Bill Magazine — India’s Advertising Explosion

April 15, 2012 9:52 am

When I was traveling through India back in December I came across Old Delhi, the oldest—and most characteristic—neighborhood in New Delhi. I spent a day wandering around the area and became fascinated by its many old signs, beautiful relics that had been eventually covered by newer signs, which had been covered up by even newer ones . . . and so on.

A bit of research uncovered the history behind these multi-layered tableaux. India’s early 90s post-liberalization policies changed the country dramatically. If you wanted to drive a BMW before 1991 it cost four times as much in import tax as the actual value of the car, so very few people ever saw one. Most citizens I spoke to distinctly remembered the first time they drank a Coca Cola. As the BBC reports:

“Before the process of reform began in 1991, the government attempted to close the Indian economy to the outside world. The Indian currency, the rupee, was inconvertible and high tariffs and import licensing prevented foreign goods reaching the market. India also operated a system of central planning for the economy, in which firms required licenses to invest and develop.”

The reform, of course, created an unprecedented explosion of advertising. Pharmacies scrapped their old signs for ones promoting the Western products they could now sell. Cell phone companies posted their ads among thousands of decade-old telephone wires, a beautifully ironic illustration of the country’s dramatic economic changes.

My own images of these advertisements were published in this month’s issue of Bill Magazine. Below is a selection.

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