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In-depth: When brands become activist

What did Tata Tea earn from its Jaago Re campaign or Mia through its #Bestatwork? Both campaigns did not push the products directly but wrapped them in the social message of empowerment. Do advertisements that prod us to engage in social political issues have better impact than direct ads? BestMediaInfo analyses

In the last few years, quite a few brands have ditched pure commercial advertising that focused on pushing the product and switched to campaigns that send out a bold and clear social message, including everything from acceptance of different sexuality to breaking age-old taboos.

Experts say that though direct advertising is still thriving and jingles do resonate with people but intelligent ads focusing on social issues create better impact for the brand. However, not too many brands have perfected this art.

"Brands have realised that merely selling a product is not enough. They have to develop unique relationships with their audience," said an advertising expert.

Santosh Padhi

Santosh Padhi, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Taproot Dentsu, India, said, “Anything becomes a trend when the society accepts it; as more and more people are accepting this format of advertising, more brands are doing it. Advertising is nothing but a reflection of society. What consumers like is what I will put on my table. Consumers are becoming more emotional and very rational-driven unless there’s something new in the product," he said.

"You cannot be telling consumers that this is what a detergent does; kapde dhota hai, safedi lata hai, I am done. As a consumer, I am well-literate that this is what a soap is supposed to do, so why tell the cliché again? But if you come up with something new and innovative, you have to start with a demonstration,” he added.

According to a research study by Unilever conducted in the regions of the US, 33% of the consumers chose brands with a social message.

Ajay Menon, EVP, Brand David, explaining the rise in this numbers, said, “Increasingly, people don’t just buy products; they equally buy what the brand stands for. Purpose works the best when consumers are able to see how the product ties back to the brand image. There is no denying that the kind of brand you are says a lot about the kind of product you will make.”

The campaigns nowadays are without a mascot, with less focus on the product, and more about the consumer or in other words, purpose-driven. In this ever-increasing competition, it is difficult to position your brand and convince the god-consumer. In order to make a little home in consumers’ mind, touching their heart is the way to begin.

Explaining why social messages can do wonders for a brand, Harish Bijoor, brand expert and Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., said, “A social message offers positive strokes to the brand messaging. And positive strokes are soft cues to buy or franchise.”

So if ads are made a reflection of the consumer’s current situation that evokes a positive feeling, what are the chances of them not buying that product? Zilch, right?

What's fuelling the brand activism trend?

India, with second largest Internet user base in the world and 40% of the population under the age of 20, wakes up by checking Facebook and uploading tea-pictures on Snapchat. This booming population constantly criticises the government for any injustice towards the society; they like to feel that they are a part of something big, trendy, and important.

“It’s the mindset that you are targeting, not the platform. Medium is not the key, the mindset is – because we have become more global and sensitised, and we care about global issues and the awareness is at peak. The mindset is that we want to do something good,” adds Padhi.

While Padhi thinks that the age has little to do with the campaign and the mindset plays a game, Sridhar believes that growing youth is partly a reason behind this social-shift.

K V Sridhar

K V Sridhar, Founder, and Chief Creative Officer, Hyper Collective, said, “Unlike the older generation, the younger generation wants to be an active participant in the society, not a silent spectator and they want their voice to be heard. You can follow celebrities or politicians, enjoy their company or admire them, but you cannot model your life after them. And, therefore, brands have got this opportunity to become the leader in the society and provide thought-leadership to unions and individuals so that they can rally around them.”

Social campaigns as a part of CSR?

All corporate giants are mandated to spend some amount on CSR. However, brands still choose to keep their CSR and communication strategies diverse. And now that we see more social advertising, brands are marrying up the two.

Rohit Raj

Rohit Raj, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Glitch, believes, “We are already spending a small minuscule number on CSR, maybe I have to include the larger number and by making that a part of my brand campaign or communication. So instead of contributing Re one, I am contributing Rs 10. So instead of diluting, we are amplifying the impact of our communication. If brands are actually working towards a certain change and there’s relativity, that’s the target that the brands should go for. We are all arm-chair activists. This trend is arising from the fact that we are arm-chair activists. You and I will not go out and rally, but you want me to like something on Facebook or share something, I would happily do that. But by buying a product, if I am contributing to something, I would turn around and say, why not!”

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