Advertising in 2019 raises its voice to make small-town India hear

A boy from Uttar Pradesh helps his father discover the train timings to Patna in Bihar using a simple voice assistant from Google. He is one of many Vodafone-Idea mobile phone users in internet-dark areas, who are counting on the service to get access to information quickly. His entire family now turns to Google assistant at any hour of the day.

The ad, in a few frames, had captured the immediate and deep impact that data and mobile phones have had on the country. And through the year, the advertising narrative has steadily been influenced by the overpowering impact of data, mobile telephony and technology on the way we live our lives.

2019 was a year when brands, quite literally, raised their voice. Not only did they integrate voice into their product offerings, but also made it their unique selling proposition. Take MG Motors for instance. The Chinese company’s Hector brand was one of the most anticipated car launches in 2019, in part due to the car’s ability to receive and execute over 90 voice commands. No wonder, Hector’s voice feature became its unique calling card, best exemplified in its advertising tagline: ‘Hello, MG’.

For tech and electronic brands, of course, voice was a natural progression from data. Amazon, for instance, not only launched its Alexa speakers in India, but also integrated the voice assistant into its media streaming service Fire Stick in 2019. Smartphone brands Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo all have their voice assistants, which they prominently advertised during the year.

Lifestyle, auto and fast-food advertisers such as Diageo, Royal Enfield and KFC respectively used voice recognition in their digital ad campaigns to build saliency. KV Sridhar, founder and chief creative officer, Hyper Collective, says voice has an advantage in India where many people are not comfortable browsing or typing text. “In a multi-lingual country like India, voice-based services will work well. And if integrated effectively can do wonders for a brand,” he says.

In a recent report by iProspect, part of the Dentsu Aegis Network, almost 82 per cent of smartphone users in India have used voice-activated technology in some form or the other during the year including sending simple voice messages over whatsapp rather than typing text on the messaging platform. The need for voice, the report says, has extended into other areas too, such as searching for information on Google or when using Google maps.

While voice was the big differentiator for companies in 2019, short-format videos were also a rage thanks to TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing app that has over 200 million users in the country. “What TikTok has done is basically liberate people in small town India,” says Shrenik Gandhi, co-founder and chief executive officer, White Rivers Media. “Which is why its user base is growing steadily in the country. But if this is one part, the other side is the implication of snackable content on a largely mobile-only audience. TikTok has presented this idea well, of 15-second videos that can be consumed anywhere, anytime. Which is why brands are making a beeline for it,” he adds.

In recent months, e-tailers such as Flipkart, Myntra and Snapdeal as well as brands such as Pepsi, Lays, Clean and Clear from J&J and Centerfruit from Perfetti Van Melle have used TikTok to engage with their target audience.

The trend, say experts, will grow with data rates in India still amongst the cheapest in the world and a large base of mobile phone users here.

“Long-format videos clicked some years ago when data rates first began heading south. At that time, the content explosion was not so high. But now the content space has become fragmented, reducing attention spans. Short-format videos work in such an environment,” says Harish Bijoor, chief executive officer, Harish Bijoor Consults.

Some experts also point to the revival of on-ground brand experiences as purchase habits increasingly migrate online. Several auto, fashion and furniture brands have set up experience centres where consumers get a taste of the real deal. Different from the traditional retail stores, these centres are built around an entertain-engage-shop model. Sridhar says that brands are dialling up the experience quotient. “Earlier advertising created affinity for brands, now experience is playing the role,” he says. 2020 could well see all of these divergent trends converge at some point.

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