Rural recipe

Marketing communications firms are working out innovative ways to allow upcountry consumers to develop an appetite for branded products and services.

Month: May 2009. Location: Kamareddy, a town about 100 km off Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh.As the mercury soars past 40 degrees Celsius, some 120 local youth with portable DVD players and screens strapped on their chests move from door to door. The task: Each "communicator" has to persuade members of the household to sample Hindustan Unilever's Bru instant coffee. Each communicator has a target of knocking on 50 doors a day.

Kamareddy has some 60,000 inhabitants, most of whom are engaged in cotton, paddy and chilli farming. The penetration of instant coffee is woefully low here-as it is in most of the nonurban districts in the south-with tea and filter coffee being favoured more. And, where instant coffee is consumed, it is Nestle's Nescafe brand that is preferred. "This means that we have to transmit three different messages that are aimed at three different groups of beverage drinkers," explains Samir Gupte, Country Head at Ogilvy Outreach, the rural marketing arm of O&M conducting the sampling exercise.


  • Nokia, Ericsson, Qualcomm are developing technology for rural value-added services like agri-related information. Reuters is also providing data on weather and commodity prices through mobile phones to farmers.
  • General Electric is studying water and energy solutions. The focus is to provide clean drinking water and energyefficient power solutions.
  • IT companies are developing software that makes rural launches viable. For instance, cattle-tagging has made cattle insurance viable now as an embedded software chip tracks the lifecycle of the livestock.
  • Healthcare and pharma are getting increasingly active with Novartis launching its Arogya Parivar (healthy family) programme, Aventis looking at making diabetic care affordable and Ranbaxy hiring in a big way in rural India.
But this isn't just any garden variety sampling exercise. Rather than the communicators attempting to convince households to taste the brew, Ogilvy Outreach is relying on DVD films to drive home the message. The reason, as Gupte points out, is that different communicators have different communication skills, making it difficult to standardise the message delivery at the ground level. So the rural marketing firm decided to use a simple technology to standardise the message through a DVD player loaded with three films aimed at different types of drinkers. Depending on the beverage consumed in a household, the relevant film was played.

It worked. Simple curiosity makes it difficult for residents to turn back the communicators. Over five months, Ogilvy Outreach reached out to some 13-lakh rural households across 835 villages in the two southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka leading to faster sales of Bru instant coffee in this region. The DVD initiative will now be rolled out across the country.

It's not rocket science-just some out-of-the-box thinking that's helping marketers come closer to consumers upcountry. And like Ogilvy Outreach, a clutch of rural marketing firms such as Linterland, Xpanse Asia, Mart, BIG Live and Rural Relations is devising affordable, easily-executable and scalable models, across multiple media, to connect with rural consumers. "The model today is to educate, engage, and then penetrate," says Sujit Nair, President of Linterland, the rural arm of advertising agency Lintas.

FM Radio is one of the newer media that's being used to exploit the rural opportunity. Reliance Media World's newest venture, BIG Live (which also does rural marketing, besides entertainment), is perhaps the FM radio industry's first attempt to use FM stations to send messages to the hinterlands. "What we bring to the table is the ability to amplify through the radio medium," says Rabe T. Iyer, Business Head (Allied Businesses) at Reliance Media World, which owns the radio channel, BIG 92.7 FM, and is present in 45 circles in 20 states.

Here's how: Last October, the rural division of BIG Live got its first big client. Public sector oil major Hindustan Petroleum wanted to spread its message of safety via its campaign Suraksha Sanchetana Abhiyaan (safety awareness campaign). People in a particular village or town were bombarded with repeat announcements about the campaign on the radio. But the communication didn't end there. The radio blitz was followed up with three speciallydesigned AC buses, fitted with large LCD TVs, pulling into these villages.

 The message of safety was reinforced on these screens-along with plenty of entertainment. "The ground activity reached out to a large number of people and the radio amplified the message," says a beaming Iyer. The bus covered about 80 cities, towns and villages in 23 states across India between October and January this year. For fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) marketers, rural markets have always been a bread-and-butter proposition.

The perennial challenge, however, is how to penetrate deeper-and keep the rural consumer interested. Nestle, for instance, recently launched a brand called Maggi Rasile Chow, targeted specifically at rural India. As you read this, the Indian arm of Publicis Groupe's rural marketing firm Xpanse Asia has launched an army of chefs into the villages of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttaranchal to instruct rural folk on how to cook these noodles. "The idea of this exercise is also to tell them about Maggi's nutritional contents," says Sandip Bansal, Country Head, Xpanse Asia.

Meantime, FMCG brands are finding new ways of reaching out to villagers. This summer, Heinz is going all out to market its energy drink Glucon-D in the rural market. It is hawking the glucose drink the same way that ice cream is sold-through speciallydesigned handcarts and motorised carts. Salesmen with a colourful container filled with Glucon-D on their backs roam villages of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, doling out samples.

New industries, too, are resorting to marketing innovations to gain ground in the backwaters. For ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Co., Ogilvy Outreach decided to spread awareness through children, who would eventually take the message back home to their parents. ICICI Pru launched Pragati Ki Anokhi Paathshala, an initiative to give village kids exposure to learning concepts through a workshop. They started with memory enhancement techniques, logical reasoning, Vedic mathematics and other learning activities. The initiative has been taken to 250 towns across India covering half a dozen states and reaching out to about 68,000 children and their parents.

General insurers, too, see hope in the hinterlands. Consider a category like cattle insurance, till recently unviable for general insurance firms because of false claims and the lack of a system to track the lifecycle of the livestock. The recent introduction of radio frequency identification and barcode tags can help insurers track the livestock remotely, making cattle insurance viable. Noida Software & Technology is one company that is working on such barcoding of cattle.

At another level, Reliance BIG Live is working with mobile service providers to provide rural mobile radio to reach out to villages not covered by FM radio networks. "This will serve as a medium to connect with consumers deep in India," says Iyer. Clearly, rural India is becoming more approachable, more connected- and a more feasible proposition for marketers.