The Hunt for Followers Posted on

Brands seem to be getting bolder. Many are playing around with age-old taboos and getting their reputations in a twist over social causes and behavioural anomalies. Be it the need for couples to share housework, the right of women to work, or that of children to play and dream – if there is a right being violated or an injustice that needs correction; be sure to find a brand close on its heels.

What is driving the shift in brand communication? The recent IMRB-Kantar Brand Footprint 2015 survey has an interesting insight. Consumers, the report notes, are increasingly responsive to brands that demonstrate social purpose, which could be in the way they market themselves or in the way they promote healthier lifestyles and more equal societies.

Therefore, justifiably perhaps, brands are speaking out and taking a stand on a range of issues. But there is another reason too; the new sharing economy. Aligning with a cause or a movement helps brands amplify their messages on digital media, as such messages are more likely to be liked, shared and followed. Shriram Iyer, national creative director, Mullen Lintas, believes that social media operates like a wave. Brands can either spot one early and attach themselves to it, or create one. He says, ‘Advertising is beginning to see social media as a tool to shape thinking.’

Communication today, especially in the digital form, has to be short, memorable and instantly shareable. Iyer talks about how his team conceptualized the Havells ‘Hawa Badlegi‘ campaign where they took up issues that they believed would connect with their consumers. ‘Hawa (wind) is all about fans and is also interpreted as the mood of society and that is the only connect between what a fan does (and the society),’ he says. The Havells TVC on censorship, gender sensitivity and Bollywood, which was a part of this campaign,has garnered more than 202,000 views on YouTube.

Vinaya Naidu, campaign reviewer at Lighthouse Insights, a social media marketing research agency says, ‘The social media age of instant consumer response and a two-way communication possibility has given this trend a boost.’ Another example is the award winning ‘Touch the pickle’ campaign for P&G brand Whisper. BBDO India created the campaign that won the Grand Prix for the Glass Lions for gender-equality category at Cannes. Josy Paul, chairman and chief creative officer, BBDO India believes that the campaign integrates well with Whisper’s core philosophy. ‘It started with the brand giving women a platform to challenge myths and taboos surrounding women’s periods,’ he says. The agency says that more than 2.9 million women have pledged to ‘touch the pickle’ and it has received over $6.1 million of earned media (this happens when a video goes viral and the company does not have to pay for the advertising as the brand promotes itself).

Buoyed by its success the P&G-BBDO combine has designed another such campaign, ‘Share the load’ for laundry brand Ariel. The campaign has received over $10 million worth of earned media and 1.6 billion worth earned impressions (the number of times a page is viewed). Consumer engagement increased three times–the highest ever according to BBDO India. When a brand is looked upon as socially more aware, ‘they are more likely to strike a chord with their consumers,’ says Naidu.

Brands are churning ideas with a social purpose since there seems to be ‘a higher value associated to that kind of message,’ believes Iyer. That is how the consumer sees it, not just in India but all over the world.

Naturally therefore there is a rush among brands to associate with issues of national, even global importance. For instance, Eureka Forbes has set up over 100 water clinics hoping to be seen as a campaigner for pure water. Naidu believes that brands are trying to humanise themselves and she says, ‘real life stories are helping brands build trust once again.’

Another example is the HDFC Life ‘Ray of Hope’ campaign for cancer patients. The key, however, is to approach an issue with sincerity. Josy Paul says that if a brand idea is empathetic and engaging then it will get millions of active followers. True, but while the digital world can bring instant fame, one false step and the followers could turn into an angry mob. The line is a thin one.

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