Do Indians still aspire to look like Caucasians?

By Ashwini Gangal and Sunit Roy , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising
Published : September 01, 2017
Only Vimal seems to think so.

In the '80s and '90s, portraying whites and blondes in Indian ads was the quickest way to make brands look premium. The ethos of the time supported this - products manufactured overseas were deemed to be better than local goods. But today, people take pride in using home-grown products.

Last year, Only Vimal, a textile division of Reliance Industries, returned to TV after a gap of eight years. A few days back, the brand team released two ad films - both feature white, blond models running around what looks like England, as the signature 'Only Vimal, Only Vimal' song, that we're all quite familiar with, plays in the background.

Agency Speak

Rahul Gupta Rahul Gupta

Last year, it was all about getting the brand back on TV after eight years. What was the brief like this time around? Rahul Gupta, managing director, IBD, a subsidiary of Percept-Hakuhodo, tells afaqs! it's all about having a rich and stylised brand image. He says, "...The reason for choosing white models is a strategic one. It's not because they bring in something extra in terms of acting superiority or looks. The personality of the brand is carefully crafted. We want to position Only Vimal as an international, global brand. Today, the fashion landscape is changing rapidly; it's moving away from stitching clothes and going towards readymade fashion. International sensibilities are attracting the youth. It's important to have a world-class, stylised, rich brand image..."

The ad films were shot in London. "The most challenging part of this year's campaign was shooting the film underground in London," he recalls, "Also, the unpredictable weather of London can disrupt shooting schedules and escalate the production cost. Fortunately, we planned well and everything went smoothly."

About the TG, Gupta tells us, "There has been a shift in the entire branding - earlier, it was predominantly fabric, but now we are looking at the length and breadth of fashion in our offering. So, now we are targeting SEC A, B, and even C, predominantly between the age group of 18-35 years, across all towns in India."

Gupta tells us that the team is exploring opportunities to carry this campaign outside India. "As soon as enough revenue starts coming from specific countries, we will be able to invest in marketing in those countries. Right now, there's no immediate plan to broadcast it outside India."

It's a 360-degree campaign, and the TVCs have been launched on GECs. The media mix includes print (newspapers, magazines), digital (Facebook, YouTube) and outdoor.

"Although, we haven't chosen radio as a medium yet, there are plans to take it forward," says Gupta, "As of now, TV as a medium has really delivered for us... we grew last year, so we are sticking to our same strategy."

Ad Review

Rajesh Lalwani, CEO, Scenario Consulting, a brand consultancy, says, "Do remember the world we are living in is still an Americanised world. The biggest soft power in the world has dominated cultural trends for decades, but even more so now in a world connected by social networks. With a peer network of family, friends and colleagues living and working in the western world and connected on social networks 24x7, it's not only our looks, but also our celebrations, festivals and manner of speaking that are largely American."

Brands, he believes, with a sharp focus on current trends and technology, tend to look to the western world for cues that it can use in order to make their brands appear premium.

Rajesh Lalwani Rajesh Lalwani

Ayan Banik Ayan Banik

"But a parallel and opposite trend driven by back-to-basics, organic, 'earthy', 'Indian-ness' and Indian luxury is also beginning to make its presence felt. However, this is still a niche," Lalwani points out, adding, "People also want to see and relate to Indian faces, narratives, settings, stories..."

It boils down finding the balance between using "global assets" and "localisation" depending on the need of the hour.

As for the current Only Vimal campaign, he reasons, "I'd say it's an attempt to appeal to a 'broader' audience base. The brand wants its audience to feel more confident about who they are and who they aspire to be."

Ayan Banik, head, brand strategy, Cheil India, argues, "More than being fascinated with Caucasian looks, the deeper ingrained truth is that we are fascinated with the life and the lifestyle of western, first world countries, as they connote everything that human beings can aspire for, at least materialistically - beautiful, exotic locales, fancy cars, modern tech gadgets, high style, high fashion... overall, a great quality of life, one that's very sought after..."

He goes on, "So it's not a question of using a format from the '80s-'90s format; rather, it's more about mind-set mapping."

Banik explains that for high indulgence, luxury categories, and segments such as high end automobiles, high fashion, lifestyle products and accessories (including high end consumer durables), advertisers and marketers dial up the 'aspirational' and 'premiumness' quotient by showing foreign locations and western lifestyles. And that's when such "visual language" is used.

"Even home-grown, economical brands at times borrow the visual grammar of the western world to cue in premiumness and exclusivity," says Banik.

In contrast, brands in the therapeutic, natural, herbal and ayurvedic space and in categories such as beauty care, lifestyle or F&B (food and beverage), "oriental lifestyle cues" are used, because the idea is to highlight "ancient Indian, earthy and natural ways of life and lifestyle..."

A look at some of the old ads by Only Vimal.

With additional inputs from Suraj Ramnath.

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