Mumbai: The latest ad for mobile phone firm Idea Cellular Ltd featuring a woman politician and her sidekick—a bespectacled, safari-suited Abhishek Bachchan—is the latest addition to an assortment of ads with social awakening, politics or elections as the central theme. It’s a trend that experts say will only gain momentum as India heads into parliamentary elections due around April-May.
Reflecting the spirit of united public activism, brands such as Idea are using collective governance as their master brushstroke. Even a cup of coffee can empower these days. Reads the in-store promotion for coffee chain Café Coffee Day: “I wish everyone was bulletproof. This New Year make a wish and change our country. Just write it down and put it in the Cup of Good Hope…we will compile every wish…and send it to the leaders of our country. And pressure them to do something about it.”
Brand communication: Reflecting the spirit of united public activism, brands are using collective governance as their master brushstroke.
Tata Tea Ltd’s latest Jaago Re (wake up) campaign urges people to vote and be more responsible. Not voting on election day is similar to being asleep, says the protagonist. This is an evolution of the typical political ads which ranged from portrayals of politicians in a light vein to tints of patriotism. Until now, most ads featuring politicians used them for comic relief. That stereotype is now changing.
The Idea ad shows Bachchan using SMS to seek public opinion on a proposal to build a shopping mall on farmland and then informing his politician boss that the answer was negative.
The ad ends with a cheeky warning to aspirants for political power: Janta ki sunoge toh woh aapki sunenge. Nahin toh bahut marenge (If you listen to the public, they will listen to you. Otherwise, they will beat you). “While we never intended it to cash in on the election fever, the campaign has come at a time when people are more sensitive to the idea and more conducive to the message,” says Pradeep Shrivastava, chief marketing officer, Idea Cellular. R. Balakrishnan, chairman, Lowe India, the agency behind the ad, says the theme will always be relevant because improper governance has always been a pet peeve of the people of India.
The corporate ad for Bharti Airtel Ltd, India’s biggest mobile phone operator, also taps the concept of collective power. It uses images of legendary astronomer-mathematician Aryabhatta, surgeon Sushruta and Mahatma Gandhi. “Just imagine what a billion of us can do. Together. When you stand for what you believe in, you can change the world. Proud to be Indian. Proud to be Bharti.”
“The first thing a brand wants to do is punch a hole in your mind. To be remembered, recalled and build a relationship with the consumer,” says Sangeeta Talwar, executive director of Tata Tea, which launched its campaign about better governance and accountability as early as 2007. “We wanted to go beyond a transactional relationship with the consumer.”
Considering the level of media and public interest around the recent presidential elections in the US, the terror attacks in Mumbai and the forthcoming general elections, experts maintain that ads using these themes are more likely to grab consumer attention. “When media starts projecting these stories it feeds further awakening. Since advertising is always a reflection of and a response to social-cultural change, this got picked up. 2008 was certainly the year of ‘cause brands’,” says Mythili Chandrasekar, senior vice-president and executive planning director for JWT India.
“It makes the communication very contextual and helps them connect better with consumers,” says Ranjan Bargotra, president of Crayons Advertising Ltd which is handling the Congress party’s advertising campaign.
Such messages could also hit home with consumers who are aware, now more than ever, of their responsibility as voters. “There is an indication that we are taking ourselves more seriously and involving ourselves in the process,” Bargotra says, pointing to an increase in voter turnouts during the recent state elections.
“The trend of social responsibility as part of brand communication started over two years ago and peaked this year,” says Chandrasekar. The Right to Information (RTI) Act could also be another trigger, says Bargotra, referring to the rise in public interest activism.
Such campaigns could help brands come across as responsible and mature. The downside, however, is that unless it is part of the overall brand platform, the strategy is temporary and can look tacky, say experts. “Many brands are riding the social cause wave. But only few are on a political platform—it needs to find a fit with the category. The movement is towards self-governance. But even here, movies have been bolder—from Rang de Basanti to A Wednesday,” says Chandrasekar.