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Diwali 2020: The Impact of Covid-19 on Campaigns, Communications and Celebrations

Trends and Insight 2.2k Add to collection
Creatives from around India share their thoughts on how this year’s festival of lights will look and how these changes will fare in the long run
Diwali 2020: The Impact of Covid-19 on Campaigns, Communications and Celebrations
When many of the world’s countries went into lockdown in the spring it was difficult to forecast the future. However, one thing that many people pinned their hopes on was that life would return to some semblance of normality for the festivities that are to take place at the latter end of the year. One such festival is Diwali that is this year marked on November 14th.

Covid-19 has caused a health and economic crisis so for brands to remain at the forefront of consumer’s minds they will need to up their game when it comes to communicating the messages they really want to share. Gone (for the time being) are the days of big family get-togethers and with a rise in positive coronavirus cases in India a new law has enforced a ban on any form of firecracker that contributes to pollution and therefore impacts the health of those already struggling to breathe. As consumers shift away from their usual methods of celebrating brands will have to be prepared to follow suit while creating effective campaigns. 

With a more meaningful Diwali on the horizon, which will see scaled-back festivities and homemade celebrations, LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with creatives and planners to hear more about this year’s festival of lights and the messages it’ll bring.



Hemant Shringy 

Chief creative officer at BBDO India, Mumbai


Kindness and caution are the two major things that stand out differently this time. Kindness in messaging and caution in execution. You can tell that stories around the festival are not just celebratory but also tales of kindness and care. And execution is done keeping in mind all the precautions that need to be taken. Elaborate settings have been replaced by empathetic stories and opulence has been replaced by optimism. 
 
There is definitely a need for cheer and celebration, but this time get-togethers will be more intimate and the connections even stronger. WhatsApp wishes will be at an all-time high and hopefully firecrackers will be at an all-time low. The Diwali celebration at the office will be sorely missed though.

There’s an uncertainty if and when things will go back to normal, even outside the industry. That causes a bit of anxiety. But as a race, we’re a fairly resilient bunch. And I think every stage of this pandemic has had a different impact. We’ve moved from being paranoid to prepared and positive about fighting this. Hopefully it’s made us all more kind, compassionate and empathetic and that can help us be more insightful storytellers. 


Gulshan Singh

National planning director at FCB Interface



All communication is expected to achieve an objective – whether it is increasing relevance, creating preference, etc. Festive season communication often tends to be skewed towards two objectives – one, ‘mood setting’ for the season to create an emotional connect and two, conveying an ‘offer’ and a ‘call to action’ to give the consumer a rational reason to transact with the brand.

2020’s festive season, however, is unique – it’s coming off the back of the most trying period we’ve seen in a very long time. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a health and economic crisis, but it has also dominated mind-space for months – in newsrooms, on dining tables, all over social media. It has led to real changes in human behaviour – as an example, social distancing even in countries not known for their regard for personal space. Similarly, wearing masks, which was almost relatively unknown in many cultures has rapidly become ubiquitous.

On the face of it this combination of dominating mind-space and creating behaviour change would suggest an exciting opportunity for brands to be topical and address this in their communication. However, there are two factors at work that are acting as countervailing forces and are likely to have a significant impact.   

The first factor is sheer fatigue. When the pandemic broke, brands across categories gave out messages of support and resilience – which consumers appreciated but over time they found their numbers and similarity overwhelming. At this stage, months into the pandemic, this sort of messaging, especially in the absence of ‘new-news’ doesn’t meet either of the two festive season advertising objectives mentioned above.

The second, more important reason is that we have simply normalised the fear of the pandemic. Our focus now is more on getting out of survival mode and back to living life. After months of living in lockdown, and having our lives upended, we have started getting back to normal. As an example, consider sales in the auto sector – sales have been picking up across personal vehicles, commercial vehicles, tractors and two-wheelers even before the festive season hit. Amazon and Flipkart saw record-breaking sales - not just in value, but in the number of buyers and sellers. The travel industry is starting to see an uptick that goes beyond revenge tourism. This suggests not just a release of pent up demand, but a return of positive consumer sentiment, driven at least partly by the festive season. 
 
Hence, at the most, some brands’ communication may depict how this festive season will be different – e.g., smaller, intimate celebrations as opposed to mass, public ones. But most of the communication we see will align with classic festival advertising codes and focus either on ‘mood-setting’, or a CTA, or a combination thereof. 


Kishan Kumar 

Chief growth officer at Wavemaker India



Diwali. The festival of lights. The celebration of triumph over darkness. Good over evil. Knowledge over ignorance. 

Diwali. Festival of life. Of celebrating relationships. Of home-comings. Of shopping and splurging. Of eating, drinking and having a great time together. 

Diwali. Also, the festival of ads. Celebration of warmth and human emotions. Triumph of good insights over lazy ones. Good storytelling over also-rans. It is also the Super Bowl peak of creativity in Indian advertising.   

Diwali, this year, is a tad different. Amidst the pandemic, the buzz is a tad lesser. There’s a bit of sadness, a bit of caution. A bit of the new normal amidst the usual zeal with gay abandon.  

While gifts are packed, new clothes are bought, cards are played and homes are decorated, there is a bit of holding back that’s palpable. 

That has affected Diwali advertising too. I had few interesting observations:

  • No Diwali Grand Prix this year: Diwali normally witnesses a Super Bowl-like spike in creativity. But this year, the caution is visible even in advertising. A few heart-warming stories apart, can’t pick a standout piece unlike the past. As a fraternity, we need more such inspirations! 
  • Shorter, hardworking Diwali ads: Am I the only one to feel that most Diwali ads are shorter? Where are those lovely stories leaving you with moist eyes and lumpy throats? Maybe it is tight budgets. Maybe the IPL clash with shorter, hardworking ads. The Oppo Diwali edition was a nice aberration 
  • Adjusting to the new normal: Pandemic situation is understandably visible in most storylines. There are more virtual meets than real homecomings this year. Even WFH are good triggers. 
  • Why so serious, yaar? I wish there were more ads with playfulness, banter and humour! We need those in these grim and depressing times. Like this Coke Diwali one

  • Rooted in reality of life moments: Thankfully, there are more real-people, real-life stories and not celebrities telling you how to celebrate. More human stories, the better. 
  • Inclusivity & Purpose: This has always been a big Diwali theme. This year also had its fair share. The Myntra Diwali campaign is particularly well told 


Ekta Relan

National planning director at MullenLowe Lintas



You don’t sell a brand or product during festive times; you sell the festive mood. You help people escape from the otherwise monotonous life and relationships we live. The soft lit ads with festive colours, decorated houses, melodious music and heart-tugging poetry, evoke overwhelming feelings of joy and togetherness; such that you feel like buying things and gifts, even if you hadn’t planned for them. Is this year any different? 

There couldn’t have been better timing for India to gradually move towards unlock than the festive time. The much-needed boost to the muted emotions and growth of both businesses and people. People are fatigued now, with feelings of anxiety, fear, overwork and economic insecurity. However, there is a conflict between the strong desire to go back to the familiar but also fear to bring life back to its old ways. When it comes to festivities, there is also guilt around spending given that every family is experiencing economic pressure due to lack of business or job loss. 

Thus, the role of advertising this year will have an additional part to play. One: to help people manage their guilt for spending, nudge them towards the new digital storefronts. Two: to help people adapt new ways to celebrate in the new normal. Most festive advertising is doing one of the two this year. Now since, most brands are doing this, it’s beginning to feel like a clutter of its own. Everyone is tapping into the same context. Every second ad shows a virtual family get together. It’s the new sea of sameness. Interestingly, the brands that decided to not contextualise Covid, who decided to stay its course of unlocking pure festive emotions without any Covid reference are standing out by default. They let their audience momentarily forget the current reality, exactly what festivals are meant to do. They are not about adapted positivity but about more organic emotions of festive time, irrespective of Covid. 

No matter whichever creative approach, no matter whether it brings back the sales to previous year levels or not, the 2020 festive advertising just might be the needed passage to rekindle consumerism which has probably seen the longest dry spell in India.




Gopal Krishnan 

Managing director at M&C Saatchi February


Diwali is usually a noisy time, not just on the streets, but also on screens. The pinnacle of India’s festive season extending from September to November, shopping for Diwali is the short window where the average Indian household that is traditionally savings-oriented splurges without inhibition. And brands are quick to cash in, with major sales on ecommerce platforms and several categories fighting to hog the consumer’s attention.

However, as with everything else, Diwali in 2020 is slightly different. The pandemic is still at the back of everybody’s minds, and people’s relationships with and attitudes around home, work, family, shopping, finances have in turn undergone a remarkable shift. This is reflected not only in changing consumer shopping trends, but in how brands are communicating to them during the festive period.

Traditionally, Diwali shopping is a highly planned affair, with individuals and households engaged in discussion and saving money for several months, with focus on categories like clothing and apparel, and consumer electronics dominating the conversation. This year there has been a remarkable shift in this planning cycle, with over 71% of consumers undecided on their purchases until the last minute.

This sudden shift towards impulsive, thereby emotional shopping corresponds with an increased interest in home appliances, gadgets and gift packs. People are also tending to spend less on themselves and more on their near and dear. As a result, the focus of this Diwali is less on the individual and more on relationships, with a need to reinforce a sense of belonging in the community.

This is clearly seen in how brands have been communicating this year. Prominent brands across categories, from the likes of Pantaloons to Oppo to Coca Cola to Phillips and Cadbury, brands are distinctively moving from reinforcing the traditional sense of family to reinforcing the sense of community, with narratives centered around essential workers, small businesses, landlord-tenant relationships, student-teacher relationships to name a few.

It is interesting to note that, with increase in impulsive, emotional purchases, there is a corresponding increase in online purchases through mobile phones. 53% of Indian consumers made their first online purchase in the last six months, with 40% of them residing in tier 2/3 towns. This is great news for ecommerce brands that have been persistently trying to convert first time shoppers in these markets for Diwali every year.

One of our FMCG brand is harping on celebrating the festival by introducing ‘do-it-yourself’ ready to make sweets pack, banking on the insight that people will prefer self-preparation than buying sweets from the market due safety. A beauty care brand has introduced coupons to increase sales during this festive period, to catch up with the sales target of this calendar year. 

What is interesting to ponder over is whether it is the reliance on online shopping that is leading to impulsive purchases this Diwali or vice versa. Meanwhile, this Diwali continues to be a rare beacon of light in a year that was largely shrouded in dullness. 



Sambit Mohanty
Head of creative south at McCann Worldgroup India


India's festival season that begins in September and stretches till November is highly opportune for the country's apparel, jewellery and consumer durable makers. Diwali, the festival of lights, is typically a peak season for sales. From mobile phones to jewellery, clothing to cars, consumers indulge, upgrade and gift during this festive season while brands scramble to grab their attention with new launches, full page adverts and heavy discount offers. Of course, the big question this year is whether consumer sentiment has dampened with the pandemic disrupting the livelihood of individuals in the form of pay cuts and job losses? Will the cautious consumer go out and shop this Diwali?

As the country emerges from the lockdown, one has already seen a strong and visible uptake in categories like automobiles, mobiles, consumer durables, items of home/self-improvement amongst others. Limited opportunities to spend over the last few months has led to pent-up savings and this combined with pent-up demand is likely to manifest itself in ‘revenge buying’. Plus this being the festive season gives one the perfect opportunity to shop and feel the festivity. So it’s no surprise that daily newspapers and their supplements (that had nearly vanished during the lockdown phase) are getting thicker by the day with increased advertising vying for that share of wallet.

At McCann, we’ve had a ringside view of this post-lockdown surge in demand as we recently helped craft the campaign for the ‘Big Billion Days Sale’ on Flipkart - one of India’s largest e-commerce platforms. Starring a who’s-who list of celebrities from Amitabh Bachchan to Virat Kohli, this campaign was a massive success going by the sales figures. Flipkart delivered nearly 10 million shipments during the five days of the Big Billion Days Sale, witnessing a 10X jump compared to last year (around 1 million deliveries).

With the Covid-induced lockdown giving rise to the world’s largest work-from-home experiment, it seems Indian consumers are keen to indulge in shopping for newer things albeit online. In terms of communication, along with the oft-repeated festive themes of togetherness, sharing and new beginnings, there is a strong emergence of narratives on resilience, doing good for the community and being ‘vocal for local’. Yet, we must not forget that at a larger level the human emotional triggers and motivations still stay the same. So one doesn’t expect to see a paradigm shift in storytelling - where the paradigm is actually shifting is behind the scenes. Given that remote working has become the need of the hour, one is definitely seeing digital auditions, remote direction, remote over-seeing of the process by agencies and many other facets of communication production that have had to adapt to the new normal. 

Diwali 2020 may or may not have people thronging the markets and spilling onto the streets, but what is unmistakable is the festive spirit that’s unwavering. Lamps will be lit, homes will be decked up and Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth will be welcomed with open hearts and open wallets. The old normal will prevail.



Deep Chhabria

Creative director at BBH India


Diwali this year is honestly really crucial for every brand. We all know what a year it’s been in terms of sales numbers and spends. You need the Lord to return home and save every CMO’s crashing hopes. So, definitely a lot is at stake. 

It might be the only important chance to get the Indian consumers to let loose and open their tightly zipped wallets based on the emotional significance of the festival. And since, emotional advertising sees a drastic rise each year with ads on homecoming, special gestures and making it memorable this year is no different. Except everyone in the ads has a mask on. Which is a great thing, considering Diwali shoots have a lot of firecrackers on set. So, it's good for the actors. My prediction is the introduction of new characters in ads this year. The grandmothers, house helps, forgotten-uncle and dogs might get a year of rest and everyone is going to make it special for nurses, policemen and local authorities. 

I mean it’s a pandemic Diwali, when else will copywriters get the chance to write that plot? We’re working on some interesting campaigns too. Each based on being sensitive to the situation, but still asking everyone to adapt and keep the festivities special. Taking a stance to live life and light up the night in a global crisis. And even with the monetary motivations, I have a feeling that advertising might end up doing what it tries to ever so often do - give some much-needed hope. Win-win.

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LBB Editorial, Mon, 09 Nov 2020 16:06:40 GMT