Digital Display of Advertising Segmentation - Conceptual Illustration

Going hyperlocal in India

India is a vast country, and advertising that works in one part of the country may not work well in another. We speak to Nidhee Kekre of WPP in India about hyperlocalisation

“India is an extremely diverse country. We say ‘Kos-kos par badle paani, chaar kos par baani’, meaning every mile the water changes its taste and every four the language changes. Today, in India, hyperlocalisation is happening – thanks to ‘geotiles’ (by 1km2) and ‘pincodes’.

There are three ways to create a hyperlocal campaign in India, points out Kekre. The first one is to go regional, which is language-based. The second is to reach the masses through techniques like those used, for example, on the #NotJustACadburyAd, which is all about localisation geographically. And then there are campaigns which digitally penetrate different socio-economic classes,” says Kekre.

“The northern part of India is culturally very different from the southern part of the country. The question is how you keep the main ethos of your communication same but change only the subtle nuances which make it more relatable, more likeable and more in tune with the cultural aspects of that region. Having said that, there are also examples of brands having different propositions for different parts of India. For example, Bru Coffee focuses on taste in the South and energy in the North; or Comfort that focuses on fragrance in the South and keeping clothes looking like new in the North.”  

And let’s not forget, India is still a developing country so communications infrastructure is emerging at different rates in different regions. “We did a campaign for Lifebuoy soap, for example, which created an alert system in smaller towns and villages to warn people about impending diseases which could threaten children's lives,” says Kekre. “It won three Cannes Lions in 2019 and is a great example of hyperlocalised advertising based on multiple criteria.” 

How to move on from the generic 

Sometimes the generic is good. For example, cricket in India is ubiquitous. “You really don't need to do anything about that,” says Kekre. “But when you're talking about cultural nuances it may mean that communications materials must be translated into different languages. India has 1,500 languages in total – when dialects are included. And there are 22 large languages each spoken by over 10m people.” 

But translating language alone is not enough. Cultural nuances must be translated too. And the cultural relevance of content must also be considered if campaign goals are to be landed. 

“We see it all in the data,” she says. “And these are very large pools of data. There are states in India whose economies are the size of European countries. India is a vast canvas. And there are huge climatic differences between the North and South of India. One is cold and dry, and the other is hot and humid. India is diverse but the moment you bring in meta data and analytics, the country comes into sharp focus.” 

And this focus is assisted by the high use of digital communications. “The Internet is readily available in India, and therefore creating smaller market segments and geo-locating them becomes a whole lot easier. In fact, India is the cheapest Internet data country in the world, and our ability to speak to consumers and isolate them is much higher,” says Kekre.  

It also helps that WPP has a significant presence across India and therefore has the critical mass to understand how to reach all locations with similar (but not the same) messaging. “This breadth of representation allows us to have leverage, no doubt about it, but all our agencies, fortunately, are extremely large and strong in India so almost all of them have a presence across the country,” she says.

On top of this, there are specific India-based initiatives underway. Hogarth is building a cultural hub and GroupM is leveraging data to build hybrid localisations which focus on the power of voice. “Audio communication is very big in India. As you go deeper into rural India, the people there may not have smartphones, but they do have phones and so sending out voice messages and SMS messages is a very big part of the proposition,” she says. 

A geography in which to play 

“India allows us to dabble in multiple mediums,” says Kekre. “While voice and SMS messaging are considered passé in the rest of the world, they are still relevant in India for reaching a large chunk of the population who do not have smartphones.” 

India also has a very young population. In fact, 65% of the population is under the age of 35 so it picks up trends quickly. “We have a huge appetite for trying out the new,” she says. 

So how does this appetite for showing up with bold new ideas translate into the work? “There needs to be a mix of doing good for society and making the work engaging and entertaining at the same time,” she says. But the work should also be effective in driving business. While you're building a brand and you're building purpose, you also need to sell in the market. Persuasion is what sells product. Enjoyment and purpose build brand equity. Equity eventually leads to persuasion and sales. As my dear friend and colleague Prem Narayan of Ogilvy would say: ‘Cultural nuances built onto the creative work are what engage, entertain and sell.’” 

She points out that it is that beautiful voice singing out in Gujarati, Tamil or Kashmiri; it is the work that brings about behaviour change and solves health and mortality problems (Lifebuoy Roti); and it is the waterproof saris (Hamam Sarees) that make cultural occasions so much sweeter. This is what we have seen in the work from India that has moved us.

“Advertising in India is interwoven with the rich and beautiful cultural diversity of various parts of India – its music, people, languages, traditions, festivals and storytelling styles. That’s the magic that makes a brand win in multiple smaller Indias,” she concludes. 

For a great example of how to go hyperlocal in India, please watch Coke Studio - Bharat Holi. 

Nidhee Kekre


published on

08 August 2023



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