Ananya PathakPublished: 4 Oct 2019, 12:00 AM
Advertising

Need there be a connection between a brand and its cause, after all?

Today, brand managers across categories are busy portraying their brand as the hero. A hero that fights for women’s rights, takes a stand for the LGBT community, raises a voice for the underprivileged and fixes climate change. The pressure in this unaided race of 'cause-led-marketing' seems to be unending. That's how we decided to take a closer look at the 'India's Got Colour' film which has been supported by the JSW Group.

Bollywood actor and director Nandita Das's latest anti-colourism PSA (public service advertisement) has been monetarily assisted by the Mumbai-headquartered conglomerate that has footprints across various sectors: steel, energy, minerals, port and infrastructure and cement. The JSW Group has also supported the launch activities — on-ground and digital — of the campaign.

Sangita Jindal, chairperson, JSW Foundation.
Sangita Jindal, chairperson, JSW Foundation.

When we questioned Sangita Jindal, chairperson, JSW Foundation, why they had backed the film, she responds, “We saw three parallels between the values of the JSW Group and the PSA — confidence, courage and community. We saw how it will build confidence and courage and will be a positive statement to the community, thereby enabling a better everyday for all and changing the mindsets of many.” ('Confidence', 'Courage', 'Community' are stated as the Group's values on its website)

The campaign is an extension of 'Dark is Beautiful' — an awareness campaign launched in 2009 by the non-profit, Women Of Worth (WOW), to challenge the belief that the value and worth of people is determined by the fairness of their skin.

The two-minute-35-second long film opens with Das's narration, “India me jitne log utne rang lekin fir bhi hum nahi sudhrenge” (India has as many variations in skin colour as it has people and yet we refuse to learn). Dressed in black clothes, the celebrities who volunteered their time, effort and voice to this campaign pro-bono, in the film talk about how people still prefer a fair wife/daughter-in-law, fair kids and pick fair participants over those with darker skin in a competition.

Commenting on the launch of the campaign, Nandita Das, in a press release, said, “I felt it was time to reinvent the ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign and create a PSA that would be catchy and youth-friendly. The PSA intends to change the narrative to a more holistic celebration of the diversity. After all, we are more than 1.3 billion people and have that many shades of skin tones.”

Need there be a connection between a brand and its cause, after all?
(Left to right) Suchitra Pillai, Tanvi Jindal, Sangita Jindal, Divya Dutta, Radhika Apte, Nandita Das.

Das joined hands with Mahesh Mathai, Ankur Tiwari and a slew of Indian actors for the campaign. The video features — Ratna Pathak Shah, Swara Bhaskar, Divya Dutta, Vikrant Massey, Tillotama Shome, Gul Panag, Ali Fazal and Shashank Arora along with others.

About a month ago, WOW launched a video with the message, 'don't change or hate the colour of your skin because you are unique and nobody can tell you otherwise’.

The apparent disconnect between the brand and the purpose it supported majorly caught our attention because this is the third film in a fortnight that has made us question the decision of brands to ride on a cause-led wagon.

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The recent campaigns by automobile manufacturer Maruti Suzuki — '#BeLimitless' — and another one by oil and gas company, IndianOil — 'Unsung Heroes’ — also had us wondering whether or not a logical connection was a pre-requisite.

We reached out to industry experts to understand this a little better.

Toru Jhaveri, vice-president, strategy, DDB Mudra Group, is of the opinion that brands don’t always need to create content that is tightly aligned with their sense of purpose. She says, “Brands can also create content that is aligned with their values. In which case, connections between brands, purpose, and content might just be less literal or less obvious. We need big corporations to throw their weight behind worthy causes, so I wouldn’t insist on tight links to ‘purpose’ in every single case of content creation.”

Toru Jhaveri, vice president- strategy, DDB Mudra Group.
Toru Jhaveri, vice president- strategy, DDB Mudra Group.

Commenting on the importance of purpose-driven communication, she mentions that brands need to be driven by a shared purpose in the choices they make, in how they inspire people internally and in choosing their collaborators. Whether they express this purpose in their communication is a function of the business they’re in, whom they’re speaking with, and whether conversations can be supported by action.

“We’re using the terms ‘social cause’ and ‘purpose’ interchangeably these days and they aren’t always the same thing. Brands hopping on and off bandwagons in search of popular ‘causes’ is what is feeding cynicism, scrutiny, and backlash. In short, a cause isn’t a substitute for purpose. It’s definitely not a go-to differentiator. And purpose means very little if it isn’t rooted in something beyond advertising,” Jhaveri opines.

Ajay Ravindran, director – strategy and planning, VMLY&R India.
Ajay Ravindran, director – strategy and planning, VMLY&R India.

Ajay Ravindran, director — strategy and planning, VMLY&R India, feels that brand purpose works best when it is rooted in an innate category or brand meaning. “For instance, chocolate is loved irrespective of its colour. The Cadbury Unity Bar works due to this innate meaning. Tea does wake you up. That’s why the Jaago Re is what it is,” he explains.

“In this case, there is purpose, but it does not seem rooted in the meaning of either JSW or its category. This is why there seems to be a disconnect between the message and the brand delivering the message,” he says.

He adds, “I would tend to think that the connection is important, even in PSAs. We live in an age where it is not what is being said that is important, but who says it. The message benefits when it comes from a relevant messenger. Especially in a PSA! For instance, people seem to be reacting less to what Greta Thunberg said and more to who they think she is. Those who see her as a genuine teenage activist believe what she said, those who see her (for whatever reason) as being used by larger powers do not like what she said. People are reacting to the messenger more than the message itself.”

Anand Murty, EVP and head Of strategy, Taproot Dentsu, Gurgaon.
Anand Murty, EVP and head Of strategy, Taproot Dentsu, Gurgaon.

Anand Murty, EVP and head Of strategy, Taproot Dentsu, Gurgaon, feels that it is important to ensure that even if it is support or sponsorship, the initiative/PSA is in line with the stated values and positioning of the brand. He says, “From that perspective, there isn’t an obvious disconnect between what JSW states and the message in the film.”

“That said, the brand/corporate entity and PSA mix is potentially thorny territory. People are wary of brands appropriating messages of resistance, editing content to make it more ‘palatable’ to their interests. They are also holding brands accountable to not merely talk about a lofty purpose but live their principles day in and day out and add some serious value in their products and services. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, how seriously and passionately initiatives like this are built over time,” he adds.