It is an honour for me to write a foreword for
this book on advertising and communications, a
profession that has sold ideas and dreams to an
evolving Indian consumer for decades.
My experience has principally been
in commerce and the market, where millions of
consumers have been persuaded to try out new
products and ideas to improve their lives. Hence I
will focus my foreword on the marketplace without
which advertising would have neither a product nor
a customer. As industry, marketing and the consumer
have changed, so too have advertising methods. Such
adaptation and flexibility have enhanced the
consumer's unique experience of new offerings.
The century before Independence saw barely any
growth in per capita income on the subcontinent.
Population growth just about kept pace with the
GDP. and the Indian market was an agglomeration of
sub-markets. The movement of goods faced barriers
of logistics, warehousing and local taxation. The
word ‘consumption’ was not understood, let alone
encouraged. And there were very few consumers to
influence through advertising in spite of the large
population. Often advertising merely meant informing
a handful of the elite about the availability of a product.
During the 1930s, ghee consumers were persuaded
to buy vanaspati, the most famous being Dalda.
Former HLL chairman Prakash Tandon has described
evocatively in his book, Punjabi Century, how the
traditional wandering minstrels of Rajasthan were
used to communicate the message of Dalda. A social
anthropologist advised the use of pichwais to tell the
Dalda story, wrapped into the Mahabharata or other
epic stories. It marked the entry of sociologists and
psychologists into marketing.
An early incident that influenced the Indian
consumer was the appearance of Leela Chitnis as the
first Indian model for Lux soap which, until 1941, had
only featured JWT-contracted Hollywood models. The
coy daughter of an English professor and wife of theatre
personality Gajanand Chitnis, the young Leela would
accompany her husband to the sets to earn a little by
doing odd jobs. Her break came when the lead actress
of Raja Harishchandra fell sick: Leela volunteered to do
the role—and thus was born a star and the first Indian
Indians are inveterate entrepreneurs, and have been
so for centuries. Independence, however, dampened
this entrepreneurial spirit rather than acting as a
catalyst for it, thanks to a centrally planned economic
orientation which promoted the distribution of what
was already available over the manufacture of new
products. Private enterprise was actively discouraged,
although (luckily) not banned: Pandit Nehru openly
stated that he did not like the word ‘profit’.
In 1951, the Nehru government banned the import
of beauty aids in an effort to conserve valuable foreign"
exchange. His distraught daughter, Indira, called
Tata Director Kish Naoroji with the request that Tata
consider manufacturing ladies’ cosmetics. The steel
and electricity company was in a quandary, but only
until Naval Tata saw, and was inspired by, a French
opera by Delibes, Lakmé, set in British India, about the
daughter of a Brahmin priest. Thus was born India's
most famous indigenous cosmetics brand.
Packaging, transportation, warehousing, outdoor
publicity, retail distribution, and cash collection
methods constituted the fuel, fire, ladles and pans
with which the advertising profession churned its
convection currents within the pot. For example,
until the 1950s, wooden boxes transported in railway
wagons, were the standard for delivering soap and
tea to markets. Progressively there occurred a huge
innovation of using cardboard boxes and delivering
through the nascent road system. This reduced costs
and made handling much easier.
Marketers deployed sales and
advertising vans that penetrated
small towns and villages with
products and feature films; they
permitted the distributors a bank
negotiation allowance to persuade a trader in a
place with no bank to clear documents through a
neighbouring area where there was one. Display and
point of sale materials were used at a time when there
were few mass media.
Business journalism was born in 1961 with the launch
of The Economic Times, meant for a popular readership.
Now both the Government and the newspaper frowned
upon enterprise and wealth. Nobody in his right senses
wanted to be counted among the wealthy.
The public policy thrust on reaching out to the
populace meant a rapid expansion of infrastructure
-roads, post offices, banking services, electricity,
transport- along with the ancillary superstructure of
a nation in the making, such as newspapers, grocery
shops, radio broadcasting and cinema theatres. However,
although the per capita income of the average Indian
grew in the 45 years after 1947, it grew very slowly,
influenced by the ‘Hindu rate of economic growth’ and a
gradual decline in population growth rate.
By the mid-1960s, a buoyant, independent India had ~
lost considerable self-confidence. It fought a bruising war
with China. India was engaged with Pakistan in a second
war in 1965. The Americans had stopped PL 480 wheat
shipments, paving the way for Lal Bahadur Shastri's Jai
Jawan, Jai Kisan, C Subramaniam’s green revolution, and
Manoj Kumar’s film song, Mere desh ki dharti (Soil of My
Land). The future looked uncertain, if not bleak. And I
was ready to start my career.
It is a middle class virtue to learn from adversity. And
India started to learn.
In the mid-1960s, consumer goods companies were
drafted to distribute a condom called Nirodh to
shopkeepers who did not know what a condom
was. In Tezpur, Assam, a young Hindustan Lever
trainee tried to convince a trader to stock 10 cases
by pointing to the market opportunity of the adjacent
army station. The pragmatic trader replied with humour,
"Bachhe, tumne tho mujhe moja de diya, magar yahan
jootein kahan hain?" (You've given me socks, but where
are the shoes?)
Consumer products were distributed by companies
directly or through redistribution stockists. Sales people
constantly ‘discovered’ new consumers in new village
clusters requiring a cake of soap or a packet of tea. There
was a highly visible press campaign by Brooke Bond
in which chairman GVK Murthy addressed people as
‘bhai saheb’ and told them about the company’s unique
distribution system, which ensured the freshness of
Brooke Bond tea in the consumer's hands.
Your email address will not be published *
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend