A Nudge for Made in India

A branding shortcut to ease consumer choice

How do vegetarians buy packaged food? Based on a green dot. Simple, symbolic, prominently displayed, universally understood, easy to spot, no fine print, no need to see back of box, no need to even take the box out of the store-shelf, no Babel fish needed for the linguistically challenged.

I assume, with some basis, that there is a sizable segment of Indians who’d like to buy Made in India products, other things being roughly equal. However, there’s no equivalent of a green dot, to ease a choice that they’d have made anyway. One way to aid this process is to come up an equivalent branding shortcut, on the lines of a Made in India tick. As a placeholder, imagine a prominently displayed tick, on the front of the box, in colours that self-evidently represent India. Shown two similar options in mobile phones or air-conditioners or toys, those who are so disposed can back their preference with their wallet, just by looking for this simple visual aid. They could upfront specify that they’d only like to see such products. Amazon could let you filter on this basis, much like how we check the “prime” box to filter for timely delivery. In fact, the “prime” logo has an orange tick built into it.

What follows are some nuances, that I discuss just to convey that I’ve thought of them. The idea is to log issues rather than provide definitive answers.

Why bother? We already have a Made In India label. I know, because I look for it. It’s so cleverly hidden in my Nokia phone that I thought I needed bifocals. And it’s meaningless, as all it tells me is that it finally emerged from a factory located in India. It doesn’t tell me whether its content is substantially Indian. The idea of a symbol isn’t merely to have the visual appeal and simplicity of the green dot, but to have a methodology behind it that ensures that Made in India is true in spirit and substance, rather than in letter.

Isn’t this protectionist? There’s no compulsion, tariff or barrier. We’ve long had tags like “ISI mark” or even “Made in India” in text, on products. This is no different, except for simplicity, visibility and clarity of meaning. At best, it’s a nudge. A psychological nudge. Nudges are legal, omnipresent and often preferred.

How would it work? I don’t know exactly how. Minimum 75% local content? Define local content based on value-added at each stage, with cascading ‘ticks’ across a supply chain? Make exceptions for a few basic materials that aren’t locally available? Use GST’s electronic trail to automatically establish or verify local content? The principle is to have criteria that requires a majority of the product to be truly Made in India and a methodology that is straightforward to adopt and track. My guess is that this is a tricky but solvable problem, but not by me. CII, FICCI, Niti Aayog or equivalent could come up with a workable methodology and an enforcement/audit mechanism. Sure, they’d be folks who will try to game the system, but that’s true in other contexts too. It’s a problem we’ve solved for, rather than avoided.

What should the symbol be? Other than a preference for it to have the attributes of the “green dot” – simplicity, symbol over text, visibility, clarity of meaning – I don’t have any definitive views. The idea is to not have it fade into irrelevance or fine-print (like ISI mark), but become universal in adoption and use. Again, this isn’t my department. Like with the Rupee symbol, we could even run a contest to come up with it!

What’s the downside? This becomes a bureaucratic overreach nightmare, with enforcement agencies and courts getting into the picture. Between this, impracticality and system-gaming, we have a dud. While this scenario is plausible, this wouldn’t be a unique or even pioneering case. We already buy labels such as star-rated ACs, BS-4/6 rated vehicles and items with logos for fair-trade or organic. Each of these are based on norms, with enforcement and penalties for non-compliance, and they seem to work well enough for us to stick with them. One option is to pilot the system in a few such categories and review the experience before taking a broader call.

Philosophically, I have no view on how protectionist India or any other country should be (note that I think of it as shades of grey, not a ‘free’ or ‘closed’ binary). I am addressing an if-then problem, without getting into the merits of the “if”. If the goal is to promote Make in India, then we might as well make it easy to tell what’s truly Made in India.

[PS. I am opining on a topic that’s certainly outside my domain and possibly above my pay grade. An amateur interest in psychology and a personal preference for Made in India products are my areas of overlap with the topic at hand. On the latter, I have wondered for a while why it isn’t easier to act on my preference. Now, I am wondering aloud.]

(It felt appropriate to re-publish this on Independence Day. Originally published in June at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/nudge-made-india-anand-sridharan/)