KLM Airlines recently put out an ad asking users to 'fly responsibly'. Turns out, many other brands have been talking to the customer in the same tenor in recent times.
For years, brands have been trying to gain customers' empathy in order to build loyalty. Some brands have chosen to push a product or a service while some others have taken a more interesting, seemingly counterintuitive stance. In recent times, we spotted an ad for KLM Airlines that asks its users to fly responsibly.
It is almost like the brands are playing 'good cop/bad cop' with their patrons. At first, their communication had a persuasive tone - reassuring customers that they were in good hands, as long as they remained loyal to the brand. Now, the onus of responsibility is on the end user. It appears the brands are making their positioning clear - it's now up to the consumer to use the brand responsibly.
This isn't a new stance for a company to take though - brands have been asking users to consume more responsibly for a while now. In 2016, Heineken ran this ad campaign that encouraged consumers to drink in moderation.
Heineken is just one name in a long list of alcohol brands that have encouraged users to drink responsibly. Some alcohol brands have even gone a step further and asked users not to drink and drive. Budweiser took this route with this PSA a few years ago.
In 2008, the Xerox Company came out with a report about how to use less paper in offices to reduce costs. You can read the full report here
Recently, a tweet from Zomato - albeit humorous - reminded us of this trend.
The ad wasn't an attempt to convince a potential customer to buy in to the brand. KLM's approach in this case was counter-intuitive. The airline company prompted consumers to 'fly responsibly' and reconsider how many flights they take in a year - a reference to the adverse impact it has on the environment.
Zomato isn't the only company that has encouraged users to use their services/products responsibly in recent times. OnePlus has introduced a 'Zen Mode' on their phones that encourages the user to put the phone down and engage with the real world. Apple has also introduced a similar offering on iPhones that allows users to limit the amount of time they spend on their devices. Brands like Google and Samsung and even the popular video content app TikTok, have all introduced the concept of digital wellness into their products to limit usage.
When brands encourage limited engagement with their product or service, the natural question that comes to mind is 'Doesn't that go against the grain for a marketer? How can a brand benefit from encouraging a user to use his/her brand less?'
Suman Srivastava, author of the book 'Marketing Unplugged - Spotting the Elephants in the Room' points out that the trend first began with alcohol brands because on a very rudimentary level, these brands did not want to get banned. He tells us that showing responsibility is a way for brands to try and get empathy from customers.
"These days, it's all about social responsibility for brands. There is data that shows that socially responsible brands tend to do better than those who appear to stand only for profit."
He cites the example of OnePlus and its newly introduced Zen Mode (that encourages users to put their phones down and engage with the real world) and points out that in a way, it makes sense for a phone company to talk about a phone-related topic rather than to take up an unrelated cause, such as, say, gender equality.
We ask if this will hurt the brand's bottom line numbers and he replies, "I doubt that because as of now, they're just saying it. They're not doing much else. It's not like the phone switches itself off after a certain period of time."
"Maybe I'm just being cynical, but I feel brands are just saying it, they're not necessarily expecting the customer to actually do what they're asking them to do," admits Srivastava.
He tells us that he thinks too many brands are trying to be socially responsible and that links back to a piece we did earlier this year, asking if too many brands are eager to jump on to the cause-vertising wagon.
Srivastava points out that it's possible that this might have been a popular strategy at one point but it's likely that it is giving users diminishing results now. Returns on this strategy can only come from authenticity - doing what they're saying and staying true to the cause," he states.
According to Vidur Vyas, founder and CEO of strategy and execution company NorthSide, it works the other way around. "When you talk to consumers about something true, for example, about drinking responsibly, you end up gaining the consumer's trust. It's a leadership stance that a brand is taking by defining how a product should be consumed and how a brand should be consumed," he explains.
Vyas adds that the message being conveyed to the consumer is, "I'm not just a brand, I'm a friend or a partner and I'm trying to guide you." This works better than simply telling a consumer to consume your brand more, he says.
"Branding is all about gaining a consumer's trust and this is one of the best ways to do it because when you go out of the brand's natural path and tell the end consumer how your product should be consumed, it's going to build greater trust since most of the messages are centred around a benefit for the consumers," states Vyas.
Vyas believes it is not counter-intuitive because the brand is being clear on the role it plays in consumers' lives. He points out that most brands don't promote excessive consumption - rather, they are giving the user the right to be informed of the consequences of using a brand excessively. "You're operating in a transparent manner and gaining their trust. By putting out these responsible messages, you are helping build brand equity," he signs off.