Go back to article: Refrigerating India

The changing political economy of refrigeration

The changes in India’s political economy after 1991 dramatically affected the price, availability and marketing of the refrigerator and other household appliances. The refrigerator was removed from the category of luxury goods, and the luxury tax on their purchase was eliminated. The more favourable conditions for transnational appliance manufacturers after 1991 led to increased competition in Indian domestic markets and lowered retail prices. These corporations and their retail subsidiaries offered payment plans that included small or no down payments and long payback times at very low interest rates. The transnational manufacturers and international advertising agencies brought their long experience with promoting household appliances to India. Nonetheless, studies of early marketing such as those of Mazzarella (2003) related limpid interest and weak sales to advertising images that were not appropriate or interesting for Indian consumers. These were essentially re-treads of successful marketing strategies and images from the US and Europe, emphasising cold food properties that were counter to local ideas about good food. According to Mazzarella, marketers learned from these failures and by the late 1990s began to successfully adapt advertising to Indian cultural themes, for example how the refrigerator would contribute to satisfying the ideal Indian woman as a good (and efficient) mother and housewife. The most successful strategies emphasised that this ‘modern’ technology would seamlessly fit into traditional Indian practices. Mazzarella called this marketing image ‘close-distance’, very similar to successful post-Second World War marketing of household appliances in Japan (Wilhite et al, 1996). In advertising in both Japan in the 1960s and in India from the late 1990s, the emphasis was on how appliances could help women balance the modern demands of efficiency with the cultural expectations on caring for family. Usher (2004) did an extensive analysis of the way women were portrayed in Indian television advertisements of the early 2000s and found that housewives were portrayed as ‘smart in apparel and appearance, and shrewd and efficient with regard to disposition of time and management of finances’ (2004, p 22). Concerning men, Usher writes that in Kerala ‘In the world of advertisement, women provide the humble services while man provides the useful advice’ (2004, p 20). Usher underlines the point that the advertisements of the period contributed to the construction of the meanings of ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ in explicitly gendered terms.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/180903/005