A look at brand campaigns that made a mark during the pandemic
By Joseph George
The last 18 months have inarguably been most distressing for almost every post-independence-born Indian, living amid fear, anger, sorrow, frustration and, at times, even collective embarrassment. In all this, brands have had to walk the thin line — to be sensitive as well as to sell; to be true to their brand as well to their business; to persuade as well as to plead. A few brands, through their campaigns or initiatives, have stood out in this period in terms of being authentic, relevant, smart and compassionate. I have attempted to talk briefly about each of them. This list is not ranked by impact, because I do not have all the required data; and is certainly not exhaustive either.
Axis Bank: The bank’s Reverse the Khata campaign reminded us about the ‘old normal’ when one could walk up to the neighbourhood store or vendor, make a purchase, and walk away with a casual ‘mere khate (account) mein likh lena’. This ‘khata’, to date, remains a sacred aspect and indeed an unwritten promise of a long-term relationship between the customer and the local shopkeeper. Axis Bank flipped this pan-India cultural truth on its head and urged people to #ReverseTheKhata by advancing money to these very neighbourhood stores and vendors to help them recover, and restart their life mauled by the pandemic.
Mondelez: Festivals during the pandemic came with a dark cloud hanging over them. For small businesses, it wrecked livelihoods. Mondelez designed a real-time, data-driven, hyper-localised campaign called #NotJustACadburyAd to advertise not just itself, but also thousands of small businesses across India who could do with some free advertising. The idea was also to encourage generosity at a local community level, by spotlighting small retailers that people could buy Diwali gifts from.
Google: Google was smart and sensitive about making itself extremely relevant during the pandemic through its various products, services and initiatives. From critical and authentic information about vaccines and other Covid safety protocols with its #GetTheFacts initiatives to its #BeKindToYourMind, where it addressed the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of those who were taking care of others. The company also did its bit for struggling parents and irritable kids with their #GoogleSummerCamp initiative, as also with its #MakeSmallStrong initiative where it urged Indians to search and shop from local businesses.
Unilever: Lifebuoy’s early response to the pandemic was to urge people to stop the virus from spreading by washing their hands regularly with soap — not just Lifebuoy, but any soap. It also featured competitor brands, putting Lifebuoy at the helm of a behaviour change plea from the personal hygiene industry. On Global Handwashing Day 2020, Lifebuoy developed one of the simplest and most scalable ideas, ‘H for Handwashing’, to fundamentally change how the letter ‘H’ is taught. A simple intervention that introduced the concept of handwashing to children at the right age. No longer will ‘H’ stand for Horse, Hat or even Home.
MullenLowe Lintas Group: It was rare to see a creative agency put its hand up to do its bit for what had stunned, shocked, saddened and shamed an entire nation — when 30 million daily wage blue collar, skilled and unskilled migrant workers were rendered jobless. MullenLowe Lintas’s solution to the problem was a digital replica of the physical ‘Labour Chowk’ — the high traffic crossroads in metros where skilled and unskilled workers gather daily with their tools to find work and wage. Kaam Wapasi (Back to Work), through its unique mobile web application and IVRS, allowed migrant workers to upload their skill levels and location preference, and employers to upload their skill and location requirements. The algorithms then took over matching the data sets of employers and potential employees.
The author is founder, chairman and MD, Tilt Brand Solutions