Based on what works in rural areas, we can define the rural communications mix as a combination of seven components: 1. Wall Paintings 2. TV/Regional Language Channels 3. BTL Techniques, Vans and Demonstrations 4. Village Newspapers/Local Editions of Large Newspapers 5. Community Radio/AIR Local Channels 6. Melas and Fairs 7. Internet and Mobiles.
Component # 1. Wall Paintings:
Wall paintings reach even the smallest villages where mass media has not made inroads. These are cheap and serve as fixtures on walls with high visibility. Local painters do the job and villagers welcome these messages as the paint helps to protect walls. For consumer durables, direct marketing campaigns are effective. A dealer push combined with wall paintings and attractive schemes and exchange offers can give a lot of mileage in rural markets.
Many durables companies such as Bajaj Auto, Hero Motocorp, LG and so on are tapping rural markets through wall paintings and have made significant inroads in rural market. Wall painting is the most widespread form of advertising and well accepted among rural consumers, and so are an effective promotional tool, because they constantly remind rural people about names and logos.
Component # 2. TV/Regional Language Channels:
Over 75 percent of India’s urban households own a TV set, compared to just one-third of rural households, according to 2011 Census figures. The census also reveals that only 9.4 percent of households in the country have either a laptop or a computer and only 3 percent of them have an Internet connection. While 20 percent of urban and 5 percent of rural households now own a computer or laptop, just 1 percent of rural Indian households own a computer with Internet.
However, measuring the audiences or identifying who was watching which channel has so far been a huge challenge. The problem is more acute in rural areas, where people receive TV signals from antennas, cable or dish. Earlier, TV audience data was provided by Television Audience Measurement (TAM), a joint venture between Nielsen and Kantar Media. It enjoyed a monopoly for years, but its data was inadequate. It captured data through TAM ‘people- meters’, which were installed in selected homes. But the people meters—about 9,000 were installed—were not only inadequate but they were not installed in rural areas. Charges of corruption were also being levelled against the agency.
Since 2016, TV audiences are being tracked by Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), which is now the world’s largest television audience measurement service. It is a joint venture with TAM and is now the only TV ratings body in India. BARC measures viewership habits of India’s 153.5 million TV-owning households. Of these, 77.5 million are in urban India and 76 million are in rural India. Starting operations with 20,000 people-metres, the company hopes to expand it to 50,000 homes gradually.
Over 3,000 BARC Media Workstations are deployed in the industry, providing data and giving insights to subscribers. It covers 460 channels accounting for over 97 percent of Indian TV viewership.
TV channels embed audio watermarks in their content prior to broadcast. These watermarks are not audible to the human ear, but can easily be detected and decoded using dedicated equipment, giving information about who has viewed it. The advantage of BARC is that it includes rural households in sample – in the first round, about 30 percent of the sample comprises rural households, at an all-India level. Viewership of every individual channel can be reliably tracked, even if a programme is broadcast simultaneously on more than one channel.
A report by Tata Strategic Management Group Team published in Business Standard (2013) shows that more than 90 percent of the districts in rural India have experienced positive growth in TV penetration. However, there has been significant variation observed in the growth pattern, with select districts contributing a disproportionate share to this growth.
Based on their growth trend in the 2007 to 2010 period, we can classify rural India into four groups:
High growth rate districts from FY07 to FY10. There are 79 diamond districts in India, which have seen high growth. These districts have contributed close to 28 percent of India’s rural growth and constitute 25 percent of rural population.
Moderate to high growth every year between FY07 to FY10. There are 119 resilient districts, together contributing to 31 percent of rural growth and 22 percent of rural demand. The diamond and the resilient groups comprise 198 districts with 35 percent of the rural population. More than 90 percent of the growth in demand is accounted for by the diamond and resilient districts put together.
Districts that have picked up growth from FY08 onwards, showing growth rates of 12 percent per annum. There were 173 emerging districts which generate 31 percent of the demand, but contributed only to 20 percent of rural growth. These districts demonstrated low growth in FY08 but picked up speed in subsequent years.
Districts which are growing at a low rate of less than 5 percent per annum since 2008. There are 201 laggard districts which comprise one-third of the rural population, contribute to around 30 percent of the demand but capture only 20 percent of rural growth.
These districts do not follow the generally accepted wisdom of rich states and poor states. Most of the 198 diamond and resilient districts are seen to be clustered in multiple regions forming growth pockets. For example, northern Odisha accounts for a large part of the resilient rural growth in the country. Other such prominent clusters are found in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar do not seem to show consistent high growth and account for only nine such districts.
Mapping districts across various stages of income growth offers a powerful tool for predicting demand growth as incomes rise. Analysis of rural India indicates that companies cannot look at it as one homogenous market. Varied growth patterns suggest the need to have a tailored micro-market approach in order to address these districts.
Component # 3. BTL Techniques, Vans and Demonstrations:
Mobile van campaign is one of the most effective communication channels for rural consumers, since it involves interpersonal communication with direct experience, creating greater visibility and deep reach. Van campaigns in rural areas pull crowds. Vehicles carrying advertisements always grab attention, thus helping better brand building, creating visibility and also encouraging trials.
Rural service camps and creation of local brand ambassadors also serve as means of effective communication. Some companies put stalls at prominent locations in villages. Such stalls are not only cost effective but can also target high potential consumers, especially during festive seasons. Other crowd pullers in rural areas are rural games and tournaments. These are very popular; companies put stalls or banners at such avenues and sponsor the events.
In many instances, they offer their products as prizes. Service camps are another effective brand building activity. Since word-of-mouth recommendations are very popular in rural areas, and people in the villages consult their friends, relatives or neighbours before buying any durable product, keeping the existing customers happy through service camps leads to more referrals and sales.
Component # 4. Village Newspaper or Local Editions of Large Newspapers:
A look at mass circulated newspapers shows that villages are largely invisible to mainstream media. Apart from news of a farmer suicide or an accident, villages find very little coverage on nationally circulated newspapers. Some regional language newspapers or regional editions of larger newspapers are popular in towns but have very little reach in villages.
Among the exceptions is Eenadu, published in Telugu. It regularly carries tips on agriculture and animal husbandry and encourages reader participation by publishing their political opinions and grievances. Local editions of Rajasthan Patrika and Dainik Bhaskar cover local concerns.
There are also grassroots papers written and published by and for locals. A prominent example is Khabar Lahariya, or News Waves, a weekly newspaper based in Chitrakoot, one of the poorest districts in central India. Written in Bundeli, the local language, the paper’s all-female staff has forged a reputation for investigative journalism. It has a deep support from villagers. The paper was founded in 2002 by Nirantar, a voluntary nonprofit organization. Village newspapers such as Khabar Lahariya and Sakshi try to fill the rural communication gap.
An article in [email protected] (2010) says that local papers are a hit with readers in India because of their connection to local issues. The village newspaper typically has a circulation of less than 10,000 copies and is sold at Rs. 1-3 per copy.
Advertising is also limited. This poses great challenges of survival. If other problems such as low literacy rate and poor infrastructure are added, selling and delivering a village newspaper is not an easy task. These newspapers does not represent viable advertising options for rural marketing companies either.
Component # 5. Community Radio or AIR Local Channels:
Community radio is a type of radio service that caters to the interests of a certain area, broadcasting content that is popular to a local audience which is often overlooked by commercial or mass media broadcasters. Globally, community radios have proliferated and provide people living in remote or isolated areas access to information. In India, the government restricts its spread.
In other parts of the world, modern-day community radio stations serve listeners by offering a variety of content that is not provided by larger commercial radio stations. Such stations carry local area news and information programmes, particularly useful for farming communities that are poorly served by other media channels.
Community radio stations provide specialized content that is immediately relevant to villagers. In India, community village radio could not develop properly as government guidelines permit only NGOs and civil society organizations to own and operate community radio stations. Most community stations in India are thus run by NGOs or educational institutions and have little presence in rural areas.
India Today (2007) reports about how low-power community radio stations can help spread awareness about self-help projects, building toilets near homes, using cow dung instead of wood for cooking purposes and the perils of child marriages. In 2003, village Budhikote, 100 km from Bangalore, was facing a drought.
Despite protests by people and promises from the authorities, nothing happened. Finally, Nagaraj, a reporter for Namma Dhwani, a community radio, broadcast the grievances of the people, which helped resolve the problem.
There are several examples where village radio has helped solve local problems:
i. At Bhanaj village, near Rishikesh, community radio helped in exposing the corruption in local governance.
ii. In Gujarat’s Kutch, it addressed gender issues and empowered women who were victims of domestic violence.
iii. In Budhikote near Bangalore, it helped fix broken pipes and restore water supply in drought-hit areas.
iv. In Nizamabad district of Andhra Pradesh, it helped bridge the caste divide between Dalits and non-Dalits.
v. In Palamau district of Jharkhand, it has helped stop pilferage in mid-day meals for children.
Elementary, low-cost radio stations with limited coverage could ideally serve village interests well. Village radio is a forum on which ordinary people can discuss issues concerning their lives, such as health and civic matters, share farming tips and income generation ideas and improve education.
Pavarala and Malik (2007) write that though village radio has the potential to give voice to rural areas and can help in imparting information and empowering them, they have not been allowed to develop in India. Government policy restricts issue of community radio licenses. In December 2002, the Government of India approved a policy for the grant of licenses for setting up of community radio stations.
The policy states that individuals cannot set up community stations and only community-based organizations and educational institutes can be given such licenses. As a result, only educational institutes and NGOs have been able to set up community radios. Only a few of them reach rural areas. Another restriction is that such stations cannot broadcast news, so village radio cannot broadcast information on local happenings.
These and other restrictions have succeeded in strangling village community radio in India. Though NGOs are running such stations in some villages, it cannot be denied that they would be pushing their own interests through such initiatives. Similarly, educational institutes are running their radio stations as a means of their advertising. Nor are these existing community radios in India as vibrant and informative as one would expect them to be.
Component # 6. Melas and Fairs:
Instead of media campaigns, rural markets are more influenced by BTL techniques at the village level and at events such as Kumbh Mela, Onam, Rathyatra, Baliyatra and Dhanuyatra. Bloomberg (2013) reports that outdoor marketing campaigns at events like the Kumbh are becoming very popular with a large number of companies. Fairs and melas represent rural marketing opportunities for companies. People come to these gatherings in huge numbers.
The biggest such gathering is the Kumbh Mela, described as the world’s largest gathering. The Maha Kumbh in 2013 drew some 100 million people to Ganges in Allahabad. It was a once-in-a-decade chance for companies to reach consumers who are otherwise hard to reach. Reaching all of 100 million people from rural areas in one place was a dream for advertisers. The 2013 Maha Kumbh saw companies such as Colgate, Vodafone, Dabur and HUL participating and reaching the mass of the consumers directly.
The Kumbh is a huge draw and is an opportunity for brands, but smaller melas held all over the country, which gather some 10,000 to 20,000 people per day, are useful for experiential marketing and are therefore more marketing friendly.
Melas are important in rural marketing because they offer access to a mass of rural people who are otherwise diverse and hard to reach. Mass media does not reach many villages and is an expensive option in rural marketing. Companies find it much more cost-effective to participate in 200 melas rather than reach 50,000 villages individually (Table 7.2). Melas happen mostly at the end of the harvest season, when farmers are free and have money in their pockets. On these occasions, farmers are inclined to indulge and buy new things.
The Economic Times (2015) reports that some melas, like the Kumbh, have religious objectives, but once the darshan (visiting and paying respect to the holy deity) or the snaan (holy bath) is done, people indulge in shopping. For rural families, melas are annual or six-monthly outings. Even women participate in large numbers; during melas and fairs, the usual social sanctions that keep women cloistered do not apply strictly. Thus, companies have the rare opportunity to reach out to women. An innovative way of tapping into mela crowds is through bus stands with audio content.
To be successful at direct marketing at melas, companies have to use the following strategies:
i. Be Local:
Brands use melas to provide demos and to gain visibility. It is experiential marketing at its best. For example, a company offers cooling hair oil on a customer’s hand to smell it and feel its effect on the scalp. Such demos very often result in direct sales. The biggest successes at melas are local brands such as Rahat Rooh, Paanch Bhai soap or Himgange, who use local traders to gain popularity with consumers.
ii. Be Big:
The company presence has to appear ubiquitous. For instance, at the Kumbh Mela in 2001, Lifebuoy had 50 handwash stations, while Fair & Lovely was being sold by 500 salesmen in the style of vendors at railway stations. The idea is that stalls are not put up as an obligatory participation for mere presence, but brands have to think big and make their presence felt.
iii. Be Inventive:
An important need is to be innovative because old ideas do not work. Outdated technology like videos will be spurned by the consumer. For instance, at the Maha Pushkaram, a huge fair held at Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh, HUL distributed 3,000 special cups across 250 tea stalls to promote its tea brand, 3 Roses. The brand logo and message appeared on the cup when it was filled with hot beverage, which was a novelty for the rural audience.
The brand message was thus conveyed during the moment of truth of consumption of the beverage, transforming an ordinary moment into a magical one. The company claimed a steep rise in sales for 3 Roses after the festival. Similarly, Vodafone helped visitors fight off cold at the Maha Kumbh by supplying them with branded headphones that served as ear muffs.
Visitors could listen to prerecorded bhajans (devotional songs) and commercial messaging while protecting their ears. Such innovative ideas are likely to be a hit with rural consumers. Colgate tied up with Airtel, using location-based targeting to give the network’s subscribers an automated call from instantly identifiable radio personality, Amin Sayani. The more inventive a brand, the more will it find resonance with visitors.
iv. Be Useful:
Merely selling or branding does not get consumer attention; a brand has to be useful to the people. For example, in 2003, at the Maha Pushkaram, Brooke Bond worked with the organizers to provide information at railway stations and bus stops to help visitors. People were greeted with welcome notices and pamphlets with maps of the area together with emergency contact numbers. The promotion extended to the bathing ghats where hot cups of tea were provided immediately after the holy bath.
At the Maha Kumbh 2013, Dabur distributed Odomos in sachets to encourage trials. Similarly, at the Kumbh Mela in Nashik, the company gave away samples of Hajmola at large eateries. Sometimes branding fails—an attempt to release branded diyas (an oil lamp made of clay) was met with protests and worked against the brand. But as long as the promotion is useful to consumers, it works.
Component # 7. Internet and Mobiles:
The use of the Internet and mobiles is slowly but surely increasing in rural areas. The spread of cheap smartphones has also given a boost to rural mobile Internet users, which grew by 93 percent between December 2014-December 2015, according to Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) figures. However, only 9 percent of the hinterland has access to the technology, according to the report released jointly by IAMAI and IMRB.
In comparison, 53 percent of urban areas had mobile Internet connectivity and grew at 71 percent during the same period, thereby highlighting the urban-rural divide in the country. But IAMAI data shows that rural India is growing fast. Mobile Internet users in rural India grew from 68 million in June 2015 to 109 million in June 2016, signifying a 60 percent growth in users.
Among rural users, on the other hand, 52 percent said their primary reason for accessing the Internet was entertainment. Communication and social networking stood at 37 percent and 39 percent, respectively.
Companies can use this growing medium effectively to reach rural consumers. The opening case of KKT shows how phones are used not only to reach consumers but also to gather data about them.