Every year comes up with a 'New' list. Be that of resolutions, trends, objectives or breakthroughs. A plethora of changes are predicted and expected.
I too often join in with the “on the anvil" brigade and mentally work up a litany of things.
The aspects of digitisation, Artificial Intelligence, a more connected world with VR and AR, ‘disruption’ on the the geopolitical landscape, the rise of populism, importance of content marketing, growth of mobile social media, cashless economy in India’s case, are extremely overt changes for all of us to see, the implications of which will pan out in some expected and some unexpected ways.
However, we are not just marekters but also mind-mappers, and hence must go beyond the obvious and peek into the subliminal. Subliminal changes which come with the change of power in any era.
We often think that the symbols, colours, phrases in a particular time are all organic and may overlook where are they emanating from. But if we look closely, they tell a story; they minutely manifest the change in the mindset of not just the consumer but a societal collective.
Linguists and social scientists have done a huge amount of work in this field. By no means am I trying to decode human behaviour in a similar academic vein, but simply sharing some of my observations.
It's important that we minutely watch. For, advertising and creativity doesn’t exist in a silo, it borrows from life around, at times echoing it and in some cases anticipating and amplifying the subtle changes around the corner.
Take the choice of food for example. What we aspire to eat in some ways is a function of what descended upon us from the so-called affluent and powerful class of our times. This all comes through a learnt behaviour because if we look at spontaneous behaviour – best found in children – it necessarily doesn’t have this economic food hirerachy. Acquired taste argument aside, they couldn’t care less if it was caviar or ker sangri (a local Rajasthani dish). They simply like or dislike something according to their taste buds and have no concern about the hierachy of the food items. But gradually the soft, economic power-related food items, those that are consumed by the economically or politically superior and marketed well, start occupying a coveted place in the heads. This phenomenon is not related to children but adults are equally prone to it. We gradually start losing the sense of what we truly like or dislike, and start behaving in a manner the power equation in the world is spelt out.
This happens in music, in clothes, and more. In fact everywhere, there’s a hierarchy that gradually gets implanted. Is this a new reality? Not really, for it must have been like this in the ancient times as well. The ones who rule – their culture, language, dress sense, food – must have been aspirational.
We can see the reflection of this clearly in our country, which historically has had a change of power many a time. And with that came the manifestation of it in everyday life.
As times change and if a region or a section of our society starts doing well economically and starts measuring up to the power standards of the world, many things associated with it start finding newer meanings. Take language, for example. Hindi is seen as a descendant of Sanskrit and hence carried ancient Hindu codes. It was also seen as promoted by the Government and more pro-establishment. Urdu, associated with the Mughal rulers, carried a sense of opulence and appeal. English was and is seen as progressive. But subtle signals of a wider acceptance in public of the language being used by those in power will reflect on the communication industry too. Because power influences where key symbols stand overtly or subliminally in our life, or whether a particular language will be seen as an ‘in’ thing or cool or aspirational. In India, the use of local language and dialects and phrases will only grow. This will be a new kind of ‘influencer marketing'.
Also, as India progresses on the economic growth arch, we could see a new-found confidence in products and brands that are created locally. We could see a revival of Indian formal wear. FMCG brands will see newer local players.
We will also witness the spurt in entreprenuership and many eager to bud and flower brands..
The leading brands on the other hand will require to to increasingly take into cognisance the Indian socio-economic context and build brand strategies around more purpose-driven marketing and communication, which several brands today are doing. The millennials are a conscious lot and they will empower themselves more with knowledge about where and how the products they consume come from and the impact they have on a larger scale.
Let’s not forget though that change has one key aspect built in. Blending. The subtle moulding into the shapes and forms best suited for the times. So overnight changes would be few, but a lot would be put in motion.
On a more philosophical note, is there anything that is authentic in the market and society or is it all manipulated? Are we mere puppets in the hands of the power structures, behaving and thinking like programmed beings on auto-pilot?
I believe in each one of us there resides an authentic 'me', which constantly debates everything we do. The question is about that side of us finding expression, a voice. I believe that voices which different brands and political ideologies have will keep on growing bigger, but at the same time the quest for the authentic 'me' will also grow. This is especially true of our times where we are constantly exposed in real time to what is happening around the world. Where, we know what people like us in other parts of the world are dealing with, and that forms our opinions and shapes our thinking.
It’s the spectrum that we need to be sensitive towards. On one end there could be little or no change despite a desperate attempt to change status quo, and on the other end could be dynamic and complex change that throws life as one knows it, out of gear.
The ability to strike a balance will define the changes that happen and the changes we can make happen.
(Prasoon Joshi is chairman, McCann Worldgroup, Asia Pacific; CEO and CCO, McCann Worldgroup India.)