Brands As Citizens Of The Country, Not Just As Players In The Market

Let’s build brands that play in the society as good citizens, as well as they play in the market for great stakeholder value, says Sinha

The big debate today in every marketer’s mind is – what role should the brands play in this pandemic? The questions are on a spectrum – starting from the very basic question – should we be advertising at all? Should our advertising recognize the context of pandemic and speak to it? Should we be doing something more than this? Or should we just wait on the sidelines till the wind blows over?

There are no easy answers to these questions. The easiest one however is – don’t sit on the sidelines, waiting for the wind (rather the hurricane) to blow over. If you are a brand which has a stake in the consumption economy, if you’ve been out there, spending media monies and garnering market-share during the good times, you can’t behave like fair-weather friends and stay away from the biggest humanitarian crisis that we are witnessing in our lifetime. All our lives, we keep looking for the social insight, building life connections with people. This is that time for that connection. So don’t look away.

The tougher question now is, do we continue our marketing, or do we give it a pause? If my advertising doesn’t speak to the current context, am I being tone-deaf? This a tough one, and my sense is that every brand and every marketer will play by their own conscience. The truth is that the consumption economy needs to go on. In fact, many categories are witnessing an upsurge in demand as people stay at home, cook more food, need devices to connect and entertainment to distract them from the visuals of mass pyres being lit on television news. Also, people are smart enough to compartmentalize. I don’t think people expect an ad from a snack brand or a food delivery brand to talk about Covid. Brands in categories which are witnessing demand, will need the support of marketing and doing so isn’t really being tone-deaf.

The biggest and the most important question to my mind is – what else can brands do? The issue is that most brands are still looking at advertising as their key lever. A brand is not equal to its advertising, its much greater than that. A brand is the face of the business and all the leverage that the business has, belongs to the brand. In fact, no one really cares for your advertising at this point in time - whether it’s covid-sensitive or not. What people would care for – is any help that they can get with the current situation. Depending on what your levers are – as a business – you could do something about the mental health and well-being of the nation, about the oxygen supply, about authentic information on available resources, about getting access to international doctors in the context of Indian fraternity being so fatigued and so on.

The question around - what more can brands do - is significant now and even more significant in the times to come. It’s now clear that in an emerging market such as India, public resources and systems may not be enough to take care of even basics such as health and education for all. We need a model of private partnership, what I call, a socio-capitalist view of brands, to be able to lift the country and the masses. For brands, its only fitting that if we are drawing water from the well, we make sure that the water table is replenished.

Increasingly, consumers will care more for brands that actually care for them. This will no longer be about having words such as ‘care’ and ‘partnership’ in your brand key. It will be about having a real skin in the game, in peoples’ well-being, growth and progress. Every brand then needs to think harder about what’s their ‘social proposition’? No this is not about the social-media strategy of the brand. This is about which aspect of the society; do you have your skin-in-the game? This is about going beyond worrying that your advertising may be tone deaf, to crafting a brand that has a social stake built in its construct.

I do believe that a lot of marketers are asking themselves this question, because its coming from a personal space. We all right now want to be useful in some way. We don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines and wallow in our helplessness. Our best bets are the brands that we are building. Let’s build brands that play in the society as good citizens, as well as they play in the market for great stakeholder value. Let’s define for our brands, their – social proposition - as well as we define their market proposition.

The author is Dheeraj Sinha, CEO & Chief Strategy Officer – South Asia, Leo Burnett

Tags assigned to this article:

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.