to accept that India was different. Others like Wrigleys tried to classify India as another Philippines and were left behind... and so the story goes on.

The real thing discovers Thanda

Coca Cola in the US was the market leader and it could be secure in its leadership. But it discovered that India was a different kettle of fish. Its attempt to buy Thums Up and kill the brand misfired. And Pepsi’s advertising in India built around its slogan of “Yeh dil maange more” was leaving Coke far behind.

Then the brand realised what other marketers always knew — the easiest way to get into Indian hearts was to use the nation’s heartthrob who would push the brand up the popularity charts.

And who else could do it better than Aamir Khan and his histrionic ability? Aamir and a smart script suddenly made India sit up and take notice of Coke.


Now, let’s move from colas to mobile phones. We all know the eternal love story that brews between the Indian consumer and mobile phones. Even as Nokia (with its Indian sounding name and models specifically created for India and Indians) was running away with market share, Motorola struggled with its poor strategy of trying to sell models that were essentially not required in the US. Its bland advertising didn’t help either, leaving everyone cold.

Then Motorola came up with a new phone and even better advertising that featured Abhishek Bachchan, whose commercials, for some strange reason, seemed better than his films! Suddenly, India started to take notice of the brand, and advertising had no small role to play in its revival.



Apni Dukaan

Closer to the present, Amazon, which is as big a global brand as you can think of, is playing its Indian card more than adequately. Though its rival Flipkart had a head start, Amazon has been trying to tell Indians that it understands India, its languages and its consumers. Its commercials, with the theme “Apni Dukaan”, try to build proximity with the Indian consumer, while also speaking of its enormous range.

Here’s one of the many commercials that the brand has done, featuring people from different age groups buying different products. It really understood the Indian consumer’s psyche, as this emotional commercial for Raksha Bandhan shows.

So too the commercial for Ganpathi and the superstition, that seem to be part of the average Indian psyche.

Mom be a girl again

Most recently, Amazon’s campaigns portray how moms have missed out a large part of their interests and life because of following their children. One of its ads has an interesting storyline of a mom who used to love playing badminton, but gave it up to keep running after her grumpy child. One day, out of the blue, she is gifted a badminton racquet by her husband, which Amazon delivers. This, then, revives her memories and interest in a sport she almost gave up on.


I like the commercial because of the consumer insight — that so many mothers give up so much for their children. And Amazon tries to give back their interests so they can be girls again.

Yes, the smarter brands talk interestingly to Indians irrespective of their global nature. Is your brand being left behind?