While visiting one of my favorite museums today, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, I stumbled upon an exhibit titled Paris-Delhi-Bombay. This exhibit brings together artists of all fields into a space to dialogue about the differences and similarities between Indian and French cultures, touching upon violence, sexuality, unemployment and cultural values. It complemented what I had started drafting for this blog, discussing the importance of being culturally sensitive when launching campaigns, especially in this day when social media helps spread information at a faster rate. This is especially important in India who has the 4th largest population of internet users in the world and the 7th largest global marketfor social media consumption. Campaigns are picked up faster and they can either fail or succeed at a much quicker rate than before.
For example, when Haagen-Dazs entered the Indian market in 2009, it did so with one of its worldwide campaign slogans that had been working well elsewhere. The slogan said “entry restricted only to holders of international passports,” intended to attract customers to their international quality ice-cream. This slogan quickly made news and created a stir in India as a passerby took a picture, posted it online, and the conversations and comments started to flow. Many were insulted because they felt this campaign targeted foreigners who would be the only ones allowed to preview the ice-cream. What Haagen-Dazs wanted to relay was that they can now experience a taste of abroad without having to leave India. Many online commentators said that this brought memories from the times of the British Raaj where there were signs in locations that said, “Dogs and Indians not allowed.” This campaign hit a nerve that did not help Haagen-Dazs with their introduction into the Indian market. If this were to happen today, with the increased number of Internet users since 2009, it could mean Haagen-Dazs’ end in India.
On the other hand, a campaign launched by Coca Cola in October 2010 took advantage of the festivity and mood during Deepawali to launch their campaign “Come Home on Deepawali.” I am a bit biased by this campaign because I lived with the Warlis for a couple of weeks during a program on comparative indigenous perspectives, which took me to India, New Zealand and Mexico. Before going to India I didn’t know much about an indigenous population existing and learned that 7% of India’s population is Indigenous and that the Warlis who live around Mumbai and Dahanu, remain quite unassimilated from the rest of the India; they maintain their own dress style, customs, religion, and ceremonies. The Warlis have gained recognition only recently for their unique artwork that has been incorporated into mainstream folk-art and this campaign, targeted more towards a general Indian public, helps inform and educate about the diversity that lies within the country. I thought this was particularly smart for their particular target audience (not Warli) since Coca Cola highlighted an important Indian festivity that can be well received, and also used Warli art as a way to educate people about indigenous groups in India.
In summary, it is important to take in cultural considerations for all campaigns since information can be interpreted very differently depending on the context and audience. In this increasingly globalized world, it may seem like this is a step that can be skipped because a “global culture” seems to be emerging due to the increased levels of communications across countries. As the exhibit at the Pompidou showed, parallels and intersections can be made between all cultures, and in this case, between French and Indians. It is important to remember that despite all the similarities that can be made between cultures, every individual and culture interprets things differently. As Haagen-Dazs experienced, they used an existing campaign that worked in other countries. By not using a focus group to see how Indians would interpret the information, it led to a failed campaign. In this case, only the campaign failed but in other cases this might lead to a company being asked to leave a country or shut down due to a culturally disrespectful and insensitive campaign.