The end of a fond era in entertainment, the demise of Channel V also represents the end of the First Wave of liberalisation brands. A set of products and services that helped an entire nation play catch-up with the rest of the world much to its immense gratitude and indeed delight, but whose lifespan has now elapsed. Its formidable baton taken over by a fresh ensemble of brands, crafting an identity that merges with the emerging customer mindset, no longer second-fiddle but a world-leader in consumption. While some from the original lot adapt and survive yet others fail to move on, with invaluable lessons left behind.
It is necessary thus to understand the psyche of the Indian customer in the early nineties which led to the success of many such brands, uncoated by the legacy of restriction and restraint. A clear departure from the past was desired as was the easy access to familiar Western experiences, enjoyed lovingly on holidays and witnessed in cinema. TV channels, fast-food joints, Coke and Pepsi, whisky, apparel and so much more emerged from the grey market to the mainstream, the first-mover gaining an early share of mind and wallet. Quite notably, the imported experiences were initially clearly elitist, English-language in origin and implementation, catering to the upper-classes in mindset and orientation, propelling the two-nation idea decisively in terms of price points and access as well. While appreciating the potential of India as a future dynamo, brands entered and emerged on their own terms, unwilling to adapt significantly to connect with the wider audiences. This was truly a period of bridging the gap, where what we desired most was a parity in self-esteem, the assured belief that we too are connected to our aspirational world and not denied its indulgent juices.
Which is exactly where Channel V and MTV, Coke or Pepsi, M&S, Mcdonald’s and their many peers scored valuable early points with their unadulterated resolve to be a bridge to the advanced economies. For a demography influenced deeply by Western, especially American popular culture, they became valuable accessories for growth, making their under-nourished Indian peers struggle in the wake, if at all they existed. Local entrepreneurs got excited as well, especially in areas where the global brands could not enter as per policy, creating their own value-added clones, most notably Jet Airways and the coffee chains, CCD and Barista. Both being enablers of business and social cultures in their own right, connecting cities more effortlessly and harnessing informal productivity like never before. They made us at par with our global brethren and also retained certain aspects of yore, notably the hunger for recognition that is the trademark of the affluent Indian, which worked initially.
In the last decade, however, the Indian customer has changed most notably in terms of the relationship with her identity, from being aspirational Western to being comfortably and desirably Indian. From the nights of the early nineties when discos would only play English music to the present time, where everything apart from Hindi is non-grata, the transformation has been complete, largely driven by Bollywood. The world of business changed as well with informal productivity riding over stern decorum, leading to a unique work culture blending the best of every world. For brands to compete, they had to cater to this new identity, rooted yet hybrid, else carve a new value proposition altogether. M&S flopped when it was over-priced British and succeeded when it became smart global, exactly the formula practised by Domino’s and KFC to successfully blend East and West. Channel V got stuck in an attitudinal time-warp which is why it had to go, a fate imminent for Jet Airways unless it corrects its obsolete ways. As it is still banking on recognition and stature as calling cards instead of efficiency and smartness, as per the new norms of the new India.
There are a few critical factors for brand success in the Second Wave of liberalisation, most notably empathy with the evolving Indian identity, a curated mix of East and West although firmly rooted to home. Access to such experiences must be truly democratic, both in terms of price-point as well as policy, fuelling our emerging passion for sustainable aspiration. Youthfulness is a happy additive as even the senior citizen has successfully infused happiness in his DNA unlike his predecessor while efficiency is a much-valued aspect of consumption. While granting much-deserved respect and not necessarily old-world reverence to the customer, the former a function of achievement while the latter an offspring of entitlement. Finally, they must be considered world-class and score highly on the emotional ‘feel-good’ quotient as the nation enters a decisively positive phase of its consumer history.
We must be grateful to the First Wave brands for providing a valuable bridge to our destination identity and giving our self-worth a point of parity, easy access finally to global experiences. The Second Wave brands, however, must become partners in our growth story, emotionally and rationally, as India races ahead in its quest for First World pedigree. For those already in the fray, it’s time to review and if necessary renew while those starting up must ensure that they belong.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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