Advertising in India
William M. O’Barr
Fig. 1. The Ancient and the Modern Coexist in Contemporary India1
There are two Indias in this country. One India is straining at the leash, eager to spring
forward and live up to all the adjectives that the world has increasingly been
showering upon us. The other India is the leash. One India says, “Give me a chance
and I’ll prove myself.” The other India says, “Prove yourself first and maybe then
you’ll have a choice.” One India lives in the optimism of our hearts. The other lurks in
the skepticism of our minds….
—From a Times of India television commercial
Compare the numbers on some of the world’s most populous countries.
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, incl