Brands in India are finding newer, more innovative ways to engage with a wider audience during festivals. But they still have a long way to go before they match global campaigns.
T E Narasimhan and Aneesh Phadnis report.
Inside the anodyne glass and chrome structure of Oberoi Mall, located off a busy highway in the western suburbs of Mumbai is a six-and-a-half feet high idol of Ganapati, the elephant-headed god worshipped as the remover of all obstacles. Made entirely out of auto spare parts, the idol sponsored by Ford India has turned into a major attraction at the mall drawing in ubiquitous selfie-addicts in droves.
In Pune, Vodafone India has, in partnership with the Pune Municipal Corporation, set up eco-ponds, a temporary water tank set-up equipped with a promoter and a life guard at its eight stores across the city.
In Mumbai's central business district, Parel, the five-star property ITC Grand Central has announced a special package which has thrown in a one-on-one with the deity at one of the most popular Ganapati pandals in the city at Lalbaug.
As is now the norm, brands are using the ongoing festival to engage with a wider audience.
However, the brand turnout for 2017 seems weaker in comparison with that witnessed during the previous seasons.
Experts point to numerous reasons for the apparent disenchantment.
Apart from the dampened economic outlook and anxiety around the newly imposed GST, brands are also experiencing festival fatigue, they said. There is a multiplicity of occasions today, and the noise around special days, sales weeks, local festivals and other national events has amplified to the extent that the uniqueness of association that brands once looked for has been lost.
Special occasions such as the ongoing Ganesh festival and the upcoming Dussehra/ Durga Puja and Diwali are sought out by brands because they help incorporate the product or service into the consumers' cultural timeline. It helps break through the clutter on digital and television media too.
The Ford Ganapati, for instance, said Saurabh Makhija, general manager, sales for Ford India is meant to drive home the auto brand's thrust towards safety and ease of service. In this way the brand looks to connect the broad message of safety and responsibility with the festival and with its own messaging.
"Having expanded the distribution of spare-parts through retail stores, we have not only ensured that genuine parts are always within customers' reach, but also the convenience of getting the car serviced wherever they want," Makhija added.
Bringing in a social message works well for brands in the digital age, it increases the share-ability of the message and, thereby, conversations on social media.
The challenge is differentiation said Sandeep Goyal, a Mumbai-based brand consultant. This forces brands to look for ways in which they can stand out and apart from each other.
"Of the 10 advertisements, nearly nine are getting lost because of similarity," he said.
And if marketers are creative enough, such occasions can be a trigger, he said.
Another challenge is getting maximum value out of the engagement.
Since the engagement is local and limited to a small area, digital helps brands address the cost factor, as short campaigns are cheap plus ensure traction added Goyal.
Consider the Vodafone initiative in Pune, for instance. By going local with its initiative, the brand is appealing to the community of subscribers in the region and by associating with an environment friendly cause, ensuring that the message spreads beyond the city and the festival, say experts.
Ashish Chandra, business head, Maharashtra & Goa Circle, Vodafone India said, "Ganeshotsav is one of the most celebrated festivals in Pune, and being the 125th anniversary this year, it makes it even more special."
The festival season is usually a dull one for business travel and that is what ITC Grand Central is hoping to change with a special package that includes a visit to the biggest idol in Mumbai.
"Business travel is usually sluggish during this season on account of festive long weekends. However, there seems to be an upward trend this year with innovative staycation packages," said Kerman Lalkaka, general manager, ITC Grand Central.
Harish Bijoor, a Bengaluru based brand consultant, said that festival occasions have not been capitalised enough by marketers. Indian companies are not as innovative with occasion-led branding as some of their global counterparts have been, according to several advertising veterans.