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India 2015: THOUGHT LEADERSHIP | Beyond Villages

Government and brands both play important roles reaching remote areas and improving lives

Innovative government and FMCG programs raise the standards for rural marketing

Krishna Vilasini Bharadwaj
India Practice Chair,Health and Wellness
Genesis Burson-Marsteller

Genesis Burson-Marsteller is a leading public relations and public affairs consultancy that delivers integrated communication services to some of the best global and Indian companies. Our focus is on creating real measurable impact on our client’s business through evidence based, ideas driven and result oriented campaigns.


In a vibrant market like India, where a whopping 73 percent of households are rural, successful brands have a steadfast focus on reaching the last mile to ensure that their messages resonate even in the most remote parts of the country. While FMCG behemoths such as Hindustan Unilever have taken the lead on market segmentation, the Indian government is not far behind. As Unilever is looking at newer geographies and consumer clusters to reach rural audiences, the government is now reaching deeper into India, to tiny taluks, tehsils and mandals, the sub-divisions of villages.

This movement to empower rural India includes a broad mix of ministries, multinational conglomerates, non- profit organizations and celebrities. Together they are advancing a wide range of social improvement initiatives, ranging from health and nutrition to education, women’s empowerment, and even entertainment. Many of these initiatives have achieved best practice status, breaking conventional barriers throughout the length and breadth of the country to empower even those at the farthest edge.


Recently, popular actress Priyanka Chopra, in her capacity as the UN Goodwill Ambassador, highlighted the issue of anemic adolescents in central India, in places like Bhopal in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Although adolescent anemia is a major public health problem in India, this is the first concerted effort to address it. The government launched a program in 2012 and UNICEF added its support in every Indian state and union territory, targeting over 100 million adolescents. The program, implemented through schools and Anganwadis, village community centers, provides weekly dietary supplements to young school children.

India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare recently launched a routine immunization program in 201 priority districts, providing vaccines against seven deadly diseases. The program intends to immunize 90 percent of infants by 2020. Only 65 percent of Indian children receive complete vaccination during their first year.

This leaves a substantial proportion of children exposed to deadly diseases that can be prevented. This deficiency can be attributed to lack of information and awareness, and a level of apprehension among parents. A blend of traditional media exposure and digital communication, with strong on-the-ground mobilization efforts are driving this initiative.


Innovation is the cornerstone when it comes to rural empowerment. Multinational companies are exploring new ways to reach consumers in remote areas of the country to improve their lives in various ways. With its award winning innovation, the Kan Khajura Tesan, an on-demand mobile entertainment channel that integrates the medium of radio with mobile phones, Unilever reached eight million consumers in eight months. An idea, which stemmed from the simple insight of using mobile technologies in media dark areas, has provided 700 million minutes of entertainment to rural consumers with brand messages being heard 425 million times in a span of 15 months.

Other notable initiatives that have effectively reached rural India include, Oral Health Month by Colgate- Palmolive (India). The initiative developed after the International Market Research Bureau’s (IMRB) Consumer Usage Attitude Study found that a mere 2.5 percent of Indians visit a dentist at least once a year compared to a global average

of 48 percent. Colgate embarked on a universal dental coverage project. In collaboration, the Indian Dental Association and Colgate launched Oral Health Month. This initiative included advertising, public relations and on-ground activations ensuring consumers could get free dental check-ups in more than 1,300 cities and towns with over 35,000 participating dentists.

With the Indian economy growing at a healthy pace, the writing on the wall is clear: rural consumers and rural development will help lift the economy even higher. Brands, companies and governments alike have recognized the power of traveling deep into the rural nooks and corners of urban India to empower the untapped population and recruit new consumers. In the near future, we might see consumer brands learning a lesson or two about rural outreach from the Government of India. The need is large enough to benefit from the investment and creativity of both the public and private sectors.