Vinod Kunj
Guest Article

Onam gives national brands a grandstand view of the Kerala market

Our guest author talks about how tailoring brand communication to resonate with Malayalees could spell success for national brands.

Asking young marketing professionals to think effectively in regional terms is always good advice. I wouldn’t say it has been practised very well, though. Conventional wisdom, wherever applied, has pulled us through in the North of India. The South, however, has always demanded unconventional alacrity.

To a large swathe of the marketing population, the South of India is still an enigma. But it need not be so, and I am beginning to see a shift in the inner grindings of the industry’s wheels. Last year Ajio had a digital campaign that caught the fancy of the younger audience. This year, Swiggy has created a delectable film, quite literally, that uses every small nuance of the Onam Sadya to ‘deliver’ the message. You can be sure that Malayalee are taking note of these and other brands that talk to them in their language and idiom.

Consider this. Onam signals the beginning of the festival season in India, going on to Ganesh Chaturthi, Navratri and Dussehra, and culminating in Diwali. The gains a marketer makes during the early days of the harvest season set the stage for the company’s performance during festivals.

The ten-day-long harvest festival is a focal point in Kerala. It is the biggest shopping season of the year. The per capita expenditure in Kerala during Onam is higher than in most parts of the country. And then there is the prosperous, young and progressive diaspora who live all over India and abroad, notably in the Gulf, North America, Europe, and Australia.

Interestingly, Kerala accounts for 19% of all inward remittances in India. A major part of this comes during the festival season. Remember this, and your marketing plan begins to show signs of life. Many attribute the rise of digital ad spends to marketers reaching out to this vast global community.

Like in many tight-knit communities in the country, the average Malayalee stays close to his roots, whether he is in Kerala or not. The question often asked is, “How does one reach Malayalees outside Kerala?” This search term actually got me an astounding number of hits on Google. And the results are unsurprisingly novel and youth-oriented. From OTT providers to Malayalam News Video Blogs on YouTube, everybody’s game to take your advertising.

Of course, the usual suspects are there to help. Amazon has a curated Onam store with products ranging from puja and Sadhya essentials to white goods, electronics, home décor, ethnic wear and more. I’m sure the other large e-commerce platforms have followed suit. And that speaks volumes for the Onam brand. It definitely has serious influencer credentials.

For national brands who intend to enter the Southern India market, Onam is an overarching gateway. There was a time when only local retail brands would become active as Onam approached. Now, national clients are sitting up and taking notice. Onam serves to gauge the season’s performance before advertisers move over to other festivals.

Despite an unsteady couple of years fending off Covid, Kerala’s economy is back to fighting strength. Pundits are predicting a 10-15% increase in ad spends over 2022. In fact, many market watchers are touting this as a return to pre-pandemic performance.

Marketers see Onam as the ‘sweet spot’ of festival marketing. Kerala is culturally diverse and Onam is the one festival that threads the state together. Onam is emotional. It is all-encompassing. And like every good Onam Sadhya, there are a variety of flavours to dedicate your attention to.

Onam is an emotional bond that national brands would do well to acknowledge. Much like Baisakhi and Durga Puja in the North, which have amorphous extensions outside their parent states, Onam extends beyond the strict borders of Kerala. Personalising brand communication to the resident and itinerant Malayalee is a potent trick that could spell success for many a national brand.

(Our guest author is Vinod Kunj, Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Thought Blurb Communications.)

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