Abhinav Anand
Planner's Journal

"Social distancing is here to stay and will expedite newer, healthier social rituals": Amit Kekre, DDB Mudra Group

In a new series 'Planner's Journal', we explore what the world looks like from the perspective of those in charge of mining consumer insights every day.

Here's what Amit Kekre, national strategy head, DDB Mudra Group, has to say:

If theres one piece of advice you could give all brand marketers now, what would that be?

The times we are going through offer so many lessons. It is difficult to choose one. But if I were to place my bets – it would be on embracing digital business transformation, while keeping humanity smack in the centre of it. COVID-19 will fundamentally alter the ways of human engagement – how people engage with each other, and how they engage with businesses and brands. On one hand, marketers must make haste in adopting tech-fuelled innovation that makes their products and services available in a safe, efficient and responsible way. On the other hand, this digital transformation would be futile if businesses lose sight of end goal of it all – to serve humanity.

COVID-19 has made us realise that humanity is the ultimate technology. These are the times when the conversation about brands with purpose becomes more relevant than ever.

For marketers who haven’t yet woken up to the idea and the value of their brand’s human purpose – the time is now. And for those who have their purpose already defined, there couldn’t be a better time to put it to test. The gains are enormous – for business, and the people they serve.

What are the top 3 ways in which the Indian consumer has changed? And, how will these changes affect the way brand managers will sell to them (the consumers) in the days ahead?

The rise and rise of togetherness: India is traditionally a collectivist society – a virtue that, perhaps, wasn’t considered glamorous by most new age, youth brands romancing the notion of individuality. In the wake of COVID-19, the way people, regardless of age, gender, geography and class, have come together with ingenious ways of reaching out to each other – through technology, apps, random (and delightfully creative) acts of sharing, has made the virtue of togetherness paramount. These are the times when the virtue of self-serving individuality can be seen losing sheen, and can redeem itself if it is in the service of others.

Respect for space: Indians don’t have an understanding of personal space. The local trains of Mumbai best embody this. It’s ‘normal’ for us to be in each other’s faces, literally. A queue in India often looks more like a swarm. COVID-19 has changed that. Social distancing is here to stay and it will expedite newer, healthier (and much required!) social rituals – where people will need, nay, and demand physical distance from each other. How are businesses going to respond to this? From making sure that their physical retail environment offers space to adopting digital solutions that enable the same – retailers and marketers need to prepare for this reality.

Retro revival: From successful reruns of 1980s Doordarshan programming to 'Mahabharat' on Hotstar, from virtual college reunions to ‘Bingo’ games customised to your nostalgic days. With the world standing at the juncture of uncertainty, and at the same time, certainly different future, people have not just found refuge, but have re-appreciated the reassurance of age-old virtues of a bygone era. In the near future, there will be a likely resurgence of the classical over the contemporary – in the products and experiences people seek. It is quite possible that, at least in the short-term, the future will be seductively retro.

"In the near future, there will be a likely resurgence of the classical over the contemporary – in the products and experiences people seek. It is quite possible that, at least in the short-term, the future will be seductively retro."

Which product segments will have the toughest road to recovery? And, which categories will bounce back faster than others?

I feel life essentials, technology & entertainment, and health & wellness will bounce back sooner than the others.

Are we headed towards a world in which consumerism will become a bad word? What will happen to marketing in such a world?

That is a loaded question, one which doesn’t have an easy answer. Besides, it depends on how you define consumerism! If you see it from the definition of consumerism, as protecting the interest of consumers that leads organisations to better their products and services, then no, businesses will be even more consumer focused. But if you look at it from the lens of consumer capitalism – then yes, unless brands tread with caution, these are the times when they risk being seen as profiteering, rather than partnering. The onus on brands and businesses will be to be seen as partners in community, rather than profiteering from people.

Do you see purpose-led brand communication increase, or decrease, in the days ahead?

COVID-19, or no COVID-19, the only sustainable way for brands to truly thrive is (for them) to have a larger purpose. Find purpose, the rest will follow, as someone wise said.