E-commerce Marketing

How Rural Communication Has Evolved: The Journey Of Media In Rural India


Rural Marketing Association of India (RMAI) recently organized #DecadeofChange: a panel discussion on the journey of media in rural India, highlighting the evolution of rural communication. Mr. Raj Kumar Jha, Director Rural Campus & General Secretary, RMAI moderated the discussion between Mr. Ritesh Singh, MD & CO-FOUNDER #ARM Worldwide, Ms.…

Rural Marketing Association of India (RMAI) recently organized #DecadeofChange: a panel discussion on the journey of media in rural India, highlighting the evolution of rural communication. Mr. Raj Kumar Jha, Director Rural Campus & General Secretary, RMAI moderated the discussion between Mr. Ritesh Singh, MD & CO-FOUNDER #ARM Worldwide, Ms. Kalpana Kaul Raina, COO, Impact Communications, and Mr. Vikas Dhand, Regional Sales Director, Tata Consumer Products Ltd. The discussion revolved around the options that brands have in terms of rural communication and how can RMAI help them in terms of media planning.

The Journey of Rural Communication

Mr. Jha spoke about the time when video vans with big projection screens used to be the star of the show as there was no television. At that time brands were spending more money on marketing channels rather than consumer channels, this later shifted to doing more event-based experiential marketing activations and demos for the consumers. All this is now being amplified by digital media. Mr. Jha believes that the process of change is more nostalgic than the change itself.

Kalpana Kaul shed light on a few interesting facts about the rural population which is presently about 840 million spread in 36 union territories, 707 districts & 6 lakhs plus villages, 68% of the population is contributing to GDP, a total of 17 crore households. The literacy rate has now reached 67%, 50% of GDP contribution. She is getting much more business for the rural market from her clients. “63 percent of India’s population, especially rural, is below 30. So, these young minds were probably 9 years to 12 years, when they had the advent of mass media and saw the mobile phone. Data suggests that 71 percent of them are doing some online purchases and that every third person has a personalized mobile device. Brands have to keep this information in mind when they are reaching out to consumers.” shared Kalpana. She suggested adding a digital leg to all the physical activations that are a part of rural communication. It is good to leave a toll-free number even for a simple visibility drive and ask consumers to call for a service or even a bit of expert advice. While physical marketing is a must and mandatory to acquire the consumer space in rural areas, digital marketing will help in the sustainability of these campaigns.

She spoke about one of the very awarded programs by Tata called Tata Kisan Sansar which was aimed at offering end-to-end Agri solutions to farmers through the online call center. It was a loyalty program named ‘Sparsh’ where all that the farmers had to do was give a missed call to seek any help that they needed, and just this one activity led the company to acquire a huge farmer database and scale up the agribusiness.


The last two years have seen a huge shift in rural communication and Agri companies are shaping up phenomenally for this change and so are the pharmaceutical or health tech companies. These companies are creating a lot of awareness using digital platforms such as YouTube lives encouraging consumers to download apps and check notifications. Moreover, 90% of businesses have now adopted some form of digital marketing in their outreach plan.

Due to the pandemic, activations involving big gatherings were not taking place in the rural market but now brands especially FMCG companies are once again wanting to do large outreach activities and even consumers are wanting to engage. These activations and events are being broadcasted to a greater number of audiences through digital media such as YouTube live etc. Therefore, Digital media is playing an important role in helping sustain these conversations effectively.

In the FMCG category, one of the Men’s grooming brands organized activities around shaving products using kiosks and loudspeaker vans. They asked men to register with their smartphones, noted their age and preferences for shaving, and gave them a Yuva kit as a gift with YouTube links to watch videos on how to deal with real-life challenges such as college admissions, ragging, and interviews that the youth generally face. So, brands are experimenting with promoter-led activities, agencies are gearing up to support the brands and of course, digital is amplifying the game like never before.

“The consumption of rural communication has significantly changed in the last two years due to the covid 19 pandemic but the rural consumers are more specific to details and they don’t have a ready reckoner just like the urban population has. So, for them, one has to use something like a wall painting or a demo that can give them top-of-the-mind recall. Another thing for the marketeer to see is the ROI as every state is different in terms of consumption of media and it’s important as well as easier to make sure to have a uniform consumption through BTL activities.” shared Vikas Dhand

 The use of media depends largely on the category and also the objective of communication. For example, a handwash or a sanitizer brand already has a lot of awareness in the rural market so they will not require a lot of experience-based activations. Similarly, healthcare, finance, or FMCG will have its own set of goals, market penetration, and demarcations and may use digital media according to that. But if we look at agriculture which is a highly influence-led sector, influencers play a big role in terms of advising a farmer and helping them generate profits, added Vikas Dhand.

 “Since the time of the video on wheels to this day and age, the principles of marketing are the same but it is the media formats that have evolved and are continuing to change. Digital has joined hands with BTL and we are seeing the addition of voice & audio as well alongside the video. Now brands are delivering digital experiences to the consumers in the local language and vernacular will be the next reality. If we look at it from the experiential marketing perspective both digital & activation are complementing each other in terms of reach and frequency of the communication. Digital can facilitate both one-to-one as well as one-to-many formats of communication.” says Ritesh Singh

Phygital Marketing: Physical activations amplified with Digital Marketing

Rural consumers need to be pampered as much as the urban consumer as there are plenty of choices available to them now. Brands have to face tough competition and fight for their share of the market in the rural space. Therefore, it is imperative to use various mediums, using hoardings or wall paintings on bus stands or catching consumers at Melas or Haats, all can be used for the outreach. Driving sales through referral programs, retail activation, and influencer marketing can all be managed very well through digital. Therefore, digital can challenge the activation formats in the future.

Content, context, and credibility are essential parts of a communication campaign and they all are present in the digital space as much as they are in the physical marketing space, and that too with specifics and at the speed of light. But apart from the marketing side, the business side is also important, and creating a moment of truth for the customer at the point of sale is necessary. So physical marketing will be here to stay amplified by the digital media and therefore, we may call it the ‘Phygital Marketing’.

BTL can provide real content and can be used to amplify digital marketing. Principles of marketing won’t change; a film will still be used to establish an emotional connection with the consumer, irrespective of the platform. A lot of DIY and How-to videos are being created for the digital format. Online shopping & commerce is booming big time even on messaging platforms like WhatsApp. Now dairy farmers can even sell or purchase animals online through the Animall app. These are some revolutionary changes that are noteworthy.


Ritesh mentioned that there are plenty of consumers who have turned into Influencers and are providing a lot of data to reach the right target audience. Taking Agribusiness as an example, even specific details like the type of soil, crops, seasonality, pesticides as well as the number of fertilizers or manure that are required to be put in the field is available on the internet through these expert influencers. So, influencer marketing has evolved over time and now it has reached a level where brands are more than happy to leverage it. All the data in terms of location, language, and consumers are available for brands to do smart geo-targeting. One can collect a lot of data from influencers and plan the campaign accordingly. An online influencer like lallantop can come at a much lesser cost and provide a greater reach than getting a cliched celebrity endorsement 

Kalpana spoke about a program targeted at the children of rural electricians named Shiksha Jyoti which was organized by KEI wires & cables company to make education accessible to all. Children were given books that they could download and study despite the Covid restrictions. Udemy also provided vouchers for online courses which were used very effectively by the rural children. Many such corporate social responsibility initiatives can become successful by using digital platforms. 


So, selecting the correct media mix will depend on the category and objective of the brand but all mediums have a role to play. Digital has given voice to people and people are expressing that voice and that expression is being appraised & praised by the followers. 

With just 31% of internet penetration in rural India, there is a lot more work that can be done in terms of digitizing the rural market.

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