How Tanishq broke into the bridal jewellery market in India

From the Tanishq collection (Courtesy Tanishq/Instagram)
From the Tanishq collection (Courtesy Tanishq/Instagram)


An excerpt from Titan managing director C.K. Venkataraman's new book, ‘The Tanishq Story’, where he talks about the unusual approach Tata Group took to the jewellery business in the country

The advertising of Tanishq in the early 2000s was essentially jewellery-collection-led and had a look which was very distinctive, stylish and fashionable. The women shown were quite Western in their styling, they exhibited a behaviour which was independent and modern and the overall look and feel of the Tanishq ads were quite different from the rest of the industry. Tanishq stood out distinctively because of that. But our positioning also had some drawbacks. The brand consultant and social commentator Santosh Desai (we also went to college together) was commissioned by Tanishq sometime in 2004 to create a sustainable brand value proposition.

‘I remember Harish Bhat telling me about a brand problem that needed solving. Tanishq was a highly regarded brand, well thought of, but did not seem to reside in the heart of the jewellery market – the wedding market. Tanishq was seen as good for the trinkety stuff and did not appeal to those who went to the traditional jewellers. Admired but not bought to the same extent,’ he says.

Santosh recollects that there was some internal conflict as well, in his view, where the brand and design teams thought of the wedding market as a business necessity, but their natural impulse was to see Tanishq for its design differentiation and fashion quotient. He remembers images of African-American women modelling for Tanishq, a woman in a TV film tossing the diamonds into the swimming pool–the team’s lens of fashion leading the brand into such territories of expression.

Also read: Tata Communications' Amur Lakshminarayanan on connecting businesses worldwide

Santosh and his team looked at various jewellery stores, spoke to Usha Balakrishnan, a jewellery historian, consulted Devdutt Pattanaik, a mythologist and author, got a semiotician on board, and did a fair amount off deep consumer conversations. After much thinking and reflection, Santosh’s inputs to the Tanishq team were the following: You are remaining outside the culture. You are behaving like an outsider. You think of jewellery as fashion. Jewellery is not fashion, jewellery is culture. So, don’t look down on tradition, don’t run away from it. In fact, become the biggest repository of tradition. Yet you are Tanishq, not like any other jeweller. You are a national brand, not a regional jeweller. So, reinvent tradition, revitalize tradition. Engage with tradition with understanding and respect. But do your own take on it!


Published by Juggernaut, 256 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>699
View Full Image
Published by Juggernaut, 256 pages, 699

I remember these inputs rather well as they came sometime in early 2005 after I had become the COO. While a layman may not understand some of these finer aspects of brand value propositions, many of these observations would resonate with Indians. ‘Tanishq’s take on tradition’ immediately appealed to me. I was fresh into the category and did not know its codes well enough, but just the difference between the advertising of every other jeweller and Tanishq suggested to me that we were playing in a small field. We needed to widen the appeal of Tanishq if we wanted to grow rapidly and become a prominent player, if not the leader. The revitalizing-tradition approach seemed to have the potential to substantially widen Tanishq’s appeal without diluting its unique identity. This made special sense at a time when Tanishq’s sales were around 500 crore in a market which was approximately 50,000 crore There was so much scope for growth!

The other substantive point this fork-in-the-road moment raised was: a brand is far too important to be left in the hands of the brand manager. In consumer businesses, the proposition of the brand defines the scope of its play in the industry and that decision cannot be abrogated to a brand manager, likening the brand strategy to ‘some ads’. It is the CEO’s responsibility and duty.

The first TV film that expressed this new proposition is also one of the best Tanishq films of all time. RamSam (Rajesh Ramaswamy) is now an independent filmmaker and was the creative director at Lintas in 2005. ‘We struggled for a few weeks in trying to crack our first film to communicate Revitalising Tradition,’ recollects RamSam, on a Zoom call we are on, joined by Sudhir, his business partner and the head of the Tanishq account in Lintas for many years. After struggling to create a solid screenplay, the Lintas team hit pay dirt after Vikram Satyanath, the account planner on the team, came back after seeing Vidya Balan’s movie Parineeta and suggested that they create a period setting.

That idea gave birth to the launch of the ‘New Tales of Tradition’ campaign, with the film showcasing an early twentieth-century wealthy Bengali household with all its traditions, but with a twist: a demure-looking daughter-in-law wearing an exquisite kundan necklace, her ghunghat (veil) in place, is shown as being respectful to her in-laws, praying in the puja room, playing with her young son, and then taking the wheel of their vintage car to the amusement of her indulgent husband and approving mother-in-law, watching from the first-floor window. The ad film was a hit and helped establish the new direction that would continue for a very long time. It would always be referred to as the ‘Parineeta film’ among some of us and the Lintas folks.

This approach took Tanishq soon into a serious sponsorship of Hindi movies as well. While Tanishq had signed up with Paheli in 2005, a Rani Mukerji-Shah Rukh Khan film, the first big one was Jodhaa Akbar in 2008, an Aishwarya Rai-Hrithik Roshan film, set in the Rajput-Mughal period. We ended up working with vendor partners and karigars in Rajasthan and creating exquisite kundan jewellery for the heroine, the hero and some other characters in the film (everyone in the film except the horses and elephants, we used to joke!).

Jodhaa Akbar was a big hit and brought Tanishq to the centre of the jewellery market. The immediate success was the sale of the products inspired by the movie. But the more lasting benefits were the revival of the craft of kundan jewellery (exquisite Bikaneri jewellery set with stunning polki stones – flat-cut diamonds – and embellished with enamelling on the back). And the subsequent launch of glass kundan jewellery, where the glass was used in the place of the polkis to make the jewellery affordable and accessible. Hundreds and thousands of customers have had the privilege of wearing such stunning pieces over the years.

Our next big project was weddings. Work had begun in the early 2010s to address the wedding market. Multiple communities had been identified which contributed significantly to the overall wedding jewellery sales: Telugus, Punjabis, Gujaratis, Bengalis. The multiple items that went into each trousseau were pinned down and developed with expert vendor partners. …. We also needed to tell all those customers that Tanishq was into serious bridal jewellery. And for that, we wanted a breakthrough TV film.

It was 2013 and the early days of our ‘Wedding Campaign’ journey. After multiple scripts around conventional, feel-good situations, Lintas suddenly brought the second marriage film to the marketing team. The first version of this idea was set in a court. It was designed as a civil marriage. Deepika Tewari headed Tanishq Marketing for eight years till 2019 and recollects that her initial reaction to this idea was a bit shaky. Here they were trying to get Tanishq to be considered favourably as a brand for bridal jewellery, and Lintas wanted to present the brand in a second marriage setting! But Lintas persisted and came up with the final version, set in a conventional wedding setting. ‘By then, we were starting to warm up to the boldness of the theme and were convinced about it,’ adds Deepika. The film starts by showing a beautiful young woman playing with a little girl, while dressing up for a big occasion. Their relationship appears quite close, and the viewers are left thinking that the little girl is perhaps the young woman’s niece…. We see the young woman and the bridegroom doing the saat pheras. The little girl is sitting on the lap of the young woman’s mother while the saat pheras are happening. Suddenly, she shouts, ‘Momma, I also want to do round-round!’ revealing to the audience that the young woman is her mother. The bridegroom calls out to the little girl, carries her in his arms and the three of them complete the saat pheras together.

Even in 2013, it would have been perfectly fine for a man to get married the second time, but not so easy for a woman, and barely for a woman with a child! A woman director, Gauri Shinde, made the film and her inputs made a huge difference in the overall mood and detailing. Many of these nuances – the dusky complexion of the heroine, her not wearing a ghunghat, the groom appearing to be younger than her – were picked up and appreciated by viewers later. The film established the progressiveness and boldness of Tanishq. The film did not help us in selling the jewellery collection we had lined up at that time, but became the symbol of what Tanishq stood for.

Excerpted with permission from The Tanishq Story by C.K. Venkataraman, published by Juggernaut.

Also read: Jewellery that tells time

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.