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Guest Article: Monish Ghatalia: The Art of Responsible Advocacy for Brands

By Monish Ghatalia , Focus Group, Mumbai | In Advertising | February 27, 2014
According to research done by the Boston Consulting Group, there will be 134 million children online in India by 2017. Is it about time brands relooked their communication strategy to ensure they put purpose ahead of pester power?

While rushing out of work the other day, I happened to see the recent bill board by British Airways, where the child starts walking as soon as a British Airways flight passes by, sharing the actual flight number and destination. For the 10 minutes I was in front of the bill board, I was zapped, wondering about the growth of our industry over the years. A pertinent question that came to my mind was - what makes some brands stand out from the pack year after year?

Monish Ghatalia

In a vast marketplace glutted with countless "pretty good brands," how are some products able to command an unquestionable customer loyalty and lasting enthusiasm? The answer is simple; these brands have successfully translated their passion, zeal and enthusiasm to their customers by simply communicating that 'We Care'. They have gone beyond business to understand and connect with their audience at an attitudinal level. They have taken the effort to create a persona that would match the expectation and a perception of the audience.

Brands have realised that in order to connect with the audience they need to fulfil the innate needs that a consumer has from a brand. Thus it becomes important for brands like Colgate to be trustworthy, Godrej to translate safety through its products and Johnson and Johnson to exuberate sensitivity and responsibility towards a baby. Over the years, while brands have, through various ways, communicated the need to be an inseparable part of a consumer's life, they have to now create a bond with the audience by being more purposeful. It is integral that brands have a thought and purpose beyond business to connect and communicate to their core audience.

Advertising has a lasting impact on the impressionable minds of kids, which makes it even more integral for brands to ensure that children are brought up in a way that respects and develops them. Advertising has a responsibility. It can create positive imagery but also can create negative imagery. The international campaign by Unilever's Dove personal care brand which says, 'Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does' sums it all. Dove has created a short film showcasing how young girls are bombarded by advertising promoting a stereotypical vision of the perfect woman. The film, Onslaught, is a powerful and disturbing illustration of how young women will go to any lengths to get the 'right look' ranging from bulimia to plastic surgery.

It clearly states the vulnerability of children to advertising and explains why a new set of Children's Rights and Business Principles, created by UNICEF, Save the Children and the United Nations Global Compact, urges businesses to use marketing and advertising responsibly. The principles say that companies need to recognise children's greater susceptibility to manipulation and unrealistic stereotypes.

Advertising has a powerful influence on the way we live our lives. Brands in India too are waking up to the concept of responsible advertising, especially kids' brands that know that if mums feel it is an inappropriate brand, it wouldn't go in their shopping baskets. The recent hand wash campaign by Unilever's Lifebuoy is the first step in that direction. Wall Street Journal, among many publications tracking children's health in India, pointed out that of the 1.7 million child deaths occurring in India annually, diarrhoea alone killed 13 per cent of the children under the age of five. Simple preventive measures, however, could make a huge difference. Taking a cue from this research, Lifebuoy recognised its role in bringing about a change in the scenario. It ramped up its hand washing campaign by introducing the "Help a Child Reach 5" initiative in India.

This campaign clearly portrayed the brand's concern and responsibility towards its audience. This did not end here; the initiative was integrated to the level of product development where Lifebuoy created a range of colour changing hand wash, thus making the entire exercise a fun activity for kids. Mothers in India and across the world can blindly trust Lifebuoy as a product because they know the brand manager has kept her child's needs in mind while creating it. Other memorable initiatives by Indian brands in this direction include Parle's Future Genius Campaign and Happy Dent's NGO for cleft lips.

Brands need to portray a sense of responsibility in all their activities ranging from product development, campaign design, right up to brand partnerships and norms designed to approach their target audience. Seven years ago, Unilever voluntarily stopped all marketing communications directed primarily at children under the age of six years because it recognised that this age group does not have the cognitive ability to distinguish between advertising/marketing and programming.

Two years later, this was extended to restrict marketing to children between the ages of six and 11 for all food and drink products except those that meet the organisation's nutrition criteria. It also banned the use of cartoon characters and celebrities on packaging, labelling and point-of-sale materials.

Social media and the World Wide Web is an amazing tool that can enable brands to communicate to kids and parents alike but again, they need to carefully sieve and select the channels that translate their ethos of responsibility.

The dynamics of the game are changing; according to a research carried out by Boston Consulting Group, there will be 134 million children online in India by 2017. It is time brands did a quick rethink on their communication strategy to ensure they are purposefully engaging with children online and not taking the easier route of advertisements that would lead to pester power and create unnecessary stress for parents.

It would be interesting to wait and watch out for the innovative campaigns that brands can devise by using the power and reach of social media. All said and done, the key is to maintain brand trust while creating brand loyalists for future.

(The author is the founder of Worldoo.com, a kid's platform from the Focus Group, which works towards bridging the communication gap between kids and brands).

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