United in Colors

As the world struggles with the global health pandemic Covid 19, trying to live with the new normal of social distancing, tens of thousands of US citizens are taking to the streets. These men and women are out there to protest against the killing of George Floyd, a black man, in the custody of Minneapolis police custody, raising their voice against racism and police brutality.

If the protestors were raising their voice across the streets of United States there was a parallel voice running on the social media. This time it was also supported by some of the biggest brands aligning themselves to the protests showing their solidarity in a meaningful way. The trending hashtags #BlackLivesMatter , #JusticeForFloyd.

Is the old rules of marketing changing?

Now what is it, that has made these brands go against the contemporary marketing theory of keeping away from controversial topics namely political and social issues?

In an increasingly connected world, the new generation have grown up with the internet, more in tune with social causes than previous generations.  This younger generation has redefined the word “consumer” as they want their brands to define their purpose, to discuss societal issues and become the driving force behind social movements.

But it is not that all brands have kept away from being associated with social issues. Infact the clothing and fashion brand Benetton whole communication strategy was to bring about social change. From addressing racial discrimination, gender equality, violence against women, diversity, health issues, brand Benetton has concealed all.

With Purpose at its core, brand Benetton was built on unexpected — the advertising approach of Benetton was to ride on controversies, and remember these in the times when social media was unheard of.

Closer home in India, the brand Amul was built on a marketing communication strategy which stood out of the cluttered advertising through campaign of topicality. Amul through its innovative advertisements reflected the common man’s thoughts and feelings.

Incidentally Rahul da Cunha, the creator of Amuls ads, doesn’t believe that mere advertising can create a better society as the role of ads is to inform people and consumers about brands. But in today’s time brands hold global influence on all levels of stakeholders from the consumer to customer to employees and other investors, so for brands to be silent at this time could in fact do more harm than good. While at one level there is a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) pressure to take up an issue and stand for something, for organisations of today, the basic ethics / purpose of the business is the key business driver. Issues related to sustainability, globalisation, advocacy on social issues are being taken up, echoing the collective economic, political and social interests of the society.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is now playing a key role going beyond the mandatory formality, as in the age of hyper-connected and hyper-transparency, organisations are re-evaluating their “Purpose in Society” and the narratives are now reinforced in the same. The digitally-connected age has provided organisations the opportunity as well as the challenge to cut through the noise with credibility and stand out in the crowd to be seen as authentic.

Today customers want to see the brands making an impact on issues they already care about and to take their social action beyond the #Hashtag world. They want the brands providing value to others’ lives integrating new ideas and voices to showcase organisations commitment in supporting a more inclusive economy and sustainable environment.

Anup Sharma (@TweetsAnup)

The author is a StoryTeller with two decades of experience in Public Relations and Corporate Communications. He is also the Senior Director at Public Relations Consultants Association of India.

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