Focused communication for rural India

rural   -  Business Line

It is important to understand the rural consumer to get your message across to him.



Over the last 25 years, we have been involved in developing campaigns for a variety of products ranging from agri-inputs such as fertilisers, agro chemicals and seeds, to consumer durables, FMCG and the services sector. This has helped us understand the special characteristics of the rural audience. Some insights:

A rural consumer may be illiterate according to the Census definition, but he is very clever, blessed with a lot of common sense.

He is highly conscious of value for money.

There is a high involvement of the rural customer in any product purchase, more so for high-end products, which involve shelling out a few thousand rupees or more.

Tricky, clever, gimmicky or even suggestive advertising does not work with the rural audience. ‘Slice of life' approaches, simple and direct, using aspirational urban-looking models work very well.

Combining education with entertainment or ‘edutainment' is a good route to take.

Companies will do well to use regional stars for regional campaigns for more effective penetration of brands in rural areas.

In case of television spots which are sophisticated in execution and chances of the message going over the heads of the rural consumers high, special efforts will have to be made to interpret the main message to the rural audience. This could be done through a whole lot of below-the-line (BTL) activities, including road shows and VOW (video on wheels) programmes, which elaborate on the theme of the campaign through interactive games and contests.

It is clear that in any form of rural communication, while we may have a national strategy, we have to think and act locally. An integrated package consisting of mass media and below-the-line activities works well.

Communication Delivery Strategy

The two vital arms of rural communication are the development of creative to suit specific target audiences and communication delivery using appropriate vehicles.

Though rural folks receive all types of selling messages through multiple sources, it has been found that the two-tier system — opinion leaders and the masses — continues to exist. Opinion leaders continue to play an important role in the decision-making, which is still community or group-based.

However, the composition of the opinion leaders has changed over a period of time.

For decisions regarding farm inputs, farmers may consult the traditional opinion leaders, including other successful farmers, agricultural officers and dealers. But with the growing aspiration levels (thanks to television), village youth who go to the cities for education and employment have also become important opinion leaders for lifestyle products. And in the case of personal care products, similar to the trend in the urban areas, school-going children do influence the brand decision. Kids' pester power is not unique to urban India.

Media Strategy for FMCG Products

 Television is invariably the primary medium used by most FMCG brands. As television does not distinguish between urban and rural, whether one likes it or not, the commercials are also exposed to a vast majority of the rural audiences.

If a company is clear that a particular brand can be targeted at both urban and rural audiences, and since television is already considered the primary medium, it might be a good idea to produce commercials that appeal to both urban and rural audiences. Pre-testing of such commercials among both audiences is vital to ensure success among both.

Apart from regional TV channels, one can consider the use of local cable TV networks largely telecasting local shows popular among communities in semi-urban and rural areas. Rural cinemas, especially in South India, are still a popular medium to reach consumers.

Radio is one of the cheapest mass media to reach rural masses. Even where electricity is unreliable, transistor radios are very popular among the poorer sections of rural India. With the number of FM stations set to explode after expansion under Phase Three, it would be possible to reach even more remote areas through radio.

Haats (weekly markets) and melas tied to temple and religious festivals are great for promoting brands. While haats help in reaching a few thousand villagers from different villages in one place, melas attract lakhs of visitors across the State or across the country as in kumbh melas. They offer a variety of media opportunities in one place. However, it must be remembered that haats are gradually losing their importance in economically developed markets such as Tamil Nadu because of the tremendous progress made by small towns and their easy accessibility to villagers due to better and reliable transport facilities.

In the last couple of years, the role of technology has made a huge difference in the way one reaches the rural audience. The growing number of Internet kiosks disseminating useful information to village folk has come to stay. The mindboggling growth of mobile telephones, especially in the rural areas, has created a great opportunity for anyone with a message to reach the rural masses.

Sitting at home and at the press of a button, a rural customer is able to access all kinds of information — in the process virtually helping the elimination of  the middlemen, who have had a stranglehold on him for generations. But this is still an evolving medium.

Static media such as wall paintings, hoardings, shop fronts and point of sale continue to be useful as reminder media. So are messages prominently displayed in bus stands, railway stations, on water tanks, wells and pump-sets in villages, as well as mobile media such as local buses and auto-rickshaws.

Media Strategy for Consumer Durables / Services

  High-end products such as consumer durables or the service sector call for a two-pronged strategy, covering above-the-line and BTL activities.

While mass media helps create awareness about the brands, it has been found necessary to have BTL activities or road-shows as part of direct marketing efforts aimed at specific target audiences.

Since the opinion leaders can be easily identified in each village, and they are small in number, direct marketing efforts aimed at opinion leaders must always precede any effort aimed at larger audiences.

This becomes even more important for sectors such as banking and insurance, which need concept selling before specific brands are promoted.

And to provide opportunities for demonstration and ‘touch and feel' of high-end consumer durables, vehicles or services, it is important to have a well-conceived and executed BTL campaign, ensuring that the communication messages used, integrate well with the mass media campaign.

In Sum

Needless to say any activity, including communication packages aimed at the rural audience, must generate a lot of ‘word of mouth' publicity so that the brand is ‘top of mind' when the rural customer is ready to make a brand decision in the product category.

While it is true that the growing economic prosperity has begun to reduce the rural-urban divide in the higher echelons of rural society, the need for special and focused communication aimed at the not-so-well educated and poorer sections of rural India continues to exist. This is true even in the developed rural areas. It will be wishful thinking to say that the rural-urban divide has already melted, based on a few stray experiences.

R. V. Rajan is Chairman, Anugrah Madison Advertising Pvt Ltd, and Past President, Rural Marketing Association of India. [email protected]

Published on July 20, 2011
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