Raahil Chopra
Aug 17, 2020

India shouldn’t go ‘local’ for the sake of it

ASIA's TOP 1000 BRANDS: Experts state that while going local is the correct option, the prime minister's 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' (self-reliant India) movement shouldn’t lead to a compromise on quality, as it’ll hurt consumers and the country.

India shouldn’t go ‘local’ for the sake of it


With only three Indian brands (Amul, Ola and Big Bazaar) among the top 20 in our ranking of India's top 100 brands, local brands in India have a long way to go if prime minister Narendra Modi’s vision of an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India) is to be achieved.

And experts believe that while there has been a lot of noise in the media about local brands and how the country should be supporting them, brands like Samsung and Nestle that top the list could continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

MullenLowe Lintas Group’s chief strategy officer, S Subramanyeswar, states that a lot of the foreign brands in the top 10 have a lifetime share with consumers in the country, not just market share.

“With the ‘Atmanirbhar’ call, of course, one can make the claim, make a point of emphasising the positive impact that doing business with your ‘Made in India’ brand has on the local economy," he says. "No doubt. But, I guess the Indian consumer has come of age and is smart enough to follow her own will instead of conforming to social expectations as self-reliance. She’ll choose the one that gives her the best solution—value for money and value for experience combined."

The idea of ‘Atmanirbhar’, in Subramanyeswar's mind, is to identify and promote brands and businesses that have the potential to scale up and be globally competitive, not to secure protection from competing with international brands in the domestic market.

S Subramanyeswar

"A lot of international brands aren’t just imported marketing constructs," he argues. "They’re part of the cultural fabric of this country. Think of Surf Excel. Think of Colgate. Think of Maggi. And think of their relationship capital with the Indian audience. They have lifetime share and not just market share. Who would you buy against them?”

Poran Malani, director of operations at S4 Capital India, says that while the policy of Atmanirbhar Bharat has been brought about and accelerated due to Covid, the trend was to look local long before that. "It was about re-designing supply chains and production and not rely[ing] so much on the intra-national organisations which have taken a hit over the last five years," Malani says. "This has been made more and more acute during this crisis, it is now of strategic importance to build self-sufficiency where possible in as many areas as possible.”

When we asked Indian consumers to name the strongest local brands (see below), Tata continues to top the list. Reliance has moved up to second from third place compared to last year, displacing Patanjali, which has fallen to the third spot. Paytm occupied fourth place last year, but has moved out of the top, falling all the way to 39th. Now in fourth place is Amul, followed by MRF Tyres at fifth.

India's strongest local brands

We asked: "What do you think is the strongest local brand in India? By ‘strongest local brand’ we mean a brand that originates from India, has the best reputation and resonates most strongly with those living in this market". The top 10 brands mentioned:

  • Tata
  • Reliance
  • Patanjali
  • Amul
  • MRF Tyres
  • Parle
  • Flipkart
  • Big Bazaar
  • Bajaj
  • D mart 

Malani gives the example of Jio and how Reliance Industries, a local player in the market has looked to partner with global brands by getting investments from Facebook and Google and collaborating to improve its products.

“We must look at where we can compete locally and where we need collaboration," he sayd. "Jio is a great example now. It’s a globally rated brand but even it recognises the need to collaborate with the world’s best. Our local brands must be encouraged to increase R&D, to improve the products so there is no consumer sacrifice on quality when it comes to choice.”

He goes on to state that if Indian brands are protected and promoted for the sake of being local, the country and its consumers will suffer at the end of the day.

Poran Malani

“Yes, of course Indian brands deserve and can take the top spots, but brands are not about monopolies or simply price, they are about quality assurance, innovation and consistency," he adds. "From a brand perspective we must also look at getting closer to where consumers are, we can no longer broadcast our points of view we must learn to engage in existing consumer platforms and tell our stories in a more relevant and accessible way. The change was always coming, it’s just happening a lot faster than anyone had imagined.”

MA Parthasarathy, CEO of Mindshare South Asia, echoes Malani’s point of view and adds that Indian brands will have to work toward making a difference in customers' lives in order to be among the top rands, rather than just resting on the laurels of being local.

“While they may seem obvious, I believe there are certain factors that take a brand to the top," he says. "The first is that it should make a meaningful difference to the customer’s life. The second is authenticity and consistency, which are even more important in times like these. The third is the ability of the brand to successfully evolve over time. While at face value this may seem contradictory to the consistency factor, it actually embellishes it. I definitely see an opportunity for more Indian brands to move into the top. But it will be on the back of the factors above, not just the fact that they are Indian,” he says.

MA Parthasarathy

Subramanyeswar also gives the Jio example to state how the company has garnered a base of 360 million users in less than four years. It now offers a complete portfolio and he's bullish about the brand breaking into the top 10 of the overall top 100 soon.

“With a complete portfolio that ranges from devices to cloud, Jio has transformed the way Indians think, work, live, and are entertained," he says. "In a category that is characterised by dog-eat-dog fights fought on conventional value propositions, Jio believed in ‘giving’ before asking. It may even inspire a Jio in every part of Asia and beyond. Whether a brand features in the top league or not should always be measured by how many people’s lives it has impacted positively. From that count, Jio could be the brand of 2021.”

Campaign Asia

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