"There’s more than one India", Nima Namchu, chief creative officer of advertising agency Cheil India told delegates at Spikes Asia in Singapore this week.
"The first", he said, "is racing ahead" with technology and commerce along with the rest of the world’s advanced economies. "The other is small-town India, largely living in the past and without modern conveniences."
But there’s yet another that is "stuck in between", Namchu said. This was that section of the society, he claimed, which may have access to information but not always to products and services. Communicating across that "three-way divide" is the major challenge brands face in the country, he said.
Namchu introduced himself not as an expert but as a copywriter with an opinion. He lives in all the India’s, with and without technology, enjoying a modern skyscraper condo in his daily life but visiting family takes him back to the older India on holidays where the internet is still science fiction and electricity only arrived six years ago.
So how do you navigate that type of dichotomy as well as the challenge of reaching 1.2 billion people across 29 states, seven territories and 22 languages?
Namchu emphasised that before you look at what you will say, you have to look at how you are going to get the message out.
Each of the case studies he showed highlighted the Indian concept of "jugaad", which Namchu explained as "the way of getting around things". So for example how do you get 100 million people during Kumbh Mela, a mass Hindu pilgrimage, to wash hands before eating? Stamp traditional Indian Roti bread with a sponsored message about hand washing was the answer. It sold soap and reduced the spread of bacteria and viruses.
Or how do you deliver mass advertising to a population where only 20% have access to TV or print? Answer: Turn feature phones, which 85% of them do have, into a radio-like service.
Advertising took on an even greater purpose when Halonix turned its outdoor signage into bright lights to make some of India’s most dangerous streets into well lit paths. The campaign has become so successful that lobbying efforts are now underway with the government to turn more outdoor advertising into bright, low-power streetlights.
Ingenuity then becomes the key to reaching all two-and-a-half Indias and continues a theme of how utility is the new storytelling.