Nepali Times
Economic Sense
Catch ’em young


The new money-making mantra when more than half the population is below nyone at Thamel on Nepali new year's eve would have seen it was business as usual-crowded restaurants and bars, and the expected snarls in traffic. All a far cry from the riots of that very afternoon. To the Beed, it seems one particular section of Nepali youth are determinedly indifferent to political turmoil. They are young, upwardly mobile, brand sensitive, and, from what goes on in Thamel, they have money. Money that marketers are beginning to target.

More than half of Nepal's population is under 25. That is a large and fertile field to plough. So what if most young people don't have independent incomes? Their indulgent parents do, and this is why products, brands and advertisers are homing on this demographic. They are the future. And if you can create some tenuous link, some mirage of requisite 'hip'-ness, the otherwise fickle youth will offer businesses a semblance of loyalty.

Worldwide, under-25s are becoming consumers who not only buy, but also influence purchase decision. In Nepal too, with families going nuclear, younger family members influence their parents' decision on the make of television, restaurants, car or breakfast cereal. Branding begins early. Catch 'em young is the new money-making mantra.

Our young consumers are a savvy bunch: they know originals from fakes and they'd rather die (sometimes the Beed suspects they mean it literally) than be seen shopping at downmarket places like a Khichapokhari stall or wearing a sweater that Aama knitted. No, they want Armani. This has resulted in stores catering almost exclusively to young adults. They shop in packs, almost never with their parents, and if something meets their approval, the whole group is likely to buy it, in different colours. Multiply this a thousand-fold and you see the potential.

Take mobile phones. As they become the must-have accessory among the youth, manufacturers are in fierce competition. English, the global lingua franca, opens up new vistas of information through movies, tv and music videos. Everyone wants to be part of the 'in' group and trends are born, reach critical mass (happily for the manufacturers who rake in the moolah) and then wither away if they cannot innovate and offer something new.

Nepal's 25 million population is a big market, even compared to India and China. South Asia and South East Asia demonstrated how quickly consumerism can lubricate economic growth. When the political stalemate breaks, there is going to be an economic boom, fuelled in no small way, by young consumers spending more.

Of course all this buy, buy, buy fervour creates problems. We need only cast back to Thamel again. Under the bright city lights, young boys wearing clothes designed by American hip-hop artists fight each other in the streets. Young girls wearing short skirts and glossy lipstick solicit customers openly. They candidly tell the Beed that they've even stolen to keep up with their friends.

There is a dark side to all this consumerism so there must be a code of conduct. After all, the bottom line is not always the bottom line.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)