Advertising, that four-letter word and women

Harish Bijoor
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Rape is a four-letter word, keep it that way _ Sushil Kumar Verma
The Hindu Rape is a four-letter word, keep it that way _ Sushil Kumar Verma

In the wake of the recent gruesome Delhi gang rape, how must advertising and advertisers react? Is there a role for us here?

_ Sanchit Malhotra, Delhi

Sanchit, sensitive question this. One that needs a sensitive and real answer as well.

The first thing we need to do is remove our sectarian hats that paint us as advertising people, marketing people, brand people and business people. It is important to rise above it all, and view the rights and wrongs we are participating in. We need to think as people who live in society at large.

I do believe we need an attitude of zero tolerance. Men and women must participate in this zero tolerance movement towards rape. Rape is a four-letter word. Keep it that way, and keep it in its place. Stop using the word casually as well in our lingo. Make it a taboo word, even. Stop saying, “I got raped by my boss today” (I have heard men use it more often than women, about their male bosses! Bah!) when you really want to say something else. Rape is a not a good word. Let's purge it from our lexicon, just as we purge it from our society altogether. Hopefully.

What is zero tolerance? Objection to be looked at in a particular way, spoken to in a particular way, and called out to in a particular way that the woman finds objectionable, is zero-tolerance. We need to bring this in place in our lives and in our advertising as well. And men must support this vociferously. In fact, men must object to it first when they see a colleague behaving differently on this count.

Safety of women is an attitudinal issue. It all starts at home. How do we treat our women within our homes? And then it moves to schools. How are boys taught to look at the girls in their class? With respect? And how are girls taught to look at themselves? With confidence? As equals, if not more? And this moves to our colleges. And what is picked up there leads to our work places. How gender-biased are people who work with you? Can we sort that out first? Can we isolate those men who look at women differently? Can we label them and brand them?

And can we then purge our advertising of messaging that is not in line with this ethos? That would be a first step. And these are just baby steps.

Is there any one mantra we must value as a given, as we market into the future?

_ Arpit B. Khanna, Mumbai

Arpit, this is a generic one. Let me pick one, though, from my personal marketing ethos. Read it as a bumper sticker of good intent.

In everything you do or think, involve every one of the constituents of larger society. Don't think for yourself. Don't think only for your client. Think of the end consumer all the while. Think of the non-consumer even. Think exclusive. Or run the risk of getting excluded in the long run.

Get inclusive or get excluded. Touché.

Of late we have seen some brands exit India. A case in point is Esprit. Why? Is this a dent in the Indian retail story?

_ Jyotsna Malik, Bangalore

Jyotsna, brands come and brands go. Brands that do not do their homework well face hurdles in the Indian market.

Many brands in the fashion market today find being online a better option than being in the rough and ruddy Indian marketplace as well. The online marketplace is a great place to be as it offers a level playing ground for most retail brands. This I do believe is just the beginning of the churn. Expect a lot more retail brands that are niche, in terms of what they offer, to crumble at the altar of online retail.

The Indian retail story is all about biting into the reality of the Indian marketplace. Today's reality is all about very high retail rentals, very scant walk-ins and small bill sizes that don't excite big brands anymore.

The years 2013-14 and the next two years onwards from here will see a lot of challenges physical retailers will need to face, as online grows. Expect more of churn in this space. Watch it carefully.

What is the logic of using ‘celeb’ families in advertising? Do they work and deliver?

_ Stanley Thomas, Kochi

Stanley, ‘celeb’ families work. Imagine an ad that has all the five Bachchans (Baby B included) in it. It will surely work, especially if the product in question is all about family values. It has worked with limited usage for brands such as Tanishq in the recent past.

Celebrity families come cheaper as well. It is really a package deal. In any family of celebrities, there is the big-draw celebrity and everyone else is an add-on, mostly. Therefore, when a brand marketer pays for family, he pays for the big draw, and all the bells and whistles as well. Works well. Further, to the rest of the family, any endorsement deal is good, as it opens up their faces to a world of marketers who might consider using them at some time or the other. It’s a win-win.

Is it important for an FMCG company to have a wide and deep food portfolio in India?

_ Richard C. Temple, New Delhi

Richard, being a kitchen company is important in India. We love our food and we are a nation of 1.2 billion people who consume 3.6 billion meals a day. This is a big opportunity. If you are not here, you lose a lot.

As per a recent kitchen products audit done by our company, we see kitchen consumption products in the country to be largely unbranded. Only 8 per cent of items consumed in the Indian kitchen are branded today in terms of value. This value-gap is the potential. FMCG companies need to focus here, if one is to monetise possibilities and potential, as more and more of the kitchen gets branded.

(Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults )

(This article was published on February 28, 2013)
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