Cause advertising is more than just a trend to Mitali Srivastava Hough, the founder of 'Equal' - an agency that specialises in cause-led marketing and advertising communications.
The advertising world was never quite the same after the #MeToo movement. A new agency in Mumbai was borne as a result of it - Mitali Srivastava Hough's new shop 'Equal'. Prior to its founding, she worked at Utopeia as one of the founding members. Prior to that, she's worked as the associate vice president and across different verticals of DBB India. Hough specialises in strategic brand planning and has also worked at Ogilvy & Mather and TBWA India. She mentions that she has travelled across the country covering rural India, doing stories on the underprivileged, and researching insights and marketing opportunities for different brands.
"Beyond offering observations though, I could not do much... However, it inspired me to work towards human rights, gender equality, and women’s rights in my personal capacity. At many junctures in my life I wanted to quit the corporate and advertising world to become a full time social worker. However, I lacked the courage to take the plunge. I was also too deeply rooted in the marketing and advertising world since I had co-founded another advertising agency. I regularly dipped my fingers into CSR projects in all my previous roles but there were always various other work commitments that would eventually pull me away from them. My heart belongs to the social sector but my mind is always brimming with marketing and communication solutions," she writes.
Hough decided in late 2018 to start Equal. "Since then we have been in a soft launch phase, testing waters and building a strong team of talent. The last year has been a very distressing time for me personally, but now we are absolutely ready," she says.
Hough mentions that she works closely with clients to help them understand the importance of using a unique brand voice - to reach their audience. "If you are not genuine with your voice, then you will be found out sooner or later. There are only a few themes that many brands seems to endorse these days. Therefore its not a surprise that these brand voices are not able to break the clutter or create real impact. The pressure falls on the advertising firm to create viral videos with a voice. This leads to a short burst of noise but doesn’t help the target community in the long term," she opines.
She observes that brands are often misled by jargon instead of keeping their voices simple and effective. "They need to create their own unique voice and philosophy if they really want to be heard. They also need to walk their talk. Our world is a social planet now, and if a brand is not genuine and not investing in making audiences believe in their voice through their actions and intent then they will never have followers in the long term. The world is changing fast. Brands need to quickly realise that this new world needs a fresh way of thinking, marketing and connecting with the future audience," she says.
She adds that Equal is open to collaborating with anyone who is genuinely interested in cause driven initiatives. "We recently broke the Limca Book of Records for our client, Inc 5, for distributing the largest number of shoes to under-privileged kids on a single day. This initiative was backed by many influencers," she says.
She describes a project for Reliance Foundation as one that is close to her heart. She describes the initiative in detail - The brand was launching a sanitary napkin for the BOP (Bottom of the Pyramid) market. "We branded it as Meeta and created an effective campaign that gave the message of health and hygiene combined with economic growth for the family. "We designed disposable packaging for the brand as well, because our research showed that one of the deterrents for rural India in using sanitary napkins is the problem of disposing them discreetly. Cloth is washed and dried in dark corners of the home so that women can protect their privacy. Most sanitary napkins require effort in disposing them and the packaging can be spotted even if its thrown in the dustbin. Our solution was discreet and eco-friendly," she says.
Hough selected World Social Justice Day in 2020 to officially launch the agency in full gear. "This date will always serve as a reminder to Equal about its core purpose and guiding principles," she claims.
In 2018, Hough left Utopeia in protest against what she called at the time the dismissive attitude of her co-founders towards women who spoke up during the #MeToo movement. At the time of tendering her resignation, she wrote an open letter to clear the air behind her motivation for stepping down.