....In these new videos, the brand takes up issues like caste, religion and sexual orientation.
Hindustan Unilever's toothpaste brand, Closeup has released a series of short films as part of its new campaign - #FreeToLove - which seeks to celebrate and reflect the brand's belief in the freedom to choose the person you want to be with regardless of caste, religion or gender. The digital-only film, a collaboration between Lowe Lintas Singapore and Canadian digital media and broadcasting company, VICE Media, has encountered some trouble on social media in no time.
Trying to weave anything in the ad space on the subject of religion, in the present religious climate, can be tricky. A brand, marketed worldwide by Unilever, presently available in the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India that has been enjoying a significant share in the oral care segment since its launch in 1967, chose to release its first nascent digital film on a socially relevant topic only now. Naturally, we were intrigued as to whether the brand got it right.
We asked the experts...
Megha Sadhwani, senior vice president, Dentsu Impact, highlights the harsh truth that in a country like India, using religion as a platform for a brand always comes with a rider as people's sentiments run high on the topic. "Yes, it can get tricky, but I won't go as far as calling it crazy," she tells us.
In fact, in today's climate, isn't it probably a 'high risk, high gain' topic - one which, if handled well and with sensitivity, can also churn out huge results for a brand?
"Using religion for the sake of creating conversations is a no-go. However, if it is something that helps the brand make a bigger point, I don't see any harm in it. In fact, progressive brands, if brave, should take the onus of positivising the environment," Sadhwani states.
The shift - a boon or bane for the brand?
We all remember Closeup's classic, catchy jingle from its most successful campaigns - "Paas Aao Na." Originally sung by Sona Mohapatra in 2009, this new version is an even bigger hit with more than 6 million views. But was it a mistake doing away with such a strong, clear differentiated product proposition?
Sadhwani notes that "Paas Aao Na" was a solid campaign and one that connected extremely well with the product offering. "It's too early to say whether this shift is a mistake, but I do feel the new campaign is not as strongly connected to Closeup as "Paas Aao Na" was," she shares.
Interestingly, the brand did come up with a Valentine's Day campaign - #BreakTheBarriers - last year (conceptualised by The Glitch) which reiterated its stance that no baggage/stereotypes should ever stop people from believing in and acting on their mutual attraction. That was also, probably, the first time Closeup spoke for the LGBT community in India.
Meanwhile, Closeup Philippines has also undergone a similar journey catering to the slightly 'woke' viewers and going all heart and soul, sans glossy visuals.
When quizzed about that one thing she would change about the execution, Sadhwani states, "I'd make it more realistic and emotional. For me, the video came across as branded content on a sensitive topic with actors acting like real people, rather than genuine stories in which I would feel strong empathy for the people featured. The pain of separation and the joy of a reunion is something that went amiss."
Carlton D'Silva, chief executive officer and chief creative officer, Hungama Digital Services feels the internet audience is different and hence, the communication to them has to be something they find interesting. He believes that Closeup has done a fine job of that here. "I feel these topics are interesting and have a nice brand fit too. I don't think religious groups should be worried about this kind of content... Closeup is just telling a story and they have not crossed the line that would agitate the religious fanatics."
With regard to the updated jingle, D'Silva cites an example, "Kansai Nerolac, for instance, has done a modern rendition of with their jingle too. The purpose of this is just to stay relevant with an ever-changing audience."
For Navin Kansal, chief creative officer, 21N78E Creative Labs, whether a brand needs to be careful with religion, depends on the context. "In the film, the protagonists are more wistful about how caste, religion and orientation came in their way, rather than railing against prevailing social mores. While a stance has been taken, it doesn't present a conceivable risk," he explains.
Kansal refrains from calling it a 'mistake' on the brand's part; he feels the brand has far more cache for its equity to be diluted by this. He states that it's also par for the course, given the purpose-led advertising that seems to be the norm.
Regarding the execution, he says, the point about what Closeup believes in was made, "It was a bit redundant spelling it out explicitly in so many words at the end of the film."
VICE Media has made inroads in its content for the Indian market. Its reportage tends to be off-beat, exploring subcultures and issues directly affecting youth and millennials that mainstream media may not cover. "For brands, these kinds of partnerships may provide more authenticity to the film so that it resonates and comes across as less advertising, more content," views Kansal.
We turned to Sharique Khan, vice president - brand solutions, Culture Machine, (the agency's digital brand, Blush has been in the news for creating buzz against the gender-centric stereotypes and providing smart, niche content for the modern urban Indian woman since its inception) to understand whether a narrative on any subject of contention always remains a risk. He says, "It's a risk worth taking; if done aesthetically. In the long run, it all depends on Brand Belief, its TG and market."
"In times of conflict, society looks for a voice that helps soothe the inter-religious dispute. Brands and films could very well become that voice and play an integral part in the evolution of society. This is especially true with religious topics which most of the urban and younger Indians have come to terms with and do not resonate as strongly with the slightly older and conservative fractions of the society. Political climates keep changing, but the message of tolerance, acceptance and unity in diversity will always be eternal," he narrates.
On the sudden change in the brand's outlook, Khan echoes the thoughts of the previous experts that with an ever-evolving society, brands need to catch up.
"The lack of self-confidence in approaching the opposite sex might not be that relevant an issue with the current generation, with so many dating and messaging apps at their disposal, but the subject addressed in the film and the societal pressures are. Closeup still comes across with the same Confidence, Boldness and Freshness as in their previous campaigns," he argues.
A quick look at some of the recent ads released by the major rival brands in the toothpaste segment:
Titled, ‘Andar se Strong’, the campaign for its 'Colgate Strong Teeth' features two films conceptualised by Red Fuse Communications.Link to the first film:
The second film featuring Deepika Padukone shows her alongside her mother Ujjala Padukone where the duo discuss how they bounce back from failures.
In this 2013 ad, HUL's Pepsodent 'Germicheck' toothpaste took on market leader Colgate