Cause related marketing, and whether it makes or breaks a brand campaign

In the post on women’s day, we touched upon how the depiction of women in advertisements has been gradually changing and how we now see a number of brands attempting to break stereotypes. We also mentioned that some brands are taking this further and highlighting prevalent gender prejudices, biases and regressive traditions. India has no dearth of gender related social challenges that need addressing – inequality, inclusion, bias, safety, education, etc. – and there has been no dearth of brands that seem to have taken up cudgels on one or more of these causes.

It’s commendable that brands are bringing such issues to the public eye given that very little public conversation takes place around them. Some brands are also taking huge risks highlighting issues that are extremely polarising. While there is no denying that these issues make for powerful emotional messaging, often earning praise from netizens, but as marketers we wonder whether consumers are buying into such messages. Given the proliferation of such creatives of late, one wonders whether these brands sound credible and authentic, and whether brands are losing their unique identity in an attempt to grab eyeballs by blindly riding this advertising trend. In this post, we attempt to answer those questions by looking at the cause related marketing campaigns of a few brands and highlighting what works and what doesn’t.

Brands which are targeting the new age Indian woman have taken up a number of gender related issues on digital media. Anouk, the ethnic wear brand from Myntra, launched the ‘bold is beautiful’ campaign that they believed reflected the attitude of their TG – “one who is not hesitant to voice her strong opinion”. Narratives around workplace discrimination / career after pregnancy, single parenting, sacrificing careers for family and even same-sex relationships in their ads also highlighted their brand attribute of being ‘bold’ in terms of designs. Within a few months of Anouk’s first ad, the brand Biba launched their ‘change is beautiful’ campaign highlighting more women’s issues – gender prejudice in arranged marriage, dowry, body image, higher education and even their version of marriage over career (with the same protagonist from Anouk’s eve-teasing ad!). However, unlike in the case of Anouk where the ads did attempt a link – however tenuous – to  the  brand attribute of bold designs, in the case of Biba the ads seem to simply highlight a cause without linking it to the brand.

Sportswear brands too have increased their focus on the female TG. The race probably started with Nike’s Da Da Ding campaign that encouraged girls to participate in sports. The message – sports help girls build self-image – is seamlessly blended into vignettes of sportswomen playing. Soon, Reebok followed with their own campaigns targeting women; as did Adidas, Puma and Bata’s Power a few months ago. Reebok’s campaigns highlighted issues like sexual harassment and equal pay. The attempt, they say, is about breaking the prevalent stereotype that girls shouldn’t fight back. While there is an association between physical and mental strength gained from fitness training to fighting eve-teasers, the layering to fighting for equal pay at the workplace is a little tenuous. Then the brand tries to stretch an already thin argument further and link this message to their brand philosophy by just tagging ‘be more human’ at the end of the ad!

Social inclusion, especially of transgenders, is another cause on which we’ve seen a number of ads of late. Unilever with Brooke Bond Red Label’s 6 Pack Band was probably the first to talk about prevalent prejudices and exclusion of the transgender community. The brand team has been attempting to break stereotypes with ads for some time now, using the brand proposition of ‘bringing people closer / being more welcoming’ to talk about gender norms and religion. Given these ongoing efforts, the new ad doesn’t seem out of place and feels natural coming from Brooke Bond.

Contrast those with the ad that UrbanClap released on Women’s Day celebrating acceptance of trans-women and that of Vicks on Mother’s Day about transgender adoption rights (care, given changing family definition). These ads evoked positive responses for their execution and generated a good amount of PR. But, given the one-off nature of the ads, the release timing and lack of on-ground action, these ads don’t seem a natural area of concern for these brands and make them look rather opportunistic.

Consumers crave authenticity and have started to see through such increasingly opportunistic advertising by brands to sell products. On a lighter note, a recent article on Arre poked fun at cause related marketing and a growing number of “kuch empowerment type ka” creative briefs which lead to “shoving of empowerment-friendly hashtag digital campaigns”. Saturday Night Live even did a skit in which they mocked one such pitch meeting for cheesy Cheetos during which brand managers were shown discussing scripts around immigration, racial inclusiveness, and transgender rights for the brand’s next ad!

Subtly or assertively, several Indian brands are raising issues and taking a stance through their ads. It is this “purpose” theme or “cause related” activism that we are seeing more and more of in advertising since the last few years. Brands need to carefully evaluate how well they fit with the cause they want to support, how it will impact the brand and whether the approach is sustainable. Simply riding a wave or using a current issue without connecting well with it will only prove to be detrimental to the brand.

In the next post, we’ll look at a few reasons for the explosion in such purpose-led advertising along with a few tactics that make or mar a good brand purpose strategy and campaign.

  • Roshni Jhaveri
  • Ravindra Ramavath