Market Insights: A View From Bangladesh

A velocity market. Unprecedented GDP growth in this first decade of the 21st century. 60%  of the population under thirty. Thirsty, entrepreneurial, yet wholly respectful of traditional culture and ways of working. This is Bangladesh.

We all know the ‘we-me’ tryst in consumers’ minds in this part of the world: ‘I want to get ahead, without putting anyone out.’ Or, ‘I want to be different, but not too different.’ Or, as one recently said ‘fashion is about being unique, like everybody else.’

So brands traditionally play to safe hands: camaraderie, friendship, bromance, three guys hanging out. Rarely do we see couples, let alone individuals.


This feels like the old ‘recruit new, without alienating old’ strategy. In a fully connected world, where Next Gen are up to speed with global comms like never before, this feels quaint, and a little patronizing.

I had the good fortune of working in Vietnam recently – a country of similar growth and demographic dynamics. Research will tell you of the importance of community and brotherhood and codes of honor all day. Truth is, that’s the line people will tell.  In reality, people will take whatever chance they’re given and embrace brands that say the same.

But, of course, brands can and do serve a collective purpose. They unite us in shared beliefs and badges of belonging. A brand only works if it has a level of shared significance and understanding. Marlboro only works because it says ‘I’m an individual, like you.’ Persil only works because it says ‘I want the kid to be herself, and happy.’


And here, to use these brand examples, people switch-out packaging to connote as much, at a lower price.

As Eric Fromm once noted in Fear of Freedom, humans have a need and want – in the most part – to conform; to not climb above the wall of ambition. Yet this is played out in opposite in Insta-world. Consumers seek individuality and identity from brands, however small.

Witness Coke’s personalized can campaign where everyone is different and everyone is the same. Witness, too the evolution of this famed campaign where near-extinct Bangla words have replaced the Nafis, the Poonams, the Moon-moons. A new collective identity is taking hold, but with a far pointier feel.

This greater whole now feels to be truly a collective of driven individuals rather than the amorphous mass of happy-go-luckies of previous adverting strategy and execution.

Bangladesh is witnessing an unprecedented upward trajectory.

As noted in a recent report by Salman Fazlur Rahman for the World Economic Forum  “Propelled by a robust manufacturing sector and an enormous boom in infrastructure, Bangladesh has set a target of becoming a developed nation by 2041 to coincide with the platinum jubilee of its independence.”

Success stories abound: a massive pool of 600,000 Millennial IT out-sourcing talent; a burgeoning middle class of some 30 million aspirational consumers and a nation, to quote Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, that is “quickly moving to a high-value, knowledge-intensive society, beyond apparel manufacturing.”

Sheikh Hasana goers further, calling Bangladesh a “development miracle,” with “two-thirds of the population young – mostly under 25, quickly trained, adaptive to technologies and ready to engage at competitive wages.”

This is a “quiet transformation” where people are quick to embrace opportunity, be innovative and take risks. It’s a generational shift not just in economic performance, but, critically, in behaviors and attitudes.

Which brings us back to brands and the consumer

It’s easy to track Bangladesh’s economic miracle; what is far less quantifiable is the accompanying shift in the consumer psyche. Collectivism, as noted, still holds sway in many brand beliefs, comms, activation and so on. But the re-positioning of a clutch of ‘local beauties’ Grey has recently steered have pointed in the other direction.

As an example, a brand that for Gen Xers – and indeed the OK Boomers who preceded them – was a famous celebration of brotherhood and belonging was transformed – through on the ground insight – into a fiercely independent symbol of personal progress, all the while retaining its uniquely Bangladeshi harmonious sensibilities.

Bangladeshis continue to show strong loyalty to local favorites. At 2019 Bangladesh Brand Forum Best Brand Awards, ‘Own Sons’ dominated. Just one heathcare brand was the strongest multinational performer, coming in seventh place. (A local cash transfer service scooped top spot.)

Yet, a series of successful brand launches from Grey show the point the increasing appeal not just of ‘international quality,’ but of brand positionings taking a clearly wider world view.

In short, Bangladesh is transforming, fast. Its consumers

To be relevant to this new group of consumers, brands must adopt a more progressive approach in engaging thirsty minds.

Brands can no longer rely on persuasion-driven messaging – faster, quicker… cheaper, etc. They must work to mean more, understanding both the accelerated market dynamics and the increasingly individual, international mindset of a new cohort of energized consumers with money to spend and statements to make.

It all calls for a fine balancing act of dynamism, collectivism, harmony, salience. But one thing is clear: consumers in this velocity market are hungry for more. Beyond functional, transactional, or simply ‘local,’ our belief is that brands must be bold in this ‘brave new world.’

2020 – exciting times ahead.

Richard Head

Richard Head

Richard is Chief Strategy Officer at Grey Group, Bangladesh

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