Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Opinion | Can brands in India ‘Just do it’ like Nike did in US?

57% of buyers will buy or boycott a brand because of its stand on a social or political issue

Imagine featuring a controversial actor or celebrity and even benefiting from this association. Is it unthinkable? Yet, this is exactly what Nike Inc. bet upon when it took on board former American National Football League player Colin Kaepernick as its brand ambassador. 

Kaepernick—who is in the spotlight for kneeling during the national anthem played at the start of the game to protest police brutality against African-Americans—has sent the company’s stock soaring.

Since his debut in its latest commercial in the first week of September, the world’s largest sportswear maker’s stock had surged as much as 5%. Even now, a month later, Nike’s stock is 2% higher, adding $2 billion in market value, according to Bloomberg data.

Moreover, consumers are also rewarding the company by putting their money behind the brand. Nike’s Colin Kaepernick women’s jersey line was sold out within 15 days. Overall sales have increased by over 60% in the 10 days following the new commercial—this, even as it ran fewer discounts and promotions compared to the 10 days prior to the launch of the advertisement, according to a Reuters report. 

Of course, the decision was not easy for Nike. The company nearly severed ties with Kaepernick from its roster of sponsored athletes before eventually going ahead with him fearful of the negative publicity if they cut him, according to the New York Times. 

Sure, there was the expected backlash even with the decision to take him on board. A section of critics burned Nike merchandise and US President Donald Trump lashed out at the brand on social media. 

However, picking sides paid off. The number of consumers willing to pay with their wallets far outdid the dissenters. 

Globally, more than half or 57% of consumers will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue, according to a 2017 Edelman Earned Brand study. 

Across generations—60% of millennials, 53% of Gen Zers and 51% of Gen Xers would buy a brand if they believed that it resonated with them. This is true of a majority of the top quartile earners as well, and even truer of developing economies, where 73% of Chinese and 65% of Indians are said to be belief-driven buyers.

In India, often the fringe voices get their way. However, it could be otherwise, if brands instead listened to their customers.

In 2015 when actor Aamir Khan expressed his views on the perceived intolerance in the country, sparking a controversy, a section of consumers rooted for him.

E-tailer SnapDeal, whom Khan then represented as a brand ambassador, saw its rankings and sales improve within three days of his comments. The brand’s ranking moved up five places from 25 to 20 among all applications in India, according to app tracker appannie.com.

Moreover, it also made it to the top three shopping applications in the country climbing a rank up from the fourth position, according to a report by Indian Retailer, a specialist news and insights provider on the retail sector from Franchise India Holdings Ltd. This even as detractors deleted SnapDeal’s app and criticized it on social media.

SnapDeal, however, panicked. The e-tailer snapped its ties with Khan a few months later.

To be sure, the extreme right and the extreme left are offended easily and have a disproportionate share of voices in India. They account for about 20-30% of the country’s population and about 70% of the overall voice share, says Anirban Das Blah, the founder and managing director of Kwan Entertainment & Marketing Solutions Pvt. Ltd. 

Often, the country’s apex court is required to intervene and resolve their complaints.

Think of the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film Padmaavat’s stalled release earlier this year due to offended Hindu right wing groups or the hurt Islamic sentiments over the picturization of a song which had Malayalam actress Priya Prakash Varrier wink in it. 

Moreover, for brand marketers, the Indian economy is growing at a steady pace of 7-8%. Even plucking the low hanging fruits or just being efficient, says Blah, will ensure a double-digit growth rate. Playing with safe issues like addressing the age-old inter-religious anxieties or newer ones like gay couples and live-in relationships is enough to be relevant. The space for exponential growth though remains open. It is reserved for those brands that are willing to be disruptive, willing to lead the change, willing to stand out.

Shop Talk will take a weekly look at consumer trends, behaviour and insights.

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