Posts by Pragya Singh and Vishal Sharma

Rising prices prompt Indians to break with tradition in the kitchen

In India, where crops suffered major damage last year after unseasonal rains, anxiety over food prices is high. Cooking staples like onions and tomatoes have gone through the roof, increasing three- to fourfold in the first two weeks of January. The problem is that these two ingredients are the minimum required for a good “tadka” (generally a paste of chopped onions, tomatoes, coriander, green chilies and spices), one of the most important steps to making an Indian dish.

tomatoesThe alternative is ready-to-use pastes that come in sealed packs from brands like Kissan Tomato Puree, Dabur Hommade and Smith & Jones. However, even after years on the market and high-decibel campaigns focused on assurances of quality and freshness, these products haven’t been successful with the masses, even in busy metropolitan areas. A majority of Indian women continue to trust that a tadka’s freshness directly influences the quality of the dish and thus prefer the rigor of chopping onions and tomatoes before cooking a meal.

Now, the choice becomes more difficult: Ready-to-use products are cheaper, since their prices have remained more or less stable. So Indians are compromising, and according to the latest data, brands like Smith & Jones have reported a whopping 300 percent increase in sales. Price anxiety has led consumers to break one of the most sacred rules of Indian cooking: “Thou shalt always use fresh onions and tomatoes to prepare a tadka!”

Photo Credit: rightee

Movie reflects new anxiety for single urban women in India: Turning 30!!!

God, I’m 30! This is an anxiety being voiced by a growing number of urban women in India today. With delayed marriages, a non-discriminating culture at home and financial freedom thanks to full-time jobs, women today should have it easy. But they are facing a very different kind of uncertainty, one unknown to women a generation earlier. Not having found Mr. Right or professional success, having only a handful of friends who don’t yet have kids, early signs of weakened immunity and aging of skin—there’s no dearth of items on these women’s worry list.

Personal care brands are leveraging this trend in a big way with soaps, day creams, night creams, serums, etc. Now, in what seems to be a first, we have a movie dedicated to this woman, due out this month. Starring actress Gul Panag, Turning 30!!! follows the trials and tribulations of a modern Indian professional as she bids goodbye to her twenties. Watch for brands across more categories directly engage this Sex and the City demographic, helping her battle her blues, rediscover herself and grow into her thirties.

‘Times of India’ addresses readers’ spiritual anxiety

speaking-treeWhile several brands leverage consumer anxiety regarding obesity, diabetes, heart health and physical fitness, Times of India (TOI), the country’s leading English daily, is tackling mental and spiritual health. Engaging the urban, educated Indian, it taps into the two things that constantly nag us: the purpose of our existence and why life turns out the way it does.

The Speaking Tree” is a Sunday supplement that carries light but thought-provoking articles on meditation, spirituality and, most important, advice on solving everyday life issues through inspiration from mythology and stories of real people we can identify with. As a brand, TOI has made a start in plugging a yawning gap that resides among all of us. It’s also created an opportunity for several brands to participate in this space, especially brands that talk to the individual seeking peace, deeper knowledge, inspiration or transformation (insurance, religious TV channels, books, institutions that impart new skills).

Recall phenomenon hits India, investors and consumers (over)anxious

a-star1Leading Indian automaker Maruti Suzuki is the latest entrant in the “Recall Club,” joining distinguished names that include Toyota, Honda, Peugeot Citroen and, more recently, Hyundai. All these brands have recently recalled one or more models in various markets around the world. In India, Maruti Suzuki recalled 100,000 A-Star models, owing to a faulty fuel tank part. Its stock tumbled to a six-month low, and A-star owners are anxiously linking regular car issues like poor mileage and pickup to a possibility of fault with their cars, even if theirs isn’t part of the recall.

While recalls have generally been regarded as a sign of a responsible automaker, this time it’s a little different. Both investors and consumers seem to be overanxious, likely because caution and nervousness (even about short-term losses) is a lingering effect of the recession and also because of the frequency with which some big and highly trusted brands are joining the recall phenomenon.

Given the fragile state of consumer and investor confidence in today’s post-recession world order, brands will need to do worst-case-scenario planning even for actions that look logical and are in the consumer’s interest, and really step up communication efforts to make events like recalls more transparent so as to avoid stirring anxiety and speculation.

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Bollywood tackles Indian anxiety

My Name Is Khan is a big Bollywood production that’s trying to leverage Indians’ anxiety and religious sentiments to get attention and ticket sales. The movie, which comes out today, features Indian megastar Shah Rukh Khan as Rizwan Khan, a Muslim with Asperger syndrome. Some of the challenges he faces are related to his being Muslim, especially post-9/11, when Khan is living in the U.S. In fact, one of the lines heavily used in the movie’s promotion is “I am Rizwan Khan, and I’m not a terrorist.”

Islam and terrorism is a subject that dominates the news as well as the hearts of every Indian. And most of us believe that the entire community cannot be damned by a few evil men who are trying to destroy humanity. So seeing the film’s protagonist being discriminated against is something we can’t stand—we want to see him succeed in his fight to get justice. The movie is a great example of leveraging our emotions on this sensitive issue.