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BW Businessworld

The Ones That Survive

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Anand Halve is one of the best marketing thinkers in India today. And his book, Darwin's Brands: Adapting For Success, adds to his stature, illustrating his skill at combining diverse ideas, explaining them lucidly with a sprinkling of shayari and vintage Bollywood numbers. The book offers an eclectic mix of views on brands that defined the Indian market over the past four decades, or longer. Halve analyses how these brands were constructed for Indian conditions and then, importantly, how  they changed with the times, along with the country and the consumer. In some cases, the book notes, the change in the consumer was very radical.

Halve arranges the book by the brand. He covers usual suspects such as Thums Up, Cadbury's Dairy Milk, Amul and Maggi. But he also includes a few other interesting ones — Hero Honda, Asian Paints and even Femina. Reaching back across time, Halve chronicles how each brand was introduced. For instance, while discussing Thums Up, he brings in an interesting anecdote on how Bugs Bhargava (who penned "taste the thunder") and Ashok Kurien (the advertising guru now, but not at that stage) got the thunder line out. He also provides us with a fly-on-the-wall view of how great creatives think.

But Halve does not stop at that. He goes on to describe how Thums Up took on Pepsi as the global beverages giant entered India, and how Thums Up just refused to die even when Coca Cola bought it from Parle Products, when it returned in a new macho avatar with Akshay Kumar as the brand ambassador.

The  book also reminds us how frugal and poor the Indian market was in those days. Two decades ago, consumers earned less and spent even lesser. There were very few brands and products in the market. The power of regulations and, thus, the government was ominous and nearly omnipotent in the ‘control Raj economy'. So the consumer had two wheelers that struggled to start in winters, and expensive, energy guzzling, shoddy four wheelers till a liberating Maruti arrived. There was a perpetual shortage of basic commodities such as milk until Amul, in spite of being state sponsored, changed the scene; soaps that were recommended by doctors (Lifebouy, which offered the consumer health as a benefit); and just one brand of watch, HMT, that you inherited from your father, and he from his, until Titan arrived on the scene.

Halve brings in a certain perspective to all these. He shows how brands emerged, how consumers reacted to brands and, finally, how  brands kept up with the changing and affluent Indian consumer. And the examples cited are mainly home-grown. International brands were either just not present then or not affordable to the majority of consumers.

Here, some questions arise, thanks to the insights offered by Halve. Would things have been different if the economy had opened up earlier, resulting in the arrival of not only international brands but also stronger Indian brands (as seen in Southeast Asia, where the change took place earlier)? Given our large consumer base at the bottom of the pyramid (a term that was not known in business parlance when most of the brands mentioned in the book emerged) were not these brands relevant in the context then, and even possibly now? Are brands today paying attention to the (and changing to the tastes of the) affluent, much-connected 24X7 Gen Z or Gen C consumer with a low attention span? Halve elaborates on all these.

Charles Darwin himself is believed to have said: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." The book certainly proves the dictum right.
 
Badhe is a marketing and retail consultant

Click to read an interview with Anand Halve
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 07-05-2012)


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