The average Indian, corporates and their honchos have been generous. What about brands?
By Gokul Krishnamoorthy
Even before the first instalment of the lockdown came into effect, there were serious debates on Whatsapp groups of apartment complexes. Most decided against the entry and exit of household help like cleaners and cooks. But what about senior citizens with health conditions who did not have live-in domestic help or cooks or nurses? One suggestion was to get the help to stay on. Another was to allow medical professionals alone. Even as these issues were being sorted, those who hadn’t known about the specific condition or needs of elderly neighbours offered to cook for them. Others are cleaning their houses to this day.
Much of this is happening without any noise on the Whatsapp groups. The same groups, where arguments over what comprises essential service, goods whose delivery is to be allowed, whether or not NASA said anything about lighting lamps and the like, were aplenty. The same groups are making appeals to donate for a member of the security staff whose daughter is getting married shortly. They want to ensure that their resident (dawn to dusk) ‘ironing’ man for whom the society was the only source of livelihood, is alright.
There is no dearth of surprise and entertainment either. There was a message on one of the groups from an elderly, educated gentleman, who had just broken the shackles of the lockdown. One Saturday morning he took out his car armed with prescriptions, grocery bags and anything else he would need to show in case he was stopped enroute. The drive helped him finish his shopping and gave him a sense of freedom. His joy was evident from his post. The only thing he was pained by, he revealed, was the sight of some visibly hungry men and women. They were hoping for his car to stop. He returned home with groceries and guilt.
From Intent To Action
It is heartening to see corporate houses come out in force to pledge money for relief work during the Covid-19 crisis. It helps that some of their contributions will fall under Corporate Social Responsibility. And then there are those like the Azim Premji Foundation, which are beacons of humanity that go beyond corporate social responsibility to embrace social responsibility.
Everyone is doing that they can, from the largest to the smallest. Engrave.in, a maker of personalised gifts and corporate award trophies, is now making personal protection equipment for medical workers. Crea, a manufacturer of bags jumped into the fray to do its part too, for medical workers. CavinKare, hailed as the pioneer of the sachet paradigm, forayed into sanitisers like many, many others but did so in affordable sachets under multiple brands.
On many of the brands doing yeoman service, we see very little mention in the media. What we do see in the media through their advertising, are brands asking us to stay home and stay safe, among other things.
I noticed two social media mentions that resonated with my thoughts. I hope I can remember them right. Afaqs’ Sreekant Khandekar said the beautiful family-at-home images that brands were using repeatedly came with an expiry date that ended with the first phase of the lockdown. Tilt Brand Solutions’ Joseph George underlined that consumers and employees were watching brands’ intent – action divide. I don’t think I could put this better than them.
Not everyone will have the means to chip in with money. There are other ways to contribute. And to make a meaningful difference, it does not take much even in terms of money. There are many organisations supported by foundations that are doing great work on the ground. But there is a limit on how much foundations – even the largest of them – and hence NGOs supported by them, can do. Hence the hungry people the gentleman found on the streets. And despite all the efforts of governments and the private sector, also in homes.
Corporate houses have been hit and some very badly. For many, to make essential brands available to consumers today is in itself a challenge. But if they had built two-way bridges to communities they could have helped, it would have made a big difference now. Their CSR arms may have a network and may be doing a fair bit in terms of meals for the migrant labour among other things.
Yet there remain the invisible victims of the lockdown, some of whom have never had to ask for help before, and would rather suffer hunger than have to ask now.
When there is such a huge need for help, are brands doing what they champion in their advertising? If they do not, is their advertising worthy of consumers’ time? If not during a crisis, then when?
They Also Serve
Interacting with people into distributing provisions for underprivileged segments during the lockdown, one realises that there are so many things that can get derailed at this time. We may not think about it in those terms. But what impact could this lockdown have, coming as it did before the end of an academic year, on the education of girls from underprivileged backgrounds? How would their parents prioritise their education when they are struggling to make ends meet? What would be the impact of such a crisis on a young mind braving odds to pursue an education?
This was the truth I was forced to blink at when I heard all about Udayan Care and its fellowship programme for underprivileged girls’ education; deserving girls from families earning less than Rs.15,000 a month. All the financial and mentoring help (six years) would come to nought if a girl dropped out. So the convenor of the programme’s Chennai chapter along with another NGO have taken it upon themselves to protect their dreams.
They are out to provide for the girls’ families, many of which have a single wage earner who is out of work now. That single wage earner also often happens to be a single mother. They need provisions just as much as anyone else, but for whatever reason, many of them don’t seem to receive help in this time of need. From families of girls they support the education of, the volunteers’ mandate has now grown to cover elderly underprivileged in need of help and also transgender families.
They are in need of help. And it will take very little to help them, in terms of money. A donation of Rs.1000 will feed a family of four for a week. Yet it is largely large-hearted individual donors who have bridged the gap so far. I am absolutely certain that there are thousands of such appeals today, but I refer to this one and appeal for it because I can vouch for its authenticity.
How many brands do we know that have spoken of girls’ education in their communication? How many brands have featured transgendered people in their advertising? Yes,some of them may have even done work with the communities they have spoken for. Taking nothing away from the need for advocacy, an ongoing engagement with the community or cause they espouse, at scale, is something brands have perhaps thought to be beyond their purview. If that be the case, what the corporate does, benefits just the corporate brand.
If you have “always believed in nurturing young talent” but are axing them first instead of giving the top rung a pay cut now, you never did mean what you said. If you always believed in a cause but can’t do much about it on-ground because it’s a CSR agenda, it was perhaps inappropriate to feature it in your advertising.
Are brands able to embrace the people or communities that they stood for at some point, now? If they are not, they will be living a lie. If they have no connect with those communities, they would be living a bigger lie.