The shift from vanity to substance in brand choice

The year was 2010. I was working at Publicis India in their Mumbai office. The planning lead there had implemented an initiative in office, which had 1 employee from any levels/ department volunteer each week to make a presentation on a subject that they love. This was in acknowledgement of the fact that as creative professionals it is useful to expand our horizons to subjects outside of our own interests. 14 years later, I still find the things that I learnt in those sessions enriching my ideas. This is the power of good leadership. But more on that, another time.

I want to talk about this one colleague, the youngest person in that office. She introduced us to the world of Anime. I found it difficult to digest how someone could watch a cartoon with such seriousness. I know better today than to refer to anime as a cartoon.

This girl also was the first legit, cool person I had seen with no hesitation to buy a Micromax phone. Back in 2010, we were still hung up on the flash value of the brands we owned. For instance, there was great embarrassment attached to being seen in denim jeans that were not Lee, Levi’s or Pepe. Even if we owned just one pair of jeans for years. Perfumes had to be of luxury brands like CK or Davidoff. You get the drift. So, to see a cool young person have no qualms of owning a Micromax phone because according to her it was a great phone and was cheap. She saw no reason to spend lots just for show-off value. Even so, back then, a lot of people in the office playfully made fun of her, but she didn’t seem to be bothered by it. Me as a 28 yr. old, remember thinking I would never be seen with local brands like Micromax.

How times have changed. I have used Xiaomi phones for years. Happy owner of a Micromax TV.  Last year when I had to buy shoes, I decided to give Asian Shoes a try. I am delighted with getting the same quality Nike or Asics gives you, for 10% of the price. And I am not alone.

This trend reflects in the silent rise of the Indie brands across categories, especially beauty, F&B and fashion. I was working on a leading HUL hair care brand 2 years ago. And they wanted us to keep a close eye on how WOW had managed to wow their TG from under their nose.

Customers, led by Gen Z, have dethroned the erstwhile custodians of culture – namely the big iconic brands. With the proliferation of the internet, social media, access to information and the facility to co-write the life story of brands, the customers themselves have become the chief influencers of culture. From people following brands that dictated culture to brands following the culture that people create for themselves, the tables have turned.

They can tell 

  1. An ad-script from sincere stories – creativity impresses but it is not what tilts the scales in favour of a brand. Funny or emotional ads may be remembered while completely forgetting the brand. An omnipresent content strategy, on the other hand, allows us to showcase brand intent while being remembered for being useful when needed.
  2. Hard sell from useful information – They don’t trust information in ads. They Google. If we have a low health quotient, it is no longer clever to claim vitamin fortification. People can see through that, reflected in the rise of DE influencers – influencers who expose brand deception.
  3. Intent to help from intent to profit – Brands that stand for a cause that matters to Gen Z vibe with them better than brands that repeat old tropes wrapped in gen Z packaging.

This is a generation that defines their own cool. They are not above making frugality cool. Recycling is up-cycling. Vogue India described it as, ‘they want ‘canteen but make it luxe’. In the new world order, vanity stems from substance, not empty image building advertising alone.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Pooja Nair
Pooja Nair has over 20 years of experience as a branding consultant across leading global Ad consultancies. Pooja is also known to be an ex theater performer, actress and model. Since September, 2022, she has focussed completely on her passion for the changing face of business, brand-building and reputation.

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