What Indian women want

Harish Bhat | Updated on March 14, 2013

A feel for Indian: Titan Raga, which actor Rani Mukherji sports on her wrist in the picture   -  Business Line

In Scooty, TVS created a light, women-friendly scooterette that made it easier for women to commute   -  PTI

Lakme was the first brand to develop cosmetics specifically for Indian women

Famous Indian brands which have unlocked Indian women’s secrets successfully

Earlier this month, we celebrated International Women’s Day. This is an apt occasion to reflect on successful Indian brands which have celebrated Indian womanhood in very special ways. We are not talking here of global women’s brands such as Dove or Chanel or L’Oreal which have washed up on our shores. On the other hand, we are talking of brands which have been born in India, based on sharp insight into Indian women. They have understood what Indian women want, and built hugely successful offerings based on wonderful ideas that stem from that special local knowledge.

I think a study of these brands is particularly important to marketers because women’s tastes in several categories vary significantly from one country to another. In particular, Indian women, with strong cultural and social moorings, are not quite captivated by all things American or European, which are the traditional home of most global women’s brands. To become hugely successful, therefore, brands need to understand Indian women.

Here are four such Indian brands, which have captivated Indian women over the years.


Lakme was the first brand to introduce make-up to Indian women. Launched in 1952, it was uniquely Indian in so many ways. To begin with, the name Lakme was the French pronunciation of the Goddess Lakshmi, the Indian Goddess of Wealth and Beauty. In adopting this name, it immediately fused French fashion with Indian beauty forever. Lakme has a special place in the hearts of Indian women because it democratised make-up, and enabled Indian women to discover fresh new glamour in their daily lives. No longer were make-up brands meant only for alien or foreign-looking women, because Lakme sported brand ambassadors such as Rekha and Aishwarya Rai, who are quintessentially Indian in their looks and beauty. So if Indian women used to earlier think that brands of cosmetics were “not for me”, Lakme broke through that barrier completely.

Pricing was kept accessible to middle-class Indian women, unlike European cosmetics brands of those days, which were imported and sold at very high prices. Most importantly, the brand had insight into product development as well. It was the first brand to fully understand Indian skin tones, which are quite different from Anglo-Saxon colours, and develop foundations to suit these shades. Wonderfully Indian products such as kajal eyeliners followed. Even in today’s environment, where every big global cosmetics brand has invaded India, my wife says she always trusts Lakme to understand her needs, and also feels very comfortable using its products.


India’s first and largest read women’s English magazine has developed a knack for knowing the pulse of modern, urban Indian women, and keeping pace with what they want to read. Femina has maintained its undisputed numero uno position for over 50 years now, which shows what a fine job the publishers and editors of this magazine are doing in understanding and catering to their readers. This is why the magazine has a reach and circulation that far exceeds what famous global women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Elle have achieved in the country.

What is the secret of Femina’s success? Clearly, its spontaneous connect with Indian women. Its pages explore relationships in the context of modern Indian families, cuisine which is essentially Indian, women’s issues which are set in an Indian milieu even though they may be westward-looking. In other words, Femina is not adapted to India, it is created for India. Simultaneously, under the expert hands of its editors who have also been Indian women steeped in modern urban Indian society (famous names such as Vimla Patil and Sathya Saran come to mind) the brand has also constantly evolved, anticipating what Indian women want and developing editorial content around those specific themes.

In its initial years, I recall a lot of focus on empowerment of Indian women, with the magazine pitching for changes that gave Indian women rights to property, child rights and equal status with men. Then came the clear appeal to women of substance, who were career-conscious by choice. And today, the magazine caters to the brave new age of multifaceted and multitasking Indian women, with its clarion call being – “For all the women you are”. To change so seamlessly and successfully over the years requires a constant and deep insight into what makes Indian women tick.

Titan Raga

Perhaps for the first time in the world, Titan created a brand of watches specifically for Indian women, called Raga. Worldwide, women’s wristwatches have traditionally been adaptations of men’s watches, often smaller in size or somewhat more feminine in looks, but essentially built around the same design DNA as the parent brand. Raga, which has captivated Indian women, is based on an entirely different and revolutionary thought.

The brand was born of an insight that many modern Indian women like to appear sensuous and beautiful in an entirely Indian way. All accessories they wear - clothing, jewellery, footwear - stem from this desire. Therefore, women require wristwatches which can perfectly complement such uniquely Indian accessories. Raga seized on this special Indian need, and developed design styles for watches inspired by Indian jewellery and motifs. The products look entirely different from men’s watches, and can be identified instantly. The advertising for Raga has also taken the same concept of Indian sensuousness forward, using celebrities such as Rani Mukherji and Katrina Kaif to capture this idea splendidly. The result of this bold effort: a unique Indian women’s brand of watches, Raga, which is a phenomenal success today. Watchmakers across the world can learn a lesson here.

TVS Scooty Pep

From a very different category – scooters and motorbikes – comes yet another brand that built its foundations on strong insights into Indian women. In this rather male world of powerful and motorised two-wheelers, Scooty Pep is a product dedicated entirely to women. It was created on the insight that a light and easy scooterette could empower young Indian women with independence and self-sufficiency.

Unlike in many developed countries, many Indian women in their twenties cannot afford to own a car, hence this understanding was particularly powerful. This insight was then transformed into elegant product design which was equally feminine and totally different from what the market had ever seen before.

Scooty Pep, in fact, won the Business World “Design of the Year” in 2004. To make the brand exciting to young Indian girls, and knowing their penchant for accessorisation through bright colours, Scooty Pep offered a choice of 99 colours, each permitting the owner to express her unique style and personality. Even the name “Scooty” set the product apart from male scooters.

The brand also took forward several programmes which were women-centric, including a unique six-day familiarisation programme on how to ride a two-wheeler, thus breaking an entry barrier that existed in many women’s minds. Its positioning – “It’s not a scooter, it’s a Scooty” appealed to millions of Indian women. The brand quickly sold more than a million units within five years of launch, and continues to remain a hot favourite today.

These are four successful brands that put Indian women first by understanding their unique needs, and thereby transformed the market. There are many other product categories where the same transformation is waiting to happen. Will we soon see Indian women’s brands of cars, footwear, mobile telephones or cameras? Admittedly, understanding women is difficult, but when brands succeed in doing so, they discover new pots of gold.

The author acknowledges valuable inputs from Suparna Mitra, Titan Industries, in the writing of this article.

(Harish Bhat is Managing Director and CEO of Tata Global Beverages Ltd and author of the book Tata Log: Eight Modern Stories from a Timeless Institution”. These are his personal views. He can be reached at ).

Published on March 14, 2013

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