Congregation branding or mass branding is a unique method to reach a large number of peoples at a very low cost. It is when a large number of people congregate for a short duration, often for religious or faith interest. Events like Kumbh mela, Sabarimala or Pushkaraulu are mega congregations where the millions attend. Kumbh Mela which occurs once in 12 years, witnesses more than 100 million thronging the banks of River Ganges and its tributaries. Similarly, Sabarimala, a hilly place in Pathanamthitta District of Kerala State in India, has about 40 million peoples visiting the shrine annually. On the grandeur scale is the shrine of Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh, the second richest religious institution in world which attracts at least 60,000 devotees on regular days and 8 -10 times the number on special occasions. Local festivals like Sonepur Mela, Asia’s largest cattle fair, in Bihar or Velankanni in Tamil Nadu attract about 2 million people and these footfalls are for just 3 days. It is not only religious events that offer a platform for branding, festivals like Kadalekhai Parikshe in Basavanagudi or Fish downing sessions at Goud treatment center for asthma patients at Hyderabad or New Year crowds around Taj Hotel in Mumbai are all perfect platforms for congregation branding. Holi Milan Samaroh or Baisakhi celebrations are apt for congregation branding to reach out to mass consumers. With India celebrating 120 festivals in a year where more than 100,000 people congregate, congregations offer a unique platform to reach out and engage with customers.
The advantage of congregation branding is it helps brands to reach out to consumer who may reside in media-light or are low TV and print penetration areas. Congregation branding helps to marry the essence of the event with the brand proposition. These events are not only attracting FMCG companies, but are finding new takers like agricultural equipment manufacturers and FMCD companies. Congregation branding exposes people to various brands to become potential buyers as well as opinion leaders and brand ambassadors. Congregation branding drives social approval and recommendations. It is a low cost approach to reach out to large user base. It offers the opportunity to consumers to touch and feel products. Pepsico uses the congregation for sampling of new innovations (Nimbooz Masala Soda or Butter Masti flavor of Kurkure) and enhance brand visibility.
Congregation branding is a high visibility and high impact strategy. Companies use five types of branding approaches: a) Freebies, b) small packs, c) service centered, d) artifact based and e) entertainment led. Freebies, small packs and entertainment led are excellent approaches to expose product consumption experience and win over customers. Service centered and artifacts based are effective approaches for surrogate branding. Freebie is a common strategy used by FMCG companies. Tata swatch water purifiers installed 300 water purifiers for Kumbh Mela. Similarly, Marico provided Rs 1 Parachute sachet packet. Dabur put up automatic toothpaste dispenser with the tagline “Kya aapne dant snan Kiya? (Did you wash your teeth), with images of Dabur Meshwak and Red prominently displayed on the container. Tata Salt distributed 35 tons of Tata Salt to various akharas. They also gave away disposable plates with “Shubh Bhojan ki Shubh Shuruwat” (auspicious beginning for an auspicious lunch) with Tata Salt prominently embossed on it. Godrej provided hair die salons and Shanthi oil installed free oil massage centers at various akadas (sectors) for product experience. Small packs are fit for occasion and value for money propositions that help brand association and recall. Coke offers 150 ml of cola at Rs 5 and HUL offers Vim bar (washing bar for utensils) for Rs 4. The products are appropriately packed and priced to meet “use and throw” requirements of the rushed Pilgrim.
Companies can also purse surrogate or indirect product branding approaches. For example, a cement company can provide water or sanitation tanks or paper fans for convenience of the attendees. Companies could pursue surrogate branding in multiple ways. Surrogate branding could be fashioned around the “event” or something that is of regular use and not necessarily associated with the event. Using service mapping tools such as blue printing companies can gain a complete view of the customer experience cycle. They could identify physical infrastructure, hygiene and health related requirements, crowd control and management system that may be required to provide a safe and complete event experience. Companies could choose to adopt highly repetitive and commonly consumed services or infrequent selective services. Companies can identify service that has higher impact and one that is closer to its product/service. Aligning branding with the moment of truth is key to effective crowd branding. Eternit Everest cements provided tents and roof shelters to pilgrims and telecom companied offered branded Umbrella’s, and light holdings at night times. Vodafone provided scarfs with their logo on them so that pilgrims can protect themselves in cold nights. A cement manufacturer may offered free rides or free group housing. Such an offering would be group based. A pharmaceutical company can offer free health care center and ambulance services, which are critical and personal in nature. A telecom company can provide a public address system and location based identification for missing persons. Such an offering could be context dependent and critical in nature. Healthcare, travel and personal loss related services offer longevity of WOM, while food and hygiene related may have shorter WOM. Surakhsha Wrist Band, a water proof band promoted by Nerolac, received high appreciation from families. Children and elders who received the bands were seen raving about it and flaunting it prominently.
Amulets and Idols are appropriate mediums to reach out to pilgrims and others thronging the meals. Companies find idols of Lord Ganesh or Lord Hanuman are the most accepted across different pantheons and sects. Their child like innocence and simplicity of faith make them highly amenable to various socio-economic groups. Amrutanjan, the popular pain balm erected a 16 feet statue of Lord Hanuman made with empty Amrutanjan boxes. Ranbaxy offered Hanuman chalisa to pilgrims who visited kumbha mela. MNC have also pursued this strategy very aggressively. HUL engaged Sudrashan Patnaik, the noted sand sculptor to create sand art installations of Lord Jagannath on the beach in Puri. HUL Dalda oil was subtly placed on the canvass. While men and women do involve in crowd branding, it is women fold who tend to carry the artifacts back home. Whether brochure or religious books or other artifacts, care must be ensured in designing it useful and colorful from the other gender perspectives. Marketing professionals must consider the investment, impact and reusability of artifacts before they choose a particular approach.
Entertainment, the wholesome kind is the best way to reach out to the crowd. Once Pilgrims have completed their faith related ablutions and associated rituals, they tend to have some time before their return journey home. Tholatta, and Throw a ring are what GlaxoSmithKline found useful to draw and engage customer to get in touch with Horlicks. Throw a hoop and gain a sachet is an excellent strategy to gain interest, interactions, sense of achievement and brand association.
Sai Vinoth T R