15 May 2006

What's a poor Indian teen to do?

Marketing to Indian teens mustn’t be easy. Neither do we have skate-boarding youths, nor those who’re crazy for hip-hop music... the two most-prominent icons of the US teen market. Indian teen icons rest on Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Sachin Tendulkar and a few other film and cricket stars. It’s a person, not a culture. Even then, female icons are hard to come by.

If you consider Indian urban teen culture, in terms of habits, you’ll come up with hanging out in coffeehouses, video gaming (for the boys) and chatting on the Internet (for the girls). As far as appearances go, jeans, tees and tote bags are what you’ll see. Some branded sneakers too. A Nokia mobilephone, perhaps. Beyond that, it’s difficult to tell what the teen segment is all about.

Then, teenagers, as a category, lack loyalty. One day they’ll swear by Nike; the next, they’ve switched to Reebok or adidas. They may be on the Internet a lot longer than the average adult, but they don’t respond to online advertising messages. They watch a lot of TV as well, but they find it boring. One of their common complaints is that Indian TV channels don’t have enough programming to engage them. Some teenagers have even confessed to me that Indian media doesn’t even understand them.

At least, on cable TV, teenagers can find some release thanks to foreign programming. The print medium is worse. What’s disheartening is that there are hardly any teen magazines in India. Mumbai has its own JAM – Just Another Magazine – which sells some 30,000 copies, indeed covering a small portion of the huge teen audience. So, the rest turn to tabloids like Mid-day and Mumbai Mirror eagerly. My guess is that 30% of Mid-day’s readership is teen. For Mumbai Mirror, it’s likely to be double that. Other cities in India draw a complete blank.

Online teen communities, like MySpace.com in the US, are also non-existent in India. Somehow, India has just not been able to engage its teenagers – either through traditional channels of media or the new. In such circumstances, what’s a poor Indian teen to do?

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