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14 steps approach to Rural Marketing Part 8

Below the Line activities are aimed at generating word of mouth publicity for the product or service being promoted among the target audience.
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Below the Line Activities: An integral part of Rural Marketing


The importance of Below the Line (BTL) activities in any rural marketing effort can never be underestimated. This is because of:

a.The need for focused communication aimed at specific target audiences, with varying traditions, cultures, languages and dialects.

b. The traditional belief that mass media does not reach everyone in rural India.

What is BTL in the rural context? All BTL activities are aimed at generating word of mouth publicity for the product or service being promoted among the target audience, in a specific geographical location using specially developed communication packages. I would include any non-media activity or roadshow which takes the route of either one on one or group communication using different delivery mechanisms.

For expensive consumer durables or services, where promotional efforts have to build in the ‘touch & feel’ or demonstration aspects, the term used most often is ‘Experiential Marketing’.

Let us now look at the possible list of activities or events which a marketer can look at when he is planning BTL activities in rural India. These may cover existing events like temple festivals, sports events (rural Olympics) or even specially created events.

Type of Events

The broad category of events includes

1) Folk Media

India has a treasure trove of folk and traditional art forms, right from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, and from Maharashtra to Arunachal Pradesh. Folk art is a cherished ornament in the kaleidoscope of our cultural heritage. Every region of the country has its own distinctive folk art form. These art forms weave socio-religious and philosophical dimensions artistically and aesthetically into a whole life experience, presented in a creative and innovative manner. Indeed, India is a land of innumerable folk/traditional arts.

Advantages of Folk Media

The appeal of folk media is quite personal and it has got direct influence on people. Since it operates at an intimate level, numerous forms of mass media can be exploited to cater to the needs of the people for immediate and direct rapport. The folk media is flexible enough to accommodate new themes.

Though the folk media attracts a small audience, the impact on them is at a much deeper level and often involves audience participation.

A well developed folk media programme should be both entertaining and educative, and must be executed by experienced professionals.

2) Magic Shows

Use of magic shows to promote products and brands in rural areas is not unusual. Cigarette companies used this form to sample/sell cigarettes almost 50 years ago. But the new concept is to blend the brand message with the magic show to create better brand equity.

3) Sports Events/Contests

Sponsoring sports events, especially for brands which are aimed at the youth in rural India, have been found to be an effective media instrument. Some of the popular rural sports events are Jallikattu (taming of the bulls, popular in Tamil Nadu); Bullock Cart Race (North and South); Camel Race (in Gujarat/Rajasthan); Rural Olympics covering a whole lot of typical rural sports like Kho Kho, cycle race, etc. (popular in AP and Punjab); Pahelwan contests like Khusthi, Wrestling; and Kolam (Rangoli contest), cooking contest, singing/dance contest, mehandi contest.

There can be many more such events based on traditional sports popular in villages. The choice of the event will depend on the brand and the target audience and the popularity of the specific event in a specific area.

4) Special Events
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Companies are known to organize their own special events to create excitement among the target audience. Organizing special exhibitions, special edutainment shows etc. come under this category. Such shows are usually aimed at getting large audiences under one roof.

The examples that come to my mind are the Tommy (Tractor owner) meets of MRF, TAFE Mela, FACT Mela, ACC Suraksha Gruhapradarshana, Philips Super Shows, Shriram Truck Utsav etc.

Where do we conduct the events?

The most common and traditional location is the village square where people gather at specific times – like in the evening after a day’s work. If you are aiming specifically at farmers or women or children or youth, the location and timings must be carefully chosen to ensure maximum participation by the specific audience. For instance, it has been found that residential areas produce greater opportunities for women to participate, especially if you conduct the shows during specific times, when the women are free.

The other popular locations in the villages are near tea shops, panchayat office, primary health centres, local temples or other religious locations, and in local community hall and schools.

Haats, Melas and Mandis

Haats and melas have been used by rural folks to sell their wares for centuries. Today, haats, melas, and even mandis are growing in popularity as opportunity areas for corporates to conduct campaigns aimed at audiences from different villages.

Since the location, timing, type and the average attendance is known, it becomes easy to plan continuous road shows; particularly if one is introducing a new product or offering special promotional schemes.

The haats or the weekly markets happen on fixed days of the week, at fixed locations and timings. A detailed list of haats, which number around 47,000, giving the addresses of the specific location, the day and the time, are available in published form. Participating in a haat with your promotional activity may require specific permission from the local Panchayat chief, who is in charge of the haat centre. Generally, your event manager who is coordinating the haat campaign will be aware of such details.

The dates of melas are invariably listed in different religious calendars and hence vary from year to year. It is advisable to check with local authorities about the specific dates of melas for each year before planning marketing activities. Melas number around 25,000. There are specific agencies that are given sole publicity rights for every big mela.

Video on Wheels

The most popular form of road show is the ‘video on wheels’. It has been found that one sure way of reaching promotional efforts to remotest villages of the country is through branded vans fitted with the necessary AV equipment and carrying other collaterals required for conducting shows. An effective van operation can not only help in promoting a brand but also can be used to get valuable data on markets, help in selling and distribution, and in sampling and demonstration of products. The type of van used, (viz) Matador or a Standard van, Tata 407, Ace jeep or even a converted truck chassis will depend on the budget and the type of show planned. VOW has now rightly been re-named Mobile Marketing Vehicles (MMV).
What can you do in the events?

Most of the events are primarily aimed at creating brand awareness and experience apart from generating sales. Depending on the objective in mind, you can consider two or more of the elements forming a part of the programme for the event such as branded vehicle, branded portable kiosk, display and demonstration of the product, sampling and selling where applicable, interactive games (brand related) to attract and hold the attention of the audience with attractive and useful prizes for winners, a live entertainment programme (15 to 20 minutes) or a 10 minutes audio visual film followed by quiz programmes to check on the understanding of the core message.

What can you do at melas or big events?

When you are participating in big melas which are spread over a period of time, and which attract lakhs of people, there are opportunity areas available for creating brand awareness including entrance arches, banners (horizontal/drop), branded kiosks, branded salesmen, branded umbrellas, branded direction boards, stalls in the exhibition area, posters/leaflets, featuring ad spots on big screens showing mythological films in an open area and at the exhibition venue and interactive games.

Apart from the above, one can think of any number of innovative ways of attracting and delivering brand messages in a mela. It is said that rural India offers as many media opportunities as you can identify and exploit. Eg. Lifebuoy Shower Kiosk or Lifebuoy Khoya Paya (Lost & Found) Towers or the latest idea of printing the message ‘Have you washed your hands with Lifebuoy’ printed on millions of chapatis distributed at the Kumbh Mela. (To be continued..)

(Extracts from the book `Don’t Flirt with Rural marketing’ by RV Rajan published by Productivity and Quality Publishing, Chennai. The next issue will feature Part-II of Step 10 - Below the line Activities.)

Author: RV Rajan, Former Chairman, Anugrah Madison Advertising 

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