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NEW DELHI : India’s rural marketing landscape is set to change, said Amit Doshi, chief marketing officer at Bengaluru-based Britannia Industries Ltd, the maker of Good Day, Tiger, NutriChoice, Milk Bikis and Marie Gold biscuit brands. In an interview, Doshi, who had stints in Lenovo and Perfetti Van Melle, spoke of the acceleration in digital media consumption, evolution of the influencer ecosystem and the need for brands to be more empathetic in a post-covid world. Edited excerpts:

 

After covid-19, are brands weaving more sympathy into their messaging? 

The pandemic taught marketers to be far more humane and connected with what was happening around us. There’s been a debate around purpose-led advertising, but this (pandemic) was a very different situation. I really hope that brands continue to stay humane. But at the same time, it’s very important that brands are not opportunistic about a situation like this. There is a certain role that categories and brands play in consumers’ lives and it’s extremely important that marketers are aware of where the line is. So, I would say that while it’s a good sign, it’s very important to know what role a brand can or cannot play in difficult situations. During covid, advertising for almost all of our brands turned contextual. We realized that while consumers were staying at home, they were also vulnerable to unhealthy eating. So, NutriChoice advertising was still about healthy snacking, but making sure that your hands don’t go to something unhealthy. Coming out of covid, I feel that all of us, including Britannia, need to be extremely close to the consumer. Because we’re also seeing some of the habits reverse as quickly; people are going back, they are travelling, kids are back to school. 

Has the pandemic brought about a rapid shift in media spends?

I’m a big believer in taking a balanced approach to marketing and media planning. It’s the classical approach of horses for courses. It completely depends on the markets that we’re speaking to, the socio-economic strata that consumers belong to. Media habits are very varied in a complex market like India. So, depending on the challenge that we have at hand, we work with first principles (of marketing) and come up with a media plan. Having said that, yes, we’ve seen digital media habits change dramatically during the pandemic. This year, that growth will accelerate. If you look projections by prominent media agencies, the prediction is that digital media spends this year will overtake those on television. That means we’ve got to keep with the pace of change, perhaps even stay ahead of the curve. 

How much of this digital adoption is changing rural marketing? Has there been a fundamental change in consumer media habits on account of digital? 

100%. It’s a massive change that we are seeing unfold in front of our eyes. If you see the influx of content consumption—all of these are trends that cut across the country. The world around us has definitely turned more digital-savvy, post-covid. That’s true of rural consumers as well. Cheap data connectivity, along with a smartphone at hand, and content consumption becoming more democratic, more vernacular, is certainly going to change the way the rural consumers consume media. If you look at the content creator ecosystem, content creation in India is actually bursting open across all strata of the economy. It’s not just a metro or urban phenomenon. Tomorrow’s biggest content creators are actually coming from small towns and rural centres. This will further accelerate consumption. 

So, in all forms of digital, whether it’s social media, or its content platforms, like Jio, or even the digital editions of vernacular newspapers, there’s a lot of consumption that’s happening. The supply side is exploding, because the content creator ecosystem is no longer just coming from urban India. Finally, as FMCG expands on e-commerce, the pin code coverage will also increase. 

If you look at all of this, I do feel that rural marketing as we know it, will change dramatically. There are some early experiments that we’re seeing in the industry. 

How big is influencer marketing for Britannia?

For me, influencers form one more conduit to engage with consumers. But I would say the work that most industries and companies in India still do with influencers is very scratchy where there is a product placement, and influencers carry it in their content. 

Do we participate in that? 

Of course, we do. So, in one case, we’ve helped transform a consumer into an influencer for the local community and now they’re the face of the brand. 

In another case, which is for Marie Gold Jeera, we’ve actually used homemakers, who had clout and influence in the social media ecosystem, to actually help us develop products.

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