The Infomercial Comes to Life in India’s Remotest Villages
Thursday, June 11, 2009
By ERIC BELLMAN
BENIPUR VILLAGE, India — Advertisers in India can’t rely on TV, radio or even newspapers to reach the country’s 700 million rural consumers. So they use Sandeep Sharma.
On dirt roads across the subcontinent, the former wedding singer cracks jokes, gives demonstrations and stages game shows to spread global consumerism, one village at a time.
He is one of thousands of traveling performers who bring the world’s biggest brands to audiences of a handful in the remotest reaches of the nation. He offers free Castrol oil changes for tractors. He dishes out bowls of Nestlé noodles in village schools. He pushes Unilever soaps and creams. He promotes tooth powder and condoms.
“Stick to the countryside if you want to be successful,” the 34-year-old says, beaming after a recent performance before a small crowd of villagers in stifling heat. “When we arrive, the whole village comes out.”
It’s a good time to be a traveling salesman in India, relatively speaking. Insulated from the worst of the global recession, India’s rural consumers are spending as never before. International brands — eager for ways to offset contracting markets elsewhere — are sending out armies of salesmen like Mr. Sharma. Overall advertising spending climbed about 10% in India last year. Rural advertising grew at more than four times that rate.