The two vital arms of rural communication are the development of creative ideas to suit the targeted audience and the choice of communication delivery medium using appropriate vehicles of communication.
While there are three segments in the rural pyramid consisting of the rural rich, the aspiring middle class, and the masses at bottom of the pyramid, most of the rural initiatives by corporates are aimed at the top two segments – especially the aspiring middle class. The bottom of the pyramid is not considered as it does not have any purchasing power.
The role of opinion leaders in influencing the rest of the people in a village should not be underestimated. While the rural folks receive their message through multiple sources of communication, it has been found that the two tier system – opinion leaders and the masses continue to exist where the opinion leaders are continuing to play an important role in the decision making process. They are always consulted by folks before taking decisions regarding any high end products, consumer durables, or services. Decisions are still community or group based. However, the composition of the opinion leaders has changed over a period of time.
Today the educated village youth and the school going children, apart from the empowered village women, are influencing the choice of brands which enter a household. This fact must be borne in mind while defining target audiences for specific media strategies for brands.
Media Strategy for FMCG Products
Whatever media strategy is planned for an urban audience is also applicable to a rural audience. When it comes to FMCG products, television is invariably the primary medium used by most of the FMCG brands. Since television does not distinguish between urban and rural audiences, your commercials are exposed to the vast majority of the rural audiences, whether you like it or not.
If a company is clear that a particular brand in their basket can be targeted at both urban and rural audiences and if television is already being considered as a prime medium, it might be a good idea to produce commercials which appeal to both urban and rural audiences.
Pre-testing of such commercials among both the audiences is vital to ensure the success of the spots among both the audiences.
Apart from regional TV channels, use of local cable TV networks, which are very popular among local communities in semi urban and rural areas, should be considered. Though they are cheap and give good value for money, they are not organized and hence are difficult to manage and control. (A great media business opportunity awaits anyone who is able to solve this problem- like what Blaze Advertising did years ago with thousands of cinema halls in the country).
Rural cinemas, especially in South India, are still a popular medium for reaching the rural folks. There are regional outfits which control such cinemas that can be approached for the screening of advertisement films.
Radio is one of the cheapest segments of mass media capable of reaching the rural masses. Even where electricity is unreliable, transistor radios are very popular among the poorer sections of rural folks. Many FM channels, like the SUN group in the south, have realized the tremendous potential that this medium offers in reaching localized messages to rural audiences. It is also an ideal medium to reach the so called media dark areas in the tribal and mountain belts of the country. In this context, the recent announcement of the Government’s plan, to allow private FM channels in more areas, is a welcome sign.
Indian Readership Survey (IRS) has recently recast the SEC categories for rural from simple R1, R2, R3, R4 based on education and mode of hiring to A to E1 representing the usage of lifestyle products covering both urban and rural areas. IRS conducted by Media Users Council every year has some valuable data on the reach and impact of mass media on the rural audiences.
The use of static media like wall paintings, hoardings, shop front, point of sale etc., are useful as traditional reminder media for any brand or product or services. So are messages prominently displayed in bus stands, railway stations, on water tanks, wells, and pump sets in villages. Mobile media like local buses and auto rickshaws are useful ‘reminder’ media. Every region has vendors who have complete knowledge and resources to implement any form of OOH (Out Of Home) campaigns.
Below-the-line (BTL) activities can also be used by FMCG brands for special promotions in specific markets or to reinforce the main message of the mass media campaign through interaction and product specific games/activities.
Media Strategy for Consumer Durables/Services
In the case of high end products like consumer durables, it calls for a two pronged strategy including above-the-line and below-the-line activities.
Above the line activities
Above the line (ATL) activities consist of mass media used for urban audience. These are useful in reaching opinion leaders and other literate middle class customers in the target audience.
Opinion leaders can be easily identified in every village and they are quite small in number. In addition to utilizing the mass media, direct marketing efforts aimed at such a focused audience is important. Use of direct mail, or targeting customers through one on one or group events, become relevant in this context.
Needless to say that 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 the mind’ when the rural customer is ready to make a purchase in the product category.
Author: RV Rajan, Former Chairman, Anugrah Madison Advertising
(Extracts from the book ‘Don’t Flirt with Rural marketing’ by RV Rajan published by Productivity and Quality Publishing, Chennai. The next series will feature Step- 10- Below-the-Line (BTL) activities or Experiential Marketing.)