The global economic meltdown certainly has Indian marketers worried. Stories of companies tightening their belts, and its impact on marketing and advertising budgets, are grabbing headlines. The question often being asked is, “How has it impacted the potential in rural India?”
While it’s early to hazard an accurate guess, my hunch is that considering the fact that India itself has been relatively less affected by the meltdown due to its primary dependence on domestic consumption rather than exports, rural India would be even more insulated, given that almost 60% of its households are dependent on agriculture, where fortunes fluctuate more on the basis of vagaries of the monsoon than those of the Sensex or Lehman Brothers and AIG! Even the increasing spiral of inflation, with its direct impact on prices of vegetables, would indeed benefit the farmer, fetching him a better price for his produce.
Add to this the sop of an about Rs66,000 crore loan waiver bestowed by our generous finance minister P. Chidambaram recently and the farmer’s family could possibly be heading to the nearest hypermarket to splurge!
Making a point: R. Seshadri says an informal survey showed there haven’t been any major cutbacks in rural initiatives so far. Sharp Image
What about the remaining 40% of non-farm households? If you were to consider a mix of traders, artisans, blue-collar workers and local service providers such as teachers, doctors and health workers, among others, who constitute a large chunk of this segment, their incomes and spending capacity would, in my opinion, be as insulated as the farmer household from the so-called global meltdown.
Coming back to the question of marketing and advertising spending in rural India, a quick informal survey among some agency members of the Rural Marketing Association of India, or RMAI (of which my agency is a founder member), shows that none of their clients has announced a major cutback in rural initiatives.
Now is the time marketers need to turn their attention even more seriously to that farmer in Punjab, sitting on his charpoy, inhaling his hookah with a glass of lassi in his hand and wads of currency in his pocket.
For a moment, let’s ponder over what has been happening to the lifestyle of the average middle-income rural consumer in the last few years of our country’s economic resurgence. His hunger for some basic products and services, taken for granted by urbanites, has just started to be satiated.
He wakes up in the morning not to the melodious crowing of his rooster but to the time shown on his latest Sonata watch, brushes his teeth not with datun but with his favourite mint toothpaste, dresses up to go to work not in his dhoti and pagdi but in denim trousers and T-shirt, hops on to his four-stroke motorbike and not the old faithful Hero bicycle, stops along the way for a bottle of Coke rather than the usual nimbu paani, picks up his latest Nokia handset to talk to his family rather than visit the local phone booth, comes back home in the evening to switch on his 21 inches colour TV to watch the latest news rather than “listen” to his old radio gathering dust in a corner, and so on and so forth.
All basic stuff for you and me but not for Dhanasekara Reddy in Rayalacheruvu village in Andhra Pradesh. Stuff he is not going to give up in a hurry, global economic meltdown notwithstanding.
But getting Reddy to change his lifestyle calls for much more than those glitzy 30-second TV commercials that we in urban India are so used to. It calls for innovative marketing and direct communication efforts exploring the dusty rural countryside to goad him to take out the wads of currency hiding in his denim trouser pocket. It is these efforts that this column will showcase and review in the weeks to come.
(The writer is the managing director of Anugrah Madison Advertising Pvt. Ltd, a rural marketing communications agency.)
Local flavour: Thums Up sales went up significantly during Jalsa shows, says Kashmira Chadha of Coca-Cola India. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
Carbonated soft drink Thums Up.
Thums Up Jalsa
Young male consumers.
Pandav Enterprises, a Pune-based activation and promotions agency.
WHAT THEY DID
Thums Up is a strong brand in Coca-Cola’s India portfolio. The company wanted to build a brand connect with consumers in rural areas. The common insight used was that cultural shows are a hit among rural masses, especially in areas which don’t have too many entertainment options. The company launched Jalsa, a cultural show featuring dance, music, poetry recitation and plays, and used it to push Thums Up’s consumption.
“To be able to win an entry pass to Jalsa, one has to buy a Thums Up,” says Kashmira Chadha, director, marketing, Coca-Cola India Ltd. Consumers get one or two free tickets for every returnable glass bottle, depending on its size.
The company says Jalsa was initially designed to create awareness about Thums Up in rural India but its success has led them to use it as a mainstream marketing and promotion campaign.
“We launched Jalsa as a regional activation programme in 2006, and today it’s part of our annual marketing plan, and that explains its success,” says a company spokesperson. This year, Jalsa was organized across 110 towns and villages in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar. “The initiative, by its very design, brings out the ‘will do anything for my thunder’ attitude of the Indian male,” adds Chadha.
HOW THEY DID IT
The company used traditional as well as local media platforms to promote the programme. Apart from placing advertisements in the local media, it used rickshaws that would go around the targeted town or village announcing the show timings and venue. Posters and banners were used to give people details of the show. Tickets were distributed within a 15km radius of the venue. To attract people, the company had lucky draws wherein the owner of a ticket with a specific number would win prizes such as television sets or music systems.
The company claims Jalsa has led to a significant increase in Thums Up consumption in the target areas, especially when the show is on.
New approach: Vikas Mittal of Dabur India says there is a need to move beyond traditional media options such as radio & TV and have a direct engagement with the consumer. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Dabur Amla Hair Oil
Banke Dikhao Rani Pratiyogita (Become a queen contest)
Rural India, especially villages in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Ogilvy Outreach, the rural marketing division of Ogilvy and Mather India Ltd.
WHAT THEY DID
The insight that the company used for launching this campaign was that most consumers in rural areas use loose mustard oil for their hair. Identifying them as its potential target group, the company began work on a campaign that would help in converting these consumers into Dabur Amla Hair Oil users. The first step towards this goal was to reach out to them and make them aware of the brand, and then to get them to use it.
To achieve this goal, the company launched a participatory programme that offered the consumers vocational training, and also involved the local community in the effort. The entire initiative was woven around the brand.
“Our market insight told us that in order to strike a connect with non-urban consumers, we needed to move away from the traditional media options such as TV or print and have a direct engagement with them,” says Vikas Mittal, vice- president, marketing (personal care), Dabur India Ltd.
HOW THEY DID IT
The programme is essentially a beauty and talent contest aptly named Banke Dikhao Rani (Become a Queen) in the targeted areas. The contestants are judged on three parameters—
sundarta (beauty), susheelta (disposition) and yogyata (ability). The contestants are judged by village elders and leaders, such as the village headman, school teachers or social workers on the susheelta and yogyata parameters and trained beauticians are engaged by the company to judge their beauty quotient. While the participants are offered tips on beauty and personal care by the beautician, the winners are promised training to become beauticians, thereby giving them an employment opportunity.
Dabur’s representatives visit targeted villages twice as part of the programme. During the first visit, villagers are informed about the event and invited to participate. A month later, the actual event is held.
The campaign, which is still on, is held around June every year in various non-urban areas across north India. “Rural and semi-urban markets are highly important for Dabur,” says Mittal. Enthused by the success of such on-ground initiatives, the company now runs music and beauty contests for its Vatika and Dabur Gulabari brands as well.
The company says the initiative helped Dabur Amla Hair Oil report at least 20% growth in the previous fiscal alone.
Festive air: Aditya?Agarwal of Emami says marketing campaigns such as Sawan Mela help in building brand awareness. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
Himani Navratna oil
Sawan Mela (monsoon fair) camps.
Pilgrims and local residents in targeted areas.
Jayanti Advertising Agency, a local marketing communications firm from Patna that specializes in rural promotional initiatives.
WHAT THEY DID
The company wanted to build its brand connect with rural consumers in a way that they got to experience the true benefits of the brand. It identified the month of sawan (monsoon), when pilgrims from several areas of north India travel long distances on foot to visit holy places, and decided to set up camps on the routes to offer free massages using Navratna oil. This gave the company a unique opportunity to engage consumers and portray a humane face.
“Sawan Mela participation has been an important brand-building initiative for us. The trial generation exercise at such relevant consumer touch points has helped the brand in building a unique stature among target consumers,” says Aditya Agarwal, director, Emami Ltd.
HOW THEY DID IT
This year, during July and August, the company set up camps to give free massages and product samples to pilgrims en route to Tarakeshwar in West Bengal. Similar camps were set up on the 110km-long Sultanganj (Bihar)-Deoghar (Jharkhand) route. This is a common route taken by pilgrims visiting the Deoghar temple. Tired pilgrims who trekked long distances on foot to reach the temple were given oil massages by masseurs brought in by the company, along with free sachets of Navratna oil. The company also put up banners inviting pilgrims to avail of the service.
According to the company, a million sachets of Navratna oil were distributed at the fair; 250,000 pilgrims availed of the free massages. It says that while generating hard sales from such initiatives has never been its goal, such initiatives help in building brand awareness as well as delivering the all-important brand experience.
Sudhanshu?Vats of Hindustan Unilever. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
Wheel Smart Shrimati
Housewives in rural areas in the age group of 25-45.
Mindshare, the media buying agency of GroupM, part of the UK-based marketing communications company WPP Group Plc.
WHAT THEY DID
“Our marketing objective was to build preference for our brand Wheel with rural consumers in the Hindi heartland,” says Sudhanshu Vats, vice-president, home care, at Hindustan Unilever Ltd, or HUL. For this, the company zeroed in on Wheel Smart Shrimati, or WSS, a television reality show based on the consumer insight that a lower middle class housewife, despite the many difficulties, fulfils her household responsibilities with a great deal of smartness. The company decided to give the housewife a platform to showcase her talents.
“The need was to overcome barriers to reach rural consumers in a cost-efficient way, yet at the same time engage them in a simple and endearing manner. The need, therefore, was to move from the traditional ‘interrupt and inform’ model of communication to the ‘entertain and engage’ model,” says Vats. The reality show, with the brand story embedded in it, helped in building a direct connect with Wheel’s target customer and in communicating the brand’s essence. “Doordarshan was an obvious choice. DD has a strong reach in non-urban markets and reaches over 100 million households where cable and satellite (TV) is not available,” says Vats.
HOW THEY DID IT
The first season of WSS started in 2006. Encouraged by the success of the first season, the company planned to “deliver a bigger and better WSS-2”. “Bigger was obvious as we had hit upon something that our target group identified with, and we wanted to leverage it with a wider audience. Better meant improving upon the idea and exploiting it through multiple mediums,” says Vats. The company thought it would be better and easier to exploit popular movies and day-to-day situations to bring out these values. It thus launched WSS Nuskhe—a 2-minute capsule depicting smart ways to solve common household issues —and got WSS-1 winner Ekta Goyal to anchor these vignettes. Towards the second half, HUL identified a DD programme that gave film synopses in 30 minutes. “We identified Smart Shrimati moments in these films, got the whole segment branded and ensured that the anchors highlighted the linkage during the presentation,” adds Vats. The third edition of this programme started on 13 August on Doordarshan and is on air currently.
The company claims the show has helped housewives connect with the brand and helped HUL improve brand recall for Wheel among its target group. The company, in fact, credits WSS ’ success for Wheel touching its highest market share in its category. It, however, refused to divulge the number.
Top gear: Sanjeev Goyle of M&M; the brand has registered high growth, courtesy the campaign. Ashesh Shah / Mint
Tractor Arjun Ultra 1605DI
Video games woven around the brand.
Affluent farmers aware of the latest trends in farm mechanization and keen to own the latest high-end products.
Rural Communication and Marketing Pvt. Ltd, or RC&M.
WHAT THEY DID
The insight the company gathered was that customers responded well to products they could touch and feel. To achieve this goal, the company hit upon the idea of creating a video game to give customers a virtual feel of the product. And to allow them to have a feel of the tractor, it designed a unique mobile showroom.
HOW THEY DID IT
For the virtual feel, it developed a customized simulation game in which different features of the vehicle and contrasts with rivals were highlighted. To take the vehicle to customers’ doorsteps, the company erected a futuristic showroom over a van and showcased the tractor in a glass capsule.“In the video game, by racing the Arjun vis-a-vis competition and by winning, the consumer experiences a feel of power, speed and manoeuvrability,” says Sanjeev Goyle, senior vice-president, marketing, Mahindra Tractors. “The van offered a touch-and-try experience to the customers.”
Launched in 2007, the campaign is currently on in Haryana, Punjab and Tamil Nadu.
According to RC&M, around 150,000 farmers in Punjab have played the video game in the past one year. The company claims to have registered 76% growth in sales since the launch of the campaign.
Creating magic: The public transportation vehicle is targeted at those who use three-wheelers. Khurram Askari of Insight Connect. Shashi Kiran / Mint
Magic—a commercial four-wheeler.
Burra Katha (a traditional way of storytelling in Andhra Pradesh).
People who drive three-wheelers for transporting passengers in rural and non-urban areas. The company, in fact, claims every village with a population of 5,000 and above as its potential market. It chose to launch the initiative in Andhra Pradesh because the state accounts for nearly 25% of the sale of three–wheelers across the country.
Insight Connect, a rural marketing and communications agency based in Hyderabad.
WHAT THEY DID
The task for Tata Motors was to convince consumers in rural and non-urban markets that Magic was a better alternative to the three-wheelers they had been using for local transportation. “The challenge here was to tell consumers that even though they would be shelling out more money for a ride on Magic as compared to a three-wheeler, the long-term benefits are much more. So,we needed a platform where we could actually explain and educate these benefits to the consumer and respond to their doubts and questions,” says the company spokesperson.
The company finally chose Burra Katha, the traditional way of storytelling in Andhra Pradesh, as the format to communicate the message to its potential consumers. A script was prepared with the brand story woven into it. The story revolved around an ambitious young man who wanted to make it big without working hard. His family advised him to buy Magic and realize his dreams.
HOW THEY DID IT
This marketing initiative started in August in seven districts of Andhra Pradesh. A float on a Tata Ace mini-truck acted as a stage for the artists. It took six to eight days to cover a district.
A team was sent to all locations to announce the coming of the Burra Katha. After the event, representatives of Tata Motors fielded questions about Magic and names and contact numbers of interested prospects were noted.
The data thus generated was passed on to the local dealers and prospective customers were called. So far, the Burra Katha has been enacted in 162 locations covering seven districts; it’s now on in nine other districts.
Encouraged by the success of the initiative, the company plans to take it to other target markets. “While this is the strategy we have used for Andhra Pradesh, where Burra Katha is the traditional way of communication, we have also identified some unique culture-based platforms in other states where we will soon be launching similar marketing campaigns,” says the company spokesperson.
The company has identified 2,800 potential customers. It declined to comment on sales.