By Anthony Dsouza, Sakina Pittalwala, and Ashwini Sirsikar
The key question that we need to ask ourselves is how do brands maintain relevance while improving consumer lives in pandemic festive seasons.
To understand this, we conducted a month-long festival tracker- Utsavnama. It was conducted in urban households through an interactive Ipsos community which was designed to capture consumer attitude, behaviour and choices in this festival season (October- November 2020). The information was captured online via chats, videos, and pictures. The objective of this community was to provide marketers with interesting insights for their future planning, during the pandemic
Preface to the paper
Utsavnama is a distillation of what we learned during the months of October-November, 2020. COVID cases and deaths in India at the time were on a decline 7 months into the lockdown. At the time, enough and more had been said about the impact of the pandemic on people.
We know that the year 2020 has been marked with uncertainty, financial constraints and introspection for consumers.
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It has had a far-reaching impact on peoples incomes, spending patterns, overall consumer sentiments. Most still face a sense of uncertainty both from a financial as well as a physical security perspective.
However, even during uncertainty, the festive season tends to bring in hope and a reason to cheer. The paper identifies the macro trends that are emerging and implications for marketers based on the same. Since the findings are rooted in fundamental consumer truths we see these being applicable to attitudes and behavior even for the immediate future.
Brands besides offering safety and security need to help consumers feel accepted, inclusive and responsible…
A festive season is traditionally associated with the win of good over evil and receiving divine blessings, the significance of this becomes more salient and palpable this festival season. Pandemic is the evil and festive season symbolizes hope for a win over the evil. This time the festive season was more special and symbolic as it has come after long gloomy months of lockdown and restrictions. As most realize that uncertainty of life/ health/ finances still looms, most wish to celebrate NOW as best as they can- they want to live and enjoy the PRESENT MOMENT with their people.
While this core meaning of festivals which is around celebration, cheer and a certain buoyancy has not changed we noticed that there was a layer of `RESPONSIBILITY’ which covers all emotions, attitudes, consumption activities and purchases
Festival season, as we all know, is a time to celebrate, enjoy, let go and indulge. This is reflected in the food we eat, the shopping and expenditure which peaks during festivals, to the connections which get reaffirmed during festival time (meeting relatives and friends, partying and gifting).
This year while all these motivations remain they have also been layered by a sentiment of responsibility. To that extent, the spirit of collectivism was much stronger than the spirit of individuality and motivations which are led by a sense of security, comfort and belonging were more prominent than the need for enjoyment and status.
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• “In tough times, I have realized who my real people are. I value them more. I want to ensure to keep their inner hope alive and show my love to them during this festive season. I want to make festivals special for US” (Mumbai)
• “We need to ensure and strengthen our well-being to stay protected while enjoying festivals”
• “We need to control the spends during celebration owing to financial pressure (Lucknow)
• “We feel gratitude for our ability to celebrate” (all)
This underlying theme of responsibility and collectivism pervades through the attitudes and consumption during this festival season and can be seen in the 4 big themes we noticed in this study
4 big themes have originated during the festive season
1) A shift In Consciousness Is Noticeable
2) Curating consumption for our well being
3) Keeping hope + cheer alive for my real loved ones, but pragmatically
4) Women stressed by the burden of keeping the festive spirit alive
Getting into details of each of them
1) A shift in consciousness is noticeable
– towards higher gratitude
– towards higher compassion and sentiment of giving
This is an opportunity for brands to play a larger role in consumers life. Brand purpose holds more meaning today than ever before and brands which reflect this sense of gratitude and compassion could connect better with consumers. There were several evidences of this, this Diwali. The Mondelez India campaign of bringing cheer to the local grocers close to you or the Myntra campaign of gifting and bringing joy to one’s household help were much talked about campaigns.
This festival season is marked with a deep sense of gratitude. Most have experienced some stress or the other; whether it’s loss of job or income, emotional stress of not being with family members or health issues. Even those who have had it relatively easy, empathise with the fact that our collective humanity is suffering. As a result in these times.
94% of consumers are thankful for good health (as they have been healthy when many others have suffered) and 7 out of 10 consumers are thankful for my family/friends being safe during the pandemic (as they realize that many have lost them to pandemic). Consumers are also thankful for the financial ability to celebrate (as they do realize that most do not even have a source of earnings owing to the pandemic).
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This sense of empathy for the less privileged also translates into a spirit and act of `giving’
1 in 3 feel a need to donate to charity & help the needy and support small businesses.
Many feel the pain of the poor as they realize that the pandemic has been the harshest on them (owing to lockdown most lost earning sources)? hence, most have opted to donate to poor
Also, many have preferred to buy from local small entrepreneurs to support their earning (e.g. the diya maker who sits on foot path)
Spirituality is on the rise! The pandemic has brought times of uncertainty for life, health and finances. There is no immediate solution available, hence the future is also full of uncertainty. There is therefore a higher disposition towards devotion, prayers and seeking blessings from divine.
2) Curating consumption for our wellbeing
Well being as we know has been a big trend this year. Wellbeing now encompasses both physical as well as mental well being and we see a lot of brands playing in this territory and specifically focusing on immunity. Well being cuts across different categories from foods, home care to even personal care and a more mindful consumption seemed to prevail even during this festival season
– Consumers are keeping festive spirit alive via food, but curating what is being consume for higher health quotient/ immunity to create inner strength
Earlier, festivals were perceived to grant a license to indulge in delicacies. Oily, spicy, sugary food was not much of a concern. However, this year, consumers are more conscious about food consumption.
There is a strong need to maintain/ boost health and immunity (an effort to stay strong physically to fight the pandemic). Also, a need to lose/ maintain weight owing to less physical activity since the start of lockdown (owing to restrictions+ lockdown) has been recorded. This reflects in the practices undertaken during this festive season.
o Prefer homemade food over outside food (perceived to be unhealthy- concerns about hygiene, quality of ingredients, cooking methods).
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o 37% of consumers were also not comfortable visiting a restaurant this festive season and 30% of consumers who used to visit restaurants at least once a month, claim they will stay away for a while.
o 65% of delicacies were made at home this festive season
o Including more healthy + immunity-boosting ingredients in food like turmeric, dry fruits, desi ghee, Mustard oil, Giloy, Ilayachi (and reducing the consumption of unhealthy ingredients like Maida, sugar)
o Including healthier cooking methods like boiling, steaming, baking, shallow frying (and letting go of deep-frying)
Consumers have also taken steps to shift to brands that offer the best purity assurance that one can afford:
o Switching to brands with a higher assurance of purity (e.g. in Ghee, oils)
o Switching to perceived organic brands if budget allows
– Consumers are curating what their mind consumes: avoiding stressful content and the need for this gets heightened during the festival season
This festival season is marked with a conscious `avoidance of stress’. This meant that content which was negative, anxiety and stress inducing was avoided. People stated away from news and some programs like Bigg Boss.
87% prefer to watch comedy along with the family
3) Enjoying deeper meaning of being together and ensuring festive cheer, but pragmatically
In the new normal, being together has a new meaning. the value of meaningful relations has deepened and so has the need to show love to loved ones. this is happening despite all the challenges including financial constraints in festive season.
This is an opportunity for brands to reasonate with the value of having meaningful relationships and being fortunate to be together with them. Example- Coca Cola campaign (US) emphasising on being ‘lost together’ in pandemic and discovering things that matter together with loved ones at home in the new normal. Or, Colgate advertisement showing how a senior citizen accepted love in her life inspite of fear of social norms.
Along with investing in togetherness and consumer relationships, brands also have an opportunity to highlight how their products would add value in the real life for long term. Opportunity to highlight durability along with aspired for features. Help consumers choose the best buys in festive season for ‘us together’ as well a specific loved ones.
It can be tempting for brands to go into cost containment mode in times of distress, quietly weathering the storm.
But we have a unique window where brands can earn trust by maintaining presence and delivering relevant value in a period of heightened anxiety.
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Pandemic and lockdown has made consumers realise the value of being together. Most have realised the value of having deep meaningful relations with loved ones in this time and appreciate them more. In a festive season with a heightened sense of uncertainty, consumers wish to celebrate with these meaningful relationships and show love NOW, in the present moment. Effort is being taken to spread cheer and positivity and this is being done in spite of financial constraints.
With 53% consumers likely to spend less on festivities as compared to the last 2 years, it is important to note that a lot more thought is going into the purchases for spends to bring in the festive cheer. High practical value + a deeper meaning of what is bought are being sought by most.
– One way to show love and cement the bond stronger while ensuring that the loved ones smile, is gifts. To cope with financial constraints, consumers are redirecting the available finances to the main circle of loved ones, while not focusing much on peripheral gifting. The gifts selected are thoughtfully curated to be practically useful in the long term while bringing in happiness for the receiver.
“I gave a mobile phone to my husband and speakers to my sister…they actually needed these things. I had not given anything to them in the past 7-8 months, so I bought these as Diwali gifts”
– Another way to enjoy festive cheer together is practical festive home décor. Most prefer practical utility items which also serve to decorate home and spread cheer for long term (Example- a fur bean bag which looks beautiful, a colourful stool which looks like a musical instrument table, a tree-shaped lamp). For festive traditional décor, consumers prefer to choose low cost décor items such as Diyas, torans or DIY lanterns/ wall hangings. Effort is being taken to not spend on décor items with short term life or lower utility value.
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4) Women stressed by the burden of keeping the festive spirit alive
This year the pressure on the women is much more and she has to maintain the festive cheer despite all the burden and stresses she is experiencing.
The woman of the household has always held the show when it came to festivals; from cooking special food, to getting the home festival ready, to following all the rituals and practices that embodies festivals. This year while the festive season has been truly special and cherished it has increased the burden on her. Not only has the physical burden escalated with providing home cooked delicacies, buying thoughtful gifts, getting the home festival ready, she also has to manage this under a constrained budget. The woman has been at the receiving end of everyone’s anxiety in the last few months-cranky kids stuck at home, husbands who are working from home, never ending household work, a loss of personal space and now dealing with the onus of creating a cheerful, positive and happy mood and space this festival season. The burden of this responsibility has become much heavier this festival season.
Brands should attempt to `share this load’ and enable to lighten the load-either through product benefits or through showing empathy and acknowledging the pillar that she has been for the family in these trying times.
Decisions today are made in distress – making us more likely to pay attention to the brands willing to engage with us in the right way. Brand leaders who are willing to be actively present can emerge from this challenging period of behaviour change with stronger brands and a more committed, trusting fan base – so when things eventually settle to the next new normal, brand growth can be sustained.
The authors are researchers ta IPSOS India. Views expressed are perosnal.
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