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.


narendra shenoy said...

A well written piece on an inherently qualitative and hard to define thing.

It is so cultural for us, the "we" feeling, that just thinking about yourself to the exclusion of others constitutes a break with tradition. But I think the non-conformism is happening now. Economic independence among the youth allows it. Hedonist is more fun than spartan, isn't it? But the cultural bind is strong enough to prevent the non-conformism from becoming rebellion. "Me within We" sounds very appropriate.

Most insightful, especially for a doofus like me whose deepest thinking hitherto has been whether beer tastes better slightly chilled or freezing cold.

Rohit said...

Interesting read, never thought of it like that. If only we could define a way to know whether or not this "Me within We" approach would work. For example, we are currently working on an ad campaign for a mass housing project aimed at the economically weaker sections of society, say, the peon in your office, or your servant.....How relevant and/or useful would this be ?

Doofus Two to Doofus One - freezing cold beer anyday, mate!! Take it from someone with over 25 years experience to back it up. Cheers!!

narendra shenoy said...

In the interest of enriching the world community in its knowledge of the correlation between the temperature of beer and the satisfaction derived from its consumption, I must share with you the observation of an astute friend who is worthy of being honored as a learned commentator by virtue of having consumed enormous quantities of it, opines that freezing cold beer numbs the taste buds and thus impedes proper appreciation of the nuances of the lager.
I am glad to know you think freezing is better because I think so too, but one must not hastily jump to conclusions. The young lad in question has a point. One must keep evaluating.

Anonymous said...

It is an amazing piece of a very clear headed insight. Hats off to you, Suman.

I am an artist and hence a romantic by nature, my views may not fit on a power point.

My view is that a “Me” really consist of - a mind, a heart and a soul. East or West, the whole life the “Me” is constantly trying to align what the mind thinks the heart wants and what satisfies the soul. When we strike the rhythm amongst the three ‘Eureka’ it is happiness – there is your block buster.

So essentially your insight of “Me within We” means today’s youth is trying to strike that very chord. Me cannot exist in vacuum – me has to exist in relation to We.

One example in terms of brands that stands out from my limited knowledge is Microsoft – In spite of Monopoly litigation troubles the brand is one of the largest charity makers not to mention the IT revolution that it triggered off.

SE Krona

SloganMurugan said...

Indians will answer that way but our actions lean towards the opposite. As for bodyshop. Didn't she sell her so called social purpose to a big corporation for 650 odd million pounds?

Anonymous said...

In context to your Insight, i just happened to read this article in the TIME (1st Oct.'07 issue) it is a special report on CSR (Corporate social responsibility) - There are many brands mentioned who are trying to boost their CSR image - among the popular ones are Sony, HSBC and Vodafone.
Among the countries, Sweden ranks number one and India number 9.