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NUFgen Marketing or, Selling to the New Urban Family

ImageHave you met your real customer: the New (Upwardly Mobile) Urban Family? Despite the individualism of its members, it chooses, buys, and uses its products together. And the consumption behaviour of each of its constituents--the man/ husband/father/nurturer, the woman/wife/mother/equal partner, and the son/daughter/child/companion--is being redefined in the context of his/her relationships with the other members of the family. Already, the first-movers are capitalising on the family-as-customer. Are you?

We were all out again, in our cane chairs, the incense and mosquito coil smoke curling around. The conversation rolled round to the topic of several evenings ago: potential brides. Dada fidgeted and tried to look uninterested while Baba, Ma, and I discussed, nay debated, the candidates. Baba had been to see his sister, our Pishi... She had expressed her joy, her pride, in my success (at this point in the narrative, I tried not to blush, and Dada poked me in the ribs) and had Baba found any suitable girls? Baba coughed, and said we were still looking for a bride for Dada... here, Baba paused. Ma and I demanded to know more, but he had changed his mind. First, he said, we had to ask proper questions. Dada wasn't talking so it was up to the two of us, my mother and myself. Her age? That too would have to wait. We threw our hands up in disgust"
Across The Lakes, Amal Chatterjee

Whom have you set your sights on, Mr Marketer?
It isn't the man you should be aiming at. Not the woman either. Nor the child.
Your real target--your real customer--is the family. To be precise, the New Indian Family. Or, the New (Upwardly Mobile) Urban Family (a.k.a. the NUF).
As hallowed institutions crumble, as political idols reveal feet of clay and spines of jelly, as the networked society spreads its reach, as global brands seek local customers, as the recession intensifies, as personal income growth slopes off, the NUF is emerging as the real microcosm of the marketplace. For the marketer who wants to seize the future, it is, paradoxically, not the individual in India's increasingly individualised society who matters. It is the NUF--that strictly city-bound bundle of wife/mother, husband/ father, and son/daughter. People, in other words, who are defined less by their individual characteristics than they are by their positions, roles, and relationships in the context of their families.

Just how can the NUF be the most important entity for marketers when individualism rules the day? When people are increasingly leading their own lives, pursuing their own dreams, setting their own agendas? When every apartment has a separate TV, a separate tube of toothpaste, a separate brand of chocolate for every member? The irony is inescapable. For, the NUF has emerged at that very time when individual tastes are diverging sharply from one another, and, backed by sufficient spending-power, seeking unique solutions to their needs. But, despite this fissionary force, the fusion is stronger. For two reasons.

Family Rides

Arun FirodiaAddressing the New Urban Family can kick-start sales effectively. Ask Kinetic Honda, which has been marketing its Marvel scooter specifically to the entire family instead of just the man who will ride it. The reason, as its research revealed, is that every member of a nuclear family is closely involved in the purchase decision today. The children, for instance, are extremely sensitive about looks and style. The woman is worried about safety. And the man is concerned about convenience of use and price. Concludes V.N. Wabgaonkar, 35, Deputy General Manager (Marketing), Kinetic Honda: "The product is, obviously, highly relevant for the entire family." A brand that could take into account all these issues would have an edge over its competitors. The objective, therefore, was to position the Marvel as a product that could be used by the entire family. And the marketing conveyed that platform by incorporating the family into the purchasing context. Explains Wabgaonkar: "So, we decided to address the motivation of the family in our advertising." In particular, the instincts of the child were stoked as research had suggested that her participation in the purchase was considerably high. The media choice too gave a high weightage to family-oriented programming, avoiding overtly male- or female-targeted slots. Well, a marvellous way of creating a gene junction.

First, the consumption may be personal, but the choice is not. Every member of the NUF may have his or her own breakfast cereal, but the choice must be ratified by the rest. The husband will not use a cologne his wife doesn't approve of. The father will not sport a pair of sneakers his son hates. The mother will not wear a perfume her daughter finds too fruity. The wife will not pick a restaurant her husband abhors. Agrees B. Narayanmurthy, 41, Executive Director, Indica Research: "For many a brand, the statement it makes on behalf of its user must first pass the test of the other members of the family."

Two, more and more products and services are being purchased for collective use and consumption. And that is because the traditional boundaries between the roles assigned to the different members of the NUF are dissolving. From household chores to managing the family budget, from driving the car to cooking lunch, few activities are the exclusive preserve of the man or the woman or the children any more. From collective use to collective purchase is but an obvious step. Says Rohit Srivastava, 33, Head (Strategic Planning), Contract Advertising: "There is a distinct shift: from the authoritarian, hierarchical family-structure to a more democratic set-up, with adaptive members and mixed roles."

Now you know, Mr Marketer, why it is the NUF that matters. And to target the members of the NUF effectively, the critical component of the marketing-mix is the promotion. For, it is through the advertising that the context of consumption for the NUF can be communicated--which is what family-focused brands are doing. A commercial for Nestle's Maggi soup, for instance, will always show the whole family sitting around the table, united in its fondness for the product. To sell its paints, Asian Paints will use a commercial depicting the husband and his aged mother welcoming the new-born and its young mother. And to hardsell its Surf Excel, Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL) will make the mother endorse the detergent with references to her children, her husband, and the family dynamics.

Contradictory as it may seem, the break-up of the joint and extended family of yore has a significant role to play in the emergence of the NUF as customer. Back in 1971, the average urban family consisted of 5.46 members, the classic joint family where individuals had to seek their own space and had little room for bonding. Its 1997 counterpart had only 4.60 members--a dimension that enables the members of a family to relate to one another and still have their own space. With the pressure of the joint family gone, the members of the NUF are able to survive and function as a unit, without being stifled and, therefore, compelled to break out.

And the effect of the demographic downsizing has been multiplied by the social and psychological forces that are redefining the perceptions of the members of the family--about themselves, about each other, about the world. The ubiquity of global media and the borderless flow of information are challenging assumptions that the man, the woman, and the children all accepted earlier. Moreover, the NUF has all-new reasons for patronising well-advertised brands. Analyses the well-known psychoanalyst, Sudhir Kakar, 60: "Earlier, encryptive criteria--such as I am a Brahmin, or a Srivastava, and so on--distinguished people. With that opportunity nearly gone in urban India, there is a search on for other ways of distinguishing yourself--such as brands." Adds economist Pravin Visaria, 61, Director, Institute of Economic Growth: "Expectations and aspirations about the life that you want for yourself and your children are undergoing a sea-change."

Naturally, the marketer's mandate is changing as a result of this double-shift--from old roles to new roles, and from individual to family. To find out how, BT collated the conclusions of 5 seminal customer research projects conducted in the last 30 months, each of them focused on one or more members of the family:

  • Ammirati Puris Lintas' (APL) P:SNAP, 1997.
  • Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) Asia-Pacific's Simmering Within, 1998: Asian Mothers And Their Rising Expectations.
  • TNT Cartoon Network's New Generasians, 1998.
  • ORG-MARG's Youth Track, 1996.
  • O&M's Uncorking The Genie, 1997.

Combining these findings with the analyses of sociologists, psychologists, market researchers, consumer behaviour specialists, marketers, and advertisers, BT presents the psychographic contours of the NUF. Meet the Nuffy family.


...She'd taunt him: "I thought you were the New Man. I expected you to care and share. But you're like any other husband. The same old double-standards. The same hypocrisies." Rohit would smile back sadistically: "Too bad you miscalculated. Sure I have double standards. I bring home the bread. You cook. Easy." Aparna would retort furiously: "Don't forget I bring home the bread too. I am a serious career person. When we married, you respected my priorities. You knew what you were getting into. If you'd wanted a housemaid, you should have married one"
Snapshots, Shobha De

No one is changing more vis--vis the other members of the family. The wife-and-mother who lives for her husband and children is quickly morphing into the partner-and-friend who is carving out her own consumption and self-fulfilment space. Her primary characteristics, as surmised by Woman P:SNAP, 1997, and Simmering:

  • Initiates decisions on her own, but is anxious about her responsibilities.
  • Is ambitious for her children, and considers her daughter as important as her son.
  • Recognises that her ability is limited, and is led by her children.
  • Seeks efficiency, but not in conflict with her role as nurturer.
  • Shops for the best value, not the best price.
  • Buys products for herself, but not at the expense of her family-role and responsibility.

Meena KaushikAvers Kamini Banga, 36, CEO, Dimensions Consultancy & Qualitative Research: "In the new family, the woman is empowered." Personal gratification, without conflicting with the traditional demands made of her, is moving up the wish-list of the woman. And, as the guilt-factor involved in self-indulgence dissipates, no longer is the woman's consumption executed in secrecy.

On the contrary, receiving her family's appreciation is now crucial, and strongly underlines her purchase-decisions of even personal products. The palpable opportunity for marketers: marrying the need for self-fulfilment to that for family approval and, thus, creating a unique position for the brand. That is just what Johnson & Johnson did for its Secure feminine hygiene brand, playing on the fact that using the product preserves family prestige.

Family Credits

David ConnerMarketing to the New Urban Family (NUF) could be your passport to growth. As your products move through the life-cycle to the maturity stage, targeting the family instead of the individual will open up new markets and push your brand back to the growth stage of the life-cycle. That's the strategy Citibank employed for its credit cards. Ever since its launch in 1991, Citibank has marketed its Classic Card, its entry-level product, through the associations of arriveste glamour: those who possessed the card, went the far-from-subtle message, had arrived. By 1998, however, with a customer-base of just over 1 million card-holders, growth was tapering off. And the company switched from the individual to the family, changing its association from individual achievement to the fulfilment of family need. Thus, the new advertising for the card projects the son's need for a computer, the mother's wish for her son to have a better education, and the father's ability to make all this possible through a credit card. Says M.N. Murli, 36, Marketing Head (Bankcards), Citibank: "The family need is central to a lot of purchases, and a credit card is just a facilitator to high-value purchases as depicted in our computer-buying ad." Now, Citibank has taken the next step to capitalising on the NUF as customer by creating products aimed at each individual member, but taking into account their position within the family. A smart way to market the mother brand.

As the zone of her fulfilment widens, the NUF Woman is moving closer to the role of decision-maker for the purchase even of products that are not related to her traditional domain. The older view is represented, for instance, in the depiction of the woman as the arbitrator in disputes over subjects like the brand of toothpaste--HLL's commercial for Pepsodent--or of household cleaner--Reckitt & Colman's commercial for Lizol. However, the NUF Woman isn't tethered to her mother's territory alone; she is also venturing into so-called masculine territory: motoring, banking, and education, for instance. Claims Deepak Sethi, 45, Vice-President (Sales & Marketing), Dabur India: "The woman today is no longer just a housewife, but a house-manager."

So, clued-in companies are targeting women with products earlier directed primarily at men. Maruti Udyog, for instance, has started pitching the Maruti 800 as a product that signals the woman's balance between home and career, as the catchline, Helps You Speed Between The Two Worlds, puts it. Reasons Rohtash Mal, 44, Chief General Manager (Marketing), Maruti Udyog: "The woman of today is not the same as the Eighties woman. We have to target her differently." Even Citibank is taking the same tack with its exclusively-for-women credit card.

But what of the woman who does not have a professional life? To appeal to her, some marketers are trying to present the woman in a new context even within the traditional setting. For instance, the NUF Woman abhors portrayals as the conventional executor of household chores while the rest of the family pursues its own goals, as Simmering points out. So, canny companies are depicting situations where the entire family is involved in housework--with the woman in charge. In HLL's advertising for Pepsodent toothpaste, created by APL, the context is crafted by the depiction of the man--not the woman--cooking lunch.

Analyses Mudra Communications' Rahul Kansal, 41, Executive Director: "Even a non-working woman is aware of a career, and views house-management as a career. Gone are the days when she was just a minion. Increasingly, she wants to be seen as central to household management." As a result, the woman now has a stronger voice in the purchase-decision both of products used by the entire family--a new CTV set, for instance--as well of products used only by specific members of the family. And while some of that influence is wielded by virtue of her position as wife or mother, much of it also flows from the assertion of her individualism. Affirms Kakar: "Spousal intimacy is much more because of common ground in the shared worklife."

J H ParkAs she repositions her relationship with her husband and children, the NUF Woman isn't hesitant any more about buying products for her own satisfaction. That is a sharp shift from the past, when approval from others was crucial. Thus, HLL plays on the private emotions of the woman--and not on her search for family appreciation--as it targets her with its Dove soap. Explains Partha P. Sinha, 33, Vice-President (Planning), Ogilvy & Mather Advertising: "Beauty products are no longer about male appreciation and looking beautiful, but about feeling confident." That's why Procter & Gamble's (P&G) pitch for Shapers links the brand with triumph in a man-dominated setting. The opportunity is to connect with the NUF Woman through confidence and power, without overlooking the nuances of feminine expression.

With her new roles are emerging new expectations. "I should not (have to) force my husband to share household work. He should do it on his own," avers a home-maker from Delhi in Simmering. The fundamental transformation: equality within the marital relationship. Analyses Meena Kaushik, 47, Managing Director, Quantum Market Research: "The husband's approval is not a strong driver any more. The focus is on appreciation and understanding." Realising how that is being translated into consuming behaviour, Modi-Revlon, for instance, is building its brand through a series of profiles of professionally successful women, who radiate confidence about achievements that have nothing to do with well-cooked meals, well-washed clothes, and well-groomed children.

Family Soaps

Bharat PatelFor Procter & Gamble (P&G), it's all in the family. The new, emerging relationships between the husband and wife are at the heart of its current marketing pitch for Ariel Compact detergent. The storyline of a recent commercial, created by Chaitra Leo Burnett, follows the travails of the husband who has thrown an all-night party in the absence of his wife, and stained her favourite table linen--which, in another invocation to the family, turns out to be a gift from her father. As he is shown using the product to wash the linen clean, P&G's realisation of the entry of the man into that quintessentially feminine activity--cleaning--becomes obvious. And so does the fact that the marketer that can move quickly to leverage these associations will always be a step ahead of competitors. Explains Alex Howson, 35, Category Manager (Laundry), P&G: "In India, washing clothes has always been the housewife's activity. At the same time, the brand's ease of use is depicted using the husband as the protagonist, a unique and fresh approach that we have decided to take. The campaign has been well received by the target audience." Well, a case of washing away tradition as well.

Change is stalking the customer-as-mother too. "Her relationship with the child is changing. It is less of mothering, and more of companionship now. The mother is opening up, becoming indulgent, and giving in to her children's demands," says Sangeeta Gupta, 32, Senior Consultant, Quest, the qualitative research division of ORG-MARG. As Woman P:SNAP, 1997, reveals, 75 per cent of mothers are influenced by their children in their purchases while 72 per cent follow their children in fashion trends. They're also making inroads into the father's domain, influencing decisions on education and careers. Confirms Quantum's Kaushik: "The mother's role in non-traditional spheres is certainly expanding." Crucially, however, there is no abdication of the nurturing responsibility--which explains why a ready-to-cook product, like Maggi Noodles, is more successful than a ready-to-eat product, like Kellogg's Cornflakes.

How must marketers use these shifts? The change can actually be exploited for products targeted at women as well as those aimed at children by using brands to own the emerging relationships. For instance, HLL is trying to put its Clinic Active in that position by linking it to the Atoot Bandhan (everlasting bond) between the mother and the daughter. And, when marketing its Kissan jam brand for teenagers, HLL is portraying young customers seeking approval from their mother--not their father. Adds Dabur's Sethi: "Increasingly, our healthcare products talk to the entire family through the mother."



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