Ashee Sharma

Motherhood has no gender, says P&G in new Vicks ad

Created by Publicis Singapore, the three-and-a-half-minute-long ad has become quite popular on social media.

When two of P&G's flagship brands, Ariel and Pampers are doing their bit to contribute towards a better society, how can Vicks - a brand that has stood for family care in India for over 50 years, stay behind?

After speaking for women's equality in its award-winning #ShareTheLoad campaign for Ariel and later through Pampers' #ItTakes2, this time, P&G has decided to champion the cause of India's transgender community and their right to family in a new campaign, #TouchOfCare.

Motherhood has no gender, says P&G in new Vicks ad
Created by Publicis Singapore, the campaign portrays the real-life story of an orphan, Gayatri and her transgender mother Gauri Sawant, who plays herself in the film. Gayatri narrates how as a loving and responsible mother, Gauri wants her to become a doctor, but she wants to be a lawyer and fight the discrimination that was meted out to her mother at every step.
Motherhood has no gender, says P&G in new Vicks ad
The campaign hinges on the brand's belief that today, family is not as tightly defined as it once was. With the changing face of life across India and an increasing number of people living away from their traditional environments, the idea of family now goes beyond biological connections or sharing a surname.

An official response from P&G says, "We want consumers to recognise that everyone has a right to family. Wherever there is care, that bond is a family."

Since its launch on March 30, the film has had netizens abuzz. While one may be tempted into lazily speculating that LGBT-themed ads have the 'viral DNA', nothing beats good content, say experts...

Motherhood has no gender, says P&G in new Vicks ad
Motherhood has no gender, says P&G in new Vicks ad
For Saad Khan, vice president - strategic planning, FCB Ulka, it is a thought provoking piece of work, a story of love that breaks biases around transgenders. "What I like about it is that, in a simple and endearing way, it says so much more," he says.

Saurabh Uboweja, brand guru and CEO, Brands of Desire, appreciates Vicks for using its platform to make a strong statement.

Nevertheless, expressing doubts about the brand's commitment, he adds, "Even though it would defy conventional marketing logic, Vicks could have avoided forcing a connect with their brand messaging "Touch of Care". It trivialises the intent. Brands need to be remembered for telling stories that caused a real change. Do they really care for the cause or are they simply marketing themselves on the back of current hot themes?"

P&G's response, however, maintains that the objective of this campaign is to give the timeless idea of 'Family Care' a fresh and contemporary meaning.

Riding the wave

Even when no campaign is singled out, Uboweja's reservations about brand intent are not unfounded. Recently, there has been a wave of Indian ads advocating equal rights for the LGBT community.

This includes not just niche or youth brands such as Fastrack and MTV; also on this list are e-commerce brands Myntra, UrbanClap, eBay and the likes of CloseUp, Red Label, Amul, and Tanishq. Their LGBT-themed campaigns were in most cases intended for the digital medium.

Given that homosexuals are still a small number in India and with Section 377 in force, people are only unlikely to reveal their sexual orientation. So what's making brands go after them? Is there a business opportunity? It is often alleged that brands, especially start-ups with low marketing budgets, associate with such causes for visibility. Winning awards could be another objective, cynics believe.

Motherhood has no gender, says P&G in new Vicks ad

Devendra Deshpande, head - Content Plus, Mindshare, has an insight in this regard. In the current scenario, he thinks, it is important for brands to define their purpose, especially when talking to millennials.

"There are two ways in which a brand can sell/relate to them. One is to target them directly with hard sell, which may not influence the informed and argumentative youth, and second is to identify what is in their minds - a 'tension point' or 'hot conversation' and marry it to the brand philosophy. The latter is what brands seem to be doing. While globally, the LGBT movement is about creating a market, because the demographic there is sizeable. In India, it's about creating a new perception," he says.

Although slightly critical of the trend, Uboweja has a similar opinion. "Unless it's an integral part of the brand's core values, something that is non-negotiable, it's largely an attempt to connect with the mindset that would loosely associate with brands that appear cool. Homosexuality is not a dining table discussion yet and in my best bet, people and brands are simply watching from the stands and saying that they accept it because they want to look good."

He believes that mainstream Hindi movies are guilty of trivialising the matter, but brands can take some real action for their employees, consumers and for the community at large. "As of now, by the mere logic of advertising opportunism, any brand that wants to relate to the new age millennials would take up this cause. Traditional brands may give it a miss in fear of alienating their main target audience," he rues.

Saad Khan (FCB), contends that while mainstream brands, because of their sheer size and the number of people buying them, have more at stake, they also have the power of reach. "Marketing is about making choices. There will be people who will like, dislike or be indifferent to the brand, all basis the choice it makes. How many mainstream brands are ready for it?" he questions.

Because causes are about people, intent is key. "Brands like TOMS shoes and Body Shop have causes at the heart of their businesses. Associating with any cause is a long-term commitment. If it is solely driven by popular trending sentiments, then brands should stay the regular business course," he suggests.

Pink Rupee - A possibility in India?

Motherhood has no gender, says P&G in new Vicks ad
Sridhar Rangayan, festival director, Kashish, Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, believes that there is a huge market potential in the LGBTQ community that can go beyond the cause in India. "The pink rupee is not a myth, and the upwardly mobile, often DINK (Dual Income, No Kids) households can offer not just a lucrative market, but also a consistent one, because the community is loyal to those who support the cause," he insists.

A case in point is the festival itself which is in its eighth edition currently. With close to 2000 individuals attending, it has become one of the important events in Mumbai's cultural calendar. 68 percent of the audience is in the age group of 18-35 years. They are young and upwardly mobile with more than 46 percent having an annual income of over INR 5 lacs. Moreover, it attracts more than 30 percent of the non-LGBTQ audience as well.

"All these factors should ideally make Kashish an attractive proposition for sponsors, but unfortunately, it doesn't because of the prevailing legal and social environment that continues to stigmatise and discriminate against the LGBTQ community," he states.

Rangayan tells afaqs! that while there have been several brands (clothing, perfumes) coming on board, most have resorted to sensationalised marketing gimmicks instead of collaborating with the community to leverage its marketing potential.

"In the past, the festival has been supported by several corporates such as IBM, Barclays and Nomura, but their support came from the D & I (diversity and inclusion) vertical, not from the marketing vertical," he shares.

What this implies is that while brands raising their voice in support of the cause helps the community, a genuine interest in their potential as consumers will be in the best interest of both parties.