After three consecutive holidays doing PR for a large retail client at Edelman in the U.S., I was looking forward to a break from the intense holiday PR activity while in India. Little did I know that I arrived right at the start of this country’s festive season, with 10 major rituals all taking place within three months of my arrival.
While these holidays don’t have the extensive commercial, retail-driven vibe that Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas have in the U.S., there are nonetheless telltale signs that indicate a consumerized holiday season is emerging in India:
- Economic context: One sign is that retail sales figures are provided in the context of the holidays, whether it’s how the Sensex jumped in anticipation of big-ticket purchases or retailers banking on double digit growth during the holidays. If a rite can be discerned to have a sizeable economic impact, like Ganesh Chaturthi (an annual festival celebrating the most popular Hindu god) supporting the Mumbai economy, there must be a considerable consumerization taking place.
- The branded holiday: Where there’s a consumerized holiday, there’s a retail opportunity. For Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali (Hindu “festival of light” marking several important religious events), vendors sell elaborate gift baskets, often sponsored by retail corporations. Cadbury (disclaimer: an Edelman client) has a line of Cadbury Celebrations chocolates, having recognized the “market potential” back in 1999 that was complemented by highly anticipated advertisingcampaigns. This year’s promotion includes a spot that features an American, who is new to India celebrating his first Diwali by receiving Cadbury Celebrations chocolates from his colleagues. They are given as gift to make him feel welcome (much like my thoughtful colleagues at Edelman in Mumbai did for me):
- Evolving traditions: Few people who go on Easter egg hunts, Halloween trick-or-treating or Christmas gift shopping can explain how these activities evolved from their religious origins. Holiday activities only vaguely resemble their roots in tradition and religious symbolism, but they have become widespread, popular and lucrative. Similarly, Ganesh idol parades, Dussehra raves, Diwali poker parties and govinda sport, while rooted in family traditions and religious stories, often have much more of a consumer vibe to them. In fact, some of these activities have grown so consumerized as to have garnered harsh criticism from political leaders.
- Holiday deals: According to Nielsen India (disclaimer: an Edelman client), the proportion of Indian shoppers actively seeking offers has shot up from 39% to 54% from 2010 to 2011. Whether this will lead to the stampede-inducing shopping craze that Black Friday causes in the U.S. is unknown, but it does indicate a spiking interest in sales at a time when retailers are increasingly creating ‘deal-weeks’ as annual events for Indian bargain-hunters (report: Understanding India’s New Breed of Shoppers). Several popular e-commerce sites in India included promotional deals in week leading up to Diwali.
This evolution of the Indian festive season presents retailers with an opportunity to create an entirely new shopping period among an entirely new Indian consumer segment. It will be PR’s job to help them creatively yet sensitively participate. It’s a balance we have to walk in the U.S. as well. Certain retailers have received criticism in recent years for being too aggressive with their offers or for encroaching on family time. It will serve us all well to remember the true origins and meanings of our celebrations and rituals during the holidays.
A happy and safe Diwali to all!
Darius Razgaitis is a Fellow for Edelman in Mumbai, from New York. You can follow him on Twitter at @mrdarius.
Feature photo from mrdarius on Flickr.