Anand Halve

Availability as the root of aspirations

Diesel, Nike, Zara, Swarovski, TAG Heuer. A friend and I were in a mall the other day observing stores selling these brands, and we got around to discussing which brands were the equivalent of these objects of desire in the 1980s.

We were struck by the recollection that there were few or none. We were not spiritually more evolved; we were content because there was limited content on shop shelves! It is practically impossible to dream about cars when the choice is restricted to an Ambassador or a Premier Padmini. What shoe fetish can blossom if availability is limited to Carona and Bata. And this led me to develop a theory that turns received wisdom on its head. My theory being: It is not the more demanding consumer that leads to marketers offering greater choice, but the reverse: it is an abundance of choice that CREATES the new consumer mindset.

Let us consider how availability is the mother of aspiration.

Availability leads to aspirations

Look at the wide-ranging spread of availability beyond cars and shoes that I already mentioned. In the 1970s and even the 1980s, the primary employer was the Government, because there was hardly anything called the 'private sector'. Career exploration thus led to Central Services such as the IAS, IPS, the IAAS, etc. and to public sector jobs in large core sector companies (BHEL, IOC, ONGC, etc) or nationalized banks (of course there were doctors and lawyers but these were career options limited in number.) The growth of the private sector, the entry of MNCs and the emergence of sectors such as IT in the 1990s led to wider availability of young men, known in the matrimonial trade as 'corporate executives' and created the aspiration for this species as grooms among parents of prospective brides.

Or take another example. A 'home of one's own' was not an aspiration; it was something you hoped you'd have - if you were lucky- by the time you retired. But with the availability of housing loans, having a home became a driving aspiration for millions of young professionals.

And of course the same power of availability driving aspiration is visible in categories as varied as designer handbags, watches with unpronounceable names (such as Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin) and let's face it, gifting a Lord Ganesha figure is just not the same if it isn't a Lladro or a Svarovski.

Upgrades lead to the desire to 'move on'

There is another interesting change created not by mere availability, but by the availability of an 'upgraded' version. Comes the upgrade, and pow! something that is doing its job perfectly well becomes a symbol of shame. Now, in some cases upgrades offer genuine improvements in the capabilities of the product. Think of CRT TVs becoming flat screen TVs becoming smart TVs. Or mobile phones, which - together with apps - continue to add to their capabilities at an alarming rate. (Has the new Apple phone, "iEat", that makes a fried egg with a side order of toast been launched yet?) But the Fastrack bags and eyewear, refrigerators with a temperature indicator in the door or with a door design borrowed from brocade fabric. Do we really need these? Of course we do!!!

New 'concepts' lead to new purchases

The third element driving desire is that entirely new, novel product ideas, have us reaching for the plastic. Some don't work. Vacuum cleaners that become dust collectors via non-use. Home barbeque grills bought after especially enjoying seekh kababs one day, which now rust on the terrace. But there are also lots of genuinely useful new concepts: microwave ovens, smart phones, 2-minute noodles, digital cameras, RTE packaged foods and more.

One more effect of availability: in a paradoxical way, the very fact of greater consumer choice makes the entire consumer universe more demanding, and reduces the attractiveness of ALL current options. Creating the desire for more!

People in showbiz and wealthy men and women are connoisseurs of these matters and not averse to consider upgrades and move on. Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis would understand.

Aah, availability is such a wonderful thing!

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