Corporates Revel In Community Festivals

Updated: Sep 28 2003, 05:30am hrs
NOVEMBER 13, 1999. BBC India correspondent Simon Parkes reported: A few weeks ago, strange things started happening on the streets of Calcutta. Teams of men tugged long carts piled high with bamboo poles to every part of the town. The poles then got assembled and amazing structures began to form in every neighbourhood. Some had domes, some had minarets, one I saw even called to mind an Italian palazzo. These makeshift buildings were, I was told, called pandals, or makeshift altars. The reason for all this activity was to

celebrate Calcuttas most prized (community) festivalDurga Puja.

Come autumn, the festive season begins in India. Ganesh Utsav, Navratri, Durga Puja, Dussehra, Dandiya. Every part of the country soars high on its own particular community festival, marked by an increased spending fervour. This is also an apt occasion for corporate one-upmanship in efforts to reach the millions that are revelling and cash in on their festive spending.

It all began in Kolkata way back in 1985 when Asian Paints instituted its Sharad Samman Award for the best Puja in the city. This was the first major corporate initiative pertaining to community festivals in India. The award was an instant success and it is still held in high esteem.

As the big-ticket community Pujas draw in more revellers, corporates find it remunerative to sponsor Pujas in some way or the other. Particularly in the last few years, corporate entities have come out in increasing numbers with sponsorships and awards, and clamouring for maximum visibility in the vicinity of prominent Puja pandals in Kolkata.

Puja organisers also cash in on this opportunity. On big budgets, they promote their Pujas with innovative pandals, lighting and idols to attract more revellers. The logic is simple: The more footfalls the Puja organisers can assure, the easier it is for them to rope in a corporate sponsor.

The Asian Paints Awards, given in three different categories as a recognition of the highest creativity, involve a cash prize of Rs 50,000 and a trophy for each category. Later on, several other corporates such as ITC, IBM, Sreeleathers, Bagpiper Gold, Snowcem, Cavanders, Sangbad Pratidin and Ananda Bazar Patrika came up with their own individual awards.

Last year, AirTel joined the fray by announcing the AirTel Sarbojanin Sharad Sikriti Awards based on a opinion poll of the pandal-hoppers (through ballot boxes, SMS and IVRS) for the Best Puja (Rs 1,25,000); Best Deity (the Puja committee in question gets Rs 50,000, the artist, Rs 25,000); Best Lighting (Rs 50,000 for the committee and Rs 25,000 for the artist); Best Decoration (Rs 50,000 for the committee and Rs 25,000 for the artist). To add more excitement to the poll, the cellular service company also rewards the participants in the poll.

Another company that joined the carnival last year is Finolex Cables. The cable manufacturing company has instituted an award, the Finolex Alok Suraksha Samman. The award includes one first prize (Rs 1 lakh), two second prizes (Rs 50,000 each) and four third prizes (Rs 25,000 each). A jury has been set up, comprising experts from outside Finolex Cables, who will rate the Puja pandals on the basis of creative lighting in keeping with the electrical safety norms as prescribed by the Calcutta Electricity Supply Corporation, West Bengal Fire Service and Calcutta Police, says an official at Finolex Cables Ltd, Kolkata.

Vying for a larger share of consumer attention, companies have also set the competition ball rolling. On the face of it, a number of old corporate sponsors have started reworking their strategies.

Eveready Industries India Ltd has understood that rural fairs are more rewarding. And it has decided to stop all sponsorships this Puja. Eveready officials say, These days, Puja sponsorships do not help reach the target audience. We have an annual advertising budget of Rs 15 crore and whatever we spend during the Puja is from this kitty. After a long time, this year, we are not associating ourselves with any Puja as Eveready is already a very well-known brand in Kolkata. Moreover, our customers are primarily in the rural markets. So, this year, the company has disassociated itself from the three top Pujas, including the one at Park Circus, that it would usually sponsor. This is bound to affect the Puja organisers as Eveready is a big spender during festivals, says a Puja committee member.

Cola companies are the biggest spenders during the Puja, but they have had their share of bad publicity of late. So much so that a fortnight from the Puja, they are yet to devise their advertising strategy. Many of the major Puja organisers in Kolkata have also decided to shun Coca-Cola and Pepsi this year. The organisers are afraid that the pesticides issue might just ruin the fun.

Making the most of the absence of the cola majors, Rasna International Ltd has identified a few famous Puja pandals in Kolkata, where the company will hawk Rasna sachets. Says managing director Piruz Khambatta, We do this every Puja. This year, too, we will sell Rasna in some leading Puja pandals. We dont have any separate budget for this exercise, though.

As for the Puja committees, they are still busy looking for corporate sponsors. The organisers of the Mohd Ali Park Puja, one of the most prestigious Pujas in north central Kolkata, have approached several corporates for sponsorships, but none have been finalised so far. Last year, Mohd Ali Park had sponsors such as Paridhi Sarees, Priya Biscuits, Anmol Biscuits and Engine Mustard Oil, among others. According to Dinesh Bajaj, vice-chairman of the Mohd Ali Park Puja Committee, Our budget for this years Durga Puja is Rs 5 lakh. We have approached many corporates for this years Puja, including the ones who were our sponsors last year, but nothing has been finalised as yet.

According to Badal Bhattacharya, an organiser of the famous College Square Puja, The popularity of our Puja attracts corporates. There was a time when corporates such as Duncans, Bata, Kwality Walls and others partly sponsored our Puja. But now, things have changed and our revenues during the Puja are generated primarily by a souvenir that we publish. This year, the budget for the College Square puja is Rs 20 lakh, of which the committee expects to generate about Rs 18 lakh from the souvenir alone.

Sponsoring an award could be the most enduring route to glory for many corporates in Kolkata. But in other cities outside West Bengal, corporates generally associate themselves with community Pujas by sponsoring gates, cultural events, etc.

Ours is a Rs 20 lakh Puja this time, says Alok Mukherjee, secretary, Chittaranjan Park Cooperative Durga Puja Committee in Delhi. He adds, The Jute Corporation of India is a major sponsor for us this year as our Puja pandal and the idol will be made of jute and bamboo sticks. Besides, we have other corporate sponsors such as Horlicks, Nestle, TVS Motors, Bajaj Motors, Mother Dairy and Indusind Bank, among others.

Satnam Overseas is sponsoring our cultural programmes, says Mr Mukherjee. He reveals that his Puja committee expects to mop up Rs 9-10 lakh of its total budget through corporate sponsorships. Initially, we pegged our budget for this year at a higher level, Mr Mukherjee explains, but constrained by the slowdown in business, many companies are cutting down on their ad and sponsorship budget. Accordingly, we have also revised our Puja budget.

The New Delhi Kali Bari Durga Puja Committee is, however, buoyed by roping in big corporate sponsors. Says Swapan Ganguly, the Puja committee secretary, Our cash budget for the Durga Puja this year is Rs 10 lakh. And we have big corporates such as Sahara India Pariwar sponsoring all the cultural programmes starting from the air tickets for the guest artists from Kolkata and Mumbai and their stay in Delhi to stage lighting, etc. ONGC, like last year, may sponsor the gates (three gates for Rs 60,000 each) leading to the main Puja area. Then we have MTNL, Indraprastha Gas Ltd, Gas Authority of India Ltd and others. And the number of our corporate sponsors is increasing steadily over the last few years. The Noida Kali Bari Durga Puja Committee, which has drawn up a budget of Rs 18 lakh this year, also expects to rope in a number of corporates, Rajnigandha of the DS Group, Priya Gold Biscuits, Ananda Bazar Patrika and SitiCable, as sponsors.

Durga Puja is not the only community festival the corporates sponsor. Says Amit Ojha, deputy general manager (Marketing & Advertisement), Satnam Overseas Ltd, It is a big event for us since the rice-eating Bengali community forms the largest chunk of our customers and the east India region, including West Bengal, is where we sell our products most. From that perspective, Kolkata is a very important city for us and it accounts for a lions share of our annual ad budget of around Rs 60-65 lakh. However, we have already sponsored a number of Ganapati Pujas in Maharashtra this year. For Durga Puja, we have selected four Pujas in Delhi to associate ourselves with as co-sponsors. And in Kolkata, we are doing this with more community Pujas. We will also be sponsoring Navaratri and Dandiya meets in Ahmedabad.

Sponsoring a community festival is the lowest-cost means to reach the target audience, says Mr Ojha by way of explanation. You can reach out to the conglomeration of revellers and the brand recall value of such sponsorships is comparatively high as during festival time, people spend a lot. But, he cribs, the cost of such sponsorships have also gone up as more and more corporates are getting into it.

Other corporates also put big money into advertising during the Navratri festivities in Gujarat. The reason is the same: Its the best chance to gain visibility with lakhs of people thronging the Garba Raas halls and all-night Dandiyas organised all over the state during these nine days. Says John Geevarghese, president, YMCA Ahmedabad, which organises one of the most popular Garbas in town, Essentially, all the advertising at this time is ground advertising, namely banners, hoardings, backdrops and event sponsorships and prizes. According to Mr Geevarghese, the biggest advertisers during the Navratris are mainly FMCG companies, automobile manufacturers, manufacturers of consumer durables, soft drink companies, tea trading companies and gutka manufacturers.

The kind of publicity and exposure you can obtain by advertising in any of the Navratri events is phenomenal, says Mr Geevarghese, who estimates that around 4,000-5,000 people attend the Dandiya show organised at the Ahmedabad YMCA grounds each night during the Navratras. Its almost like an awareness campaign for a product. Add to that the fact that we distribute a minimum of two lakh passes every year for our Garba Raas celebrations and if youre an advertiser getting logo space on the tickets, its unmatched publicity for you.

Considering that there are at least seven to eight major Garbas organised in Ahmedabad alone during the Navratris, its not surprising that event organisers have to have a special equation with the advertisers. Rues an organiser of small Garbas, Often we have to satisfy ourselves with advertisers like small shops for funding our Garbas, while the big event organisers woo the large advertisers. The cost of organising a large Garba, which can accommodate around 5,000-7,000 visitors, works out to around Rs 3-4 lakh a night; big advertisers have to fork out between Rs 5,000 to Rs 2 lakh, depending on the kind of exposure they are seeking. Most advertisers pay up partly in cash, and partly in the form of prizes. This is more in the case of automobile manufacturers or FMCG product manufacturers.

Interestingly, though Pepsi and Coca-Cola are generally extremely aggressive in sponsoring such shows in Gujarat, this year may not see them at their fizziest best. Says a spokesperson for Coca-Cola on condition of anonymity, With sales falling sharply in the aftermath of the pesticide scare, our bottomlines have taken a hit, which will definitely reflect in our advertising for such events.

According to Pepsi official Bharatendu Kabi, Every year, we associate with festivals such as Durga Puja, Ganapati Puja and Navratri. We tie up as an associate sponsor and help in banners, posters, etc. In certain events, our association is towards exclusive product supply. For Pepsi, Navratri is much more than just another festive activity. It is the unique event that enables us to be a part of some of the most spirited festivities in our country. It makes sense to associate with events wherever there is youth participation.

Community festivals with strong local flavours are great favourites with corporates. The Videocon group has been sponsoring Ganesh festivals in Mumbai for the last five years. Explains Videocon group chairman Venugopal Dhoot, We do this as a seva to God. Gods blessings are needed for every sphere in life. More so in business. And these sponsorships give us good brand value on a longterm basis. There is no immediate effect on the sales, but the brand recall is tremendous. This year, the group sponsored 11 big Ganesh mandals (read pandals) and 200 small ones. For Navratri, the group is sponsoring mandals not just in Mumbai, but also in Ahmedabad, Bharuch and Vadodara in Gujarat, which is the nerve centre for the Navratri and Dandiya festivals.

Videocon is also sponsoring 30 Durga Puja mandals in Mumbai, including that of filmstar Rani Mukherjees Sarvajanik Durga Pooja Charitable Trust, in Santacruz, north Mumbai. No, no, we are not sponsoring Ms Mukherjees mandal because she is a filmstar, clarifies Mr Dhoot, but because she approached us. Besides Mumbai, the company is also sponsoring some Durga Pujas in Kolkata.

Videocons festival sponsorship budget is Rs 50 lakh. That is our budget for any festival, adds Mr Dhoot. We might exceed that amount this time as Rs 25 lakh each has been apportioned to Mumbai and Gujarat for the Ganesh Chaturthi and Navratri, respectively. We may dole out more for Durga Puja in Kolkata. The group also has plans to celebrate Pongal with its southern patrons this year. We might do something in the southern belt for Pongal, reveals Mr Dhoot.

Another Mumbai firm that is sponsoring the ongoing Navratri festivities is AirTel. Its chief operating officer in the Mumbai region, Atul Jhamb, says, The company is going all out this year with regard to festivities. Why just the Ganesh Festival or Navratri, we are doing a host of them this year. We will also be sponsoring Diwali melas and Christmas, too. Mumbai will be having a shopping festival, of which we plan to be a part.

During the Ganesh Festival, Airtel had sponsored eight mandals in Mumbai. The companys Navratri celebration is also huge. AirTel Mumbai will sponsor a mandal in Goregaon. Besides Goregaon, the cellular service company will sponsor mandals in Lokhandwala, Borivli, Mira Road, Khar and South Mumbai as well. Our strategy is to get in touch with the cultural ethos of the city, says Mr Jhamb. Airtel is all about living every moment. What better way to do it than take part in the festivals that the city celebrates

As for Durga Puja in Mumbai, Airtel will be the main sponsor in singer Abhijeets Durga Puja mandal in Mumbai at Lokhandwala. We were the main sponsor at his mandal last year, too, says Mr Jhamb.

The budget for the festivities are 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the companys total advertising budget for a month. However, for Navratri, explains Mr Jhamb, the budget has been increased to 40 per cent of the months advertising budget.

Four Square, a leading brand from Godfrey Phillips India Ltd, has also joined hands with the high-entertainment Sankalp Dandiya Utsav for the Navratri in Mumbai where Falguni Pathak, the popular Gujarati pop singer, will perform.

Announcing the association, Ram Poddar, CEO, Godfrey Philips India Ltd, says, This year, Four Square aims at giving people a break from their routine and stressful life using the Four Square Pavilion, which is exciting and adds zing to the Dandiya festival.