Friday, February 12, 2016

Cause marketing need not be a thorn in your side

It can, when targeted right, put your brand on a bed of roses

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Sadly, this happy event which has youth celebrating ecstatically seems to be mired in controversy in India at least. One of the realities of today’s world seems to be the polarization of views and the fact that people are taking extreme views on subjects and holding on to them for dear life. A small section of India which is quite vocal has maintained that Valentine’s Day is against Indian culture though many of us are gloriously vague as to what actually constitutes Indian culture. But then that is another story. Let’s talk about the immediate present and what happened at Delhi a few days ago. The commuters of Delhi Metro were accosted by posters targeted at young people asking them not to celebrate Valentine’s Day. There were different posters, one showing young children worshipping their parents and another of teenagers holding each other’s ears in front of policemen. The messaging was simple, direct  and crude even saying that the festival on February 14th is against Indian culture and children should use it to venerate their parents by celebrating ‘Matri Pitri Pujan  Diwas’ on the same day. Let’s talk about this campaign in specific and cause marketing in general using the occasion of this campaign.


Source credibility is key
Cause marketing is a good means of getting your brand visible as what you are essentially doing is taking a higher platform rather than a mere brand marketing message. But currently the person behind this campaign is rape-accused Asaram Bapu who has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. So the reaction might well be “first get your house in order before telling me what needs to be done”. So perhaps the same campaign from someone else who is probably not tainted might not have elicited the same violent response in social media which today is an extremely potent weapon to attack people whose credentials are suspect or anyone whom you don’t like. In  marketing and in life, clearly timing is everything and while the beleaguered leader might have thought it was an appropriate moment to build some equity with the public at large the social media has not let that happen and I don’t blame social media this time around.

 Creativity is the name of the game
The reality is that most people are apathetic and don’t give a damn about social causes. So if you want to change their attitude or behaviour the communication must be striking, noticeable and cause people to stop, think and act. Does this Valentine’s Day communication have that quality? Sadly it does not. A basic principle of advertising is “you can’t bore someone into buying your product or idea” and if this communication is targeted at youth which it ostensibly is, then sadly I find it wanting. Of course I am sure older people might silently agree with the campaign theme as they might privately believe that they are not getting the respect or attention they deserve! But having said that we must remember that success or otherwise of campaigns like these rests squarely on the creative and that is my grouse with the Valentine’s Day campaign.
Creativity can shock you into action
When I think of advertising for social causes, my mind goes back to several years ago. It was done by Saatchi and Saatchi and the ad literally made waves catapulting the agency to international fame and recognition as a creative powerhouse. Let me define the situation by asking you the question. Who gets pregnant, the man or the woman? Of course it is the woman and the problem is that often it is unplanned because the man is dumb and refuses or forgets to use protection. The communication showing a pregnant man was outstanding in its noticeability and nudged an apathetic male population to sit up and take notice and hopefully use protection.

Sum and substance 
Cause marketing that is strategically sound and exceptionally different can work but it has to be promoted by someone who has an image and has no axe to grind, not like the attempt in Delhi. Changing attitudes and behaviour is not easy as people basically tend to be apathetic to causes. You need to nudge them and on occasion shock them. But communication that is not subtle or smart may not work. The timing of this communication too is very critical. What is the mood of the target audience is something that communicators need to worry about. People too can quickly realise whether it is part of an organisation’s area of interest or are they merely trying to capitalise on some current issue. This is the biggest problem with the current campaign. Asaram Bapu seems to be merely trying to use the occasion for his own personal good using the garb of the collective good of society and that as someone might say is just not cricket.
So don’t reject cause marketing because of this, just use it more sensibly.

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