Posts by Pragya Singh - New Delhi

With Equality Matrimonials, Times of India taps into modern singleton’s anxieties


Marriage can be a great source of anxiety for young Indians, whose marital fate is often out of their own hands, arranged through the parents’ network, a priest or ads in local newspapers. The anxiety is that much more intense for educated, independent-minded women who don’t want to compromise on their beliefs and lifestyle but may be rushed to commit to someone they hardly know. (Our sister site has written about one Indian brand’s response to the modern woman’s wariness of arranged marriage.)

Earlier this year Times of India, a leading national daily, introduced the Times Equality Matrimonials to its Sunday supplement of matrimonial classifieds. “This space rejects the conventional thinking of a woman playing second fiddle to her husband and regards marriage as a true partnership placing both people are on an equal footing,” The Times declares. It even ran an Equality Marriage Manifesto. Separate ads target women (“Does hello to marriage mean goodbye to life as you know it?”) and men (“Do you want someone you can dictate to, or someone you can ask for advice?”).

The Times approach is likely to generate goodwill among its target consumer whether or not they place an ad (indeed, even if they’re already married). This is a great example of how a very old product or service can tap into current truths or anxieties to come across as very contemporary and strengthen bonds with younger generations.

Negative perceptions of India’s police only heighten security fears

Recently I noticed more policemen than usual on my weekend visit to the popular local market and got a little worried. The next day I read that many parts of Delhi were under police surveillance, as a terror attack was expected from the Pakistan-based group LeT. I walked with more uneasiness that day into another crowded market. The next morning, the media implied that with the bombing attempt in Times Square, the incident had been deflected from Delhi. Whether true or not, this episode brought to light our complete lack of faith in India’s law enforcers—a case of a ruptured brand.

delhi-police1The perception of Indian police has been hardened by the media’s focus on their incompetence—they’re shown to mostly arrive once the damage is done, and they’re ill-equipped to prevent it even if they are tipped off, since the assailants have more sophisticated tools and technology. It’s ironic but true that a heightened police presence creates uneasiness and anxiety more than comfort and security. It’s a muted sign that a terror attack might be expected.

We urgently need a return of faith, a turnaround in the Indian police brand—more positive PR, even a TV series or movie inspired by real life. Watching or reading about law enforcers averting deadly attacks and acting heroically or being publicly honored would help to alleviate some of Indians’ security-related anxiety.

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India’s Kotak Life Insurance tries to ease parental anxieties

There was a time when life insurance communication was quite somber, evoking fear about what might happen to your loved ones once you die or suffer an unexpected injury or illness. Once insurance plans came linked with investment in India, however, the sector transformed. People could see money returned even if their policy expired. There are now innumerable players offering investment-linked insurance, and the field is heavily cluttered.

The gears have shifted accordingly in communication, which now features vibrant, upbeat imagery—illustrating freedom from tension because your loved ones are secure just in case. The latest effort from Kotak Life Insurance, an established player, adopts a somewhat different approach. Its new brand positioning is “Faidey ka insurance” (insurance that’s financially rewarding), appealing to the rational rather than the emotional side and approaching insurance the same way as any other investment product. (This is backed by the fact that Kotak is also a well-known investment player with expertise in research and capital markets.)

The TV commercial features a Kotak agent in a living room, discussing child insurance plans with a family; as he talks about parents wanting their kids to take up various professions, the child here turns into an astronaut, doctor, cricketer and rock star. The agent notes that a child’s career path can’t be guaranteed and neither can the returns of a regular insurance plan. He describes how Kotak’s Child Plans ensure better returns, which helps parents finance the child’s education. The agent leaves with a piece of friendly advice: that a child must be given room to make his own career choice.

In India, a festive season spurs consumer spending

The festive season has beaten consumers’ blues and acted as a tonic for their anxiety. It started with Onam in the South, increased its tempo with Durga Puja in the East, then came Navaratras, and the season finally peaked last week with Diwali in West and North India. This is a period when a lot of gifts are purchased, and it’s also considered an auspicious time to buy all things expensive for oneself and one’s home—jewelry, durables, automobiles.

It seems that consumers were just waiting for the season to kick in as a reason to splurge. This festival season hasshopping been phenomenal for marketers across almost every category, from retail and durables to automobiles, apparel, furniture and liquor. Car sales rose 21 percent in September. Future Group, India’s biggest retailer, clocked more than $107 million in 10 days, while Samsung and LG saw revenues grow nearly 40 percent during the festival period.

It seems that the only signs of anxiety among Indians emanated from the torturous traffic encountered while visiting friends, relatives or colleagues.

Found in translation: Sanskrit goes Bollywood

7175350_ce95302fdeSanskrit is one of the world’s most ancient languages, the source of many modern Indian languages and the language of scriptures and epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Though widely taught in schools, it’s dying a slow but sure death. Kids can choose between Sanskrit and another Indian language, and neither they nor their parents see any use for it—Sanskrit is neither spoken nor written in modern discourse.

Eklavya Sanskrit Academy in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat, has taken up the challenge of keeping the language alive among today’s youth. And it has adopted an ingenious approach to do so: Translate well-known dialogue from famous Bollywood movies into Sanskrit. It’s a fun, engaging way to connect with youth and sustain their interest.

Fading brands can take a cue from this academy: Sometimes the best solution lies far beyond one’s own category code.

Photo credit: Mosseby

Two Indian brands tap into flu anxiety with immunity claims

Indian culture has always given a lot of importance to sound health, and strong immunity is considered a prerequisite for good health. Traditional sciences such as Ayurveda and Unani believe that certain herbs and tonics improve immunity.


Two brands operating in this realm are among the few to leverage swine flu in their communications: Dabur Chyawanprash, a leading Indian health supplement, and Brooke Bond Red Label Natural Care, a popular tea brand from Unilever. The messaging manages not to reek too strongly of opportunism. I think that’s because these brands have always been positioned as immunity-boosters and have established credibility for themselves. Their communication doesn’t need to persuade consumers or change their beliefs, it needs only to influence and aid recall.

Veggies beyond reach as produce prices spike in India

3742681624_1c08dfaa2dIf there’s one thing that’s giving the jitters to households in northern India, especially in the capital, it’s the soaring price of produce. The cost of Indian-food staples such as potatoes, onions and tomatoes has shot up by as much as 25 percent in the last two months due to delayed monsoons that destroyed crops, coupled with a rise in fuel prices. JWT’s recent AnxietyIndex research in India picked up this anxiety related to food inflation.

“You can cut down on other luxuries, but how can you tell your child to eat less?” one homemaker told “We now have to make do with just one variety of vegetable in one meal and try and compensate that in the next.”

As families rethink their daily menus, can marketers be of assistance? How about educating consumers on picking products that are high in fiber and thus keep you full for longer? Suggesting delicious recipes that utilize a mix of essential foodstuffs and the less costly veggies to make a wholesome meal? Or even promoting healthy, filling snacks that may substitute for a meal a few times a week?

Photo credit: halene

While some Indian workers feel recession’s effects, others are in the money

money-money-moneyPeople around the world are living under the daily threat of losing their jobs, but the scenario is quite different in urban India. Some Indians have been smiling on their way home, excited to break the news of a salary hike. With the exception of companies in some sectors, such as tourism, IT, exports and financial services, many businesses have doled out raises this year. According to a July survey on “Performance and Reward Trends” by Hewitt Associates, employees in the pharmaceutical, manufacturing and telecom sectors saw pay increases in the range of 9-11 percent for fiscal year 2009-10.

This is an opportune time for brands that can pull the levers on niche marketing, specifically targeting people who work in the growth sectors. Brands in the durables, travel, jewelry, home solutions and automobile categories may be better off doing this than simply focusing on mass-market communication.

The Times of India taps into a new social consciousness

teach-india-21According to JWT’s recent AnxietyIndex study in India, an overwhelming 89 percent of respondents said they have become more concerned about societal issues that may not impact them directly. There seems to be a growing realization that ignoring social issues—such as poverty, the environment and illiteracy—will not help.

It’s not surprising, then, that brands that have associated with a relevant cause have gained equity from doing so. Teach India, a literacy initiative from The Times of India, the country’s leading English newspaper, has been a huge success, giving people who wished to give back to society a platform for doing so. The mission is to get volunteers to tutor street kids and those who can’t afford education. Volunteers commit to dedicating two hours of their time each week for a period of three months.

Since the campaign launched last summer, 90,000 people have let go of their lethargy to join in. The program is now entering a second phase to get even more people to volunteer. India, it seems, is awakening to a new level of social consciousness.

A tale of two cities in India

delhi_mumbaiIt’s amazing how India’s two biggest cities are reacting so differently to the world around them. The people of Delhi are twice as anxious as those in Mumbai, according to JWT’s recent AnxietyIndex research. (See AnxietyIndex: India.) Specifically, Delhites are very nervous about the state of crime and terrorism, while Mumbaikers—despite being at ground zero of the November terror attacks that shook the nation—actually scored quite low on anxiety related to terrorism and crime.

Instead, Mumbai residents choose to worry about more everyday factors, such as the cost of health care and food prices. Rather than look back, the city with the never-say-die spirit prefers to move on and approach the future with hope. Indeed, Mumbaikers believe many factors will improve in the next six months, including real estate, fuel prices, access to loans and the unemployment rate. Delhi, by contrast, feels the exact opposite—residents say all these factors will worsen.

What are the implications for brands? In Delhi, brands stand a good chance of connecting with consumers by infusing optimism into their messages and promising soothing, uplifting or upbeat experiences. In Mumbai, brands can borrow/play off the city’s hope and confidence. Delhi may also react more strongly than Mumbai to depictions of familiar situations and comforting factors—e.g., family and friends—that alleviate anxiety.