A Marketing Guide To The Term ‘Urban Poor’ – Niteen, IIM Calcutta

“Poor can fake it. Rich can cheat. Middle class is the ultimate casualty”.

Gayatri Jayaraman wrote an article which went viral and was mostly a target for trolls and puns. This is my take on the term – “Urban Poor”

Few Puns :

I am so Urban Poor that I can’t afford an Ant Repellent so I killed all ants with an Iphone 6s.

Torrents is the urban poor man’s Netflix.

The millennial stays back in office to use free WiFi to watch GOT.


These are the urban poor. A vast majority of young gen metro dwelling Indians. We skip dinner and put those extra hours at work so as to have a gym membership. Constantly checking into famous outlets, bars, sporting events. Trying to create an interesting life on social media. With savings hardly going up with increasing salaries. This has given rise to many funny accounts such as Pakalu Papito. 

Torn between two worlds, it feels is like a hinge on the world that open to two contrasting worlds. We are held back by our past, but pushed ahead by the aspirations of the future or the fear of lack of one. Torn between desire to travel around different cities and live a highly liberal, independent life with no strings attached’ relationship versus desire to stay in a small quiet town with small pleasures of life surrounded by caring yet sometimes nagging people. The former is about getting to know stories of different people, the later is about being part of different stories of the same people. The former is about being suave and detached from customs and bondage; living in the moment with nothing to hold on for. The latter is about holding onto the present with the linkages to the past trying to balance the ship of your life to the future.

The urban poor looks up to the urban rich – one who has inherited well being. Tries to catch up by working harder and making quite a few compromises. Urban elite kids as young as 14 have girlfriends, hang out, party. The difference is that we can only play catch up, being there only for those few moments. We the urban poor constantly keep tabs of our expenditure, but do not fret or think over much to spend bombshell on a mundane movie. We need to plan in advance for spending something for ourselves, but instantly shell cash to catch up with friends. If the old society had distinctions based on caste, religion; the new is based on consumption patterns, accumulation of cultural capital, the imagined communities we develop. The type of things we spend, the amount we spend, whom we spend on. We are constantly judged on what we wear, what we eat, what we watch, whom we do it with.    

Actually, these are what we call first world problems in a third world country. The power of choice is what separates them from the poor. But the choice is a fallacy. The urban poor is devoid of choice to live a life of his/her terms. Else, she would be seen as an outcast. Worse, she might have an existential crisis and lose the burning desire to work harder for that extra toppings worth 50rs, the upgradation to a better bike, or even maybe just to go out and spend lavishly for that “special night out”. No wonder people plaster their walls (real as well as social, although both seem to be converging) with quotes such as “work hard, party harder”.

Social class is very much prevalent in the urban life, even though nobody likes to admit it. From an early age, middle-class people learn to get along, using diplomacy, nuance, and politics to grab the upper echelons of the corporate ladder. The well-off have inherited capital – cultural, social, monetary; while we struggle to accumulate all three. Such early exposure and direct access to culture in the house in more organic means of appropriating gives them a head start. We try to fit in, but never truly become part of it for a long time. Coming from a middle class, small town place, you can never really connect much with your past after making it into a cushion job at the metros. My family wasn’t interested in lucid, meaningful movies and, and I wasn’t in their daily dose of TV sops and mindless chatters. My discourse about global current affairs often were more receptive to the walls than to its owners. I never once felt completely at home among the naive and anti-intellectual crowd of my neighborhood in deepest hinterlands.

I think a class called urban poor exists. But she could have come up with a better name for it. She received a lot of flak for it and she has even accepted few criticism. But, if you ask me, she has opened up our eyes (and to advertisers who were oblivious to this, though most already knew about this) to such a phenomenon and a subject of debate. Her central idea in the article seems relevant. Marketing students need to understand this group as a separate segment and target their 4Ps accordingly. 


About the Author:


I am a graduate of NIT Karnataka, Surathkal; currently studying at IIM Calcutta. I believe in the concept of sonder and onism; hence have a penchant for movies, novels which give a refreshing perspective of society and our colossal history.  I have an itchy brain but lazy feet, well except while playing football. Basically, just another ‘brick in the wall’ trying to increase gross national happiness index. My bluetooth name and wi-fi password is Invisible Hand. I am also foundly  called as “Batman” “Idly” “South Indian Alan”.

Niteen Bali

Student at Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta