A brand can ride on a film’s popularity without paying the costs such endorsement would entail
Let me start with a story. Over 25 years ago, I was the regional head of a large advertising agency. One day, we got a call from one of our clients, a large cycle brand in Madras, as Chennai was known in those days. They wanted us to evaluate a proposal for an in-film placement. There were a couple of bright young MBAs from Bombay and they were recounting their story; quite effectively too, I must add.
They had obviously done their homework; they said that their film was about the competition between two schools — one, an elite, snobbish private school; and the other, a government school where the hero was studying. The annual face-off involved high drama and the deciding event was to be the cycle race. The young men said the ‘hero’ would use our client’s brand of cycle, an ordinary roadster, and beat the geared cycle of the ‘villain’ from the private school!
There was to be enough opportunity to show the brand in all its glory and it was slated to be an incredible part of the film’s climax. While it seemed interesting, we hummed and hawed as we were not sure, it was beyond our ad budget and so we told the client that maybe it wasn’t a great idea. How wrong we were! The film was Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar and the hero, Aamir Khan, who in later years went on to become a legend. In hindsight, it was a great opportunity for in-film product placement that would have made our brand recognisable across the length and breadth of this country. But, boy had we goofed up!
Things have moved on …
Over the years, there has been a major improvement on this front as more brands have jumped on to the product placement bandwagon. Younger, savvier film producers continued to make interesting films and TV commercials, and wove brands into them by way of engaging story lines so that they didn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
Some older readers would remember the successful movie Taal featuring Aishwarya Rai, who was at the top of her career; along with her was the bottle of Coke that she kept sipping intermittently. If she was happy, she sipped Coke; if she was in love, she sipped Coke, and the message being subtly reinforced to a gullible audience was that Coke was for the great moments in your life. Here was a ‘commercial’ that you couldn’t skip or move on to a different channel!
There’s no greater value than naming a movie after your brand, as we saw in Mere Dad ki Maruti, that acted as an effective product placement for the Ertiga.
Yes, in-film placement is here to stay, even in television serials that are often more popular than films for a section of the target audience.
Enter the brand manager
Over the years, there has been a subtle and yet, significant change in the world of marketing and that is the increasing importance of the brand manager. Today, the brand manager calls the shots. He looks at opportunities for the brand without worrying about what the ad agency will say or do. He looks at the costs and benefits of options presented to him.
He knows that people can blank out advertising — they skip channels with impunity. Brands have to be subtle in their selling and that is where a strategy like product placement may be considered. Today, rather than ‘in your face’ product placement, or merely having the hero and heroine dancing in front of the brand logo, subtle possibilities exist.
A brand’s essence can be seamlessly woven into the plot of a film. A brand can easily ride on a hero’s or a film’s popularity without paying the phenomenal celebrity costs that endorsements would entail.
Time to be different
Branding is all about being different and standing out from the competition. Today, in this media cluttered world, one must constantly look for new opportunities to be distinctive.
Often, we may think the solution is a high-decibel TV commercial shot in New Zealand and costing a bomb. But it need not be. It can be an in-film placement that is strategic, relevant and subtle. So it’s important to scan the environment and keep an open mind to spot the right opportunity. This could provide the extra push your brand needs!
With more and more brands trying to increase their footprint in rural India, what must a marketer keep in mind when reaching out to a rural consumer?
When a bicycle maker chanced upon a village in Rajasthan that believed in gifting the groom a bicycle on his wedding day, it believed it had struck gold. But soon it realised that there was something peculiar about the custom. The colour black is considered inauspicious and so gifting a bicycle without any black part was proving to be difficult. After all, you can’t do away with wheels or chain of a bike. Villagers were buying bicycles and painting over the black parts in a bid to keep the tradition alive. This is when the bicycle manufacturer decided to introduce an all red and silver bike to the village. Yes, even the wheels were red. The bikes were, obviously, a raging success.
Like this anecdote goes to prove, India is full of little eccentricities. Fully understanding this country would be impossible considering the fact that people, customs and even language changes with every few kilometres.
In that case, how would a marketer go about marketing his/her products? Traditionally, marketers in the country depended upon a socio-economic classification system that divided the populace of the country into SEC A, B, C and D and helped the marketer define his target audience. Over time, flaws were discovered in the system and the need for a new and improved system was felt. This made way for New Consumer Classification System or NCCS. While this new system did cover all of India, unlike SEC which was restricted to just urban areas, the fact remains that for the longest time marketers assumed that the rural population fell somewhere between SEC/NCCS C and D or if we are being really generous then somewhere SEC/NCCS B and D.
The rural consumer was, by default, assumed to be poor, with little or no education and limited purchasing power. But that perception is changing. Brands are starting to realise that the rural consumer is as diverse and different as the urban consumer and that they too have the purchasing power that they are looking for. It isn’t surprising then that brands are looking beyond metros and trying to increase their footprints in rural India.
“Brands should resist viewing rural Indian consumers as a homogeneous group. There are various segments of consumers within India’s hinterlands and each consumer segment is different from the other. The drivers of behaviour and also aspirations of a rural consumer vary from an urban consumer. Rural demand is largely driven by agricultural harvest unlike the salaried class in urban India. Our approach is to win our consumers’ trust by understanding what their needs, gaps, pain points are and then accordingly customising our strategy and offerings to meet their expectations,” said Nandagopal Nair, Vice-President, Corporate Communications, V-Guard Industries Ltd.
There was a time when brands had little to no budget to market to the rural audience and that meant taking something they had created for the urban market and praying that it worked for them in the rural markets as well. But that is not the case anymore.
“Earlier, brands did not have any special budgets or special strategy for the rural markets. But in the last two decades things have really changed. Now brands have realised the importance of the rural markets and have specialised teams to take care of these markets. Not only that even the communication, packaging, placements of the products, as well as the one to one connect with the consumers has increased. The overall budget for BTL has gone up when compared to ATL for these markets,” said S Venkatesh, Marketing Director, RW Promotions.
But how difficult or easy is it to market to rural consumers?
Venkatesh feels that it is more difficult to market to a rural audience than an urban audience simply because of how vast this country is.
“Yes, it is difficult to market to the rural markets – India being such a vast country it is almost a continent and factors like different languages, diverse cultures, diverse eating habits, diverse living conditions, different economies in different states makes it very difficult for the marketer to work,” said Venkatesh.
But BK Rao, Deputy Marketing Manager, Parle Products, thinks that marketing to a rural consumer is in fact much easier.
“While reaching a rural consumer is difficult, I would say that marketing to a rural consumer is easier than marketing to an urban consumer. The reason being, a rural market is relatively uncluttered when compared to an urban market. If you look at the number of brands that a rural consumer is exposed to v/s an urban consumer, there is a huge difference. It is far more difficult to appeal to an urban consumer because they are spoiled for choice,” said Rao.
According to Rao, more than appealing to a rural consumer the challenge lies in reaching a rural consumer. It is true that distribution is a problem in the country and that brands that have been able to work around this problem, device solutions and lay down a strong distribution network have thrived in rural India. But the game is changing with the emergence of e-commerce. The Amazons and Flipkarts of the world, assisted by low data costs and increased internet penetration, are able to bring brands to rural customers that they could not reach before.
“The sharp divide between urban and rural, that used to exist say 20 or 30 years ago, is no longer present. E-commerce players have been able to reach out to the consumers living in non-metros and bring brands to them that used to inaccessible,” said Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder CEO, Brand-comm.
With all these factors, making rural an alluring market for marketers, what should marketers keep in mind when trying to reach rural consumers?
Simplicity seems to be the universal code when it comes to reaching out to a rural consumer. Communication has to be crisp, simple and should serve a purpose. Giving the example of an ad by Nokia for their 1100 handset, Sridhar said, “The rural consumer then, used to look at mobile phones as a luxury. So, they came up with a campaign which talked about the features of the phone, essentially giving out the message that it is not a vanity product.”
Similarly, the recent ads by e-comm giant Amazon focus on everyday people and the choices they offer to the regular Indian consumer. There is nothing ‘rurally’ about those ads, argues Sridhar but they appeal to a wider audience and the insight that Indians love options.
According to a leading marketer, one of the key difference between rural consumers and urban consumers is their consumption pattern.
“Rural consumers are more likely to consume smaller packs. One-rupee packs of products like shampoos and smaller packs of toothpaste get consumed more in rural areas. One reason for this trend could be the fact that people in rural areas earn money more on a daily or a season-to-season basis rather than a monthly basis. For example, a farmer will make money when his yield is good. Whereas an employee in an urban setting gets a monthly salary,” said he.
Rural India has leapfrogged over the desktop phase and gone on to embrace mobile phones and therefore, it is important for brands to be present where their consumers are.
“Brands are innovating in their approaches in a bid to win rural consumers’ trust. Technology is enabling brands to leverage ‘newer’ platforms like internet and mobile (WhatsApp) to communicate to the consumer in rural India. Just being physically present in these markets no more ensures brand’s success,” said Nair.
A leading finance company of the country, when giving loans on vehicles like tractors or trucks, started enlisting the people who they were selling their loans to as their brand ambassadors. Once, the person had paid off his/her loan, the company would ask them to go to neighbouring villages and take the people over there through the company’s schemes and services. Thus creating a credible brand ambassador for themselves.
Nair also bats for the involving local influencers when reaching out to rural consumers.
“There are myriad ways to reach the rural community/consumer. For example, when introducing a product to rural areas, partnering with local influencers – teachers, doctors, panchayat head, etc. – can be a vital part of an outreach programme,” said Nair.
“It is important to reach out to the rural consumer in his/her language and I am not talking about the text here. It is possible that a rural consumer understands the language of colours. Visual appeal is very important. In fact, people go to stores and ask for products based on colours or the packaging,” said Rao.
It is, therefore, important to understand and consider the rural audience as a separate entity and try to create communication specific to their needs and wants and not peddle something that worked for them in the urban markets.
If you want viewers to snap out of their apathy and care, make the communication different
The sad reality is that many of us are extremely apathetic to social issues, however important they may be. To be brutally honest, we don’t give a solitary damn! Many of us are too focussed on ourselves, our needs and our immediate family, and it’s difficult for us to think beyond ourselves — of the immediate community and of the world at large.
Communication, however, can play a big role in making us aware. But it has to be interesting, grab our attention and be not boring.
The trouble is that we equate serious subjects with ‘lecturing people’. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say ‘lecture’? Boredom (Just ask my poor students!).
As David Ogilvy said, “You cannot save souls in an empty church”. Interest the viewers, get their attention and hope that they will be roused from their apathy.
One of the long-standing examples of communication that really impacted viewers was the ‘pregnant man’ ad done over three decades ago. The advertising agency that created it won accolades.
his ad created waves and even made it to the cover page of Time magazine! Why was the ad so successful? Because it was based on the consumer insight that men, who have to be careful, don’t take precautions while having sex and more importantly, don’t care because it doesn’t affect them! Would they be more careful if they were the ones who got pregnant, questions the ad, making a viewer think.
Creatively solving problems
India is a diverse country with a multitude of problems. Often, these are unique to this country. Where else can you find people scared of using the word ‘condom’? We are a nation of shy people who shy away from saying ‘condom’ and perhaps even shier of using it, if our population growth figures are any indication.
So here are a series of commercials that show how uncomfortable different people are — be it a policeman, a lawyer or even a coolie in a railway station — even uttering the word. These commercials were done some time ago, but they still make for interesting viewing. The buzzword here is ‘interesting’, because if the creative doesn’t catch people’s interest, the entire communication can go waste.
Social = boring?
India is a vast country, and not everyone is up to date with today’s developments and advancements. A lot of people don’t even realise the value of basic things such as the need for toilets.
They need to be communicated to, and for decades, the government has been sending out messages on a variety of issues, whether it is population control, digitisation or even cleanliness. Sadly, a lot of the communication is boring and dull. It has the stamp of ‘Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity’ in every frame. Consequently, these messages are largely ignored. Here’s a sample of something that we get to see.
Don’t you think it could have been more creative?
So, what’s happening here? Crores of rupees are being spent, but very poorly, in my opinion. What will elevate it to the next level? Clearly, it has to be more creative and that is where it fails.
Now let’s take this discussion further with a recent film.
Not so sanitary
Recently, I watched an interesting film, Padman, which, for all intents and purposes, could have been made into a documentary. It was dealing with a sticky subject. It addressed the issue of getting women to use sanitary napkins, which were earlier unaffordable. It is based on a real-life story of a revolutionary man, who had the vision and passion to transform rural India.
While the thought was powerful, executing it on-screen could have been boring. It needed someone from advertising to transform it into an emotional and inspiring movie, with enough gripping situations and characters that made for an inspiring and entertaining film. I am sure films like this can actually lead to a change in behaviour and action.
So what’s the lesson?
The lesson is simple. We have enough causes to communicate in this vast, complex country called India. The reality is that lots of money is being spent. But the question we should be asking is: How is this money being spent? Is there a better way of spending it? Is there a better way of accessing the best creative minds in the country to work on these causes and bring them to life?
I am sure agencies want to do exciting work and win awards for their creativity. Public service advertising, when done interestingly, can move people while winning accolades at the same time. Let’s make it interesting for the creative people in India to work on these social projects. You will be surprised at the dramatic change in interest and action that will happen.