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Marketing magic in old Madras

Fish hook with a label and text free. concept of special offer or fraud. Deception, a trap on the hook. Vector illustration in flat style  

Decades ago in December in Madras, now Chennai, dawn would see the winter mist hovering over the vast expanse of empty land. This was on Thirumala Pillai Road in T. Nagar. In the middle of this area was where we as children lived with our parents in a huge old building on a two-acre property.

On one such morning, workers set up camp next door for a large construction project and men, women and children moved in. Within days, through the mist came a husky feminine voice announcing for all to hear, “Idiayappo, Idiyappo”. That voice haunts me even now and at that time drew me out of bed to the terrace. That voice came closer and from the mist she emerged, an elderly woman with a basket balanced on her head and a vessel in her hand. Unloading the basket, she “set up shop” in the middle of the site. Then I saw her handing out the string hoppers with some chutney on dry leaf plates to the workers and their families.

As work progressed, the worker population grew and the old women did marvellously well. Our gardener who lived in his quarters at the far end of our compound became my reporter of the new market trends. One fine morning, however, the husky voice was followed by a shrill and younger voice with its own challenging Idiyappo, Idiyappo. The market had expanded and competition had entered.

Within minutes, the air echoed with Tamil expletives as a trade war exploded. The new entrant was offering an incentive with each sale in the form of a neem twig crushed at one end to be used for a toothbrush. The older lady made a strategic retreat that day. The younger one appeared the next day and in minutes so did her older competitor. Idiyappo, Idiyappo became a battle cry.

The older woman laid out her wares and then with a flourish revealed her competing gift — a neem twig crushed at one end and sharpened at the other to a point to act as a tooth pick — plus one more piece of Idiyappom free! More shouts, more expletives till the market grew and peace returned. I have quoted this story for years to marketing classes to show how ingenuity in marketing tactics existed long before this expertise was passed on to the MBAs!

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 1:45:48 AM |

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