For years now, both brand leaders and agency professionals have not only built but also echoed the thought process that in order to ensure a brand’s long and healthy lifecycle it is important that its ads and products alike should hold relevance in the consumers’ lives.
As an attempt to gain the eyeballs of discerning audiences and break free from the clutter, marketers and advertisers often come up with ad campaigns that aim to capture the consumers’ pulse by riding on the bandwagon of sustainability quotient, woke-ism, environmental benefits, or addressing societal stereotypes.
Keeping pace with this, BestMediaInfo.com spoke to industry players to understand some of the factors that influence brands to come up with such ads in the current times increasingly and whether the consumers look forward to and are open to such creatives.
As per Abhik Santara, Director and CEO, ^ atom and Founding Partner, by The Network, ^atom Network, conversations around sustainability, stereotypes, diversity, etc. are a safe refuge for brands which are weak at their core, lack product innovations or are fighting in a highly commoditised category (undifferentiated).
“We are misled into thinking that consumers are gravitating towards brands which are sustainable, but they are not. It is good to have, but barring a very niche segment, no one is really paying a premium. Also, consumers can see through fake stuff quite easily. Unless you are Patagonia and your value drives your existence, displaying a few logos at the bottom of your pack shot doesn’t really swing purchase decisions in your favour,” he said.
On the other hand, Titus Upputuru, Founder, The Titus Upputuru Company, shared the opinion that while he can’t speak for everyone, he does believe that brands need to be relevant with the times and it is fantastic that brands are part of these conversations today.
“As a brand, you can't just pop up at the front door and start selling the products. You will get slammed. Most consumers switch off the moment you start selling or marketing. Great brands are never transactional. Great brands create culture. These are great times,” he stated.
He also pointed out that even though diversity, inclusion etc. make powerful statements in the board rooms, advertising and marketing circles- he has no data to conclude that any of it drives much emotional affinity with the end consumers and that they are just advertising opportunities, in the absence of anything substantial, and that is the truth.
“It is the collective responsibility of brand and agency teams to question the impact of such communication unless any one of those values is at the core of the brand, product or the company and runs through the entire value chain,” he emphasised.
Kushal Sanghvi, Head- India and Southeast Asia, CitrusAd, emphasised that one must realise that the pandemic has indeed impacted all human beings in multiple ways - including becoming more humane in their approach towards people.
In his view, it is because of the same that brands are finding ways and means to reach out to the humanity of the people which wasn’t there as much as it is today. The use of emotional connections and roots such as culture and traditions, youth issues, environmental protection, etc. is what brands aim to explore in order to relate with the consumers.
“While in some cases that strategy is seeming to work, there have been cases where some brands and content companies have created a force fit for certain subjects or causes which are not relevant to them and the industry they operate in, but simply because these discussions often trend on social media platforms and that’s where the problem lies,” he stated.
He then also went on to add that consumers today are smart and are able to realise when and where the brand messaging seems truthful and honest and where it seems disjunct. In fact, it is not possible for every brand to play or address concepts such as woke-ism, sustainability, inclusivity, moment marketing, etc.
“It is all about who is your target consumer and who is the particular brand message going out to because there are so many different ways to reach out to them in today’s day and age. In fact, what messaging might work for an individual at 11 am and the other at 7 pm are two different things because at both times, one can easily be in two different states of mind, mood, time and space, etc. and hence the reactions to any particular ad could be very different,” he said.
Similarly, Yousuf Rangoonwala, Founder and Head of Strategy, Kakkoii Brand Strategy and Communications, also shared the notion that one need not worry about something backfiring because at the end of the day, advertising is a creative arena and as creative people it is one’s job to be progressive because one cannot simply be in the ad business if they’re conservative.
“You have to be a progressive person because the entire notion of creativity is based on the world of questioning, albeit norms, regressive thinking, old-fashioned practices, etc. because that’s how creativity enables change of behaviour and thinking and pushes the human minds. Therefore it’s totally fair that ads talk about the same and it’s a very welcome change,” he stated.
With this, he also pointed out that the bizarre thing going on here is that in online advertising the notion of being over-woke is taking over authenticity. Hence, brands should also keep in mind that they don’t need to be liberal or progressive just for the sake of it and should instead do something about what they actually talk about in their ads, as that is the bigger requirement.
In fact, most recently, there have been several instances wherein brands have struck a discordant nerve with the public on social media platforms for their woke advertising, breaking stereotypes, promoting sustainability, onboarding new brand ambassadors, celebrating the exact opposite of what the product claims (eg- dusky or perceived imperfect skin for face cream ads), etc.
Upputuru shared the notion that there have been less than a handful of ads that have been pulled off, however, brands should be responsible when putting anything out there.
“They say an editor’s job is the toughest. It’s easy to speak, and say, whatever comes to one’s mind. But editing is important. Filtering what comes out of our minds, as a thought, as an idea, is important. But at the same time, we must not be fearful because brands that operate out of fear never really make a mark,” he opined.
As per Sanghvi, consumers are today fed with too much messaging and communication across mediums and platforms and since there is a huge overload, there will be certain customers who will always have a negative viewpoint and vent out while some are neutral and some praise the same. He said brands do realise that they will never be able to please everyone and have a positive sentiment from all.
“In some cases, brands resort to voicing a change because they naturally speak that language and it is in tandem with their thinking. But for most of the others, it is only about being with it and riding the wave as not every brand until a decade back had a voice on climate change, solar energy, etc. and therefore, when such brands resort to including that in their communications, it is only to make people feel good and speak well about them and get earned media,” he said.
Santara also highlighted that many brands and agency teams are happily creating work which gets popular in advertising and marketing cliques alone as the industry, unapologetically, is filled with perpetrators of such temptations.
“It is not that we are ignorant of consumer behaviours, we tend to turn a blind eye to our vested interests. And it is not the problem with agencies alone, brand teams are happily approving such ideas as they are cheap to execute, easy to implement and costs very little money to deploy in media. And if those can win a few metals in award shows, then it becomes a good tick mark during appraisals,” he said.
Sharing his opinion on the same, Rangoonwala also pointed out that it also depends on the brand and its audience, because if any particular brand’s target audience is progressive and is from the metros, then one ought to go with that narrative but if the audiences are in small towns, then one is likely to resort to an existing or slightly old or conservative narrative.
“But even with those audiences, one cannot encourage regressive thinking. And even though concepts in the likes of sustainability amongst others are merely jargons, but to care about the environment can be communicated to a lot of people, in different yet relevant ways,” he stated.
Moreover, he also clarified that it is not true that progressive narrative will not work with rural audiences, but rather it should be presented in a certain way that doesn’t promote or bank on tokenism.