Alokananda Chakraborty

Cultism in India

At the seminar organised by agencyfaqs!, Alchemist Brand Consulting and Businessworld on February 18 in the capital, Mark Tully and Samit Sinha identified the cult brands in India

Our story yesterday explored what it takes to move a brand to cult status. As pointed out by Matthew Ragas, co-author of "The Power of Cult Branding", at the February 18 seminar on "The Power of Brand Cultism", is it possible for companies to build legions of loyal followers just like religious cults that attract thousands of devoted disciples. Ragas said with the right combination of positioning and branding, certain products can take on magnetic characteristics and galvanise die-hard customers to become walking, talking viral marketers. Some such brands he has spoken about in his book include Star Trek, Harley-Davidson, Oprah Winfrey, World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly WWF), Apple, Volkswagen Beetle, Jimmy Buffett, Vans Shoes and Linux.

In the second session of the seminar, Mark Tully, perhaps the most respected BBC hand in India till date, and Samit Sinha, who heads Delhi-based brand consultancy outfit Alchemist Brand Consulting, gave us an Indian perspective on the phenomenon.

Tully warned the brands and the branding principles that have worked in other countries may not necessarily work in India. Because India has some key differences from the prosperous Westernised countries. The chief among these is the fact that India is still very much an aural culture. "The prevalence and power of rumours is further evidence of aural communication," he said. He also pointed at the Indian penchant for everything foreign. And then another warning: "Remember that one distinctly Indian brand Amitabh Bachchan probably has more followers in India than Oprah Winfrey," he said. Among the Indian brands that could be said to have acquired a cult status, Tully included religion, the caste system, the family unit and the language system in India.

Tully rounded of his presentation with a call for "branding for the poor". "If cult brand founders in India are to show real daring and determination, they need to identify and create cults for products that improve the lives of the poor. India has plenty of elite-specific brands, now it needs poor-specific cults," he said.

Samit Sinha took over from where Tully left off delineating the differences between cult brands and other brands. He said while most brands have customers, cult brands have devotees; while most brands try to satisfy customers, cult brands try to make them happy. Last but not the least, while most brands enjoy passive involvement for their customers, cult brand devotees become active evangelists of the brand.

Sinha then wove his discussion around the emergence of brand cultism in India over the decades and against a fast changing society. The Indian cults that he enumerated included Khadi and Ajit, which he said had uniquely Indian identities; Thums Up and Old Monk, which according to Sinha were for the Indian un-consumer; and the Ambassador and Bullet, which he said were symbols of an Indian way of life.

The seminar will visit Mumbai next with the second round of presentations due on February 21 at hotel JW Marriott. © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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