Catalyst

Brands that unify, and elevate our lives

Harish Bhat | Updated on March 22, 2018 Published on March 22, 2018

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In a world with multiple fault lines, marketers can promote messages of integration and unity

We live today in a world with multiple fault lines, which are threatening to engulf our lives. There are significant fault lines everywhere we look, and they appear to have suddenly multiplied over the past few years. In the UK, Brexiteers vs Europhiles. In the US, right-wing conservatives vsliberals. In India, extreme Hindutva brigades vs secularists. Across the world, political or social conflicts are simmering – in West Asia, North Korea, and the South China seas. And then there are fault lines driven by race, gender, immigration, climate change or trade barriers, all of which are becoming larger than life issues today.

Fault lines and consumers

People are affected deeply by all this. Consumers who buy brands of tea or toothpaste or cars also wake up each morning to headlines that highlight these conflicts. Each fault line causes unease and tension in one or more segments of people. And taken in aggregate, lead to an overall feeling of deep anxiety about the present and the future, about the world that our children will live in. In addition, in some cases, some of us are unable to decide clearly which side of a fault line we should stand on, because the issues involved are either complex or heavily politicised. This further accentuates in our minds a lack of clear purpose and direction.

Fundamentally, most people want to be happy and at peace, we want to smile. If you accept this as a truth, it throws up a big opportunity for brands and marketers. While marketers may not have the power to alter or erase these global fault lines, they can help provide people a clear message of unity, a clear sense of how integration can be achieved even in troubled times, and, therefore, how they can make their consumers take heart and smile. And brands can do this within the context of their own product and service categories.

In becoming messengers of unity and integration, brands will achieve two good things. First, they are likely to enhance their own appeal to their consumers, who are hungry for these positive messages, because they help provide purpose and hope. Second, they will also serve a wider social cause by propagating these messages, which is in the overall interests of a happy, harmonious world.

Here are a few examples of brands which have undertaken this role exceedingly well, and can serve as inspiration to many more marketers.

Last year, Airbnb, the worldwide leader in vacation rentals and accommodation, launched a marketing campaign called #weaccept.

#weaccept

This advertisement was first launched on television during Superbowl, which has huge media reach in the US. If you can, do watch this advertisement online, it is such a simple, beautiful and meaningful piece of communication. It emanates from the belief that “no matter who you are, where you are from, who you love, or who you worship, you deserve to belong.” Airbnb goes on to say “people who have been displaced, because of war or conflict or other factors, are acutely vulnerable … and they are, quite literally, in need of a place to belong.” In addition to the campaign which features so many of these people, across fault lines of race, religion and sexual orientation, Airbnb has also committed to providing short-term housing relief to 100,000 people over five years, including evacuees of disasters. Also, all Airbnb users are required to sign a non-discrimination pledge. If they do not, they are not permitted to host or book through Airbnb.

#weaccept has garnered a stupendously positive consumer response. For instance, it has delivered an amazing 87 million earned impressions online, with the video itself being viewed over 19 million times. It has also generated great goodwill and preference for the brand amongst consumers, which has undoubtedly translated into good business growth as well.

Worlds Apart

Heineken, the famous brand of beer, promoted the spirit of unity through a very interesting marketing campaign launched last year, called “Worlds Apart”. Here, the brand addressed some of the most prominent fault lines that divide today’s world. The advertisement campaign features six strangers with opposing views on political and social issues. They are broken up into pairs, and each pair then performs a small ice-breaker task together – building a stool. For instance, a climate change activist is paired with a person who denies that climate change is happening. After the stool is built, they are asked to sit on these stools, reflect on what is common to their partner and themselves, and also hear their partner’s opposing point of view on the subject under contention. They are also then given an opportunity, if they so wish, to further discuss and debate the topic on which they strongly disagree – of course, over a chilled bottle of Heineken. All of them choose to stay back and talk to their opponent rather than walk away. The advertisement ends with the simple but powerful line, “Open your mind”, thus making the appeal for dialogue and discussion, rather than conflict caused by closed minds. The campaign earned Heineken high praise, and a lot of consumer love.

Made in India

Closer home in India, many of us will remember many powerful unifying brand messages from the past. I still fondly remember ‘Hamara Bajaj’, the famous and very successful advertisement for Bajaj scooters, which brought together ordinary middle-class families from across the length and breadth of a diverse India, and highlighted the simple lifestyle aspirations that are common to all of them. Similarly, another unifying campaign I have grown up with has been that of Tata Salt – “Maine Desh ka Namak Khaya Hai” – (“I have eaten the salt of this nation”), which has spoken about the duty each of us can render to strengthen our nation. However, in my view, the iconic unifying marketing campaign of my generation has been “Mile sure mera tumhara, woh sur bane hamhara”. Translated, this means “When my musical note and your musical note merge, it becomes our combined musical note.” Featuring famous Indians including Amitabh Bachchan, Lata Mangeshkar, Bala Murali Krishna, Bhimsen Joshi, Prakash Padukone and a host of others, this advertisement used 14 Indian languages and highlighted unity in diversity in such an endearing, memorable manner. It was developed by Lok Seva Sanchar Parishad, and promoted by Doordarshan. But this was over twenty years ago. Which Indian brand or organisation will create a similarly defining and inspiring campaign, with the sharp unifying or elevating messages required for today’s times, for our youngsters and millennials?

Even as marketers reflect on all these examples, we should remember that, to succeed, any such unifying message should be authentic, and should stay away from being judgemental. Also, putting forward an overt or covert religious or political message is often not appreciated. If these norms are not adhered to, there is the possibility of a consumer backlash, as some brands have discovered, to their great discomfiture. But if a brand develops and puts forward a well-balanced, truly endearing, generous, unifying message that elevates the human heart, then it can virtually become a winning statement of purpose for the brand and its customers, particularly in today’s world, that is riven by so many fault lines everywhere.

Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons, and author of “The Curious Marketer”. These are his personal views. [email protected]

Published on March 22, 2018
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