Are brands lighting up or lighting down their festive game?

Experts speak about the intent behind brands rolling out festive campaigns, why they pay a premium for media space and how marketers turn preachers during the season

Oct 21, 2022 09:54:00 AM | Article | Eularie Saldanha

It’s that time of the year when brands chase you before you can say knife. They’re out and about telling you how much they miss you, and how special you are, via different strategies and campaigns. 
 
Campaigns spreading messages about togetherness, love, laughter and everything right in the world start filling up our inboxes, this time around.
 
Campaign India wondered why some brands get super sanctimonious without any relevance, instead of getting to the point and making their brand stand out. It’s no surprise that one would ask this question, especially at a time when media rates are elephantine, with brands all vying for the consumer’s attention. 
 
Why roll out a festive campaign? 
 
The festive season is a time when consumers are more attuned to a positive mindset. Seeing brands share the same spirit grabs their attention and helps create a visible impact, as opposed to any other time of the year.
 
According to experts, the main objective of rolling out a festive campaign is to fit into the consumer’s life at relevant points in time. 
 
Somasree Bose Awasthi, chief marketing officer, Godrej Consumer Products, shares how she integrated relevance in festivities for the brand Godrej Aer. She said, “We set up fragrance zones at pandals in Mumbai and Kolkata during Durga Puja. When we researched, many of our respondents believed that a great smell created an inviting atmosphere for guests. Festivals happen to be the time when you have many guests and hence, this became a natural fit for us. When people visit pandals and experience the fragrance, they want to recreate the same atmosphere in their homes.”
 
Since festivities are synonymous with joyous moments that are by default celebrated rather sweetly, chocolate brands seem to be at an advantage.
 
Speaking about Ferrero Rocher’s Diwali campaign featuring Hrithik Roshan and Sara Ali Khan, Zoher Kapuswala, marketing head, Pralines, Ferrero India, said, “Many Indian buyers believe that chocolate selection gifts are more hygienic, premium, and durable. Sales significantly pick up during Diwali, year-on-year.”
 
He also shared that the chocolate’s round shape and golden wrapping resemble a golden laddoo which has struck a chord with consumers in metros and smaller cities. 
 
On the other hand, Cadbury Celebrations continues to build on the feel-good factor created by the brand in support of small businesses. Answering how this ensures sales for the brand, Raj Nair, CEO and chief creative officer, Madison BMB, said, “The brand is synonymous with meetha (sweet) gifting by now, considering that they have been doing it since over the last decade and a half and is, therefore, able to put out messaging for the greater good.”
 
Several brands this year have beautifully tied their messaging to the spirit of festivities. However, holler to the brands which got preachy, despite a festive connect!
 
TVS Credit, a two-wheeler loan company, rolled out an emotional film on prosperity, without any show and tell about the brand’s features.
 
 
Another film by Oppo India showcases how a boy’s doodling skills help citizens avoid potholes on the street. Again, it doesn’t add up as festive. 
 
 
Explaining why brands roll out campaigns, regardless of what is at stake, Harish Bijoor, business and brand-strategy expert and founder, Harish Bijoor Consults, said, “Festive campaigns are all about giving, sharing and spending more time with family. Brands that nudge this sentiment are seen to be good brands and brands that nudge the reverse are seen to be opportunists out on the prowl.” 
 
Nair stated why brands can look to avoid advertising during these times. “Brands can avoid trying to be heard in the din of Diwali communication since the investment needs to be high to be seen. But many also understand the importance of ‘jo dikhta hai, wohi bikta hai’ (what is seen, is what sells)," he said.
 
How to stand out
 
Experts suggest that brands should come up with a reliable strategy that gets people engaged well before the festival season arrives. The festive season should only be the final nudge, where the purchase happens. 
 
Talking around the same lines, Anisha Iyer, CEO, OMD India, shared that a lazy brand will have a minimal marketing effect in the final stage. “At the end of the day, consumers will be drawn towards brands who have made an effort to stand out from the rest.”
 
Agreeing with Iyer, Awasthi stated that the deep understanding of her consumer is what helps her brands stand out. She shared, “The more we talk to them, we realise exactly where our brand fits in and we target those occasions. If your brand is relevant to the consumer, no matter how much the clutter, there is no way it will get missed out.” 
 
However, she adds that tweaking campaigns for the festive season, without compromising their message consistency is fair play. “You cannot suddenly put in a lot of GRPs in a month and expect a flurry of action to happen. You have to keep creating awareness and just amp it up during the festive season.”
 
While most campaigns follow the same tonality, Josy Paul, chairperson, BBDO India, speaks about how a breakthrough idea can not only help recall, but also heighten sales. 
 
He cites an example from the Harvey Nichols campaign ‘Sorry, I spent it on myself’, which spoke about spending money on yourself, when everyone was talking about giving to your loved ones. “The campaign bridge line ‘Little something for them, a bigger something for you’ further underlined the message of selfishness. All the products sold out in the first three days. It went on to win four Grand Prix at Cannes Lions. The brand was thinking about itself. And it was cool,” Paul added. 
 
 
Not fitting the bill of direct or indirect advertising, some brand campaigns from last festive season, like Vi’s ‘Look Up’ and Prime Video’s ‘Stop watching and spend time with family’ were communication pieces that encouraged consumers to detach themselves from the brand. 
 
 
 
While Nair thought that both campaigns seemed genuine and not particularly forced, Bijoor is certain that it was reverse psychology. “It’s a way of telling consumers that the brand is not only after their money but after their love as well,” he added. 
 
Premium no bar
 
A lot of brands are not active throughout the year, which is what creates a demand-supply deficit leading to an inflation in media costs. 
 
“Brands that advertise regularly too, are forced to pay that kind of premium at this point. We pay because we want to be a part of the festivities. However, if you’re not with your consumer throughout the year, you’ll end up paying a bunch of money for nothing,” said Awasthi. 
 
Iyer added that to get the most out of the money invested, brands should also look into continuing the campaign post the festive season, and slowly phase it out instead of bringing it to an abrupt halt. She explained, “For most advertisers, that one crucial quarter can prove to be a make-or-break situation. The festive season falls right in the middle of the financial year, which also means that key decisions regarding budget spends for the following year depend primarily on how successful their festive campaigns are.”
 
Defining a successful festive campaign 
 
Bijoor explains that the reality is the fact that all brands are opportunists who want to make the best of the festive season. He divides these brands into two categories - one as a wolf in sheep's clothing, and the other as a wolf.
 
Awasthi added, “Make the communication a part of the consumers’ life story so that they’re also interested in listening to you. They don’t want gyaan (knowledge). It has to be a slice of their life.” 
 
We asked Paul why brands stick to the same vanilla ideologies for every festive season. He explained, “It takes guts to be different. It takes an unconditioned mind, a deviant eye, and an enlightened client to uncover and present a hidden truth. Greatness demands a level of contrarian courage.” 
 
Sharing how everybody loves an established formula, Paul highlighted that the familiar is easy to approve. “Committees thrive on it. Why question the status quo when you can keep milking the formula? The cliché is a safe place to hide.”
 
While we will always have two types of brands during a festive season, experts opined that brands which are happy communicating a larger purpose without overtly selling are also doing a commendable job.