When I first saw a little boy fight a puddle to calm his younger sister down and in the process, get dirty from head to toe, I was mesmerised. Here was a washing powder brand, talking about ‘daag’ and not once was there a mention of ‘chamakti safedi’ or its effectiveness against ‘ziddi mael’. It was all about why some stains were worth it. I found the fact that a detergent brand would actually hail stains rather radical back then, but of course the same brand would then go on to tackle the topic of patriarchy by addressing gender stereotypes.
Today, it is not very unusual to find brands taking up a social issue and trying to champion the same. Everybody today wants to talk about a higher purpose and put forth their two bits. While, it is true that in a country as culturally, socially and geographically diverse as India, there is no dearth of problems to ponder on. However, not every brand succeeds at making a mark through a social cause.
The recent ad by Ferns and Petals is an example of a brand missing the point completely. The Rakshabandhan special ad about a Hindu girl tying Rakhi to a Muslim boy not only seems forced but the brand connect is totally missing.
But it is also true that many have succeeded spectacularly and garnered appreciation and love from everywhere. So, what is it that worked for a select few and did not for the others?
Brands can’t wake up one day and decide the social issue that they want to take up and be the flag bearers.
Similarly, it wouldn’t be very prudent for a brand to enter the market saying that they stand for a particular cause when the consumers don’t even know who they are in the first place.
Marketing a brand comes in stages. Here, we try to understand these stages and figure out when it would be wise for a brand to ride along a social issue.
Competition and positioning
Even before one goes on to think about communication and its strategies, it is very important to get the basics of marketing right. Today, in every category, there are a thousand brands vying for consumer’s attention and to stand out, one has to scope the competition and plan their strategies accordingly.
“One needs to identify the competitive space first. Once you have done that is when you try and find out how you are going to position your brand in a very unique and different way. That is the first step and once you have identified that, it becomes your unique selling proposition (USP),” said BK Rao, Deputy Marketing Manager, Parle Products.
Once you know the need gap your product will serve, it is then time to construct communication that will get the word out and create awareness.
MG Parameswaran, Brand Strategist, Founder, Brand-Building.com, put it simply and in a rather humble way when he said, “Today, if you stand up and say don’t use drugs nobody is going to listen but if Shah Rukh Khan stood up and said the same, people would take notice.”
The primary function of a brand when it enters the market is to make the consumers aware of its presence. Not only is it necessary to address a need gap, it is also imperative to make sure people know who you are and what is it that you do.
“For a new brand, it is important to talk about the deliverables of the brand. What does it do, where does it fit and what is it that you are offering. It is very important to discover the product truths even before one starts advertising. Once you have the product truths in place then one can go on to creating a communication strategy.”
Marketing isn’t just about advertisements, it is about experiences and building a loyal customer base. While a brand can harp on and on about its USP, it will not amount to much if in the end they fail to fulfil their promises.
“Our branding strategy is really gaining trust. Trust only comes over time and by giving best products and charging the right price. The Amul butter that you are eating now is exactly what people were eating 50 years ago. Many people over the years replace their ingredients with cheaper options to increase profits but we don’t do that. A brand is built more by experience than it is by advertising. Advertising is a very small part of brand building,” said RS Sodhi, GCMMF Managing Director.
So, it is important to get the word out there. It is equally important to act on the same and build trust.
For brands to have a long shelf-life, it is important for them to stay relevant to the consumers. What was true a decade ago might not be the case today.
“Sab TV as a brand hadn’t seen any refurbishment since the time of its launch. Ten years is a long time and therefore, the consumer who was 10 years old, 10 years ago is 20 now and just like people change, a brand also goes through a cycle. With Sab, we had to kind of re-pitch the brand to the consumer in a different way. So, the communication with Varun Dhawan was essentially to convey to the consumer that the brand is now going to be a lot more younger and a lot more vibrant. To cater to the younger audience, we had to re-cast the energy of the channel,” said Neeraj Vyas, Senior EVP and Business Head, Hindi Music Cluster and Hindi Movies Cluster, Sony Pictures Networks India.
So, when is it in a brand’s life span that they can start talking about the larger story, the bigger picture?
“If a brand wants to embrace a social cause in its communication, they can only do it when it reaches a particular stature. You can’t launch a brand by saying you want to save the girl child. Every brand has to go through the basics of brand building. This kind of communication can only be attempted after the brand achieves a particular level of salience,” said Parameswaran.
Ghadi, the detergent brand famous for its ‘Pehle istemal kare, phir vishwaas kare’ slogan, has gone on to talk about ‘maels’ of a different kind in their latest communication.
Speaking about the decision to take up the concept of #SaareMaelDhoDaalo and why it has worked for the brand, Akashneel Dasgupta, Sr VP and Executive Creative Director, ADK Fortune, said, “In more and more product categories today, there is product parity. There is nothing exceptional happening with the product that you can go to town about or talk about. When you achieve this sort of a parity what usually works is some goodwill generation. So, what we are trying to do is reach out to people and talk to them in a certain language. We are trying to give out a message which may not necessarily have anything to do with the brand directly but has a category connect.”
ADK Fortune is also the agency behind the ad for Prega News that talks about making the work place a second home for expecting mothers and Dasgupta feels for a brand to take up such issues they must have reached a certain threshold as far as sales are concerned.
“Prega News is 90 per cent of the category so there is nothing left for us to communicate. Everyone in India knows about Prega News and what it does so we took up this idea of ‘your second home’. When you own the category, it is the responsibility of the leader to take it forward,” concluded Dasgupta.