Monday, March 12, 2007

Me Within We

Do you first think about yourself or about your family?
Do you think being selfish is natural or mean?
Do you usually consider the consequence of your actions mainly on yourself or also on others?

Sociologists have tended to believe that most Indians would give the latter answer to each of the above questions. And that most people from the West would give the former answer. Hence the considered view has been that the West is Individualistic in their thinking, while the East has been Collectivist. Those are long words. So let us just say that the belief is that the West thinks about “Me”, while the East thinks about “We”.

But now the East is getting Westernized. So are we now thinking of Me rather than We?

This is one of the questions that we wanted to investigate in the Remixed Generation study that we had done a year and a half ago. And the conclusion that we had reached then was that Indians haven’t quite got to the Me side of spectrum, though they have moved away from the We side. We labeled the phenomenon as “Me within We”.

That sounds good on a PowerPoint slide, but isn’t that helpful when you are thinking in the context of a brand. How exactly do you appeal to the Me within the We?

One way is to think that people have a long Me rope that gives them freedom of movement within a given radius, but after that We concerns take over. This rope has become longer over time and so younger generations are more Me oriented than older ones. Also the same person may be Me oriented in some cases and We oriented in others.

Traditionally we have had Me categories and We categories. So motor cycles, jeans and colas have been Me categories, in that they have appealed to the individual sides of us. Meanwhile, household products, consumer durables etc have often appealed to the home maker in us and thus have been We categories. In that way we have avoided the issue rather than addressed it head on.

At first sight that sounds like the nature of categories. But a moment’s thought would lead us to a different conclusion. If you are promoting a household cleaning product, do you focus on the convenience of using it (a Me appeal) or on how it makes your family love the home (a We appeal)? Today more and more brands are crossing the floor and focusing on non-traditional appeals.

The computer has been one of the most individual oriented product categories. After all there is always been a one to one correspondence between the PC and the user. Yet, we did a campaign for Intel where we focused on how a PC could change the fortune of an entire family. This is arguably one of the most effective campaigns from Intel in India.

Now I think there may be another way to think of the We versus Me issue. The clue for this came from movies like “Rang de Basanti” and “Munnabhai Lagey Raho”. Both movies were spectacular hits with the youth of the country. So perhaps there are lessons to be learnt for those of us who want super hit brands.

My view is that both movies created an alignment of Me and We goals and thus removed the conflict between the two. They offered to youth a higher order goal to work towards that was cool, modern and today. Once that happens, youth is quite happy to work towards this higher order goal in their own Me way.

Perhaps therein lies the secret. Most youth brands tend to be about rebellion. Think of Levis, Pepsi or Harley Davidson. Or think of Amitabh Bachchan. They appeal to youth by becoming badges that prove how anti-establishment the user is. Indian youth have adopted these brands, though they are no longer in rebellion mode. They are all busy enjoying the new life that economic prosperity has brought, and working towards the new goals that a flat world has brought. So, in many ways, the old paradigm of youth being about rebellion doesn’t work.

So offering a higher order goal works at two levels. One it provides youth a mission that is different from the old anti-establishment mission. And two it allows them to be individual while working towards the collectivist goals.

A good – though old – example of how this was done is provided by “The Body Shop”. The owner, Anita Roddick, is a cool youth icon who fought against animal testing and other environmental issues. The brand has done well without any “beauty” oriented communication because it allowed youth to focus on Me issues like looking good, while also contributing to a We issue like the environment.

Now if only we could come up with more such cool missions, we would have big block buster brand hits.