Evolution of the modest rakhi: An outcome of changing consumers & growing digital market

From being a cotton thread with little shiny beads to being bluetooth-enabled and diamond-studded, the rakhi thread has come a long way

by Mansi Sharma
Published - August 11, 2022
8 minutes To Read
Evolution of the modest rakhi: An outcome of changing consumers & growing digital market

A cotton thread with little shiny beads or elaborate designs made of plastic and other materials, the childhood memories of rakhi for most are simpler. The festival, which begins the festive fervour in most Indian homes, has now evolved a lot, and is anything but simple. While the gifting market transitioned years ago with brands like Cadbury and Ferns & Petals coming up with several new concepts, the past few years have seen the thread of rakhi change as well. And now when you search for rakhis online, you will get much more than the simple cotton threads – they are now plantable, reusable, stylish, statement jewellery pieces, and courtesy Cadbury, bluetooth-enabled as well. So what has prompted this change?

Rakshabandhan is probably amongst the only few festivals in India that have risen above their archaic formats, evolving well with the changing socio-cultural norms. A festival with gendered roots, it has grown into an inclusive, all-encompassing opportunity to celebrate bonds. And brands, therefore, get an apt opportunity to promote their purpose-driven presence, a must at these times. 

dentsuMB India EVP & Head ? Planning & Strategy Vishal? Nicholas explains, “Rakhi has evolved from being a religious festival to more of a cultural moment especially in the context of urban India. The occasion has gone beyond celebrating traditional male-female sibling relationships alone. Instead, there is a growing emphasis on acknowledging and celebrating other platonic bonds that signify love and protection such as the lumba rakhi concept that celebrates the relationship between sisters-in-law. Additionally, the rakhi itself has changed from being a simple, inexpensive decorative thread to now existing in much more elaborate avatars, whether its gold and diamond  studded threads or the customizable bluetooth rakhi that Cadbury has recently introduced.” 

A great opportunity for established brands

Jewellery brands like Tanishq, Caratlane, and Joyalukkas have been offering rakhi in precious metals for quite some time. The opportunity is to give the consumers a long-lasting memento instead of a simple thread that gets lost after a while, as Digital Dogs Content and Media Co-Founder & CEO Ambarish Ray notes, “The 'dhaaga' originated as a temporary metaphor, and often religious. The red dhaaga from pujas or the yellow and red dhaagas from other religious occasions were all thread based and hence, temporary. The rakhi, on the other hand, is a promise for a lifetime. Doesn't it make sense therefore that a metaphor claiming 'lifelong' is made of gold or diamonds that last a lifetime and not threads, which don't?” (Additionally), with cultural narratives changing and also evolving, the velocity of adoption has increased. Today, from kale juice to almond milk and meatless meat to eco-friendly rakhis, we have a wide range of choice because we are in the choice economy. Rakhi, therefore, is less religious and more about 'grammable' moments on Instagram.” 

Mia by Tanishq Business Head Shyamala Ramanan further shares, “While our sister brands have been in the precious metal rakhi business for quite some time, we entered the domain just last year after getting insights from our women consumers. They were wanting a more design-led and long-lasting rakhi for their brothers and sisters. So, we launched designs that could be worn both as a bracelet and a pendant and it became quite a big success for us. This time, we have made the designs more new-age and relatable. And the response is phenomenal and definitely better than last year. And on top of that, these pieces are sustainable and better for the environment.” 

Mondelez India Vice President – Marketing Anil Viswanathan, who launched the bluetooth-enabled rakhi just a few days ago, adds, “Over the years, Mondelez India has been an intrinsic part of the festive celebrations and has always focused on creating shared moments of happiness and joy. While Raksha Bandhan marks the beginning of the festive season, as the preferred gifting partner we wanted to offer something extra special this year. This year’s #ConnectedRakhi campaign is backed by the insight that as one grows up, life trumps over spending quality time with loved ones. To change this behaviour and help siblings make good on the promise of spending the day together, we decided to launch the bluetooth-enabled #ConnectedRakhi. This is yet another tech-first approach to engage our consumers without losing the core emotion of a unique sibling bond.” 

Sustainable rakhi – The demand churner

While big brands like Cadbury are breaking into the space now, the space is largely dominated by offline stores and digital shops selling customised rakhis. Brands like Oye Happy, Gulmeher, Sachii, 21Fools, Phool, etc are all selling various modern designs of rakhi, that can be customised and reused as well. Sustainability has become a leading narrative for these brands. 

DDB Mudra Senior Strategy Director Sanchari Chakrabarty ëxplains, “People care about making a statement about their approach to life. The choices we make in fashion, food, life all indicate the kind of person we are. Today, festivals are also events where conscious choices showcase our unique approach – so when we choose to buy a sustainable rakhi, we’re essentially saying to the world that I stand true to my ethics – every single day. Or when we give a customised rakhi, we’re showing the effort we’ve taken to express our love for our sibling. People are increasingly understanding that everyday gestures have an impact and this belief is reflected in how they engage with festivals as well.” 

Anurag Kashyap, a social entrepreneur and mentor at Gulmeher – a sustainable brand shop, adds, “People are getting conscious about what they are buying. And our core consumer group has been purchasing our sustainable rakhi for a long time now. But this year, we definitely saw more orders pouring in from new consumers.”

What’s the marketing style

While Cadbury, obviously, is using an omni-channel approach to promote their newly launched rakhis, brands typically rely on a more digital-first approach to promote their rakhis. 

FoxyMoron (Zoo Media) National Strategy Director Nakul Dutt elaborates, “Marketing spending is always a function of sales and the seasonality of the product in question. For jewellery brands, rakhi is often seen as a tactical & seasonal activity contributing to a small percentage of overall sales. Hence the spending is often directed towards a very targeted group, and so mass visibility of campaigns is not experienced. Siblings often want to make the occasion special for each other. Apart from customization and personalization, unique gifts like plantable, eco-friendly, hand-crafted rakhis etc add a touch of memorability and wow to the entire festival. Since the audience in consideration are digital natives, the choice of the media mix is a reflection of that. Combined with the fact that most brands offering such unique products or experiences are either start-ups or new line extensions, the measurability of the ad spending also becomes a key factor. Having said that, the trend is upwards and promising, unique gifts for sister/brother queries have seen a growth of over 200% in the last 5 years!”

Shyamala Ramanan says, “Since our TG is primarily young, millennials, Gen Zs, and alphas, we promote our rakhis on digital platforms primarily.”

Anurag Kashyap adds, “Digital marketing has been a constant in all our promotional endeavours and the same is for rakhi. We went more aggressive this year using platforms like Instagram and Facebook. We are also running our ads on these platforms. There are some activities that we do with our channel partners and a few physical stores that sell our products. One interesting trend that is on rise is aggregator sellers. These people take products from various different sellers and sell on their own websites/profiles. They are more aggressive on social media marketing and bringing in a lot of new customers.”

What’s ahead for rakhi threads

The space will continue to evolve and has the potential to get more organised in the coming years, the industry experts say. 

Ambarish Ray quips, “”This year, we have cumulatively spent a few crores in production, media, influencers activity and programmes across engagement and awareness. I only see this increasing in the coming years.”

Shyamala Ramanan concludes, “Obviously, there is a huge headroom for growth in the space and as more & more established brands enter the space, we will see the market evolving further. However, it is primarily led by digital-first smaller businesses right now. And at the end of it, the festival is all about love and affection. Whatever fuels that more is a welcome move. The world definitely needs a lot more love!”