Amar Ujala 101 Markets: Small towns are not a homogenous mass

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing
Last updated : September 21, 2010
The central focus of the discussion was the issue of heterogeneity in rural/small town markets, hyper-localisation and basing creatives on local nuances

At the event organized by afaqs!, 101 Markets - India Beyond the Metros 2010, held at the ITC Grand Central at Mumbai, the last session of the day was a panel discussion that provided food for thought for advertisers and marketers alike.

The topic was: 'Have Indian creatives finally understood small-town India?' The panel comprised Josy Paul, chairman and national creative director, BBDO India; Sandip Bansal, country head, Xpanse Asia; K V Sridhar aka Pops, national creative director, Leo Burnett and Ashwini Deshpande, consulting editor, Sakal. The discussion was moderated by Narayan Shankar, vice-president and brand head, Mumbai, Rediffusion-Wunderman.

The discussion was opened by Shankar, who mentioned an interesting fact. He stated that back in 1947, India was divided into 568 princely states, many of which have evolved into what we know as 'small towns' today. This was salient to the discussion that followed, as it helped put the topic into perspective, and reminded those present that the markets in question are extremely heterogeneous.

"One needs to first determine what signifies the 'small town'. Is it the consumers' access to resources, the level of infrastructure in the region, or an overall attitude towards life?" Shankar pondered. He added that from a creative perspective, it is important to delve into the psyche of the small-town dweller, and comprehend the mentality that differentiates them from their urban counterparts.

Sridhar (Pops) took over, stating that India is a fragmented nation, where numerous mother tongues prevail. "Besides cricket, there is nothing that binds India; there are so many different languages here!" he joked. He went on to say that advertisers and marketers tend to believe that it is sufficient to create communication aimed at, first, Hindi-speaking India; and second, South India, that is, "Tamilians".

He added that sales professionals, on the other hand, perceive India in four parts -- north, south, east and west. In his opinion, both beliefs are erroneous. "When will we wake up to the reality that there are 30-40 different 'Indias' that we need to address?" he questioned.

Taking his argument forward, Sridhar stressed, "Just as you can't dub Hindi news and air it in the South, as it will not be accepted; you have to make sure ads are also culture-specific and language-specific, with local celebrities and local nuances."

He added that socio-economic status is more of a divisive factor today than the urban-rural divide and that one could classify market segments accordingly. "It is not just urban versus rural; there's the urban uneducated segment, the rural uneducated segment, the urban rich as well as the rural rich," stated Sridhar.

He predicted that in the years to come, India would not be viewed as one market, rather as 30-40 co-existing ones. So, unless advertisers of big, pan-India brands model their communication to suit region-specific needs, local brands that cater to local target groups (TGs) will eat into their share.

Underscoring the points Shankar and Sridhar had made, Bansal added that advertisers could not put all small towns in one basket. "It is important to differentiate between 'the small-town consumer in big cities' and 'the small-town consumer in small cities'. The categorisation of Tier I versus Tier II depends on the company profiling these markets," he asserted.

He added an interesting point, urging advertisers and more importantly marketers, to go beyond mere language; and focus on identifying and then "tuning in" these consumers to current trends.

This was when Paul shared an intriguing aspect of these markets. "We have to look at the various different, confusing mindsets that exist within one region. Gurgaon, for instance, displays city-culture, a rural setting and also has the feel of a small town," he shared, citing the example that the co-existence of different ways in which a saree is draped in one region, is symbolic of this dynamism.

He added that it is beneficial to think about developing the market being targeted, before thinking of creative ways in which one may generate ads for that market. "Great ideas that have market development at their core, will automatically pull in great partnerships with creative individuals from these markets, and localisation will follow," he claimed. Paul added that India was still far from what he called "rural appetizing"; and that the way to achieve that was to focus on creative ideas that aim to develop the region in question.

Further strengthening the unanimous claim that advertisers shouldn't aim to get a single message translated across all small towns, Deshpande contributed two theories, originally proposed by C K Prahalad. "Localisation based on language is not sufficient; even content has to be localised. We need to understand the intelligence, exposure level and experience base of our small-town audience before selling products and media to them," she offered.

"The theory of N=1 urges us to consider one consumer at a time and that of R=G reminds us that resources (R) are global (G); we can find resources from the audience being targeted," Deshpande contributed.

To illustrate her point that small towns need to be viewed as markets that are very distinct from one another, Deshpande threw light on the fact that though Maharashtra, as a state, is plagued by water problems, the nature of these problems differs from town to town. "Aurangabad suffers from water shortage; Solapur faces the issue of contaminated water; Jalgaon lacks good water supply; while Kolhapur needs to tackle the problem of water wastage."

Paul summed up the overall feeling by insisting that brands must not look at devouring local markets and making money. Rather, they should work with local and sub-local elements, such as NGOs and entrepreneurs at the grassroots level, for sustainable results. That weaving the communication into the culture of the TG will yield authenticity to the ad, was the sentiment across the panel.

Sridhar concluded the session by saying, "We can say we have arrived only when we have written and developed commercials for very specific cultures, say, an Oriya TG, and have made those individuals identify with the brand. Only then can we call India a real powerhouse."

First Published : September 21, 2010
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