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Honey for nothing and the buzz for free

Shivaji Dasgupta, Managing Director, Inexgro Brand Advisory, explains how the true gainer of the row is the branded honey industry with a sudden spurt of media noise spurring demand

Shivaji Dasgupta

HoneyGate is the latest scandal to excite corporate and consumer India with purity under the scathing regulatory scanner. What is most interesting is the remarkable synchronisation of problem revelation and brand response, leading to elevated notions of intrigue. In my simplistic view, the true gainer is the branded honey industry, a sudden spurt of media noise spurring the next level of demand, with everybody in it together.

Without even embarking on revealing data, the proactive immunity market is growing rapidly in the post-Covid era and honey is an accomplished actor. A key advantage being its traditional role over centuries, which has been further cemented by new-age applications that are either standalone or value-adding in cuisine. I hail from West Bengal where the Sundarbans forestry is renowned for its high quality produce and the taste of some bespoke versions is definitely superior to the packaged branded stuff. But this is a truth for most natural products as they become scalable brands, the demands of preservation leading to definite but acceptable sensorial losses, but purity remains a very subjective domain.

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In fact, not just for packaging imperatives, it can be definitely argued that purity is today a difficult brief to crack even at the fundamental production level. Pure Calcutta Beckti is available only in a limited geography and so is traditional country chicken — to make both eggs and chicken available to the consuming masses they have to appear on assembly lines. The same is true for farm products, including fruits, juices and vegetables, which come under the chemical scanner, yet everybody who pays a premium for organic stuff knows well that the outcome is often dubious.  Thus the new meaning of purity is an inspired merger of safety and hygiene which has been further accentuated during the times of Covid — many surveys confirm that the mainstream customer expects nothing more from their chosen partners, except perhaps flavour and taste.

This is exactly why I think of it as a purely artificial controversy, orchestrated by the category leaders with the express intent of stirring further demand. Unlike the Maggi speculation, this is an accusation around sub-optimal ingredients and not impurities, so the perceived damage is more insufficiency and less toxicity. We are currently witnessing the power play drama with regulators accusing, media commenting and the brands responding — heightening the levels of interest in honey when it matters the most. Very soon we will see an amicable resolution and all the stakeholders will jointly or individually issue assurances that all is well in the world. Yes, the commercial honey is not as perfect as local honey but it is certainly effective, therapeutic and delightful, so no reason for folks not to enjoy it. In case your pockets are as deep as your insecurities, then feel free to buy the boutique farm versions but then you are an insignificant minority.

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The HoneyGate scandal is a new strain of marketing that can be very potent in these hypercharged social media times, make no mistake. It first exaggerates attention towards a brand or a category through some heightened activation, necessarily controversial but not seriously damaging. Most crucially, it involves multiple stakeholders — in this case media and regulators in cahoots with the branded perpetrators. Thereby engaging and involving customers as if a compelling whodunit with the outcome finally rather positive and in everybody’s best interests. Honey as a category acquires greater awareness, relevance and stickiness while customers make a beeline for offline and online stores alike. This can well be called Double Agent Marketing, a term borrowed from espionage, where key players are serving a master who is not plainly visible.

The beauty of Double Agent Marketing is that it borrows liberally from preconceived notions to amplify an impression — the regulator and brand owners are quite credibly seen to be natural foes. So if they are secretly working in tandem, like the KGB and MI 6 to exterminate Spectre in James Bond movies, the element of surprise is very strong and outcomes far easier to achieve. The latest case of honey is no exception and truthfully, everybody gains in the end as long as the products are safe and sound.

In the world we live in, nothing is 100% pure and neither will be the much-anticipated Covid vaccine. What matters most is the purity of content and intent and if honey makes us relatively healthier, let everybody happily make their money.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of BestMediaInfo.com and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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