scorecardresearch

Next Diwali, Let’s Avoid the Condescension of Doing Good?

When two groups are present in an ad, one privileged and the other underprivileged, there arises the question of how the two relate to each other – can this be done without the former patronising the latter?

Next Diwali, Let’s Avoid the Condescension of Doing Good?
The common factor among all the above ads is what I would like to call the “BoP syndrome” – the unquestioned belief that people at the condescendingly termed “bottom of the pyramid”

By Priya Narayanan

It was Cadbury that hit upon the idea of brands doing good during Diwali in a seriously big way – the 2020 ad from Cadbury Celebrations showed how small local stores that were hit by the pandemic could be brought into the customer’s consideration set through geography-based hyper-personalisation. “This is not just a Cadbury ad,” they said, and so we believed: the ad nudged us towards local stores. Thus it was that in the midst of the pandemic, Cadbury found a way to do good and be good, and yet gain marketing momentum.

But the next year, as the prestige factor was upped, Shah Rukh Khan’s charisma was deemed essential to do the same job for a similar ad by Cadbury. In this ad, Shah Rukh Khan names local stores in his voiceover and this, again, was powered by technology. It wasn’t too bad, except the realisation that our purchases of Celebrations were funding the expense incurred in engaging the celebrity actor.

But this year? With its #ShopsForShopless ad of 2022, Cadbury has, despite its best intentions, fallen prey to “purpose”, the new catchword in marketing. Somebody (or worse, everybody) at Cadbury seems to have decided that for Celebrations to stand out, it had to be tagged with purpose. So, now that good old eating and gifting are not enough for Diwali, the Cadbury ad tells us to scan a QR code on the sweet box, help roadside hawkers set up virtual shops, and buy from such shops. For the kind of “help” that they received, the gratitude in the eyes of Damodar (not Damodarji?!) and his helper is nauseating in its excessiveness.

Other companies have also found small shops and artisan sellers very saleable. In the well-intentioned HP’s Thodi Si Jagah Bana Lo ad, the HP store becomes a venue for displaying the products of an artisan who was driven out of a roadside space by police. Despite its other merits (the ad shows a woman as the decision maker, for example), the ad shows an old artisan and his grandchild nearly teary-eyed with gratitude at the support from HP. The disconnect from reality pales against the overdone gratitude.

One of the most cringeworthy ads this Diwali is by Wow! Momo’s. For a video that shows a fair-skinned child (and family) ordering food for dark-skinned children whose faces become plastered with gratitude, the only excuse is that the company is still learning the ropes. Like many of its counterparts, this startup too probably suffers from too much funding too early in its journey. We can only hope that next year will not be this bad for them (or us).

The common factor among all the above ads is what I would like to call the “BoP syndrome” – the unquestioned belief that people at the condescendingly termed “bottom of the pyramid” (with due apologies to the great C. K. Prahalad) need to be saved by those at higher levels of the “pyramid”. And the ads discussed are just a few of the ads that regularly come up in social media and garner thousands of mindless likes for brands. All this makes one wonder at the systemic issues in a society that permits such goodwill merely by encouraging such inequity.

And yet, there are companies that have gone beyond lip service. JK Super Cement narrates a sweet story of a traffic signal vendor and a traffic policeman, and tells us that the company has engaged in installation of a reasonable number of traffic police booths. Many other brands choose to stay in safe territory by talking about happy moments with family. Tanishq went so far as to break stereotypes of pehli diwali by showing how women are bold and ordinary at the same time.

Understandably, when two groups are present in an ad, one privileged and the other underprivileged (the rich family and the poor kids of the Wow! Momo ad, for example), there arises the question of how the two (are made to) relate to each other – can this be done without the former patronising the latter? The solution is not easy. But answers have to be found if the brand ventures into the tough territory of being seen as doing good, or as wanting to do good. Advertising, for one, has to go beyond a desperate desire for eyeballs.

Diwali is not just about lighting diyas, eating sweets, and gifting Cadbury Celebrations to scan a QR code to help small shops. It is about sharing and spreading the metaphorical light of happiness and goodwill with friends and strangers, and doing so as if we really meant it. The easiest way to “help” an artisan or a roadside hawker is to just buy from them. Spare them pity and largesse because that deprives them of dignity.

The author is the assistant professor of marketing at IIM Kozhikode. The views mentioned are personal.

Also Read: Top martech trends every brand needs to know

Follow us on TwitterInstagramLinkedIn, Facebook

Get live Share Market updates and latest India News and business news on Financial Express. Download Financial Express App for latest business news.

First published on: 26-11-2022 at 12:02:00 pm