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Day 2 CreaTech Mission to India: Diageo India CMO

March 2, 2022
Published on:
February 25, 2022

As part of the CreaTech Mission to India 2022 virtual trade mission by the Department of Trade & Industry, the Creative Industries Council and the GREAT campaign, Deepika Warrier, CMO of the drinks company Diageo in India, was interviewed by Julian Boulding, President and Founder, Thenetworkone, a global network of independent agencies.

The following is an abridged summary of the conversation.

JB: What is the biggest mistake to avoid and what are some things to look out for people from the UK, Europe or the US who are unfamiliar with India?

DW: There will be a sense of familiarity because a lot of Indians speak English, so it won’t feel strange to begin with. But then as you start working in India some of the differences might crop up. There is not one India, so I don’t want stereotype India. But there are some faults and foibles that are the reasons why the stereotype exists.

We are not absolutely famous for our punctuality. Zoom and virtual meetings have made us much more punctual. But if it is a physical meeting, perhaps because of the traffic, you might find people are not on time. Don’t be impatient.

When you’re socialising in India, you might find that dinner is very late. So do have a snack before you go out for a social dinner.

Some of the non-verbal/verbal gestures might be difficult to decode. Indians tend to speak very fast. Maybe, just tell us to slow down.

JB: For a brand that is entering the Indian market, is it OK to put communications in English or should they translate it into other languages?

DW: Diversity is the key word in India. You’ve heard that we are 28 states, 22 languages. I don’t even want to mention the dialects.

So clearly there are very strong regional nuances. English is a unifier at the top end.  So if you’re coming in with a premium product, it is very likely that you will get away with using English. But if it is a more mainstream, or mass product that you are selling in India, then definitely nuance messaging with different languages. But remember Hindi doesn’t work so well in the south, east and parts of the west. It works well in the north. There are also the regional languages of the south and east....

We often say that each of the 22 states is the equivalent of a country in Europe. So I think it is important to think of India as a semi-continent.

There are a lot of unifying threads as well. One is cricket. We definitely define the economics of cricket. Bollywood content is another. I would say the importance of family values is also something that really unites India.

I think what people will love about India is that there is a palpable sense of energy and growth. It is the one of the fastest growing economies in the world. And you can feel it, because it is an economy that is driven by consumption.

17% of the world’s population lives here. Our median age is 28, which means 65% of people are under 30 years of age. So if you come here youthful energy is what you really experience. We often say that if you’re targeting older consumers, even older consumers aspire to be young. That is a unifier.

Another thing that could be an enabler for a brand coming into India could be the rapid digitisation that we have seen in India. A lot of the new media outreach is coming into India as well.

JB: Let me pick you up on the media point because you mentioned the media channels.

DW: Television is still the largest medium, particularly if you’re doing a consumer packaged good product. But digital is catching up rapidly.  Print is still another large driver, and then radio and out of home are smaller. But if you look at other ways of reaching consumers, audio streaming has really gone through the roof.

Another example is games. I think we have one of the largest gaming audiences, and it is not just a youth audience. Increasingly, micro influencers are also becoming important.

Another thing I would say is that purpose or cause-driven marketing is becoming very important. Particularly post the pandemic, the importance of the community is becoming important.

(You can see an example of marketing by Diageo’s Johnnie Walker whisky brand in India here.)

DW: For Johnnie Walker and for global brands what is important is your tone of voice. The purpose of the brand needs to remains the same. Johnnie Walker stands for progress, and we always say it is progress in pursuit of a richer life. And that is as true for Indians, as it is for folks anywhere in the world. I think we were very true to that purpose that the brand stands for.

Indians love brands. There is still a lot of trust in brands. And brands like Johnnie Walker are iconic. We had a comedian in Bollywood in 1950s who actually named himself Johnnie Walker after the brand. It is actually a very iconic brand.

Coming into India, you do need to take a global approach. Take a global brand. Stay true to what it stands for but then adapt it to a cultural passion or context that is unique.

JB: What is the image of the UK in India? Is it still positive?

DW:  Speaking of cricket, the attitude is: ‘You gave us the game, but we now own it and we want to excel at it'. And we still love to beat the English at Lords. That is still the dream for any Indian cricketer.

The fact that I’m speaking you to in English, so much of what we take for granted in daily life for people like me – say in the top 1% of the population - the books we read, the food we eat, even the way we dress. Particularly the language. Some of it has a bit of a hangover from the time when the British were in India. But more recently, I would say one of the things that British brands stand for in India – integrity is a word I would use. There is a brand that stands for it, which is the BBC.

I remember the BBC World Service was a great source of authentic, accurate news in pre-internet days when we just had one source of information, which was a government channel.

I think the UK stands for very high quality. If I think of some of the brands that epitomise that… Marks & Spencer has become a very popular brand in India. It stands for great quality that doesn’t put you out of pocket completely. Very premium brands like Burberry.

Dyson has become very popular more recently.  Banks and services companies. Heritage brands too. And I work for a company that stands for the ultimate in heritage.

Choose from all sessions at the CreaTech Mission.

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