Updated: May 24, 2011 16:47 IST

Boon to romantics

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India Plan: Clare Somerville. Photo: Special Arrangement
The Hindu
India Plan: Clare Somerville. Photo: Special Arrangement

Through pragmatic branding, marketing tie-ups and local themes, Mills and Boon is trying to win Indian hearts

The Mills & Boon formula for romances may be complete fantasy and escapism, but the company's strategy in India has been all about pragmatic branding and marketing tie-ups.

Since the launch of Harlequin Mills & Boon (India) in 2008, the company has “geared up its operations many notches”, says Clare Somerville, general manager, Mills & Boon India, U.K., and export sales. “We've tried to bring Mills & Boon to a much higher prominence in Indian trade and in the mindset of the consumer,” she says. “We've made sure the books are available wherever women shop — news stands and hypermarkets — which is very much a global strategy.”

But what's been unique to India (and unusual in global publishing) is the partnerships they've set up with brands seeking the same target audience, from Amul Ice-cream and Café Coffee Day to the biggest brand of them all, Bollywood. For instance, their tie-up with the 2010 Bollywood rom-com “I Hate Luv Storys” gave readers a chance to meet heart-throb Imran Khan, and another a chance to meet the super-hunky John Abraham. Their latest link-up is with Strawberi Holidays, offering readers a chance to win an all-expenses paid trip to romantic Italy. Talk about fantasy meeting reality!

“Mills & Boon has a very high degree of brand recognition in India and is viewed fondly by Indian women of different generations,” says Clare. “The Indian trade is realising the reach of Mills & Boon and that it's a great promotional vehicle, with such a dedicated audience.”

All you have to do to get a taste of that dedication is stop by the Facebook Mills & Boon India Club page, which has nearly 12,000 fans (and is growing at the rate of a thousand members a month, according to Clare), and is filled with messages like “Read the latest book… LOVE the prince and just want to marry him!”. “They really are absolutely Mills & Boon mad!” laughs Clare, “and they really want to participate and contribute.”

Desi romances?

But what has been rather slower in coming is their promised range of Indian-themed romances, with just one, The Love Asana by Milan Vohra (who won their “Passions — Aspiring Author Auditions” short story contest) being launched last year. The reason is simple — Mills & Boon isn't particularly keen on messing with a formula that works.

“Most of our content is global, with the same stories being available from Japan to Iceland to South America,” says Clare. “The essence of the Mills & Boon romance is that a woman from Lithuania or Brazil can equally relate to it, to its magic and emotional upliftment. To bring in local flavour without damaging this essence is tricky.”

Still, she acknowledges that there is an appetite for ‘localised' romances, which is why Mills & Boon India has continued to develop their local author programme, albeit at a careful pace. “We'll be bringing out the next book in December 2012, by the winner of our second contest,” she says. “And hopefully, this contest will become an annual feature.”

Meanwhile, they continue to bring out their tried and tested books in series specially tailored to the Indian customer. “We cherry pick the stories that will work in the Indian market,” says Clare. And what would those be? “The quintessential Mills & Boon in exotic settings, with very attractive alpha-male heroes who'll whisk you away,” she smiles. What's not to like?

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