The Marketing and Advertising communities have come under considerable fire for their limited role in spreading awareness and mobilising resources during the corona crisis. In recent times two rather divergent examples of coming to the party, albeit late, deserve our attention and analysis. Nestle’s act in ensuring that every logo in the packaging of its key brands, including Maggi, bears a blue mask while Fogg insists through a much-publicised communication that we should limit our outdoor activities for a little longer.
Now firstly, I do not quite agree with the folks who believe that brands have not done enough to be a positive agent of change during the pandemic. These are indeed the toughest times for doing business and it is inevitable that every available marketing rupee was allotted for manufacturing and distribution, to ensure easy reach at the right price points. In fact this was a great service by itself in the quest to ensure consumption normalcy, for that was a key variable in societal equilibrium when we were locked in for months. Many companies rose manfully to the occasion and armed by new-age delivery conduits, managed to keep our refrigerators full and supply chains fluid, across categories. So, in this context, they can be excused for not indulging in social awareness messaging, given the climate of constraint.
In my worldview, the approach of Fogg is deeply impressive and the brand deserves not just saliency but brownie points as well. For a category which thrives on physical socialisation, it is totally counter-intuitive and seemingly unbusinesslike to promote staying at home, for that may naturally impact short term sales. It is the equivalent of a Taj Group urging its customers to postpone their holidays till a WHO all-clear signal or a liquor range insisting that consumption must be further moderated as outdoor exercise is much reduced or perhaps, a Netflix urging binge restraint as eyes can be affected by too many online meetings. By the way, all these three scenarios are potentially true as is the dissonance in Fogg’s messaging — seemingly contrarian to the P&L but actually an act of great maturity, leading to greater brand love. The advertising is well crafted as well and Fogg certainly rises many notches in intelligent self-esteem.
On Nestle though, I am not entirely certain about the efficacy of the thinking as it comes across as rather gimmicky and demonstrative, without being truly inspirational. Now look, we all know that the pandemic is very serious business and far too many of us have lost too many folks we adored — friends, family or colleagues. Therefore, brands that wish to generate awareness must do so both sensitively and provocatively, in a manner that compels us to act without appearing to be opportunistic. Thus, creating a visual device that attracts greater attention surely qualifies as clever shelf marketing thinking but it certainly scores less impressively in terms of responsible societal citizenry. On an aligned note, this will certainly raise eyeballs but imagining this to be a generator of mass mask adoption is definitely unreal. Most interestingly, this activity coincides with a campaign to detect counterfeit Maggi and begs the question whether the masked SKUs are further confusing the authenticity pitch.
On a continuum of influence, the two brands actually are at two extremes and this does lead to juicy interpretations for others who wish to follow suit. The finest form of socially responsible conduct is to put the well-being of customers above the well-being of selfish objectives and this is not bad business practice as well. As those who consume deodorants will be favourably inclined for one more good reason and not just the elimination of gas. When the time comes to step out, there ought to be a preference for Fogg, especially amongst non-users as we have noted this behaviour change during the pandemic, as even ardent loyalists gave up their favourites when not available and substitutes quickly became permanent choices. Brands that fit into this formula may do well to consider this approach for it is rather smart as well, and I do mean all sectors that merit physical interactions, including fashion and apparel. For the seventy per cent of Indians not affected financially by the pandemic, there is a surplus reserve of savings waiting to be unleashed at the earliest available opportunity, as long as the suitor is sensible and sensitive.
On Nestle though, I do think that a lot more could have been done, especially considering the relevance of so many portfolio brands in an enhanced home stay scenario. They seem to have missed a trick by choosing catchy demonstration over caring intent when the latter is clearly a key ingredient of the corporate DNA. However it does take two to Tango and as a keen observer of brand content, the comparison is too attractive to resist a word or two.
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