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Rum, tandoori and party pooper
- Language lesson from Nike and harsh reminder for builders of Brand India

Jaipur, Nov. 12: Old Monk rum and tandoori chicken. Aficionados will say that’s a fantastic combination, unless you are a Bengali obsessed with all things fish.

Now here’s a startling thought: how about turning this potent combo into the most enduring symbol of India’s global brands'

Talk about global brands from India is still a pie-in-the-sky, but Ian Batey reckons Indian companies can hope to carve up a huge slice of the world markets within the next 10-15 years.

Batey, who heads the eponymous Singapore-based Batey Ads and is best known for the Singapore Girl ad campaign, says Old Monk rum could give Bacardi white rum a run for its money in the $550-billion global liquor market which, he says, is “thirsting for a revolution”.

It’s all been done before. Focus on a few core brands and build global value. The rest will follow. Japan did it in the 1950s with just a clutch of brands — Toyota, Honda, Sony and maybe Panasonic. South Korea did it too with a handful of chaebols and their products — Hyundai, Samsung, LG and Daewoo, never mind all the talk of crony capitalism.

Even America’s most powerful global symbols are Coke and the Big Mac. So why not tandoori chicken washed down with a slug of Old Monk' After all, it did see off the weak challenge from Kentucky Fried Chicken in the mid-nineties, didn’t it'

Batey, who was moderator at the Chairmen’s Round Table at Ad Asia 2003 here today which featured Mukesh Ambani and Kumar Mangalam Birla, said: “Indian brands are on the verge of going truly global.”

There is big ballast for the brands from the forecast that the Indian economy could be shooting for third place with Japan by 2020, behind China and the US in that order.

Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, said: “India has the brand capital. It has the intellectual capital. All we need is a sense of belief in ourselves that we can turn our natural advantages into the creation of global brands.”

Agreed Birla: “The biggest barrier is within us. There is a lack of faith in our capabilities.”

Birla said the aim should be to turn Brand India into one of the top five global brands by 2020. He reckoned this could be done in two phases. “In Phase I, we should build on the IT success story. In Phase II, we should turn to manufacturing and tourism.”

“Nations evoke notions and those notions evoke ideas about nationality,” said Ambani. “So if we need to change the world’s perceptions about us, we need to change our own ideas and attitudes.”

Ambani felt that India’s communications business presented a splendid opportunity to create a global brand. “Once we build a mobile telephony base with sufficient critical mass, we will be able to reach out to a global audience.”

It’s the first time that Ambani has articulated a global ambition for his telephony business and comes soon after the government cleared a proposal to allow telecom companies to migrate to a unified telecom licence regime that gives Reliance a huge edge over its local rivals.

Crystal ball gazing, Batey came up with a list of Indian brands that could ramp up to global levels in the next 20 years. The list included Infosys, Wipro, Sankhya and TCS in the IT space. Sankhya' Did he mean Satyam'

A surprise inclusion on Batey’s list was confectionery maker Nutrine. “It is small now. But we see it emerging as a world beater.” Did he have those sweets that the airhostesses dole out on the flight to Jaipur'

Other big world brands would be cricket, gems and jewellery and the Ambo brand of mangoes — that’s Alphonso.

Batey then turned to the audience and said: “Here then is your opportunity. Maybe, some Indian ad firms will become global players as well and have affiliates spread all over the world.”

The audience loved him — and just when everyone was feeling smug with satisfaction came Pam the Pooper. The lady delegate from Malaysia stood up to say: “It’s fine to talk about building global brands. But what do you do about the perceptions about India abroad' The water isn’t fit to drink; not even the mineral water in the five-star hotels.”

“Is that Mahathir’s daughter'” riposted Batey.

“Well I am proud to be from Malaysia. Maybe the Indians could do with some of that pride,” she shot back. Which is what Ambani and Birla were talking of all along.

And then Batey blew it all away. “We need to take the Indian rope trick to dizzy new heights,” he said. Some notions simply don’t change, do they'

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