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For Gods Sake: An Adman on the business of religion

Reviewed by : Sharad Agarwal (IIM, Ranchi)
India is a land of many religions including Hinduism, Islam, Jainism Buddhism, Christianity, and
Sikhism. Western scholars, in the past, have found religiosity as one of the most important cultural
forces and influences on consumer behaviour. Although, there is some research done in the western
world on the role of spirituality and religiosity in influencing the consumer behaviour, the
mainstream marketing academics and the practitioners have neglected the role of this dimension in
consumers decision making process. In the Indian context, this book by Dr. Ambi Parameswaran is
one of the first steps to explore this important aspect of Indian consumer behaviour.
Religiosity is defined as a belief in the existence of God, and a commitment to comply with the rules
of the religion. This book wonderfully explains some of the facets, how the Indians are influenced,
most of the times unconsciously, with their religious beliefs, while making their consumption related
decisions. One of the examples of the role of religiosity and spirituality in influencing consumers
decision making process is the rise of Baba Ramdevs, Patanjali Ayurveda and Divya Pharmacy,
whose product ranges from Ayurveda medicines to FMCG products such as soaps and toothpastes.
The firm although is in the initial years of its operations, is giving tough competition to MNCs, such
as Hindustan Unilever and Colgate Pamolive and has reported total sales of Rs. 455 Crore during the
fiscal year 2011-12 and expects it to quadruple it to Rs. 2000 Crore in the near future. The experts
accredit this success to Spiritual Marketing, which unconsciously satisfies the spiritual needs of the
In the context of young Indian fast food consumers, researchers have found that their ethical beliefs
are not impacted by any of three predictors (importance of money, intrinsic religiosity, and spiritual
well-being). Instead they found that it depends on the interaction of importance of money, intrinsic
religiosity, and spiritual well-being affects consumer ethics. These results, in the Indian study are not
only counter-intuitive but also depart from the results of consumers in western individualistic
society. In light of the example mentioned above and the findings of Indian research, this book is a
crucial resource to understand in detail the role of Indian consumers religious beliefs on their
consumption pattern and practices.
Dr. Parameswaran brings with himself immense experience of running campaigns for numerous
firms with the leading advertising agency Draft FCB Ulka, and this book is an outcome of his
experience in launching products and services, which many of the times were different from the
usual ones. The book is divided in 24 short chapters. In chapter 3, while discussing the role of
weddings in Indian marketplace, he expects the actual size of Indian wedding industry to be much
greater than Rs. 1.5 lakh Crore, the figure cited in a report by Hindustan Times. To grab a share of
this pie, brands try to associate themselves with the wedding scenario. Some of the successful
examples quoted by the author are Godrej storewel, Bajaj scooter & Tata Indica. An intresting
example quoted by the author is of the brand called Manyawar, Manyawar seems to have managed
to build tremendous traction, selling over Rs. 500 Crore worth of goods in 2012 (p.29)
While discussing the role of cinema in promoting the festival itself, author quotes an interesting
example of another Hindu festival, Karva Chauth, an Indian answer to wests Valentines day. The
festival has gained immense popularity with Bolywood movies like Dilwale Dulhaniya le Jayenge and
Baghban.To cite how the companies use this festivals to promote their product, author cites
example of Hyundai, Karva Chauth was featured in a Hyundai car commercial which shows the
loving husband driving home in a hurry in his new Accent car to join his wife to look at the moon
(p.125) Dr. Parmeswaran has done a wonderful job in presenting the historical account of the Indian
festivals or customs and how the brands are monetizing these opportunities in the Indian markets.
The quintessential example author quotes is of Akshaya Trithiya, which was virtually unheard of until
a few decades ago. Akshay Trithiya is associated with the god of wealth, Kubera, and it is
considered auspicious to buy Jewellery in his honour(p.42). Not only jewellery brands like Tanishq
and Gitanjali promote their products during this occasion, car brands like Volkswagen enticed
customers to wolcome prosperity with a Skoda Fabia on Akshaya Trithiya. This phenomenon of
riding on back of religious festival to advertise the product is not unique to India. Globally brands
practice it to come more close to their consumers. Author promptly quotes example of Harley-
Davidson. The iconic bike brand sought the blessings of Pope Francis for its 110
anniversary. On
June 2013 Pope Francis blessed thousands of Harley-Davidson riders. (p.51)
Any discussion on religiosity and consumption is incomplete without a talk on religious tourism. The
author, in chapter 8, makes it a point to discuss the religious tourism in India. India is a home to
shrines and pilgrimages for almost all religion. Hindus have temples and pilgrimage across the
country. Country is a land of 10,000 tirthas, author quotes Wendy Doniger from her book, The
Hindus , tirthas are shrines where one can simultaneously cross over the river and the perils of the
world of rebirth (p.66). Seven of the eight holy Buddhist shrines are in India. The Harmandir Sahib in
Amritsar, the Golden Temple, is most sacred gurudwara for the Sikhs, likewise the country containts
many prominent shrines important to respective religions. Global hospitality brands are cashing on
this opportunity, Carlson hotels Worldwide has hotels in Katra, Hardwar, Shirdi, and Badrinath.
ITCs Fortune hotel operates in Shirdi, Madurai and Tirupati to tap the growing affluent religious
travellers (p.69)
Religiosity and altruism are closely related as is evident from the ritual of zakah or zakat, the
purification of wealth, practiced by prosperous Muslims. Islam prescribes that each Muslim
contributes 2.5 per cent of his annual wealth to the poor and needy. The Indian government seems
to have adopted this idea while it made mandatory for companies operating in India to spend 2 per
cent of their profits on the CSR activities thus we see that the religious rituals have deep implications
for businesses and policy makers.
Businesses can also be seen learning from religions and deploying their directives in the businesses
practices to create differentiation for themselves. Author quoted example of Wipro Unza, one of
the Malasias large cosmetic companies having a halal compliant cosmetic brand called Safi which
has seen tremendous growth over the last five years. In the Indian context, IndiGo, one of the best
run airlines in India, has ensured that all the non-vegetarian food served on its flights is halal
compliant. This disclaimer on the airlines menu caught the authors attention and we believe this
would help them to differentiate themselves from other in the competitive airline sector in India.
However, this is a risk and challenge in adopting this strategy, and as Dr. Parmeswaran rightly points,
By trying to create Muslim - friendly products and services do they run the danger of driving away
Hindu/Christian customers? (p.121). This is something which managers have to extremely
thoughtful of while carrying out such differentiation strategy.
Apart from the numerous strategies religion has to offer to the managers of large corporations, it
also presents great opportunities for budding entrepreneurs. One of the classic examples author
cites is, founded by Goonjan Mall, an Indian entrepreneur, the site offers to do a
puja and send Prasad to you. The venture plans to tap into the growing $ 1 billion religious spends by
Indians on the internet. This online venture is an attempt to serve the spiritual needs of the
consumers simultaneously providing them an enjoyable online shopping experience. This opens up
an opportunity just waiting to be tapped by the future entrepreneurs.
Individual finds a meaning to his/her life through religion, brands jump on this bandwagon by
associating themselves with the religion or religious festivals/ events. In the process they manage to
sell their products to the consumers who then try to look for that meaning in those products. The
author also predicts some of the market opportunities, which are neglected by the marketers but
are ripe for growth. The author, most of the times, gives examples from the brands/ outlets or cases
from Chennai, from which every reader might not be familiar with and may find himself/ herself to
connect with. Examples of national brands/ logos would have served the purpose better.
The author wonderfully depicts the role of religion and festivals in consumer buying behaviour with
examples from several local, national and domestic brands. He also presents lot of opportunities
which are currently neglected by the brand managers/marketers and are ripe for getting exploited.
However to further answer the epistemological issue of why the consumers are motivated to buy
products when it has some religious connotations associated with it? or what persuades the pilgrims
to travel thousands of kilometres in tough environmental conditions to visit a particular shrine in
Himalyas?, an ethnographic study is required to be done. It is a research area which some doctoral
students can take up in their research to further advance the domain of our current knowledge in
this area.
The book is an easy read. Each chapter is independent of other and if readers are short of time, they
may be interested to read particular chapters of their interests. The author also provides meanings
of religious vocabulary under the heading, Religion: An essential vocabulary at the end of the
book. This is one of the major strengths of the book and acquaints the readers with major religious
practices/concepts of all major religion.
All in all, this book is an indispensable resource for anyone associated with the marketing function of
any product or service, student of management or anyone interested to understand the influence
the religion on the Indian consumer.