A look at Onam through the ad-media lens.
Come Onam and the legendary arrival of King Mahabali, marketers are looking to sound the bellwether from the southern tip of India. The signal, we hope, is always northward bound. In Thrissur, a bustling town considered to be the cultural capital of Kerala, we are witnessing a series of business initiatives. One of multiple such ventures worth mentioning is Kalyan group's foray into hyper-market trade. After the Marwaris, I think the Mallus shine in the supermarket trade business. The traditional traders are self-taught in modern trade and many others have imported know-how from the Gulf. There is currently a highly competitive battle ensuing in modern trade, with the further increase of newer malls. Furthermore, it definitely does not seem that the slowing up of petrodollars have affected the appetite for purchase in this high capita income state of India.
Some numbers considered here could be indicative of some counter-intuitive trends and perhaps some positive vibes too.
The number of Indian workers in the Gulf dropped by 35 percent between 2014 and 2016. A 27 percent drop in remittances between 2017 and 2016, Q1, of the same period.
The Counter: People who have come back, a suggestive set of NRI's, are putting their savings into businesses, hence, there could be a rise of new businesses in the State. Given the specific push by the government for creating jobs as entrepreneurs and the reverse brain drain that is being supported, large scale job creation might take longer as most investors are bootstrapping.
Most media is now splashed with colours of all sorts to ring in the Onam season and on the face of it, it's business as usual. Although I have seen a lesser number of wraps over the newspapers. I believe it's a good thing because we are now returning to conservative formats.
Thanks to the introduction of GST, there has been a pre-sale that supposedly would have taken away the sheen from the pre-Onam day rush. This is reflected in the kind of advertising witnessed. There is a marked difference with companies now emphasizing on brand building as opposed to discounting, which we have seen with brands like East Tea, touching on the social fabric of our conscience. Another good example is Quaker Oats' #FuelForTheRealFit campaign that supports the United Boats Nehru trophy team as it envisages foresight during uncertain times.
Other salient advertisers like those for mobile phone brands, have all put out typical Catalogue Advertising; the emphasis being more on the camera which has different names like Selfie Expert, moonlight camera, social camera etc. I don't believe consumers really understand these differences. Therefore, the decision is only swayed by the price, which questions the necessity of such advertising.
Brands like Vivo and Oppo are all new to the Indian playing field, but have made their presence felt quite significantly in the market, particularly through festive periods. For the investments made on media, the advertising standards are pretty average. The white goods category sells over 50 percent of its volume during Onam and the advertising slots reflect that. It looks as if the same programmes are co-sponsored by competing brands. In a 'discounted' category, advertising the lack of differentiation is evident and hence, the last mile decision influencer is anybody's guess.
Coming back to brand building, if seeding the sub-conscious mind is the key to changing behaviour with new buyers, then more interesting stories can be created like the Avenger: #RideYourFreedom campaign, for example. Another such campaign which surprisingly has no hash tag is Tata Tea's 'Jaago Re' that delivers touching pre-activism social messages.
The hangover of the aftermath of the D* & GST effect still haunts us with different arguments. However, some of us have partially come to terms with the uncertainties and undoing of the unknown; hence, we find comfort in different theories of impact and long term effects that somehow tells our inner conscience 'all is going to be well' or perhaps that's it's going to be time for those 'Ache Din'... soon?
On the small screen, there has been one fresh content idea that I have seen with numbers to show for its success. The Lal Salaam show, on Amrita TV, is path breaking simply because it showcases the superstar, Mohanlal as the anchor and someone who aims to help bring about social change by highlighting individuals deserving of praise.
In a chat show format, each episode interestingly invites individuals on the show and discusses their noble deeds for society that may have gone under the radar. For e.g. the show presented Naryanan Master and his story - for 25 years, he has walked 28kms every day into the deep forests of Nilambur to teach Adivasi kids. This is a great social cause and through this show, the channel is felicitating these relatively unknown individuals by bringing them into the limelight. This is a great effort to raise awareness and help promote a sense of social value and responsibility to viewers.
The rest of the fare is the usual. Predictably, channels are feeling the pinch and are recalibrating their revenue targets. They have thus become cautious when it comes to buying out big investment tickets, especially on movies. Except for Bahubali 2 on Asianet, the rest of the movies are not top grossers.
So, for being the harbinger of positive trends for the rest of the festive season, I suppose we need to see the absolute numbers at the end of Onam, but surely brand building, vis-à-vis discounting, is the key balance that marketers would like to strike. It is a good time for the brand stories to anchor in the inner conscience for the medium term.
(The author is the founder-director of Rubixkube Communications, an advertising and media consultancy company)