afaqs!

101 Markets 2008: The Bunty-Babli syndrome in small towns

By , agencyfaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | March 20, 2008
In an intellectually stimulating session, industry experts Mythili Chandrasekar, Sanjeev Kotnala, Shazi Zaman and Jasmeet Kaur Srivastava discussed the concept of the small town consumer, and whether he really is different from the metro consumer

The small & #BANNER1 & # town-big city debate is perhaps as old as civilisation itself, but ironically, it is still relevant today. In the marketing and media context, it is imperative to ask the question whether small town consumers are really different from their metropolitan counterparts? Do big marketers still look at this huge belt with condescension, or are tailor-made strategies for small towns becoming the order of the day? In an attempt to answer these questions, agencyfaqs! organised a day long seminar called 101 Markets: India Beyond the Metros.

In a panel discussion at the seminar, Sanjeev Kotnala, associate vice-president and national head, Dainik Bhaskar Corp., took to the dais and spoke on the similarities and differences between small town and metro people. Factors such as dissatisfaction with life stage and style, seeking variety in life, emotions, adjusting and living within norms, wanting the best at the least price, wanting to earn more, and the importance of reference groups were found to be common among the two consumer sets.

Sanjeev Kotnala

Mythili Chandrasekar

Shazi Zaman

Jasmeet Kaur Srivastava
"But there are also dissimilarities," Kotnala said. Firstly, the value of time, and consequently, patience levels are different: Small townies are found to be far more patient than metro denizens. Brand loyalty (particularly for older brands) is much higher in small towns. Further, the brand versus category concept emerges: For instance, a small townie may simply want to buy a car, whereas a metro person will be more selective about the kind of car he buys. Education is about career, lifestyle and self-confidence for urban people, while small townies see it as a passport to their livelihood. The Insurance category is seen as an investment for untimely needs by the metro denizens, while their small town counterparts view it as a security for their family's future. "Love marriage is a cool concept in big cities, while small townies think it to be all right, as long it is not in their family," said Kotnala.

As Mumbai tries to become Shanghai, Ahmedabad tries to become Mumbai, and Ujjain tries to become Indore, the obvious question would be: Is a convergence of the two mindsets possible? Kotnala hinted that this could be wishful thinking. "We may treat all consumers similarly just to expect faster convergence," he said. "I'll put it this way: Consumers are similarly different or differently similar, but they are not the same."

The next speaker, Mythili Chandrasekar, senior vice-president and executive planning director, JWT, went a little easy on the convergence concept, admitting that there are indeed differences between consumers in small towns and in metros. According to statistics provided by her, small townies consider their diet to be healthy, while the metro populace didn't rate itself so high on that scale. But the metro people were found to be more calorie conscious and claimed to consume more diet versions of foodstuffs. Cooking was found to be enjoyed by more metro consumers than non-metro ones, while the former considered themselves more Westernised. "But the rating for both the metro and non-metro consumers was found to be the same when asked about enjoying life and having a sense of adventure," Chandrasekar said.

By and large, small town people were found to sport the 'Hum kisise kum nahin' attitude, thereby moving into the zone of power from the zone of conformity, Movies like Bunty aur Babli stand proof to this thirst amongst small townies to prove themselves. In addition, parents are thrusting their own aspirations upon their children. "There is an increased desire to change and progress among this group," Chandrasekar added, proof of which lies in the fact that in the state level examinations, more often than not, small townies are found to be the toppers. The insight here would perhaps be: "Our backgrounds push us to try harder."

"The need to make it big or be rich is leading to the emergence of 'realistic fantasies' and the 'democratisation of luxury'," said Chandrasekar. "And these fantasies go much beyond affordability - it is all about a value proposition."

In an effort to put the point across through a live demonstration, the next speaker, Shazi Zaman, managing editor, Media Content & Communications Services (MCCS), spoke in Hindi, giving the content owner's viewpoint. "From a content perspective, rather than geographical divisions, it is better to look at things which unite audiences," he said.

According to Zaman, no matter where a consumer is based, human emotions are universal and content that strikes a chord in their hearts will transcend boundaries. "Then geographical boundaries get erased," he said on a philosophic note. So, news such as Rakhi Sawant slapping someone or a Mallika Sherawat controversy will be watched by everyone. Cricket and Dhoni have their fan following all over India. Further, the launch of the Tata Nano (the Rs 1 lakh car) saw a high profile personality such as Rahul Gandhi in attendance, along with small townies. News channels, too, covered the launch fully.

The chief point Zaman made was that everyone loves an underdog story; if a Himachal Pradesh based small town man such as Khali makes it big in the wrestling arena internationally, the news is absorbed proudly by all Indians. Equally, a small townie winning a reality/talent show on television makes headlines. "When Ishmeet sang on STAR Voice of India, he garnered votes not only from his own state, but also the whole country, ultimately leading to his win," concluded Zaman.

The session was moderated by Jasmeet Kaur Srivastava, managing director, Third Eye.

The event was sponsored by STAR Majha, UTVi and Dainik Bhaskar.