In addition to the races on the Tonle Sap river over the previous three days, another, larger and, in some ways more visible, competition took place in Phnom Penh parks.
The Water Festival may be the largest festival in the country, but for companies it offers an unprecedented opportunity for marketing to the whole country. Companies said yesterday they had seen an increase in promotional booths in the last several years.
On a visit to the Phnom Penh riverside yesterday, it was nearly impossible to ignore the corridors of hundreds of booths replete with speakers emitting a cacophony of sales pitches about soaps, drinks, condoms, makeup, motorcycle parts, mobile telephones, fortified wines–just about everything.
“For most of the companies it’s the really, really big time for the marketing to reach to the consumers from the provinces, to reach beyond the Phnom Penh people,” said Chea Socheath, activations director for the marketing firm River Orchid Cambodia. Activation is the word used by marketing companies for the booths.
Though municipal officials could not be reached to assess the number of booths allowed in the city, Mr Socheath said he has seen an uptick in booths which once only reached Hun Sen Park, Wat Botum Park and the Night Market but in the last several years has extended to front of NagaWorld and then this year stretched to the park in front of the National Museum and Koh Pich island.
He noted while the booths’ sponsorships pay for concerts and other entertainment, the loudness of some booths began to intensify in the last few years and more controls were needed.
“Everybody’s trying to buy a louder sound system and trying to be the loudest,” he said.
Still some companies said the increase in booths has also spread the amount of money that visitors spend thin, and sales have decreased despite a recovering economy.
Nov Sam An, a stock manager for Duro Motorcycle, said he has seen a 10 to 20 percent drop in sales of tires that his company sells since last year.
Even so, he said, “People who come the provinces will remember our products.”
Kira Tarnavskaya, head of marketing for the mobile telephone service provider Beeline, said many of the millions of Cambodians who visit from the provinces had scant access to television and the Water Festival was a must for telecommunications companies competing with each other.
She said the prominence of the booths is fueled by their effectiveness and Beeline now has six booths this year.
“If there was no demand, what would be the reason to put them in place?” she said.
Suon Sokunthear, a sales manager at Revlon make-up’s booths, acknowledged that her booth was playing music loudly.
“This loud music really disturbs some but we definitely cannot go without this music because it attracts visitors,” she said. “It’s popular among some people.”