Vodafone M-Pesa empowers women with self-defence umbrellas

By Saumya Tewari , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | July 17, 2015
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In its latest BTL campaign, Vodafone India aims to empower women living away from their husbands in the villages of Uttar Pradesh with self-defence umbrellas.

Umbrellas are associated with rains and scorching summer heat, acting as a shield from erratic weather. But Vodafone's mobile wallet and money transfer service M-Pesa's recent below-the-line (BTL) campaign projects them as self-defence tools.

The insight behind the campaign is that there are hundreds of men who migrate for work to bigger cities leaving behind their families in villages. While they regularly send money back home, the safety and well-being of their families always worries them.

The telecom major, along with its creative partner Ogilvy & Mather, designed a unique campaign where a specially designed umbrella with pictorial representations of self-defence techniques were distributed to the end-users of M-Pesa - usually wives living away from their husbands.

Suresh Sethi

The existence of high migrant population is what prompted the company to execute such a campaign. Suresh Sethi, business head - M-Pesa, Vodafone India, says that while it is largely the sender who decides the mode of transfer, top-of-mind factor in these decisions is the convenience of the receiver, which in most cases is the wife.

"Since M-Pesa stands for sending money home safely, we felt that extending the proposition to also carrying money home safely in the village will provide a good connect with the receiver, which in turn can help embed the M-Pesa proposition firmly among the migrant families. Besides, it was the monsoon season and what better way to use a daily utility tool like an umbrella and teach women some techniques of self-defence," he explains.

Under the 'Self-defence Umbrella' campaign, Vodafone has distributed around 200 umbrellas to its customers in UP East circle. It plans to further extend this campaign in other circles, shortly.

While M-Pesa's primary TG is the migrant population, usually men, the campaign targets the end-consumers, wives in this case.

According to Sethi, using self-defence for women in the rural hinterland provides a very high connect and will help associate M-Pesa with the TG, and also help better recall and consideration in the minds of the consumers.

Although this campaign based in rural and semi-rural areas, Vodafone India's focus for M-Pesa is customers from both urban as well as rural areas, from a money transfer perspective. Parallely, it is also looking at pitching M-Pesa on the payment space for making convenient bill payments too.

While an increasing number of mobile wallet companies like MobilKwik, Oxigen and Paytm are weeding out the middle-men in online payment, Vodafone M-Pesa still works on the agent based model.

"While the self registration load and usage of wallets has seen a surge, we believe the agent network will prove to be a strong differentiator for us from the money transfer and cash-out perspective, and hence, we continue to invest in making the network sustainable on a long terms basis. The agent network is a key stake holder in our business and helps us connect with our customers," asserts Sethi.

When it comes to marketing challenges, Vodafone India has to battle the ubiquitous agent network and conquer the 'fear of technology' syndrome of the TG, through various communication and on-ground activation programmes.

M-Pesa was launched by Vodafone India in 2012 and, currently, it offers services like cash transfer (to bank or mobile), pay merchants for goods and services, make bill payments, DTH and utility, among others. Customers can send a maximum of Rs.5,000 per day to another M-Pesa customer. The company claims to have over 60 per cent rural penetration and over 90,000 agents. As on March 31, 2015, it claims to have over three million customers.

Missing Connect

Subhashish Sarkar

Aneil Deepak

Subhashish Sarkar, managing partner, The Social Street, is not impressed with the concept. "The idea is nice and has the potential to go viral on social media. But, the ground reality will not let it work," he says.

According to Sarkar, it seems implausible that, in North Indian villages, men would readily give women an umbrella that might lead to violence against men themselves. "But, more importantly, though I am all for women's safety, inducing violence is not the right tactic. If a woman injures someone with the umbrella, using the techniques shown, will the brand back it up? Especially given the legal connotations, won't the brand be held responsible?," he questions.

Meanwhile, Aneil Deepak, head of ideas, DDB MudraMax and executive director, DDB Mudra Group, thinks that, while the plot of the campaign was a fertile ground to create something really heart-warming, it didn't translate well in the campaign.

"The concept of long-distance relationship, often touted as a modern-day phenomenon, actually existed in rural India for decades; with men migrating for work to bigger cities. I believe, this was an extremely interesting ground for a story plot for the campaign," says Deepak.

For him, although the intent behind the campaign was good, the idea to spin a story of self-defence through an umbrella and its integration with the brand M-Pesa does not cut ice. "If you take out M-Pesa branding in the end, this campaign can fit into any other brand's communication. The brand relevance is missing in it," he concludes.

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