Fipkart to Saffola: Big brands play by small-town rules in wooing customers

Amitabh Bachchan plays the role of an old man from the heartland who prefers home-grown brands of salty snacks
Run through the ads urging people to come out and celebrate (and open up their wallets) this festive season and it is impossible to miss the imprint of small town India. Be it in the large families looking for something for everyone in Amazon’s advertising or Flipkart’s celebrity laden storylines that has Amitabh Bachchan, Alia Bhat and a host of other actors and sportspersons emphasising the steal that the deals offer. 

Consider the ongoing digital campaign for Saffola (the edible oils brand from Marico) that seeks to further awareness about heart ailments, or the one for salty snack brand Bikaji with Amitabh Bachchan — across the board, the emphasis is on homespun ideas and rustic humour with the conversation often slipping in a vernacular phrase or dialect.

The popular storylines in advertising are but a reflection of the customer demographic that brands want to target, especially online, according to researchers. According to the recent report by WPP and Kantar (BrandZ Top 75 most valuable Indian brands), “According to Kantar eMarketer, online sales in 2018 alone were worth $32.7 billion. What’s more, growth is proving especially rapid in areas outside of India’s major metro areas, speaking to the opportunities inherent in bringing increased choice to underserved consumers in rural and “middle” India.”

Sandeep Goyal, chairman of marketing and communication agency Mogae Media says one must read the festival advertising at two levels. “From the standpoint of brands, most are trying to move from India to Bharat as consumption is increasingly coming from non-metro locations. Hence brands feature earthy, local characters in the advertising. At the consumer level such advertising ensures that the brand does not look for bidding, featuring more ‘real’ consumers also creates a sense of ‘emulative reassurance’-that I too will look good in this brand.

Apart from the tone and language, brands have also focused on deals and discounts as that seems to be the most important consideration for most consumers this season. According to a spokesperson for Hyundai, for the upcoming festive season, the company has developed a property called ‘Smart deals on wheels’. The company relies heavily on what it calls, a DMP (Data Management Platform), to create audience pools to map the consumer purchase journey. Ads, offers and announcements are targeted accordingly. 

Brands have also attempted to create a personal connection with potential consumers. Amazon India for instance sent its executives to small towns with trucks loaded with a collection of products and brands on their site. Marketing spends have slightly gone up this year, said Ravi Desai, director, Mass and Brand Marketing, Amazon India and added that their campaign for the season has been crafted in seven languages. 

Vikas Gupta, head of Marketing at Flipkart said they are partnering with a band of regional and local influencers to engage with consumers at every touch point. The next 200 million consumers will be from smaller cities and will need easy discovery, he said. Flipkart has also introduced the Hindi interface that too is aimed at a similar demographic.

The shift in communication is just a reflection of the new market reality that semi urban and rural consumers are getting significant enough numerically and spend-wise for brands to sit up and take notice, adds Goyal. 

That small town India matters is also evident in the products being highlighted in the advertising. E-commerce sites have focused on food fashion and travel in their communication. The BrandZ report said that growth in the online purchase of clothes in towns with populations ranging from 100,000-500,000 has grown 2.4 times since 2016 (compared with 2x in all of urban India, and 1.3x in smaller population towns). Purchase of shoes has shown similar growth in smaller towns, leading many to highlight the choice and selection of such products on their platforms.

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