Brands should be goodwill hunters during Covid

Gopinath Menon | Updated on: Apr 25, 2020
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They must use the opportunity to focus on nation-building and social good. This will help them in the longer term

Life has changed forever. The human race will never be the same again. Uncertainty is the only certainty. Real fear does some wonderful things. It unites the worst of enemies and makes us forget all the heartaches and troubles we used to constantly crib about. This is the New India; We have never felt so restless or helpless before in our lives. So what happens to everything around us?

Take brands. Is there an opportunity for them in these trying times? Brands, simply put, are “a benchmark of expectations”. So, in this new, challenging world where all humans are caged and everything that nature owns is free, how do we rate this benchmark of expectations?

Our lineage

We react to brands exactly the way that we react to ourselves. We Indians are a particular tribe. We are defined by simple traits like “ Aahaar, Vyavhaar, Sanskaar, Tyohaar and Parivaar .” These five variables define and differentiate us Indians from the world. I call this the “ Panchmantra ” of India consumerism. These variables define our food, behaviour, tradition, lineage, the festivities that are integral to us and the family and bonding values, both inclusive and with the external world. We look at these basic values subconsciously in the brands that are indispensable to us.

How do brands build this “indispensability” in these tough and trying times? If we rewind close to 100 years we will get the answers. Rewind to India before Independence. Look at the corporate houses or the industrialists that were indirectly part of the freedom struggle. They include Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, JRD Tata, Jamna Lal Bajaj, Ghanshyam Das Birla, etc. They went on to set up a host of businesses to help build a new India. They did so because of the strong belief they had in the political will and the integrity connected with it.

Another name who also was a catalyst was Verghese Kurien. He gave up a successful career abroad and came back to set up Amul in the dusty terrain of Anand, upon the request of Jawaharlal Nehru. What followed was not the milk revolution alone but the key difference it made to the lives of thousands of women and their families across Gujarat. The second key differentiator was that it slowly finished the dominance of the British brand Polson in the market. This effort was what “ Swadesh i” was all about. Can we imagine a life without “Amul”? This honesty built indispensability in the subconscious mind.

There will be industrialists richer than the Tatas but that does not make them rich in the hearts and minds of the people. All the wealth accumulated without doing social good will never help you build real goodwill. Goodwill is all about the real signal that the brand radiates when deciding subconsciously. The recent pouring of wealth for social good for the corona challenge came from Ratan Tata of Tata Sons, which gave a ₹1,500 crore.

So brands need to radiate honesty, integrity of purpose, and societal good, in all that they do when connecting with consumers. This is not an easy task, as there is no real profit motive in the short term. The wise men will look beyond the short term. Their focus is not the “share of the market”, but a “share of the consumer's heart”. When the heart impulsively decides, pricing becomes relatively inelastic. Brands from the Tata Group, Amul, Royal Enfield, Old Monk have that lineage and pedigree that will hold them steady in trying times.

Old Monk, a favourite of many a connoisseur, is a rare one in this pack as it is sold at a far higher price in overseas markets than in India. They are not alone in this vast forest. Not long ago, Maggi from Nestle was in a controversy. Nestle stood firm, fought like a champion and emerged a winner. The brand got back all its lost glory and now is the toast of the nation. Can you imagine the lockdown without Maggi? “It has emerged as the real Saviour Brand during the corona challenge.

Cadbury chocolates achieved greatness when decades ago they took out the guilt from adults consuming chocolates. Till then chocolates were always for children, and if adults consumed they would be a hidden market. Cadbury bequeathed this freedom to the grown-up and gave them the liberty to relish openly. This has done wonders to the brand.

The only political brand that comes to mind is the Mahatma. No other brand in the last 75 years even comes close. However, there are political brands who have achieved countless times greater media exposure than the Mahatma; but they are dwarfed when benchmarks such as honesty, integrity and societal good come into play. Advertising or propaganda has little to do with building goodwill. Overexposure builds fatigue in the consumers’ mind. This graduates into irritation; which is a lethal poison in building credibility.

My grandmother used to say that wisdom is having value for things while you own them, There could not be a simpler definition. Any brand that understands this simple nuance will never be a loser.

The writer is an advertising strategist based in Delhi

Published on April 25, 2020

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