Home >Opinion >Views >Advertisers should join the battle against covid

Our wait for covid to draw creative juices out of India’s advertising fraternity is over. Evidence has popped onto hand-held screens in the form of a commercial for Pidilite’s adhesive brand Fevicol. If this splendid example of a dual-purpose ad-spot has not gone viral online yet, it ought to. Set in the food court of a shopping mall, it features a social experiment, or a Candid Camera-style prank, as it seems at first. Random folks show up to grab a vacant table, only to find themselves unable to draw chairs out. Tugs, perplexity and exasperation follow. Yes, they are affixed to the floor, thanks to what else but Fevicol, the impish role of which is revealed only at the end, amid laughter, as we zoom into a tiny placard saying why the table is off-bounds, even as a voiceover amplifies the reason: “Kyunki chehre par mask aur doh gaz ki doori, abh bhi hai bahut zaroori." Because a mask on one’s face and two yards of distance are still imperative. Conceived by an agency called Schbang, this ad craftily blends the brand’s sales proposition of firm adhesion with a valuable public-service message. Yes, Fevicol is a well-set brand and confident enough of its customer bond to serve a broader cause, but nothing stops other advertisers from taking a cue from this.

Our corona curve is proving both hard to repress and a function of behavioural patterns that call for intervention by way of good public persuasion. In the 24-hour period till 9am on Thursday, India recorded 72,330 new cases of covid, our highest daily count of infections in roughly six months. While our covid mortality rate is not alarmingly high, we are in the grip of a second wave, this time with strains of the virus around that seem to have spikes out for younger targets. Antibodies of immunity acquired by earlier patients may be wearing off, too. The Indian Council of Medical Research has warned of re-infection. Our vaccination outreach has covered just over 65 million people so far. Even if offering jabs to above-45s, which began on 1 April, speeds up this exercise, coronavirus could spread a lot faster. What this implies for the recovery of our economy is anybody’s guess. Seven of the 16 high-frequency indicators on Mint’s Macro Tracker were above their five-year growth trends on the latest scorecard, based on data updated till February, but even these inclines could droop if the pandemic has its way.

Across the country, vaccine awareness remains inadequate, especially among the poor and those who live in far-flung places. There are also ample signs of jab hesitancy, an issue that cannot be addressed without a grasp of attitudes and apprehensions. By one worthy hypothesis, for example, the prick of a needle and our body’s possible reaction tend to loom larger as worries than the abstract chance of falling ill to an unseen virus. Another thesis traces jab reluctance to a distrust of government among some, a fallout of weak social cohesion within India combined with tales of forced sterilization that go back to the Emergency. Generally, such problems are not very different from the sort that persuasion artists routinely solve in business contexts, often by studying psychographic-research inputs for insights. Brands aiming for mass audiences ought to chip in with dual-objective campaigns that attract attention and effect the attitudinal shifts we need. Many companies have large ad budgets. Let ‘bang for the buck’ manifest itself on more than just a revenue chart.

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