Where I stay in Delhi, a few kilometers away, is a popular fish joint called Paramjeet Machiwala. He does not have a logo, no proper signage, forget about a website, and marketing is not his forte. Despite being a branding nightmare, his sales charts would even put a corporate honcho in a dizzy. Every evening, cars line up, people throng like crazy outside his tiny shop. For 3-4 hours he sells fish to people who eat like there’s no tomorrow. Almost everyday, he shuts his shop when he is out of stock due to demand, not because his time is up. His popularity is entirely based upon word-of-mouth epidemic and a strong product. Paramjeet is just one of many brands in Delhi that are hardly branded. If you ask anyone, irrespective of his affluence, in west Delhi for a good place to eat fish, he would easily skip even the five-stars and recommend Paramjeet where you have to grapple with the crowds on a very congested road to get your own piece of fish. If you are in a car, then you will be served in the car. There’s no dine-in place. That the place is a hit is an understatement. Paramjeet often reminds me of my once-favorite late night joint of Moolchand Flyover Paranthewala. Again, with brisk business of parathas and almost no marketing budget, Moolchand Paranthewala has been a hit for ages.
What’s with such unbranded brands? Well they have a few things in common. They have been there for ages. They target the masses, and once their product is accepted, the word spreads like a fire in the jungle. That they are easily located adds to their charm (unlike restaurants in the malls). If you stay in Delhi, you would also understand another important reason for their success: they are carobar-friendly addaas. Also, streetfood culture in Delhi is as old as the city itself. But every streetfood shop does not go on to make a brand as big as Paramjeet Machiwala or Moolchand Paranthewala. They have for decades consistently appeased the palates and become cult brands. Ask any person who has grown up in Delhi, and he would at some time, been to Moolchand Paranthewala at midnight. It’s a part of growing-up culture. In order to be a part of peer group, engage in like-minded conversations and have a sense of common adventure, most young boys in Delhi have been to Moolchand Paranthewala. That is what has made the brand what it is today. Similarly, fish-lovers, though few in North India, would stick to cult places like Paramjeet Machiwala because of the A-grade product and consistent satisfaction. Another common reason for success of such brands is that brand loyalists of unbranded brands are vociferous brand ambassadors and are likely to forcibly bring their friends and accomplices to eat there. Ask any brand loyalist of such brands about a Paramjeet or Moolchand and he will sing praises for a long time. That’s how such brands arrest the psyche of their customers, while ‘organized’ brands spends millions of dollars for such effect to happen.
There are many more unbranded brands in Delhi that enjoy the same reputation. True, their popularity has got them some unsolicited media coverage, but their business hardly depends upon what gets printed; they totally rely upon what is said.