Over the last 25 years, the Anugrah team has been involved in developing campaigns for a wide variety of products ranging from agri-inputs (fertilisers, agro-chemicals, tyres, drip irrigation, etc.), consumer durables and FMCGs. This has helped them to understand the special characteristics of the rural audience and also evolve a few tips on how to communicate with them. Some of these insights are:
a.A rural consumer may be illiterate as per the census definition, but he or she is quite intelligent and endowed with a lot of common sense. With the proliferation of television channels, the average rural consumer is being bombarded with a variety of messages which have greatly added to his knowledge on various subjects. In recent years, the deep penetration of mobile phones in rural India has given marketers a new tool to immediately and intimately connect with rural folks. Agencies can gainfully use this tool to add to their knowledge base about the rural consumers.
b.Rural consumer is very conscious of value for money. For every paisa they spend they expect good value. Unlike the urban consumer, who may be prone to impulsive purchase decisions, a rural customer has to be 100 per cent satisfied before he/she pulls out the cash to pay for a product.
c.Rural consumer’s well considered decision in buying a specified brand is always taken after a lot of consultation with opinion leaders relevant to the product category. While for decisions regarding farm inputs he or she may consult with traditional opinion leaders (like other successful farmers, agri officers, dealers etc.) and with growing aspiration levels (thanks to television) village youth who go to cities for education and employment have become important opinion leaders for lifestyle products. Women in rural India along with children are emerging as great demand generators for many of the household products.
d.We must also remember that 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. It is therefore important to build demonstration or the ‘touch and feel’ aspect, in any promotional activity aimed at the rural audience. I have seen farmers spend a whole day at a tyre dealer’s shop, checking and double checking a pair of bullock cart tyres they have come to buy before shelling out the cash.
e.The fact that perceptions, traditions and values vary from state to state, and in some cases from region to region within a state, is well known. The important point is that when developing a campaign aimed at the rural audience, these factors must be uppermost in the minds of the creative people. This necessitates the understanding of the ‘mindset’ of the target audience for every product category in every region. This is where qualitative studies like ‘Focus Group’ or the ‘Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)’ approach can be effectively used. This is an important step in the development of any rural communication package.
f.To establish a brand and connect with a rural audience, it is important that the brand should be able to emote, empathise and talk to its consumers in the language and lifestyle of the rural folk. A film commercial, originally produced in Hindi featuring typical North Indian models (eg Sardarji) and dubbed in Tamil for cost considerations will just not work.
g.Experience has also taught us that tricky, clever, gimmicky or even suggestive type of advertising does not work with the rural audience. All those ‘flicks’ using very expensive computer graphics without human elements tend to go over the heads of the rural audience. “Slice of life” approaches, using aspirational urban looking models work very well. But it is important that the communication is simple and not so complicated that the rural audience is forced to read between the lines.
h.Use of ‘symbols’ and colours help the rural customers easily identify the brand at the point of purchase. Lal (Red) sabun Lifebuoy, Peela (yellow) powder of Nirma Detergent Powder, Ghadi (Clock) detergent powder, Pahelwan chap of tyres of MRF etc. are some examples.
i.Combining education with entertainment or ‘edutainment’ is a good route to take when targeting the rural audience. Many agencies use this approach extensively in developing software which is presented to the target audience during road shows.
j.Using locally relevant film stars help touch a chord in the hearts of the rural audience. While using super stars like Shah Rukh Khan for endorsing the brands nationally is justified, companies will do well to use regional stars for regional campaigns for a more effective penetration of brands in rural areas. Local icons, who are household names in specific areas, can also be considered as brand ambassadors. Manorama, the well known comedienne popularly known as ‘Aachi’ in the Tamil cinema world was used as the brand ambassador for launching ‘Aachi’ masalas with tremendous success.
k.The importance of market research in pre-testing television spots, among both urban and rural audience, to ensure that the message conveyed is understood equally well by both target audiences is essential to ensure that marketers are not throwing their money down the drain. Especially, when they want to reach both the urban and the rural audiences with the same communication package.
l.In cases where the marketer has produced a television spot which is sophisticated in execution and where the chances of the message going over the heads of the rural folks are high, then special efforts will have to be made to reinterpret the main message to the rural audience. This could be done through a whole lot of below-the-line activities including road shows and Video on Wheel programmes which elaborate on the theme of the campaign through interactive games, contests, etc. Efforts of Clinic Plus to propagate the mother-daughter story in the interior markets or the Lifebuoy Swasthya yojana campaign creating awareness about health and hygiene in rural India, preceding a campaign to push the brand are examples of such efforts.
m.For the same brand a well conceived communication programme integrated across media works better than different ideas for different media. It is important to use the same themes in both mass media and below-the-line activities.
To sum up, it is clear that in any form of rural communication, while we may have a national strategy, we have to think and act locally. The importance of focused communication, when aiming at the rural markets, should never be underestimated.
(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 Step 9 – Developing a communication delivery (media) strategy.)
Author: RV Rajan, Former Chairman, Anugrah Madison Advertising