Guru of Indian marketing
Thursday 17 April 2003
SHUNU SEN was India's marketing guru for over three decades, responsible for successful brand building at a time when such concepts were relatively unknown in the country. Through innovative marketing campaigns he popularised a host of consumer products, such as toothpastes, bath soaps and toiletries manufactured by his employer Hindustan Lever, an affiliate of the UK-based Unilever, that remain household names today, decades after they were first launched.
Sidartha Sen, marketing and advertising executive: born Bombay 8 July 1939; married Indu Narain (one son); died New Delhi 3 January 2003.
Shunu Sen was India's marketing guru for over three decades, responsible for successful brand building at a time when such concepts were relatively unknown in the country. Through innovative marketing campaigns he popularised a host of consumer products, such as toothpastes, bath soaps and toiletries manufactured by his employer Hindustan Lever, an affiliate of the UK-based Unilever, that remain household names today, decades after they were first launched.
Before retiring from Lever's as marketing director in 1995, Sen tutored an entire generation of Lever managers in what motivates consumers, the mysteries of brand management and how to deal with hidebound advertising agencies.
But it was for his grit, following a spinal injury that confined him to a wheelchair in the early 1990s, that Sen was most admired. Though in constant pain and undergoing heavy medication, he reinvented himself by successfully launching a marketing consultancy and becoming India's head of WPP, the world's largest advertising conglomerate.
Sidartha Sen, nicknamed Shunu, was born into an upper-class Bengali household in Bombay, the son of a colonial Indian Civil Service officer. He attended the exclusive Doon School in Dehra Dun, north of Delhi. After graduating from St Stephen's College in Delhi in 1959, where he won the annual rock'n'roll contest, Sen joined the high-profile Hindustan Lever as a highly paid management trainee in 1960.
The concept of marketing was new to India in the early Sixties and Sen set about developing it into a well-honed science. He believed that the consumer was the key to a successful marketing campaign and began relentlessly studying and wooing him. According to Sen, all consumers preferred a "winning brand" because it helped build their self-image and, to his employers' delight and profit margins, he gave it to them.
After he founded his own marketing company, Quadra Advisory, in New Delhi around 1996, the federal government tapped Sen's skills by appointing him to a committee that formulated a feasible strategy to market airtime on the state-owned television and radio networks.
Sen loved music from the 1950s and was a jiving enthusiast who won his business rivals over to his point of view with a crafty combination of charm, irreverent humour and humility.
As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”
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