India is the world's second most populous nation. Over a billion people live within its borders, making it second in size only to China. It is a land where the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, and the local and the international coexist—sometimes comfortably, sometimes not. In managing brands and targeting consumers, advertising must understand and contend with the social and cultural diversity of India. Thus, if advertising is to reflect society, the question in India becomes: Which India to reflect?
The contrast between what is manufactured at home (and thus, Indian) and what is imported (and thus, global) touches the very heart of Indian national identity. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), who led the Indian subcontinent to independence from Great Britain in 1947, called on Indians to boycott goods manufactured abroad, especially those made in Great Britain. He spun locally grown cotton for his own clothes and urged fellow Indians to do the same. When Britain taxed salt, Gandhi led a peaceful march to the sea and encouraged his followers to make their own salt. Today, many Indians remain suspicious of imported goods and the multinational corporations that produce them. Others view such foreign influences, including the establishment of foreign corporation branches, as a means of modernizing the country and bringing it into the global economic community.
After years of controlling and closing the economy to foreign influence, the Indian government liberalized the economy in 1991. The years since have witnessed rapid change at virtually every level of the society and culture. Multinational corporations have moved in, imported goods have become widely available, and consumption has become rampant. Today it is possible to buy nearly anything in India—from inexpensive handcrafted bangles to luxury watches, foreign cars, and designer clothing.
However, only some Indians participate in the economy of mass consumption. There are many for whom purchasing a bar of soap, a soft drink, or a cup of tea is a luxury. The rural poor are largely excluded from participating in the economy, as are vast numbers of working class people in India's many cities. Age also makes a difference in consumption patterns. Well-educated young people often earn as much at entry-level jobs as their fathers had after a lifetime of work, turning traditional patriarchal authority on its head.
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