Sinlung /
26 October 2012

Rebel With A Cause

Denim was classic anti-establishment material; to wear it was to wear your rebellious streak. - K. ANANTHANBy Mohan Menon

Denim was classic anti-establishment material; to wear it was to wear your rebellious streak. - K. ANANTHAN
Appealing to the non-conformist in a consumer is a winning strategy for marketers.

This is not a twisted take on the title of that famous movie starring the late James Dean. In fact, the title may as well have been: ‘Wear your rebellion’.

The young and restless have always had ways of thumbing their noses at the establishment.
The genesis of this article is a feature I once read about young Naga men and women dressed in high-fashion clothes, not Italian or French or any famous label … but mainly Korean!
This called for an investigation, I said to myself. Before I could reach for my deerstalker hat and magnifying glass, the answer appeared. Korean pop culture landed in Nagaland to huge applause thanks to the advent of a Korean TV channel.
It also happened to feature high fashion that would have been quite at home on the Via Veneto or Champs Elysees. Korean fashion resonated tellingly with the sentiments of young Nagas, especially since many of the models looked like, yes, young Nagas.
Why do young Nagas shun Indian clothes with a vengeance? Thereby hangs a tale. (See box)
Wearing your rebellion, of course, is not just politically motivated.
Tapping into this streak has always been a goldmine for marketers.
Denim is a classic case. What started out as a fabric for workmen became a statement, often of rebellion. Denim straddles a wide spectrum from rough casual clothes to high fashion, all tinged with that provocative je ne sais quoi. Denim may have had its ups and downs but then it has always made a comeback stronger than ever. Think about it. It’s the only such fabric in the world that laughs in your face if you are the ‘stiff upper lip’ kind and gets away with it.
Clothing is, of course, a natural for displaying an in-your-face rebellious streak.
Could you use rebellion for selling a car?
Well many years ago the Beetle did that by confronting those gigantic American cars and winning.
A Bentley that drives up may evoke admiration and envy. Let’s say it sported a streak of denim (as indeed some bespoke models do). Then it’s unlikely to be dismissed as some rich fat cat’s toy.

Suddenly it’s a statement that the owner may be rich, but not exactly in love with the establishment.
In an age of ballpoint pens and jotters, a fountain pen could cleverly be projected as an instrument of rebellion. Or even more impractically, a quill and a bottle of ink for desk use. All we need is to electrify our minds and one could use rebellion in unusual ways and settings.
Conformity is ho-hum . Or as Fido Dido put it so memorably, “Normal is Boring.”
When the Church entered Nagaland years ago, the Nagas were dressed in next to nothing.
The priests, after converting them to Christianity, promptly forced them to give up their ‘pagan’ ways and urged them to wear clothing, Western clothing. After years of being under British rule, the Nagas loathed the idea of losing their identity and becoming part of India. Years of strife and militancy followed which culminated in the formation of Nagaland.
Young Nagas were, however, not so easily appeased. And one way to show their defiance was to shun Indian modes of dress and wear only fashionable Western attire.
Mohan Menon, ad man, is a founder director of the Chennai Business School.

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