Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Points of View

From bread to juice and water… how ‘immunity’ became the USP across brands

While some brands have added an ‘immunity booster’ layer to their existing communication, others have tweaked their products to fit the narrative.

“Products that focus on nutrition and immunity will be in high demand over regular offerings.” Sagar Boke, head of marketing, foods division - Tata Consumer Products, told afaqs! in a recent interview. The interview was around the future of brands, post lockdown. Boke’s foresight seems extremely credible, especially when we look at it along with the findings of content discovery and advertising platform Taboola.

Taboola’s report suggests that there has been a high level of interest around ‘immunity boosters’ among internet users due to COVID-19. The Taboola network recorded 5.6 million page views about stories related to the health benefits of turmeric, and recipes for immunity-boosting foods, over a period of seven weeks during lockdown. Online articles about how to boost immunity, and recipes involving turmeric, have seen a 39 per cent increase in traffic.

Then, 94 per cent of respondents (from 32 cities in 15 states) in a recent study conducted by Wunderman Thompson South Asia said everyone in their home needed an immunity boost. E-commerce platform Snapdeal said that a third of its users were now buying safety and immunity-centred food and products.

The consumers are clearly worried and are trying to COVID-proof themselves. And, this has opened a window for brands looking for ways to tell their stories, albeit with a tweak here and there. This comes as a breather, especially because of the industry-wide self-regulation to stop selling brands to the consumers, and be their ‘friends in need’. Food brands have been grafting ‘immunity’ onto their existing propositions.

From bread to juice and water… how ‘immunity’ became the USP across brands

Bisleri focused on the importance of drinking adequate water and boosting immunity with its ‘added minerals’. ITC launched ‘The Immunity Song’ for its dairy brand Aashirvaad Svasti. Hindustan Unilever (HUL) highlighted the immunity boosting benefits of vitamins C and D, and Zinc in an ad for Horlicks.

Baked foods brand Bonn launched a ‘Herb & Seeds’ variant of its bread to ‘boost immunity’. Del Monte launched ACE, a mixed fruit juice with vitamins and antioxidants to boost one’s immunity. ITC has also partnered with healthcare brand Amway to launch its B Natural+ range of juices to boost immunity. Tupperware published content around immunity building on its social handles.

From bread to juice and water… how ‘immunity’ became the USP across brands

While sleep has its own immunity-related benefits, sleep solutions brand Wakefit.co came up with an immunity-centred blog to drive traffic to its e-commerce website.

It’s not the first time we’re hearing brands talk about immunity. Dabur Chyawanprash and others in the Ayurveda space have been playing the immunity tune for years. Dabur even launched an immunity kit which includes Chyawanprash, Giloy Ghanvati, Giloy Churna, Stresscom, Imudab Syrup, Honey, Honitus and Honitus Hot Sip.

However, how will consumers perceive the sudden tweak in propositions? Will they buy into it? Here’s what three experts have to say:

Praful Akali, founder and MD, Medulla Communications

We have to remember that immunity is a functional promise. If my product does not provide this functional promise, then I should not make the promise. It might be helpful for brand managers to remember that bread does not make you immune to COVID, or water, no matter how sterile, does not make you immune to COVID.

Praful Akali
Praful Akali

Some of these products do indirectly help in building immunity, and the brand’s legal team might be under sufficient pressure to allow these claims to go through. But do remember that consumers are going to be very unforgiving in these times with opportunistic brands. Consumers are looking for brands to help them address their fears, not prey on them. It would be inadvisable to make claims that can be busted through a two-minute Google Search. It will cause clutter and confusion, and in addition, it could also cause consumer retaliation.

As with any health brand, and especially in these times, trust is important. Validation from critical medical authorities and through clinical studies is important. Doctors are key influencers – finding innovative ways to reach out to them and get them to endorse our brand is important. Demonstrating the science creatively is important.

At Medulla, we reach doctors through digital media and advertising, using them as brand influencers. However, we do make it a point to validate the claims ourselves, and not rely on the emphatic verbal briefs of marketing teams.

Sharda Agarwal, co-founder, Sepalika, a healthcare advisory

It is important to understand that immunity is not built in a day. It takes time to build, and it takes years. It can’t be done over a pill, a glass of water, or ‘haldi’ milk. Brands need to understand this, and they aren’t really doing a great thing by hopping on to the ‘immunity’ bandwagon. There is fear among consumers, and it is almost like ticking of a box to capitalise on that fear.

Sharda Agarwal
Sharda Agarwal

There is an overload of immunity-related information from many different sources today. It could be a doctor, a hospital, a mask seller, a nutritionist, a food manufacturer, and even a water brand. There are tons of infomercials and videos all over the internet. It is a genuine overload that is attacking consumers from all directions. In a situation like this, if you are a brand selling immunity, and the link between the brand and immunity, as a concept, is tenuous, it’s not going to stick, and will go by like a ship in the night.

Tarun Singh Chauhan, partner, TSC Consulting

It is like a brand claiming to cure leprosy, which is fundamentally wrong. You actually can’t. What’s the point of claiming then? Brands should, instead, hold on to their core propositions.

Tarun Singh Chauhan
Tarun Singh Chauhan

Brands creating such communication is, in a way, opportunism. And that, too, in a crisis like this. In such times, a brand should either stay mum, or say something that makes people happy. There are several brands, like Coke and Nike, which are doing just that. It is insensitive and ruthless, and is also a reason why brands are not being respected by consumers. They can get irritated. Categories, other than pharmaceuticals and healthcare, should stay away from making such claims at this time.