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India’s ‘sweet’ fetish!

Harish Bijoor
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Sweet affair: The love for sugar has been an integral part of our lives — from myths to the mundane. Mohammed Yousuf
Sweet affair: The love for sugar has been an integral part of our lives — from myths to the mundane. Mohammed Yousuf

Indians harbour a deep-seated love of sugar — seen in the array of sweets laid out during special occasions. What does this mean in marketing terms?

Film stars today dominate not only the celluloid screen, but also the TV screen. They are on the big screen with movies, and on the small-screen with advertisements and more. Is a film star a marketing star as well?

- Ratna Ganguly, Kolkata

Ratna, film stars today are not only movie stars. They are social evangelists. They are event managers. They are marketing stars as well, as you put it.

It is common knowledge that some actors make more money on the brand endorsement circuit than with their films. Add to it the new trend of selling personal lives through products and services.

Film stars understand themselves to be consumable products. Their fans are waiting to consume them and their every word. Therefore, they monetise their abilities, pull-factor and credibility scores. They employ full-time brand-managers whose sole job is to monetise every opportunity there is out there. Film stars also fully understand that if one star is not willing to do something, another is. They are also aware that their charm will last only for a while. This time is a window that is to be opened and monetised, fast and quick. So never mind if a product is a pregnancy kit, a hearing aid or whatever!

The benefit of such exercises is totally monetary, of course. However, there is a catch. Film stars lose credibility when they endorse brands that lack a fit with their persona. The consumer is a fool, but not a bl***y fool! Let's remember, consumers are innocent, but not gullible.

Is India the delight of sugar manufacturers? I have never seen so much sweet stuff marketed anywhere else. Am I right?

- Sophie McCullough, Mumbai

Sophie, you are absolutely correct. We are a sweet country — and a sweet people to boot!

The Indian is best visualised as a tooth. A sweet tooth. If I were to present an Indian in picture format, a large tooth and a syrupy yellow-orange motichur laddoo would tell it all as the story of our nation!

I believe our fixation with sugar stems from the days of yore. Our mythology is loaded with sweet stuff. Every region in our country has hundreds of varieties of sweets. Add to it the fact that we are a nation of festivals — we celebrate a total of 169 large festivals in India. And every festival is typically signified by a large quantum of sweets and flowers. The sweet is a fundamental corner stone of every festival. The wedding is yet another occasion to splurge on sweets. Every child that is born means a lot of sweets go around. Every new job means laddoos or pedas being distributed. Sweets abound in our lives.

India is, therefore, a very sweet nation — a nation that consumes sugar and oil in large quantities. No wonder we are the ‘diabetic capital’ of the world, with some 36 million diabetics of a total count of 145 million worldwide. We must be inching towards the status of ‘cholesterol capital’ of the world as well.

Our sugar fixation is a big opportunity for marketers of sweets, candies, gum, ice cream, frozen desserts, chocolates and more. India needs no evangelical selling of the sweet product. If the price and taste fits, the market is ready. Marketers in this category, therefore, enjoy insulated volumes.

The clear opportunity for marketers of chocolates and candies is the replacement opportunity offered by the large base of traditional sweets. The opportunities are many and well-organised. Festivals, weddings, birthdays, celebrations and such occasions for the consumption of traditional sweets are replacements for chocolate and candy products at large. Their future is, therefore, bright — or should we say, sweet!

If brands need to create success, what do they need to keep in mind?

-Shipra Matthew, Bangalore

Shipra, this is a big question that deserves an equally big answer. However, very crisply, brands need to keep many things in mind.

The first is an intact product equity. This typically means that the product does not, and has not made compromises over the years in its taste, composition and offering. Not many brands can claim this even in the Indian context. I believe that if you maintain product equity, you are well taken care of in the long term. Yes, in the short term, you might end up spending that much more in terms of product input costs, but in the long term, you will reap benefits in brand equity terms.

The second key aspect is that of brand equity. It is important to ensure that the brand proposition is showcased with consistency and integrity in the base line. If you do this right, you have a solid and positive brand equity you can leverage in the future.

(This article was published on August 16, 2012)
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