Venkatesh Rangachari
Guest Article

Festive branding is turning stale

Festive frenzy is upon us. And how do we know that? Not because of Kaalnirnay but because of the Amazon and Flipkart sales that have triggered a war of brands. Because my newspaper is now twice as thick with pages dedicated to brands enticing me to spend my Diwali largess with them! From chocolates and sweets to furniture and paints, clothes and jewellery to electronics and mattresses, this is the season of offers and creative campaigns.

It’s a bazaar everywhere I look. Online pop-ups, newspapers, fliers… and even the radio.

Big festivals, are occasions for new purchases. Festivals are when we ask our Gods to visit our homes, and in preparation we deck our homes and ourselves in the finest. And for Hindus from India and around the world, no festival is bigger than Diwali. A festival that brings millions of Indian households into shops because the house has to be ready for Lord Rama.

And now thousands of brands are vying for those wallets.

Campaign spends by brands are the biggest during this time and its interesting to see how brands want to integrate themselves into their consumer’s psyche at this time. According to, festive advertising will grow 20 per cent to Rs. 20,000 crore in 2019. So let's see how this is being spent.

The simplest campaign tool, is discounting. Amazon, Flipkart, Grofers, Lenskart, Sony, Nissan, Raymond and Titan have all gone this route. It’s a very simple communication riding on the fact that the brand is well known and hence a discount brings it to the top of the spending consumer’s. The risk? Brands build a connection with consumers on a relevant promise, and a price discounting in the absence of any other promise, will dissolve its connect with consumers.

Then there are brands that use the festival season to create more intricate stories — integrating the brand into a more relevant story. Here it’s up to the marketing manager and the agency to pick the theme.

Lifestyle’s #dilsediwali is a good example — using the boy meets girl (re-meets) at a Diwali party and the flames of passion are rekindled.

Here’s TATA Sampann doing a nostalgic take on Diwali, reminding you of recipes mom used to cook when we were kids.

Pigeon is promoting its kitchenware once again focussing on recipes and tastes of Diwali sweets.

Samsonite introduces a new hero into Diwali: those that don’t go home because they are getting us home. The train engine driver, train conductor, bus driver, Uber cab driver. And asks us to take a moment to thank them. Very well executed campaign of a simple and often overlooked part of our Diwali. And the brand’s ask of the viewer is very simple. Say a thanks! I did.

Tanishq’s advertisement focusses on the tradition of buying gold around the festival.

Axis Bank’s YouTube campaign is highly engaging and built on a very real insight — the young working class (who typically don’t save early in their careers) is always strapped for money close to the end of the month. What happens if Diwali is well before your salary date, and you don’t have money to buy the gifts you want to for the family? It’s a very different execution of the “happy with family” sentiment around Diwali.

The Bajaj Alliance ad is different and raises a fundamental issue. Does my not buying crackers improve a child’s life? Yes, we should all raise a voice and force the government to regulate this industry better, and ensure child labour is stamped out. But the brand is not giving me, the consumer, a viable option apart from making me feel bad about my current choice. An interesting choice for a Diwali creative idea!

Advertising around big festivals has one significant challenge in our view. Diwali is about welcoming God into our homes. And no matter what socio-economic strata we belong to, we do our best this season to present the best version of ourselves. Nostalgia of how our parents celebrated Diwali, our sharing of the joy we feel, our celebrations together, this festival celebrates the best of us.

This makes it, potentially, a very difficult time to create differentiation. The range of emotions available to the creative mind are limited. Raksha Bandhan allows me to be naughty and deceitful because the bond of the brother-sister is based on love, but equally so on sibling rivalry and jealousy. Holi has moved to take love, lust and gluttony as the core images.

Christmas has opened up to more humourous overtones of gluttony and lust.

But Diwali is stuck in 'family goodness'. In 2017, this campaign (#CelebrateKahinBhi) by Foodpanda challenged this notion.

While everyone is leaving for Diwali celebrations, two friends choose to stay back instead. Soon they find themselves in a series of adventures on the campus grounds that make it worth their while.

It was a fresh take on Diwali. Bold and daring that it’s ok to celebrate without tradition, all you need is “one more person” with you. It stands out. It makes you feel happy. And the product story fits in brilliantly.

So what, if the protagonist isn’t wearing shiny gold embroidery, or sporting a top end phone, or remembering how mom made the best laddoos. It attacks the notion of “dressing up for God’s visit”, and therefore doesn’t play by the rules of Diwali. But is still celebrating Diwali.

Well, the season’s beginning. And we hope to see some great work out there. Fingers crossed. Happy Diwali, all.

Here are some more noteworthy Diwali themed ad films we spotted.

The author is co-founder, GroCurv, a services marketplace for fast-growing companies.

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