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Packaged goods marketing in rural pockets gets a facelift and a digital push

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In a couple of interviews, marketing heads of two large fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies dwelt on reaching the rural consumer in a more targeted way. Colgate-Palmolive India’s vice-president, marketing, Arvind Chintamani said that in rural India, consumers are watching the same content and accessing the same media. Colgate-Palmolive, he told Mint, is using technology for consumer research in rural pockets with similar aspirations as urban India. Koshy George, chief marketing officer, Marico Ltd, said the mobile phone has completely changed the game in rural marketing. “Mobile has given us that access to be able to reach out to the consumer and then run with very different kinds of messaging,” he told Mint in late March.


Dalveer Singh, head of experiential marketing, APAC at Dialogue Factory agreed that the way brands are marketing to rural consumers is definitely changing on the back of deep digital penetration. Dialogue Factory is GroupM’s rural marketing and experiential marketing unit. Rural marketing was earlier the high point for media dark areas—be it India’s small towns or villages. It entailed brand activations including at haats and melas as well as publicity vans. “Today, there’s a mobile in each person’s hand, and the areas are not so media-dark any longer,” Singh said. While reaching a brand message to the hinterland is less of a challenge, the real challenge lies in making the messaging effective in persuading consumers to buy a brand or change behaviour.


Dialogue Factory works with a clutch of large FMCG companies both for their brands and other health and hygiene initiatives to drive behaviour change through marketing.

Television remains the go-to medium to reach the masses but companies are targeting the cell phone wielding population digitally. Everyone has a mobile phone, literacy levels are up and people can read. Plus voice, video and vernacular has become very strong, said Singh. With search gone vernacular, rural consumers are spending more time on their devices.

Yes, rural marketing has changed but not dramatically, especially if comparisons are made between digital thrust for the urban versus rural consumer, Singh said. Digital advertising spends in urban India have exploded and as per some reports, exceeded TV ad spends.


For digital marketing in rural, there is no tried, tested, sustainable and scalable model yet. People are doing pilots and trying different things, Singh said.


Yet agencies like Pratik Gupta’s Zoo Media are going big on regional and rural activation as brands to deeper into smaller towns and the hinterland.

For the purpose, the agency network has rolled out a new strategy called Naya Bharat to map India basis the poll booths as “polling covers the entire country,” Gupta said.

“Naya Bharat for us is our ability to create a technology-based platform that puts information on local artistes, poets, playwrights, musicians and village entertainers in all the regions on this platform. We are creating this tech piece so that we’re able to tackle briefs by brands a lot faster and get insights more quickly,” Gupta said.

Context is everything in advertising and the context for rural consumer is very different from his urban counterpart, said Gupta citing the example of a hair oil brand that was unable to crack the interiors of a southern market despite advertising. The agency reworked the campaign and marketing strategy for the brand based on insights gleaned by speaking to the locals. “The best part of digital is that I can micro target and only showcase the ads in the small radius of a village,” he said.

To accelerate the process, Zoo Media has also tied up with a political marketing agency that covers more than 20 states.

Yet brands continue to follow the haat and mela marketing model but armed with better technology.

“So you still have a ‘van and a man’ but you create a Wi Fi hotspot where people can come and download content which sticks to their phones. It could be a video game, content in local language or a brand message interspersed with entertainment”, Singh said. Flip charts have been replaced by iPads and headphones for enhanced audio-visual experience.

Brands will continue marketing to congregations at haats, melas and mandis as these are integral part of India’s cultural fabric and here to stay.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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