If the unorganized sector were to be included in the audit and ranking of industries, the category of religion would no doubt be top-of-the-heap. By the way, anyone care to place a valuation on brand Mecca, Tirupati or Lourdes? These and other eye-opening thoughts are triggered in the reader’s mind when reading For God’s Sake by M. G. Parameswaran or Ambi, as he is known in the advertising industry in India.
Before I go on, I must make a confession. I have always had a personal discomfort with religion occupying center stage in many commercial endeavours. After reading For God’s Sake, I now have a more balanced outlook on the subject. And therein lies the value of the book!
To a purist, it might seem that the sanctity of religion should be protected from the long hand of business in some sort of holy enclave. Fact of the matter though is where there is life and the nurturing of it, it is inevitable that a supply chain exists. Priests, too have to be clothed and fed. Someone manufactures the accoutrements used for rituals of worship. Then there is a whole industry supplying the faithful with statues of beloved Gods to protect and comfort in their homes, offices, cars or their persons.
What Ambi has done in For God’s Sake is to examine how the religion of marketing has embraced the beliefs and desires of the faithful in the course of business. After all, it can be argued that life is, at the end of the day, a matter of faith!
The discipline of marketing is all about identifying consumer needs and thereafter tailoring products and services to fulfill those needs. In India, for example, it’s been a long standing tradition to buy a desired high value item on auspicious occasions such as Dusshera. While marketers have long ridden this wave of buying on such occasions, For God’s Sake covers this phenomena while at the same time examining the other side of the coin.
If there is religion sanctioned consumption, there is also the phenomena of religion dictated black out periods or abstinence. In India, Hindus will not indulge in any ostentatious purchases during the month of Shravan or Marghazai. You could call it a dry period imposed on consumers and the business world. In For God’s Sake, Ambi recounts how some astute retail brands in the South of India have spotted opportunities to persuade consumers to overcome such religious taboos on purchase successfully.
The book is full of other astounding revelations. Let me recount just one tantalizing glimpse here, recounted from the discussion on the marriage market in the book. I have long wondered about the mushrooming of management schools and the lopsided supply being created of debt laden business school graduates. I have spared many a thought of sympathy for the inevitable shattering of dreams when both parents and students find out that campus placement and handsome compensation packages stay within Ivy League campuses for the most part. Well, it appears that I may have wasted my sympathy. It turns out that a large majority of these students are investing in their marriage market prospects in India – either to increase the value of the dowry a man can command or to reduce the expectations of dowry by calculating the lifetime value of earnings an MBA daughter-in-law will bring to the fold!
On the face of it, For God’s Sake is a book that will serve as an invaluable aid to marketers on the role religion plays in successfully marketing brands in India. Read it and you will find it is also much more. Because the book succeeds in demonstrating how business and enterprise can also succeed in overcoming religion dictated consumer behaviour and serve as a catalyst in changing lifestyles.