The Branding Opportunity With Festivals

America has successfully turned each festival into a business opportunity. This Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, retail and online sales crossed USD 1 billion.  Total holiday sales in 2012 crossed USD 580 billion. The definition of holiday season according to the National Retail Federation is from November and December—61 days total. Holidays during this period include Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.The period generates additional 600,000 jobs. The holiday season accounts for 20-40% of sales across categories.

While India sees a significant spurt in sales during Diwali and other festivals, even without comparable data, it would be safe to say that the marketing opportunity for festival specific shopping behavior is under-leveraged compared to the US.

Decoding Christmas, we can see that the market has evolved around the encoded rituals of the festival. The ubiquitous Christmas carols are warm and cheerful and are playing in every store and street corner. The stores are warm and cozy havens with the smell of pine and cinnamon, adorned in colour coded Christmas festivities pull shoppers in. The very act of shopping is celebrated as an important ritual of the festival. Christmas has its own colours, sounds, smells and tastes. There is a strong sensorial cohesion in how it is marketed across the country – and increasingly across the world. The colours of Christmas alone create a huge set of merchandise – from decorations to apparel. The myth of Santa becomes larger than life with Santas at stores and street corners, ringing their bells and going Ho! Ho! Ho! Hollywood complies, with at least one Christmas film every year.
The spirit of Christmas is encapsulated in phrases such as “spreading goodwill and cheer” or it being "the season to be jolly" are all uplifting manifestations of Christmas. The Christmas tree, the chimney and stockings and the plate of cookies and a glass of milk for the weary Santa are all significant rituals in homes.The many motifs of Christmas such as the mistletoe, the snowflakes, the tree cutouts, the candy canes and the stars – result in a clear delineation of the codes and rituals of Christmas.

Apart from the design codes of Christmas that create a wealth of Christmas specific merchandize, the gifting ritual creates a huge market.
The idea of gifting for Christmas is strengthened in popular culture – cinema and TV, and supported by retailers through a host of initiatives. The gift merchandise is made available at all price points. It is possible for kids to gift every classmate or teacher with decent options available at $1 upwards. At the most common gift price points of $20 and $50, there is significant merchandise that is in store windows, catalogues and online mailers. Gifting is made easier with gift receipts – that do not reflect the value but facilitate exchange if required. Stores like Bloomingdales also create a catalog of gifts for those who have everything – selling experiences such as space travel or luxury yachts.

When I look at Diwali, I am struck by the paucity of marketable assets. What are the colours of Diwali? We do have the motifs of Diyas, Ganesh and Laxmi - but where is the fun in all of this? The material is dated and does not have a contemporary appeal. The idea of Diwali is not captured in a clear understandable phrase as the “spirit of Christmas”. Welcoming prosperity, dispelling darkness are individual interpretations but there seems to be little myth making around it, through advertising themes or popular culture content.

There is an opportunity to ‘brand’ Diwali. Capture its spirit, define its rituals, design its motifs and create a rich trove of assets – that can be used to propel behavior and create merchandize. Embedded in the Diwali story – is the story of homecoming, of reuniting with the family. This could become the day of Indian homecoming. Families could travel far and wide to be together. There could be a ritual designed to take care of the fact that their home will have Laxmi walk in – even if they have closed their doors and are at their family homes. This flow of Laxmi – as is evinced by the gambling tradition in some states – can become epitomized by gifting (Genuine gifting and not the Indian recycling of gifts). 

The motifs of Diwali could lend themselves to specific holiday merchandise – and could galvanize category after category. Likewise, other festivals

Thanks to the Chopras, Johars, and even the Bhansalis, KarvaChauth is already enshrined as the ultimate ‘Valentine’s day’ of India. We need to find the colours and motifs for it, and make gifting a strong tradition for the day. The seeds for this are already in the ritual. What other way to thank the wife for her devotion to the husband’s well being than giving her a special and priceless gift? This kind of delineation of the festival codes would build a strong brand with defined rituals.

Every festival has its own codes, the need is simply to find its essence, create its brand assets that have a pan Indian / pan demographic appeal and then create a collaborative brand. AkshayTrittiya was ‘built’ into a pan-Indian festival through the intervention of the World Gold Council and a few jewellery retailers.

 Industry bodies such as CII or FICCI can take the lead on this – in bringing manufacturers, retailers, branding firms, the hospitality industry and entertainment firms together in order to create our own brands of festivals. 
Branding of festivals could become a significant growth engine for the nation.

AlpanaParida is President of DY Works , a leading brand strategy and design firm. She can be reached at Alpana@dyworks.in

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