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The selling season
Govindkrishna Seshan | November 14, 2006
Fact No. 1: Chocolate sales increase by about 16 per cent between October and December every year. About 20 per cent more cars are sold and 30 per cent more consumer durables deals are inked during the same period (source: market research and industry reports).
Fact No. 2: Ad spends in these three months are 15-20 per cent higher than at any other time during the year (source: agencies). Is there a link? Most people would instinctively say yes. But which is the cause and which the effect? Well, that's a lot tougher to answer.
Still, even if they can't say for certain that their festive season campaign is moving the market, agencies and clients are queueing up for television slots, print space and hoardings and outdoor ads.
"Even if you don't have a big idea, you must advertise, because it is better than nothing," declares Pranesh Misra, president and COO, Lowe Lintas.
"Consumers are in an upbeat mood during this season and they become active seekers of information. Even a catalogue would work at this time," he adds.
Misra isn't alone in that view. Says Rediffusion DY&R Executive Vice President Ramesh Srivats, "Not only does the customer have the ability to spend during this season, he also feels the need, thanks to tradition and peer pressure. As a result, brands in sectors like clothes, gifts, jewellery and so on have to advertise in this period."
But is it as simple as consumers willing to spend and agencies helping them choose? No such luck. Thanks to increasing spends and the sheer number of ads, it's hard enough to make an impact in the off-season. During the festivals, it's almost impossible.
Most agencies accept that a replay of the year's earlier campaigns won't be anywhere as effective as a targetted communication. So, how does festival advertising break through the clutter?
Unlike regular, brand-building campaigns, festival advertising makes no bones about its true purpose: to drive sales. And appealing to the Indian customer's penchant for bargains works best.
"Offers also make customers feel less guilty about their purchases," points out Prasoon Joshi, regional creative director, South and South East Asia, McCann Erickson.
Not surprisingly, then, promotional offers -- price-offs, exchange schemes, combination deals -- make up the bulk of advertising during these three months. It's not just consumer goods companies that promote these limited-period offers, even big-ticket purchases are fair game.
Leo Burnett National Creative Head K Sridhar estimates that close to 60-70 per cent of all advertising now is about promotions and offers, whether it is automobiles (Chevrolet, Tata Indica, Hero Honda), white goods (LG, Samsung, Videocon), or the ICE sector (Reliance Communications and Compaq).
While Tata Indica, Compaq and Chevrolet offered festive discounts, Videocon and Reliance mobiles offered insurance services along with their products.
Videocon offered insurance worth Rs 2 lakh (Rs 200,000) on household articles and Reliance Communications offered personal insurance worth Rs 50,000 for a period of six months for buyers of its handsets.
The cell phone service provider also offered 2,000 minutes of free talk time to its customers in a parallel campaign. Of course, the Reliance promotion is more than a festival-driven offer: it is also a bid to convert its mobile services subscribers into a ready customer base for the newly-launched Reliance Life Insurance Company.
But if everybody is offering discounts and freebies, how does a campaign stand out? Consumer durables major LG Electronics had blast with its Toon Dhamaka campaign in early October.
The Korean company tied up with Cartoon Network to use the Tom and Jerry cartoon characters and invited customers who had purchased an LG product to fire a gun. Instead of bullets, a red flag slid out with the name of the prize, which could be anything from televisions to laptops to sunglasses.
"Any campaign in this season must have an fun and excitement element. Otherwise, it may not get noticed," says Mohit Beotra, executive vice president, Lowe Lintas, who devised the scheme for LG.
Out of the idiot box
It's almost unthinkable, but many agencies prefer to bypass television advertising during the festival season. It makes sense, actually. The only way an ad can make an impact on TV during this season is by resorting to carpetbombing -- and ad rates can be prohibitive. Then, as Srivats points out, hardly anybody's at home during the holidays.
"They visit relatives, they shop. The odds that they're watching TV are very low. Which is why there is a stress on outdoor and on-road advertising," he says.
For some target groups, of course, the impact of outdoor advertising is significant even in non-peak seasons.
Campaigns aimed mainly at men, such as telecom and financial services, usually resort to a high proportion of such media since research indicates that men spend less time watching ads on TV than women. "In these cases, outdoors help increase impact," says Sridhar.
Not surprisingly, Reliance Mobile, Titan and several other major advertisers of the season battled for hoardings and other available outdoor space in major shopping areas of Mumbai and other cities. The exception, perhaps, was LG, which instead opted for in-store promotions, including banners and posters.
Of course, the emphasis on outdoor advertising and hoardings comes at a price. The cost per contact of outdoors and on roads is nearly five to six times higher than television. And spot rates for hoardings have been climbing.
"While annual advertisers may not be affected, seasonal advertisers have to pay a premium of 5 to 10 per cent," says Meenakshi Madhvani, managing partner of media auditing firm Spatial Access Solutions.
Creativity in outdoor advertising has a special place in festival advertising. Consider the Pidilite Industries hoarding for Fevicol. Instead of promoting the product or the brand, the stylistic writing carried greeting for Diwali and Id -- left to right, the calligraphy spelt Diwali, and right to left, it read Id.
"The Fevicol hoarding was not aimed at increasing sales. It was an effort to strengthen the bond with customers," says Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and national creative director, India and South Asia, O&M.
Fact No. 3: Sometimes, it's nice to remember that there's more to the festivals than buying and selling.