Advertising and the Shaping / Reshaping of Consumer Behavior in India: Ambi Parameswaran

Advertising is a significant business in India with over Rs 49, 000 crores spent on mass media advertising in 2015.

Advertising, Business, Mass Media Advertising, Gross Domestic Product, Ambi Parameswaran

Advertising is a significant business in India with over Rs 49, 000 crores spent on mass media advertising in 2015. The total spends are expected to keep rising at the rate of 12 to 14% for the coming decade. While ad spends are only at around 0.4% of the GDP of the country currently, this is expected to steadily increase over the coming decade.

Ad agencies are deeply engaged in understanding and changing consumer behavior and attitudes:
 - To identify the segment to target the marketing communication messages at
 - To develop deeper consumer understanding and mining for insights
 - To develop the advertising concepts that will have the maximum appeal
 - To track the effect of the advertising messages

Indian advertising scene has several issues that necessitate a deeper understanding of consumer behavior:
 - Cultural sensitivities: differences in linguistic and religious groups
 - Regional differences: dress, foods and other differences across the country

The post-independence phase of advertising was about consumer education. There was a need to explain to consumers how to use products. Dalda had to be demonstrated at stores and advertising had to communicate the fact that it was a perfectly safe product to use. So the first phase was almost generic selling of products such as cooking mediums, tooth paste, soaps, detergents etc.

The second phase of Indian market development called for brands fighting with each other for a bigger share. This led to communicating to consumer the specific benefits offered by a brand. A soap promised freshness. Another promised younger looking skin. One promised germ free skin and so on.

The post liberalization phase opened up new categories and consumers were educated about the use of mobile phones and internet. Cars and two wheelers changed consumer attitudes and behavior about the need for a car or a scooter. Brands went after women segments and young adult segments to sell their wares.

This was also the time when mass media, especially television started reaching the smaller towns and rural parts of India opening up unexplored market for mass consumer goods. So while messaging to urban markets had to be made more sophisticated, in order to reach and convince rural consumers, advertising had to become more explanatory.

The post 2000 period continues to spread awareness and benefits of new products and services, this time many enabled by the digital revolution. E commerce has been the big advertiser, trying to get consumer to order products on the internet. Again like mobile services, the combined effort of multiple brands has led to significant consumer behavior change, towards ecommerce.

The period 2010 has seen brands embrace a more social context to build a stronger consumer bond. So we have seen hair oil brands speak of cancer survivors, ecommerce brands embrace LGBT narrative and more.

There are many India’s in existence at the same time today. Though consumers across the country are connected through common aspirations and desires, they are not all equally well informed about products and services. There are many Indias in existence each with its own consumer dynamics. Advertising agencies are hard at work trying to decode the multiple dynamics in operation to enable brands to make their pitch.

As the country continues to grow, the role of advertising to shape, reshape consumer behavior will have to change. From helping girls get married by turning fair, now advertising is hard at work telling them that they need to turn fair to get the right job. The business of banking which was reserved for the head of the household is now being taught to the teenager, who is able to do net banking through his mobile phone.

Indian marketers, market researchers and advertising agencies are hard at work decoding consumer behavior which in turn is shaped by the geography, and socio cultural dynamics of the country. Making the task exciting and challenging in equal measure.

Ambi Parameswaran is Brand Strategist and Founder of He is the author of eight books on branding, advertising and consumer behavior including the bestselling "Nawabs Nudes Noodles – India Through 50 Years of Advertising".

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