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Brands gear up for the festive season 2021

This is Part 1 of the series capturing industry’s expectations from the upcoming festival season

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Mumbai: It’s September. And, there is palpable anticipation tinged with hope, as the country gears up for yet another festive season in the post-pandemic world. Onam has already kick-started the celebrations in Kerala with brands launching exciting offers. Unsurprisingly, a huge chunk of a brand's annual marketing budget is spent during this time of the year. So, how’s the buzz this year around? Are the brands and businesses buoyant in their expectations on the festive season, or are they wary about going full throttle, amid a looming threat of the third wave?

Online retailer Myntra said it has witnessed a rise in the pent-up demand over the last few months. “Overall, the whole e-commerce ecosystem in India lights up during this quarter. We are looking to ride the wave by using this opportunity to serve our customers while focusing on every possible festive shopping occasion starting with Durga Puja and moving on to Navratri and Diwali,” said a Myntra spokesperson. “We expect this festive season to be bigger than last year.”

According to the fashion e-tailer, the demand peaks during the 30 days leading up to Diwali, and it expects the same to happen this year. In fact, the demand in the two months leading to the festive season is expected to be much more than last time, especially across metros and Tier 2/ Tier 3. The adoption of digital channels for shopping also continues to accelerate.

According to Modi Naturals, chief marketing officer, Shardul Bist, there is a huge pent-up demand, which will make sure, the upcoming festive season is better than that of 2020. It is also planning a 360-degree media campaign this year. “This is the time when people across the country are looking forward to indulging with their loved ones at home. So definitely, this festive season MNL is going all out to woo consumers,” said Bist, highlighting that the FMCG firm is also entering the ready-to-eat segment this time, with a new sub-brand – Oleev Kitchen, and launching new categories – Pasta and Peanut Butter- to bolster its food division.

The brands are hopeful of a better festive season in terms of business and sales. The sales for certain categories have already begun to rise, and brands hope, it sustains itself during the next few months. For instance, the two-wheeler tyres demand remains strong with substantial growth in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities amid increasing preference for private mobility amongst customers.

“Our expectations are to create impactful visibility at the retail level by focusing on offtakes. We are happy that sales bounce back is happening, and are witnessing balanced volume growth prior to the festive period,” said TVS Srichakra, head-brand marketing Kavitha Ganesan, who expects consumer sentiments to improve with the resumption of IPL and T20 World Cup. “Barring 2020, our category has always seen consistent investments for brand building and advertising. Comparing ad spends with last year may not be prudent as last year was muted for the category with respect to media spends. Considering the buoyancy in the category, we do feel the ad-ex would grow this year.”

The brands are all set to celebrate the buoyant outlook of this festive season with curated trade and consumer promotions. This is the ‘Lock and the unlock phase’, highlighted Madison Media Ultra COO Jolene Fernandes Solanki. “Brands had started gearing up for the unlock stage much before to reap the benefits of the unlock period. We will observe a surge in spends by the time the festive season approaches since maximum sales for many categories take place during the festive period. The budgets which were not utilised during the lockdown may be also utilised during this period,” said Solanki.

However, there is are also apprehensions of a fresh wave of Covid cases, and brands and advertisers remain mindful of it. 

There is an omnious sense of déjà vu when discussing the ‘pent-up demand’ a year later too, for it was this time last year that there was the beginning of lockdown relaxation in many parts of the country shared Wunderman Thompson, South Asia, chairman, and group CEO Tarun Rai. Brands were then focussed on servicing the pent-up demand of all the previous six months, and because of the ‘second wave’, marketers find themselves in a similar situation to last year.

Nevertheless, Rai does not rule out a promising season for most product categories, with the general mood on the Covid front getting better every day. He also noted that unlike last year, brands are better prepared and the supply-side issues are largely addressed. “So yes, this year the season is again going to be one of huge importance to marketers. This is the time that brands should not hold back,” added Rai.

Online marketing agency CupShup co-founder Sidharth Singh also drew attention to the supply bottlenecks due to which brands might not be able to fulfil the customer’s demand. “Trade wars, global turmoil impacts the supply much more than we imagine and impact both the availability as well as pricing of the product. Brands are watching it unfold closely and aligning their spending and strategy accordingly,” he said.

Nonetheless, brands are looking forward to better investments to accelerate growth. According to iProspect senior VP Kaushik Chakraborty, key sectors such as Automobiles, E-Commerce, FMCG, and BFSI are set to increase spends during the season to make up for the impact of the second wave.

Historically, the festive months of September-December contribute more than 40 per cent of overall ad ex. This year the contribution will increase further with the eight weeks of intense cricket from the upcoming IPL second phase and T20 WC. Also, with leading GEC channels launching big-ticket shows like KBC, India’s Best Dancer, Big Boss, advertisers will definitely utilise this opportunity and expects significant growth in ad ex in comparison to 2020, he added.

According to a recent report by Dentsu International, adspend is expected to grow by 10.8 per cent in 2021 to reach $9 billion. India’s television, print, and digital advertising revenues are showing signs of revival after declining by almost 20 per cent in 2020. This data, coming on the back of the setback suffered by the industry during the April-June quarter this year, is significant.

“India is estimated to grow more than 20 per cent in 2021 compared to 2020. Growth in advertising would be led by Digital followed by TV, Print, OOH & Radio. With increased demand, we will also see some rate hikes by the broadcasters to make up for the lack of ad rate growth in the last 18-24 months,” said Havas Media India, managing partner - South, Saurabh Jain adding that the vaccination drive has also uplifted consumer confidence. "This spike in positive sentiments will result in 'revenge shopping' this festive season as more people step out for shopping or consumption."

In terms of festive ad spend and marketing strategy this time around, Jain said, "Since COVID-19, the campaign duration and planning cycles have become shorter and the shift to digital has accelerated, impacting the overall marketing strategies."

Industry executives are, however, not without caution when it comes to the upcoming festive period. “There are a lot of brands with their ears to the ground and they are working with much more alertness and dexterity in their plans. The fear and anxiety associated with Covid third wave are noticeable. So there would always be a plan B and plan C. Brands will stock up on a limited quantity,” said Tiger Advertising partner Pantul Kothari. “Having said that- most businesses believe that it is an opportunity that can’t be missed. And we expect aggressive marketers leading to a huge media noise.”

Industry executives agree businesses have achieved a new normal or baseline of business after the effect of the pandemic. The aim will be to move forward from that point. Going back to pre-Covid trends and spends is no longer part of the industry’s playbook. Brands are trying to cover up for what is lost by upping their game and leveraging the festive season to connect with their audiences.

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