FEATURE20 June 2017

The heart sell

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Asia Pacific Behavioural science Features Impact

INDIA – Indian shoppers are more responsive than the average global consumer to advertising, particularly if it’s emotionally charged. Ian Forrester of Unruly describes research exploring this trend


In a world where consumers are increasingly mistrustful of advertising – seeing it as an unwelcome distraction from their hectic daily lives – India has a uniquely positive outlook.

In contrast with the global average, most Indian consumers ( 62%) like seeing ads online. Even questionable retargeting techniques, with ads seemingly following users around the internet, are deemed by more of the population to be helpful ( 49%) rather than creepy ( 41%), in stark contrast with the global averages ( 20% and 63%). 

In addition, some of the more intrusive online video advertising formats are less likely to irritate Indian audiences – with only 19% finding auto-playing mobile video ads annoying. 

Indian consumers are also the most likely to share branded content online. Three-quarters ( 74%) say if content is good they would share it with friends and family online, while the Indian video share rate (percentage of viewers who go on to share a video) of 3.4% is greater than the global average ( 1.5%).

So why do Indian consumers love advertising so much? One possible reason could be tied to India’s social mobility, with its aspirational middle class growing at breakneck speed.

Although definitions of what constitutes ‘middle class’ vary widely in India, a 2016 Mumbai University study suggests those spending between $2 and $10 per capita per day doubled to 600 million between 2004 and 2012.

Sharing videos is seen to tie products to the sharer’s personal brand, showing they are driven, ambitious and care about the trappings of success. 

Analysing branded YouTube channels and Facebook pages in India reveals just as many seemingly mundane product-focused ads as on western pages. However, while these videos have low engagement rates among western audiences, Indian users are much more willing to engage with and share this content. 

For example, the most shared Jaguar ad of 2016 globally was an ad for the F-Pace, showing the car being filmed at a motor show while the brand director of Jaguar India talks through its features. Such a video wouldn’t raise an eyebrow among western viewers, but it resonated strongly among Indian viewers and is on its way to amassing 36k shares.

The most telling stat comes from Unruly Pulse, which identifies and tracks the emotional trends in video advertising. As the chart illustrates, the dashboard shows the extent to which Indian viewers have much more intense emotional responses to video content than the rest of the world. In fact, compared with the global norm, Indian audiences over-index for every key emotion apart from one: nostalgia.

It’s not that India is producing more emotive content. Instead, it shows that Indian viewers are much more likely to respond emotionally to advertising than the rest of the world. Add really emotive content that tells a story and, suddenly, the emotional touch-paper is lit, with brands achieving huge levels of engagement.

Content that generates the most emotional responses in India is generally centred on social issues. One of the most impactful is Vicks’ – Destiny Child – the story of a transgender woman who adopts an orphan. The sad story of the orphan is amplified by intense feelings of warmth, inspiration and happiness as Vicks reveals the impact the new relationship is having on both protagonists’ lives.

Another campaign to hit home is Google’s – Pledge to Vote – which reminds viewers of the country’s first General Election in 1951, urging them to visit the ballot box come rain or shine. It evokes intense feelings of national pride, happiness and inspiration, reminding viewers what the country went through to gain this right for its citizens. 

Ariel’s – Share the Load – focusing on the traditional household roles of Indian men and women, is another example of a campaign that manages to generate emotion. The ad shows a repentant father who realises he has set the wrong example to his daughter by failing to help her mother (his wife) with the chores. In a recurring theme in Indian advertising, the ad evoked pride, warmth and happiness, culminating in viewers feeling inspired to divide the housework more equally between both genders.

Nestlé – Educate the Girl Child – also had a gender equality theme, highlighting the 20 million girls in India still being denied access to education. To make its point, it uses images of a little girl chopping off her hair to make her look like a boy and therefore be allowed to go to school. Again, the ad evoked a mix of sadness, warmth, pride and inspiration.

The emotive nature of these videos made them memorable, which in turn drives high brand metrics for Vicks, Google, Ariel and Nestlé. Brand recall, intent to find out more, purchase intent and brand favourability were all ahead of the Indian market norm, illustrating their power.

Indian video advertising is in rude health and the country’s aspirational consumers are extremely receptive to advertising. From this positive starting point, brands that produce extremely emotive content can reach new heights of engagement. And that – as the Indians will tell you – is first-class.

Ian Forrester is global vice-president of insight at Unruly