Divining the mind of the Indian Consumer

I am at the Microsoft Leadership Conclave in Dubai. Yesterday, we had a chance to listen to Prasoon Joshi, Executive Chairman, McCann Erickson, Asia Pacific. He presented his understanding of the current day Indian consumer interspersed with memorable ad campaigns created by his team. It was f***ing brilliant.

Here are his key insights and his explanations why:

1. Entertainment orientation – there used to be a time when listening to the news was a serious affair. All of us remember the – Shhh! Father is watching news – episodes from our childhood. Today news is entertainment. It is being presented as such. Discovery channel presents animal life by weaving them into stories complete with names etc (Monkey by name Tina is doing this or Tiger by name Pintoo is doing that etc). Gone are the days  when we could simply talk about the features of the product. Today the same features have to be packaged with entertainment mixed in.

2. Reality Orientation – our movies have always been escapist. Usually the same love triangle stories with the song/dance sequences as the spices. Today the Indian consumer is confident of facing reality. Movies like Black or Taare Zameen Par or Rang Der Basanti are released for the mainstream audience and are huge hits. If you compare Indian Idol and American Idol, Indian Idol shows a lot more about the background of the contestant. The stark reality seems to inspire and instill hope in the minds of the Indian consumer and it sells.

3. Upgrade orientation – in the past when we bought products it was all about how long it will last. I bought this watch 20 years ago etc. Today the consumer wants to change the cell phone every 18 months with the latest and greatest features. Clearly the consumer wants to make a statement.

4. Promos are not harmful – there is a general tendency to feel that promos harm the brand. That is not true. If the brand promise is strong, the promos actually enhance the brand. Shows several coke, mastercard promo ads to make the point.

5. Digital revolution – the internet is changing a lot of things. Eventhough the internet penetration is not that high. Consumer generated content can be a big tool. But for that to happen we need to create compelling content that the consumer will feel like playing
with. He shows the spoofs of Dove ads done by consumer and also his own chlormint (du bara math poocho) ad that was spoofed.

6. Real is Virtual – virtual is all that most people have seen. Most people have never been to a cricket match or an awards show in person. All they know is how it is seen on TV. We are headed towards an age when kids are asking “mom, how come you don’t look like the moms onTV?”

7. The “And” Consumer – Indian consumers are not satisfied with this or that, they want this and that. This maybe due to the increased confidence and buying power of the consumer.

Then he took some questions –
1. I asked him about whether entertainment orientation and reality orientation was conflicting? He said no. He said even reality has to be packaged with entertainment.

2. Someone asked – sprite always spoofs pepsi isnt that bad? Prasoon said – coke never retaliates directly but uses sprite to do that. Since sprite is positioned as an irreverent brand, the spoofs are part of its character.

Overall, Prasoon Joshi is a great example of the kind of world beating talent that India has today in many fields.


  1. Quote
    Saraswathi said April 24, 2008, 2:28 am:

    Wooow..Sukumar thanks for sharing the insights by Prasoon Joshi. If I remember right, Prasoon Joshi wrote the lyrics for the song “Lose control” song of the movie “Rang de basanti”. I loved all the points he has put forward. Indian consumerism has indeed changed over times.

    My dad used to buy just a “handkerchief” for himself every Diwali. But these few recent years, dad has started buying loads of clothes for himself. So when the change is apparent in our “own homes” it is surely happening everywhere too.

  2. Quote

    Great Sukumar. I now have an opportunity to work for on of the big Global advertisement agencies. The talent showcased there by Indian counterparts is amazing. Unlike the follower mentality we used to have, it is a leading attitude that is getting developed these days. This should directly fire the innovation.

    I only wish that Indian establishment look at the global failures and not repeat the same mistake. Consumerism with the lack of proper financial education is not a good thing IMO. It may look good on macro economic indicators, but on the ground, it will be the poor people who will struggle.

  3. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said April 24, 2008, 1:20 pm:

    Thanks Saraswathi. You are right Prasoon Joshi wrote that song. He is a poet as well as a an ad-man. He is considered to be one of India’s best consumer behavior experts and these insights are a testimony to that.

    Nice to know that you are observing changes in your family.

  4. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said April 24, 2008, 1:23 pm:

    Thanks Vamsi. You are lucky to be working with one of the greatest ad agencies of all time.

    Yes, India can develop into a leading player in advertising.
    I think we need some good leadership in the public domain. At the moment except for a few exceptions, the political leadership is woefully lacking.

  5. Quote
    Meenaks said April 29, 2008, 2:06 am:

    //Today news is entertainment.//

    This may be the reality of the day, but I have my concerns about whether this is right. It is ironical that the channels that occupy the entertainment space (in regions, like Sun and Kalaignar) treat the news segment with much seriousness (although they have their political leanings), whereas the channels in news space (CNN-IBN, NDTV 24×7, HT, TimesNow) treat news as entertainment and “sillyfy” everything. Perhaps the need to show news round the clock makes them do this, but it is irritating at best, and nauseating at worst.

    The analysis by Prasoon Joshi is spot on.

  6. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said April 29, 2008, 8:16 am:

    Thanks Meenaks. I think you nailed it, the need for a 24 hour news channel may be the reason for this. But if the choice is between Shobana Ravi speaking for 24 hours with no other video footage being shown in the gard of serious news, i would rather have the entertainment oriented news anyday. In other words, the serious guys are too serious and the entertainment guys are too entertainment oriented, we need a middle ground.

  7. Quote
    Meenaks said May 1, 2008, 11:21 pm:

    Sukumar, I don’t think video footage is to be considered as against serious news. The entertainment in news is not about video clips, but in manufacturing controversies where none exist, showing “celebrity” news more than it is worth and doing spoof puppetry etc.

  8. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said May 2, 2008, 4:51 am:

    Thanks. i agree with you what you said. What i meant is, in the Indian serious news channels like Sun or others, the packaging is not done well, whereas as you say, the entertainment oriented channels are more sensationalizing-oriented. Just televising the news anchor reading the news is not how news is presented. This is the way Sun and other serious news channels think about news. TV is a visual medium and i don’t see them using it as such. These channels should watch BBC and other more sophisticated news channels and copy them.

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