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BW Businessworld

The ‘Colour’ Conundrum

With India standing out stronger in the global markets, we should market our “Indianness” more happily, writes Prachi Tiwari

Photo Credit :

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We have all seen this at one time or another — the white-skinned model where you expect it the least, promoting everything from phones to sanitary ware to apparel in online marketplaces; and now even biscuits.

Some advertisers are known to ask for models who are “Indian looking”. How does a foreign-looking model add to relatability or brand engagement — something we all look for while watching an advertisement? That is a question that Kersen and his team need to focus on.

In categories such as fashion or international automobile brands, there are times when a brand needs to communicate a certain kind of imagery, a style that cuts across international markets, so at some level, it may seem justifiable to use the hook of foreign models.

A popular footwear and clothing brand, Woodland, started using foreign models for its Indian print ads and sought to use this as a means to promote their brand’s ‘globalness’, especially by opening stores in the Middle East and beyond. This strategy does take advantage of the Indian mindset that thinks if the white guys are sporting this brand, then it must be pretty good. I have to say that with India standing out stronger in the global markets, we should market our “Indianness” more happily, and that, over time, would augur well for our brands.

Have you noticed that the “relatable” models in most of our ads are always Indian, be it the aunty shopping for washing powder, a mum making the cloth stains vanish, or college kids whooping it up in a mobile commercial. The “white” models, on the other hand, drive the “aspirational” category.
Talking to some men (from 24-year-olds to those in their 40s) threw up something interesting. Brands such as US Polo in India use perfectly shaped foreign models in their ads targeted at the Indian market, and while it promotes aspiration, and imagery, it also implies that the product being advertised is probably expensive. Same with fixture brands like Kohler.

On the other hand, using foreign models doesn’t always work well, and the brand may have other issues. Take Cherokee (an apparel brand), for instance. Despite using foreign models, it is sold at mass imagery stores like Megamart, with most of the 20-year-olds not quite wanting to try it.

Another example is that of Karbonn S9 phone, which uses a heavy foreign accent to add to the supposed upscale-ness of the product. It almost seems as if all our confidence about being an upcoming economic powerhouse needs that gora seal of approval in order to buy that pair of jeans or sunglasses or deodorant.
Take retail, for example, where the fight is to get as many footfalls as possible, and it is not easy to drive noticeability. But at each level, the players really need to consider who are they reaching out to, who really walks into their store.

Finding a better way to tell a story requires going a little deeper and assessing what need gap the supermarket is really addressing, and how well differentiated it is. Is it about convenience, is it about providing a larger width and depth of assortment being carried inside the store, is it about a unique shopping experience, or is it about really understanding what matters to the target audience and then delivering it (an emotional benefit backed by product experience)?

However, life these days is overloaded with too much information, too many brands promising to deliver the same thing! And the need for a brand to drive awareness amidst all of this is exceptionally high.

However, the question we need to ask ourselves is: Wouldn’t we be better off using the spends to create focused communication that makes the benefit of this supermarket (and why it’s a better choice) clearly comprehensible to the target group of consumers?

After all, the brand that gets “through” the prospects in a “relatable” way will be able to do better in the long run.

And you can get “through” by keeping your brand messaging simple, by talking about what matters to the customer in a succinct way, devoid of props that take attention away from the main message: Simple is less sometimes, and less is sometimes better!

The writer has more than 17 years of experience in building brands and businesses across consumer goods, media, retail, luxury, through customer-
driven marketing and growth strategies to maximise company profitability and presence


(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 30-11-2015)