Mumbai: At any other time of the year, store windows of Mumbai-based designer clothing chain Sheetal Clothing Co. Pvt. Ltd are an explosion of all things bright, beautiful and glittery.
But for the last few weeks, mannequins in the windows have traded in their finery for ensembles put together entirely from swathes of crisp white cotton. A quiet line-up in the window stands out against a backdrop of messages which say, “Ahimsa (Non-violence): Remember your birthright” and “In Memory”.
Following the November terror attacks in Mumbai, a number of brands and establishments are using their store space and mass media to express solidarity with the people of Mumbai. Hit by an economic slowdown and subdued end-of-year festive sentiment, these brands hope to perk up spirits and assuage the guilt associated with buying bling in these times by showing that they care.
Reaching out: Marketers say messages that reflect consumer sentiment are more likely to resonate with the audience than those which choose to stay out of cultural conversation.
Gayatri, a designer clothing store in south Mumbai, put up images of the peace rally in its store’s window. Jewellery company Minawala Jewellers and pen and accessories company Montblanc International GmbH put up hoardings within a week of the attacks.
“Our heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathy to all the families that have lost their loved ones,” said a Montblanc billboard. The firm also sent out personalized messages to customers who frequented their boutiques at the Taj Mahal hotel, a site of the terror attacks. “We had a lot of calls from our customers to check if the staff were okay. So in every sense, we wanted to thank them for their concern, let them know we were all okay and also, in the interim, happy to be of assistance through our other boutiques in Mumbai,” says Kamal Bharucha, director, retail, Entrack International Trading Pvt. Ltd, the distributor for Montblanc products in India. “We wanted to encourage them to call us and not feel awkward...to feel that it was ruthless or insensitive to call and make enquiries about their belongings or products during this time,” she says.
The Royal Bank of Scotland, or RBS, launched print ads at the start of the India-England cricket Test series featuring brand ambassador Sachin Tendulkar which said: “I play for India. Now more than ever.”
RBS, which launched its India operations in October, quickly turned their campaign around to reflect the mood of the country. Says Vasantha Kumar, head, marketing and communications, RBS, “After what happened on 26 November, we knew that we needed to contextualize the message. So, if you look at the communication, it’s straightforward and honest without the trappings of an ad commercial.”
Similarly, Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd put out hoardings which read, “Aamchi (Our) Mumbai: Virgin Atlantic honours the city and people of Mumbai.”
“Brands have increasingly become a part of society and just as human beings feel the need to express themselves at this time, brands also have a right to express themselves,” says Santosh Desai, managing director and chief executive officer, Future Brands, a brand consultancy of Future Group.
Desai says that as long as such messages are not seen as exploitative, they should work.
Following the attacks on the World Trade Center, or WTC, in the US, fashion brand Zara launched an all-black collection as a mark of respect to those who died. The collection was a sell-out.
Marketers say messages that reflect consumer sentiment are more likely to resonate with the audience than those which choose to stay out of cultural conversation. “In its own subtle way, (the message) lifts spirits,” says Priya Amiri, director, strategic planning, Sheetal Clothing. “It would make people less uncomfortable about walking into our stores at a time like this as the display shows that we are aware and respectful of what has happened, and by that virtue, so are our customers.”
However, such messages could further dampen consumer sentiment and lead to sales slowing. “It is a gamble…but we’re happy to take it,” says Amiri. “As a brand that is part of the community, you have to be conscious and respectful of what people have experienced. It would not be appropriate for us to continue in the same mood…, to be blasé.”
Says K.V. Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett India Pvt. Ltd, “In most cases, these are establishments which are part of the local community and in close touch with their customers. They know how to interact and reach out to their customers at a time like this.”