NEW DELHI: With the world's largest religious gathering happening over the next three weeks, brands have an opportunity to reach millions of Indian consumers in a very different context from usual.

The Kumbh Mela starting in Nasik on Saturday is only the biggest of many melas taking place over the next few months where brands can explore new and inventive ways of getting their message across to rural consumers.

"There is always a prestige attached to participating in big melas," according to Deepak Oberoi, CEO of experiential marketing business RC&M.

"The local media do stories on the best stalls and it gives a brand so much added publicity without spending a thing," he told the Economic Times.

At the last Kumbh Mela, for example, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) set up 50 handwashing stations to promote its Lifebuoy soap. But what was really newsworthy was the tactic of imprinting the message "Did you wash your hands with Lifebuoy?" on fresh roti breads served by 100 local restaurants.

HUL also brought a novel strategy for its 3 Roses tea brand to the recent Maha Pushkaram in Andhra Pradesh. Some 250 tea stalls were given 3,000 special cups on which a brand logo and message appeared when it was filled with hot liquid.

"The cup transforms a mundane moment into a magical one," explained Shiva Krishnamurthy, general manager & category head/tea. 

"There was a unanimous 'wow' around the 'magic' effect – many even wanted to take the cup home with them," he added.

While novelty and inventiveness may grab people's attention, basic utility is also welcome at such gatherings.

"At the Maha Kumbh 2013, people were camping out," said George Angelo, executive director of sales at FMCG business Dabur. "Odomos is the only protection against mosquitos that works both outdoors and indoors – we distributed it extensively in sachets."

But according to Dalveer Singh, head of experiential marketing, APAC, Dialogue Factory, "The people who have used melas in the best way are local brands".

He drew attention to the "ganji baniyan guys" who "use a call to attention with small rhymes in local language and make an appeal to the entire family". Major brands, he suggested could usefully treat local vendors as a source of insights.

Data sourced from Economic Times; additional content by Warc staff