Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Asian History. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 03 December 2022

The Emergence of Marketing in 20th-Century Indiafree

The Emergence of Marketing in 20th-Century Indiafree

  • Douglas E. HaynesDouglas E. HaynesDartmouth College, Department of History
  •  and Tirthankar RoyTirthankar RoyDepartment of Economic History, London School of Economics and Political Science


Business historians of colonial and postcolonial South Asia have not sufficiently studied internal trade and commercial institutions, a glaring omission considering that trade was one of the fastest-growing economic activities during the 20th century. While the historiography of the merchant has grown steadily, it remains focused on international trade or on non-economic issues like the relationship between ethnicity and commerce. One area that clearly requires more research is marketing. The involvement of producing firms in marketing activities, like sales and advertising, became much more extensive during the late 19th and the 20th centuries. Significant changes in the costs of transportation and communications made these tasks easier. Producers of goods, however, possessed imperfect information and needed to rely on intermediate figures—either various kinds of local actors or marketing “experts” who claimed local knowledge—to reach consumers. Sales and advertising in postcolonial India built on the legacy of this transformation in colonial India, rather than breaking sharply from it, even as technological change enabled more direct communication between the producer and the consumer.


  • Capitalism
  • Economic/Business
  • South Asia


Marketing has been defined as the “activities involved in directing the flow of goods and services from producers to consumers.”1 A narrower definition adaptable to business history would concentrate on those activities that require significant capital investment or innovation, such as market research, advertising, the development of mechanisms for distributing commodities to shopkeepers or setting up department stores, and the hiring of agents to promote various products. While marketing to Indian consumers became an increasingly important economic activity on the Indian subcontinent from the late 19th century on, business histories of colonial South Asia (1765–1947) and postcolonial India (after 1947) have largely overlooked its significance, focusing on issues like international trade before 1850, the development of Indian industry after the late 19th century, and the relationship between ethnicity and commerce. Several key works on markets explore the spaces where goods were sold and distributed but do not examine the new kinds of producing firms beginning to enter these marketplaces after 1880 or the techniques they used to gain customers.2 A partial exception to this pattern is work on medical history, which has drawn attention to the commoditization of medicine but has not explored the implications of its findings for the larger business history of the subcontinent.3 One result of this neglect is that it leaves intact an image of a simple South Asian society in which the sale and use of consumer goods mattered little to commercial activity, where sophisticated methods for distributing commodities and influencing the behavior of buyers were largely absent, and where colonialism and, later, state-sponsored socialism were much more important in shaping the economy than the agency of Indian business people. In such an image, the economic reforms of 1991 brought about a revolutionary transfiguration of Indian society, unleashing market forces rather than building upon institutions and forms of economic interaction that had been developing during the previous century and leaving intact a vast market in unbranded consumer items. This article questions this image and suggests that marketing did see entrepreneurial activity and institutionalization in the colonial area and that significant areas of continuity remained even after 1947.

This article tries to fill this gap in South Asian commercial history. It outlines a history of marketing in late colonial and postcolonial India. Its central argument is that during the late 19th and 20th centuries, business firms involved in production became much more active in cultivating consumer markets than they had been before this time. It elucidates the mechanisms constructed by business firms to distribute goods to consumers and persuade them to buy their products, focusing on various kinds of intermediate figures and the emergence of “experts” claiming to possess local knowledge. The post-independence economy built on the legacy of this transformation in colonial India rather than breaking sharply from it. While construction of such a history must start without much of a base in secondary sources—and must inevitably leave many unanswered questions as a result—a coherent narrative can still emerge. In developing this narrative, we draw on research done by the authors using primary sources and occasionally on books and articles that will be more familiar to historians of management and cultural historians than they are to historians of commerce.

Bazaars, fairs, and permanent markets long predated the expansion of industrial capitalism on the subcontinent. There is evidence of thriving consumer markets in some regions, such as Indian buyers of European manufactured goods in the late 18th century.4 Studies of 19th-century markets in Bihar document the movement of consumable commodities through a landscape of market networks that connected cities, small towns, and religious fairs with the countryside.5 However, at present, our understanding of the ways early commercial actors established demand for their products in distant locales is limited. The existing evidence emphasizes the role of “trading carriers,” who typically purchased supplies at places of production and then transported them to consuming regions by bullock carts to larger towns and seasonal religious fairs, where they were sold in local, often periodic, marts and to itinerant peddlers.6 A general pattern found in much economic activity before 1880 was the organizational separation of actors involved in production from the commercial figures who distributed and sold commodities rather than the direct participation of manufacturers in efforts to find consumers and persuade them to make purchases. This pattern seems to have held up even for the vast trade in British textiles.

From the late 19th century on, two key processes facilitated more direct involvement by producing firms in marketing. One of these was the emergence of improved transportation and communication facilities, particularly the railroads and the post office. The relatively quick movement of goods, and a very significant reduction in the costs involved in transportation, had a variety of effects upon marketing. Between 1870 and 1940, the volume of goods carried by railway, ranging from grain to cloth, increased from 3 to 127 million tons. Urban shops in turn could carry a greater variety of goods, stimulating product innovations to suit specific demand segments. Delivering goods over a wide geographic area became cheaper and more challenging because of keener competition. At the same time, the development of the postal system made it possible for producers to send goods—especially items of limited bulk like patent medicines—all over the country without developing new mechanisms of transportation. The post office and the telegraph also made it possible for businesses to gather information about potential consumer interest more quickly. Selling goods to distant locations became a different activity from “carrying” goods, demanding different skill sets and people.

A second process was the emergence of print media, particularly in the form of newspapers, pamphlets, tracts, catalogs, and almanacs.7 This possibility gave producers access to more powerful means of shaping demand in places far removed from the locales of manufacture. With access to print, “communities” of literate consumers living in towns spread widely over the South Asian landscape could be imagined and shaped through advertising.8 Producing firms could now create cultural meanings that traveled with products as they moved from manufacturing establishments to actual consumers, and thus try to usurp the role of intermediary traders and small shopkeepers in fashioning purchasers’ understandings of commodities. The emergence of print capitalism depended upon the production of cheap, mass-produced paper, the development of print technology, and modern means of transport that carried publications over long distances.

Through these two processes, marketing shaped the evolution of capitalism in colonial India, making business more buyer-oriented. Independent India inherited a set of practices and institutions in marketing that had taken a definite form over the previous seventy years. A heavily interventionist state policy of economic development influenced these practices and institutions—but not as much or as deeply as we might suppose.

Marketing before Independence: Agents and Wholesalers

For most producing firms about 1900, markets in India were not large enough or rich enough for firms to attempt to establish brands and encourage customers to purchase their products. For foreign firms, too, the volume of sales in India was often still too modest to afford direct arrangements for marketing. There are significant exceptions to this pattern. Some US companies such as Singer (for sewing machines), Eastman Kodak (for cameras), and McCormack–International Harvester (for farm equipment) had recently begun to make sales in India.9 Large quantities of imported goods, however, continued to circulate in Indian bazaars in unbranded form. In some instances, local shops used newspapers to publicize consignments of items that they wished to sell off quickly.10 The providers of many agricultural products like sugar or basic foodstuffs and perhaps even some manufactured goods like coarse cloth did not need to discover their markets. Producers were typically required to solve a different problem: delivering sufficient quantities of the goods in time.

Traders who could invest in a warehouse possessed a distinct advantage in performing this role. Therefore, investment in warehouses in the small towns of South Asia began to develop as a big field of enterprise. Warehouses certainly already existed, but the manifold increase in the volume of trade carried by the railways caused warehouses to become more numerous and to command more market power. The modern history of the warehouse may have begun with grain and other perishable goods before it became relevant to the distribution of manufactured goods. In the 1920s, the country warehouse, usually located in a place served by the railways, stocked grain, oil, sugar, salt, and other necessities such as cloth. In Bengal, capitalists called goladars (gola is a warehouse, usually for grain) sent out the exportable surplus of agricultural produce and imported “salt, tobacco and other necessaries of rural people to provincial warehouses before sales to the petty shopkeepers.”11 In the grain trade of the early 20th century, the warehouse owner (also called the pakka arhatiya; arhat means “storage”) was “generally a substantial person with valuable connections.”12 The possession of a warehouse enabled this person to borrow from banks, issue bills, and engage in forward trades. With time, a reliance on warehouses became more widespread and became a feature of the trade in manufactured items as well as agricultural goods.

Besides storage, a second field of innovation in commodity trade was contract. A contract act came into existence in 1872. The great fall in transportation and communication costs in the 19th century expanded the scope of contracts in another way. Until well into the 20th century, there was little evidence of forward trade in grain. A merchant settled in the country had limited access to export price information. Therefore, spot sales prevailed. This was changing since the railways had created more concentrated markets, and, thanks to the transcontinental telegraph, “English and Indian businessmen now had a source of almost instantaneous information concerning shipping, weather, and the prices of commodities.”13 Reduced communications costs and better predictability of markets made for more contractual transactions.

The Bombay Commodity Exchange—earlier known as the Bombay Cotton Trade Association—did forward trades from 1875 onward. In the 1920s, a quasi-governmental agency, the Cotton Contracts Board, tried to regulate these transactions. Eventually, a merchants association, the East India Cotton Association, took over the task, not without resistance from a section of the trade that feared speculators and wanted government control. This was one of the largest and oldest trading associations in colonial India. Others would follow in the 20th century.

Forward contracts were common in all commodity trades, but in the Bombay cotton market (and the stock market in Calcutta), the fear was that several participants were not dealers but rather gamblers. The fear was so great that it fueled demand for complete government control of the cotton trade, which materialized after 1947.14 By the 1920s, usage of warehouses was common for many sorts of consumer goods sold in the towns. Traders whose principal capital was a warehouse were called, in Indian English, “stockists.” The market areas in the towns and cities were divided into blocks, each specializing in a specific trade. For instance, towns in western India, where large quantities of sugar were grown, usually had a submarket for raw sugar. The merchants who operated in these spaces necessarily owned warehouses.15 In the sugarcane harvest season, these warehouses served as auction houses.

Long-distance trading required another type of actor: traveling salespeople and merchants who worked for the producers as agents or employees and who developed connections with retail and bazaar shops spread over a wide area. As a witness in the 1929 Banking Enquiry Commission explained, “Merchants bring the things required in villages from Calcutta and sell it [sic] to shopkeepers in villages.” While intermediation of this kind had existed in some fields before the late 19th century, some features of it were probably of recent vintage. One of these features was the scale of ownership of warehouses in the small towns. In the 19th century, the more common form of agency was a trader who collected a consignment from manufacturers and distributed the goods in the countryside. The wholesaler was fixed in space. The shopkeepers themselves often commuted between the producing firm warehouse and the shop. Larger companies sometimes developed their own staff of salesmen who arranged deals and who sometimes brought products to village shops and urban bazaars.

Marketing was an expensive business, and few small players commanded enough credit to expand scale. The small-town warehouse owner, therefore, exerted a lot of power over the market. Participants in discussions about producers’ cooperatives in Madras fretted that the private warehouse owner commanded semi-monopoly power. A similar sense of unease about the warehouse-owning wholesaler was present among producers of manufactured consumer goods, especially the European and American firms hoping to sell durable machines and luxury products to middle-class Indians.

A 1933 US Government–issued bulletin on marketing American goods in India reported on the provision of imported consumer goods to Indian cities, either for sales there or for distribution into the interior. Excluding such direct importers of goods as department stores and hotels, the key actors engaged in marketing goods were of two kinds. One of them was the “wholesaler” whose main forms of capital was “a warehouse nearby,” which contained “big stocks of tooth paste, razor blades, soap, flashlights, and other imported merchandise,” and who made a series of contracts with retailers (“bazaar shops”) in various places. The wholesaler was a useful actor, owing to the network of retailers that did business with the firm, but had considerable market power for that reason and did not necessarily “protect the interests of the American exporter.” The second kind of actor was a selling agent, whose job was to campaign, educate, and explain the product to potential buyers. The agent in this sense was “a manufacturer’s representative who holds no stocks but confines his activity to selling, on behalf of his principal.”16 One of the report’s recommendations was to develop agency of this latter kind when American firms wanted to sell consumer goods in India. Advertising was becoming a field of energetic intervention and innovation. But discovering where the markets were and what the potential buyers wanted would require other strategies besides advertising.

From 1900, the range of consumer goods imported from Britain and the United States expanded to include such new articles as cosmetics, sewing machines, processed food, bicycles, and cars. The manufacturing firms believed that potential markets for these goods should exist but often did not know where the buyers were. As the 1933 US report advised, some firms set up Indian subsidiaries, for whom discovering the market was the most crucial task. The Indian subsidiary of the soap and vegetable oils firm Unilever was established in the early 1930s. The household chemicals firm Reckitt and Colman, and British American Tobacco, all set up such subsidiaries during the 1910s and 1920s. Things like sewing machines or bicycles required not just selling agents but also servicing shops. In this campaign, the Indian sole selling agent played an innovative role. The local agent was sometimes recruited from established Indian mercantile groups but performed a more entrepreneurial service than in other trades.

Some of the largest firms, like Unilever and perhaps British American Tobacco, eventually decided to bypass the local intermediaries who had been so essential in earlier operations and to set up their down-selling organizations on the subcontinent. Their salesmen in India worked to develop distinctive packaging that would highlight the firms’ trademarks and make sure actors in India’s bazaars stocked their goods, sometimes by offering shopkeepers or wholesalers substantial discounts. However, for most producing firms, the attempt to take control over retail was too costly to pursue. As producers increasingly sought to develop wider markets for their goods in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, manufacturers usually came to rely on wholesalers. In the mid-20th century, when we can observe the mechanics of the relationship with great clarity, it was characterized by a “sole selling agent,” possibly a wholesaler who usually looked after a large region like a district and owned a warehouse, and “sub-agents,” who moved between the sole selling agent and the retail shops. All received commission on sales. Producers took the risk that the sole selling agent might not serve their interest consistently. At the same time, however, they avoided spending money on expensive overhead costs like an in-house marketing office and warehouses in many places.

With the exception of imported cloth, foreign producing firms served a small part of the population for many commodities. At the end of the 19th century, besides food products, many consumer goods were produced by artisanal methods and sold by small-scale traders. The ability to stock a large quantity of goods for future sale was advantageous if the product was of standard quality, like grain, sugar, and oil. In non-standard goods, like designed articles, owning a warehouse was not a distinct advantage. How did the marketing of these articles take place? How did the producers and traders sell in trans-local markets? Not very successfully, it might seem from many contemporary reports. But in some cases, the trader, dealer, shopkeeper, and producer introduced innovations and performed a more entrepreneurial role in selling goods, especially from the early 20th century.

Marketing before Independence: Artisanal Goods

Despite the large import of Manchester textiles into India, the average consumer in 1900 bought a considerable quantity of handmade goods, including textiles, metalware, wood ware, pottery, soaps and detergents, and leather articles. How were these goods sold? Did mass transportation affect the systems of sale? We are not talking about the average artisanal producer, who had too little capital to control markets, but mainly larger workshop owners with many employees or merchants dealing in artisanal goods. Sometimes these merchants rose from the ranks of artisans but only the richest of them.

“We have to draw attention,” stated the report of the Indian Industrial Commission (1918), “to the urgent necessity for introducing better methods of marketing the outturn of cottage industries.”17 The commission felt that the traders lacked either the capacity or the drive to market goods beyond their neighborhoods and in distant places. Several Indian witnesses endorsed the same opinion. The merchant, said the doctor and nationalist entrepreneur of Calcutta, Nil Ratan Sircar, “is generally very ill-informed regarding everything outside his inherited routine business.”18 The commission asked the provincial industries departments to train and appoint “sales agents” for the purpose and open more “swadeshi stores” showcasing craft goods for everyday use, a course of action for which the departments had neither the money nor the skill.19 The idea, however, did receive robust state support after 1947.

Cloth had always been an exception to these generalizations. Before 1900, the marketing of handwoven textiles had developed significant sophistication, and well-organized networks served local, regional, and international markets. An example of a regionally traded product was the khaddar cloth (made of hand-spun yarn) woven in the Punjab plains and sold over a broad swathe of northern India. Many types of saris in peninsular India similarly moved around in regional networks. An example of an international market was that of the Madras handkerchiefs, woven on the southeastern coast. A set of foreign trading firms with branches or partnerships in London and West Africa conducted the Madras handkerchiefs trade. In other networks, weavers, town “shopkeepers,” and peddlers took part in the sale of goods.

The expansion of the railways delivered a blow to some of these artisanal textile markets, especially after 1880. Sumit Guha has shown that, more than the availability of Manchester goods, the cost of moving the cloth into the interior affected the prospects of handmade textiles.20 Provincial documents describing retail sales of textiles suggest that cloth manufactured in Manchester and Ahmedabad increasingly penetrated regional markets, replacing local handmade brands. Significant regional products, such as the khaddar textiles of Punjab, began to retreat as a result.21 The shift impoverished some artisans, and indeed within Punjab, many relocated to textile towns (like Ludhiana) where a mechanized industry was emerging.

However, the railways, the migration of artisans and their resettlement in new industrial towns, and the demand for more fine-quality clothes from middle-class urban dwellers and more prosperous agriculturalists in commercialized agrarian tracts allowed some regional networks to expand. In the early 20th century, the dense and multilayered marketing system for handloom cloth served consumers and retail shops over a wide area in peninsular India. The concentration of production away from where consumers lived made the role of specialized dealers and traders more important in these networks.22 Atul Chatterjee’s detailed report of industries in the United Provinces (the most populous province of British India, located in the middle Indo-Gangetic plains) described two marketing systems for craft goods. One of these was the agent of shops in distant places, who traveled to the towns where production happened. The other type was the small-town merchant, who set up branches in big cities to market goods. The cost of doing both had fallen because of new transport connections. In a high-quality printed clothing business, “weavers have small factories,” wrote Chatterjee. “The cloth is sold in the market to dealers, some of whom are also Julahas [Muslim weavers]. These dealers have correspondents in Cawnpore, Poona, Hyderabad, Nepal, Calcutta, etc.”23 The dealer network, the report said, was quite extensive. After being connected with the railways, some of the towns mentioned in Chatterjee’s list expanded in population and commercial importance.

Although Chatterjee wrote that “there is no advertising, commercial travelling or market pushing in any form” in artisanal goods, significant exceptions to the statement were beginning to emerge.24 In the wooden furniture industry, in which products were customized to suit a hybrid Indo-European style, dealers and shopkeepers performed an entrepreneurial role. Indeed, they owned the urban factories in most places, employing carpenters trained in more traditional type of work but producing furniture incorporating European design ideas.25 Perfumery was another business in which the dealers took on the role of “market pushing.” Advertisements for some handwoven goods began to appear occasionally in vernacular newspapers, and larger workshop owners cultivated relationships with far-flung shopkeepers to sell their saris. Chatterjee’s account suggests that the railways made the transport of exceedingly high-valued goods to big-city markets much safer and faster than earlier methods.26 Decorated textiles, metalware, and carpets increasingly entered trans-regional markets, sometimes involving specialist traders and retailers, and efforts to establish brands by provenance goods like these—unlike grain, oil, or sugar—could have a high value-to-bulk ratio. Owning a warehouse was still an advantage, but more crucial still was knowing where the retail markets were.

Another exception appeared in the South Indian silk sari, among the most expensive apparel produced by hand methods. Giving testimony before the Industrial Commission (1916–1918), the leading spokesperson for the weavers of South India, P. Theagaraya Chetty, reported that substantial sari trading firms in Kanchipuram possessed well-developed institutions of marketing, “the only one that I have heard of.”27 The silk sari market became segmented into styles, each identified with a distinct border and a place of manufacture. The basic concept or skill that went into these border designs had taken shape in the past. But they became part of a more integrated marketplace in the 20th century.28 The emergence of major 20th-century retail trading firms from a background in silk weaving illustrates this process. Their market power rested on representing a recognizable style or a brand. Similar examples of such transformation occurred in Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra.

The testimony of Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, grandson of the founder of possibly the most prominent silk sari trading firm, Nalli, hints at the kind of innovation and reflection that went into the invention of a branded border in a silk sari. The origin of the bordered silk sari in Kanchipuram was a relatively recent one. In the late 19th century, Kanchipuram weavers switched to making silk saris, in competition with Benares saris. The Benares silk sari then, as now, made heavy use of gold thread on a silk body. It was not distinguished for the use of color combinations. In Kanchipuram, a few pioneer designers simplified the sari to use more colored yarn, introduced a starker contrast between the body and the border, and possibly reduced the usage of gold thread, in comparison with the Benares sari.29

During the interwar period, spurred by nationalist activity, the Swadeshi movement influenced the public discourse on consumption and industrial production. This rhetoric of self-reliance applied especially to the consumption of artisanal goods. There is little evidence to show how the influence affected trade, commerce, and marketing in these goods and whether the Swadeshi appeal outlasted the most intense moments of anticolonial protest. For example, during the period of intense nationalist activity between 1919 and 1922, many wealthier Indians then buying imported soaps shifted to Swadeshi soaps, but by 1923, this tendency had faded, and preferences for foreign soaps reemerged.30 The Bombay Stores (founded in 1906), a department store displaying only Indian-made artisanal products, was an exception rather than the norm. There were many self-proclaimed Swadeshi enterprises in industry and in banking. Not many survived, and their combined institutional legacy remains obscure. The movement did more firmly connect consumption broadly, and specifically consumer goods like soaps and clothes, with the politics of imagining an Indian nation.31 But its economic impact remains uncertain.

The Growth of Retail

Just as the warehouse was one field of investment in colonial India, more in agricultural trade than elsewhere, another was the permanent shop. The scholarship on Indian retailing makes a distinction between three modes of selling goods: the bazaar, the shop, and the store. While the three modes coexisted, the relative scales of the shop and the store rose in the 20th century, and that of the bazaar declined but still occupied the greatest share of the market.32 Of these types, the bazaar signified a place where many sellers congregated, sometimes seasonally or periodically, with each seller specializing in one kind of good (periodic fairs might be considered under this heading). Shops were usually permanent sites where typically the seller stocked a variety of goods of one kind. The department store, which sold items mainly to Europeans and upper-class Indians, held considerable stocks and displayed many types of products, sometimes in store windows (which did not exist in other kinds of shops). Typically, only the most substantial stores did any advertising themselves. Between these types, the scale of capital investment increased exponentially with the store. The store could also introduce “service innovations” that again cost money but offered the buyer distinct advantages. For example, price labels make haggling redundant; buyers could browse and self-serve; products not available in shops or bazaars could be included (for example, the Indian store Spencer’s opened a cigar section); and products of many brands could be on display, making comparisons easier. Many stores also arranged home delivery.

Historical data on shops for all of India are hard to come by. However, a few surveys in the interwar period reported on “the growth of retail trade [in Bombay],” reflected in a wider variety of shops than before the war.33 Changes in gender norms made the physical presence of middle-class women in public marketplaces much more common, facilitating their direct involvement in making household choices about what to buy. Seemingly, such developments must have expanded the importance of selling at the shops. There is also some evidence that improved transportation reduced the importance of religious fairs and periodic markets, stimulating the role of permanent shops. The department store, too, had an early and successful start at the turn of the 20th century in the largest cities, though it sold mainly to Europeans and the very top strata of Indian urban society. After independence, some of these stores with European capital declined and sold their businesses. Other Indian-owned stores sometimes arose in their place. In the late 20th century, the store concept had a significant revival and reached small towns practically all over India.34

These instances of innovation involved adaptation of a familiar pattern of expertise. Goods for which an exactly similar or a traditional counterpart did not exist needed a different form of enterprise. For those producers of goods who could afford it, the scope for advertising was expanding in the early 20th century.

Advertising and Branding Goods in Colonial India

Print advertising emerged in a relatively small segment of the broader market. Branding of products had been very limited before the late 19th century. For instance, cloth sold at the fair of Maheji in Maharashtra in the mid-19th century was known by its place of production (Sholapur, Ilkal, etc.) rather than by its manufacturer’s name. In this context, merchants on the spot and agents remained crucial to the circulation of goods and the construction of the meanings by which consumers understood different commodities.35 Tom-tom beaters and town criers, who are sometimes seen as representing pre-print forms of advertising, were typically hired by shopkeepers at the local level rather than by the original manufacturers (though there were exceptions). Producing firms sometimes used visual symbols to suggest product quality. Jyotindra Jain has richly documented the role of trade labels displaying mythological, imperial, and orientalist themes in Indo-British textile commercial exchange during the late 19th century.36 But these labels seemingly were more meaningful in conveying the producer’s name to importers and wholesalers than they were in influencing actual cloth users. We do have some evidence of British attempts to study Indian consumption patterns.37 Branded manufactured items did increasingly gain a foothold during the late 19th century.

After the turn of the 20th century, the development of advertising was oriented primarily toward literate consumers concentrated in India’s cities and towns. Rural consumers were typically seen as too poor, uneducated, and dispersed to be reached through marketing campaigns. According to a 1931 report from the J. Walter Thompson Company: “Only an extremely small proportion of the people of India, Burma and Ceylon can be considered in terms of possible purchasers of western manufactured products. The masses are pitifully poor, ignorant and slaves to custom and tradition. Their wants are confined to shelter, a piece of cloth and a handful of rice.”38 However, in a small number of cases, brand-name manufacturers sought to develop mass markets deep into rural areas. These included tobacco, soap, and (by the 1930s) tea. Unilever records suggest how its products, mainly soaps, were carried into the countryside in campaigns using advertising trucks. Each truck toured its region with a team of four people: a driver, a menial worker, a clerk, and a salesman.39 In arriving at a new location, the team would put up posters, distribute leaflets for Unilever’s products, and open a demonstration, with a salesman “expounding the virtues of the various products” and demonstrating how the product was used. Sales would be made beside the vehicle. The products sold were obtained from local village shops, and the truck crew would resupply shopkeepers with new stock in anticipation of future demand. This system offered direct contact with consumers who could not read newspapers and with rural shopkeepers.

In the cities, several firms began to advertise their goods much more extensively. Foreign manufacturers making a variety of products—not just cloth but also cosmetics, toiletries, soap, medicines, hair oils, processed foods, cameras, and bicycles—were starting to acknowledge the possible value of markets in India and were enhancing their efforts to propagate their brand names so they could sell their products widely. Many of these firms lacked significant selling organizations in India and relied on local agents to suggest where markets existed and where to place ads. During the 1920s, some of them developed contracts with international placement agents, such as Eric Pusinelli, which identified newspapers in India likely to reach large audiences and then placed the ads in these papers. Placement agents also made arrangements to conduct “outdoor advertising” on kiosks, the sides of buildings, and tramcars. However, most of the actual manufacturing firms possessed little understanding of local consumers and thus little means of fine-tuning their appeals to Indian customers. They commonly used advertisements drawn up in their home countries, which typically featured images of Europeans and slogans with limited resonance in an Indian context. But sales establishments reasoned that adjusting to local customers was unnecessary because the Indians who could afford branded imported goods were attracted by the prestige associated with the items’ consumption by Europeans. They submitted their publicity mostly to English-language papers, regarding the readership of vernacular papers as too poor to buy their products and the circulation of such papers too limited to make advertising worthwhile. They thus reached only a tiny portion of the Indian population.

At the same time, some small Indian firms were also beginning to use advertising to build up their businesses. A kind of vernacular capitalism that relied on advertisements in local newspapers, catalogs, and other publications emerged as micro-entrepreneurs took up cosmetics, medicines, tonics and aphrodisiacs, hair oil, soap, matches, handloom saris, and incense. Members of the business families themselves typically designed the advertisements, drawing eclectically from various aesthetic traditions rather than standardized commercial-art forms. Using advertisements as evidence, Prithwiraj Biswas has reconstructed the history of an early Bengali entrepreneur, Hemendramohan Bose, who began his career in the late 19th century as a manufacturer of hair oils but moved into making perfumes, bicycles, musical recordings, stationery, and fruit syrup.40 Many analogous firms in western India, such as Godrej and Tata Oil Mills Company, emerged after 1900, some growing to a significant size.41 It is tempting to view such businesses as reflecting an earlier stage of capitalism that ultimately gave way to larger corporations. But these firms were as much an early 20th-century phenomenon as their global counterparts; they often competed fiercely and effectively for markets with large companies, relied equally on the modern media, and targeted the urban middle class. They were co-participants in the making of a brand-name capitalism.

Appeals for patent medicines were the most common form of advertising by vernacular firms before 1920. As Jeremy Schneider has argued, “The allure of an expanding market, the requirement of only small capital outlays, and the proliferation of medical manuals spurred the entrance of many entrepreneurs into the manufacture and marketing of indigenous medical products.”42 Medical advertising became the most common form of advertising in vernacular papers and became critical to the incomes of many small vernacular newspapers. Outbreaks of epidemic diseases—plague, cholera, and influenza—may have influenced this development but so did concerns with everyday afflictions such as diarrhea, colds, and especially sexual dysfunction. By the 1920s, middle-size Indian businesses like the Punjabi manufacturers Amritdhara, the Calcutta firm Bengal Chemical, and the western Indian ayurvedic company Dhootapapeshwar were advertising regularly.

The Rise of Professional Advertising

The emergence of the professional advertising specialist first became noticeable in India during the mid-1920s. The growth of print advertising may seem like an anomaly in a region with exceedingly low literacy levels. India’s population grew at a near-zero rate between the first systematic census year 1881 and 1921 but rose steadily after that. The population was overwhelmingly nonliterate (94% in 1931) and agricultural (75% of employment) with a very low average standard of living. But as corporate advertising firms understood well, the scale of the potential reading and buying public was just too large to be ignored. A 1938 report by the J. Walter Thompson Company (Eastern) thought that there was a concentration of future buyers in the small towns sustained by agricultural trade.43 That alone was a market of an estimated 9.5 million people. The urbanization rate since the 19th century was relatively slow, but, adjusted for population size, the total urban population was comparable with that of many richer countries, and it was growing steadily.

By the 1920s, a number of multinational companies began to step up their advertising efforts, hoping not just to persuade Indians to buy their products rather than those of rival companies but also to convert consumers to substituting brand-name products for unbranded goods and to effect substantial transformations in bodily habits: smoking cigarettes rather than bidis; using toothpaste rather than twigs from neem trees to clean one’s teeth; bathing with soap rather than using soap nuts and other abrasives found in rural settings; washing clothes in the home with laundry soaps rather sending out clothes to washermen (dhobis); relying on commercialized cooking mediums rather than ghee or cheap vegetables from the countryside; drinking tea, coffee, and cocoa regularly; and in some cases introducing electric lighting and electric fans into middle-class homes.44 Such a project required a much more significant commitment to advertising. Quite possibly, the Great Depression made European and American manufacturers increasingly desperate to sell their inventories abroad, thus spurring more aggressive advertising campaigns.

A small number of big companies developed their own campaigns. Unilever, the manufacturer of soaps, other toiletries, and cooking mediums, may have been the most substantial consumer-products business in the world at the time. In the later 1920s, its most prominent product, Sunlight soap, enjoyed a dominant place in the Indian market with relatively limited advertising.45 During the 1930s, as competition with a host of Indian and cheaper foreign soaps intensified, the firm committed itself to advertising extensively to persuade Indian middle-class consumers to purchase its products regularly, despite its higher price. The company developed major campaigns for Sunlight as laundry soap, Lux and Pears as beauty soaps, Lifebuoy as a health soap, and Dalda as a cooking medium. These campaigns ultimately proved so effective in integrating the products into everyday life that many Indians today assume these items originated in India rather than in Europe.46 The company created an Indian branch, Lever Brothers (India), in 1933, which created an advertising spinoff, Lintas, in 1938 to run its marketing campaigns.

Other businesses turned to advertising agencies to mount their marketing efforts. By the mid-1920s, several small agencies formed for this purpose in Bombay, headed by trained ad men steeped in Western advertising methods, commercial artists, and printing experts with the ability to produce high-quality blocks. The most notable of these may have been Stronach’s, which would later establish offices in Calcutta and Africa. Then at the very end of the 1920s, international agencies such as D. J. Keymer and J. Walter Thompson (JWT) began to arrive on the scene. JWT’s entrée into India was prompted by its international contract with General Motors (GM), which was trying to sell its products worldwide. In 1931, it’s clients included Kodak, Goodrich (tires), Horlicks (malted milk), and Ponds (face cream). The agency also signed the Indian manufacturer, Tata Oil Mills Company (TOMCO), which was making soaps and cooking oils, and which came to regard advertising as a key to gaining a foothold in the market.47 By 1939, JWT had lost the GM account but had a total of thirty-two clients, having added such international firms as Elizabeth Arden, Binny and Company, Firestone (which had displaced Goodrich), Johnson and Johnson, Kellogg and Company, Phillips Electrical, Standard Oil, and Smith Corona, and Indian firms like Godrej and Boyce, Indian Hotels Company (owners of the Taj Hotel), and Wagle Process Studio Press. JWT ran a big campaign for Horlicks malted milk, a cocoa-like drink mixed in milk, in English and vernacular papers. In 1937, JWT formed an Indian branch, which became incorporated under the Indian Companies Act. Some other companies hired agents with marketing experts on their staff rather than use advertising firms; the Swiss hot-drink manufacturer Ovaltine, for instance, relied on the Calcutta firm James Wright to run a very extensive campaign in India.

Advertising specialists offered to foreign companies access to professional expertise that the manufacturers did not possess themselves: copywriters able to write punchy text to appeal to consumers, artists trained in the emerging discipline of commercial art, translators who could convert English copy into vernacular languages, assessors who could judge circulation figures of newspapers and the social backgrounds of readers, and print technicians with mastery over the latest technologies of preparing advertising plates. But they also often promised their clients knowledge of India and, the buying patterns of consumers that would permit them to develop approaches to marketing specifically suited to the subcontinent. The size of Indian demand was too limited for most firms to afford extensive marketing surveys. But advertising professionals claimed cultural expertise based upon years of living in India and rudimentary surveys of Indian markets. In 1938, J. Walter Thompson even conducted a study promoting coffee consumption that involved setting up shops to acquaint customers with higher qualities of coffee.48 That same year, Unilever conducted the first major market survey: a large-scale investigation on household attitudes about soap. The investigation involved the firm’s first Indian executive, Prakash Tandon, who later became the chairman of Hindustan Lever, and a small number of adventurous young women who were recruited to interview housewives in their homes in eight South Asian cities.49 Advertising specialists also relied on feedback from Indian shopkeepers who sold various consumer products and even from employees in their own offices, who came from the ranks of the urban middle class.

As agencies collected knowledge about Indian consumers through both informal and formal means, they adjusted the character of their appeals. For the most part, foreign companies stopped importing ads from Europe or North America during the 1930s but generated their campaigns in India itself. European expatriates sometimes remained important targets for those selling some high-value items like automobiles, air conditioners, and other electrical technologies, but now ads directed to this constituency typically evoked the special concerns of a population living in exile. For goods sold in small quantities in a high volume—such as soap, medicines, hot drinks, and cooking mediums—the agencies came to generate customized approaches geared to an urban middle class that was influenced by nationalist sentiments and that would no longer accept older forms of appeal geared to Europeans. Greater numbers of advertisements were directed toward women, who were increasingly seen not only as consumers of goods like beauty soap, cosmetics, and perfumes but also as the chief household decision makers, who determined choices about what products to use.

Advertising in vernacular newspapers, which had been very limited until the mid-1920s for many products, became widespread. Visual representations in the ads often shifted from European consumers to Indians dressed in saris and kurtas. Verbal appeals shifted to values and emotions believed to be evocative to middle-class consumers, sometimes including the value of Swadeshi in the case of products made by Indian firms. Many ads converged around the values of a new conjugality: the role of women in looking after the family’s health, the husband’s responsibility for ensuring the financial stability of the home, and the value of education and physical well-being for children. The ads’ designers, aware of the straitened circumstances of many buyers, often stressed the absolute necessity of the items involved in reproducing the middle-class family. International slogans generated in the metropole—like “night starvation” (for Horlicks), “B.O.” or body odor (for Lifebuoy soap), or “soap of the stars” (for Lux soap)—were adjusted or abandoned in the Indian context. About 1940, Lever Brothers junked the use of Hollywood actresses to sell Lux as a beauty soap and turned to stars of Indian cinema, an approach it has maintained to the present day.

Advertising agencies and consumer firms did devote some resources to forms of marketing outside the press, sometimes addressing urban consumers who lacked literacy but possessed incomes sufficient to afford consumer items. Included among these methods was the extensive use of outdoor advertising, such as visually striking posters on kiosks, tramways and buses, billboards, and enamel signs. Brightly colored displays and recognizable packs of the products were designed to attract customers’ attention in shops. All advertising agencies devoted some of their resources to outdoor advertising; Chitra Publicity in Ahmedabad particularly specialized in this activity. Commercial calendars, often depicting Hindu gods, were intended to win the good will of shopkeepers and ensure they continued stocking items of the companies that provided them; at the same time they offered buyers familiar visual images with which to associate consumer goods. In some cases, campaigns targeting specific sets of buyers, such as oil for car drivers and laundry soap for dhobis, were developed. Lever developed a system of traveling vans, which toured the countryside, conducting product demonstrations of its soaps at places where it stopped and restocking village stores after attendees bought the items. A few advertisers, such as Lever and JWT, developed expertise in making advertisement films, which they deployed only sporadically during the late 1920s and the 1930s, then on a concerted basis from the 1940s on.

One particularly compelling example of a firm that achieved considerable success by targeting the middle class was the US company Singer Sewing Machine. The company had been making extensive efforts to sell its products internationally since the 1880s, achieving some success in Russia and China but less in India. Whether because professional tailors did not want to change their methods or the clothing style did not suit, the machine did not do well in India for a long time except among the Indo-European population.50 There was more success in the interwar period when the marketing strategy changed, and the company projected the machine as a household good for use by women. This approach fit well with the emerging ideals of the middle-class housewife. N. M. Patell, an agent involved in selling Singer sewing machine, was instrumental in shifting the target base from the expatriate and Indo-European population toward Indian tailors and middle-class Indian women.51 In doing so, he faced the displeasure of European bosses who believed the strategy would fail and who wanted more European staff to be employed in India. Patell persisted with his plan with success.

Despite these developments, the extent of formal marketing efforts can easily be exaggerated. Most foods continued to be sold by hawkers on the streets and by small shopkeepers; clothing advertising was relatively limited. Most women’s saris, for instance, were sold in cloth shops where merchants touted the cloth’s qualities and price rather than the name of the manufacturer. Many unbranded goods—including soaps, medicines, foods, and cloth—proliferated in urban and rural bazaars. Price rather than brand and prestige remained the main preoccupation of most consumers. In other words, much of the consumer economy depended on the efforts of small-scale actors in the bazaar rather than in concerted campaigns run by large consumer companies and marketing specialists.

Marketing after Independence: Sales, 1947–1980

There was much continuity between the late colonial and the early postcolonial decades in the system of sale. For instance, the use of the sole selling agent, and the role of local warehouse owners acting on behalf of producing firms, remained extensive. Having said this, we can also discern some patterns of change. It is plausible that more large producing firms had their own sales offices after 1947 than before that year. An in-house sales office would try to control the sales network, even when the sole agent had a significant independent role in the network. Without more examples, we cannot be sure how this process unfolded in practice.

Case studies conducted by the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad from the 1960s help us precisely outline the sole agency system. In the case of Ganesh Flour Mills, one of the largest producers of edible oil in the 1960s, we see that sole agency had two levels.52 At the point of final sale, a local grocery shop agreed to keep a stock of the company’s goods, receiving a commission for doing so. And a dedicated sole selling agent kept an inventory of the mill’s products in a warehouse serving the needs of many shops in a wide region. If the area served was large, there were subagents between the shop and the warehouse. The system was not very different from the warehouse-based sales that emerged in the interwar years. But these studies do suggest that the warehouse owner was an agent of the large producing firm and that the producer had its own sales team mediating these relationships.

Much factory-made cloth also was sold in this way, that is, by building steady contracts between retailers, stockists, and producing mills. But factory-made cotton cloth for a long time made use of another offbeat marketing system that was rare in other goods: a permanent wholesale bazaar. About 1900, some Kachchhi Bhatia families established the Moolji Jetha market, where shops sold cloth at wholesale prices. Their main business was trading, but a few Bhatia families like Khatau Makanji and Morarji Gokuldas had by then moved successfully into the cotton mill industry. The market represented the synergy that then existed between textile trading and textile manufacturing. By then, there were similar markets in South India, where significant urban clusters of the textile industry had appeared. The cloth was picked up by wholesalers from these markets and sent to regional shops. Garment manufacturers also took up a certain part of the output. In 1965, there were one thousand units manufacturing garments. The garment industry served urban retail shops and produced mainly men’s apparel such as shirts.

The standard agency system was often of limited effectiveness in establishing brands of quality. The sole selling agent was a stocker of goods, not usually a campaigner. This situation irked some cotton-mill-owning interests who believed they could do better by taking control over marketing. A few of them tried to establish their brand by manufacturing garments and setting up their retail shops. The Delhi Cloth Mills (DCM) did this during and after World War II. Mafatlal, a textile mill combine of Bombay, invested in garment-making and retail shops in the 1970s. Such vertical integration was more expensive than selling through agents, especially when, as in these two cases, the retail shops were in big cities like Delhi and Mumbai. Still, there was a reason some mills took this road. The textile policy of the government of India restrained capacity expansion in the mills to protect the handloom weaving industry. Garment production and sale represented a way to add value to textile production. There is no record of how successful they were in this enterprise. Both companies, however, withdrew eventually from direct marketing. A late-1970s government move to reserve many consumer goods for the small-scale producer may have discouraged investment in direct marketing. In other words, efforts at direct marketing often floundered, preserving a system based mainly on indirect relationships.

In the selling of tea, the agency system was modified by quality. Orthodox or high-quality loose-leaf tea marketing relied on auction houses of Calcutta and London rather than selling agents. Tea merchants bought goods from these auctions rather than from the producers. The partnership between producing firms and multinational trading-auction firms was of vital importance. Auctions were the standard system because the products were of high quality, but producers did not know how much the consumers would value a specific lot. Auctions were the best way to discover prices. For crush-tear-curl (CTC) or lower-quality tea that most people consumed, the sale system was similar to the agency-subagency model described earlier.

Descriptions of marketing in the 1970s and 1980s suggest that the agency-subagency system ruled in everyday consumer goods like oils, soaps, and packaged food.53 Manufacturers owned warehouses or depots, where finished goods were stored. Sometimes, the manufacturers sent goods to freight forwarders and clearing agents, who owned the warehouses. The latter is a standard system today. A sole selling agent arranged to collect goods from these depots to send them to subagents in different regions. Neighborhood shops collected the goods from the latter. Credit sales occurred only between the operators who dealt directly with each other. The system was bottom-up in that wholesalers judged the market and sent feedback. The manufacturer’s own sales team performed a monitoring function rather than dealing with consumers directly. Given that most of these products sold less on the merit of quality and more based on price, cost saving was vital. It would not make sense for the manufacturer to invest heavily in retail sales.

Between 1947 and 1980, the economic policy of the larger state regarding consumer goods was conservative and protectionist. The market for durable household goods was served by a few companies and a limited range of products because importing was expensive in these fields. These goods would include bicycles, refrigerators, electric irons, ceiling fans, telephones, and radio sets. Packaged food was confined to a few products. With restrictions on machinery imports in place, cloth manufacturing did not modernize significantly except for the use of rayon in women’s clothing. Even if the range of products was limited, however, the scale of their market was growing in size, as was the number of readers of newspapers. Consumer goods were a growing market, branded products increasingly assumed a larger part of this market, and advertisements helped to stimulate this expansion. The shaping of market activity, in other words, was driven not just by state policy but also by a host of other, largely independent forces emerging from within South Asian society.

Advertising, 1947–1980

At first glance, there seems to have been little reason for advertising to have flourished after 1940. During World War II (1939–1945), imports were highly restricted, and consumer products were more difficult to obtain; members of the middle class had more income but less access to goods. As the Indian Congress took steps to build a socialist economy, it undertook extensive regulations and adopted a policy of imposing tariffs on consumer commodities virtually across the board, making many foreign consumer products prohibitively expensive, and increasingly restricting ownership of companies, a policy that particularly affected consumer-product firms. Personal taxation levels were high, limiting the amount businesspeople and the upper-middle class had to spend. Consumer incomes expanded slowly during these years of slow growth. At the same, due to constraints placed on production, the demand for some goods—motorcycles, telephones, and so on—outstripped the supply; in some cases there was often little need to advertise because buyers would always be found. State ideology moreover discouraged conspicuous consumption as a moral negative, asking members of the middle class to restrain their clamor for consumer goods for the sake of national priorities. At one point the state singled out the advertising industry for special forms of taxation.

Despite these constraining factors, the advertising profession grew quite extensively during the period between 1947 and 1980. The business of established agencies like Hindustan Thompson and Lintas expanded significantly.54 There was also a multiplication of other firms, including Clarion, Ogilvy, FCB Ulka, Advertising and Sales Promotion, Rediffusion, and RK Swamy. In the early 1960s, there were ninety-five accredited advertising agencies, and the industry had about 300 million rupees in annual billings, many times greater than during the 1930s.55

How do we explain this paradox? One must first acknowledge that, despite the existence of economic controls, the consumer products sector remained largely in the hands of Indian capitalists. In some cases, multinational companies could even do significant business if they established their own factories on the subcontinent and diversified their shareholding. Such large businesses aggressively promoted their products through advertising.

Ironically, competition from “informal sector” producers of unbranded goods may have prompted some of the increased use of advertising. During the 1970s, thanks to a government policy to reserve a range of goods for “small-scale industry” producers, local and unbranded alternatives were often available for much lower prices than what was charged by big firms. Soaps and detergents, and some cosmetic products like hair oil, were examples of such competitive fields. Established brands existed in cigarettes but not in the widely used alternative, bidis. In these cases, the branded and patented good maker needed to send out a message why their alternative was of better quality, worth the higher price, and more respectable. By contrast, relatively few small industries advertised. Many used the same agency-subagency model as did the larger companies. The village shop would stock both the branded corporate good and the unbranded informal-sector product.

In some cases, the markets for some goods also grew significantly, making advertising more attractive. The urban middle class, by this time the main consumer of branded items, clearly expanded. Public-sector employment grew from four million in 1953 to sixteen million in 1983, much faster than the growth rate of the population. A middle class also emerged in the private sector, as the old model of the family business that hired a few clerks and engineers gave way to larger capital enterprises staffed by professionally trained managers and technical personnel. The ranks of literate people in India able to read advertising messages increased dramatically. Literacy was about seven percent in undivided India about 1931. By 1981 it had reached 44 percent in India (out of 735 million). Given the rapid growth of the population during this period, this meant that the ranks of literate Indians had increased almost twenty times. Not all the newly literate read newspapers regularly, but the population who could respond to press advertisements in the media, especially in vernacular publications, had become very significant. The number of female readers expanded dramatically, and many new periodicals catered exclusively to women. Many of the newly literate people lived in smaller towns with populations under 100,000, and the numbers of rural literate people surpassed those in cities. In addition, there were now five thousand permanent cinema houses, often located in smallish towns where advertisement films could be shown.56 The movements of people back and forth between city and countryside and travel abroad for overseas work—especially toward the end of the period covered here—also contributed to a larger climate characterized by the accelerated circulation of commodities and commodity messages.57

In this context, the rural market for branded goods clearly expanded. Agricultural income grew by two and a half times during the 1960s alone, somewhat faster than the urban sector.58 In the Green Revolution regions, the ground for commercial advertising was prepared by government publicity for hybrid seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and diesel pumps. Within a remarkably short time, tens of millions of farmers were persuaded to adopt new techniques in a campaign historians have largely ignored. A substantial rural consumer market, consisting of millions of people who began buying brand-name products for the first time, emerged shortly thereafter. The distribution of income in India remained unequal, with 10 percent of the rural population making 37 percent of consumer purchases. But the numbers who could afford purchases in small amounts were growing considerably. Large companies making consumer goods were well aware of the trend and the opportunities that it promised.59

These broad trends were accompanied by significant transformations in the character of advertising. One general feature was the “Indianization” of advertising. Foreign firms no longer dominated advertising, and the multinationals that remained saw top management positions move into Indian hands. For instance, Lintas, a major Lever-affiliated firm in the advertising business that survived intact, began to hire Indian executives in earnest during the 1950s, with figures like Gerson da Cunha and Alyque Padamsee rising to leading positions. The Indian creative directors of Lintas generated markets for seven new brands of products that were created for the Indian market alone, including Fair and Lovely cream, Liril soap, Surf, Dalda, and Rin.60 At the same time, large agencies entirely founded, staffed, and inspired by Indian entrepreneurs—such as FCB Ulka, Advertising Sales and Promotion, and RK Swamy—rose to prominence. In many cases, advertising positions were occupied by professionals, by graduates of master of business administration programs, and by creative types who had a facility with words and images: lovers of literature, creative artists, and actors. Perhaps the most well-known figure to come out of the advertising world was Satyajit Ray, who worked in Keymer’s and then in an Indian firm; he was responsible for innovative ads and drawings that broke visually with the line-drawing styles we see in other ads. Another figure who moved into the film world from advertising was Shyam Benegal, who came out of Lintas. But many lesser-known figures would fit this pattern.61

Another particularly critical development in the advertising industry was its turn to formal market research, which consumer products firms came to regard as crucial to marketing strategies. In 1950 a survey on tobacco consumption written by R. K. Swamy, then a junior figure in the JWT office, marked a new trend and launched Swamy’s career.62 After leaving JWT, Swamy became head of his own agency and created a leading market-research firm, Hansa Research. Hindustan Thompson founded its own research organization, the Indian Market Research Bureau, in 1970.63 Hindustan Lever, too, came to regard market research as essential to the approach to advertising taken by Lintas. About 1957 or 1958, it hired Rajni Chadha, who had a UK doctorate in psychology. Her first task was to conduct research on Dalda, Lever’s vegetable-based cooking medium. Chadha discovered that Dalda was deployed extensively in middle-class households but with much secrecy. She concluded that the use of Dalda was regarded as a sign of an embarrassing fall in family status, signifying that the family could not afford ghee or clarified butter. Based on this finding, Lintas formulated a new campaign focused on the mother (with the English slogan “Mothers who care, use Dalda” and other even more emotive slogans composed in regional languages).64 Within just a few years of this initial study, Hindustan Lever was fully committed to a market-research program and would base its advertising campaigns upon these market surveys. Professional advertising firms, in other words, did not just design ads; they were engaged in gathering knowledge about consumer practices and values.

Government surveys of a great variety of types were also now available for advertisers to use. These surveys helped companies conclude that the readers of vernacular papers in the small towns and rural areas had purchasing power and could be significant consumers. National statistical surveys provided estimates of consumer buying power and income. These conclusions were accessible to all producers of consumer products and certainly influenced their advertising strategies.

Based upon this new market information, professional advertisers, for the first time, began to make concerted efforts to promote consumer products in rural regions. From the 1960s, there was a distinct turn toward the village. Many of the consumer-oriented companies believed that urban markets were already saturated, but rural markets now began to offer significant promise. The pioneers in rural advertising were the tea companies. Brooke Bond and Lipton brought tea advertising to thousands of villages; the name Brooke Bond Tea was painted on walls throughout the countryside. During the 1940s and 1950s, the tea companies managed to bring about a kind of revolution in beverage consumption that stretched deep into rural areas.65 Unilever achieved a similar revolution in detergents, beginning with Surf, during the 1960s and 70s. In this marketing campaign, demonstrations of clothes washing in a bucket with detergent proved vital.66

Rural campaigns could also extend into local religious gatherings and fairs. An effort was made to influence village elders who could spread publicity about commercial products through word of mouth. The increased emphasis on rural advertising also involved a turn to the vernacular press and greater use of regional languages. During the 1950s, Lever was generating copy in fourteen different languages, not just translating from English. Even more nuanced campaigns would follow in some cases, with a move into all of India’s major languages and sometimes into dialects as well. Within advertising firms, copywriting in Hindi and various regional languages became more common.

Finally, new technologies were deployed in advertising, partly to reach these new audiences. Radio, for instance, became a more significant purveyor of commercial messages during this period. All India Radio, following its colonial predecessors, was not allowed to carry advertisements during the initial decades after independence. Its pre-eminence was challenged by Radio Ceylon, which launched its broadcasting into India with a Hindi-language service with popular music from Indian films. Radio Ceylon ran extensive commercial messages; eventually All India radio was compelled to follow suit. Radio ownership in the early 1970s remained at only about four million sets, two million of which operated in regions with commercial radio, and most of which would have been located in the cities, markets that could be reached by other means. For much of the time, too, broadcast waves were not powerful enough and often could not carry beyond twenty-five miles, rarely beyond one hundred miles.67 The expanded availability of the transistor radio and short-wave broadcasting, however, seemingly increased the significance of advertising by radio during the 1970s. In 1983, 70 percent of the population listened to the radio.68

The most dramatic area of changing advertising technology, however, was the adoption of film. Films had been used occasionally for advertising by multinational companies before 1940, but in general they were regarded as too expensive by most companies. When the potential market for consumer goods expanded into the countryside, often among populations not easily reached through advertisement in printed periodicals, advertisers came to regard film as crucial to product campaigns. Most ad films during this time were one-hundred-foot films, about fifty seconds in length, and were typically shown before feature films and during intermission. Some six-minute films were also made, often with more complex storylines.69 According to Gerson da Cunha, film could bring products to life. One could easily depict happy families around a meal or a sense of pride in the clothes one was wearing, in ways that print media could not depict. Film was particularly effective in depicting situations before and after the use of the product.70

Lintas had the biggest filmmaking operation, producing up to fifty films a year.71 It developed ads for Lux soap starring film stars, for Lifebuoy soap (featuring its punchy slogan “Where there’s Lifebuoy, there’s good health”), for Sunlight clothes-washing soap, and for Dalda, among others. At the same time, Lever possessed a large staff of salespeople who could go to cinema houses to check whether the company’s films were actually being screened. Many of the agency’s most prized employees were placed in the film section.

For industrial products as a whole, advertisements served a range of purposes in the 1960s and the 1970s. Due to government licensing investment in some industries, a few firms served many product fields. In the markets for cement, steel, polyester fabrics, fans, cycles, and electronics, a handful of firms dominated. Advertisement served as a weapon in an oligopolistic marketplace; that is, a few large firms competed with each other through advertising, often indirectly referring to their nearest rivals’ products. In cosmetics, baby food, or medicine, Lever, Nestle, Glaxo, or Johnson and Johnson would offer a patented and high-priced product because no domestic alternative was available. When these firms offered a new product, advertisements served to discover and create a market for it.


From the mid-1980s, significant changes in communications technology and economic policy occurred in India in the wake of what is now known as “liberalization.” The numbers of television connections began to rise rapidly after 1982, when the government eased rules for importing components. The first impetus behind that policy came from the Asian Games that New Delhi hosted in 1982. As domestic production of television sets grew and the government invested more money in transmission towers, TVs became more affordable and watchable in urban India. By 1985, a television was a common household good in urban India. For advertisers, the aural-visual communication via television had a better capacity to reach out to a mass and female market than print campaigns.

From the second half of the 1980s, the policy on foreign collaboration and joint ventures between private and foreign firms eased considerably. From 1992, tariffs on a range of consumer goods and components, which had earlier carried prohibitive import taxes, were reduced substantially. Rules regarding inflowing foreign investment were liberalized further. At the same time, the average income of the population began rising at a faster pace than the historical trend, significantly adding to the consumption power of the people.

None of these developments had either an immediate or a radical impact on marketing and advertising systems. But ultimately, they affected marketing by expanding the variety of goods and brands in the market and increasing the incentives for firms to reach out to the consumers. Although most consumer goods remained unbranded, a large field where the emergence of brands was felt was consumer durables, like refrigerators, televisions, turntables and portable music players, cars, and washing machines. From the early 2000s, computers, laptops, air conditioners, and mobile phones joined the list. Television advertising for these products began to emphasize specific qualities of goods, or the foreign technological contribution therein, via moving images while also retaining the long-established practice of stressing the family as the consumer unit. Looking back, marketing experts think that television and greater choice shaped a new creative energy and possibly led to more investment in both retail trade and advertising. “Marketing,” one of these accounts says, “became the buzzword” of the 1980s.72

Inevitably, the liberalization affected the institutions of marketing, first in the cities and then in smaller towns. Producing firms in consumer industries increasingly felt that they needed to be consumer-oriented rather than agency-oriented. None of that reorientation was at the expense of agents and subagents. But another layer of marketing—the showroom—saw a significant expansion in the cities. Stores displaying white goods like refrigerators and television sets grew in number. There was intense competition for attractive and large retail showrooms in the cities and towns, as trading firms chose to build more direct communication with the potential buyer to attract them and assure them of after-sale service of the machines. The merchants who owned these showrooms were not usually the sole agents of one producing firm but rather stocked products of a range of firms.

Something similar occurred in markets of intermediate goods like steel, as imports of cheap steel was liberalized. An executive of Tata Steel explained that in the old days the marketing person in a steel factory was just another officer but, “Today we have to sell steel.”73 When the company was overhauled in the 1980s, not only technology but also management structure changed. Management responsibility was decentralized to local “profit centers,” which were in charge of both marketing and raw-material purchases.

The growth of exports of clothing encouraged consumer-focused marketing in another way. Trading reemerged as a field of investment and consolidation. The success of garment exports was based in considerable measure on innovative marketing. Department stores in cities of the West were the biggest final buyers of clothing and accessories made in India, but they did not make direct foreign investment in the country that they bought from. Nor was the trade driven by independent intermediaries. Instead, the value was created by managing the chain through which cloth moved and, in the process, savings were made on transaction cost.74 The managers of the chain were predominantly local trading firms.

Advertising from the 1980s drew on the existing expertise and human capital, but the field of play was bigger because the market for branded goods was bigger: from Maruti cars to Hero-Honda motorcycles, Videocon televisions and washing machines, Pepsi drinks, HCL computers, and Reliance polyester fabric, the star products for the consumer market in the 1980s had no counterparts in earlier decades. Personal computers and Modi Xerox redefined office space. These goods embodied foreign technology and a different marketing strategy, one that required reaching out to the consumer directly through print and television rather than through distributors and wholesalers.

Two examples will illustrate how this process unfolded. Both involve traditional products like soap and cloth. Yet both were successful largely due to the backing of direct advertising, to carve out a bigger market share than new entrants in such competitive fields would be able to do in earlier decades. The first example concerns the creation of a detergent brand in the 1980s, Nirma, by Karsanbhai Patel. Patel took Hindustan Lever head-on, using advertising and aggressive pricing and established a 60 percent market share in 1990. Patel was the first industrialist to make highly effective use of television advertising. A short, catchy tune extolling Nirma in all major regional languages became an inseparable part of television watching. Having lost its market share to an upstart, Hindustan Lever responded with new cheap brands, imaginative campaigns, and a low-cost distribution system, eventually wresting some of the market back, itself relying on television. The second example of innovative marketing in the 1980s was the strategy for polyester fabrics manufactured by Reliance, India’s fastest-growing medium-scale company. Instead of depending on agents supplying anonymous consumers, Reliance invested in advertising and dealt directly with cloth retailers to establish its fabric brand, Vimal. By 1980, the firm had more than one thousand franchised retail outlets, and the company spent four times more on advertising than its nearest rival, Bombay Dyeing.

We conclude this account about the year 2000 because some of the more recent tendencies are too fresh to allow an assessment of the nature of their impact. One of these tendencies that can potentially transform marketing involves the smartphone as a multipurpose article (a medium for payment, for advertising, and for generating consumption data). Usage of smartphones spread in India from about 2005 and quickly turned the country into one of the world’s largest markets for phone implements. It is too early to say how the enormous quantities of data that phones can generate on consumer habits matter to marketing activity and for whom it matters.

Discussion of the Literature

As explained in this article’s introduction, historians of the business and economy of modern South Asia have studied industrialization more thoroughly than trade, merchants, and commercial institutions.75 Merchants were of interest to historians if they turned into industrialists, and only a few of them did. Since 2000, there has been more focus on merchants and on small-scale productive enterprises.76 British trading firms that exported goods from India, some of which turned industrial, also received attention.77 But the scholarship remains a patchwork at best.

There is a reason for the oversight. Until the 1980s, the influence of Indian nationalist approaches and the Marxist “dependency” school on business-history scholarship was significant. The dominant view was that Indian commerce was “incorporated” into a Europe-centered world system as a subordinate agent of European capital since the 18th century.78 Indigenous merchant groups could carry on by having “survived the onslaught of foreign conquest or [managing] to carve out a niche for themselves as collaborators of the metropolitan power.”79 The work of Rajat Ray and Claude Markovits, while accepting that the European firms were the “ascendant” and dominant forces in Indian commerce since the colonial era, has restored to the Indian elements the “ability . . . to maintain significant areas of independent international operations throughout the period of European economic and political domination.”80 Work by medical historians and by the authors of this article on artisans and smaller Indian businesses has highlighted the role of small firms in marketing activity. This literature has also been driven by an interest in the history of consumption, which in turn has spurred concern with the study of advertising.

Still, much of this literature obscures the prospect that trading firms might face similar problems in the Indian marketplace and need to respond with similar tools and practices irrespective of their ethnicity. A shared problem was limited information about buyers and relatively high trade costs until mass transportation and communication systems were sufficiently developed. The institutional adaptation to information and trade costs is a subject almost entirely untouched in the mainstream business-history scholarship.

The historical research that we cite is rarely rooted in commercial history as such. Instead, the literatures that this article cites form a diverse set, including studies of specific firms, categories of product (like handloom textiles or medicine), and consumption (including cultural-historical works on the changing meaning of consumption), as well as other studies in cultural history and advertising, including several key works authored by professionals in the advertising industry. The integration of this diverse set within the mainstream business and economic history of South Asia has no precedent.

Primary Sources

Being the first work of its kind, this history of marketing draws mainly on various primary sources. Three types of sources deserve mention.

The sections on sales organization and the agency-subagency system in colonial India rely on evidence collected during large-scale survey-based inquiries on business conditions (especially, the Indian Industrial Commission, 1916–1918, and the Banking Enquiry Committee, 1929–1930). Shortly before World War I, provincial administrations in colonial India were urged to carry out fact-finding surveys of local businesses, which are useful (see, for example, the United Provinces work by Atul Chatterjee, published in 1908, and Abdul Latifi’s book on Punjab, published in 1911). A 1933 US Government–issued Trade Information Bulletin is especially useful as a broad description of the agency system. There are more works along these lines, which can potentially flesh out the history of sales. Oral historical research on small industries by one of the authors was also useful.

The discussion on sales organization after Independence draws on a range of media reports and firm-specific studies that one of us processed in a recent book.81 A cluster of such studies was prepared by the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad faculty almost from the beginning of the institution in 1961. Although the information content of these case studies varies, they are of great value to any attempt to construct a history of trade and commercial institutions in postcolonial India.

On the subject of advertising, this article relies more heavily on archival resources, such as the records of Unilever and J. Walter Thompson. It also depends heavily on newspaper advertisements themselves. Interviews with former advertising executives were also instrumental.

Further Reading

  • Arnold, David. Everyday Technology: Machines and the Making of India’s Modernity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.
  • Haynes, Douglas. “Advertising and the History of South Asia, 1880–1950.” History Compass 13, no. 8 (2015): 361–374.
  • Haynes, Douglas. Small Town Capitalism in Western India: Artisans, Merchants, and the Making of the Informal Economy, 1870–1960. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  • Haynes, Douglas. “Vernacular Capitalism, Advertising, and the Bazaar in Early Twentieth-Century Western India.” In Rethinking Markets in Modern India: Embedded Exchange and Contested Jurisdiction. Edited by Ajay Gandhi, Barbara Harriss-White, Douglas E. Haynes, and Sebastian Schwecke, 116–46. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  • McGowan, Abigail. “Selling Home: Marketing Home Furnishings in Late Colonial Bombay.” In Bombay before Mumbai: Essays in Honor of Jim Masselos. Edited by Prashant Kidambi, Manjiri Kamat, and Rachel Dwyer. London: Hurst, 2019.
  • Muthiah, S. The Spencer Legend. Chennai: Eastwest Books (Madras), 1997.
  • Rajagopal, Arvind. “Advertising in India: Geneologies of the Colonial Subject.” In Handbook of Modernity in South Asia: Modern Makeovers. Edited by Saurabh Dube. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Ramaswamy, K. V., and G. Gereffi. “India’s Apparel Exports: The Challenge of Global Markets.” Developing Economies 28, no. 2 (2001): 186–210.
  • Roy, Tirthankar. A Business History of India. Enterprise and the Emergence of Capitalism since 1700. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.
  • Roy, Tirthankar. “Trading Firms in Colonial India.” Business History Review 88, Special Issue 1 (2014): 9–42.
  • Tumbe, Chinmay, and Shashank Krishnakumar. “From Bazaar to Big Bazaar: Environmental Influences and Service Innovation in the Evolution of Retailing in India, c. 1850–2015.” Journal of Historical Research in Marketing 10, no. 3 (2018): 312–330.


  • 1. “Marketing,” Britannica.

  • 2. For example, Rajat Ray, “Asian Capital in the Age of European Domination: The Rise of the Bazaar, 1800–1914,” Modern Asian Studies 29, no. 3 (1995): 449–554; Chris Bayly, Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983); and Anand Yang, Bazaar India: Markets, Society and the Colonial State in Bihar (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998).

  • 3. Rachel Berger, Ayurveda Made Modern: Political Histories of Indigenous Medicine in North India, 1900–1955 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2013); Jeremy Schneider, “Reimagining Traditional Medicine: Tracing the Emergence of Commodified Ayurveda in the Interwar Period,” (master’s thesis, Economic and Social History, Oxford University, 2008).

  • 4. H. V. Bowen, “The Consumption of British Manufactured Goods in India: A Prologue, 1765–1813,” in Towards a History of Consumption in South Asia, ed. Douglas Haynes, Abigail McGowan, Tirthankar Roy, and Haruka Yanagisawa (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010), 51–76.

  • 5. Yang, Bazaar India.

  • 6. The term “trading carriers” is used by Yang (Bazaar India, 227) who borrows it from the early 19th-century British official. Douglas E. Haynes, “Market Formation in Khandesh, c. 1820–1930,” The Indian Economic and Social History Review 36, no. 3 (2016): 275–302.

  • 7. For an account of early forms of advertising, including non-newspaper advertising, in South India, see A. R. Venkatachalapthy, “A Magic System? Print Publics, Consumption and Advertising in Modern Tamil Nadu,” in Globalising Everyday Consumption in India. History and Ethnography, ed. Bhaswati Bhattacharya and Henrike Donner (Abingdon: Routledge, 2021).

  • 8. This analysis is based upon analogies to Benedict Anderson’s work on nationalism, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).

  • 9. See Mona Domosh, American Commodities in an Age of Empire (New York and London: Routledge, 2006).

  • 10. Anvar Alikhan, “Pre-50s: From Raj to Swaraj,” in Adkatha. The Story of Indian Advertising, ed. Anand Halve and Anita Sarkar (Delhi: Prolibris Publishing Media, 2011), 36. See Venkatachalapathi, “A Magic System?” for similar findings in South India.

  • 11. K. C. De et al., Report of the BengaI Provincial Banking Enquiry Committee, 1929–30, vol. 2, “Evidence (Part I)” (Calcutta: Bengal Government Press, 1930), 121.

  • 12. L. K. Govil, Marketing in India (Cawnpore: Gautam Brothers, 1943), 35.

  • 13. Mel Gorman, “Sir William O’Shaughnessy, Lord Dalhousie, and the Establishment of the Telegraph System in India,” Technology and Culture 12, no. 4 (1971): 581–601.

  • 14. On the interwar controversy over cotton futures, see M. L. Dantwala, Marketing of Raw Cotton in India (Calcutta: Longmans, Green, 1937).

  • 15. J. A. Madan et al., Report of the Bombay Provincial Banking Enquiry Committee, 1929–30, vol. 1 (Bombay: Government Central Press, 1930), 100.

  • 16. All citations from United States, Channels of Distribution of American Merchandise in India (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1933).

  • 17. T. H. Holland et al., Indian Industrial Commission Report, 1916–1918 (Calcutta: Government Press, 1918), 161.

  • 18. Indian Industrial Commission, Indian Industrial Commission Minutes of Evidence, 1916–17, vol. 2, “Bengal and Central Provinces” (Calcutta: Government Press, 1918), 337.

  • 19. Indian Industrial Commission, vol. 2, 284.

  • 20. Sumit Guha, “The Handloom Industry of Central India: 1825–1950,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 26, no. 3 (1989): 297–313.

  • 21. Abdul Latifi, The Industrial Punjab (Bombay and Calcutta: Longmans, Green, 1911), 3–4.

  • 22. Douglas Haynes, Small Town Capitalism in Western India: Artisans, Merchants, and the Making of the Informal Economy, 1870–1960 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 119–126.

  • 23. Atul C. Chatterjee, Notes on the Industries of the United Provinces (Allahabad: Government Press, 1908), 18. Haynes finds a similar range of marketing mechanisms in western India.

  • 24. Chatterjee, 20.

  • 25. Chatterjee, 140–141.

  • 26. Chatterjee, 168.

  • 27. Indian Industrial Commission, Indian Industrial Commission Minutes of Evidence 1916–17, vol. 3, “Madras and Bangalore” (Calcutta: Government Press, 1919), 63.

  • 28. Haynes, Small Town Capitalism; and Tirthankar Roy, Crafts and Capitalism: Handloom Weaving in Colonial India (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020).

  • 29. Interview with Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, interviewed by V. G. Narayanan, Chennai, India, June 28, 2014, Creating Emerging Markets Oral History Collection, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School.

  • 30. David K. Fieldhouse, Unilever Overseas: The Anatomy of a Multinational, 1895–1965 (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1978), 159.

  • 31. Lisa N. Trivedi, “Visually Mapping the ‘Nation’: Swadeshi Politics in Nationalist India, 1920–1930,” Journal of Asian Studies 62, no. 1 (2003): 11–41.

  • 32. Chinmay Tumbe and Shashank Krishnakumar, “From Bazaar to Big Bazaar: Environmental Influences and Service Innovation in the Evolution of Retailing in India, c. 1850–2015,” Journal of Historical Research in Marketing 10, no. 3 (2018): 312–330.

  • 33. Bombay Presidency Labour Office, Report on an Enquiry into Wages, Hours of Work and Conditions of Employment in the Retail Trade of some Towns of the Bombay Presidency (Bombay: Government Press, 1936), 2.

  • 34. For a discussion of the retail trade, see Abigail McGowan, “Selling Home: Marketing Home Furnishings in Late Colonial Bombay,” in Bombay Before Mumbai: Essays in Honor of Jim Masselos, ed. Prashant Kidambi, Manjiri Kamat, and Rachel Dwyer (London: Hurst, 2019).

  • 35. Dulali Nag, “The Social Construction of Handwoven Tangail Saris in the Market of Calcutta,” (PhD diss., Michigan State University, University Microfilms International, 1990), 136.

  • 36. Jyotindra Jain, “The Visual Culture of the Indo-British Cotton Trade,” in The Story of Early Indian Advertising, ed. Jyotindra Jain, Marg 68 no. 3 (March–June 2017): 34–43.

  • 37. Deborah Swallow, “The India Museum and the British Indian Textile Trade in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Textile History 30, no. 1 (1999): 29–45.

  • 38. JWTA, “Report on India, Burma and Ceylon,” 4.

  • 39. UA, “Mr. Vardy’s Report, January 1935,” 70 and UA, “Mr. Sidney Van den Bergh’s Report on Soap Business, Dec. 1934, 16 for descriptions of this system.

  • 40. Prithwiraj Biswas, “Advertising and Enterprise in Colonial Bengal: Reflections on Hemendramohan Bose through a Study of his Advertisements,” (paper presented at the North American Conference of British Studies, Washington, DC, November 2016).

  • 41. These forms of business are discussed more extensively in Douglas Haynes, “Vernacular Capitalism, Advertising, and the Bazaar in Early Twentieth-Century Western India,” in Rethinking Markets in Modern India: Embedded Exchange and Contested Jurisdiction, ed. Ajay Gandhi, Barbara Harriss-White, Douglas E. Haynes, and Sebastian Schwecke. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 116–146.

  • 42. Schneider, “Reimagining Traditional Medicine,” 15.

  • 43. “Notes on Indian Advertising,” Bombay, 1938 (microfiche).

  • 44. Arvind Rajagopal, “Advertising as Political Ventriloquism: Agency, Corporation and State in the Shaping of India’s Branded Market,” (unpublished essay, 2014); Arvind Rajagopal, “Commodity and Commodity Image in the Indian Bazaar: Notes from Trademark Case Law” (unpublished essay presented at a workshop, “Transactional Sociality: Market Moralities and Embedded Capital in India,” held at the University of Göttingen, December 2016).

  • 45. For instance, UA, UNI/RM/OC/2/2/46/18, Report of Mr. J. Hansard on India, Nov. 1927 to April 1928.” Further checking

  • 46. The brand Dalda was first formulated in India, but Unilever had begun manufacturing Vanaspati in Holland during the 1920s.

  • 47. HATA, JWT Co. to Stanley Knott, Scott and Bowne Company, 19 June 1931, 2; Within a short time, the agency had had dropped Goodrich and added Vacuum Oil, Scott and Bowne, and other companies.

  • 48. JWTA, “Campaign for Indian Coffee, 1938–9,” Reel 232 of JWT microfilm collection.

  • 49. Prakash Tandon, Punjabi Saga (1857–2000): The Monumental Story of Five Generations of a Remarkable Punjabi Family (New Delhi: Rupa, 2000), 244–245, 252–253.

  • 50. Robert Bruce Davies, Peacefully Working to Conquer the World: The Singer Sewing Machine in Foreign Markets, 1854–1920 (New York: Arno Press, 1976). See also, Andrew Godley, “Selling the Sewing Machine around the World,” Enterprise and Society 7, no. 3 (2006): 266–314.

  • 51. David Arnold, “Global Goods and Local Usages: The Small World of the Indian Sewing Machine, 1875–1952,” Journal of Global History 6, no. 3 (2011): 407–429.

  • 52. K. R. Srinivasa Murthy, “Ganesh Flour Mill Co. Ltd. (A),” Excel spreadsheet (Ahmedabad: Indian Institute of Management, 1976).

  • 53. C. N. S. Nambudiri, “A Note on the Readymade Garment Industry in India,” IIM Ahmedabad Case Studies, IIMA/BP0038TES, 1966; B. C. Dalal, “Merchants India Limited,” Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad Case Material, IIMA/MAR0025, 1965.

  • 54. Haynes’ interview with Gerson da Cunha, Mumbai, October 2017.

  • 55. Doctor, “Edward Fielden.”

  • 56. Subhas Ghosal, “Rural Advertising,” in The Making of Advertising: Gleanings from Subhas Ghosal, ed. Syeda Imam (Macmillan India, 2002), 144.

  • 57. Ghosal, “Rural Advertising,” p. 8.

  • 58. Ghosal, “Rural Advertising,” 144. It is not quite clear what Ghosal meant by this term (most probably the additions to the incomes of individual rural families during the year), but he used it as a measure of rural buying power.

  • 59. A. S. Ganguly, “The Growing Rural Market in India,” June 24, 1983, Unilever Archives, HUL/10/3/22, 6.

  • 60. Haynes’ interview with Gerson da Cunha, October 2017.

  • 61. Alyque Padamsee, A Double Life: My Exciting Years in Theater and Advertising (Delhi: Penguin Books, 1999); and Halve and Sarkar, Adkatha, 66–70 (on Ray and Benegal).

  • 62. V. S. Chakrapani and V. Ramnarayan, R. K. Swamy: His Life and Times: From Humble Village Origins to the Top Rungs of a Contemporary Profession (Chennai: East West, 2017), 37.

  • 63. Subhas Ghosal, “Alas! They Teach You Only One Thing at Thompson,” in The Making of Advertising, 228.

  • 64. Haynes’ interview with Rajni Chadha, Mumbai, July 2018; and Padamsee, A Double Life, 49–50.

  • 65. Gautam Bhadra, From an Imperial Product to a National Drink: The Culture of Tea Consumption in Modern India (Calcutta: Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, 2005); and Philip Lutgendorf, “Making Tea in India: Chai, Capitalism, Culture,” Thesis Eleven 113, no. 1 (December 2012): 11–31. Based upon the work on Stefan Tetzlaff and Ravi Vasudevan, it seems possible that the advertisers of kerosene, for instance, those associated with Burmah-Shell, may have played a comparable role.

  • 66. Ganguly, “The Growing Rural Market,” 12–13. See also P. S. Ahmad, M. E. Gorman, and P. H. Werhane, “Case Study: Hindustan Lever Limited and Marketing to the Poorest of the Poor,” International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management 4, no. 5 (2004): 495–511. The latter article highlights further efforts to reach even more deeply into the poor once Surf’s position was challenged by the much cheaper competitor, Nirma, during the 1980s.

  • 67. Subhas Ghosal, “Advertising in Marketing: A Look Ahead (1971),” in The Making of Advertising, 127.

  • 68. Ganguly, “The Growing Rural Market in India,” 9.

  • 69. Padamsee, A Double Life, 51.

  • 70. Haynes’ interview with Gerson da Cunha, October 2017.

  • 71. Padamsee, A Double Life, 52.

  • 72. “Change,” Business World, March 27, 1991, 70–74.

  • 73. Business World, April 19, 1995, 42–45, emphasis added.

  • 74. G. Gereffi, “The Organisation of Buyer-driven Commodity Chains: How US Retailers Shape Overseas Production Networks,” in Commodity Chains and Global Capitalism, ed. G. Gereffi and M. Korzeniewicz (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994), 95–123; and K. V. Ramaswamy and G. Gereffi, “India’s Apparel Exports: The Challenge of Global Markets,” Developing Economies 28, no. 2 (2001): 186–210.

  • 75. Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Private Investment in India (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 43–47; Rajat K. Ray, Industrialization in India: Growth and Conflict in the Private Corporate Sector, 1914–1947 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1979); and M. D. Morris, “The Growth of Large-Scale Industry to 1947,” in The Cambridge Economic History of India Vol.2. c. 1757–c. 1970, ed. Dharma Kumar (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 553–676.

  • 76. Dwijendra Tripathi, Oxford History of Indian Business (Delhi: Oxford University Pres, 2004); Claude Markovits, The Global World of Indian Merchants, 1750–1947: Traders of Sind from Bukhara to Panama (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008); and Tirthankar Roy, “Trading Firms in Colonial India,” Business History Review 88 (Special Issue 1, 2014): 9–42.

  • 77. Geoffrey Jones, Merchants to Multinationals: British Trading Companies in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

  • 78. Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Incorporation of the Indian Subcontinent into the Capitalist World-Economy,” Economic and Political Weekly 21, no. 4 (1986): 28–39.

  • 79. Amiya Kumar Bagchi, “Colonialism and the Nature of ‘Capitalist’ Enterprise in India,” Economic and Political Weekly 23, no. 31 (1988): 38–50.

  • 80. “Ascendance” in Entrepreneurship and Industry in India, 1800–1947, ed. Rajat Ray (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992), 13–30; the longer citation is from Claude Markovits, “Structure and Agency in the World of Asian Commerce during the Era of European Colonial Domination c. 1750–1950),” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 50, nos. 2/3 (2007): 106–123.

  • 81. Tirthankar Roy, A Business History of India: Enterprise and the Emergence of Capitalism since 1700 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018).