Naresh Gupta: Can brands use advertising to drive social change?

Brand communication must have a sharp, strategic objective, as stunts always fall flat

Naresh GuptaUpdated: Monday, October 17, 2022, 08:54 AM IST
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Naresh Gupta: Can brands use advertising to drive social change? |

Should advertising be used to drive social change? Like everything in advertising, there cannot be a loud yes or louder no as an answer to this question. The better question, maybe, is to ask what is the role of advertising on overall brand marketing mix?

Advertising of any form is created with specific intent - drive awareness, strengthen behaviour, increase market-share, increase the occasion of usage, change habits, upgrade to the next pack size. Advertising works best when it has a sharp, strategic objective built and the creatives reflect that objective. Sometimes, brands get greedy and jump many steps; they want to drive a large societal change without having a strong strategic objective, and then they fall flat.

FALLOUT OF STUNTS

When a brand creates what can only be called as ‘advertising driven stunt’ the fallout of those stunts is often brutal and damages the brand. In a race to stand out and break the clutter, the brand can end up broken and bruised.

Take the recent AU Bank TVC featuring Kiara Advani and Aamir Khan, for example. The commercial built on the back of wedding traditions, wants to reverse the traditions. The bride doesn’t cry when she leaves the wedding venue, the groom goes to the bride’s home, the groom takes the first step inside the home. The traditions have been reversed in the ad. There is nothing in the ad that could be controversial; it is not asking people to question traditions, nor asking them to follow the new traditions when they get married; so why has the brand made the ad? While a lot of cynics have opined that the ad was created with explicit intent to generate outrage and become virally infamous, I am not sure if that would be the case. A finance brand usually tends to be very careful and would like to avoid negative publicity. Yet, the advertising has evoked a very sharp reaction from people and has been withdrawn.

WHAT’S THE OBJECTIVE?

This is where the issue of objective comes into sharp focus. What is the objective that the brand wants to achieve? The brand’s promise is ‘change starts here’. That’s a nice promise to have, provided the brand is clear about the change. The communication is silent about the inherent product promise, and in the end, has become a commentary on what traditions are and can be. Any advertising that is not reflecting the inherent brand truth will get rejected summarily, and in today’s day and age, generate scorn and ridicule.

There is a brand new commercial just released by Bharat Matrimony on Karwa Chauth. Here too, the traditions have been reversed, here too there is a big dollop of charm. The brand is not preachy; it is telling a story in simple terms. Here too, the brand has no strategic objective - it is not communicating anything that can be called product truth, it is not expecting its core audience to do anything. Will the advertising make a mark for Bharat Matrimony, or will it remain one more ad that will only be part of some case study or award show? In the absence of a sharply defined objective, the commercial has remained just a commercial, and what could have been an interesting take on brand is just an interesting take on tradition.

TAKE ON TRADITIONS

Traditions are not just about festivals, traditions are also practices that are encoded in our behaviour, or are habits that we have rarely questioned. Take the Oyo Rooms ‘Asi Reach Gaye’ commercial. It is built on a very specific objective, to help people take a break from driving as and when they choose to take a break. The current behaviour is to look for a city or big town to take a break when we are on a road trip; so Oyo created an alternative narrative. It did make the audience question existing practices, and didn’t stop just at that, it built what should be the new practice. The new practice helps the brand, and that is the brilliance of the ad.

Traditions are a rich playground for the brand. By questioning traditions, a brand questions the existing choices. But by merely questioning traditions, a brand leaves the audience either indifferent or enraged. If the brand has to question traditions, it has to set a new practice, make its audience feel good and do it with charm.

(The author is Co-founder and CSO, Bang in the Middle. He tweets at @googlegupta)

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