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Never too old to rock'n'roll

They spent their youth scrounging for stray scraps of the good life in the wilderness of the pre-liberalisation days. But that’s okay: Today, a chunk of this generation is older, wiser, richer—and furiously catching up with life as it should have been.

Brian Carvalho | Print Edition: December 30, 2007

And he was too old to Rock ‘n’ Roll
but he was too young to die.
No, you’re never too old to Rock ‘n’ Roll
if you’re too young to die.
                                                    Jethro Tull

Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! (1976)

When Ian Anderson, frontman of the progressive folkrock band Jethro Tull (it was progressive in the ’70s for sure), wrote Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll, too Young to Die! in the mid-seventies, critics were quick to conclude that it was autobiographical in nature. Indeed with lyrics like “The old rocker wore his hair too long, wore his trouser cuffs too tight”—not too different from Anderson’s stage garb those days—it did seem as if the song was about an ageing songwriter. Anderson duly dismissed that theory as poppycock. In his defence, he was just under 30 at that time. Today, he’s 60 and still going strong, playing all over the world to audiences who have no qualms about—to use the title of another Tull album—living in the past. Along with Anderson, who clearly isn’t old enough to quit rock ‘n’ roll. Not yet.

Anderson has done a few gigs in India too in recent years. His following—as everywhere else he plays—is largely made up of ageing rock fans who grew up listening to his haunting flute melded with folksy rhythms and catchy guitar riffs. But there would be one crucial difference between Tull buffs in India and those in most parts of the world: The band’s domestic followers never got to see the band at its peak—not at least on local soil. A much-belated concert without the vigour and the wild stage antics that Anderson was renowned for may have not quite been the Real McCoy. But Tullstarved fans didn’t complain; this was just one way to catch up with life as it should have been.

So what's age got to do with it? Materialism cuts across age barriers
32% of men of 55 and over are materialistic
36%of men between 45-55 are materialistic
36% of men between 35 and 45 are materialistic
38% of men between 25 and 35 are materialistic
40% of men between 21 and 30 are materialistic
Letting one’s hair down—at least for those who still have it—at retro-rock acts is perhaps an apt analogy for the middleaged urban Indian (largely) male who’s trying to make up for the time lost in the wilderness of the pre-liberalisation days. It was a time when choices were few—those that did exist weren’t the coolest ones—and when today’s buzzwords like purchasing power and disposable income were contradictions in terms. However, unlike some of the geriatric rockers—who the uncharitable would say are going through the (rusty) motions to cover the mortgage bills—there’s a section of the urban Indian middle-aged male populace (whose age could go up to 60 and beyond, depending on the passion and zest for life) that is still pretty fired up and raring to go.

It’s still sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll—only, as one wag put it, the drugs are perhaps Avandia (anti-diabetes), Lipitor (cholesterolreducer) and Viagra (ahem). Cut to the arid landscape of the preliberalisation period when most music was borrowed (or stolen); when wheels to aspire for were mopeds or the ubiquitous Ambassadors and Premier Padminis; when foreign brands to yearn for were Lee, Levis and Nike (rather than Gucci, Versace and Dior); when a night out either meant getting plastered in a noisy disco (and there weren’t too many of them) or in a seedy bar; and when an overseas trip was akin to going to the moon and back. Says Nirvik Singh, Chairman (South and South-East Asia), Grey Group, a global advertising giant: “In those days choices were extremely limited. Today, my children don’t believe that cars in those days also came without air-conditioners. In our days, AC in a car meant you were a rock star.” When Singh began his career as a tea salesman at a princely monthly salary of Rs 1,250, one of his biggest aspirations was to own a Premier Padmini—with air-conditioning.

Nirvik Singh, Chairman
Nirvik Singh, Chairman
South & South-East Asia, Grey Group

Two decades ago, Singh was earning Rs 1,250 per month as a tea salesman, and aspired for a moped, an air-conditioned Premier Padmini and an overseas trip. “AC in a car meant you were a rock star,” he says.

He’s doing well for himself now, driving around—or being driven—in the new Eclass Mercedes and the Honda CRV. A souvenir from the past still lies in his backyard: A moped he had bought from his salary at his first job. Today, Singh takes pride in his ample book, art, wine and single malt whisky collections. And he isn’t the only 40-something (he’s 44) who’s making up for lost time. As the BT-MaRS survey indicates (see What’s Age Got to do with it?), “highly materialistic” men are in high proportion across the board. Half of the country’s population may be under 25, and three-fourths may be under 35. But that isn’t deterring the minority—which is still huge demographically— from living the high life. Says Santosh Desai, CEO, Future Brands (from the Kishore Biyani stable): “Today you see all age groups experimenting with colour and style, even in their office wear. I grew up at a time when my dad wearing denim was unthinkable. Now, at 70, he is comfortable in jeans and in tees.” For his part, Desai, 44, who spends a lot of time with his books and music, says: “I am more adventurous now than I was at 25.”

It’s a segment that marketers shouldn’t be ignoring. For two reasons: The sheer number of such consumers; and the disposable income that’s concentrated in these hands. Research done by the Grey Group pegs the size of the urban middle-age market—those between 40 and 55—at a mouthwatering 8.33 million (that’s roughly a seventh of the entire population of the UK). They’re loaded too. “The big spenders in (big-ticket) categories like cars and consumer durables are the 35-plus males. They are the guys who have the money,” says Desai. They’re also the guys who onestore music shops like the 60-yearold iconic Rhythm House in South Mumbai are banking on big-time.

Facing the heat from MP3s, downloadable music (of the legal and illegal variety), Apple’s music store, subscription-driven services, and the latest threat of organised retailers getting into the game, Mehmood Curmally, Director, Rhythm House, is worried about the future of offline music sales. His ray of hope: The middle-class, middle-aged music aficionado, who makes up a little over half of his customer base. “Old Hindi film music, rock albums and music DVDs are what they buy, and I am hopeful that this niche will remain in India,” he explains.

Curmally is putting his money where his faith lies. Recently, he ordered 50, 15 CD sets of the entire Pink Floyd collection, and DVDs of The Beatles’ second feature film Help!, along with which customers get a 60-page illustrated hard-backed book with rare photographs of the Liverpool band. “Now that can’t be downloaded,” quips Amir Curmally, Managing Director of the music shop. At Rs 5,000 a pop, Help! isn’t cheap, yet it’s something for which Beatles fans wouldn’t mind shelling out that kind of money. One potential visitor to Rhythm House could be Kishore D.F., 41, Director of Seijo and the Soul Dish, a ‘high-end lifestyle’ dining spot in the urban-cool Mumbai suburb of Bandra. When Kishore and his partner, Nitin Tandon, started Seijo three years ago, they saw a vacuum, and an opportunity. “At one end were the pubs that cater to everybody right from 20 to 40. At the other end, there are the five-stars and clubs. We felt that the 35-plus urban Indian male had evolved to a new stage and was looking for places to exhibit his stature. And there were not too many such options. Our food, bar and music are not popular, but are aspirational, and attract the evolved urban male,” explains Kishore.

Living it up before they get old

What the affluent 40-45-year-old urban man is like.

  • At the peak of his career, at the height of his earning power

  • Rich, prosperous, settled, arrived; high spending power, high propensity to spend

  • Upgrades are a part of his station in life

  • Changing social realities prompt symbol-spending

  • Consumers of apparel, automobiles, consumer electronics & durables, banking & financial instruments

  • Self-actualisation changing shape from a comfortable, hassle-free life to action, discovery

  • The future rests with happiness enablers

Source: Excerpts from The Puppet Kings, Testing the muscle of the successful urban patriarch, a study of the 40-45 Sec A urban male done by Grey Group

Some 70 per cent of Seijo’s clientele are over 35, and who wouldn’t blink at the prospect of spending Rs 3,000 for a meal (for a couple), and Rs 5,000 for a night out. Kishore estimates that this segment would be spending at least Rs 10,000 a week for two in such places (others in the same segment in Mumbai would be Olive, Indigo and Zenzi).

The typical walk-in: Entrepreneurs and senior managers earning at least Rs 20 lakh a year. Much of Seijo’s clientele, as Kishore puts it, comprise of “guys who missed the bus”—those who perhaps wished there was a Seijo’s (and a booming economy, to boot) in the seventies and the eighties. That base he acknowledges is small, and to be sure doesn’t include everybody who’s loaded. Kishore’s short point: Not everybody with purchasing power is Seijo’s target audience. That’s where his theory of “evolution” comes into play (30 per cent of his customers are expats). For instance, Seijo doesn’t play Bollywood music (despite occasional requests!) and won’t serve up pizza and pasta. It gets 150 people on an average good day, and around 400 on the weekend.

Clearly, not everybody in the money and middleaged need fit the making-up-for-lost-time generation. Singh of Grey is beginning to get wary of the obsession with everything material. “It’s becoming the only yardstick to measure success, and there’s a frantic rush to keep up with the Joneses,” he shrugs. Says Desai: “This is the first generation of middle-aged men that has money in surplus to indulge in luxuries. In developed markets that transition is already done. Our vocabulary of indulgence is new.” As Singh adds: “The Indian male has tasted flesh for the first time in his life. It’s a bit like taking a kid to the candy store.” Let the good times roll.

Additional reporting by Pallavi Srivastava

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