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Kumbh Mela 2019: How big brands are cashing in on the jamboree

Devotees participate in a procession at the Kumbh Mela. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

This year’s Kumbh Mela is by far the biggest, with around 12 – 14 crore pilgrims from all over the country and around 5,000 NRIs attending the religious extravaganza, which is spread across 49 days. While the expenditure for the Kumbh has gone up to Rs 4,300 crores, as opposed to the Rs 2,800 crores that the Uttar Pradesh government had allocated for this year, as per the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), the world’s largest religious gathering is expected to generate 1.2 lakh crore as revenue.

The Mela would also generate employment to around 6 lakh people, making it a mammoth economic activity, apart from being a religious, spiritual and cultural one. While this sheer volume means a windfall for local traders, big brands are also vying amongst themselves to catch the attention of the sants, sadhus, pilgrims and tourists. These brands are finding innovative ways to reach out to their customer base and the Kumbh Mela, with its eclectic mix of people from across all walks of life, proves to be the perfect ground.

Connecting the Kumbh:

Amongst the biggest brand presence at the Kumbh is that of the telecom companies who are offering a host of services, including apps providing real-time information, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to track people, maps and emergency helpline numbers.

Reliance Jio has launched the Kumbh Jio phone with comes equipped with information on the event, real-time information on train and bus routes and services, emergency helplines, telecast of special events via Jio TV and devotional songs and bhajans via the Kumbh Radio. Reliance has also created a special helpline number, ‘1991’ which people can use for queries on their JioPhone.

Bharti Airtel also has a special channel dedicated to the Kumbh Mela on its Airtel TV app, apart from kiosks which offer virtual reality experiences to visitors, in collaboration with VR Devotee, a religious and spiritual based app.

Vodafone Idea is offering a Vodafone RFID tag for all children below the age of 14 and for senior citizens so that guardians can track their movements to ensure that they don’t get lost.

Telecom infrastructure provider, RailTel, a subsidiary of the Indian Railways, is providing visitors and pilgrims at the Kumbh with free high-speed WiFi facilities. After one hour of free usage, users can buy a recharge coupon for Rs 10 and use the facility for one day. This, according to the Indian Railways, has made this year’s Mela a ‘Smart Kumbh Mela.’

Testing and tasting ground:

Companies are also using the Kumbh to test their products and provide services to devotees. Hindustan Lever’s Red Label tea brand has set up innovative tea vending machines which also double up as dustbins. The machines have built-in sensors and each time a person throws garbage in it, a sensor gets activated and it releases a cup of tea from the vending slot.

Dabur has launched a role-play based activation, called Taste Election Hajmola Activation, wherein volunteers provide pilgrims with samples of Hajmola variants, and pilgrims are asked to vote for the best flavour.

Both Amul and Mother Dairy have set up their booths at the Mela to supply milk to the pilgrims and tourists, while building materials company, HIL’s roofing solutions brand Charminar, has installed water kiosks at the Kumbh to provide clean drinking water to people.

Hygiene and Sanitation:

With so many pilgrims around, sanitation is bound to be an issue – something that brands are cashing on. Hence, while the marketing team from Colgate-Palmolive are distributing Colgate Vedshakti toothpaste to pilgrims for free, Dabur has set up the Dabur Red toothpaste dispensers which work on the lines of hand wash dispensers.

Welspun India, the home textile maker, has been handing out towels to women to use in the changing rooms. The company is offering 3,000 free trials of Welspun Quik Dry towels every day, through its campaign ‘Jaldi Sukhe, Jaldi Sukhaye’, which is expected to reach at least 5 lakh people.

And these brands are not just selling their goods, they are offering services as well. While Dabur Vatika has come up with ‘Vatika Lajja Kawach’ or changing rooms for people near the bathing ghats, Welspun has also branded 20 changing rooms at the bathing ghat. Dabur Amla oil has deployed volunteers on the ground who will try to unite lost children with their guardians.

Reckitt Benckiser, who has been active in most of the Kumbhs, has launched the Dettol Harpic Banega Swachh India campaign which aims to spread awareness on the need to keep the environment and surroundings clean and to adopt hygienic practices such as washing hands and flushing the toilet. Dettol has also deployed hand mascots who will walk around distributing Dettol soaps to pilgrims.

Bathroom brand Parryware has been promoting Swachh Kumbh by posting messages on the importance of maintaining hygiene and sanitation across key locations such as bus stops, railway stations and eateries. Parryware has also deployed boats for cleaning up the garbage on the river banks and the in the river.

For Patanjali, the presence of Baba Ramdev, himself, at the Kumbh Mela will be the biggest draw. Collecting chillum from sadhus, the Yoga guru has asked them to take a pledge to give up tobacco. According to him, the chillums that he collects will be housed in a museum that he plans to build.