The ignored & the unrepresented middle class of the great Indian society

PASSAGE 1 – The Problem

1.1 – The “White” Model

Walk in to any Indian mall – regardless of the city or state – observe carefully, you will notice that most of the advertising around you, generally carry non Indian models – Or models mostly of Caucasian/White ethnicity.

I find it extremely weird. What makes this bizarre is that fact that even Indian brands, that primarily are targeting the Indian middle class, use white faces for their advertisements. It’s ridiculousness of the highest order.

I am not here to preach about India’s love for fair skin and lighter shade – I think enough has been written about it.
What I want to talk about is the Indian middle class and its representation in the advertising/marketing space.

The advertisers and marketers need to ask themselves –:
Is using a white face in any way helping them engage — or the middle class (if) they are targeting really relating to that face or model they are using.
You are perhaps impressing them, but definitely not engaging OR helping them relate to your brand.

I feel its high time, Indian brands, their creative teams, agencies and all other parties, realize that this fascination is not helping them stand out.

Apart from India’s obsession with the light skin, there is another underlying perception – that white people are better dressed, slicker and the ordinary Indian consumer will find them way more “Stylish.”

This is an age-old concept that may be worked for late 90’s and early 00’s – in the current times, I highly doubt it. And even if it works, brands really need not do this.

I cant believe I have to say this over and over again – but can we please cut this shithead mentality out and for once and for all agree that even Indian models can be styled and made to look slick and fascinating enough. I don’t think so I need to give examples – but the perception is still somewhere stuck and needs to change. And brands need to up their game and make better choices.

The rampant use of white models by deodorant, car & bike, apparel brands need to stop. Not just because its shameful, but also because its practical. Consumers will definitely relate and respond better.

It is borderline racist – Shame on all of us. We look down upon our own folks and countrymen.
“Colonial Hangover” is a disease and needs to go.

Please give it a shot – Change the status quo.

1.2 – The Slicker Urban Indian model

To explain this point I would like to take some help from genius designer/blogger – Mr. Anshumani Ruddra.
In a recent article by him on Linkedin, he explained so-so much about the country we live in – but hardly really understand.

He gave answers to these 6 questions – in percentages –:

Q1. Have you ever flown or taken a domestic flight in India?
A1. You are in 3 to 5% of India’s population (39 to 65 million people).

Q2. Do you make more than $10/ day (~2.5 lacs per annum)?
A2. You are in 6% of India’s population (78 million people).

Q3. Have you ever purchased anything online ever?
A3. You are in 4% of India’s population ( 50 million people).

Q4. Do you have a credit card?
A4. You are in 3% of India’s population (37 million credit cards; possibly held by just 24 million people).

Q5. Did at least one of your parents attend college?
A5. You are in less than 1% of India’s population (10 million people)

Q6. Did you study in an English medium school (English as first language)?
A6. 2% of India’s population (25 million people)

He stated in the article – that you never really can design for the whole of India – but just a segment of it.

Carrying forward on the same – I think it would be right to say – you can never really create a campaign for the whole of India, but just a section or segment of it.

Going back to the same point I was trying to make earlier – “Representation” – its really uncool that we have not given or hardly give any representation to the folks who form a majority of our country – The thriving middle class.

But hey, who is truly a part of the Indian middle class?
Is it the 6% of India’s population that makes $10 or more?
So what about the 94% – Are they all poor, broke and hungry.
And also, are all the people in the 6% bracket making $10 or more – RICH?

No! Not really.

The Indian middle class is not so easy to understand. It can be sub segmented in so many brackets and columns, and they all will still overlap.

There is a half of the same middle class – That lags behind. They are not poor – but just not rich enough. They are conventional, often conservative. They have strong regional sentiments and culturally rooted.

But is that a reason good enough to ignore them completely.
THIS PART – folks this part forms still the majority of India.
And its engagement is what brands should actually seek.
There is really very little to no representation of that section.

The slicker kids, folks living in the Bandra’s and South Delhi building complexes – get the maximum representation.
See some of the stats – only 2% of our folks study in an English Medium school – Does that make the remaining 98% unworthy of representation?

They perhaps are not as sophisticated in their lifestyle, are rusty and raw, but these are still possibly the biggest share of your target market groups.
The ones who actually go and buy stuff from your “Mohalla ka kiraney wala store.”

We fail to give them representation. We fail to engage with them, we fail to think of them while strategizing our marketing campaigns. We fail to create ads and cast people who look and talk from these sections of our vast country. We fail, because we are ignorant, and are too scared to change the status quo.

PASAGE 2 – The Solution

Advertisers and Marketers really need to focus a bit more on the lower middle class of India. They need to ask and re strategize on how they are communicating with this section. How they are engaging and if by leaving this huge chunk out they are making a huge mistake?
Will reaching out, giving representation and opportunities to this section get them better results?
Think on this practically – I absolutely am convinced that it will.

I understand some brands might not have the need to cater to these sections as their products or services are on the expensive side – but most of the products/services – from telecom companies, to FMCG brands, to perfumes to tech companies – They all most definitely have a need to connect with this section – But I am sorry to say – most of them and their agencies are doing too less or nothing to engage with them.

PASSAGE 3 – Summary

I would like to give 2 examples -:

3.1 Patanjali

Even though I don’t buy Patanjali products, but I think we all can agree that they have done a tremendous job with their marketing campaigns.
There is no doubt about it.
Now please don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting we all drum up the rhetoric around patriotism or nationalism and such – but at least we can learn why suddenly Patanjali products are appealing to this section – even though the price range of their products are pretty much on the same lines of a P&G or Reckitt Benckiser and Unilevers.

They are relating and engaging the lower middle class better. They are talking in their language, using folks who walk and talk like the Indian middle class and getting some kickass results.

3.2 Pro Kabaddi League

And then of course the genius of Star Sports – And Mr. Uday Shankar for what they did with “Pro Kabaddi League.”

They picked up a rural sport, took these athletes mostly from humble backgrounds, styled them wonderfully, and communicated in a language the middle class understands and can relate to.
Boy oh boy – are the results not fascinating.

I just want to wrap this blog by saying that – ‘hey, I understand its not easy to try new things, change to a different marketing mix and strategy – but – give it a shot.
Make your ad spots, run campaigns and create your strategies keeping in mind that majority of India doesn’t look like you or come from a privileged background as you.
Even in our cities, everybody is not rich or shall I say – not rich enough.
That most of our Indian folks belong to this lower middle class – that is ever growing – in income, education, digital engagement and in every other way.

Its high time we gave them the representation they deserve. The inclusion they crave for.
They will in turn give you their loyalty and buy.
Give it a shot.

Here is the link to Mr Anshumani Ruddra’s article -:
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/five-lessons-from-designing-india-anshumani-ruddra/

Some other articles on white models in the Indian ad space
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/26/AR2008012601057.html?noredirect=on

https://www.firstpost.com/living/blinded-by-the-white-indias-rising-appetite-for-foreign-models-1406003.html

https://www.hindustantimes.com/more-lifestyle/why-are-there-so-many-white-models-on-indian-e-shopping-sites/story-f0QEXh2eEVqDbzVAaKLf1I.html

Thanks for reading
Az

Azhan works at caanhub.com – a sports management & social media platform. Its mission is to empower every athlete and sports organiser ‘Financially & Technologically.’
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