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No product launches by FMCG firms during this Onam in Kerala, but COVID-19 messages in brand promotion stand out

Nestle Milkmaid, Marico and Yardley lead the show. Traditionally, the 10-day harvest festival is a broad indicator of consumer sentiment and overall adspend. Owing to COVID-19, campaigns muted this time. Hindustan Unilever has stayed away from big ad spends so far

August 28, 2020 / 12:17 PM IST
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Though fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies are not launching products this Onam in Kerala, a few companies have come up with creative campaigns for brand promotions.

Nestle Milkmaid, Marico Parachute Advansed Gold, and Yardley are participating in the festivities spreading the message of care during COVID-19.

Onam, a 10-day harvest festival celebrated in Kerala, marks the beginning of the festive season in the country. It started on August 22.

Companies, traditionally, release major ad campaigns during this time, and the festival is a broad indicator of consumer sentiment, overall adspend and their impact on the larger economy.

However, the already faltering consumption, tight liquidity, and, now, COVID-19, gives little room for companies to spend much on ads this time.


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FMCG major Hindustan Unilever has stayed away from any big ad spends so far this year. Brand consultants say FMCG companies may not spend more on ads this time, but will only refurbish ads showing the ‘Work from Home scenario.’

Marico had reduced its advertising spend by 18 percent in the fourth quarter of financial year 2020 itself. Nestle Ìndia and Yardley did not disclose ad spend figures.

But the TV commercials of these three firms during this Onam have been quite a hit.

Nestle Milkmaid

Nestlé Milkmaid is making Onam ‘sweeter’ with its #SpreadSweetness initiative. The brand has rolled out a 30-second ad film with the cast of popular television serial Vanambaadi.

The film showcases the famous mother-daughter duo in the serial discussing the excitement during the 10 days of Onam starting from Atham to Thiruvonam.

The film narrates a heart-touching message of spreading joy and sweetness during these difficult times by sharing a bowl of payasam with someone who needs it.

Vineet Singh, Director, Dairy, Nestlé India, said: “This year, when social distancing is impacting the way we are celebrating Onam, Nestlé India has rolled out #SpreadSweetness – an initiative that emphasises how everyone can celebrate Onam just as memorably – with a different but equally sweet approach with Milkmaid.”

Nestle has launched a Malayalam website, featuring 50 recipes that can be easily made with ingredients available at home.

Marico Parachute

Marico has rolled out an ad film promoting its hair care brand Parachute Advansed Gold. The film shows Onam preparations as nurses get ready for duty. The ad thanks the nurses and turns the Onam festival into an opportunity for ‘thanksgiving’.

Conceptualised by VMLY&R India, the #ThankYouNurses campaign kick starts with an endearing digital film, in which the brand juxtaposes COVID-19 survivors getting ready in their finest attire ahead of the Onam celebrations as well as nurses in their PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment) preparing for another day of service and saving lives.

It shows various bright and colourful Pookalams, a popular floor decoration with flowers, an integral part of Onam celebrations, all designed in a motif of two hands joining to symbolise “thank you” – an expression of gratitude to the nurses for their dedication, and urging the audience to join the brand in the salutation.

Koshy George, Chief Marketing Officer, Marico Limited, said: “As India continues its fight against the pandemic, we wanted to honour the nurturing spirit and tireless efforts of the nurses who have ensured millions of COVID survivors are with their families this festive season. Parachute Advansed Gold stands for care and nurturance and has a deeper connect with the consumer -- larger than just hair.”

Yardley India

Wipro Consumer Care-owned Yardley India’s TV commercial claims to encourage consumers to celebrate this harvest festival to the fullest with Yardley, while taking all precautions.

The commercial revolves around a Malayali family of three, who are sceptical about celebrating Onam because of the pandemic. However, the mother assures the child and talks about the precautions to be taken taken.

The film showcases the latest additions of hygiene essentials to its portfolio of hand wash and sanitizers.

Manish Vyas, Vice President and Business Head, Yardley India, said: “Onam being the biggest festival in Kerala, our objective with this campaign is to encourage consumers to celebrate with apt precautions. As they prepare to celebrate in full fervour, Yardley’s Essentials range – infused with anti-germ properties and lavender oil – is here to protect them at every step.”

No product launches in 2020

As Kerala becomes a strategic market for consumer-centric initiatives and a lucrative market for brand-building, FMCG brands pilot their launches in the state around Onam.

Since this is the first festival of the year, it is the testing ground for the industry. The festive season starts with Onam in Kerala, extends through Navratri-Durga Puja and ends with Dhanteras-Diwali.

Onam is Kerala’s biggest festival, and companies and the state government usually give bonuses to employees to mark the festival.

This time around, due to COVID-19, the mood is muted and no brands have launched any product during Onam.

Last year in September, Nestle’s MILKYBAR had launched a special pack highlighting interesting details about the 10 days of the festival in a creative manner.

Ad spend dwindles

Hindustan Lever is concerned CMD Sanjiv Mehta had said in June: “The complexity and volatility continue to rise. In the last quarter of financial year 2019-20, we have seen an unprecedented global breakout of COVID-19…In India, the economic impact is trickling in on the backdrop of an already challenging macro-economic environment."

HUL’s ad spends grew only by 2.3 percent in FY20 over last year

Marico's management had said during its Q4 results commentary that the company was evaluating cost-saving measures.

“Spends on advertising and sales promotion (ASP) is likely to drop by 100 bps as a percentage of sales in the current fiscal against 9.9 percent sales in FY20. More spends would be for promotion and digital media,” Marico had said in May.

Marico reduced its advertising spend by 18 percent in the fourth quarter of financial year 2020 at Rs 126 crore from Rs 153 crore in the corresponding quarter of the previous year.

As of 2019, television accounted for over 60 percent of the total advertising expenditure of the FMCG industry across India, compared to 70 percent in the previous year.

The FMCG sector was already facing tough conditions for the last several quarters, as faltering consumption and tight liquidity in the distribution channel forced companies to cut their spend on advertisement in the last financial year.

“For most FMCG companies, a large part of the decline came in the second half of March due to a nationwide lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic,” said an analyst.

“For most FMCG companies, a large part of the decline came in the second half of March due to a nationwide lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic,” said an analyst.

The FMCG sector was already facing tough conditions for the last several quarters, as faltering consumption and tight liquidity in the distribution channel forced companies to cut their spend on advertisement in the last financial year.

Bad times turned into worse as COVID-19 aggravated the demand-and-supply chain challenges in the March quarter, and companies were further prompted to cut down ad spend.

Brand experts feel that to be back in the game, firms will have to start spending on advertisement and promotions from September onwards, if not early.

“Ad spend was cut way before March (2020) as most FMCG companies did not see an uptick in many items in the same degree as expected,” said N Chandramouli, CEO of TRA Research, a consumer analytics and brand insights company.

“But they will have to start spending on advertisements and promotions from September onwards. September, October and November usually see freedom buying, which is around Diwali, that will help these companies capitalise and cover up for the losses incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.
Himadri Buch
first published: Aug 28, 2020 12:17 pm
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