Debashish Chakraborty
Advertising

“It's not the ad, but the act that matters”: Rajdeepak Das, on HDFC Bank's ‘Safety Grid’ campaign

The brand used its logo to promote social distancing.

HDFC Bank recently launched ‘Safety Grid’ campaign to encourage people to practice social distancing. The brand used the outer grid of its logo (the square-shaped bit) to create markers on the ground on which people can stand and social distance themselves while waiting in a queue.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, many brands, including McDonald's, Coco-Cola, Volkswagen and Audi, have updated their logos to promote social distancing. Though, the one created by HDFC Bank seems to be one-of-a-kind. The markers are created following WHO advisory that individuals should maintain at least one metre (three feet) distance between themselves.

The initiative was first tested outside HDFC Bank ATMs in Kolkata, followed by Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Pune, Chandigarh and Bhubaneswar. Also, the markers aren’t just limited to ATMs, but also cover essential goods shops – like grocery, vegetable and kirana stores, and pharmacies. Of the 4,000 planned shops, 1,800 have already been covered.

“It's not the ad, but the act that matters”: Rajdeepak Das, on HDFC Bank's ‘Safety Grid’ campaign
“It's not the ad, but the act that matters”: Rajdeepak Das, on HDFC Bank's ‘Safety Grid’ campaign
“It's not the ad, but the act that matters”: Rajdeepak Das, on HDFC Bank's ‘Safety Grid’ campaign
“It's not the ad, but the act that matters”: Rajdeepak Das, on HDFC Bank's ‘Safety Grid’ campaign
“It's not the ad, but the act that matters”: Rajdeepak Das, on HDFC Bank's ‘Safety Grid’ campaign
“It's not the ad, but the act that matters”: Rajdeepak Das, on HDFC Bank's ‘Safety Grid’ campaign

To understand more about the thought process behind the campaign, afaqs! spoke to Rajdeepak Das, managing director and chief creative officer, Leo Burnett, South Asia, India.

Rajdeepak Das
Rajdeepak Das

“As a society, or country, we are very social people; often reading from each other's newspaper, or sharing a cup of tea. Hence, being social is in our culture – that's how we’re raised. So, the whole idea of social distancing is alien to us, further hard to contemplate and execute. Also, India is a very visual country. So, when you create something which is visually appealing, it operates immediately for people. A distance of, say, one metre is hard for a person to understand, but on the other hand, representing it with a visual graphic is simpler to get. What we have given (to) people with this campaign is a gauge to understand the norms of social distancing.” he says.

Das on a HDFC logo marker
Das on a HDFC logo marker

“For all our campaigns, including this one, we are constantly working towards ideas which can make an impact, and not just a lip-syncing service. It's not the ad, but the act we want to create. And during these times, the best that an act can create is social distancing. More than execution, it's about believing in the idea, which is, at times, more powerful than the campaign itself. And somewhere, Ravi and his team saw the power in our idea and decided to go ahead,” added Das. (Ravi Santhanam is the chief marketing officer, HDFC Bank.)

Ravi Santhanam
Ravi Santhanam

Logos are often considered sacrosanct, so did the thought of people stepping over it cross the brand's mind? Says Santhanam, “Our first thought was, 'What!, should we do it, or not?’ One school of thought was hesitant in putting the logo on the ground, we've never allowed it. But the other thought was that a brand can’t be bigger than the society it operates in. Our logo connotes financial security, and by putting it on the ground, we actually create social and physical security. So, finally, we came to the conclusion that we are here for our customers and if this is going to help our customers and India in general, let's do it.”

Das says that once the idea was approved, the biggest challenge was its execution. In times like these, physically creating logo-like marks, and that too on such a large scale, was difficult. As far as the on-ground part goes, it wouldn't have been possible without the HDFC brand team.

The local authorities and law enforcement agencies also lend their support to get the job done. He summarises the efforts with Bartle Bogle Hegarty's famous quote, “Advertising is 80 per cent idea, but also 80 per cent execution.”

According to Azazul Haque, chief creative officer at Mullen Lintas, some people might think of the initiative as being opportunistic. He, however, believes it's a bold move. And today, brands should help people practice (social distancing), and not just preach.

Azazul Haque
Azazul Haque

“It's an interesting initiative, an idea which can be practiced easily. In these times of COVID-19, most brands are primarily spreading the information regarding social distancing – wearing masks and other precautions one should take. Using the logo to mark the position to practice social distancing is intelligent,” he noted.

Asked if the brand was successful in creating a recall, Haque opines, “If this was Nike's ‘swoosh’, I am sure people would have been able to relate, but without any info about the initiative, I’m not sure how many people can identify the brand. If HDFC has done it purely from a doing-good point of view, then it is fine. But if it’s expecting a recall, the existing customers might relate and feel good about their association with the brand, but nothing more.”