Connecting with rural India through cultural sensitivity: An overview of Cannes-winning campaigns

Hamsini Shivakumar and Naheed Akhtar of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting write that combining cultural sensitivity with creativity and technology is how to design solutions for social impact

Hamsini Shivakumar
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The Cannes Lions leadership has extended the mandate of the awards beyond creative storytelling to brand purpose and societal impact through creativity. This extension of the Cannes Lions' vision has given Indian agencies an opportunity to win a big haul of awards at Cannes, something that they struggled with in previous decades when the Cannes Lions' mandate was only focused on creativity in storytelling and the craft of advertising.

This year, five campaigns focused on rural India won medals at Cannes.  A closer look into the campaigns will reveal not just the code for cracking Cannes medals, but in a more general sense, how creativity + technology + cultural sensitivity can be a potent formula for impact.

We examine the following campaigns that won: Lays Biochar Project, Lay’s Smart Farm Case, Whisper’s Missing Chapter, Mortein’s Suraksha Ka Teeka, and The Everything book by Vedantu

Lay’s Biochar Project: Solving environmental pollution

The Lay’s Biochar Project, as depicted in their campaign video, aims to solve environmental pollution that originates in rural North India. In order to reduce carbon emissions caused due to stubble burning in the northern regions of India, Lay’s in partnership with Punjab Agricultural University created earthen chambers for controlled burning of stubble. The design of the earthen chambers was culturally sensitive as it was made from locally available materials and its shape/form was very familiar to the farming communities.  Thus, this solution went beyond advertising to developing solutions to real issues faced by the urban and rural public.

It showcases what a combination of brand purpose, creativity and cultural sensitivity can achieve. 

The campaign:

Lay’s Smart Farm Case: Revolutionising agriculture with technology

Lays' Smart Farm campaign showcases how technology can revolutionise farming practices in rural India. By utilising IOT devices and data-driven solutions, farmers gain access to real-time information about weather patterns, soil moisture levels, and crop health. The Smart Farm initiative highlights the brand's commitment to empowering rural farmers by equipping them with the knowledge and technology tools required for sustainable and efficient agriculture.   In this case, the project showcases the possibilities for social impact when brand purpose meets technology.

The campaign video:

 Whisper’s Missing Chapter: Breaking taboos and empowering women

Set against a rural milieu, Whisper’s Missing Chapter campaign aims to empower women by breaking menstrual taboos and promoting awareness around menstrual health. The campaign aims to spread awareness using modern scientific knowledge and encourage open conversations around menstruation. Striking the spotlight on how the education of young girls can empower them through scientific knowledge, they are helping young women fight the battles for overcoming age-old taboos and superstitions. Young girls are empowered enough to educate the older women/mothers who act as gatekeepers around their daughters' health and safety to change their views. This campaign continues the initiatives carried out in previous years as well.  It showcases a combination of brand purpose, creativity and cultural sensitivity.

The video:

Mortein’s Suraksha Ka Teeka: Promoting preventive measures against Malaria in rural India

Suraksha Ka Teeka, as depicted in the campaign video, is a collaboration to raise awareness about malaria in rural areas. Mortein leveraged the age-old practice of applying a kala teeka on babies to protect them from evil energies.  This everyday traditional practice of applying 'kaala teeka' was transformed into 'Suraksha Ka Teeka' through product innovation. This teeka was reformulated with mosquito-repelling natural oils. The packaging design used motifs and designs based on the folk art of the region.  This campaign showcases the power of creativity + cultural sensitivity for social impact.

The video:

Vedantu’s The Everything Book: Expanding educational horizons

The Everything Book campaign by Vedantu aims to enhance educational opportunities for children in rural India by providing them with digital access to the full range of Vedantu's education content for free. The campaign video reveals the brand's purpose of bridging the educational divide between urban and rural areas. With the help of a signal aggregator, Vedantu helped children create a 4G hotspot by combining the weak 2G signals in rural areas. With this 4G hotspot, children could access the internet through their smartphones and reach Vedantu's content. Instead of just distributing a signal aggregator device, the team embedded the device into a specially designed book, which carried inspiring stories of rural children who had gone on to become achievers. The book's visual design was also culturally connected, using different forms of folk art. The Vedantu campaign showcases how purpose + creativity + cultural sensitivity + technology can be a potent combination for social impact.

The video:

Brands that address rural India to design solutions for the problems of rural communities or to sell them products and innovations would do well to focus on cultural sensitivity at the core.  Combining cultural sensitivity with creativity and technology is how to design solutions for social impact. That's the killer app that the Cannes judges have recognised and rewarded.

cultural sensitivity Cannes Lions Leapfrog Strategy Consulting Hamsini Shivakumar technology Vedantu rural India Lay's Mortein Creativity Whisper