If you can't have water have Coke!

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If you can't have water have Coke!
Parvati Mahadev , Management Consultant, India

Walking the Thin Edge Sword of Happiness


As someone who consults with the multinational F&B giants who are currently training their marketing guns on Asia, I am frequently faced with the dilemma of encouraging marketing of a brand/ product that "appears to be of no use" to vast tracts of population. We sit over cups of steaming coffee strategizing on how to encourage people with annual incomes below USD 1000 to enter the sparkling beverage bandwagon. We want to grab a little share of that frail throat that is currently downing cheaper non ready to drink beverages. The questions that fly around are ....
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  • How can we woo an audience who is consuming hot coffee/ tea mostly made at home?
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  • What will make this person pay more to try something that is quite alien to her / his palate?
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  • Finally the lure of lucre - imagine the volumes that I can help generate by tapping into this nascent audience!? I have wondered at the thoughtlessness of the entire thought process. It appears to be a deliberate attempt to create dissonance where currently there is little of it (Recommend reading: Imp & the Crust by Leo Tolstoy to understand where this opinion is coming from). It suggests adopting a marketing plan that will woo people who can ill afford it to, become slowly addicted to a product (sparkling beverage in this example) that does not provide what this target is currently in need of - nourishment at a reasonable cost. In fact it is possibly setting them up for future health issues. Having covertly waded through this jumble of ideological ranting , whilst overtly engaging in the strategic plan I suddenly stumble on the practical benefit that such marketing plans provide to seemingly inappropriate audiences - a small bottle of happiness! While people appear to engage with products and services at a rational & purposeful plane (functional or emotional benefit) the key driver behind most human ventures is a search for happiness. This insight is well known to the best marketers some of who have actually engaged academicians to prove the hypothesis conclusively. Here are 2 ideas which when coupled together make for a strong case to market seemingly 'junk' foods to the bottom of the pyramid
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  • Almost everyone is almost always trying to maximize their happiness quotient consciously or otherwise
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  • The bottom of the pyramid definitely is quite low on the happiness scale due to long standing deprivation Voila! Bring some happiness into the their life by letting them break free occasionally, from rational thinking, scrounging and going without. Let them feel, for the duration of a 200ml of sweet, fizzy guzzle that life is beautiful. Who knows, it might even inspire them to aspire for better things; it may be the making of them? The socialist in me starts pressing alarm buttons on this thought trend....
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  • This kind of argument could be extended (worrisome) to health hazards such as alcohol, cigarettes, drugs...let them have a little happiness, after all their lower income status insures them from harmful, heavy usage
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  • Why create a need where there was none...what if it leads to other aspirations that cannot be met as easily?
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  • Will this lead to overall drop in the happiness quotient which would be counter productive? Then again rules of free economics butt in to justify the strategy. Let the consumer decide. Our job is to take the product to them. I am left with that feeling that invariably accompanies marketing decisions that involve cognitive dissonance... Who do I make happy - my client, the masses, myself? If the objective is to up the overall happiness quotient then I guess the answer is already there. So this is how it feels to be a marketer - you often walk the thin edge of the sword of happiness!

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