11 February 2016 15:53:18 IST

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 polarisation of views, and the fact that people are taking extreme views on subjects and holding on to them for dear life. A small section in 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 that is a story for another day.

Let’s talk about the immediate present and what happened in Delhi a few days ago. Commuters on the 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 14 is against Indian culture, and that children should, instead, 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 visibility, as what you are essentially doing is taking a higher platform rather than conveying a mere brand marketing message. Currently, the person behind the campaign to celebrate February 14 as a day to venerate parents 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 to do”. Perhaps, the same campaign from someone else who is not tainted might not have elicited the same violent response on social media, a platform that is an extremely potent weapon to attack people whose credentials are suspect, or anyone whom you don’t like.

In marketing and in life, timing clearly is everything and while the beleaguered ‘guru’ might have thought it an appropriate moment to build some equity with the public at large, social media has not let that happen. And this time around, I don’t blame social media.

Creativity, name of the game

The reality of the situation 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! Having said that, we must remember that the success, or otherwise, of such campaigns rests squarely on the shoulders of their creativity, and that is my grouse with this Valentine’s Day campaign.

Shocking 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 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 to, or forgets, to use protection. The communication showing a pregnant man was outstanding as it caught your eye. It 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 no axe to grind, unlike the attempt in Delhi. Changing people’s attitudes and behaviour is not easy, as people usually 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 critical. The mood of the target audience is something that communicators need to worry about. People can quickly realise whether it is part of an organisation’s area of interest or if it is merely trying to capitalise on a current issue. This is the biggest problem with the campaign in question. Asaram Bapu seems to be merely trying to use the occasion for his own personal good by using the excuse of the collective good of society.And that, as the saying goes, is just not cricket.

The bottomline is: don’t reject cause marketing because of Asaram Bapu’s campaign this year, just use it more sensibly.

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