29 September 2006

How the West won

An executive plugs in his iPod on his way to work. A housewife takes her kids to McDonald’s for a birthday party. An auto-rickshaw driver stops to answer a call on his Nokia mobilephone. A teenager strolls into her college in her Nike and Levi’s. A schoolboy rushes home to play with his Microsoft Xbox 360. A family spends a day at the mall, loading their brand new Chevrolet with bagfuls of stuff before returning home to watch a DVD on their Sony system.

These scenes mark India’s changing urban lifestyle. India’s consumer culture is growing at a phenomenal pace, with its urban centres virtually exploding in a retail boom. Cities like Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai are leaping ahead of the rest, flooding the market with branded goods and services. The rest is not too far behind.

This growth is, of course, due to India’s acclaimed IT sector, servicing the world with software and IT-enabled services, creating tens of thousands of well-paying jobs every year. Not to be outdone, pharmaceuticals as well as financial and healthcare services are gearing up, with smaller industries like fashion, gold jewellery and diamonds emerging as highly-favoured players in the global market. The clientele for these industries is unquestionably overseas, and India’s earnings are in dollars and euros.

In exchange, India has opened up its market to the world, embracing a Westernised consumer culture that our forefathers had resisted for fifty years, thanks to our socialistic form of government and our first prime minister’s belief that advertisements made people buy things they did not want. But now, all that has changed. Globalised capitalism has entered our lives and transformed our country into a fast-growing economy, whose appetite for both foreign and local brands seems insatiable.

Marketers in the West have noticed this growing wealth and changing lifestyle of Indian consumers. Some may have even connived with their governments to enter the Indian market and induce this change. After all, apart from China (which is perceived as a contender for the same Indian consumer), where would they find such a huge population of consumers! So, they’ve stepped in with their brands, their marketing strategies and their advertising, investing their time and much-needed funds for India’s growing industries, creating a cultural shift towards Western materialism.

For India, the temptation has been too powerful to resist. The Indian government and the Indian consumer have both lapped it up… just as Lord Krishna had done with his makhan (butter) eons ago (or so the story goes).

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