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Is tokenism the latest variant of Dairy Milk?

The Managing Director of Inexgro Brand Advisory opines that responsible brand owners must stay away from tokenism and instead focus on genuine measurable interventions, whatever be the cause

Shivaji Dasgupta

Truthfully I do not have an opinion on the piece of Dairy Milk advertising that is currently capturing conversations, from a creative perspective. It is obviously finely crafted and blessed with both continuity and change,with respect to the blockbuster original. But I do believe that the biggest enemy of any genuine cause is structured tokenism, and unhappily the parent company has done it yet again, after the multi coloured chocolate bar.

On this advertisement, I did speak to lady friends who are mainstreamers and the larger consensus was clear that awareness of equality is a serious subject and frivolous representations make for good copy but no genuine impact. Quite an encore of the response I received when debating the multi-racial bar a few years back, which came under scathing scrutiny across the globe. At large, the aware urban audiences see through the ruse and truthfully men have been cheering the performances of ladies for many decades now, whether PT Usha or the neighbourhood aunty in a dosa competition. The exceptions to this rule were highlighted in the Sridevi movie English Vinglish when even a deeply prejudiced husband was sufficiently moved to cheer relentlessly.

My other clear view about tokenism is that such actions upset even the men who are genuinely respectful about lady colleagues and peers, as it is truthfully an insult to everybody’s intelligence. Women in urban spheres and now increasingly cross country have broken many barriers in India and the journey is progressing rapidly, so what the movement expects from brands is truthful empathy and not anecdotal accolades. So, if the company would be comfortable with sourcing from lady suppliers, committing a chunk of recruitment to ladies, indulge in valuable CSR in this sphere, incubate women entrepreneurs and allied activities, then the contribution to the cause would be meaningful. Then, nobody would mind an evocative campaign around these acts, from the perspective of tomtomming the brand virtues.

But then the business is tough and even chocolates must be suffering from the gifting perspective and we need every creative breakthrough to bring back customer attention. So, I am certain that at appropriate forums, this idea would have been selected as the best strategy in a difficult period, unprecedented in every sense. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this in any sense, as it is indeed ethical and compelling, but the pitch gets queered when it gets projected as cause advertising, for that is unfair mileage. As a creative extension of an award-winning idea, it makes tons of sense but let's leave it at that and wish it luck for the ceremonies to follow and may business also react favourably. But honestly, it is an insult to the progressive ladies in the country if we seriously believe that society will be tickled to have a change in attitude and intent after this ad gets aired.

The parent company faced a similar issue with the multi-racial chocolate bar, more so abroad than India, as such a sensitive subject was handled with alarming casualness. In many ways, this kind of anecdotal exhibitionism is old-world brand thinking, unlike the present day where cognisable actions are necessary to impress the customers. Or if it's pure-play advertising then it must be linked to societal courage, like the continuous decisions of Nike to hire controversial brand ambassadors, like Colin Kaepernick. This led to major reactions amongst the white audiences but eventually, parity was restored by the overwhelming empathy amongst the minorities.

In sum, responsible brand owners must stay away from tokenism and instead focus on genuine measurable interventions, whatever be the cause. We saw this most recently in the Covid crisis when some organisations offered lifetime assistance to the families of victims, from education to employment. On Dairy Milk though, I think it is a first-class chocolate and will continue to enjoy it, whoever may be applauding.

(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 and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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