Culture Engineering

Culture engineering as a concept has been practiced forever. In ancient times, it was the invaders who did that. In modern times it is the people who move from one geographical location to another, do that. Brands do it too. And engineering happens in very different ways for people than it does for brands.

Take the case of people who move to another country. Culture engineering happens in two ways – Either they engineer themselves to fit in with the environment… or they have such a huge influence on the environment that the environment changes…

If Deepak Chopra had decided to remain in India… would he have been as successful as he is? He has gained success because he moved to a society which was looking for salvation and he engineered their thought process with his philosophy. Of course moving on from there, the world followed what is successful in US and he became a Guru even in India. Steven Covey does that too… so does a Paul Coello or a Robin Sharma. Engineering people’s thoughts towards their philosophy… The reverse is of course the immigrant population. You move to another country and make changes so that you can belong… adapt to the existing culture. Or probably transform themselves. The difference is adapting means you dont let go of your culture but imbibe the values of the environment. Transformation leads to shunning of everything that you were… Somewhere its the need to belong that leads to the engineering.

For brands too it is the need to belong in newer markets (and also at a very subtle level the countries attached to the brand too propogate this culture engineering)

Second World War and then subsequent interventions by US in Asian trouble spots carried the symbols of american culture to these spots and at a very subliminal level led to a cultural imperialism. And of course dollar being the universal currency meant that the american domination was complete.

Communism tried very hard too but failed in the face of glitz and glamor of all the ‘virtues’ of american culture.

But in Modern times, war is not a positive reinforcement of a culture so brands and marketing have taken over. Nobody wants a war but people are happy to accept brands and letting the brands evolve and transform their cultures…

Let us take the Indian example.

In the 70’s all foreign brands were asked to leave the country because they stood for the so called decadent West. Under the garb of protecting our economy we asked brands to leave.

In the 90’s when a global economy became a reality one cannot avoid, the markets were opened and the brands were back with a vengence… Huge population of India had most brands drooling and wanting the share of a huge market… And given the shifts in political scenario, American brands entered in droves.

Satellite TV was the first to invade our homes with images that were so american and yet welcome because we were hungry… hungry to catch up with the world and to mention the cliche – what is banned is always lot more desirable and exciting… The Bold and the Beautiful became staple diet for many (soap operas that were prime time in India!)

And all these shows were also advertisements for brands…

Coke was back and Pepsi too.. so were Macdonalds and KFC and Pizza Hut and Dominoes… and Nike and Adidas and Levi’s… The list can go on across product categories… from apparels to automobiles to banking to everything that was open…

But what is important here while most brands expected that we would accept the lifestyles too attached with the brand… it did not happen… at least not on a large scale as was expected… The large middle class wanted these brands… but on their own terms… we bought into the philosophy but not the cultural cues… And it was a very strong sentiment… And brands that were in for long haul figured it out… MJ and Bobby Brown gave way to Aamir Khan, Shahrukh Khan and cricketers for Pepsi…

Macdonald had veg offerings… Pizza Hut had veg pizzas and very Indian recipes… Automobiles tranformed their communication to be in tune with Indian Culture… Samsung and LG had strategies that connected with Indian sentiments… And more importantly it was like double culture engineering strategy… The brands adapted to the Indian culture and propogated the values of their own cultures… without being overt about it…

Indians used to eat healthy but now they binge on american junk food and obesity (just like in US) is on the rise. Credit culture which used to be a complete taboo for us is the prevalent practice now…

And the thing is that not all influences are bad… Engineering has a way of bringing in negatives as well as positives… We are lot more professional in our working environment.. as compared to maybe couple of decades back… We have forced our governments to give us infrastructure that is on par with the world (it is a slow process but it is happening)

We are moving from our initial years of vice of the internet to the virtues and using technology in a constructive manner… And of course we have used IT as our own way to extend our culture to the other parts of the world… There are more Indians travelling abroad and the popular hot spots are ensuring that they cater to the travelling Indian population. Bollywood has also done it’s bit… cases of Indian movies topping the top 10 charts are very frequent…

In a world where boundaries are disappearing (physical ones remains and cause constant grief) every culture is now in a very subtle war to take over… Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Indians…. the hegemony of US and West is on the decline and who wins the war would not be decided by arms and ammunition but by brands… Brands which handle the culture engineering the best are the brands that will win the war for their countries…

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