Patriots, Awaken. Marketers Calling!

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Something returned to our shores this year. After a long time, we saw two prominent Indian brands take patriotism as the primary route to win over consumers. And by patriotism, I don’t just mean a monthly theme on a social media wall or some meaningless CSR programme; I mean a full-blooded, chest-pumping nationalism as positioning for the brand – not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. Bajaj V in the motorcycles category and Patanjali as a multi-product FMCG brand are creating waves as homegrown, desi brands proudly wearing the badge of Indianness.

Before we go into differences between the two brands’ approach, it is worthwhile examining why patriotism has regained relevance for marketers. To be fair, being “Indian” was never far from our consumers. But rather than wearing it on their sleeves they showed it in their penchant for going after favourable price-value equations and by en-masse adopting aloo tikki burgers from McDonalds. Never was there a question on their Indian spirit as brand after international brand opened shop under the liberalised regime since the 90s. Brands that adapted to Indian consumers’ lifestyle and wallet prospered (remember Hyundai, LG) and companies that tried to suppress the Indian palate suffered and learned (think Coca Cola and Thums Up). As India became the darling of multinational companies looking for growth, an entire generation of urban Indians grew up with ready access to global brands whilst keeping their cultural ethos intact – Hindustani at heart, global by consumption.

What’s changed now? Well, the public’s psyche as consumers is not immune to radicalized thoughts coming at them from politicians, activists and media. There is increasing pressure on you, me, everyone to re-establish their identity based on nation. In this age of Brexit and Trump mania in the west, the Chinese ascendancy in the east, and the rise of pseudo-Hindutva credo and open letters in social media from army personnel closer home, nationalism is palpably in the air all over the planet. The ripples, even if the epicenter is in politics, are felt in our day-to-day lives too. What used to be simply an Indian consumption mindset is perhaps now ripe to become Indianness in consumption. Or so the marketers believe, who are tuning in to this latent but definite undercurrent.

Now, back to Patanjali and Bajaj V. Notably, both these brands use desi ingredients at the core of their positioning. Bajaj pitched its model V on its metal (scrap metal, though) that came from INS Vikrant, the famous Indian navy aircraft carrier. And Patanjali served up herbal ingredients with Indian roots (pun fully intended) as the basis for its goodness. However, you can’t but notice the difference in the tonality of their positioning. Admittedly, Patanjali has hitherto positioned itself on herbal heritage with runaway success without overtly invoking Bharat Mata. The nationalism twist has come to the fore only recently via their aggressive radio campaign.

Claiming that “videshi companiyan humaare desh ke liye bahut khatarnaak hain” and accusing them of “äarthik loot”, Patanjali now exhorts consumers to help India regain economic independence by buying fully indigenous products (thus keeping profits from flowing out of the country). On the other hand, Bajaj V wants you to buy into the “invincible metal” that is “solid and courageous” enough to take on any terrain in the country. One is a strident voice that attempts to negatively portray other leading brands based on their lineage, and the other is an authoritative pitch to woo the proud Indian who desperately needs the assurance that his country is strong and self-reliant.

Is the Indian consumer buying into this? The jury is still out. Truth is, even without the non-nationalist agenda Patanjali has rapidly expanded an entire segment that many are now scrambling to get a piece of. Bajaj on the other hand has previous claim to the nationalistic nostalgia space with its Humara Bajaj heritage, and is probably the best placed to cash in with the patriotic pitch.

Undoubtedly consumer products are known to create success by occupying a strong positioning niche, more so in FMCG categories that sell parity products. But for consumers there’s also the price-to-perceived value equation to consider. Eventually a consumer cares about what the product delivers to her/him for those thirty-odd rupees. If a consumer is satisfied with a thirty-rupee product from a multinational brand, there’s good probability that she won’t switch brands only to save her country (sorry, but it’s true), but a cheaper product that works the same might sway her somewhat. Yet, give her a product proposition that’s remarkably better, and she might even pay thirty-five rupees for it. The benefit proposition is invariably linked first to what the product does for the consumer and perhaps later to what it does for the nation.

The same goes for a motorcycle. There are numerous value proposition parameters linked to consumer preference – price, fuel economy, ruggedness, comfort and male machismo, to name a few. The real and perceived benefits that a consumer derives personally will invariably take precedence over country. If the product-price equation is decidedly better than its competition, a bike will do well regardless of whether or not the user feels patriotic while riding it.

It remains to be seen if Patanjali will break through to strong double-digit market shares immediately after this campaign, but we do know that Bajaj V has quickly grown to a robust share among 150cc bikes, and is now second only to the segment leader, Pulsar. I’m pretty certain it’s more due to the value sweet spot it created – powerful bike priced a shade above 125cc bikes – than its national pride inducing advertising.
I do not have numbers on how many middle-class consumers have moved to a level where nationalistic fervour is the key motivator impacting brand choice, but my guess is that it’ll take a lot more than the broad brush of ‘evil multinational’ to move half a billion people to buy shuddh swadesi. Meanwhile it’ll be a good idea to focus on communicating great user benefits at the right price. May the best proposition win!

                                                                                     By Lk Gupta By Lk Gupta

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