New Delhi: Sachin Tendulkar, India’s best-known cricketer,extols the benefits of vitamins, especially for growing children, in a recent television commercial. The ad isn’t a “social service message” as the government and advertising agencies term campaigns that use popular faces to disseminate important messages—cricketers have been used to speak of such things as oral polio drops and ways to protect oneself against AIDS.
The Tendulkar commercial is for Tiger, a biscuit brand owned by Britannia Industries Ltd. Another commercial for Tiger speaks of how a certain portion of the revenue from the sale of every packet of biscuits goes towards sponsoring the education of a child from an underprivileged family. Britannia recently signed a deal with Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), a voluntary body, and promised to address the issue of malnutrition, especially vitamin and mineral deficiencies in India.
Such messages aren’t just about corporate social responsibility (CSR), say experts, but aimed to appeal to consumers. “Consumers are interested in more than just a great ad or a quality product—they are interested in products that echo their own values,” says Ravi Naware, the chief executive of the foods division of ITC Ltd. Thus, commercials for ITC’s products such as Sunfeast biscuits and Aashirvaad wheat flour, speak of how the sale and purchase of these will help the company fund water-conservation efforts or provide employment for people in rural areas.
Marketers such as Naware may have latched on early to a good thing. A recent survey in Europe by market research firm Gfk NOP found that consumers were willing to pay a 5-10% premium for products sold by ‘ethical’ companies. Another international survey, this one by public relations firm Weber Shandwick, found that social causes, especially ones that have to do with the environment, affect how consumers make decisions, including their “speed to action”, or time between the message and the purchase. “In a rapidly changing business environment, companies need to engage stakeholders in new and creative ways,” says Jack Leslie, chairman, Weber Shandwick.
Some companies have discovered that social and environmental messages are “new and creative”. A recent campaign by Italian apparel brand Diesel is built around the theme of global warming and shows models in trendy swimwear on ruined landscapes, including the rock cuts of US presidents on Mount Rushmore submerged in water. Indian advertisers, too, are realizing that social and environmental messages help sell their products. “We are seeing a strong trend where brands are utilizing issues that surround the consumers’ immediate environment and are addressing them through their mainstream advertising,” says Ajit Varghese, managing director, Maxus India, an agency that works with Britannia.
Hindustan Lever Ltd was an early adopter of this trend with its campaign for Surf Excel Quick Wash detergent that tried to sell soap on the promise that it would require less water (by as much as two buckets). That campaign, featuring activist film actors Shabana Azmi and Revathi, aired more than two years ago. Since then, the company has sold detergent and soap on such promises as scholarships for poor children (Surf Excel, again), and personal and environmental hygiene (Lifebuoy). “Our messages to the community are visible across television, print, radio, Internet and outdoor activities,” says HLL’s spokesperson. “We want to reach our consumers with a message at every touch point,” he adds.
Standard Chartered Plc, which has 170 branches across India will soon hit television screens with an ad that promotes afforestation, according to Nishant Gangadharan, creative director, TBWA India, the agency that handles the bank’s advertising. The ad, which shows a forest made of paper being destroyed by a human hand can already be seen on the bank’s website.
And Arvind Parakh , chief executive officer of real-estate developer Omaxe Ltd, said his company would soon start airing ads that spoke of the “environmentally friendly considerations we have given in the construction of our projects.”
“The way commercial and residential buildings are constructed can have a huge effect on the immediate environment,” he adds.
Independent media and advertising consultant C.V.L. Srinivas said that although pitching social causes in ads has “become the latest buzz”, the trend could become pronounced enough for it to become mandatory for all ads to show the “environmental regulatory compliance” of the products or service they sell.