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Rapid changes in Indian culture challenge brand communications

Brands must remain consistent,

while adapting to new India


Arnab Bhowmik

Vice President

Kantar Millward Brown, Firefly




In the 2007 Bollywood hit Life in a… Metro, about young people in Mumbai, a friend advises a 30-year-old woman to get rid of her inhibitions and experiment to find the right guy. The scene departs from the traditional sanskari culture of obedience and proper behavior, where a woman is expected not to express her desires, let alone practice them.


Ten years later, we have movies like Masaan, Pink, and Parch that portray women as sensual, multi-dimensional characters with natural human shades of love, hate, lust, jealousy, or anguish. These films reflect a new India that is more real.


The sensibilities around traditional Indian culture are changing fast, and brands need to gear up to tell stories about the new India. Brands need to use this opportunity sensibly, with the brand purpose aligned with the values of new India that it portrays.


As researchers, we have a window onto this new India when we conduct cultural ethnographies. We get to observe and hear stories from people who are changing. For them, a shampoo is not a mere hair cleansing or enhancement product anymore; it’s a fragrance that will add excitement to a romantic relationship.


Interestingly, this change is not a revelation. Indian mythology and literature are full of stories about using fragrance as a trigger for lust and desire. Until now, we have limited that truth only to showcasing female attraction in deodorant ads.


New reality of Indian identity

The stage is set for marketers to explore the new reality of Indian identity, an India that’s expressive, bullish, and unpretentious. The idea, however, is to use this change smartly and sensibly. Some brands tend to jump onto the bandwagon way too soon for the sake of change without realizing the social responsibility it brings.


A brand needs to be relevant to the belief it portrays to its consumers. Otherwise, the consumers have every reason to feel betrayed as they buy into the stories that a brand promises to deliver in their lives. And brands need to communicate honestly about the disruptions that happen as culture changes.


Tanishq, the jewelry brand synced with the Indian tradition of gifting, executed this beautifully when addressing the theme of remarriage. It showed the disruptive effects of this cultural change in a touching moment involving the bride, her daughter, and her new husband. The ad illustrated how a brand incorporates new cultural dimensions while sustaining its core identity.


On the other hand, there is plenty of brand content on the digital platform is that is just serving as tear jerkers without delivering on any brand purpose. The new India is an opportunity for brands to make themselves more relatable. But success will require being mindfully meaningful.