Far away from Los Angeles, there is a Hollywood in Bangalore — or Hollywood Town, to be precise. And next to it is Swiss Town. These are both high-end, gated villa-communities in the city. Their websites promise that the properties offer “real international standards.” Bangalore also boasts of apartment complexes named Venezia and Monte Carlo, to name just a few.
Keeping them company are a host of Indian brands — across various categories — all sporting international names. There is Munich Polo (apparel), Da Milano (high-end leather accessories), Titan (watches) and Fiama Di Wills (personal care products), among others.
What makes Indian brands opt for international names? S. Ramesh Kumar, professor of marketing at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIMB), believes that it is a vestige of the era when India was ruled by the British. “India’s British heritage heralded foreign brands like Vicks, Cadbury and Horlicks, and over a period of time the post-independence era’s regulated environment ushered in a glamour that was unique to foreign brands. This glamour associated with foreign brands and changing lifestyles gave an impetus to foreign-sounding names.”
Harish Bijoor, brand-strategy specialist & CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults, points out that international sounding names add allure. “At times you do not understand the brand name, but the mystique and aura about the name is enough to create excitement …. The foreign-sounding name is all about quality cues that are superior to the Indian name, which is about ‘low quality.'” Santosh Desai, managing director and CEO of Future Brands, a brand consulting firm, adds: “In India, we think that the best comes from the West. We believe that the benchmarks are set there. So in order to communicate high standards or quality we use an international sounding name. It’s shorthand for saying that ‘I am not content to be Indian; my benchmark and frame of reference is global.'”
Bijoor predicts that this trend will only increase. He notes that Indian jingoism and Indian pride movements are on the back burner today, and brands are getting bolder in embracing foreign-sounding names. “As the world becomes a flatter place to live and operate in, Indian brands will want identities that are more global than local. The more global your brand name sounds, the wider will be your audience as well. Look at brands that you find in the alcohol category. Every whisky wants to sound British, and every vodka wants to sound Russian or East European!”
Desai agrees that while this trend is not something new, the intensity has increased substantially in recent times. “As you start moving up the ladder, all aspirations and consumption are typically more Western in origin — be it drinking wine or travelling overseas.” He adds that it is important that foreign-sounding brands live up to their promise. “When you live on borrowed imagination and your benchmarks are imitative — if the best that you can hope for is to be a pale version of someone else — then the pitfalls are huge.” Bijoor notes that another impact would be that over time, tracing the origins of brands will become difficult. At present, most brands are identified with their countries easily by the way their name sounds.
But does this trend in India pose any threat to the real international brands? IIMB’s Kumar does not think so. “These [Indian] brands that have foreignness in their names may not be of any threat to well-known foreign brands, or even to brands that may not have relatively high awareness,” he says. Desai goes a step further, noting that foreign-sounding Indian brands could well be an advantage for international brands in the long run. “The consumer who is willing to settle for a ‘foreign-sounding’ brand today will easily move towards the real thing once he can afford it because of the familiarity. In effect, these Indian brands become a pathway to the global brands.”