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Mathrubhumi leverages Onam festival to grow volume, revenue

The Onam harvest festival is a critical time for advertisers and media companies in Kerala. Mathrubhumi developed new creative strategies to boost sales and benefit consumers in a post-pandemic environment. Paula Felps tells us how

As the second-least impoverished state in India as well as the second-most urbanised, Kerala is an attractive market boasting the country’s eighth-largest economy. Across its various properties of print, digital, television, and radio, The Mathrubhumi Group reaches 23 million people.

During a recent INMA Webinar, Mathrubhumi’s Jayakrishnan N., national head of media solutions/ print, and Naveen Sreenivasan, head of media solutions/ television, radio, and digital, explained how the company used the return of the festival in 2022 to spark engagement and found new ways to generate revenue.

Onam is one of the most popular annual events in Kerala. The harvest festival is held during the first week of September and is a time of year when Malayalees enjoy shopping and retailers reap the benefits. Jayakrishnan told INMA members that Kerala is a “buyer’s country” with a higher-than-average income and the highest monthly per capita expenditures in rural India.

“Kerala … has the highest ownership of all major durables, including computers, phones, automobiles, and television, which is far higher than the national average,” Jayakrishnan said. It also is higher in ownership of both two- and four-wheel vehicles and has higher-than-average mobile and television penetration in the market.

Sreenivasan noted that it also has a unique media ecosystem and is one of the few states where print continues enjoying great popularity. “If you look at the reach of print, it is higher than cable and satellite,” he said. “So in that sense, it’s a very strong print market.” Mathrubhumi also owns television, radio, and digital properties, which also have strong followings in Kerala.

“Malayalees are news hungry, they are opinionated, they read print, they watch news channels, and we are also the top five in terms of Internet penetration and in terms of social media usage,” Sreenivasan said. “So we have the privilege of operating in a market which has great consumer buying power as well as a very, very media savvy market and a very vibrant business ecosystem also within the market.”

Onam is the year’s most significant festival and is a time when Malayalees are consumed with the idea of shopping. They get their annual bonuses and buy things they have waited for all year.

As much as consumers look forward to it, so do advertisers and business owners. Advertisers are looking for ways to maximise their reach and to stand out from competitors — so they want to get the right value during this time. Sreenivasan said this has been amplified because of the challenges the state has faced during the last four years. 

In 2018, a flood devastated much of the state, and after recovering in 2019, Kerala felt the effects of COVID-19 during 2020 and 2021. “The cost of living has been going up, but the purses are tight. And this year everyone was looking really hopefully towards a good festival because that sets the pace for the rest of the year,” he said. “And we were all planning very judiciously, extremely rigorously for this Onam.”

Creating new strategies

Mathrubhumi moved forward with several questions in mind, Jayakrishnan said. It was important to think not only of how to create an impact during the festival but to consider the post-festival lull: “With all this in mind, we went into one with a lot of activities,” Jayakrishnan said before showing examples of some of the innovative ways it engaged audiences.

They included:

  • Leveraging its Club FM private FM radio station, Mathrubhumi resumed its popular Bhagya Van of Luck. The branded van traveled to more than 100 locations in Kerala, giving away money and receiving “overwhelming participation from the crowd”.
  • On its news channels, it offered a 10-day Gold Shower promotion, in which a sudden shower of gold coins would appear on the TV screen during a programme. Viewers would take photos of the gold showering down and send them into the station for a chance to win. For that promotion, Jayakrishnan said, Mathrubhumi partnered with a gold jeweller as a sponsor, and more than 10000 people sent in their photos.
  • Its magazine Grihalakshmi offered a cooking contest for home chefs, attracting more than 1500 entries and finally choosing 400 contestants in six zones.

As well-received as the Onam campaigns were, Mathrubhumi also planned for the inevitable post-festival lull by participating in the launch of the movie Ponniyin Selvan, an epic historical action drama film. “It was a big movie, and we went in when they were planning their promotions in Kerala and signed up as exclusive partners for their launch,” Jayakrishnan said. “It was an extremely high-impact event.”

It also served to attract additional advertisers who saw the opportunity to reach an engaged audience, Sreenivasan said: “We could get additional revenue from those clients as well as have a very, very strong audience connect because the crowds were insane. And it was a really good win-win opportunity for us — the movie, as well as our audience, as well as the clients who partner with us.”

Another package created to generate advertising post-festival was an advertising jacket for the

print newspaper that was affordable for smaller businesses. While many companies want to be on a print jacket, it’s usually only affordable for large advertisers that buy the entire jacket. “It is a premium value space,” Sreenivasan said, adding that they decided to look at how to use it to activate the local market.

“We created a package in such a way that a small client, a small retailer, would spend X amount of money, and take a small space in the jacket. He also gets X deliverable from TV and X deliverable from radio. So basically, a retailer gets three mediums together for very competent pricing. And we, as a media house, don’t lose out on value.” With multiple advertisers, consumers benefit as well, learning about many offers available to them.

How it worked

The creative strategies were successful, and this became the best Onam in five years,  Sreenivasan said. The company chose not to compare the numbers to 2020 or 2021, but wanted to look at pre-pandemic numbers, he said. When the numbers were tallied, they indicated growth in both volume and revenue.

“This Onam grew substantially over the 2019-2020 numbers, and it is much [more than] the last two years,” Sreenivasan said. “In the current challenging marketing situations, we have been able to grow over the 2019-2020 numbers. And that’s overall how we ended Onam. Now we are looking forward to the rest of the year with positivity.”

(The writer is Ideas Blog editor for INMA. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, US and can be reached at [email protected]. This article was possible, courtesy INMA.)

December 2022

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