Shreyas Kulkarni
Points of View

When brands take hours, and not decades, to respond to feedback

Is Scotch-Brite India's quick response to an online post, and then announce a logo change, the start of a new brand communication phase?

What does, or will, it take to make a brand change?

For Unilever's Fair & Lovely, it took decades of pressure from sections who criticised the brand for popularising 'skin whitening'. The last straw was Black American George Floyd's death in the US, and the subsequent protests against racial injustice that prompted the company to knock off 'Fair' from the name and rebrand it as 'Glow & Lovely'.

But, Scotch-Brite India took just a day. Communication expert Karthik Srinivasan recently pointed out on LinkedIn about the logo having a woman's vector and how the gender marker may not fit the bill today. Atul Mathur, head of marketing, consumer business, 3M India (Scotch-Brite's parent company), responded to the post within a day, and revealed that the company was working on doing away with the woman's logo.

Maybe brands like 3M aren't too hierarchical so its marketing head responded in such a manner. The pressure to be 'woke' is high, and brands don't like to take chances. What does this response from Scotch-Brite India tell us about the times we live in? Are we seeing a change in the way brands respond to feedback? We asked a few industry experts about it.

Akanksha Patankar Mirji, brand and corporate storyteller

Akanksha Patankar Mirji
Akanksha Patankar Mirji

Brands have transformed themselves over the years, and while it used to take them a long time (earlier), the availability of different mediums now has made it easier. For instance, earlier a brand would depend on a publication to talk about it. But now, with social media, it's quick, and while I wouldn't say it pushes brands, it does give them a slight push towards transformation.

Atul's response had to do with stereotyping, which a lot of brands have been doing for decades. But, several have acted on it in their own ads. Take Ariel's 'Share the Load' campaign, or more recently, Sumeet Vyas in a Wakefit video, where he's seen washing utensils in between work during lockdown. Brands understand that people transform every few decades.

Go back a few years and recall the repeal of Section 377. Brands, right away, supported the verdict online, and even quickly changed their communication strategy.

What we're witnessing is a fusion of advertising and public relations (PR), where it's not always the ad that leads the change, the PR does as well... it's fantastic that the brand responded so quickly because it shows that it is willing to change easily. Maybe, it was working on it and Karthik's post acted as a catalyst. It was great stuff by Karthik to have put up the post.

Rajesh Lalwani, MD, Scenario Consulting

Rajesh Lalwani
Rajesh Lalwani

This trend about gender equality and social media influence isn't new. Brands like 3M are driven by innovation, and it enables their marketing heads to respond quickly...

Brands, in the end, are followers and not leaders. They don't create but, instead, respond to cultural phenomena, and the present market trend is one where you present yourself as 'woke'. The timing is perfect and the brand (Scotch-Brite) had a great and prompt response. But here's the thing, somebody like a 3M should have changed the vector on the package much earlier.

Lloyd Mathias, business strategist, and former Asia-Pacific marketing head of HP Inc.

Lloyd Mathias
Lloyd Mathias

I do think Scotch-Brite taking cognizance of a social media post pointing out the implied misogyny in its logo - that was pointed out by Karthik Srinivasan - is nice. But better still is the fact that the brand responded promptly with an assurance that this would change.

This clearly is a great example of how smart brands aren't just sensitive to social issues, but feel humane enough to admit to the need for change, without getting defensive. Kudos to the 3M team for its sincerity and maturity in handling this. They have not just diffused a difficult situation, but have turned it to their advantage.

At a larger level, this is also indicative of how large brands and companies are getting increasingly sensitive to issues that are divisive, and responding positively to consumer-driven activism.

Saurabh Uboweja, founder and managing partner, BOD Consulting

Saurabh Uboweja
Saurabh Uboweja

There is, no doubt, that consumer mindsets, behaviours and choices are transforming at a rapid pace. Brands have been playing catch up and are often caught napping.

One of the reasons for the slow pace of brand change is the high risk associated with it. What seems obvious on social media as a conversation or trend doesn’t often reflect in reality on the actual purchase behaviour. Marketers often play cautious as they are caught between popular opinion and actual consumer purchase behaviour.

Brands need to learn to respond proactively to a media crisis and evaluate long-term change more strategically, rather than as a knee-jerk reaction.