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Rising to the occasion

With the mid-year festive season culminating with Raksha Bandhan last month, it is time to ask why Indian advertisers are indifferent about the potential of event advertising

Rohit Nautiyal 

The Super Bowl features among the most watched sports broadcasts in the US with unfailing regularity. So much so that many big spenders plan their new campaigns around the event. The ad rates are exorbitantly high, so there is great pressure on agencies to deliver clutter breaking work. More often than not, they live up to the expectation.

Why is it that in India we have truckloads of drivel passed off as event/occasion-based

Here's a sampler. Just two days prior to Raksha Bandhan, Samsung's print ad said, "The smart way to end all fights. Gift your sister a smartphone this Raksha Bandhan". The offer was meant to push Galaxy Grand. PC Chandra Jewellers said much the same to push its gold jewellery. As did a host of financial instruments that hoped people would loosen their purse strings just because it is the day when sisters are supposed to tie a sacred thread in their brothers' wrists and wish them long life.

Mind you, it's not just Raksha Bandhan. It could equally have been Holi, Diwali or Independence Day. The Indian Badminton League is the latest casualty of inane Most of the released around these events and occasions is tactical in nature, meant to push sales for that day or period, whether you are able to tie in your message to the occasion or not. The only exception seems to be the cricketing extravaganza around the Indian Premier League, during which marketers jostle with each other for visibility with new ideas and novel takes on old ideas

That's why some of this year's ads came as a pleasant surprise. Idea's Raksha Bandhan ad, for instance, was both tactical and in line with the brand's core proposition. Targeting mobile consumers in North India, the ad film addresses the issue of women's safety by using the occasion of Rakhi. For those who came in late, in the said ad, a young woman is seen tying rakhi to a helpful policeman who has supposedly had no time for his own sister busy as he is ensuring other people stay safe. In the process she helps break the ice between the police and the common man. There is a digital leg to the as well, a Facebook application dubbed 'Khakee Rakhi Bro.'

Idea Cellular jumped onto the bandwagon for the first time last Diwali with a focused on television. The film said 'Dharam jo bhi ho, har tyohar manana acha idea hai.' Ashwin Varkey, creative director, Lowe Lintas, says what started as a one-off exercise pulled off overnight in the fag end of 2012 has now become part of Idea's creative mandate. "Idea has never asked for insights to push its product and the brief was no different for festival advertising," adds Varkey.

The Diwali ad was followed by films on Christmas, Valentine's Day and Eid. While there is no major spurt in the sales of prepaid or postpaid mobile connections during festivals, operators do see a rise in call and SMS revenue during such events. Sashi Shankar, CMO, Idea Cellular, says, "Differentiation is the biggest challenge in our category as most of the players are on an equal footing in terms of technology and tariffs. Festivals are a great opportunity to speak to our customers and carry forward Idea's brand philosophy." In other words, tying in your message to the spirit of an event makes great business sense.

  • Invest more time in nailing the right insight for occasion communication. It is best to be ready with your at least a month before the festival
  • Create a connection between your brand’s core proposition and the festival. If pushing a sale is the main idea, talk about the promotional offer at the end of the ad film with a voice over
  • Customise your festive ad for social media. Linking an on-ground activity centred on the festival with a social media campaign can result in desired word of mouth
  • Blatantly position your offering as the perfect gift on any forthcoming festival
  • As part of your media strategy, use only outdoor and print to gain maximum visibility
  • Ignore inauspicious days to create an opportunity for attractive promotions. Small advertisers are doing this effectively. For instance, in markets down South, cooktop manufacturers offer heavy discounts during the inauspicious days of, say, Ashadam or Ashada Masam (June - July)

This Raksha Bandhan also saw Fevicol mark its presence in circuit for the first time. Bordering on humour, the animated film opens with two male elephants running away from a demure female elephant who wants to tie rakhi on their trunks. Pidilite says it will wait to see reactions to this ad before making festivals part of its occasion advertising strategy. Anil Jayaraj, chief marketing officer, Pidilite, points out, "While this is not a template for our future festive advertising, it has the potential to become a major campaign."

Before going further let us try and understand how approach There is one set that explicitly sells a product or a brand using a promo mechanism - that is, they directly link the celebration and the festivities to a purchase by announcing special deals, discounts or freebies. Then there is another kind of advertising that doesn't urge the consumer to go buy the product right now. They serve the purpose of brand building with hopefully a memorable emotional trigger. Cadbury has done both.

After creating tactical ad films to push Cadbury Celebrations as a perfect gifting item for Raksha Bandhan, the chocolate manufacturer launched an ad film titled 'Lonely Ma' that went viral last Diwali. The film gained popularity as it stressed on the significance of one-on-one relationships in today's fast-paced world. Most importantly, it worked because the product was pushed in a very subtle manner.

If you are a marketer still sitting on the fence, here are some more examples that may help you change your stance. Take the chocolate category. In most developed markets, the contribution of the gifting segment to overall chocolate sales is 65-70 per cent, way higher than that in India. Given that, occasion advertising has been identified as an important consumption driver by Cadbury India. "The approach is to drive the relevance of chocolate gifting during these happy and celebratory moments," says a Cadbury India spokesperson.

Trends in occasion advertising can be mind-boggling at times. Mona Jain , CEO, Vivaki Exchange observes that the importance of occasion advertising has diminished for many in last 10 years. “Today consumer’s purchasing power is largely uniform throughout the year. She does not necessarily look forward to the fat Diwali bonus for the pending whitewash or a new car purchase.”
Depending on the category, media spends on festive-related advertising in the country are pegged between 20 and 30 per cent of a company's annual media budget. This amount is spent over a span of 30 to 40 days in a year.

That said, in some categories it is simply not possible to hang on to the advertising monies till the next festival or the next major sporting event. In retail especially, are at pains to devise new promos and novel shopping festivals off and on just to attract a steady stream of visitors. Also, players like Samsung, LG and Whirlpool put in a substantial amount of money behind local festivals, marking a fundamental shift in media planning.

Evidently, the days of pan India plans are gone; every region across the country counts and companies along with their media and consumer research agencies are focusing on micro media mapping. If this trend continues, marketers will need to collaborate with multi-brand retail partners to keep consumers engaged and build their brands, especially during festivals.

Are we likely to see Super Bowl level advertising in India any time soon?

Well, that might still be some way off. A majority of event ads are aimed at hard selling. Jitender Dabas, executive vice-president and head of planning, McCann Worldgroup India, laments the way a lot of festival advertising typically tries to press only the consumption triggers to boost sales. "Eating and gifting during Diwali, buying gifts for sister on Raksha Bandhan or buying new stuff for the house on Dhanteras are the most uninteresting ways to catch the consumer's attention. Over the years, this treatment has made festive advertising look tactical, transactional and templatised," he adds.

So what will it take?

To quote Dabas: "For brands to truly leverage the cultural potential of Indian festivals, planners need to invest in understanding the underlying emotions and nuances of each festival including the regional ones and then explore how festivals can become an opportunity for storytelling."

First Published: Mon, September 02 2013. 00:16 IST