Abid Hussain Barlaskar

"Want to make Savlon accessible to everyone": ITC's Sameer Satpathy on braille-enabled bottles

The initiative was timed to coincide with World Sight Day. A look at the ad films.

Accessibility and the narrative of making lives better for people with disability or the specially-abled, is a continuous process and the smallest of tweaks can bring about significant change. This thought seems to be at the heart of ITC's latest campaign for its liquid antiseptic brand - Savlon. The brand recently introduced new packaging for the product marked with braille, a tactile writing system for people who are visually impaired.

"Want to make Savlon accessible to everyone": ITC's Sameer Satpathy on braille-enabled bottles

Savlon Braille TVC - Knife

The bottles were introduced on the occasion of World Sight Day (October 11) via a couple of TVCs, which involve visually impaired people in two separate scenarios. One involving a woman handling utensils in a kitchen and the other a man getting himself a shave. While the woman gets a cut after touching the wrong end of a knife, the man gets a nick on his cheek. They reach out for the Savlon bottles kept among other bottles of similar dimensions.

"Want to make Savlon accessible to everyone": ITC's Sameer Satpathy on braille-enabled bottles

Savlon Braille TVC - Shaving

How does an FMCG company choose to innovate one particular brand from so many others in its kitty? Especially when the connect needs to be established with the braille-literate visually impaired.

The TVCs have been conceptualised and crafted by Ogilvy India.

So how did it come about?

"Want to make Savlon accessible to everyone": ITC's Sameer Satpathy on braille-enabled bottles

Sameer Satpathy

Sameer Satpathy, chief executive, Personal Care Products Business, ITC says, "ITC as a brand has been committed towards an equitable and inclusive society. On World Sight Day, we partnered with our creative agency, Ogilvy India, to empower the visually impaired and take a positive step through a first-of-its-kind braille enabled packaging in the FMCG space."

Speaking on how the campaign came about, Satpathy says, "Vision is an important way to explore and interpret things. For the visually impaired, it is different as things are essentially designed for people with vision. The genesis of the ad film is a simple life insight - everybody gets hurt and individuals who are visually impaired are no different. But their access to an antiseptic liquid is perhaps not as easy and they would have to either wait for somebody to help them or open every bottle themselves and smell it, until they've identified the antiseptic liquid. This forms the core of the new Savlon film and is the genesis of this initiative - "Agar chot aasani sey lage, toh madat bhi aasani se milni chahiye."

But why Savlon and not a Vivel shampoo?

Satpathy explains, "The genesis of this initiative fits well with our antiseptic brand proposition which is around 'caring and thinking' about our consumers. We are now taking this proposition a step ahead and making it inclusive for the society and want to encourage others to follow the same." ITC will soon be introducing braille packaging for their hand hygiene portfolio as well, informs Satpathy. "The initiative has been designed to take a step forward in enabling visually impaired individuals and make Savlon more accessible to everyone," he says.

It's noble but does it win?

Tarun Singh Chauhan, brand consultant, TSC Consulting, opines that although the innovation is great, the way of communicating it is utterly wrong.

"Want to make Savlon accessible to everyone": ITC's Sameer Satpathy on braille-enabled bottles

Tarun Singh Chauhan

"Want to make Savlon accessible to everyone": ITC's Sameer Satpathy on braille-enabled bottles

Sharda Agarwal

"First, how many blind people watch TV? None. So why an ad on television?" Chauhan asks.

"Blind people don't really need help or sympathy. Losing one sense means other senses are heightened. Savlon has created something beautiful but the brand could have found better ways to reach out to the visually impaired. The TV ads were more like fulfilling a self-goal. If the intent was to create a brand differentiation, they hit upon a wrong idea. This is traditional FMCG advertising and it can't be done in scenarios like this. The fact that people are getting cuts due to disabilities cannot be celebrated. The ad should have been done in a way that people watching it tell visually impaired people about it instead of watching a man cut his cheek," says Chauhan.

Sharda Agarwal, co-founder, Sepalika, a healthcare advisory, maintains that in a country where it is difficult, if not impossible, for differently enabled people to live their everyday life, it is an initiative to be lauded.

"A braille-enabled pack - certainly a new for India," Agarwal says.

"The overall tone and manner of the campaign execution is upbeat. It is about getting on with life; not wallowing in pity. Though I'm a bit surprised by the the choice of music. Lyrics like 'I am dreaming blue skies...think about you...' jarred with a VO that said "agar chot aasani se lage...," she adds.

To Agarwal, the challenge is not the execution but in asking if this campaign is too limiting for the brand.

"The communication TG is certainly a very small subset of their user TG. So I wonder what motivated the brand team to choose this advertising route? A chance to stand out without spending big bucks? An opportunity to do good? Or is this just an opportunistic play to capitalize on World Sight Day? Take your pick on the answer. It doesn't matter. But this shouldn't be a one-off activity. Go the whole nine yards and make an impact," she advises.

"Pack in a digital campaign. Throw in offline activation. Step out and work with the visually challenged. Make their life easy in several other ways. Come up with ideas to empower them. Enable them to lead as normal a life possible. Or do it across all your company's brands; not just this one," says Agarwal.

"Want to make Savlon accessible to everyone": ITC's Sameer Satpathy on braille-enabled bottles

N Chandramouli

N Chandramouli, CEO, Trust Research Advisory, a brand intelligence and data insights company opines that the ads take up an important issue for the need of braille marking on products but the impact seems gimmicky, and with low quotient research on the real problems faced by the visually impaired.

"I doubt very much if the sole target for this ad is the visually impaired, else a radio advert would have worked better. They are also subtly showing themselves as a responsible brand to appeal to regular audiences. Here they have failed quite miserably. If a brand 'sells' using a social message, that diminishes the trust held in the brand," Chandramouli says.

"The biggest problem for the visually impaired is not after the product has come into their shelves, but when they are purchasing it. They are unable to differentiate brands between products of similar size and shape and therefore are left without choice or require help to choose," he further adds.

"The ad would have done better if it appealed to the entire industry to have braille markings on their products, helping during the purchase, with Savlon showing itself as the leader. That would have been a 'Jaago re' level of a campaign," Chandramouli says.

"I don't think this ad will benefit the brand at all. In fact I feel this will erode the trust sentiment that Savlon used to be synonymous with. Agreed they treat the visually impaired as 'normal', doing normal things - but needing braille markings to find a Savlon bottle at home is an inane idea. I don't think any audience, visually impaired or otherwise, is taken in by this claim," says Chandramouli on the brand reaping benefits from the campaign.

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