A new spot by Fortis makes us ponder the creative challenges this 'segment' brings.
Organ donation ad campaigns in India almost always take the emotional route of 'receiver meeting donor's parents/family' creating little swing in the creativity. We set out to look for ads in the space in India, done over time that perhaps, didn't quite follow the norm. Fortis Healthcare's latest - 'Live after you leave' - the third ad from the campaign #MoreToGive, was just provocation to explore.
This ad, like the previous from the brand's campaign, shows a non-Muslim organ-recipient meeting the parents of a Muslim donor which is followed by a deluge of emotional exchanges.
The story, all said and done, doesn't imply much about a product or service raising the question of why the brand went ahead with such a campaign in the first place. Is it just subtle soft-branding?
Well, not just in Fortis' case, most of the brands' ads looked like they were selflessly striving for a cause. And yes, organ donation ad campaigns are rare, meaning, only a few are made every 365 days and even fewer succeed in grabbing eyeballs.
We got in touch with Jasrita Dhir, head - Brand, Marketing and CSR at Fortis Healthcare, for the inside story.
Dhir mentions that 5 lakh Indians lose their lives waiting for organs every year (about one life per minute). "We, being a leading healthcare provider, had to do something," Dhir says.
"This requires a behavioural and attitudinal change and that requires time. Unlike traditional campaigns, which are measured in terms of business gained or ROI, here, the aim is to elevate the organ donation rate (ODR) of the country," she explains.
Dhir elaborates, "In a country of a billion we still don't have one donor per million persons and therefore, we have to keep striving."
The Fortis team states that India's ODR (organ donation rate) has improved in the last three years from 0.5 to 0.88, i.e. 0.88 persons per one million people. Countries like Spain and Brazil have an ODR close to 40.
Dhir explains that awareness in India is divided between metros and villages and is poorer on socio-cultural and religious lines, but it's slowly getting better.
"There are people who haven't heard of organ donation. And when people don't know about something there are superstitions, half-truths, fear, and stories around it - stories such as if one donates their eyes they would be born blind in the next life or the body will not attain 'moksha'. Some religions do not permit it since it's not there in the books," Dhir adds.
"Again, once there is some awareness, the social and cultural myths take over. Myths like - doctors won't work hard enough to save a life so as to harvest the organs or the organs will be sold to the highest bidder. The campaign only says that if it's okay to take... it is okay to give," she says.
Regarding myths and superstitions, the South and West of India, which more aware and have witnessed most donations, fare better than the less aware North and East.
In Dhir's terms, the latest ad depicting the Muslim couple is a story that conveys organ donation as a cause, is fluid across all communities/sects and goes beyond religion, caste, culture or creed. "The story is not intended to be skewed towards any religion," Dhir states.
The stories across Indian organ donation ads vary little and haven't changed much over time. Here are a few Indian ads released over the years:-
And here are a few global ads for comparison:-
So what stops it from being a mass phenomenon in India? We have seen plenty of advertising from brands and segments all over with creative-heads trying new tricks regularly. So why is organ donation lagging?
Praful Akali, founder and MD, Medulla Communications, finds Fortis' ad well-directed and emotional but expresses concern about the lack of understanding on regulations.
"As per regulations, globally, the identity of the organ donor cannot be disclosed to the recipient. Even in India, I'm not sure if the regulations are clear on this matter, but as a practice, it is not disclosed. This is done primarily to avoid mismatch of expectations between the two families. For a film to use this to drive organ donation seems unethical and flawed," Akali says.
He maintains that organ donation is not a direct commercial area and hence, does not attract investments like commercial brands. He, however, agrees that brands can take it up as a cause and that's not been done enough. "Even when it's been taken up as a cause, the campaigns have not succeeded in building mass empathy or consciousness around the cause and as a result, ended up giving other brands a reason to not follow suit," he explains.
"The problem is far deeper in India than the rest of the world. I've discussed, with common folk, why they haven't donated and often, there's no clear reason. However, when I did receive a clear answer, it's been less about themselves and largely about the fear of their loved ones having to cope with their death and the process of organ donation, all at the same time. And this insight has never been addressed in India. When I did a Google search, there was no Indian resource in the top 20 about what to expect after you've registered or what your family will go through in the process," with that, Akali signs off.
Auryndom Bose, senior creative director, Dentsu One finds the latest Fortis ad 'sweet' but the 'drama' and the 'persuasiveness' to be displaced.
"The persuasion - is the oldest one for organ donation living on. The 'drama' of a vegetarian eating non-veg is resolved very un-dramatically. Advertising usually works as Persuasion through Drama.
Also, too many issues are an issue. True, drama does thrive on amplifying tensions but then it also only becomes sublime in hugely satisfying endings," Bose says.
Bose is of the opinion that organ donation awareness isn't just an India problem. "All cultures that ritualise death and follow customs that honour the body face an inherent disagreement on 'leaving the body to science'. We are fighting deep-rooted culture so the persuasion needs to be as powerful. In fact, those immortal words from the Gita that say - the body is simply a garb that the soul disposes of - is probably the culture to counter the culture," he says.
"Needless to say, a brand or an agency can only promote it softly as a virtue and not offend sensibilities. However, we need fresher arguments - to not only look at the parties involved but also at social stigma (death is a social ritual, everywhere). Someday, after a million ads, maybe we will live in world where it is blasphemous not to sign up as a donor," Bose adds.