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Illustration by Nick DeSantis / Getty / The Current

Diwali — India’s widely-celebrated “festival of lights” — is typically a joyous occasion. But this year, Indians embraced the holiday with newfound fervor after the hardships of the pandemic. It’s traditionally a time for letting loose — with people ready and willing to splurge on everything from food to clothes to fireworks to mark the occasion.

After a long wait, consumers on the subcontinent were excited about the holiday and ready to spend. According to The Festive Season Pulse 2021, a survey conducted by The Trade Desk and YouGov, 91 percent of Indian consumers planned a purchase during the festive season, with six in 10 expressing interest in learning about new brands. The survey findings revealed a positive outlook for brands and marketers looking to tap into this consumer sentiment across different channels.

Major companies like PepsiCo — with a broad portfolio of brands — are deploying ad spend more strategically on fast-growing digital channels. “PepsiCo’s digital spends have gone up during the pandemic with more focus on sharper targeting of [consumer] cohorts,” Om Jha, the head of media and partnerships at PepsiCo in India, tells The Current. “The digital channels in the country are gaining more prominence and gaining more consumers and increased time spent on the platforms.”

As the five-day festival of Diwali wraps up this week, brands are expecting the shift to digital to be a growth driver this festive season. “Diwali is big for the country, and big for the culture, and so the Diwali is big for us as well,” Jha says. “We may be global, but the beauty of the organization is that wherever we operate we try to become a local brand by communicating in that language, by celebrating the local ethos and the local festivals.”

For PepsiCo, a festival like Diwali is the culmination of longer-term brand building, but it’s predicated on understanding the nuances of the marketplace in the country. “So we do multiple things around the festival and try to make the brand share the slice of life with the consumer — the optimism, the positivity which is in the atmosphere during the festivities.”

Ahead of this year’s Diwali, PepsiCo launched a promotional campaign with India’s second largest telecom company, Airtel, offering complimentary data with select packs of snacks, including Lay’s and Doritos. Jha says the campaign was inspired by the festivities, but also a recognition that internet and digital connectivity is accelerating across rural and urban India, even as some consumers continue to experience lingering hardships because of the pandemic. “It became very important for the brand to offer value to consumers,” he adds.

Part of this understanding is based on getting a handle on the staggering scale of the Indian market, which has an estimated 750 million internet users, with over 73 percent of web traffic driven by smartphones. With differing cohorts of consumers, Om Jha says digital is a medium that allows PepsiCo to find various ways to speak to the country’s diverse, heterogenous array of consumers. “It’s a journey we have embarked upon, and we are trying to figure out ways of defining the cohort in the right manner, trying to understand the affinities and the psychographics of the consumers and then designing communication to make it resonate in the right way.”

Furthermore, notes Jha, the digital landscape for those millions of consumers is fragmented across several different platforms, so finding ways to market means accessing a combination of platforms, he says. A case in point is ZEE5, the largest Indian entertainment platform that just announced a new line-up of multilingual AVOD content for the 2021 festive season.

For Jha, the shift in outlook this Diwali shows that the advertising landscape is evolving in this huge market. “The consumer is becoming more aware, digitally savvy, and that is opening up options for consumers, and brands need to be a little more agile and a little more adaptive in their approach toward reaching consumers,” he says.

Culture