Friday, April 26, 2013

Packaging and labelling in India: Think Global, Act Global?

I recently visited Mallorca, the beautiful island in the Mediterranean. My sister-in-law gifted us a holiday through a vacation ownership package that came their way. Being a villa with a kitchen, we could cook food. Saves costs and takes care of the needs of the Indian palate. While we did purchase most of the groceries here before departing, there were still some purchases to be made for which we visited a super market, there.

At the super market, I realised that all the product packaging and labels were in Spanish. Without an exception. I guess I was too naive to get surprised. In India, while there are some brands which use Indian languages, I felt English was the language of choice for packaging.

Now, it could be because I am getting old and hence I am getting more attached to own culture and language. Or maybe the marketer in me suddenly woke up. Why can't the packaging in India be in Indian languages?

Before you make judgements, let me clarify that I have nothing against usage of English but the usage of local languages in packaging is certainly a win-win for all. The consumer, the brands.

By the way, how many brands or products do you know off that have packaging in any local language? Nirma came to my mind, immediately.

After my return, I went through the house looking at various products. Not surprisingly, almost all used English. In fact, many had foreign language. For example, the new Vaseline moisturising lotion had Arabic script, the Gillette shaving foam and shower gel had French...But few, very few had any Indian language. Surprisingly, even Pazha Mudir Nilayam, the local Tamil Nadu retail chain that sells fruits and vegetables used English and no Tamil.

Consider this.

According to statistics, the percentage of English users in India is about 33% translating to about 330 million though the English speaking population in India is only about 9% which is only 100 million. Of course, after the United States of America, we have the second largest English speaking population in the world. But still the percentage of people that does not understand English is still 700 million and odd!

Before I move on, the difference between English speakers and English users is that the former can read, speak and form sentences, the latter can only read English letters. This means that effectively, the packaging and labelling is reaching to only 100 million Indians.

Also consider this, the population of Spain is about 47 million. The population of Tamil Nadu is 60! And remember there're many states that have far higher local language speaking population than English speaking. Why do, then, the marketeers shy away from using local regional languages in India?

Now, the challenge for marketeers could be that there are far too many languages for them to cover in India. Also, is it viable as the cost of packaging might increase?

But that brands will be able to connect better with their consumers by communicating with them means greater loyalty. Right? Unless the brands have assumed that in India it is ok to have the packaging in English. Or because English is aspirational and any presentation in local language might decrease the brand equity!

I spoke with few, very few though, about this subject. The thought seems to be that premium segment products, if in a regional language packaging, may actually deter them from buying the product.

But it may also be true that the packaging and labelling in products distributed in B, C and D centres may actually be in local language. I am not able to confirm that.

I am not suggesting that English be abolished. Just add the local language for that particular state. For example, all the Lays chips that go to Assam could have branding in both English and Assamese. Of course this means that the packaging itself will have to be redesigned as there will be more to add in the same space.

The brand consultants, advertising agencies and PR agencies should urge their clients to use local language in their packaging.

But more importantly it should be the mandate of political parties to ensure such a change is brought about. The regional parties who take upon themselves to promote the language, art and culture in their state must insist on this change. In Tamil Nadu, due to one such order, all shops and establishments are mandated to have name boards in Tamil.

But why only packaging and labelling? What about websites of corporates? How many corporates do you know who have website in Indian languages? I am sure very few.

When the entire corporate world seems to chanting - think global, act local - why must packaging be not so.

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