How brands use strong network ( Dabbawalas ) to promote their products and offerings – Promotional Strategies

Brands are increasingly experimenting with newer, more innovative mediums, such as effectively using the potential of below the line and experiential marketing. Local vendors and networks are some of the routes used by brands to reach out to a wide consumer base that would be otherwise hard to reach.

One such network, which has admirers like Prince Charles and Richard Branson, delivers lunch boxes of home-cooked food (‘dabba’) to make a living. We’re referring to the popular ‘dabbawala’ network in Mumbai, which is so popular that the BBC had produced a documentary on ‘dabbawalas’ (those who deliver lunch boxes).

Through this network, more than 200,000 lunches get moved every day by an estimated 4,500-5,000 dabbawalas, all with a nominal fee and with utmost punctuality. The dabbawalas collect tiffin boxes from the residences of the working people and deliver them to their offices during lunch time. What is amazing is that most dabbawalas are not literate; yet they accurately deliver the right lunch box to the right person at the right time. They use a simple colour-coding system for this, instead of modern technology or computer systems.

Realizing the potential and reach of these dabbawalas, several brands have tied up with them to reach out to consumers.

The most recent promotion is that of confectionery company, Perfetti Van Melle India (PVMI). The company recently distributed its newly launched liquid-filled, mango-flavoured candy, Mangofillz with each dabba sent out. This is the first fruit candy offering from PVM, as the other products are milk-based, or breath-fresheners and gums.

In all, Perfetti distributed over two lakh Mangofillz candies through the dabbawalas, thus reaching a large consumer base of about two lakh people.

Aashish Kapoor, group product manager, Perfetti Van Melle India says, “The amazing network of dabbawalas appealed to us, as it gelled well with our plan of reaching the customers and making them experience the tantalizing flavour of Mangofillz.”

Nikhil Sharma, senior marketing controller, Perfetti Van Melle India adds, “We’ve done samplings in the past too, and believe that this is a very important marketing tool; but more for new products, not well-known, established products and their variants.”

Besides the dabbawala network promotion, which was done over two days, another promotion has been planned for the DND Flyway for four days.

The company’s agency, Maxus is still gauging the response to the promotion. Discussing the effectiveness of such a network, Abhimanyu Jain, business manager – planning, Maxus says, “We have a team that works on non-traditional media; and this team indicated to us that a number of brands, including Pepsi, choose to use the dabbawala network for new launches. The kind of response it gets is good and this network is effective in its implementation.”

A number of brands have successfully leveraged this network. Industry sources share that advertising on these dabbas or tiffins could cost anywhere between Rs 5-10 per dabba, depending on factors such as the number of days, the kind of campaign and the relationship with the brand and media agency.

Recently, Big Cinemas also advertised through this network, using tags that gave information on the IPL matches being screened at its theatres and phone numbers for ticket bookings at specific theatres.

In February last year, UTI AMC got dabbawalas to don UTI branded T-shirts and caps and even give information about their product. In the past, Microsoft also used the dabbawalas to promote its Windows package, during a campaign called ‘Asli PC’ or ‘Genuine PC’. Microsoft tried to find a fit between its brand and dabbawalas, which reinforced the value of authenticity associated with its brand.

Telecom provider, Airtel also used the network to deliver and promote handsets, new connections, and prepaid user cards. Reliance had also used the network to promote the Reliance Power IPO.

It is worth exploring whether brand and sales activations such as these have gained currency due to the slowdown last year.

Reports suggest that in 2008-2009, BTL saw growth of about 25 per cent, while ATL only grew at about 15 per cent. Similar growth was seen in 2009-2010.

CVS ‘Venke’ Sharma, senior vice-president and director, Arc Worldwide, says, “The share of BTL has been growing, but the focus on it happened in the last couple of years. The slowdown is partly responsible for this. This is because brands became more cautious with their spends and required a certain measurability, which is an important factor and very possible with BTL.”

Discussing the bang for the buck, he adds that it is the depth of engagement that has to be looked at, which gives a potential convert. Comparatively, TV requires a lot more to be pumped in without much control on the results. So, the possibility for converting a potential customer is higher through BTL.

However, Sharma is quick to add that with BTL, the issue is in terms of scalability. “A campaign like this for Perfetti’s product sampling through the dabbawala network is very nice and effective, but this has been done in Mumbai. How will it be taken to other cities and nationwide? That is the challenge.”

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