Driven by the need for speed, ethics take a backseat
By Arun Raman
The recent action by PV Sindhu against 20 Indian brands for using her name and images “without permission” has opened up a debate on the ‘ethics of moment marketing’. After the Indian contingent’s creditable performance in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics, we have all seen how brands fell over each other issuing congratulatory ads using images of these sportsmen liberally. All under the pretext of moment marketing.
Making moments matter
A Deloitte report on digital trends defined moment marketing as, “the ability to take advantage of an event to deliver relevant and related, seemingly spontaneous, and often fleeting interactions with customers in real time”. Oreo’s ‘You Can Still Dunk in the Dark’ tweet during a 2013 Super Bowl game will go down in marketing history as being one of the most successful instances of real-time marketing. The brand capitalised on the half-hour-long power outage with a timely tweet that riffed on the game, and was retweeted over 18,000 times.
Remember Pepsi’s ‘Nothing Official About It’ campaign in India during the 1996 Cricket World Cup which had Coke as the official sponsor? It was a hijack, done in the inimitable and irreverent Pepsi way. It was moment marketing done superbly well…so much so, that the idea became part of daily lexicon.
Now that the world is in the grips of the pandemic, many brands have come forward to put out responsible messages and to do good for the community at large. This is a great way to cultivate customer loyalty that will outlast these tough times.
These examples from some of the world’s biggest brands show that moment marketing is not merely a fad. It’s a marketing tool used extensively by brands like Amul Butter over the years, and is now becoming all pervasive in the digital age.
Moment marketing demands heightened creativity. That’s why the Oreo and Pepsi examples stand out as does Amul invariably. Because one indeed needs to be extremely creative to link a ‘disconnected event’ to a brand’s core premise.
The ethical dilemma
Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why, says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” I would humbly like to add “….and how ethically you do it”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary ethics are “moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity”.
So, shouldn’t the debate really be about ethics of marketers? People who have sacrificed creativity at the altar of compulsion. By hook or by crook, rather than playing by the book. They are forgetting the most important word in communication: permission. Have agencies and clients sought permission from the athlete/ actor/ event organisers to use such images? Not seeking permission is the first sign of lacking ethics in moment marketing.
Today, marketing and creative folk are driven by greed: to grab every opportunity to be part of what’s popular. The need for speed is what drives moment marketing. If you delay, you lose the moment. But by not seeking due permissions, you are affecting the earnings of these athletes and jeopardising the entire marketing ecology. Some other brand may have invested in the same athlete or star for endorsements… crores of rupees. But when you use those images for free, you are making this other brand manager feel aggrieved and question his/ her own need to invest.
Also, and more importantly, brand marketers and creative agencies should realise before it’s too late that in today’s hyper-connected, 24×7 world, such unethical behaviour can impact brands much faster than all their great efforts of the past.
Use the moment. But ethically, please.
The author is chief intelligence officer, GREY Group India