Inventors vs Innovators vs Consumers – Why India can never be an economic super power


Might be a controversial post but it is the truth.

We have the population… so does China… lot more than us actually… But numbers do not convert into turning the nation into super power.

I have started reading “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires” by Tim Wu (part of must read by Seth Godin). The first 50 pages into the book and I arrived at this conclusion.

US became the economic power house because majority of the inventions in the 20th century happened over there. it was a country which realized what technology can do. And this awareness, coupled with the freedom, individuals and groups invested time and effort in doing new things… discovering… experimenting… developing…  The results are all there for us to see.  Any new technology that emerges and becomes a rage, the origin is in US. Of course with freedom and the power to dictate terms to the entire world, comes arrogance. And this arrogance has led to the state of affairs that exist in US . But this post is not about that.

The point is that countries that invent… are the ones which take leadership position and make the other countries gravitate towards them

Then there is the next level… which also takes the super power status. These are the countries where they innovate… take the basic invention and take it through a series of innovations to make them better… thereby appropriating to themselves economic leadership. Germany for automobiles, Japan & Korea in consumer electronics and of course China which takes all of it and produces it at half the cost and seeks domination.

So where does that leave India? or where has it left in India after 64 years of Independence and warped political policies and the brain drain from 1960’s till perhaps 2000. NOWHERE is the answer.

We are the consumers for now. This rise of the middle class in last couple of decades and the urbanization, we are hungry to consume all that the world of technology has to offer. Whether it is the iPhone from US, LCD TV from Japan or Korea, Cars from Japan or Germany… we will take them all. We have the numbers and the world realizes that. So the markets are full of these innovative products. We can get everything we want and we can pay for. Our consumerism has for the moment numbed our innovative thinking and of course these countries would not want us to innovate so they keep giving us object of desires and do not want us to bother about inventing. If we start with that process, who will buy their technology?

Another way of keeping us busy is the whole BPO and KPO and various kinds of business processing that we are involved in. Infosys is huge and admired but eh.. what is it they do? Sabeer Bhatia made hotmail famous… what did it do for India? The various nobel laureates from India… did their invention or innovation make this country big? We gave the world zero and got nothing in return because nobody did anything after that. Now we only talk about it.

Unless we become inventors or innovators (and on a technological breakthrough scale), we can never become the power that everyone keeps saying we have the potential for… specially the politicians and commentators who can’t look beyond the population numbers and the prestige of our tech education institutions.

And it is a collective effort that is needed… politicians, corporates, people, media, policies, mindset and a willingness to invest.

The Maruti Mentality


Long back I had seen a Maruti 800 with the Merc 3 pointed star on the hood. Back then when 800 was still ruling the roost and people were still into buying a small hatchback, it stood for aspiration. When the D segment cars were still very premium and Mitsubishi Lancer made one drool, it made sense to talk about value and stuff.

Gradually the market changed. There were newer brands and the entry point into automobiles changed from 800 to premium compacts. It split the market into two kinds of consumers and mindsets.

First mindset – the Maruti mindset – People who were graduating within the Maruti fold from 800 to Zen or Swift… for them the ease of after sales service, mileage and low maintenance cost mattered a lot. There was an assurance and comfort in buying a Maruti (even a roadside mechanic can repair the car).

Second mindset – First car was not a Maruti or the quick upgrade from the first Maruti was not into Maruti Franchise. For them, the brand and what it delivered in terms of form factor and technology mattered. The mindset believed that all cars are good and low maintenance in the given segment. Speedy zippier cars obviously meant that fuel economy was not a primary concern.

But then a large population has been brought up on Maruti and believe in the benefits of Maruti so when Maruti did the communication about “Whats the mileage?” it really was talking to this large population.

But when over the weekend I saw communication about value and supposedly very high-profile people doing acts of saving on things, it made me wonder. I believe Maruti can see tough times ahead and is trying hard to retain its francise.

The profile of compact cars is changing and in metros it has changed already. The proliferation of i20s, the launch of Volkwagen Polo and entry of Honda and Toyota in the compacts is a sign of things to come. Sooner or later people are going to stop associating compact with everything Maruti stood for and there move from compact to bigger car will not be driven by mileage consideration etc. And that is where Maruti is going to hit a roadblock. Seriously, why would anyone want to buy a Kizashi when there is a Cruze or a Skoda or an Altis or a Civic are available. Brands that have strong equity in premium segment and have worked on building the segment while Maruti was working on Compacts. Schizophrenia is hitting the brand when it shows so-called premium people and the end frame of communication is a range of small cars. What gives?

Automobile advertising at first level is not about everything that happens after the car has been bought. It is about a desire to possess symbols of moving up in life. It is about showcasing “I can now afford luxury” and surely this mindset would not want connotations of fuel economy or maintenance. If I buy a car in excess of 10 lacs (approx US$ 20,000), am I going to worry about the mileage being 12 km/l or 20 km/l? Will I worry if changing the rearview mirror costs 10,ooo? Ok maybe a little concern but it wont be something that would involve changing my buying preference.

Yes Santosh Desai talks about the dhaniya mirchi to be thrown in (coriander and chilli) when buying vegetables but even Santosh will agree that the outlook is changing… specially when all these large retail stores are opening up and people have moved to shopping over there. so even the dhaniya mirchi mindset is changing too…

Here is to a new India where value is about what I get by way of quality stuff for the money I pay and not about Lx or Lxi or Vxi or Zxi. Let every purchase be fully loaded. We have caught up with the world where Airbag is standard fitment and ABS is a given and not comes only in top end. In fact let there be only top end and no bottom end. And there is no bottom end actually. Nano sales that are dropping are not so much the safety concerns but the fact that even a guy who is switching from a two-wheeler to car does not want to associate with a cheap car.

Coke Vs Pepsi


Over the weekend, both the colas unveiled their new campaigns… and for me the Coca Cola commercial is a huge winner… as much distance between the winner and loser as there is distance between that tacky Pepsi set and Ladakh.

Coke first – Forget the detractors who would probably say whats the big deal behind a coke in the middle of nowhere and the disbelief and what happens when the boy takes the sip… The commercial is sheer poetry… using that art which is so unique to India and make it come alive. And yet another track “Jaata kahan hai deewane…” sung in a completely doped out style and to my mind absolutely breathtaking lighting up of the bus to connote the festivities… Awesome. Coke turned the corner and went ahead of Pepsi when Aamir Khan got involved and they are continuing. Imran Khan & Kalki ad was riveting… not just because of the way the two acted but also the track mix… And the new commercial… fabulous

And the Pepsi Commercial – Seriously… what gives??? I know that the credo for Pepsi is irreverence and there have been absolutely mind blowing commercials that Pepsi has done in the past around irreverence and also some commercials which wove into the fabric of this country. Who can ever forget “Sachin ala re” or “Nothing Official About It”. Even Cyrus with his “Mera number kab aayega” was so true to a consumer insight of us Indians waiting for that divine intervention to turn our lives around. In the past, the irreverence of Pepsi was rooted in a strong strategy and the symbols of that strategy were icons which truly were icons. Youngistan has made the communication pure tripe. Sure Ranbir might be a heartthrob of millions (and I would imagine.. mostly females) but I seriously wonder how the scripts are written now… Is the commercial truly reflective of the young India? I don’t think the research really is throwing up any keen insights and most of this communication is being done by thinking up scripts on how to involve Ranbir in the story… and some new guideline which says that Pepsi bottle should be there in every frame.

I truly believe that cola advertising does not impact the consumption anymore. I mean seriously… If I am at Mac and want a cola.. am I going to say no to Coke just because Pepsi doesn’t have pouring rights? or a Pepsi in Pizza Hut. It doesn’t matter to my 7 year old what cola it is.. as long as he gets a cola.

But advertising, specially when it is talking to a generation which is going to take this country ahead, it needs to reflect the aspirations… cravings.. desires of the generation. Look for the icons that matter over a period of time and not some meteors that would brighten up and fade away.

“Common”wealth and Patriotism


Have been reading about all the controversies surrounding the Commonwealth games and had stayed away from writing anything about it. After all in a corrupt country.. when controversies happen about corruption, it obviously means that there are some people who have not been able to dip into the free flow of money and want to ensure that others don’t get it either.

But when someone I respect a lot and consider a real woman of substance questions the patriotism of people who are commenting on  the preparedness of India for these games.. I felt I had to write. Ms Sheila Dixit has made the blunder of same proportion as MS Gill telling Parliament that if any Member of Parliament wants details about financial misappropriation, they should file an application under RTI!

Ms Dixit, I have lived in Delhi for close to 15 years and have seen the city transform for the better and the public of Delhi has also reposed faith in you over and over by electing you but please do not question our patriotism for the mess delhi has been in past couple of years and the mess it is in today… just month and half away from the Games.

Read a week back that all facilities for London Olympics in 2012 are ready and are being tested!! And everything would be in a state of preparedness a year in advance. So where did we go wrong? Forget taking digs at Mr Aiyer and have an action plan in place for a clean up. Either you are completely blind to say that clean up has happened or under the pressure from the party that you are part of, you are forced to utter such inanities.

However, the larger question is… why did India opt to host the Commonwealth games? We do not have a sports culture at all. And no cricket, hockey and soccer on TV does not constitute sports culture. And more importantly why should we be getting orgasmic about Queen’s Baton?? We do not owe allegiance to the Queen nor to anyone else in the world!

The country has been taken for a ride in the name of hosting such an elite event (and I do question the eliteness of CWG). If this hosting of games was going to be exciting, Mr Kalmadi would not have been trying to twist BCCI arm to give out Rs 100 crores and scrounging for sponsorships. Airtel is a sponsor of a complete non event called Champion’s League to be played in South Africa. If they had believed that CWG would be big, they would have been the first one to be the lead sponsor and of course various other brands would have lined up to be part of the event (just a month back every brand worth something was trying to be part of World Cup Soccer where India does not even participate). If people and the brands would have believed that sponsoring or being part of CWG would heighten the national interest and patriotism, we would have already seen various campaigns. I am absolutely sure that many brands are already working on communication strategies that they want in place for the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

Of course, if the telecast rights had been with a channel other than Doordarshan, things might have been better.. mind you just a wee bit better. And no surprises if the rights were to be sold for the Games, none of the leading channels would have even bid. If anything, they would have asked the government to pay for the production cost!

So the common public is not interested. Corporates are not interested (no Public Sector company would have sponsored either if they had a choice) so who are we holding the Games for?

Reminds me of few instances in the corporate world where I have been part of. In a completely inward looking strategy brands and corporates believe that there will be a huge audience just waiting to lap up their offering. Numbers and projections are made and the product is launched… only to fail miserably.

The tourism industry must be in utter shock (their fault entirely if they believed that there will be a huge tourist crowd linked with the games). All the capacity that was built in the hotel industry would soon bring the  rack rates crashing down.

All the business loss that shopping establishments in places like Cannaught Place have suffered, they would never be able to recover them for years after the beautification in the name of Games is over.

And not to forget egg on our collective faces when facilities at various stadias would be up for the entire world to view. We should not talk about patritotism and global conspiracy against India when the foreign journalists take pictures of the shoddiness and show it to the world.

I think Mr Fennel had visited Delhi few months back and he was extremely worried and the entire media and the CWG people had piled on to him for having doubts. Well he would probably have the last laugh now.

Though I do hope that in a manner typical to us, we will manage to have things in place at the last minute. Won’t be world class but would be “Chalta hai” and hopefully our sports people would win a few medals and media too in its usual way would move on to other stories for getting TRPs. But  only if the malaise that is called the Indian system of  ‘make hay while the sun shines’ can be addressed… This country has the potential to be the best… if only we start believing in ourselves rather than finding ways of how to get things done.

So we really are like this only!


The picture truly is a statement of the fusion that is now firmly entrenched in India. Kothambari (probably should be spelt kothimbir) Vadi for the ignorant and unawareness, is something that is made out of coriander and is very unqiue to Maharashtra (more so the heartland of Maharashtra)… tastes kinda good and its a perfect maharashtrian snack.

But here it is in an all new avatar! With a suffix of Calzone. Now I was not brave enough to actually try it but  the fact it is part of the Cafe Coffee day menu means there are definitely people who consume it.

And people there sure would be. Having been a regular at Cafe Coffee Days and Baristas and Costas, I have seen the profiles changing. From being considered elitist and unnecessary (why would you want to have such expensive coffee when you can have it at home??), drinking coffee and spending time at coffee places has become very popular. And no it is not just the young college going crowd that is seen but next time when you are at one of the places… take a look around and you will notice guys and women sitting with their lap tops open and working…

There is a huge opportunity for the brands to connect with this audience but sadly what one notices is very average and run of the mill promotions. When one talks of brand engagement, it needs to look beyond just its own sphere of influence and integrate with the brand image of a Barista or a Cafe Coffee Day. People who frequent these places go there for the particular brand experience and other brands need to reward them for being there… be part of the experience rather than trying very hard to forcefit.

Think about it… person who is having Kothambari Vadi Calzone… why is she there… what is the experience she is seeking and what can enhance her experience even more.

The person sitting with the lap top and working… why has he decided to be at the coffee place… what is he seeking… why sitting over there is better than sitting in office or at home?

When you start evaluating these behavioural trends,  you will realise that as a brand there is a huge opportunity to interact at a more personal level with the people and leverage the positive predisposition… but till then keep nodding your head and saying so Rama Bijapurkar has already mentioned that we are like this only… But honestly… how many brands have really taken advantage. None… and I should know because like I said, I have been a regular at all these places…

Meeting Aspirations Indian Style!


Maruti 800cc Car
Maruti 800cc Car

The picture pretty much symbolises how we in India work on our aspirations till we actually manage to achieve them!

In my earlier post “Driving & Behaviour”, I had touched upon this aspiration when the guy in small car is looking to overtake a big car and how deep in his heart he wants to drive the BIG car and here is the example of that…

While this is perhaps the first such thing I have seen in Pune, out in Delhi where I had spent almost 13 years, jazzing up the saddi Maaruutii was pretty common. Match box compact with wide wall tyres, music system that would blow the lid off even a Volvo were sights and sounds that were very common… But those were also the days that there was a not too expensive compact and then there were expensive sedans. Nothing in between to meet those in between aspirations.

I would have imagined that now with a huge clutter in compact, a sedan for the price of high end compact etc… such things would be passe… just goes to show that the “age old jugadoo” mentality has not really changed. Also perhaps the reason why we in India are not as badly affected by the recession as the US…

And while car brands will come and go, I do believe that our love affair with the Maruti brand would never fade away. It is the quintessential middle class car (even an SX4 addresses the same mentality). We move up in life but never let go of the values we have grown up with. And is perhaps the reason that month on month Maruti (Suzuki) continues to show growth and every model that they launch in compact segment works.

Yesterday a friend of mine had put up the latest ad for the automobile brand he works for, on facebook. Great looking ad.. well shot with lot of post production work. But ultimately while looks are desirable, the question by the consumer at the dealership would be “What is the mileage?”

Reminds me of the conversation I had with a friend long ago… She had gone with her family to check out a Mercedes. Everyone was asking questions and she also wanted to put in her two bits so she asked about the Mileage! The Sales Representative almost fainted…

And seriously, look around… most cars in India sell on fuel efficiency… the one with best.. turn into cabs.

And that too pretty much sums up our aspirations… We want a lot and yet that lot should give value lot more than what we have paid for…

Driving and behavior


I have always enjoyed watching other drivers while I am driving (or even being driven… Though it is a different issue that often with some people, I would rather keep my eyes closed). And when I say I enjoy watching, it does not mean watching them pretty young things either trying to control the car the way they would their husbands or boy friends or behaving as if all the monsters of the world are out on the road trying to take over their lives… but watching in general.

There is lot to be learnt by way of human behaviour…

One thing I would want to mention up front. People are not what they drive. So don’t believe any advertising that refers to such statements or sentiments.

A guy between 25 – 35, driving a small hatchback has ego issues. His aim would be to get ahead of all big cars. It might be that he wants to get out of the claustrophobic environs of the little box but I think it has got to do with deep seated desire to drive a big car. He has got a point to prove and prove he will and he can because adept at sliding the car into small openings, he would always get ahead of the big car… And then watch his smug expression when he is standing next to that big car he had just overtaken.

Let’s jump from the small car guy to the big car guy. He did not like it one bit that he was overtaken. After all back there, he was all set to run the small car down and it just managed to escape by sliding in between his car and the auto in front. But he knows that the stretch ahead is a long one before the next traffic signal and he is revving his engine… ready to zoom off and disappear on the horizon while the small car guy will be smelling the fumes in his wake…

And then there are the ones who are driving a Scorpio or a Safari. The arrogance of the vehicle gets transferred to the person driving the vehicle… The so called SUV probably would never have ventured off terrain but they believe that city roads are good enough to test their off terrain skills and the cars, autos, bikes and such other small vehicles are just bolders to be gone over… if they are not ready to move out of the way…

Then there is a species which is very unique… driving at a speed of 40 in the right lane, oblivious to all the honking behind them or the jams that are getting created in their wake… Their wisdom tells them that since most people anyways go left in India to overtake (people go left precisely because of drivers like them!) so it is safer to be in right lane. And these are also the people who think that by giving those side rearview mirrors, the company has burdened them with the responsibility of protecting the mirrors so they will invariably be closed (why use them when it is the people behind who have to be careful… our job is to watch for the traffic in front)

And I will be called a sexist so wont comment more on aforementioned gender and their driving skills (and enough has been said anyways so no point repeating).

Another curious species are the one who would be in BMW or an Audi or a Porsche SUV… not driving but being driven! This class is invariably over 45-50 and own the vehicle because they can afford it and are considered badges. And while I have not come across the spectacle yet, I am sure some day I would see one of these 50+ being driven in sports coupe!

In India, the right of way belongs to 1. who has a bigger vehicle 2. Age of the person driving the vehicle 3. the sheer aggression (have you ever tried to mess around with a bus or a truck?). And it has inverse reaction when an accident happens – bigger the vehicle, more liable the driver is going to be for causing an accident and will get beaten up (the whole social angst of haves vs have nots comes through).

Will not mention the people on two wheelers because they are an altogether different breed (everyone of them is a Rossi) so all you can do is to keep your radar on high alert all the time to avoid them (remember you are the one who will get bashed up because you are in a car)…

I could go on and on and discuss all the possible vehicles which jostle for space on the Indian roads and the behavior of the people manipulating them… but I would end up writing a book!