Vikas Mehta
Guest Article

Insights from an emerging India

Vikas Mehta coins a new word for small cities and towns - 'Urban Bharat'.

As marketers, we tend to build silos and slot brands, consumers and even perceptions into the same. So Apple is expensive, Samsung exists across price points, metro youth is English speaking, non metro is vernacular, urban consumers are trendy, rural consumers are poor.....huh, what was that again? Exactly my point. Post -liberalisation in the early nineties, it made sense to have a bipolar view of India. The haves and the have-nots. Rural India and Urban India, government job seekers and private job seekers....Like the famous Bush quote on terrorism - "you are either with us or against us". Even though we have moved on, we still try to have bipolar silos but with different contexts and subtexts. So now, we don't live in urban or rural areas; we live in India or Bharat. When I was shifting to Doon, I was given a lot of advice by friends, colleagues and well wishers. All of them had slotted Doon as the antithesis of a Gurgaon or Mumbai. In their mind, Doon did not offer what Mumbai had and Doon offered what maybe rural India had. Not many corporate jobs (partially true), no night life (not true), people do not understand English (not true), no facilities for children (totally false), poor infrastructure (not true), not many entertainment facilities (not true)....

Therefore, I coined a new word for small cities and towns like Dehradun - 'Urban Bharat'.

Bharat has moved quickly to adopt India. A new generation is already here which behaves as the Indians in India. But they have not abandoned Bharat. Their roots are firmly entrenched in Bharat but their hopes, ambitions and dreams are very Indian. And my love story with Urban Bharat, specially the youngsters, became more pronounced with my association with some management institutes based in Telangana, Dehradun, Coimbatore…. And how they react to communication is also very interesting.

Don’t watch ads. Watch Videos. Because they don’t watch TV but are glued to the small screens. Yes, we know that traditional media is dead. But even social media cannot take itself for granted. The young Urban Bhartiya are expressive but not as much in words as in videos or photos. They know that their command on the universal language, English, is weak. So, they are happy with photos or videos with captions or supers. No wonder they have abandoned Facebook and embraced Instagram, TikTok. And this holds good even on e-commerce sites. For lifestyle products, many e-commerce sites are using videos to show how that shirt or shoe looks on the person. A fact that has not gone unnoticed by the language shy Urban Bhartiya Indian.

Mind your language, the App language: Earlier, the problem was that all ads, TV as well as press were conceived in English and were then translated literally. Now the problem is worse. It’s the digital era. The Urban Bhartiya youngster is glued to the smartphone. And his language is apps. But what is the language of the apps? Can we please look at apps beyond English and Hindi? The knowledge of English exists in Urban Bharat but the comfort level is still the local language. And they will never deal with any money transaction if they are uncomfortable with the language. The faster that happens, the more your brand will converse and do commerce with them. The English movie channels are realising this and have started offering audio in three to four Indian languages.

Service dikhao, service dikhao: This is a huge differentiator in Urban Bharat. Service as a concept is just non existent in Urban Bharat towns. The government, police and municipal officials behave like kings. And this has resulted in the Urban Bhartiya not believing in any service, even from brands. The Urban Bhartiya is in awe of brands. Don’t exploit that awe. Surprise him with your humility and care. This customer believes in building personal relationships. Make him feel that he is in your scheme of things. One reason why Amazon in Urban Bharat is gaining traction over Flipkart is because they are starting to excel in service. But… mind your language please.

Salman nahin, Riyaz Ali: The heroes are changing. It’s not just a Bollywood star or a cricketer. Even a Riyaz Ali or Manjul Khattar or Avneet Kaur is their hero. You do not know who they are? Google or better still go on Instagram or TikTok and find out. The Pepsi Salman Khan Valentine video hardly caused any ripples, but the Riyaz Ali Valentine videos had good traction amongst the Urban Bhartiya youngster. And you know who stands out amongst Bollywood celebrities or cricketers? No, not Alia or Virat but Jacqueline Fernandez and Yuzvendra Chahal. Go figure.

AIDA is now AISDAS: Specially in Urban Bharat. After interest is search and after action is share. And if the share is positive, it generates new Interest and the cycle can go on repeatedly, unbroken. The youngsters are practising this model. I do not have the figures but I guess many more Urban Bhartiyas are searching on Amazon or Flipkart than on Google when they want product information. The reason is simple. They see consumer reaction and comments before deciding what to buy. An endorsement ad is not trusting enough but consumer feedback from someone like them is a better endorsement. But, yet again…mind your language please. Hindi is now used by both, Amazon and Flipkart, but the sooner the consumer feedback section moves into local languages, the stronger it will work as an endorsement.

Refurbished, not second hand: I think the trend started with second hand cars. But there is no shame in dealing with second hand stuff in Urban Bharat. That’s why OLX does well here. Or look at the classified ads in the local newspaper. Why, Doon has a 60-70 page classified only weekly which sells for two rupees but has enough revenue from ads and many are about buying and selling old products. But the language has changed. “Used” “Naye jaisa”, or even "refurbished", written in Hindi. Second hand sounds too cheap.

Finally, that’s what Urban Bhartiya is all about. His slogan “Garv se kaho, I am an Indian.”

(The author is an ad-man turned consultant with three decades of industry experience under his belt.)