The popular perception about South India has always been about conservatism and ‘everything shuts down in the city by 8pm’. The rest of India, particularly the North was seen as more hedonistic and by extension, darlings of marketers & agencies.
There has been a subtle change in the South of late. Bangalore, thanks to its IT associations has been seen as a cosmopolitan city – leading to it being the test marketer’s haven. It’s Chennai that is surprising marketers with its change. I would wager that it all changed with Citibank moving its HQ from Mumbai to Chennai, in 1993-94 (I think). It planted about a 100 upwardly mobile Punjabi families amidst the unsuspecting Chennaiites. They (referred to as Naarth Indians) changed everything – mainly restaurants.
Today, Chennai is very different from what it was a decade ago (except the weather, though). In a recent cover story on the Indian males, Business Today outlines a few interesting statistics about the South:
71% of the men in India are brand conscious – the highest in the country
64.4% of Southern men ‘go out and have fun’ after working hours – the highest across all 4 zones
30% of all shampoo sales and 23% of all hair dye & hair colour sales come from the South
35% of all deodrant sales happen from the South
Going beyond numbers one can feel a sea change in attitude. Chennai today is a lot more accepting of ‘outside influences’. There was a time when someone who only knew Hindi asked for directions to a local, he would only be ignored. Today, Hindi movies are more popular than before.
Yet there is an inherent pride in being different from the rest of the country. Tamil cinema in particluar hates being compared to Bollywood. The catalyst for this change was perhaps the opening of satellite media. It provided the South with their own fare and gave them the option of being exposed to ‘national fare’, as it were. A welcome change from not being given any choice during the days of Doordarshan. I recall programmes like Philips Top 10, playing Hindi songs with a Tamil anchor itroducing them!
In advertising, however, a one-size fits all approach is still adopted for most brands. Sure, adopting a region-specific approach is expensive. With sports celebrities one works under the assumption that they have national appeal (though it is strange to see Rahul Dravid mothing Telegu or Tamil). Most of the creative guys who are not from the South have a stereotypical, simplisitc view of the region (South = Rajini types).
With the ever changing media options, which minimize ‘wastage’ the incentive to take a regional approach is getting stronger.