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How brands can go back to usual advertising tones without sounding insensitive

In the last one year, brands have either paused their product-related campaigns or kept Covid-19 as the theme of every ad. But isn’t this the right time for brands to not be entirely engulfed by the current situation and talk about their product story as well? BestMediaInfo asks experts to dig deep into the matter

The Covid-19 pandemic has not only altered brands’ choice of mediums to reach out to people but also the tone, themes and subjects they use. Mostly trying to keep it related to Covid, brands seem to have been walking a tightrope with a fear to not be perceived as insensitive.

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When recently Cred started with a different fun and entertaining theme in its ads, the audiences were quick to criticise it and even urged the brand to pause its entertaining advertising.

Dealing with plenty of other issues in a struggling economy, while brands surely are not into the biz of charity, overwhelmed consumers may have a long memory of how those companies make them feel in such moments. At the same time, brands also need to establish themselves as a differentiator in the market.

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But how ready are brands to explore their usual advertising tactics so that they do not get lost in the crowd and still remain sensitive to the current situation?

MVS Murthy

“Every brand is almost like a living entity. Stumbling into it, trying it, the way you feel about it, and your growing engagement makes you want to build affinity. You can not have a wedding band at a demise ceremony. So one does not need to be engulfed with the current situation as it is not the brand’s making. The brand is seeking as much redemption as is the audience. It will be very crude to be out of touch when the situation demands you to be sombre as you go about your business. Brands that are core to the pandemic, like say a pharmaceutical company, or a hospital, will have an overlay in the totality of the pandemic. The rest of us can be on lute if not on mute,” said MVS Murthy, Head, Marketing & Digital, Tata Asset Management.

We are living in very soft and sensitive times and brands need to balance “care” and “cavalier”. At the same time, they don’t need to bat away from their bodies and throw the wood at everything that is flying, including the ball, he added.

“If you are choosing to run a campaign for your product at any point in time, it is only because there is a product market and moment fit. These can be moments of joy, despair or BAU – business as usual. That’s how one would approach marketing. Besides, the spends will also be a function of the availability of regular, surplus or curtailed budgets – this too is linked to the overall situation. If you are a large brand not just in spends but in stature, it is expected that one would lend a voice and support protection as well as recovery from a crisis of a lifetime. To that extent, the product story and the cause story will both play out. Our communication does talk of care and encourages vaccination,” he added.

In the times of social media, brands are always under scrutiny. These are sensitive times and there can be social media boycotts and backlashes for brands with controversial messages without being recipients of present situations or emotions.

Joy Chatterjee

Hence, Joy Chatterjee, General Manager, Sales and Marketing, Mankind Pharma, said one has to advertise carefully, and should be compassionate and empathetic to the situation.

“There are only four-five universal emotions — hate, love, anger, surprise, happiness. If used creatively by brands in their communication, one will always get a positive response, even in difficult situations. We as a brand have made sure to advertise what is relevant to our customers and share about product benefits in a clear method,” he said.

Smita Murarka

Social media is still a place for people looking for content that can aid and help them get through these tough times. “We are dealing with a national crisis, but it is also a personal crisis for many. They are less interested in brands pushing their products tactically but are much more receptive to brands understanding their needs and offering solutions that can help them right now,” said Smita Murarka, Vice-President, Marketing and E-commerce, Duroflex.

“Empathy is a virtue for a brand, it is not an imposition. It is not only about empathising with the situation but also giving time and space to everyone around to deal with these unprecedented times. Having said that, if your brand or product is relevant from a stay at home perspective, pass on the information so that anyone in need can seek you out. If it’s not then slow down, or focus on areas whereas a brand you can help – partner with relevant brands/organisations and build. Absent for too long also means you don’t care. A connection with consumers is always a relevant parameter for the content you put out,” she added.

While Mankind has paused some of the campaigns it feels isn’t the right time to do, Chatterjee said, “Times are such where brands have to show compassion and empathy to unprecedented situations. Riding on trends is important but it's always for short-term benefit. We always try to explore different opportunities/ occasions to communicate about their benefits keeping the core message universal.”

Duroflex too withdrew from all IPL-related moment marketing this season before it was called off and directed brand communications to help followers with Covid related information.

Murarka said the relevance of the content and its timing is of key importance to build any brand connection and communication. This is truer today than ever. If a brand does not understand the sensitivities and mindset of the situation and act accordingly, not only the current piece that is being put out, but the brand itself is also in danger of becoming irrelevant. More than that, in unprecedented situations, brands must understand the needs of the people and use their platform to help them.

Murthy pointed out how every brand is eventually crafted by human minds and all of them are aware of the morosity of the current situation. And this is not restricting brands from exploring any themes.

“If your communication is going to be outrageous and insensitive, the brand will be shouted down. There is no reason to fear, you need to have the humility to understand the needs of the ecosystem. The elements of which – factories, logistics partners, wholesalers, retailers, influencers, buyers, and ultimately users — are all going through an unfathomable emotional upheaval. If that understanding is clear then will you never produce a theme that you feel is ‘wrongly restricted’ and/or, live in fear of an adverse reaction? If the communication nauseates you, then rest assured it will magnify the creation of ill-will. The answer is within the brand and its owners and the reactions are outside,” he added.

Experts suggested that a brand's responsibility is to stay true to its relevant differentiation and product benefits, especially in these circumstances.

Referring to its recent campaign, ‘Khud Pe Vishwaas Hai Sab Se Badi Investment’, Murthy said that when one zooms out, the quality of the narrative or one’s story is what connects with the consumers.

“This campaign’s theme is not only in-your-face optimism, but talks about the confidence in difficult times that has received extremely well by our channel partners, investors, and the overall audience. Positive feedback has been pouring in, brand searches are up and the business on our digital assets has grown month on month and y-o-y too. So clearly, if I have nothing to contribute in terms of pandemic messaging, the audience respects the brand’s desire to stick to speak on its area of expertise in a manner that is signature speak,” he said.

Advertisers said that brands are in business because they found a need they could address and that’s the question to be answered.

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