Brand RBI courts the common man

You might not be dealing directly with the RBI, but what we do touches your life. Everyday.” As Reserve Bank of India governor D Subbarao delivers this punchline in a television advertisement, one sees ‘Brand RBI’ unfolding itself before the public.

In its 75th year, India’s apex banking regulator is marketing itself to the common man, reaching out to the masses like never before. Talk shows on television, camps and even a special postage stamp to commemorate the anniversary are next. The RBI even wants to take the campaign beyond TV and print, to cinema houses and theatres.

An RBI spokesperson confirms, “We have released the advertisement to commemorate our platinum jubilee celebrations. It also meets our objective of educating the common man about the role and functions of the RBI. And, since we wanted to reach the masses, we chose television as a medium.”The campaign is also perhaps one of the first of its kind when a financial regulator is using television advertising to reach out to the masses, a domain hitherto limited to the ministries. Also, in a first for the bank, Subbarao himself appears on TV. Traversing the bylanes of the country, the public message is shot strategically in fields, factories, wholesale markets, bank branches in mid-size towns and rural areas.

For IBD—a subsidiary of Percept-Hakuhodo—the agency that conceptualised and produced the campaign, it was a proactive initiative. Says Evarist Rego, COO, IBD, “When we came to know about the celebrations, we approached the RBI with the idea for the campaign. Though everybody knows what the RBI is, very few know how it touches our lives everyday, beyond handling currency. Since RBI is not a ‘bank-bank’ that has a direct consumer connect, we tried to establish that connect though this campaign. Once the RBI team warmed up to the idea, we polished out the thought. That is when inclusive growth, managing inflation, ensuring financial stability, facilitating financial inclusion, managing foreign exchange, currency and payment systems and inculcating financial literacy came into the purview.”

Rego explains that the concept was given the nod in 30 days and they tried to capture all the functions of RBI, its grandeur and the momentous occasion in images. For Rego, though, the high point of the campaign was the message by the governor, who even gave retakes for the ad.

Brand strategy consultant Jessie Paul says, “RBI’s 75th anniversary celebrations are a well-orchestrated, multi-media marketing campaign, designed to increase its visibility with the general population and in line with its goal of financial inclusivity.” Paul adds that while the RBI has tremendous credibility with the educated middle class for having staved off the recession in India, it is not so well known across all economic strata. Paul explains that the RBI has adopted multiple modes of outreach, including talk shows on major business channels, camps in north-eastern India and a special postage stamp to commemorate the anniversary. She feels that given TV’s huge reach in India, the RBI should do more educational ads on vernacular TV.

In a similar vein, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irda) had also launched a print advertising campaign, ‘Be wise, ULIP wise’, promoting unit-linked insurance plans. The campaign, though marred by controversy, did signal how regulators in India are taking to advertising like never before. Education apart, there is also a larger case for the need for regulatory and government bodies of the statutory kind to brand themselves. Brand strategy specialist Harish Bijoor says, “As India turns into a consumer society on a consumptive overdrive of sorts, regulatory bodies will find it necessary to brand themselves and attain for themselves a positive, proactive, consumer-friendly and contemporary appeal and image. More bodies will want to enter the advertising market.”

Robin Roy, associate director, PWC, explains that the measure clearly indicates the efforts by the regulator to ‘come closer’ to the retail consumer and it would be interesting to see whether this becomes more apparent in the way the regulators perceive and, therefore, respond to market developments in a non-disruptive and effective manner. Roy adds, “Recently, Sebi chairman CB Bhave had also talked about the principle of ‘caveat emptor’ for retail customers of mutual funds, insurance, etc, stressing about the importance of ‘selling’ such products in a transparent manner and making explicit the inherent risks in some of them. ”Reaching out to the common man is an important mandate of an evolved regulatory body and it’s just about catching up in India. Given the high Internet penetration in the US, the Federal Reserve Bank of US runs the www. federalreserveeducation .org, which has resources both for the general public as well as for teachers to incorporate into their curriculum.

Given that the first steps have been taken, experts opine other regulators, too, will take a cue from the RBI and follow suit to connect with the masses. As Bijoor rounds up, “This will happen for bodies across the spectrum. Trai, for instance, needs this, just as the RBI does. The police department needs this as well, more than any other department for that matter.”

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