The Kumbh Mela at Allahabad last month (January-February 2013) was one of the biggest religious congregation in the history of mankind. Taking a holy dip in the Ganga-Yamuna-Saraswati sangam at Allahabad on these auspicious days during the fortnight is considered as a life time goal by many shraddalu persons. That the holy river waters which are expected to wash away the sins are themselves declared unfit even for bathing does not really matter to them. An estimated 30 million people were in the city of Allahabad at the peak of the Mela. The congregation was higher than the entire population of Australia and close to the population of Canada! The infrastructure, or the lack of it, to handle such a huge crowd naturally collapsed and yet the Kumbh was highly successful.
This Kumbh Mela, held every 12 years, made news for two issues. The first was the death of 38 people in a stampede at the Railway Station on the "Mauni Amavasya" (New Moon day) on February 10th. Indian Railways carries an average of 23 million passengers a day on its entire network throughout the country. The number of people at Allahabad that day was in excess of this number and the rush at the station could be gauged from these numbers. One can easily talk of crowd control measures. Physical control of such huge crowds is an administrator's nightmare.
The second issue, which probably overshadowed this tragedy, was the distribution of over 2.5 million rotis or chapatis in the Mela. The distribution of rotis itself is no big news; it happens in every Kumbh and many charitable and philanthropist organizations do such things regularly. Only that distribution of 2.5 million chapatis by one entity was a bit large enough. But the catch was actually embedded on the chapatis. Each of them was branded with a message in the form of a question: "Lifebuoy se haath dhoya kya?" in Hindi, meaning "Did you wash your hands with Lifebuoy soap?".
Unilever, manufacturers of the Lifebuoy soap wanted to utilise the opportunity of such a big gathering in one place to advertise its soap and reach out to millions on the occasion. Its advertising agency initially considered putting up stalls to display some games centered around health and hygiene. This idea was given up as Kumbh is a religious affair. But the agency believed in reaching out directly to the millions and wanted to ensure that the message reached out each of them. After sifting and sorting through over 200 marketing ideas and dropping them one by one, the agency selected the "Chapati" approach. A tie up was made with over 100 Dhaba owners around Allahabad for making the chapatis. Each of them were given specially made "heat branding machines" with this message. The chapatis so made reached more than 2.5 million hands and most of them cleaned their hands before eating the chapatis. The campaign was a big success. What will be impact on the cash registers remains to be seen.
The advertising agency for the campaign was "Ogilvy Action". A company bearing the name of David Ogilvy, considered as "The Father of Advertising". Born in 1911, Ogilvy's early childhood coincided with the Great Depressions of the 1920s. The brilliant young boy won a scholarship at the age of 13 to study in an Edinburgh college. He got another scholarship five years later to study at Oxford. Unsuccessful at his studies, he went to Paris, France and worked as an apprentice chef in a hotel there. His mind was cooking something else and he came back to Scotland a year later and started selling the AGA cooking stoves. This door-to-door sales provided him an opportunity to learn about consumer behavior and his sharp brain recorded every small detail. His success as a salesman prompted his employer to commission him to write a Sales Manual for use by other salesmen on similar duties. The manual he prepared titled "The Theory and Practice of selling the AGA cooker" was considered by Fortune magazine as the finest sales instruction manual ever written. That was thirty years later.
David Ogilvy later moved to London as a junior employee in one of the well known advertising companies. When a client wanted to run an advertising campaign for the opening of his new Hotel, none of the senior executives were ready to take the job as the budget was only 500 pounds. David took the challenge and purchased post cards for the entire amount. He wrote on each of the cards about the Hotel's opening and mailed to whatever name and address he found on the London Telephone Directory. This hand written card campaign generated unprecedented attention and the Hotel opened to a full house! He had found the secret of successful selling - that of direct selling.
David Ogilvy worked for the British Intelligence Service in the British Embassy in Washington. His study of human behavior came in handy and he used it effectively to develop what was subsequently called as "Consumerism to Nationalism". It is said that Eisenhower's Psychological Warfare Board used some of his ideas successfully during the war. David Ogilvy's exploits as a advertising man have been recorded extensively. His advertisement for Rolls Royce car - "At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce car comes from the electric clock" - is considered as a masterpiece even today. When he temporarily retired and lived near the town of Bonnes in France, the volume of mail handled by the post-office increased manifold and the post office was upgraded! His mail flow was responsible for raising the salary of the post master.
There is no wonder that the mantra of "Direct Marketing" propounded by David Ogilvy has been taken to an altogether different plane by his successors, at the Kumbh Mela. It can actually be called "Campaign from Post Cards to Chapattis"!