Talking culture, mythology and consumerism

Talking culture, mythology and consumerism

The Capital witnessed an interesting debate on the ‘New Indian Consumer’ at the ongoing Spring Fever Literature Festival 2012. Presided by eminent market analysts and commentators Rama Bijapurkar, Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik and V Raghunathan, it witnessed a huge outpouring of marketing students and other individuals. The session was a part of the 25 years of Penguin India celebrations and is being held at India Habitat Centre.

Rama Bijapurkar, one of the most respected thought leaders on market strategy and consumer related issues in India today, has also authored ‘We are like that only - Understanding the Logic of Consumer India,’ was also on display. Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik, on the other hand, wears many hats. A physician turned leadership consultant and author, his works focus largely on the areas of mythology and management. His books ‘Myth = Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology’, ‘The Pregnant King and Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata’, need no introduction to those into reading. Meanwhile, V Raghunathan, former professor IIM Ahmedabad, is a banker and author. His latest book ‘Ganesha on the Dashboard’ formed the title of the discussion.

Rama Bijapurkar initiated the discussion, explaining the traits of the New Indian consumer. With globalization, entry of MNCs into India and the resultant competition between various brands to serve us, the Indian consumer today is in a hugely advantageous position. But not to be wooed easily, the Indian customer scans before choosing. “For example, with telecom prices falling constantly, Indians today keep switching from one network to another. This is actual consumer empowerment.”

V Raghunathan, continued the talk with his understanding of how the Indian consumer thinks. “We, as a nation, badly lack a scientific temper. Take, for instance,  the way we go about buying a new car. We identify an auspicious date and time, then proceed to break a coconut, plonk a plastic deity of Ganesha on the dashboard, and zoom off at great speed, refusing to wear our seatbelts. So many industries thrive today only on the basis of superstitions. For example, Vaastu Shastra wouldn’t survive if we stop spending crores on remodeling our homes every year as per this so called science.”

Dr Devdutt Pattanaik here brought in his perspective on how our cultural and religious values impact consumerism. “Most of our product consumption is subconsciously directed by religious ethos. And it is not only understood by the Indian companies, but even foreign brands take advantage of it. For example, McDonalds worldwide sells its beef burgers in the largest numbers. But here we have an Indian innovation called the McAloo Tikki. Nowhere else would you hear of that.” He concluded, “Marketing, advertising and brand management have a long way to go if accompanied with a sense of native Indian culture. It is their biggest mantra to being successful.”

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