Why traditional advertising still rules the roost in rural India

Formats such as digital displays, augmented reality-based games, are being tested, but without much success

Why traditional advertising still rules the roost in rural India

Brands have traditionally communicated with people living in the media-dark regions of India through wall art, audio-visual vans, and sampling activations at village fairs and festivals. To a large extent, brands continue to use variations of these media formats in the hinterlands, despite new technologies in the outdoor and experiential marketing space.

Hi-tech advertising formats such as digital displays, augmented reality-based games, holographic brand interactions, mobile innovations, chatbots, video chatbots, infrared location tracking, proximity-based marketing and social media linked activations are being tested in rural areas, but without much success.

Scalability woes

From LED display screens and WiFi connectivity inside state transport buses to digital advertising on ATM screens, media owners are creating physical touchpoints enabled by technology in the rural markets. But why are marketers not taking to them?

When the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation introduced WiFi on its buses in 2016, Voot, the video streaming platform from Viacom18, struck a deal to offer its content to commuters on the buses. But the service was withdrawn in 2019 as the service provider noticed that not many were using the WiFi on board because of which the company could not monetise the medium through advertising.

LED screens inside buses, too, have proven to be unsuitable for advertising. “The biggest challenge with physical advertising formats is that of security and protection of the physical media,” says Atul Shrivastava, executive director and group CEO, Laqshya Media Group.

White label ATMs — private ATM set-ups permitted by the RBI to display third-party advertising — haven’t found many takers either. Marketers have used their storefronts for co-branding, but don’t see merit in utilising the ATM screens.

Vinyl wall painting, the latest offering on the block, has also met with resistance because of the costs it entails. “If the wall is not a rented one, there is no guarantee on whether the vinyl painting will be covered by another painting. Therefore, this digital solution is a risky bet for brands in rural markets given that it is four times more expensive than hand-drawn paintings,” says Keshav Chandorkar, VP – rural division, Hyperspace, a Dentsu Aegis Network agency. A hand-drawn wall painting typically costs Rs 4-8 per square foot.

“Unless there is scale, the per capita ROI is very difficult to justify for brands. While the solutions these days are tech assisted, it usually comes with high capital investment costs if we have to drive scale,” points out Premjeet Sodhi, senior VP, Mindshare Fulcrum, South Asia.

‘Fair’ play

Brands looking to deploy emerging technologies in rural markets do so at fairs, because these events give advertisers a large canvas. The 2019 Kumbh Mela saw a record 24 crore people in attendance. Several brands, including Dettol, Colgate-Palmolive, Brooke Bond Red Label, Godrej’s Goodknight and Wheel, were a part of it.

“Melas are crucial from a sampling and distribution point of view. For instance, if we are currently present in a town with a population of 10,000 and would like to go deeper, we find that having a game stall or a simple sampling drive at a mela gives us a better sense of the demand in that region,” says B Krishna Rao, senior category head – marketing, Parle Products.

For example, during the 2020 Magh Mela, Cipla handed out amulets to be worn around the neck along with Omnigel, a pain recovery gel, to about 30,000 policemen, boatsmen, cleanliness crew and volunteers.

Melas are also cost effective, because a sampling drive in a remote village tends to be incrementally more expensive than in a semi-urban market due to transportation issues.

Digital advertising has turned out to be a robust solution for rural markets. Mahindra Automotive launched a digital edutainment-led campaign for the Mahindra Bolero Maxitruck Plus Extra Strong on tablet devices in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. As per Hyperspace (the agency behind the campaign), this activation resulted in 142 spot bookings for the truck.

The combination of cheap data and affordable phones has resulted in brands seeking out platforms such as TikTok and WhatsApp to reach consumers. “A few brands now create low-budget videos to be shared primarily on WhatsApp with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). These KOLs further share the videos of the brand/ product with the community, thereby propagating the message further,” reveals Chandorkar.

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