Durga Puja: A Corporate Battleground

Durga Puja reminds us of many things – the sweet fragrance of shiuli, the vast stretches of kashphool gently swaying in the breeze, the blue autumnal sky and the foot tapping drum beats of the dhakis. But nostalgia apart, Durga Puja also has a commercial angle and the gradual corporatisation of the festival through sponsorship as well as brand building exercises are reminders of the changing face of the celebrations.

Durga Puja is the biggest cultural export from Bengal, and no wonder every brand wants to capitalise on this feeling of festive exhilaration at this time of the year and reach out to the audience. According to estimates by the corporate sector, average footfall ranges from 200,000 to 300,000 per day in each prominent pandal in Kolkata during the Pujas and evidently every brand wants to tap into this vast opportunity and maximise their visibility. What was once merely tradition and rituals has now transformed into a vast playing field for corporate giants. From banners and hoardings to television and press advertisements, every brand comes up with a Puja campaign to encash on the festive spirit and extravagance.

Arguably the most controversial campaign of them all was Star Cement’s “Eto boro shotti”- the highlight of last year’s Durga Puja. The company sponsored the Durga Puja at Deshapriya Park and promised the “world’s tallest Durga” through a huge publicity campaign. Initial teasers of the campaign was out by July 2015 and by mid-September the whole city was in the grip of a fever, thanks to the deluge of red banners and kiosks that swamped the city. Eventually, though the puja was closed by Kolkata Police due to a near stampede like situation, it became successful enough to sell the image of the brand to millions of people. This stands testimony to the fact that Durga Puja is being increasingly valued from a commercial point of view.

Back in 2013, cola giants Thums Up upped the ante by launching the campaign “amader pujo”. They asked the people of Kolkata to buy a bottle of Thums Up and contribute the caps, labels, crowns, to select outlets in the city for the creation of a 25-feet high structure which was that of a dhaki. To ensure the buzz, the structures, set up at the pujas of  Deshapriya Park and Lake Town Adhibashi Brinda, were unveiled by celebrities from Tollywood – ensuring the glitz and glamour factor which also translates into a high selling point for brands. Thums Up leveraged on the pride factor of every individual and generated enormous sales, reminding us once again that Durga Puja is indeed a branding exercise.

In fact, to increase its viewership, Bengali channel, Zee Bangla “bought over the Maddox Square Pujo” – a phrase used by a channel spokesman, back in the year 2008. They had put their own crew outside the pandal at Maddox Square  – noted for being a celebrated adda zone and a happening place. Live broadcasting from the pandal and the surrounding grounds had the desired effect. The euphoria of coming live on television caught the fancy of the people and Maddox Square increased its footfall in a massive number during those four days and increased the TRP of the channel at the other end.

In addition, telecom companies like Vodafone, Airtel also capitalise on Durga Puja to market their brands. Vodafone organises “Vodafone Aagomoni” every year, an event that boasts of reputed names from the media and entertainment fraternity. Airtel had their own campaign “Amar pujo amar moto” where they offered their customers a host of new offers, branded themselves at major Pujas and did a little bit of CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities as well by joining hands with the Kolkata Police.

Vying for visibility and a broader customer base for these brands have indeed made the pujas bigger in scale though many rue that the festival has probably lost the traditional charm that it once had. From the joy of wearing new clothes and witnessing pandals and light works around the city, to being swamped by a multitude of  corporate banners, at every step we are reminded that Durga Puja is no longer just tradition; it is an event, a competition, a battle ground for corporates.

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