Reading 4: Cultural Dimensions and MNC brands: A Study in the Indian Context – Consumer Behaviour and Branding: Concepts, Readings and Cases – The Indian Context


Cultural Dimensions and MNC Brands: A Study in the Indian Context

S. Ramesh Kumar and Karan Bajaj

A number of multinational brands have arrived in the Indian context. Cultural dimensions have a significant impact on the marketing mix elements of a brand—both in high-and low-involvement categories. This article attempts to develop a framework that will be useful to MNC brands entering India. This framework, known as the cultural orientation model, was developed after an analysis of the MNC brands which were launched both in developed markets and in the Indian market, in conjunction with an empirical study to obtain inputs on the cultural dimensions associated with the Indian psyche.

Keywords: MNC brands, consumer behaviour, fast moving consumer goods, culture, entry barriers


The Need to Explore Entry Strategies of MNC Brands in the Indian Context

The Indian marketing context is going through rapid changes. There are MNC brands which are almost a part of the Indian culture (like Colgate, Surf, Horlicks and Lifebuoy). There are brands like Samsung, Whirlpool and LG which are new to the context but which have made a significant impact within a short time. There are also brands like Sony, Nike, Kellogg and Ray-Ban which have a strong equity in international markets but have not captured a huge chunk of the market in their respective categories. There is a gap in the literature on how MNC brands should adapt themselves to a developing market like India, especially when they have been successful in developed markets. As we shall see, the marketing mix elements have to be culture-specific in order to be successful.

Literature on the Linkages Between Marketing and Culture

The research on investigation the potential of a particular value-assessing instrument, the Rokeach Value Survey (RVS), to distinguish cultural differences in personal value structure suggests that personal values can be productively employed by international marketers to discriminate between people of culturally diverse backgrounds. A discriminant analysis disclosed significant differences in the self-value held by people from three cultures: Thailand, Mexico and the United States (Michael and Shelby, 1979). Consumers’perceived attribute importance along clothing, food, appliances, and household supplies of consumers from five Asian Pacific regions, reflect notable differences (David, John and Chin, 1988). Research comparing Korean immigrants and Americans in their consumer product evaluation indicate that there are indeed ethnic differences in consumers’evaluation of product attributes across four product categories—automobiles, stereo system, laundry detergent, and coffee (WeiNa and KoogHyang, 1992). The scooter in Italy, Britain, and India, while materially the same physical object, has taken on very different cultural meanings (Bruce, 1992). The research on exploring differences in cognitive response content across two cultures, United States (an individualist culture) and Taiwan (a collectivist culture) listed thoughts towards advertisement and then evaluated them on a series of attitude scales. Whereas the U.S. subjects focused more on product-related claims in the ads, Taiwanese subjects were more persuaded by their “ad evaluation” thoughts about the appropriateness of the advertisements than by their product thoughts (Sharon, Michlle and Rose, 1997). A realistic approach to research culture would be to examine how one group of individuals differs from another (Inng Tan, Jim and Jeannie, 1997). One study compared the effectiveness of standardized, semilocalized, and local television commercials in Israel (Bella, and Aviv, 1999). The central argument is that international commercials, which address common basic consumers’needs and values, and are language-adjusted, can be as effective as local commercials. One study suggested the growing importance of peripheral cues since U.S. market evidence increasingly high levels of product homogeneity. As markets continue to mature and central cues become more neutralized, peripheral cues should become more powerful regardless of involvement (Timoothy, David and Michall, 1993). Another study explored a methodology for identifying the psychological functions of attitudes towards a multifunctional consumer product – the automobile. It proposes to use a distinction between instrumental and symbolic functions. Instrumental attitudes focus on the features and attributes of the target object and their utility in providing better functioning in the environment (Richard and Mark, 1993). One paper argued that the predominant approach used in international consumer research to study cultural differences – the personality/values approach – is inadequate for this task. Three weaknesses of this approach are detailed—universalism and the negation of meaning, translation and the problem of action, and holism and the level-of-analysis problem (Doughlas, 1994). An empirical investigation was conducted to determine the relative importance of cognition, country of origin, patriotism, and familiarity with a country’s products in the consumer’s attitude towards foreign brands. The results indicate that cognition do not play the dominant role in attitudes as previously suggested. The country of origin and consumer patriotism have significant roles in attitudes (Min, 1994). One study proposed a method to determine the variation in the culture content of product between countries; the authors term this difference as the International Cultural Content Difference (ICCD). The goal was to address the degree of adaptation in the marketing efforts of a firm that may be necessary to introduce successfully into a foreign market, a product with some degree of cultural content (Madhuhar and Rajan, 1996).The basic understanding of cultural value orientation may be important when marketing product and services to other cultures (George, 1993). One study evaluated the extent to which value orientations were present in advertisments from the United States and Mexico. The analysis showed that the majority of ads did not express core cultural beliefs (John and Partica, 1992). Another study analyzed the Chinese in Hong Kong and reaches to the conclusion the Chinese tend to conform. They were more other-directed than inner-directed. The marketing implication is that Chinese consumers tend to pay more attention to what is socially approved than what is approved by themselves (Kam, 1995). Another study analyzed the decision process used by consumers for buying color TVs in China, how the product is used within the home, and its importance in modern Chinese life as a symbol of economic and political freedom (Kathaleen, 1997). One study proved that Japanese advertising would approach or surpass U.S. advertising in the level of materialism evinced, since World War II (Russell, 1986).

The Methodology

The analysis used the following methodology:

  1. A comprehensive study was made of six global brands through intensive primary and secondary research. The strategies that the brands followed in both Indian and global markets were studied, and the similarities and differences analyzed.
  2. A comprehensive list was drawn of factors, unique to the Indian market and consumer, which any company entering India should take into account while strategising for its brand.
  3. Six brands were chosen across categories. This was done to understand the common factors in the strategies of these brands. These commonalities can be used to create a strategy for a brand in any category. Three brands in high-involvement categories and three in low-involvement categories were chosen for fundamental analysis.

Primary Research

Three focus groups (of eight members each) were chosen for each of the high-and low-involvement brands. The first focus group comprised of people who had purchased the brands under study. The second had those who bought a competitor brand and the third consisted of a mix of people (four each), who purchased the brand under study and also the competitor brand. This was done to facilitate discussion with respect to the attributes that buyers sought while making a purchase decision. Besides, in-depth interviews were done with managers from BPL, Britannia and Volvo (automobiles). The primary research was conducted to further probe the hypotheses built through secondary research. (A complete list of factors is given at the end of the chapter).

High-and Low-involvement Products

High and low-involvement products can be defined variously. For the purpose of the study, however, four major factors—price, purchase intervals, perceived risk and personal/emotional involvement—will form the basis for the definition. Products with high prices, higher perceived risk, high purchase intervals and high emotional involvement are high-involvement products. Products with lower prices and perceived risk, lesser purchase intervals and lower personal involvement can be defined as low-involvement products. Automobiles, watches and refrigerators were chosen as product categories in the high-involvement category based on the above definition and laundry detergents, breakfast cereals and jeans were put in the low-involvement categories.

Selection of Global Brands and their Marketing Mix—Entry Strategies in the Indian Context

High-involvement products and low-involvement global brands were selected for analysis. The following brands were studied in the high-involvement categories:


Swatch, the flagship brand of the 3.6 billion Swiss francs Swatch group, has embarked upon an aggressive marketing plan, and gradually built its presence in the Indian watch market. Swatch has a strong presence in the international market and is successful in a number of markets, including the United States of America and Japan. The strategy of Swatch in the US market reflects an interesting combination of marketing mix strategies. The product is unique in design, uses transparent cases, mirror dials and plastic dials. It comprises only 50 components and huge economies of scale have been achieved by low-cost production. Thus Swatch watches are very affordable in the international market. Compared with other designer watches, Swatch is priced low in the international markets. Close to 70 per cent of its sales come from the low-end market, and only 30 per cent from the high-end segment. Manufacturing and assembly is done in Switzerland. Swatch has distribution networks in most medium-end retail stores as well as exclusive outlets. It is promoted as a stylish, affordable watch that makes a unique design and fashion statement.

The Brand’s Indian Entry  Swatch has carefully adopted a very different strategy for the Indian market. The changes it made in terms of the marketing mix elements are:

Product:  Swatch found that the average Indian is a thrifty consumer and seeks value for money even in luxury items. It has made attempts to slash its costs even more to keep prices lower. So, Swatch is doing its assembly in India. The countries where it outsources its assembly are Brazil, India and China. The latest Swatch collections will be available in India as and when they are launched in international markets. Currently, Swatch markets its international productline in India. Due to the cultural differences, however, it is working with designers to develop Indian themes for its products.

Price:  Swatch prices range between Rs 1500 and Rs 5000—at par with Titan, the market leader. However, even this price range is considered high in India. This is in contrast to global markets where Swatch prices are considered affordable. Clearly, the target segment in India is different from the one overseas.

Place:  Swatch entered the Indian market with a strong focus on building top-of-line distribution, beginning with the prominent metropolitan cities and gradually reaching the state capitals. Thanks to its aggressive focus, Swatch has quickly built an admirable presence in over 60 outlets in the top cities, with two exclusive stores in Delhi and Mumbai. It has entered into alliances with Shopper’s Stop and Planet M and has gained exclusive presence in stores like VAMA, Eternia, Benzer in Mumbai and Ebony in Delhi. The key difference is that Swatch in India has its distribution outlets in the upper-end segment, as against the mid-priced outlets that it uses overseas.

Promotion:  Swatch’s promotion strategy is based on a phenomenon unique to the Indian market—it aims at being an aspirational product and concentrates on building itself as a brand which gives the consumer an “international experience”.

The target segment of Swatch worldwide has been the youth or the young at heart. However, its high prices in India define its target segment differently in India. It has widened its target segment to include trendy and product-conscious women and working men as well, who prefer casuals at times, and want a watch to go with their Allen Sollys or Color Plus. Its target segment is Indian families with incomes more than Rs. 50,000 per month. This puts Swatch at the very high-end of the market. Culturally, there is a marked difference in communication. While Swatch is positioned as an individual expression the world over, it uses festivals times like Diwali and Durga Puja when people spend more in its communication campaigns in India.


In the Korean market, Hyundai’s Atoz (what is Santro in its Indian avatar) competes with Daewoo’s Matiz. However, the results in the Korean market are quite different as compared to the Indian market. The Matiz far outsells the Atoz in Korea and other Asian countries. In India, however, the Santro has notched up far higher sales compared to the Matiz. The “tall boy” design and excellent service of the company in India has augmented the brand significantly. The brand has gained considerably from the positive word of mouth in a short period of time. It is about almost two decades since Maruti redefined the passenger car in the Indian context, where it is the leading automobile brand. Santro has achieved considerable success in the “small” segment defined in the price range between Rs 3–6 lakh. Santro’s strategy illustrates well how an MNC brand, virtually unknown in the Indian context, has succeeded by providing value to the target segment in spite of limited distribution as compared to Maruti. The brand also effectively used celebrity endorsement in conjunction with the “value” proposition in its communication.

The Brand’s Indian Entry  Hyundai made the following changes in its marketing mix elements for its Indian entry:

Product:  Hyundai specifically designed Santro for the Indian market after intensive research into the tastes of Indian consumers. The factors that came out clearly and dominantly in the research: price, space, performance, comfort and safety. Considering that a small car can have only that much space, Hyundai concluded that the only way to make its car look spacious was to increase the height. That also gave Santro a radically different look. In consonance with the poor quality Indian fuel, Hyundai changed the MPFI (multifuel point injection) calibrations and reprogrammed the engine control unit. While most manufacturers are moving to four valves (for performance), Hyundai retained the three-valve cylinder for trade-off between power and economy. It correctly understood the Indian consumers in that economy matters more to them. Bearing in mind the Indian traffic conditions, Hyundai gave Santro a higher torque at lower rpm, which means fewer changes in slow traffic.

Price:  Santro staged a pricing coup of sorts by pricing its basic version at just Rs 2.93 lakh, only Rs 49,000 over the Maruti 800 cc, in spite of it being a 1000 cc car in the same class as the Zen. The company correctly understood the Indian consumer as being price-conscious, interested primarily in the value for money option.

Place:  Hyundai has an existing network of 70 dealers, who have invested close to Rs 300 crore. Transporters have done their bit to rev up the supply chain to get Santro on to the roads. Hyundai claims that a large number of its dealers are either MBAs or engineers. It argues that this has helped in providing the brand with credibility and a positive word of mouth. This, perhaps, is evident in the fact that almost 40 per cent of Santro’s sales come through referrals. Specific to the Indian culture, even for high-involvement products like automobiles, a positive word of mouth or referrals play an important role in a purchase decision.

Promotion:  The one thing that worked best for Santro is its promotion, especially its advertising campaign featuring film celebrity Shah Rukh Khan. Due to the unique cultural traits of Indian society with its stress on trust and people, peripheral cues such as celebrity endorsement acquire more importance than central cues such as information about the product and cognitive knowledge about it. Santro effectively used the film celebrity to build a rapport with consumers, and then talk about the benefits of the car. Thus, the first stage in Santro’s promotion was building trust. Subsequently, they reinforced the trust with comparative benefits which established the supremacy of Santro over other cars. However, they were careful in not comparing Santro with Indica, which was riding high on the nationalistic sentiment (because of the ethnocentrism of the Indian consumers).


Whirlpool, born in the USA, has today established a global presence. It moved aggressively into Europe when it purchased a 53 per cent stake in the appliance line of Philips. It followed the same model when it arrived in India, doing a joint venture with the TVS group. The success of the brand in India has been largely due to the research the company did with regard to the cultural differences between the developed markets and the Indian market. Cultural differences in such categories (like refrigerators and other durable appliances) show up in terms of expectations about the product, usage of the product under specific conditions (like the type of foods consumed, beliefs and preferences about how they should be preserved in the case of refrigerators) and the perceived value of the product. Whirlpool introduced flexible chambers in its refrigerator, which can be used to store food in accordance with the volume of different kinds of food. It advertised that its refrigerator can make ice really fast, which is one of the basic expectations from a fridge in the Indian context. The advertisement also introduced a status appeal in communicating the benefit of making ice quickly. This status appeal resonated well with the urban Westernised markets of India. The company also revamped its distribution structure and created the appropriate “pull” which was in synchronisation with its “push” strategy.

The Brand’s Indian Entry  Whirlpool’s marketing mix elements were changed for the Indian context to the following manner:

Product:  Whirlpool manufactures washing machines and refrigerators in India. It has an R&D centre in India, where top-loading washing machines are designed specifically for the Indian market. It has also designed refrigerators to cater to Indian conditions. For example, its refrigerator can take heavy variations in voltage—a condition peculiar to India. Whirlpool imports its products for most Asian markets. But it manufactures them in India to avoid tariff barriers (25–30 per cent), which will jack up its cost and therefore, the price of its products.

Price:  Whirlpool products are priced competitively, particularly in the Indian market where the consumers are extremely cautious while making a big purchase. It has also launched a zero-interest finance scheme to penetrate the washing machine market. It is important to note here that the Indian consumer tends to postpone buying high priced purchases. This is in sharp contrast to the American buyer who decides easily. Thus, an added incentive in the form of a zero interest loan succeeds in attracting the consumer to make a purchase.

Place:  In terms of distribution, the Indian market is rather spread as against the US market, where retail sales are split evenly between Sears (33 per cent), major national dealers (33 per cent) and smaller local shops (the remaining 33 per cent). In India, Whirlpool initially partnered with TVS to leverage its distribution strengths, and currently has a distribution network of 4500 dealers throughout the country. Whirlpool expands this network by adding about 300 to 500 dealers every year.

Promotion:  It may be worthwhile to consider the strategy used by Whirlpool, namely, the application of cultural values to advertising in the durable category. Whirlpool has made extremely good use of its understanding of the Indian consumer by launching promotions catering to the specific cultural traits of the consumers. Its advertising campaigns are not product centric. Instead, they seek to promote emotional benefits, which is what the Indian consumer can closely relate to. Whirlpool uses the “feel-do-learn” advertising model in India as against the “learn-feel-do” model in the US. In the former, the brand first concentrates on building a relationship with the consumer, and then on the benefits of the product. In a collectivist, feminine and traditionalist society like India, the feel-do-learn model works better because Indians place a premium on building trust. Whirlpool, in this model, uses family settings in consonance with the collectivist nature of the society. The woman in their ads is the hub of the family, and whether it is super clean washing or making ice “real fast”, she is the “magician”. Cognitive performance attributes and product benefits take the backseat in such communication. In fact, a major reason behind the success of Whirlpool is its ability to connect with the value of its consumers.

Low-Involvement Products

Levi Strauss

To begin with, Levi Strauss was a major failure when it was launched in India in 1995 as its high prices and sparse distribution network put off their target segment. Levi’s was the first American jeans and has retained its status as the most favuored jeans brand, except for brief phases now and then. Levi Strauss pioneered jeans in the world and today it has extended its product-line to include new brands like the Dockers clothing line, Wide Legs, 501’s and women’s jeans as well. The brand is priced at the upper end of the jeans market and commands this price by virtue of being the first jeans brand in the market. This, obviously, gives it a unique positioning advantage. However, its prices are comparable to the other brands as well. Levi’s has a strong distribution network in the US. It has had to reposition itself because it was beginning to get trapped in an “old fashioned” mould. It is an image oriented repositioning wherein it stands for individualism and freedom to recapture its original “glory” as a “cool” jeans brand among the youth. The advertisements have become much bolder so they can appeal to the youth. The stress is still on the original American conception of the Levi’s as the jeans of the cowboys, builders and rebels. The target segment includes both the young and the young at heart, irrespective of their age.

Levi’s came very late to Japan. By the time, many brands had already entered the market and positioned themselves as the original American jeans. So, Levi’s positioned itself as the legendary American jeans with the theme “Heroes Wear Levi’s”, featuring clips of cult figures, such as James Dean, who were popular in Japan. Since the Japanese society is primarily “other directed” in nature, and Hollywood stars have a unique aspirational appeal, the positioning went down well with the Japanese. As a means of promotion in Japan, Levi’s changed its standard communication and positioning of a “freedom-ofexpression” and individualistic wear to a more acceptable level of social orientation. Also, the subtle humour in American advertisements is absent in the Japanese campaign reaffirming the supposition that cultural values, including humour, cannot be universally transferred.

In India, the brands also mention the price (it has introduced offerings below Rs 1000) to combat the perception that the brand is very expensive. This is likely to increase the store traffic.

The Brand’s Indian Entry  The brand’s Indian entry was preceded by the following changes in the marketing mix elements:

Product:  Levi’s launched only jeans to begin with, but has now followed up with other productlines like Dockers and 501’s. Levi’s had the advantage of being known as the original jeans brand, when it was launched. However, it soon lost the advantage because of incorrect choices of the other marketing mix elements.

Place:  Levi’s was launched only in 27 exclusive retail outlets initially. However, this scared away most teenagers since they thought that the jeans would be very expensive. Since 80 per cent of the Indian market comprises teenagers, Levi’s had to rethink its strategy. It decided to use multibrand outlets like Blues Bizaar or Shopper’s Stop, and increase the number of outlets to 70 in 1999 itself. It has now doubled its outlets. At one point of time, the company was concentrating only on the Original Levi’s stores with additional distribution through about 30-odd Weekender outlets.

Price:  Levi’s was positioned initially as the “aspirational” American jeans, priced at Rs 2000 plus. But the cultural uniqueness of the Indian consumer is that howsoever aspirational a product might be, he/she still seeks value for money. The Indian consumer shunned the jeans at this price and Levi’s had to introduce jeans at lower prices. It now has jeans in the price range Rs 995 and Rs 2,295.

Promotion:  All Levi’s advertisements promoting the Rs 995 range feature women prominently. This is because the core buyer of Levi’s are men who are extremely brand conscious and believe that wearing Levi’s puts them in an exclusive club. Women, on the other hand, form just 20 per cent of its buyers. If Levi’s promotes the low-priced jeans, the brand conscious male, who is the core buyer as defined by Levi’s, may simply dump the brand if he thinks Levi’s is becoming less exclusive. Levis is still an aspirational brand to him and he would not want to lose it.

More importantly, the cultural differences between the Indian and Western societies stand out clearly in the advertising campaigns. India is, perhaps, one of the few countries in the world where Levi’s is not standardising its advertisements. The brand subsequently launched a new campaign with Indian elements, like local trains and dhobis, to appeal to the family-oriented, collectivist and ethnocentric nature of this society.


Surf is one of the leading detergent brands of Unilever, and has been successful in various cultures and countries. In India, a higher-priced variant of Surf – Surf Excel – has been launched apart from Surf. That too has been successful. Surf has been a household name for the last several decades, ever since detergent powders were introduced in the country. While a huge market for washing soaps still exists in India, Surf has, over the years, uccessfully sold the concept of powdered detergents despite the fact that the market for compact detergents like Surf Excel is still a small niche in the country. Whiteness was the pioneering proposition of the brand drawn from the cultural belief that the test of powder lies in the whiteness of clothes. The brand faced stiff competition from Nirma in the late eighties, a value-based detergent powder which created discontinuity at the lower end of the market offering itself at a price strikingly lower than that of Surf. Surf responded by running the “Lalitaji” campaign. This character was the stereotypical Indian middle class housewife. The campaign captured the cultural flavours of haggling to get the best in commodity purchases—a cultural behaviour associated with Indians in almost all parts of the country. The advertisement positioned Surf as an offering which washed more with far less (powder) than any other competitive brand and that a smart housewife like “Lalitaji” would choose Surf over all else. This was a typical example which used in its communication a common cultural trait. The brand continues to hold a significant market share in the category closely competing with Nirma. Surf has also used its equity to launch higher-priced variants like Surf Excel and Surfomatic.

The Brand’s Indian Entry  Since we have already discussed Surf, let us look at the marketing mix elements for Surf Excel:

Product:  Surf Excel is available in India in a solid-scented powder form. The powder is crystal-white with flakes of blue thrown in good measure to indicate the presence of blue (traditionally used by housewives). The flakes of blue are primarily there to keep the Indian housewife’s belief that her detergent contains blue. This is because India is rooted in tradition and the housewife still believes that the traditional methods of cleaning are relatively more effective.

Price  : Surf Excel is priced in the premium segment of detergents at Rs 140 per kg while Ariel is priced slightly higher at Rs 155 per kg. The mid-priced variant of Surf (Surf Fluffy) is priced at Rs 80 per kg, and is in competition with another Lever brand called Rin.

Place:  Surf Excel uses the well entrenched network of Hindustan Lever Limited, which ensures its distribution in every corner of the country. The customer-base of Surf Excel is mostly in the urban metros and other big cities, called Socio-Economic Classes A and B.

Promotion:  Both Surf Excel and Ariel are positioned as stain removers, but what really sets the former apart is its promotional activities, specifically advertising. Surf Excel correctly captures the Indian cultural traits of collectivism towards family, tradition and femininity in its advertising campaigns. These are tailored completely to suit the Indian consumer. Beginning with “Lalitaji”, down to its present punch-line “Surf Excel hai naa”, the campaigns for the brand have struck the right cord with the consumers. The campaigns are drawn from the Indian values of family and nurturing, and children have always been part of most of its advertisements.

Peripheral cues acquire a lot of significance in low involvement products like detergents. Surf Excel has gained an entry into the consumer’s mind on the basis of the emotional benefits it offers. Since India is, essentially, a collectivist society, housewives are shown to receive appreciation from their husbands and families when the clothes are washed properly. The advertisements also use the “other directed” nature of Indians by showing a man more successful at work or receiving greater acceptance by others due to cleaner clothes etc.


Kellogg is a leading food products company based in Battle Creek, Michigan. The company produces a wide variety of ready-to-eat cereals and other food products. In India, it makes cereals from three types of grains – corn, wheat and basmati rice – and has launched its Frosties and Cornflakes line of products. The brand’s entry in India drives home interesting points in marketing new foods to a specific culture, one of which is that eating habits need to be changed rather than making a direct attempt to market any new food. This is because eating habits are a strong part of any culture and care should be taken to ensure the brand does not alienate itself from the consumers in the process of marketing itself. It is difficult to think of a successful food brand in the Indian context other than Maggi noodles. It is interesting to look at the positioning of Maggi vis-á-vis Kellogg’s. Maggi positioned itself for children as a fun snack which could be made in “two-minutes”. The brand was very successful in the eighties as the positioning also had an impact on urban mothers, who had a number of chores to do and were also concerned about a snack for their kids some time in the day. Most importantly, from the point of view of culture, the brand never tried to alter the existing habits of consumers by positioning itself as a substitute. Kellogg’s positioned itself as a healthy breakfast substitute. It also slammed the oily foods which have ruled the country palate for generations as unhealthy. This proved to be “anticultural” in terms of selling the concept. That Indians liked their milk hot even in cornflakes, never mind if it made them soggy, only complicated things for Kelloggs. The price was too high for this new “substitute”. Most of those who bought the brand did not buy it again. So, the repeat buy for the brand was low. All in all, Kellogg’s strongly back-fired. Cultural beliefs, more than logic, have to be addressed especially in categories like snacks, fast foods or any product with a new taste (“new” as perceived by consumers in a cultural setting). The brand has, in the recent times, introduced its offerings in low-price variants and some of them in ethnic flavours.

Interestingly, the brand has introduced biscuits in an apparent bid to return to the market through children after its earlier positioning as an alternative breakfast failed with Indians.

The Brand’s Indian Entry

Product: Kellogg’s cereals in India consist of Cornflakes and Frosties. Indians have strongly entrenched beliefs and preferences with regard to food. Their preferred breakfast comprises parathas with fillings of sattu, potatoes or cauliflower. To stay on the right side of Indian tastes, Kellogg is selling cereals made from corn, wheat and basmati rice. But Indian breakfast habits being what they are, Kellogg has faced strong resistance to its products, particularly because it seeks to change these habits. Characteristic of Indian breakfast habits is that they like to have their meals with hot milk. Besides, Kellogg’s positioning on crustiness loses its meaning because the flakes get soggy in warm milk, which is what Indians prefer.

Price:  The initial pricing of Kellogg’s products was an exact equivalent of dollar to rupee (conversion) pricing. Kellogg’s packs which were priced at Rs 40 for a 500 gm pack were 80 per cent more expensive than their Indian counterparts. Consumers lapped up the product to begin with, attractive package. But soon they, particularly the lady of the house, realised that it did not provide value for money. No housewife wants or can even afford to spend Rs 40 every two or three days. They switched to local brands like Mohun’s, or stopped eating cornflakes at all.

Of late, Kellogg has realised that it had failed in the pricing strategy. The consumer’s perception was that Kellogg did not provide value for money.

Place:  Kellogg has restructured its distribution network right now. To begin with, it has decided to concentrate on building the network in urban centers and metros.

Promotion:  The brand has positioned itself as a fat-free alternative to Indian breakfast for both adults and children. It is also positioning itself as a wholesome diet for children, establishing itself on the energy platform. Its communication strategy is based on the mother–child relationship, which is, perhaps, of utmost importance in Indian culture, and on the values of nurturing and caring. Thus, the communication shows a mother feeding Kellogg’s to her children. This is in contrast to Kellogg’s strategy in the US where providing cognitive information regarding breakfast cereals, particularly the nutritional value of Kellogg’s, is primary. The same marketing strategy has been applied in most European countries where product benefits, details of quantity and content of fat, proteins and carbohydrates is what people look for when they buy cereals.

Analysis from Primary Research

Specific Brand-related Factors All the six brands in the secondary research were analyzed in the focus group discussion and in-depth interviews. The following key factors have emerged therefrom:

Swatch:  The single most important factor that is responsible for the success of Swatch has been the product. Swatch is stylishly designed to cater to the Indian youth/young at heart and the respondents seemed to identify with it. The respondents also felt that the product gave them value for money.

Levi Strauss:  Due to its initial marketing blunder, Levi Strauss is still perceived as very high-priced jeans. The respondents viewed jeans as being a low-involvement purchase, and are not willing to spend a lot of money on it. However, Levi’s positioning as an all-American jeans appeals to the aspirational needs of the youth.

Santro:  Santro’s advertising has been singularly successful. The respondents had a high recall and the advertising influences their purchase decision. This reinforces the role of celebrities in India. A celebrity is required even in a high-involvement purchase like automobiles to create a relationship with the consumer before the product attributes can be enlisted.

Kellogg:  According to the respondents, Kellogg is rather expensive, and once again, they were not willing to spend that much money for a low-involvement purchase like cereal. They were divided in their opinion as to whether they would replace their “traditional” breakfast with the new cereal. They also felt that Indian breakfast is more nutritious. It was clear from their response that food habits among Indians are deeply entrenched and almost all of them resisted the changeover.

Surf:  The respondents preferred Surf over other detergents, because of the relationship that Surf has established with its consumers. They were unanimous in saying that Surf stands for a bond of trust, which Ariel has not been able to forge with consumers.

Whirlpool:  The respondents were drawn towards the brand’s family-oriented communication and its positive features, which were perceived to be in tune with the needs of the Indian consumers. The feeling of trust and warmth generated by the advertisements that featured the “lady of the house” also helped in enhancing the family orientation.

Global vs Local Brands

Of the six brands—Surf, Swatch, Whirlpool, Santro, Kellogg and Levi Strauss the respondents only knew of the last three as global brands. They felt that a brand being local or global impacts their purchase decision in a low-involvement product like detergents. A global apparel brand stands for better quality, lifestyle and has more aspirational value than a local brand. In high-involvement technology-oriented products, the consumer is deeply affected by a global brand. He/she relies on the specific associations he/she has with that country when buying the brand. For example, the Japanese are associated with developments in technology and high quality. Hence, a Japanese product is synonymous with technological superiority. Similarly, the West is known for its style and fashion. Hence, the consumer associates products from the West with greater style and fashion consciousness. Consumer ethnocentrism plays an important role as most respondents were very emphatic about patriotism. They felt that patriotism is a value that every Indian should have, and the consumers would easily accept any brand which rides the “nationalistic” wave.

Individualism vs Collectivism

The responses obtained from the focus group discussion clearly show a distinct pattern of collectivist thoughts and concerns of the respondents. On almost all the factors being tested for individualistic versus collectivist content, the respondents scored very highly on the latter. The distinct patterns obtained are:

  1. In almost all purchase decisions made in high involvement products, the family makes the purchase collectively by taking into account the views of friends/relatives etc. In some of the purchases, the decision maker did not personally like the product. But he/she purchased it because family, friends and relatives were for buying it.
  2. The respondents clearly stated that they valued relationships a lot, and that was perhaps, the single most important feature in their lives, even more than their ambitions and desires.


The focus group discussion revealed a high degree of family orientation among the respondents, though it did vary with age. However, family values came across as the dominant factor in an individual’s life. The key factors that emerged were:

  1. Most of the respondents lived in nuclear families, but had a lot of affection for their relatives.
  2. The respondents said they made it a point to meet/exchange greetings and gifts with their relatives/friends on occasions like Diwali and Holi.
  3. The immediate family – or the family that an individual lives in– was very important in the respondent’s purchase decisions for high-involvement products. The safety, concerns and needs of the family were considered while making such purchases. They were willing to sample and try low-involvement products on their own but also paid some thought to the family’s views. The respondents said that they preferred to discuss the relative merits/demerits of a brand if their purchase decision was different from that of their family even if they are fully convinced of their choice.


The views of the respondents clearly pointed to the feminine aspect of the Indian society.

  1. The respondents clearly said that the dominant value which governed their lives was care and trust rather than success and ambition.
  2. The respondents preferred communication, which included expressing feelings and emotions, though product attributes were also significant.


The respondents appreciated convenience in high-involvement products. These were technology-intensive products and the respondents were not very comfortable with technology. They expected the products to be easy to use. They were, however, divided in their response for low-involvement products. Some wanted convenience and others, performance. For example, some of the respondents preferred Kellogg’s cornflakes because they were easy and a convenient substitute for breakfast. However, the others felt that it lacked nutrition and preferred a more wholesome breakfast even if it took more time. Traditional remedies did impact the consumer’s mind though scientific evidence was also important. Most respondents accepted time-tested remedies as useful.

Other-directed vs Inner-directed

The respondents clearly stated that the views/ideas/thoughts of others had a significant role in their purchase decisions. They preferred to purchase products/brands, which others had recommended, and wanted very much the approval of others for what they had bought.

Celebrity Usage and Attitude Towards an Advertisement

It emerged from the focus group discussion that celebrities had a significant impact on the purchase decisions. In high-involvement products, celebrities established a relationship with the brand for the consumers, though the purchase decision was influenced by product attributes. In low-involvement products, celebrities helped increase the recall value of the brand in the advertisement. The choice of celebrity and his/her association with the product attribute was rated as very important in high-involvement products. An interesting feature that came up in the analysis was that the respondents remembered the advertisement more than they did the product attributes explained in it. They could recall, specifically, the mood and emotions in the advertisement rather than the product attributes.

Observations on Certain Cultural Aspects

The researchers identified a set of cultural traits unique to India, which were different from those elsewhere in Asia, the US and Europe. Any company, which intended to launch a brand in India, should take into account the following cultural traits to formulate its marketing strategy.


Indians have a marked collectivist culture as both primary and secondary research shows. Thus, the purchase decisions of Indians express collective concerns rather than individual ones. Further, collectivists tend to value relationships. The role of friends, family, relatives and others is very important in the purchase decisions. This is in contrast to the Western society, where individualism rules the day. Indians mostly reject things of individualistic concern. This trait, then, translates into their preference for product communication. Indians prefer communication which shows the effect of a product on a group of people rather an individual in both high and low-involvement categories.


Family and relationships are very important to Indians. Their purchase decisions are influenced greatly by the family sacrificing personal tastes or choice. The safety, concern and needs of the family are most important while purchasing a high-involvement product.


The Indian society is dominantly feminine in nature, with the dominant values being nurturing, care and trust rather than success and ambition. This prefers communication, which display a lot of feelings and emotions.


In contrast with the Western society, which is future-oriented, India is a traditionalist society. Indians still believe in traditions and in old remedies. A product which positions/communicates the value of tradition has a good chance of making it. This also reveals the Indian values of care, rather than ambition and aggression.


Convenience is appreciated in high-involvement products. These are technology-intensive and the respondents were not very comfortable with technology. Hence they expected the products to be easy-to-use and operate technologically. Even more importantly, in positioning strategies the Indian consumer is affected more by communication which intends to build a relationship with the consumer rather than talk about product attributes.


In India, the views/ideas/thoughts of others have a very significant role in their purchase decisions. The Indian consumers prefer to purchase products/brands, which have been recommended by others, and are very conscious of the approval of others in the purchase decisions. This is evident in the fact that repurchase in India is based more on advertising, rather than the satisfaction level with the product itself. The consumers need re-enforcement of their purchase decisions through advertising.

Neo-Lifestyle Orientation

Even though India has opened up a great deal to Western influences and way of life, there is still a tendency to reject the latter. Any communication, which tries to create an aspirational value for the brand based on Western permissiveness, runs the risk of alienating the Indian consumer.

Consumer Ethnocentrism

Consumer ethnocentrism plays an important role, as most Indians are very emphatic on the values of patriotism. They believe that patriotism is a value that every Indian should have, and the consumers would eagerly accept any brand, which rides on the nationalistic sentiment. A local/global brand has an impact on their purchase decision in a low-involvement product like detergents. In apparel, the impact of a global brand is that it signals a better quality, lifestyle and aspirational value than a local brand. In high-involvement technology oriented products, the consumer is very deeply affected by the brand being global and he relies on his image of specific associations with a country in his purchase decision. For example, the Japanese are associated with developments in technology and high quality, and hence a Japanese product is synonymously associated with technological superiority. Similarly, the West is known for its style and fashion statements and hence the consumer associates products from the West with greater style and fashion consciousness.

The Framework

A framework on cultural aspects and branding can be formulated as given below. It may further be repesented as shown in Figure 4.1.

Ritualistic Masses  Low-involvement products like detergents and food categories strongly reflect entrenched Indian cultural traits like “value” -based buying (detergents) or eating habits which are part of a country’s collective habit/belief. MNC brands should position themselves on “value” in categories like detergents, and, perhaps use “family” (in the form of benefits to the family by using the brand) in their communication. The objective is to provide value and create emotional linkages which reinforce feelings and emotions common to the culture. In categories like food or beverages, MNC brands should not position their offerings as a substitute for existing offerings (as Kellogg did when it came to India). The brands in such categories can position themselves as snacks to be eaten along with the existing offerings. Creativity in positioning involves creating linkages between existing foods and the MNC offerings in terms of “taste combinations” as perceived by consumers. Pricing should be comparable with existing offerings and the distribution strategy should ensure that the MNC offerings (like cereals which may be new to most consumers) are displayed in shops along with the traditional ones. This will create a perception that the new offering belongs to the existing product category and also result in a subsequent trial. Sales promotion should be attempted (preferably with existing offerings) to initiate trials. Given the strong links with old habits, an ethnocentric approach may be effective. An MNC brand can position itself as an offering it has exclusively developed for the Indian consumer.


Figure 4.1 Branding and Cultural Dimensions.


Global Followers There can be certain products like jeans that may be of “passing involvement” (which cannot be categorised under heavy involvement). The involvement in these categories ( Jeans or sunglasses) is mainly because of their Western orientation and their ability to make a “fashion statement” (symbolic involvement). But this can, and often does change with time. MNC brands have to also ensure that the fashion-oriented communication is not perceived as permissive. These brands also have to launch offerings at the lower end of the productline for the affordability of consumers, and ensure that distribution costs do not jack up the prices. The ability of MNC brands to create a “fashionable but affordable” perception holds the key to success.

Glamour Trialists  MNC brands operating in durables like automobiles or watches may be low on cultural orientation but still be high-involvement categories. This may mean two things—either the product category is low on cultural orientation and high on value (like Swatch) or it is lower on cultural orientation compared to its functional attributes. Santro, for example, can have a “peripheral cultural orientation” as reflected by the celebrity communication, which may bring the brand into the consideration set of consumers. But the final success of the brand depends on functional attributes, and is possible only if they have been adapted to the Indian context.

Hardcore Culturists  There can be certain high-involvement categories like refrigerators and washing machines which may appeal to consumers if (a) a high degree of value is provided through some new features developed for the Indian context (which contribute to convenience); (b) such offerings are competitively priced in a way that consumers perceive value for money even if these are not at lower price points; and (c) the marketing communication reflects a high degree of cultural orientation (like the feeling of warmth, focus on the family’s well-being), and addresses women who exert considerable influence over purchase decisions). Whirlpool adopted this approach in India. Another MNC brand, LG, which holds about 37 per cent of the market share (leader) in the premium segment of refrigerators (above 300 litres), also followed the value-based approach (value at a higher price point with the stateof-the-art features) and its communication highlighted the health benefit to the family.

The framework and methodology used provides an approach which can be adapted to several product categories.

Complete List of Factors Tested Through Focus Group Discussions and In-depth Interviews

  1. Specific brand-related factors
    1. Why did you choose this brand? Did someone refer it to you/where did you first hear about it?
    2. Do you think it is reasonably priced?
    3. Do you think its quality is good/as per your requirements?
    4. Was it easily available?
    5. What do you think of its advertsing? Do you remember the advertisement? What features do you remember of it?
    6. Reiterate the one single factor which stood out when you bought this brand?
    7. What about the competitor brand (Check on all 4 P’s)? Why did you not buy it?
    8. Under what conditions will you buy the competitor brand? How can they make the brand more desirable to you? What particular feature can they change to make you purchase it? (Once again concentrate on all the 4 P’s to evaluate which element of the marketing mix should be altered).
  2. Global brand vs Local brand
    1. Are you aware that this brand is not Indian in origin?
    2. If yes, does it have any impact on your purchase decision?
    3. If no, what are your feelings, now that you know?
    4. What are the images that go through your mind when you hear about a global brand vis-á-vis a local brand—better/lesser quality?
    5. Do you feel any emotional relationship with a local brand—of patriotism, care, trust etc?
  3. Cultural factors
    1. Individualism vs Collectivism
      1. Who do you consider most important in your purchase decision—the opinion/comforts/conveniences of others or yourself?
      2. What is the kind of communication that appeals to you—the one that shows people or the one that concentrates on the individual?
      3. Is your success and ambition more important to you or your family?
      4. Do you value your relationships a lot? If yes, will you uphold them even at your own cost?
    2. Family-orientation
      1. Do you live in a joint/nuclear family?
      2. What are the things you usually do together as a family?
      3. Is festival time special to you? Do you purchase gifts for your family/celebrate festivals with your family?
      4. Was your purchase decision influenced by your concerns/ opinions of your family?
      5. Do you like communication which shows rebelliousness?
      6. Do you like communication which shows care for the family as a dominant value?
      7. Do you and your family often shop together? If yes, which places do you visit and what products do you buy together?
      8. How important is your family in most of your crucial decisions?
      9. Do you check the safety of the products you buy for another’s usage and consumption?
      10. Do you have the same sense of belongingness to your close friends as to your family?
      11. How often do you give and receive gifts from your family?
      12. Will you use a brand recommended by a member of your family – simply based on the sense of belonging – or discuss the relative merits/demerits of the brand?
    3. Masculinity Vs Feminity

      Given a choice, will you prefer care as the dominant virtue or success and ambition? To what extent do you like feelings and emotions to be portrayed in advertisements?

    4. Time orientation
      1. Do you prefer buying futuristic products which promise to take you closer to the future?
      2. To what extent do you think convenience matters, both in low-involvement and high-involvement products?
      3. Do you prefer products that are based on time-tested, traditional ideologies or those based more on scientific evidence?
    5. Other-directed Vs Inner-directed
      1. Does the opinion of others make a lot of difference in your purchase decisions?
      2. Which are the products for which other’s opinions make a lot of difference?
      3. You have bought a product and are satisfied with its comfort and performance. But the others do not look upon it favourably. Will this alter your subsequent purchase decision?
      4. Who matters most in your purchase decision—family, friends, peer group etc?
    6. Celebrity-usage and Attitude towards an Advertisement
      1. Can you recall some current advertisements?
      2. Do you think celebrities should be used in advertisements?
      3. Are you impacted positively/negatively by a celebrity in an advertisement?
      4. Name some brands. Do you recall the product features, as displayed in the advertisement? What are the features of the brand that you remember? What do you remember about the advertisement?
    7. Neo-lifestyle Orientation
      1. Will you accept the typical lifestyle of Westerners?
      2. Do you believe that married women should be encouraged to pursue professions of their choice (rather than live as stereotypical housewives)?
      3. Do you feel that the present generation should marry irrespective of cultural/social/religious/nationality barriers?
      4. Do you think that anyone in your immediate social circle should feel free to live the life he/she chooses if it does not interfere with others (even if it is not in tune with cultural practices)?

For In-depth Interviews with Company Heads

  1. What are the factors you considered when you launched this brand in the Indian market?
  2. What are the factors on which the launch strategy differed from global markets—in terms of product, price, place and promotion?
  3. Which seasons do your sales peak in?
  4. Which cultural factors, do you think, are specific to the Indian context—ask about each of the cultural factors mentioned above?
  5. What do you think your brand could have done differently at the launch stage itself?



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