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Our Biggest Learning — The Consumer Comes First

In the last seven decades, the marketing industry in India has seen several changes, but one thing that has remained constant is the top spot of the consumer

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What is advertising if not the means to speak to a consumer... Sometimes it is to charm, sometimes to inform, sometimes to convince and so many times to bring about a change in behaviour. Advertising, in independent India, has seen enviable growth. From merely a mode of information, it changed to creating aspirations. The monologue made way for dialogue. From print and radio, creative professionals grew to understand and deal with any form and format that a consumer was engaging with.

Much has changed in the last 70 years — the industry knows so much more. In many ways, the professionals of advertising are wiser. Responsible advertising is a reality today. Regulatory bodies such as the Advertising Standards Council of India play a vital role in safeguarding consumers from misleading communication. Processes are put in place to protect consumers and their rights. The advent of digital, however, pushed this to a whole new level.

If a brand does not deliver on its promise, it has hell to pay. Social media platforms have exposed all. Many lessons have been learnt along the way and many beliefs challenged, and even changed. The one truth that has endured is the role of the consumer.

For the evolved, the consumer was always the king. But the meaning of that has changed. Once, even those who were only doing lip-service to that, survived. Just responding to need gaps and demands was enough. Providing a product was enough. The king, however, now expects much more. And brands have to comply.

The product is hygiene, a given; the experience is the expectation. Knowing the consumer is important. Any brand that forgets an interaction or a previous choice would immediately lose points. With the way the business landscape has evolved, there is always a second and a third, and a fourth brand in line to woo the consumer.

The smartest advertising and marketing professionals will tell you that advertising is a route to change behaviour. Washing hands or disinfecting households to fabric softeners and hair conditioners have all become prevalent in India due to advertising messages around these products.

But the new consumer expects brands to lead the way in more unconventional ways. Stereotyping in advertising has come under pressure. Despite the debates and constant pressure on brands, the area is still a blur for some, but the larger point here is that consumers are now compelling brands to change too.

This trend has further accentuated with the new generations. Both millennials and Gen Z are country and planet conscious. They want to know how brands are making a difference to the society, to the nation, and to the natural resources of the planet. Those are the products they want to endorse. They are not averse to advertising — just to bad advertising. They want to engage with brands, they want to know more. They want easy access to the information that will help them in making the right choices — both from a personal perspective, implying healthy choices, and from a larger perspective. CSR or ‘doing good’ is no longer a cool punch line, but a necessary growth strategy.

Several instances have made it evident that businesses and companies that have put consumers’ interests at the core of their existence — in creating products, in adding value to lifestyles, and in creating an impact on the lives and livelihoods of people — are here to stay. Today, when we say the ‘consumer comes first’, it very literally is in every application of that sentiment.

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