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Thumbprinting a Brand

by | New Delhi, India

Sunday, 13 October 2013

tags: americas, brand worlds, header navigation, lateral navigation, semiotics

Indian consumers tend to suffer guilt attacks whenever they ‘selfishly’ consume something individually all by themselves. There are three things that make them shell out big bucks. The product should be used or consumed not by the individual alone but by the whole family, it should be seen by a lot of people and it should endure. Cars, homes, jewelry are the obvious candidates for satisfying these criteria. Audi and BMW have been runaway successes in an otherwise depressed market and the relatively high ticket size hasn’t been a deterrent. All these things are up for public view and not for private individual consumption.

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Family is prioritized over the self. The individual is submerged in the family collective. And even that collective is robbed of its specialness in the crowd of billions. Specialness of the individual must be reclaimed. And that’s what happens.  No two cars are of the same make remain the same after they have been driven out of the showroom. Each will be personalized in a hundred different ways. It will bear testimony to the owner’s spiritual leanings, his significant others and also his diagnosis of vulnerable points in the vehicle that need to be bolstered in the event of a collision. Tailored clothes continue to command a good market share even when ready to wear is a convenient and cost effective alternative. The neighbourhood tailor (who is very far in accomplishment from the finesse of the bespoke) can be instructed to stitch trousers with your particular preference of five pockets regardless of the fashion of the day.  Apparel brands are creeping in but are yet to establish that understanding relationship that the neighbourhood tailor has with the customer.

It may seem paradoxical but it is logical that the individual would want to extract himself when the force of the collective impinges so strongly on his identity. Individual stories have to be told. Some brands have been clever enough to leverage this desire to make our faces stick our stick out in the crowd. You as an individual featuring on a bag of crisps or having a shade of nail polish named after you is an ode like no other.

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Even if it is a mass produced product, at level of consumption it does not have to be like all others of it’s kind, part of a uniformity. For a long lasting relationship with the Indian audience, it is important that there be room for the individual to imprint his particular signature on it. Brands who have inadvertently stumbled on this, have been happier for it.  Nestle’s Maggi instant noodles is a case in point. It was the first instant noodle brand and somehow it claimed so much heart space that there has never been a strong second competitor in the thirty odd years since it arrived. One key reason could be that consumers spontaneously detected space for making it their own via standard instructions kept to a basic minimum. A noodle dish could be made soup style, dry scrambled egg style or in any other creative way. This gave even the most challenged cook the confidence to conjure up his own recipe. Some person in every office is famed for ‘his’ Maggi. It has even been elevated enough to feature on the menu of some youth hangout cafes. There are roadside Maggi stalls with significant fan followings.

The ability of the Maggi brand to interweave itself with an individual’s identity and life space has been celebrated by the brand in a campaign that gave consumers a platform to share their Maggi stories from when this instant noodle was an integral part of their life events, usually when they were students or as young couples with limited culinary skills. When a brand succeeds in establishing a relationship at that life stage, it will always enjoy a powerful nostalgic connection.

© Sraboni Bhaduri 2013

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