A marketing primer for Indians

Are you currently interested in marketing products? Then this primer is for you.

You may enjoy marketing products that customers are already interested in. You may have done your homework and identified the need for a product. Marketing a product in which there customer interest is fine, but where is the challenge? The real challenge is in creating customer interest where there is none. Often, the key is to fabricate a need that the customer is comfortable with. In this way it becomes possible to market unnecessary products, old products packaged as new products, and inferior products as things to be desired.

1) Repurposing an existing product:

This one takes a bit of creativity, but that is part of the game, isn’t it? Take for example chewable antacid tablets. The cheapest antacids consist of calcium carbonate, essentially the same compound present in limestone. From high school chemistry, you know that calcium carbonate reacts with hydrochloric acid to give out calcium chloride, carbon dioxide, and water. It is a cheap and effective way to neutralize acid in the stomach. But marketing an antacid as only an antacid doesn’t give you a marketing edge. You need to sell it as something else.

The easy way to repurpose an calcium carbonate antacid is to market it as an effective source of dietary calcium. Now, you’ve got two uses for the same product, when there was essentially one. You’ve created a new market with your existing product.

2) Creating a market for an inferior product:

Suppose your company is in the business of making plastic straws. What happens if your manufacturing department messes up the specifications for the straws. You could throw them out and start over again. Or if you’re good at marketing, then you could try to sell them as inexpensive disposable stirrers for coffee and tea. You’ve taken the initiative and marketed an inferior product as something that it was not originally meant to be used for.

Let me give you another example. Desi dairymen are notorious for adding water to milk, or rather milk to water before distributing to customers. When confronted with the truth, they usually protest or blame it on ‘the rains’. That is the wrong business model, since it puts the business on the defensive. A way to create a market for milky water is to market it as “diet milk” to appeal to an affluent, health and weight-conscious segment of the market. Don’t laugh it off. These tricks work. How many people actually have the capability to make informed decisions about what they purchase?

3) Creating a market for an unnecessary product:

It is one thing to create a market for an unknown, product for which there is a tangible need. It is completely another to fabricate a need. Fabricating needs are deceptively easy. A celebrated example is the amplifier knob in This is Spinal Tap that goes up to eleven instead of the standard calibration based on the ten system. Think about it: do you really need ten devices that perform redundant functions? Sure, you do, because the advertisement tells  you so. The used-car salesman uses knowledge of psychology to pitch unnecessary products to great effect, but you can train yourself in this art too.

A good way to market an unnecessary product is to point out the inferiority of an existing one with which the customer is familiar. Say for example, you want to market the edible flesh of sea scallops to vegetarians. How would you go about it? One way would be to create an image of scallops as a “new and improved” version of something the vegetarian customer is familiar with. You could go about by saying that scallops are the milder, more flavorful version of radishes or that they are the diced potatoes of the sea. By building a bridge to something the customer is familiar with, you’ve taken a first step in passing off an unnecessary product as something that is an improvement.

Here, I’ve given you three challenging scenarios, but this list isn’t exhaustive. You may call this sort of marketing deceitful, but I call it creative. It is also more common than you think. One day, I believe that the Great Indian Civil War will start over the eternal chakri versus murukku question: essentially a pointless debate over one snack-food called two different names by people from different parts of India. If people can do it to themselves, corporations have every right to do it to them too. After all corporations are people too.

And if you’re still confused, answer this question: why is selling a whole-wheat Mexican tortilla as a desi chapati wrong if you can satisfy the customer? They both taste equally disgusting out of the plastic wrapper.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban


15 thoughts on “A marketing primer for Indians

  1. Sadly, this is exactly what I do for a living. But it pays for my toilet cleaner, which also occasionally doubles up as a carbonated ingredient in cocktails 🙂

  2. You know what… got reminded of that movie Rocket Singh The Best Salesman of The year…where the chappie passed the acid test on pencils by saying…”you can scratch your back with this too.”
    Marketing is…when u try to sell ice to an eskimo someone said and through your post it comes alive.
    Thanks enjoyed this one too.
    Wonder if this comes as a stroke of genius because i feel the milkmen never went to MBA schools but have been successfully selling ‘Diet Milk’ much to the chagrin of the ladies who neither have the patience nor the eent ka jawaab patther se phrases to deal with them except, killing glances and silent curses.
    Don’t waste ur time on that other movie… i saw it mainly for Ranbir Kapoor.Oh Gawd!!

    1. Shivani, I’ve actually seen that movie.

      It wasn’t too boring while I watched it. Some of the characters were funny though the plot was kinda absurd.

  3. I was confused of what stream to choose when i land up in MBA but now i would chooe markketing, armed with this secret weapon 😉

    Love the way you present it…YOu are on a roll, mann

      1. Lets c what will be my stream when i get into MBA eventually…No idea wat it would be..Yeah Ambition less aim less i am 🙂

  4. I don’t think this is so much a marketing primer for Indians as it is a marketing primer in general. 😛

    Your guiding principles are applicable everywhere, and I think it is the job that marketers are meant to do, and do well. 😛

  5. This one reminds me of your ‘original’ question: how many blades make a perfect shaving razor?
    The answer could have been ‘five’.
    But now we know that thickness of the blades is a hugely important thing. So, as of now, ‘the answer’ is “five thin blades that make you feel the razor is gliding on your cheek”
    Thanks to our good friends in Gillette. They have managed to reduce the thickness of the blades by 3.047%, all for the sake of our shaving comfort!

    You’re very correct on the diet milk thingy. Now we even have diet fruit juice – “with less carb and less sugar”, or put in other words, “with more water”

    1. Thanks. Not only is there diet fruit juice but the flavored water sector seems to be a huge sector too. People are buying into it. Back in the old days, we had concentrated Rooh-Afza and Kissan Orange Squash which we could dilute and use. Now the companies are doing it for us and charging much more.

      Take care.

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