Naresh Gupta on how brands must come together to fight the pandemic

October 16, 2020 6:50 AM

Today, brands have not been able to stand out, largely because their offerings aren’t optimum enough to help them fight the virus

Consumers are uniting; media choices are helping them transition from singularity to collectivismConsumers are uniting; media choices are helping them transition from singularity to collectivism

By Naresh Gupta

Like everything else, advertising, too, is driven by history. Usually brands stick to the playbook they know, and create communication around it. When the pandemic hit us, the world went into power saving mode. The shutdown lasted over 200 days, and no one knows if we are open or closed. This is when history came to the rescue.

A virus is not unknown to brands. We have had animated ‘kitanoo’ for the longest time. Over the past few years, these evil fellows were sent into hibernation. From soaps to sanitiser brands, most have had to hurriedly wake them up. Virus-bashing has begun.

In the name of the virus

As with the virus, anti-virus appeals have spread, too. We had brands telling us how to banish the virus from our food, how to wash veggies, etc. We saw the launch of Corona-resistant fabrics, anti-Corona shirts, anti-Corona mattresses and even Corona-curing camphor. What we didn’t have were anti-Corona toothpastes and face creams. We did have a famous president asking his fellow countrymen to drink bleach as an antidote to the virus.

While we had the advertising industry dip into the old-world ‘kitanoo’ appeals, we also had brands resorting to topical appeals to ride the moment. We were quick to latch on to the immunity-boosting appeal, too. We had a biryani brand claiming to have anti-Corona properties; turmeric lattes and juices were being sold to boost immunity.
We even had handwash that boosted immunity. There was a particular papad brand that got in a Union Minister (no less) as influencer, to make sure that the shield against the virus remains impregnable. Not one to be left behind, we had the country’s biggest yoga guru launch a concoction to zap the virus.

Overall, it has led to a state of confusion, with no brand breaking the clutter. Maybe the Facebook Concert is the only campaign that didn’t follow the old-world practice.

Active messaging

Where is the issue? Are brands lazy or has the creative community hit the snooze button? Why is it that the biggest challenge to humanity has not met with a response that makes people come together as one to take affirmative action? The answer again may lie in our collective history.

As an industry, we don’t have a history of collective activism. There has never been a need to come together and create a joint campaign that speaks about a big humanitarian issue. True, we have done campaigns for polio, AIDS and clean India, but all of them were created by one agency for one client.

If we have to look dispassionately, then the fight against Covid-19 requires a mass movement. The industry could possibly emulate actor Sonu Sood, who rewrote the rules of engagement by doing what he did. His has been the lone voice. However, it tells us that when lone voices rise above narrow subjects, they start to matter.

Now imagine if his voice was the collective voice of the industry. If the five biggest clients, creative agencies and media agencies came together, we would see a mass movement that inspired every citizen to do what needs to be done.

Today, brands have not been able to stand out, largely because their offerings aren’t optimum enough to help them fight the virus. Brands have remained isolated voices. Today, consumers are uniting; media choices are helping them transition from singularity to collectivism.

This is the time for advertisers to rise and create messages that can start a movement.

The author is CSO and managing partner, Bang in the Middle

Read Also: Harman India’s Prathab Deivanayagham on life beyond work

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