It’s that time of the year eagerly anticipated by every Malayalee, and anxiously followed by every marketer. Onam celebrations kickstart the festive calendar in India, and tend to be a barometer of consumer sentiments and spends, setting the stage for frenzied bouts of promotional activities.

On the sentiment front, this year Onam — planned to be celebrated with full fervour after two years of Covid-19 restrictions — has been pretty rousing with brands coming up with innovative campaigns and products. Food, fashion, furniture brands have started early, and given the Malayalee’s love for football, brands like Vivo,which is the sponsor for FIFA’s World Cup 2022 in Qatar, have cleverly tied in the sport in its promotional Onam pitch.

Home-coming campaigns
Federal Bank’s home-coming campaign

Federal Bank’s home-coming campaign

Everyone is banking on the return of Non-resident Indians to the stage after a gap of two years to spur sales. When even a staid bank comes out with a heart-warming emotional campaign capturing the excitement of Non-resident Keralites returning to their state for the festival, it shows how high expectations from Onam this year are. Federal Bank’s home-coming campaign is being screened in cinema theatres and plastered across hoardings even as it launched a host of festive offers on its cards. The bank said that it expected the festive season to rev-up its growth trajectory in Q2 and first half of Q3.

Aditya Birla Group’s Linen Club also put out a musical film with a stirring home-coming theme. Singers Resmi Sateesh and Libin Scaria have presented a beautiful fusion of folk and youthful vibe through their Onam song, while actors Mala Parvathy and George Kora tell a tale of the joy of reunion and giving this season.

Meanwhile, a campaign that caught the imagination of people going viral across India was one put out by Tasty Nibbles, which came out with an innovative ready-to-eat Onam sadya pack which includes rice, curries, banana chips, payasam and pickles. Priced at ₹999, each pack serves up to four persons. Several food bloggers and influencers posted unboxing and preparing videos that have been shared widely.

On ground
White mart store

White mart store

While sentiments have been very high, on the ground, incessant rains have played spoilsport on the festive spirit of Onam – both in terms of merchandise sales and cultural activities.

In the early days of the festival, heavy downpours certainly put a dampener on the demand for flowers sales, which is an integral part of the Onam festival for laying Pookalams (floral carpets) by households and institutions during the 10-days of the festival.

Prakash, a flower vendor in Kochi, pointed out that rains in Tamil Nadu dampened the festival spirit of Onam with limited availability of flowers from neighbouring states on which Kerala depends. Rains have affected flower production in several parts of Tamil Nadu, leading to prices shooting up.

Each vendor normally generates sale of 100 kg of flowers on a daily basis during this season. This has come down to 10 kg because of the scarcity, he added.

However, Jerry Mathew, Managing Director of White Mart, a leading consumer durable firm, exuded confidence in white goods business because of the consumer shift from rural markets to urban centres with the lifting of Covid restrictions. In the pandemic times, rural markets remained steady while business in urban centres witnessed de-growth. “This trend has now been reversed, which is a positive signal for the markets in cities and towns”.

This is mainly because of the consumer movement to cities with families shopping after being confined in their homes for about two years during the pandemic. “We are seeing a surge in the average selling price of many durables as consumers now prefer high-end products may be because of the improvement in their liquidity position,” Mathew said.

The consumer durable market in Kerala is estimated at ₹3,000 crore. Of this, about 50 per cent of the sales happen during Onam season with big branded players launching promotional offers.

Changing attire

The visit of NRIs to the State for Onam after a two-year gap has boosted retail garment sales. “We have seen a 20 per cent sales growth in August alone vis-a-vis 2019 and it is expected to continue till the end of the festival season,” said Prakash Pattabhiraman, Executive Director of Kalyan Silks.

“Despite inflationary pressures and rise in the cost of living, domestic customers are also coming in large numbers. They prefer mainly traditional wear and we have witnessed unimaginable sales in this category with stocks getting exhausted,” he said.

But equally, western wear brands report good sales too saying there is a paradigm shift in the Malayalee attire from ethnic wear to ultra-modern clothing.

Asked about the impact of rains, Pattabhiraman was hopeful that it would not be too much. “There may be a 10 per cent drop in sales. With the conclusion of mid-term examinations in schools and the disbursement of bonus to government employees, we expect good footfalls,” he added.

As the state goes all out to woo Mahabali, marketers would be hoping that God's own country will lead the way to a good season this year.