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BW Businessworld

30 Years Of Desi Vs Foreign

This war is being waged since the 1980s, when the Indian economy took its first steps towards integrating with the global markets

Photo Credit : Tribhuwan Sharma

Sachin Bansal and Bhavish Aggarwal are not the first Indian entrepreneurs to pit their brands against multinationals. This war is being waged since the 1980s, when the Indian economy took its first steps towards integrating with the global markets. Many Indian entrepreneurs and brands have since lost; some have hung on; and some, have triumphed. Here is a snapshot of the past desi versus foreign battles.

Zee Vs Star
Subhash Chandra, the promoter of Zee Network, represents the stubborn grit and chutzpah of Indian entrepreneurs. For almost two decades, he has fought pitched battles with Star Network, controlled by the global media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. When Star Plus stormed the market with shows such as Kaun Banega Crorepati and Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, many pundits predicted that Zee was doomed. But Zee and Chandra weathered that, and many other storms. For instance, although global brands Star and Sony (many say, with heavy-duty lobbying in the right places) have locked Zee out of lucrative cricket broadcasting rights, the latter has stayed in the race by taking over Ten Sports. Despite being home grown, both Chandra and Zee have been treated condescendingly by Luytens Delhi. But that didn’t faze him. Despite fierce competition from Star, Sony and Colors, Zee remains a formidable network and a very profitable brand.

Thums Up Vs Pepsi
Even as terrorism raged in Punjab and Kashmir between 1988 and 1993, India witnessed one of the most famous and arguably one of the dirtiest marketing fights. The gladiators were homegrown Ramesh Chauhan (with a clutch of bestselling soft drinks brands such as Thums Up, Limca and Gold Spot) and global giant PepsiCo. After five years of trench fighting, Chauhan surrendered; he sold his brands to Coke. He, however, remained a hero even in defeat as his brands proved to be enduring. Coke tried but couldn’t phase out Thums Up; Indian customers were so devoted to it that Coke was forced to restore it. Till date, Thums Up remains the largest selling cola brand in the country. And Chauhan, in his own way, continues to flummox Coke and Pepsi. His mineral water brand Bisleri rules the market despite all efforts by Coke and Pepsi to dislodge it!

Airtel Vs Vodafone
Most young Indians cannot imagine India without the ubiquitous brand Airtel. And yet, it is just a 20-year-old brand. In 1995 when mobile phone services were launched in India, many did not know who Sunil Bharti Mittal was. Today, he is a bona fide billionaire and Airtel is a global brand. Most Indian entrepreneurs who won mobile service licences have sold out to global players. But Mittal has stayed on, and Airtel has remained market leader despite fierce global competition. So when Vodafone, one the largest mobile service companies and brands in the world, forayed into the Indian market and created a storm with its zoo-zoos ad campaign, Mittal faced a tough fight. But Airtel has managed to remain number one. Even in the latest brouhaha over the launch of 4G services, it is Airtel that has decisively won the early rounds. Who said homegrown legends are passé?

The Kingfisher Legacy
Okay, his reputation is in tatters and he is virtually a fugitive from justice. But you have to give it to Vijay Mallya. In Kingfisher, he has created a brand that global heavyweights have struggled to beat despite their deep pockets. Back in the early 1980s, hardly any beer drinker was awed by the lure of Kingfisher. But it is Mallya and his ‘good times’ marketing strategy that made it a formidable brand. For ages, powerful global brands such as Foster, Miller, Tuborg, Corona and others have tried every trick in the book to dislodge Kingfisher from the number one status in India. Somehow, the brand has endured and still remains a favourite. Mallya’s larger than life ambitions brought about his downfall. But Kingfisher is a legacy that even his critics won’t deny.

Nirma Vs Surf
Back in the 1980s, HUL with brands such as Liril, Lux and Surf was the unchallenged king of the FMCG market in India. Many homegrown entrepreneurs and brands had tried and failed to break the stranglehold. Suddenly, an unknown and unlikely entrepreneur from Gujarat named Karsanbhai Patel changed the game. He launched a detergent called Nirma. Pundits initially sniggered. But Patel gambled on “value for money” for emerging middle class consumers in India and created a sensation. Nirma actually dislodged Surf as the number one detergent brand in India. So rattled were marketing honchos that they took years to strike back. Brand Nirma lost traction and market share eventually as Patel first focused on backward integration and then diversified. But Nirma still remains a formidable brand in small towns and cities.

Tata Vs Everybody
This man should be a lesson for “nationalists” who have proliferated across India. He has won some battles and lost some. But Ratan Tata exemplifies the quest for the power of the Indian brand. Did anyone believe back in 1991 that the Tata group will acquire a global brand of tea like Tetley? For that matter, who could have imagined that Tata Tea would steal the thunder from global giants such as Brooke Bond and Lipton? Even when it comes to a basic commodity like salt, Tata has used “India” as a powerful marketing tool. His automobile ventures in India haven’t really set the stage on fire. But do note: the first passenger “car” launched by Tata Motors was Indica, followed by Indigo. The latter happens to be the number one airline brand in India at the moment!

Godrej Vs P&G
Soon after India opened up to global competition in 1991, it seemed Indian entrepreneurs were in danger of being wiped out. Many including the venerable Tatas sold off prime brands such as Lakme to HUL. Even the iconic Godrej business family went into a joint venture with global giant P&G. But the alliance didn’t last very long and Godrej had to fight alone for survival. To the credit of this legacy brand and family, not only did Godrej not succumb, it has thrived in quite a few areas. It owns a slew of popular brands across the board in the FMCG vertical that have stood the test of fierce global competition. With the next generation all set to take over with new ideas, Adi Godrej can be a satisfied entrepreneur.

The BPL-Onida Story
Back in the 1980s, when a craze for colour TVs swept across middle class India, BPL, Onida and Videocon became iconic homegrown brands in no time. In fact, BPL showed promise of becoming one of the legacy brands that India delivers every now and then. The brand was managed by brothers-in-law Ajit Nambiar and Rajeev Chandrasekhar. They later joined the mobile service bandwagon by launching BPL mobile in Mumbai. But alas, that glory was short lived. When South Korean giants LG and Samsung invaded India with all guns blazing, the Indian brands including BPL, simply faded away. Videocon is the only brand from that era that has pulled through. Rajeev Chandrasekhar has now become a successful and respected politician.