Will Indian brands ever take a stand against real social evils?

Will Indian brands ever take a stand against real social evils?

When the government announces the budget, all brands line-up to offer their opinions and not surprisingly 90% of the opinion will be towards praising the budget. When a new policy is announced, most quotes in almost all industry stories will be pro policy. We as public relations practitioners would rarely advise a client to quote anything that would create controversy. Play safe is what we have learnt and also practice, but do we as communicators agree with what we preach?

We all are aware that the new generation would outcast the brands which they feel does not align to their thought process, which does not believe in ethical and sustainable practices.

Here we are not talking about being opportunistic or moment marketing or for that matter even cause marketing. We are talking about brands aligning themselves with a purpose, to bring a real change in the society, to fight a social evil.

Most consumer surveys point out that, consumers expect brands to take a stand against social evils. Not just superficially by posting on social media or running an ad in a newspaper but taking a moral position. A moral position is not the same as cause marketing and it cannot come from the marketing or PR teams, but the CEO or the management team.

In most developed countries brands are now becoming conscious about the call of being purpose-led. The recent incident in the US, triggered by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer has led to a mass uprising to show support for the #BlackLivesMatters movement.

Many brands stepped ahead and showed genuine support to the movement even at a cost of taking a hit on their bottom lines. Some notable examples are:

Nike: The brand turned their famous tagline, ‘just do it!’ upside down and reworded it through a video message, ‘for once, don’t do it’. A brand like Nike has been leading the movement from the front. In 2018, they chose Colin Kaepernick as the face of ‘Just Do it!’ brand campaign, which resulted in protests in some pockets but they also recorded $163 million in earned media, $6 billion brand value increment and 31% growth in sales.

Viacom: went dark for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time the police officer had his knee on George Floyd’s neck. One of their channel Nickelodean drew criticism from parents, saying it unnerved their children. The brand responded saying, “Unfortunately, some kids live in fear every day. It’s our job to use our platform to make sure their voices are heard and their stories are told.”

Even many Indian brands and celebrities tweeted in support of the movement, but interestingly when it comes to issues that are plaguing India and Indians, brands choose to play mute. Best of corporate communicators, marketers or large corporate groups, don’t even recommend their board to take a stand. Yet, when it comes to awards, you will have a list of campaigns that shows how brands are driving some low hanging causes.

Taking a stand may pose threats to topline and few may even lose some customers, but by not doing so, these large brands of today will have no relevance to the audience of tomorrow.

Now, let’s talk about Hathras rape case, not even a single brand has stood up and condemned the act and asked for stringent policy on women safety. Isn’t the grievous act shameful enough to start a movement #WomenLifeMatters, driven by large corporates, and celebrities? Can a women-centric brand, file a PIL to make the Government responsible for the safety of women? Can brands take up educating masses against racism and evils of caste systems? When will brands stop playing safe and only create campaigns, which Unilever, CEO Alan Jope, calls ‘woke-washing’ as he warns purpose-led brand communications is not just a matter of ‘make them cry, make them buy,’ but it’s about action in the real world  Or only #Awardsmatters?

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