Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I was waiting for a voice to thunder down from the heavens saying "get started" and it came in the form of a report on Indian youth published in today's Brand Equity titled Say bye to GenY and hi to iGen (marketing supplement of The Economic Times, India's largest selling pink paper).

The article speaks exuberantly of how "Gen Y is passe, say hello to the iGeneration or as they prefer to be known, iGen. Chanting the mantra of individuality, acquiring bite size chunks of knowledge from the internet and flashing their iPods, they are the new consuming class"

Ignore them at your own risk, advise the authors. To which I would like to add - believe everything you read about them at your own risk. The piece covers all the usual territory, in a predictably breathless manner. Here's a reality check.

"Flashing their iPods?" iPods may be objects of curiosity - even desire - but at a price band of Rs 19-25,00 ($430-550) the Ipod is still a a tech toy for Pajero puppies (rich kids) and celebs who need something to talk about in interviews. Although young India wants to buy into cool, it is unwilling to pay the kind of premium for it that's acceptable in other countries.

Note:Recognising this, IPod is apparently releasing a 512 mb version called the "shuffle" for Rs 7000. But in my view, unless it adds on a phone capability (like the Palm has done in response to PDA enabled phones) most young people in India will go for Mp3 cellphones.

Getting back to the article in question, the basic premise is that the current crop of youth is completely different from previous generations because it hasn't ever seen a typewriter or experienced the waiting list for a Bajaj scooter. Prof Jagdish Sheth has gone so far as to say "what all of us need to understand is that there's no "continuity" in this age group from before, no baggage."

Much as I respect Prof Sheth, I completely disagree with this statement. The continuity exists in the form of family - primarily parents - who in India play a huge role in a young person's life. The amorphous element called "values" - which form the basis for all human decisions, consumption and otherwise - is something we get from the family and can't be wished away.

Here's my assessment, excerpted from a June 2004 article I wrote for Businessworld magazine.

On some fronts, parents have yielded. They are more tolerant of fashion - be it long hair for boys or girls in low-waist jeans... In matters of consumerism parents and young people are partners in crime. "Let our children not face the same hardships we did," is a common sentiment.

Want a computer? Done. Broadband Internet connection? OK. What's more, we won't be peeking over your shoulder. There is far greater personal space. But these are the side dishes on the family menu. In 'core' areas, like choice of careers, parents remain convinced they know what's best for their offspring...

The bottomline is: we can make your life more comfortable but only so you focus on what's truly important - 'succeeding in life'.... The Indian family has moved from being completely autocratic to a benevolent dictatorship, but is yet to attain a fuller form of democracy.

Parents and teens/ young adults are playing out a delicate dance where parents are voluntarily giving in on some issues and young people are not completely unhappy with the limits imposed. They too can see the wisdom in choosing a 'safe' career like engineering or MBA. After all, this is a country where the basics of a decent life - house, car and some spare cash - are not easy to come by. A fact one is unconsciously conscious of - all the time.

And, the fact is young people are not about to rock the boat until they can buy or build a boat of their own. An ACNielsen ORG-MARG's survey on attitudes to life among youth showed the dominant attitude to be 'balancing' ie young people who identified with statements like "responsibility towards family and my freedom both are important."

These are typically upper and upper-middle-class males and females for whom self-expression and freedom are important, but so are family values and social norms. However the media typically does not focus on this segment, preferring to highlight the more exciting "cool dudes" who, in reality, form a miniscule proportion of the youth consumer population.

This just doesn't ring true
Many observations made in the piece are more trendy than actual 'trends'

"In every city you find young people upward of 21 moving out for different reasons"
Even if the commute's bad, rarely do young people take up their own pads if they have a parental home in the same city.

53% claim to have had premarital sex, half of them below 21, according to an MTV youth survey
Claim is the operative word here. I seriously doubt that 53% of those under 21 have a steady boyfriend or girlfriend which in the Indian scheme of things is pretty much a pre requisite for premarital sex.

Most young people are college educated here, unlike in the US where bulk of them tend to be high school dropouts
True - but only for middle class India and above. What about the teeming millions of young people who fall outside that. Obviously the article doesn't aim to cover them but such sweeping generalisations are clearly avoidable!

Uh huh.. don't we already know this
"They want to 'unbelong', stand apart and not merge or blend in"
Isn't that what being a teenager has always been about? Although in a perverse sort of way the need to 'unbelong' itself makes you part of a herd.

The technobabies angle
I do agree with the authors that "comfortable with choice and dabbling with technology". Consuming class teens and young adults in India are addicted to electronic communication - whether email, IM, SMS, broadband. And access to these technologies is changing the way they think and behave. (refer "IMHO, IM rules" - a piece I wrote on the impact of instant messenger technologies on young Indians.)

But the important thing to note is that technology is not an end in itself - it is merely a tool to connect with the real world and with real people. What IM and SMS do especially well is give you an 'always-on' P2P or peer to peer network, which means your peer group influences you more than ever. So the decision of whether to see a movie or buy a product will very often be based not on the film critic's review or product advertising but a friend's opinion. This is something marketers really need to take note of.

The article is very gung ho on gaming and here again I beg to differ.

Firstly - will a large no of Indians ever be willing to pay Rs 999 ($ 20) to buy original game CDs when pirated copies are available for Rs 99 (or, even for free thanks to CD writers or rogue sites on the net)?

Secondly - PC or console gaming will not achieve the kind of widespread popularity with 10-20 year olds it has in other countries, given the continuing pressure on young Indians to perform academically. Mobile gaming has a brighter better future, being a personal device less prone to parental supervision.

Although developers of mobile games claim to have a large volume of downloads most college going people surveyed by JAM (the youth magazine I publish) seem happy to play pre loaded games like Snake and Bounce. No doubt models like Nokia's Ngage are appealing to a niche audience but can that niche be grown to engage more than a few thousand?

The real revolution
The one statement in the article I would fully agree with is this:
"The tipping point or age at which the consumer turns into a purchaser has come down dramatically".

The twenty something Indian in his or her first or second job has the maximum "pure disposable income". This is the crowd that is picking up branded goods at malls as well as personal gadgets. It's the segment which regularly visits coffee shops (and spends there - unlike teens who often just hang out).

This is what I call "middle youth" , where there is truly individual driven consumption. . It's a brief window of opportunity of 3-5 years because there are pressures to 'settle down' and become responsible. Once marriage and especially kids come into the picture, the focus once again shifts back to the family.

Is IGen something they prefer to be known as?
Hardly. It's a convenient catch phrase invented by marketing types to boil down and stereotype a few hundred million people. Just like Gen X and Gen Y - both terms invented to describe a specific demographic phenomenon in the US - but popularly used in the Indian media as a trendy short-form for youth in general.

Still, I would say the fact that "youth" is now garnering so much mainstream media attention is a good thing. The fact that "54% of India's population is under 25 years of age" seems to have provoked this frenzy.

It would be nice, however, to see journalists and other experts go beyond the superficial level and get under the skin of the young Indian.

Or maybe not - that's what this blog is supposed to do :)


  1. Hey, Rashmi, good to see you blogging.

    Read your post. Your comment that journalists and assorted experts must get real and under the skin of the young Indian is quite right. I would also think that we journos must also remember that the young, upwardly mobile exists beyond the A and B level towns. S/he also exists in Hapur, Hajipur and Hosur! I've done some study on this tribe, and will share it with you sometime.

    Anyway, super to see you kickstart YouthCurry with a bang. Makes for a great read. Blog on!

  2. hi,
    u know something as u said the journos normally end up just beneath the skin of youngsters and no more. so don't expect any wonders from them. if u really hav ideas of getting them to speak put words into their mouth mayb if they fing them palatable they will chew on it and spit what's left over or the cud at the readers and nothing mor. this is jst a personal thought and no more,

  3. Rashmi, what a good idea. i do hope the young --and let's get rid of all those silly marketing labels of Gen Y and whatever -- will tell us what they think and feel. as the mother of a 16-year-old i've been appalled or irritated by those screaming headlines about what the country's teenagers are supposdely up to. the last one (the sexual proclivities survey u referred to) was based on interviews with less than 300 kids in ten cities! and let us look at the young as more than just consumers, although they do a lot of 'consuming'.

  4. Good to see you blog Rashmi ... i look forward to reading lots of great stuff here. Journalism meets blogging :):):)


  5. Pleasantly surprised to come across your blog, Rashmi! Came here from Dina's blog. Look forward to more enriching posts from you :)

  6. Hi Rashmi,
    Came to your blog via Om( Your opinions on the Brand Equity Article are very good. I was for quite long waiting for someone to write about the shift in the consumer trend in India. Seems like I have found a good source in your blog.

    Also do let me know if you know any other good blogs from India.


  7. halloa rashmi, what u have here is the platform on which future communication will piggyback on

  8. hi,reshmi,what a wonderful comment. i never heared such a nice message before. ineed yr friendly commmunication.shall we meet?convey your opinion to

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