Harish Bhat

The tango with the mango

HARISH BHAT | Updated on July 03, 2014

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Why traditional designs and flavours are becoming a big trend in India

Here are a few interesting brand developments which tell a very relevant story for marketers who wish to address the modern Indian consumer:

Bacardi Breezers, the low-alcohol global lifestyle drink, recently launched two special flavours for the Indian market – Aam Panna and Nimbu Paani. The brand called these “Indi-Mix” variants. Contrast these new flavours with the regular Breezers, which come in western inspired tastes such as cranberry, Jamaican Passion and Island Pineapple.

Quaker Oats, a global brand owned by Pepsico, actively markets in India two unique blends – Kesar & Kishmish, which is sweet, and Masala, a spicy blend. Both sell very well, and such traditional Indian flavours are leading the successful charge of oats as a breakfast food across the country.

Tropicana, the world’s top fruit juice brand, has introduced coconut fruit blends for India.

The featured drinks here are Coconut Orange and Coconut Litchi. Tropicana describes these drinks as “a delicate balance of fruit goodness and nutrients of coconut water, to give a refreshing combination that is sure to tickle your taste buds”.

Across women’s apparel and handbags, brands such as Biba, Kashish, Bombay Paisley, Zuba and Holii celebrate age-old Indian design motifs, brought to vibrant life. Modern retail stores such as Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle and Westside may be positioned as international formats, but the range of Indian-inspired wares they display and sell is amazingly high.

Paper Boat, a new-age packaged drink which I love, is constructed entirely around appealing flavours such as Kokum juice, Imli Ka Amlana, Golgappe ka Pani and Aam Panna. While packaged drinks and drinks in cartons are a western concept, and Paper Boat is a very contemporary offering, the blends it offers are entirely traditional and very Indian.

Wrist watches have their origins in Europe and the Western World. Yet India’s major watches company Titan (where I worked for several years) made watches for Indian women by marrying this western concept with design which had its original roots in Indian jewellery. This led to the birth of Titan Raga, which celebrates Indian sensuality and aesthetics.

In all these examples, you will see a strong cross-cultural marriage – a western product concept or a global brand which is brought alive with Indian designs or flavours or blends. The product categories here are diverse – foods, fruit juices, handbags, wrist watches, alcoholic drinks – yet the theme is identical, and it appears to be catching on rapidly. What is driving this phenomenon? Here are a few thoughts, which I hope encourages marketers to think more deeply about this subject.

Deep desire for tradition

Modern consumers today enjoy the latest technologies and gadgets. Our worlds are crowded with wi-fi hotspots, 3G mobile telephony, iPads, Kindles, Android-driven wearables, techno-shoes and smart cars.

The list is endless, and these technologies are viewed as totally global, without any perceived cultural roots. In such a technologically rich yet culturally empty world, Indian consumers are perhaps increasingly desirous of at least a few products which re-establish their links with tradition, on a daily basis. With every sip of Aam Panna juice that you drink, or every time you carry a Holii handbag, you reclaim a little bit of the Indianness that you have increasingly lost to the relentless march of homogenising technology and “nationless” global brands.

A colleague of mine who is a senior market researcher has also pointed me towards some of the work of the social-cultural anthropologist Professor Arjun Appadurai, which delves deep into how societies and people cope with the deterritorialisation of identities in a culturally homogenised modern world. It appears that one such coping mechanism is a deep desire to go back to one’s cultural roots – which, for marketers such as ourselves would mean products or brands that remind Indian consumers of their rich traditions.

Evoking precious memories

Products which incorporate traditional designs or recipes also evoke fond memories. We are reminded of our grandmothers and our ancestral homes, and of many positive personal memories which mean a lot to us throughout our lives. Therefore, we take to such products very positively, even if the categories themselves are relatively new to us. Breakfast foods such as oats, blended with traditional Indian masalas of the type made by your grandmother or green tea spiced with cardamom or ginger are examples of such offerings.

This driver of consumer behaviour is somewhat different from people reclaiming their Indianness through use of a modern brand or product, which has been described earlier. Because here, it is our memories that are meaningful, rather than the broader Indian traditions. As the famous Italian film director Federico Fellini once said so insightfully: “We are constructed in memory. We are simultaneously childhood, adolescence, old age and maturity.” That is a mental construct which marketers can leverage very powerfully. The Managing Director of Bacardi India appeared to be doing exactly this when he stated that his new Indi-Mix Breezers would immediately “tap into consumer experience and memories”.

Health and wellness

Health and wellness has become a powerful driver of consumer choice in our country today, and in particular amongst urban upper-middle class and middle-class consumers, who are increasingly and painfully aware of how quickly good health can slip away in today’s stressful, fast-paced life. In the foods and beverages category, many traditional Indian flavours and blends tend to be regarded as very healthy. This is also a big reason for the success of such products.

Paper Boat’s Kokum Juice is widely perceived to be healthy because the kokum fruit is known to relieve acidity and flatulence, and improve digestion. Tropicana Coconut Orange Juice taps into the widespread knowledge across India that coconut water contains healthy nutrients and minerals, and is an ideal natural summer drink. Both these brands thus bring the consumer the benefit of health and wellness, packaged smartly for convenient consumption at any place, any time.

Hip and fashionable

In addition to all these reasons, there is growing evidence to show that ethnic designs, flavours and blends are becoming hip and fashionable amongst Indian youth, once again.

Take, for example, the success of Chumbak, the online brand of apparel and accessories which has become surprisingly popular with youth today. Chumbak says its designs are inspired by the amazing sights, sounds and smells of our country. Its website goes on to state “We are a bit funny, a bit silly and fully mad about India.” No wonder Bacardi hopes to do very well with its Aam Panna and Nimbu Paani Breezers!

So where will this trend of global products infused with Indian traditions lead us? Will we soon see global brands of cars sporting Indian designs and cornflakes flavoured with avakai pickle? Can bold marketers conceive of ultra-modern Indian apartments which resemble traditional havelis, or mobile phones styled with beautiful Rajasthani motifs? This is an exciting area, restricted only by marketers’ imagination.

Harish Bhat is the author of Tata Log: Eight Modern Stories from a Timeless Institution. These are his personal views. >bhatharish@hotmail.com

Published on July 03, 2014

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