Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The bias against rural

Published Mar 18, 2016 02:40pm
There is a disastrous bias that exists in the minds of marketers – that you have to be literate to use technology.
Photo: Online.
Photo: Online.

As a part of the marketing and advertising fraternity for 10 years, I have seen steady resistance to the adoption of new platforms and media due to inherent biases. Propose a new advertising medium and see the shocked expressions from colleagues or clients, followed by the old and nauseating rebuttal of: “it doesn’t have the numbers,” “it’s too new,” “no one can afford it.” Yet, at the same time, were you to say let’s do OOH, the answer would be a resounding yes, despite the fact that until recently, there was no way to measure the effectiveness or ROI of the medium. Yet people in marketing accept OOH as a given.

This herd mentality of everyone is doing OOH so it must be right, is counterproductive, and probably led to the outdoor boom we experienced some years ago. To my glee, Sohail Ansar, Executive Director, GroupM, in a recent Aurora interview admitted that brands don’t advertise where their audience is, they advertise where other brands advertise. On a related note, I remember a somewhat humorous story quoted in Aurora some years ago. The contributor was in the software business and he visited a client to try and sell software worth Rs. 50,000. The response was: “sell me a machine for Rs. 50,000 and I will buy, but why should I buy software?” I am sure if they go back to him today, they will easily ink a deal for Rs one million for software. What has changed? Simply the fact that software is now the norm and everyone is using it. People for all their boasting about wanting to be trendsetters are content to be followers and play it safe. That is human behaviour for you.

This herd mentality may well land the industry into paying a heavy price when it comes to digital. I have always suspected that marketers seriously underestimate the rate of adoption of new technology and media. After reading this blog post, my suspicion is almost a conviction.

The writer talks about how adept the not so privileged classes in India are at using new mobile technology. “Even today, the smartphone and internet revolution has been impressive by any standard. But we still pass it off as an urban phenomena. The middle of the pyramid phenomena. I though (sic) get a feeling that it is already a bottom of pyramid phenomena. And if phones get as cheap as Rs 300 or Rs 500, the revolution will be complete. That to me is what our marketers are scared of. We still look at digital at best as a middle of the pyramid phenomena. We still have TV ads followed by digital activation. Why is no one testing the waters with a bottom of the pyramid digital campaign?”

So, is the same phenomenon occurring in our statistics starved market? I think so. When I was reviewing Digital Age, a book written by one of the founders of Google, I noticed the author kept talking about the ubiquitous smartphone. The advent of 3G/4G has been as Yasmin Malik (an authority on mobile and the internet and with experience in both fields in Pakistan and in the UK) says, a game changer. However, in her opinion, the rural market remains ignored by our marketers as it is seen as mostly ‘illiterate’. Yet in her opinion the people living in our rural areas are quite smartphone savvy and “you do not need to have a school-based education to watch and understand videos on Google, Dailymotion or Facebook. Most domestic staff (drivers, maids, gardeners, cleaners, etc.) in the urban centres know how to use these platforms via mobile.”

Malik has highlighted a deep seated and disastrous bias that exists in the minds of marketers – the one that says you have to be literate to use technology. This is idea is absolute bull and here is why. Sometime ago, waiting for naans to be ready at my neighbourhood tandoor, I asked the man serving me whether he still listened to BBC Pushto on the radio (I used to see he and his team listening to a tiny transistor). He said they did not use the radio anymore and asked me if I knew about Facebooks. Taken aback I asked him what he meant. He picked up his phone and said that if I go to Facebook’s BBC Pushto page, I can listen to the radio live. That night I left the tandoor not only with naans but a learning worth sharing.