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BW Businessworld

The Global Indian

It isn’t so much about Indian or foreign anymore, so much as whether you are part of the global set or not, writes Venkatagiri Rao

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There are so many forces at play here. From the instant abundance of international reality shows, TV series, Hollywood movies and music videos being available on tap to how Bollywood has been shaping up and shaping tastes. From the seemingly never-ending line of H&Ms and Ikeas wanting in to the sheer number of Indians flying out. From our economy becoming a giant middle-class manufacturing factory to the supply and demand of ad-worthy ‘shiny happy people’. From the demands of the marketplace to the biases of the people commissioning and making the ads. Here’s a quick look at a few:

When worlds collide:
When your cook tries to tell you the story of Die Hard (that she’s watched dubbed in Tamil), you know your world has changed. At last count, the number of Bollywood songs with Russian girls was, wait, just about every song. How long, you wonder, before cheerleaders root for Kabaddi League. As for TV shows, we are now on US release schedules. And if it is inspiration or mindless entertainment that we are after, Facebook does a fine job of keeping everyone force-fed and happy on videos.

With all this never-before exposure, you could argue that the ‘foreigner’ has become less foreign. (And we have probably picked up an accent.) In a way, the movie Queen captures and reflects this transition beautifully. Of even the more orthodox among us embracing the brave new world, even if a bit awkwardly or reluctantly. (You could quibble that this doesn’t apply to the ‘real’ India. But then this case study doesn’t apply there either. Unless, of course, you are talking about gutkha companies pulling an East India Company on the East India Company!)

The ‘G’ word:
There is a parallel with brands too. While some global brands prefer to stick to an international look to enhance their allure, many want to ‘Indianise’ their creatives to make the brand feel like ‘one of us’. Either way, every decision feeds or taps into the flux of people’s wants and desires.

An interesting example: the communication story of Hutch that became Orange that became Vodafone. Hutch launched with well-known Indians announcing, “Hello, World”. Then, Orange literally lined up foreign faces for their launch. And somewhere down the line, Vodafone followed with its boy and dog. It’s been a seamless journey, and each was right for its time. As the customers evolved, so did the communication.

On the flip side, Indian brands are going global. Or at least want to be seen that way. Micromax turned to Hugh Jackman to help them hold their own against the invading Chinese brands. VIP launched Caprese like an international brand. It’s a strategy call and one can’t find fault with it.

Likewise, Lodha has Aishwarya Rai living in The Park, and Mayfair Rooms has Nicole Kidman. And L’Oréal uses both international and Indian faces. One no less international or aspirational than the other. There’s a blurring of lines (and looks).

If you look at it, they tap into a certain ‘shiny happy people’ mindset. It isn’t so much about Indian or foreign anymore, so much as whether you’re part of the global or gilded set or not.

The demand and supply equation of charisma:
Getting down to the nitty-gritty of production itself, there is a lack of good models. The good ones are often either taken, or overexposed, or expensive. It isn’t just the looks, it’s also the sophistication. While the best have it, the second rung come up short. So you end up shopping for a ‘Global Indian’ look — Spanish, Brazilian, it doesn’t matter — so long as they can pass off as Indian. It is surprising how often it comes down to availability or budget.
The big Q: Organic or not?

All things considered, like any advertising trope, whether cricket, celebrities, jingles or kids, using foreigners can’t be an end in itself. Especially out of a false sense of it being aspirational. People can smell out a fake. The brand then ends up coming across as a wannabe. And that is commercial suicide.
It has to be integral to the strategy and idea. If the story absolutely demands the use of foreigners, then, yes, by all means. Else, it’s just a waste of everyone’s time and money.

The writer has been in the creative side of the business for 16 years now. He has worked at Ogilvy, Ambience Publicis, ANC and DDB Mudra on brands including Emirates, Tata Safari, Amaron, Lonely Planet, Himalaya, Lodha and Kaya Skin Clinic

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