08 October 2006

Yet another dilemma

“You were who you were because of the language and dialect you spoke, the location of the village of your male ancestors, the family and religion you were born into. I was a Bengali and proud of it, which meant that I claimed as heritage a culture distinct from that of a Bihari or a Punjabi or a Gujarati or a Tamil. That’s the way we were brought up in Calcutta in the Fifties. We were encouraged to set ourselves apart from people of other Indian states.”
(from ‘An Interview with Bharati Mukherjee’ by Tina Chen and S X Goudie, University of California, Berkeley, 1997)

I wonder if things have changed much in India since the Fifties as far as this observation goes in defining our identity. In India today, we still identify ourselves with our father’s name and his cultural/ethnic background. Mind you, this is not an extraordinary notion contained within India. All over the world, after defining their nationality, people do make a reference to their roots/origins – indicating a consciousness that people carry about their social identities.

The significance of this social identity increases with migration – of the kind India is experiencing today as millions of people from the rural setting are moving into the cities (see my previous post). Migration leads to fusion of cultures, interracial marriages and, perhaps, more confusion over identities. Governing all of this is a history of a nation of poor people. For marketers trying to champion their cause in such a marketplace this is a real challenge.

How do marketers win the hearts and minds of consumers who are so diverse that reaching out to them means communicating in 18 different languages? How do marketers identify and use the myriad images, colours, symbols and nuances that are the building-blocks of a hundred different cultures? How do marketers create demand in millions of consumers who have been used to using wood and coal and kerosene as their source of energy?

Despite the much-flaunted modern India of mobilephones, fast cars and Western fashion, India has retained many of its former characteristics. A sense of self-identity as defined by our place of birth and our male ancestors, which Bharati Mukherjee spoke of, is one such critical characteristic that defines our buying habits and consumption patterns. For marketers, the challenge is to understand this and find innovative ways of blending India’s past with the future through sustainable marketing and advertising campaigns.

It’s yet another dilemma for the marketers. Though one thing is for sure, India’s regional/local language media is likely to benefit from this the most.

[Bharati Mukherjee is the author of four novels, two short-story collections, and two works of non-fiction (co-authored with her husband Clark Blaise), and a well-known creator of immigrant literary theory “that embodies her sense of what it means to be a woman writer of Bengali-Indian origin who has lived in, and been indelibly marked by, both Canada and the United States.”]


pH said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
pH said...

a salute to your perseverance
a muted prayer for reason in these times of strife...