Hard sell for desi customers

Written by Alokananda Chakraborty | Updated: Jan 27 2008, 05:46am hrs
At the risk of sounding repetitive, let it be said again: India has a population of more than one billion. As much as 70% of that lives in rural areas which represents over 12% of the worlds population. About 50% of the sales of soaps and detergents are generated in rural India. Similarly, almost half the demand for black and white television sets, pressure cookers, table fans, sewing machines also comes from there. And according to a research report prepared by international consultancy Ernst & Young, accounts for 60% of the countrys overall consumption amounting to Rs 9.135 lakh crore ($228 billion).

While the large Indian rural market is sub-continental in size, it has wide variations in consumption behaviour and most other marketing indicators. So there is a chance that farmers in rural Maharastra and Karnataka would be better educated than their ilk in say a Rajasthan or a Bihar. And if people in Haryana and Punjabs rural districts use mobile phones to keep in touch with the expatriate members of their families, people in the interiors of rural Orissa or Bengal may not actually know that such a devise exists. Given this, any generalisation is fraught with embarrassment, if not outright peril. As CK Vaidya, MD, Godrej Agrovet, said at the India Retail Forum Indias dream of becoming a global superpower can be realised only with the upliftment of rural consumption. We have close to six lakh villages with a population of around 700 million people who constitute around 128 million households, he points out. In other words, playing the cards right in agricultural and rural development can percolate economic growth down and across income divides.

In this context, Tej K Bhatias book Advertising & Marketing in Rural India comes as a real handy guide to manoeuvre the dusty bends of the rural marketplace. The book is divided into 12 chapters that are very well demarcated and nicely developed. At the outset, it talks of the basics the environment in rural India, language communication and the role of the conventional media, down to the kind of sales generated at local melas (Page 80, Adapted from Kashyap 1996) and how sales calls are made.

Then it lays out in detail the cornerstone of developing successful communication and consumer contact programmes, peppered with old and many current examples. The chapter on non-conventional media and its evolution is especially enlightening.

Of course, generating awareness pays dividends only when it is followed up with constant availability of products on shop-shelves. In rural India in particular, availability determines volumes and market share, because the consumer usually purchases what is right there on the shelf at the neighbourhood outlet, and is influenced in large measure by what the local retailer recommends, and more so by general out-of-mouth. Again, in the chapter on Advertising Communication And Language, the author draws attention to a very typical rural India phenomenon, that of counterfeits-look-alike and spell-alike brands that exist cheek by jowl with genuine products.

According to various estimates, the fast moving consumer goods segment alone loses around Rs 2,000 crore due to fake products.

The author, a professor in Linguistics & Cognitive Sciences Programmes at Syracuse University, New York, suggests a possible cause: Since English is quickly becoming the language of product naming and since literacy in English is lower than literacy in all Indian languages in rural India, English has become a powerful weapon of deception, he says.

Overall, the book has the right ingredients to serve as a useful textbook for marketing students as well as brand managers.

It has the kind of data on the rural markets that is difficult to come by and even more difficult to ignore. In fact, much of the utility of Advertising & Marketing in Rural India emanates from the fact that books such as this are few and far between. Surprising isnt it, given the growth and potential of the rural markets in India.