The Case Against ‘Divide and Rule’ Marketing

Alas, they come in all shapes and sizes. And mindsets.

How is marketing going to be able to satisfy this cacophony of desires, unless it puts them in neat little boxes of uniform dimensions? How will it create a mythology of leadership, unless it measures itself against one little, albeit profitable, box? And how will it justify its research emphasis and associated development costs?

Enter Segmentation, that invisible magic wand of any self-respecting marketer (Kotler included).


It was a convenient logic to rally the industry. Media houses complied by making magazines, newspapers and television channels that catered to ‘segments’. Retailers started differentiating themselves on this basis. It was not too much time before consultants started advising marketers on the segments to chase. And, in individualistic societies, where the ‘me’ wins over the ‘we’, it is possible that consumers too deluded themselves into segments, mimicking the behaviour predicted of them.

However, this comfortable model is unraveling quickly. As markets and media get democratized, hyper-customization is ensuring that every individual becomes a segment. Moreover, demography or economic status is fast losing the ability to predict behaviour. Under these circumstances, there is no easy way of creating ‘addressable’ segments that are internally consistent and mutually exclusive. Combine this with an Asian reality that the family almost always trumps the individual, and pinpointing the actual source of business becomes tricky quackery.

No wonder then, the actual consumer of Fair & Lovely fairness creams is still a puzzling matter in India. For that matter, do we really know who eats instant noodles? Or, who travels on those holiday season discount air tickets? And, does that rugged, virile male really drive his dream SUV into the mountains, or does he use it as a convenient vehicle to cart his kids to school?

Instead of blindly celebrating segmentation, we should call out this approach for what it is, the marketing school of unintentionally convenient consequences!

Naturally, it follows that the reader would ask, “Is there any alternative therapy to this default approach called segmentation?”

The author calls it the approach of satisfying the Culturally Relevant Human Truth (CHT, for abbreviation lovers).

Maslow did decipher and create a hierarchy of universal human motivations. Inspired loosely by this, marketing created the Universal Human Truth, motivations and desires that are universal across cultures and societies. But the author believes that adding the cultural nuance (perspective) to this universal human truth makes it that much more potent as a marketing insight.

For starters, culture is inclusive. Everybody inside it instinctively understands it while baffling those outside. Culture does not discriminate on basis of demography, sex, race or income levels. It is like idiom in a dialect, the weave of local fabrics or provincial instruments of music. This is the stuff that binds people together.

Next, culture is connected and interesting. It moves people emotionally, because they relate to it at an instinctive and visceral level. Suddenly, it is not some metaphysical abstract model, but something that breathes within everyday lives of everyday people.

Last, but not the least, culture keeps morphing over time, always contemporary, and yet, always timeless. And, like stock market indices, it may have temporary highs and lows (artificially created by some culture pundits), but it mostly follows a secular trend.

With that discussion under the metaphorical belt, we can move on to the reason why a culturally relevant human truth, CHT, triumphs over segmentation any day. Put another way, inspired by Drucker (?), culture eats segmentation for breakfast.


Going beyond all the negatives of segmentation already mentioned, the CHT is socially cumulative rather than splintering markets and desires. The CHT aligns with how we, as humans, think and behave; not as individual islands of selfishness, but more like a collective of aspirations. It is the magic of the ‘and’ rather than the tyranny of the ‘or’.

Naturally, when we think this way, marketing becomes a cultural marker that is a force for good, rather than becoming an unnecessary source of comparative envy and tension.

The digital metamorphosis is another compelling reason to adopt the CHT. As father and son, strangers and friends, enemies and lovers are on the same borderless social and digital networks, what then drives us are our shared passions and interests rather than our demographic or behavioural fact. In such circumstances, our shared cultural markers become the glue for interesting interactions.

So, how does one go about arriving at a transformative CHT? The author proposes that tried and tested Ogilvy way of chasing a Big Ideal, doing an ethnographic audit of contemporary cultural tensions and marrying it with a larger social purpose for the brand (beyond the functional reality of its delivery).

The condicio sine qua non: Do you wish your brand to make a real difference rather than just being different?

If yes, it’s high time you stop dividing and start multiplying.


For more details, illustrations or examples of the CHT at work, do reach out to the author (twitter: @sub_maya_hai)

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