Rural marketing programme for Fair & Lovely
OgilvyAction put together a rural activation programme for Hindustan Unilever's flagship fairness cream brand, Fair & Lovely.
Here���s a report from Murshidabad, where the British East India Company first took control of Bengal following the historic Battle of Plassey in 1757.
It���s four in the morning, and no time to be out of bed in wintery Kolkata. But there���s a 250-kilometer journey into the heart of rural West Bengal ahead of me, so I extricate myself from the warmth of the blanket, reminding myself that there���s a job to be done and a paycheque to be earned.
A cup of tea warms me, and I join Dhiren Punjabi and Ganesh Dhar from OgilvyAction and Parminder, our F1 driver, who will take us to Behrampore, where I shall witness the unfolding of Fair & Lovely Vani, the rural marketing programme for Fair & Lovely (FAL).
Just for perspective, FAL Vani operates under the aegis of Hindustan Unilever���s Project Shakti, a network spread across 18,624 villages in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. FAL Vani is engineered to empower rural women in earning a livelihood, while improving the distribution and reach of FAL.
We halt at Ranaghat for breakfast and the menu is limited ��� we opt for maida puri and dal. Dhar tells us we���re lucky as most joints hereabouts usually serve rice for breakfast. Punjabi, born and bred in Mumbai, is appalled at the idea. I also learn that Punjabi, who is responsible for FAL Vani across the country, has never travelled to such a remote location during the course of his year-long association with the programme.
Dhar and the team from OgilvyAction Kolkata, however, visit villages across West Bengal once in every 15 days. We reach Behrampore at 11.30 and check into a decent three-star hotel ��� our base camp.
After a short rest, we travel 20 kms to the first baithak (session) at Sialmada, across the Ganga.Sialmada, in Murshidabad district, is a village with a population of roughly 3,500 people.
The job of identifying villages for activation programmes rests with the HUL sales team. Once a village has been selected, HUL and OgilvyAction team meets key opinion leaders (KOLs) like the sarpanch, the school principal, an important businessman or anyone who is highly regarded by the villagers. ���It is always better to meet and inform them that we are planning a programme in the village, lest there be trouble in the future,��� Punjabi informs. The KOLs also help the activation team in selecting a local ���FAL didi��� for that particular kasbah or mohalla.
The FAL didi is someone of a friendly disposition, is well-known in the village and in the good books of most villagers. Her role is to help gather the crowd for the presentation.
The baithak is at Baniyapara, where about 30-35 women in the age group of 25 to 30 have assembled. The crowd also comprises young teenaged girls and children. Here, I���m introduced to FAL Vani, 19-year-old Rakhiba Khatoon. The FAL Vani is a trained HUL employee who conducts the programme. Khatoon uses a flip-chart to tell the story of Moon Moon, a village girl who goes to town to study and wants to participate in a dance competition. But Moon Moon lacks in confidence because of her complexion.
On the advice of her roommate she starts using FAL, and doesn���t just win the competition, but also returns to her village and starts a dance-school for kids. Khatoon then invites a girl from the crowd and demonstrates the right method of applying FAL. This is followed by an ���application challenge���, where a dozen women from the crowd are given a minute to apply FAL: the one who applies it the fastest and in the right way wins.
While some women respond to Khatoon promptly, others need to coaxed and cajoled into participation. Khatoon, a first year BA student, came to know about FAL Vani through a relative of hers. ���FAL has helped me see new places like Malda and Ranaghat. I also get a lot of respect from girls in the villages that I go to,��� she states proudly.
Next, Khatoon urges women to recite a FAL poem, and again a winner is declared. Khatoon then uses shade cards to explain how skin tone changes gradually. More fun and games follow ��� one, in particular, being a big hit across all the baithaks I attended. Four pink cylinders marked with different numbers are kept upright, and each participant is handed three plastic balls.
The objective is to knock down the three cylinders marked correctly with the number of times FAL should be applied. Baniyapara saw five women participate in this game, but later in Dakshinpara in Devpur, as many as 15 women volunteered for this round. Cheers and groans accompany every hit or miss. ���These women would not be very comfortable if male folk would have been here, so it���s important that there be as few men around as possible,��� explains Sudama, a local hand with OgilvyAction.
Khatoon next announces a talent contest, where participants will be tested on their skills in applying mehendi and making rangolis at Mondolpara, an adjacent mohalla. Finally, it���s time for the women to redeem four empty packs of FAL for a new one. Those who have forgotten their empty packs rush home to fetch them. Some women redeem as much as 16 empty sachets, and Dhar explains that some women have been using FAL even before Vani started.
A guesstimate suggests there���s been up to 40% surge in FAL sales since FAL Vani kicked off. Samiruddin Shaikh, a shopkeeper adds that there���s good demand for the brand. ���I manage to sell about four-to-five dozen sachets per month,��� he says, adding that he gets 50 paise for every Rs 6 sachet of FAL he sells. The lure of better margins won���t stop him from stocking FAL, he says. ���I cannot afford to lose business,��� Shaikh clarifies.
After a quick lunch in Behrampore we proceed to Mondolpara ��� the venue of the talent contest that Khatoon announced earlier in the day. The crowd here is much higher, a function of the fact that the women are now free of the morning chores. The morning���s drill is repeated, and it���s finally time for the talent contest, which saw a dozen women participating from neighbouring Baniyapara as well.
The KOL of Mondolpara, an old man, was the judge ��� though how he picked the rangoli contest winner beats me, considering every participant ended up making similar floral patterns! The women weren���t complaining though, glad to have found a source of entertainment that took them away from the daily grind. ���Previously, we used to use the cream only on special occasions like shaadis, but after these programmes, we use it more regularly,��� admitted one of them.
Day two finds us heading towards Balarambati, 42 kms from our hotel. We are running late, but the Vani is informed to delay the baithak by half an hour. Despite Parminder���s best efforts at the wheel, the narrow, kuccha roads slow us down. And it doesn���t help that villagers could always be on the look out for earning a quick buck from a wayward driver ��� Dhar tells of an incident where a FAL van hit a duck and the owner of the duck apparently claimed a compensation of Rs 1,000, accounting for the money he would have made from selling its eggs in a year!
The crowd at Balarambati is thin, barely 15 to 20 people, some of them merely kids. The Vani, however, sticks to her schedule, and as the baithak progresses, women gather at the venue but refuse to sit down. The reason: a group of 15 to 20 young men who have also gathered at the baithak. Insulated in our metros, it���s easy to pretend Indian women are empowered in every sphere of life. The harsh reality in the interiors tells a totally different story.
Our last stop is Dakshinpara in Devpur, about 70 kms from Balarambati. I cross the Ganga for the sixth and final time. On the way, I see trucks carrying loads of people. Sudama tells me these people are being ferried for some political rally, which helps me understand how political parties manage to gather crowds as large as 15,000 to 20,000. Which gives me an idea ��� I request Dhar to show me how the Vani and the FAL didi go around inviting people to the baithak.
At Dakshinpara, the Vani, Rakhi Mandal, hands over an official invitation letter ��� on the HUL letterhead ��� to the KOL, informing her about the baithak and requesting her presence. Next, she enlists the FAL didi���s help, and for the next 20 minutes, the two go from house to house inviting women to the baithak. Almost everyone agrees to come, and slowly a crowd starts gathering. In duration, a baithak ranges from 45 minutes to an hour, and each baithak sees an average of 25 to 30 women participating. Each Vani has to cover at least a 100 people in a single day, which puts the scale of the Vani���s job into perspective. ���It is a good experience and also helps me earn some money,��� says Mandal, who���s completed her HSC and is married.
It���s time to pack my bags and return to Kolkata. Time to return to the ivory towers of metro India. I���ve earned my paycheque, but more importantly, I���ve learned that Rakhiba Khatoon, Rakhi Mandal and the countless number of women in Baniyapara, Balarambati and Dakshinpara share common hopes and aspirations with women in urban India.