Ogilvy India used this year’s Kumbha Mela – the world’s largest religious gathering – as a vehicle to generate creative marketing campaigns for a number of its clients’ brands.

The festival in Northern India, held over several weeks, attracts around 220 million devotees, with the biggest crowds heading to the banks of the Ganges on the days when it is considered auspicious to bathe there.

Marketers have long regarded the festival as good opportunity to reach vast audiences from disparate and often remote parts of the country, but they have tended to keep a respectful distance, wary of appearing disrespectful to the religious nature of the event.

Ogilvy India, though, took a far more hands-on approach this year, by identifying issues that needed solutions it could assist with. “We met the administration and were briefed on areas where they needed help, like transport and sanitation,” Chief Creative Officer Sukesh Nayak told Mumbrella.

“We brainstormed, reached out to marketers and only worked with clients interested in partnering in a legitimate way. There had to be an idea driving everything we did, or else it would seem like just another rural marketing initiative.”

For the bathing soap Hamam, a brand from Hindustan Unilever (HUL), Ogilvy created pop-up changing stalls for pilgrims readying to take a dip in the Ganges, something that marketers have done in the past.

But the company went beyond this to tackle a common problem: women who bathe are often fearful of being bothered by men; and the problem is now compounded by women being furtively filmed on smartphone cameras.

To address this problem, Ogilvy and Hindustan Unilever provided 5,000 waterproof sarees, and handed them out for free throughout the festival.

For Red Label tea, Unilever and Ogilvy launched ‘Tea for Trash’, a vending machine that doubled as a rubbish collection point. Pilgrims who disposed of rubbish by using the machine were rewarded with a free cup of tea.

Lifebuoy printed messages about the importance of handwashing on plates used to serve food, and invited pilgrims to have dye put on their hands, telling them not to stop washing until the dye was gone.

Nayak said marketers usually wait for a problem to come to them. In this case, the agency understood the value of being not just a facilitator but a content creator – and made it happen.

Sourced from Mumbrella; additional content by WARC staff