Brands: A force for good

Hamsini Shivakumar and Kanika Yadav of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting, write about brand communications which aim to frame brands as a force for good in multiple ways and the things to avoid while framing them

Hamsini Shivakumar
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Is a brand a force for good in society or not?  Of course, the obvious answer is that brands would like to present themselves as a force for good in society, so that their customers and the public at large trust and respect them. Brand communication tries to frame brands as a force for good in multiple ways, some of which we have identified below.

The most obvious way for a brand to present itself as a force for good is by connecting itself to a value that resonates with people via a touching and emotional human-interest story. Vicks Touch of Care and Mankind Pharma’s Choti Chakri come to mind. This type of values-led platform also matches well with the Brand Purpose.

When the pandemic first hit India in March 2020 and we experienced the first-ever lockdown in our history as an independent country, brands adopted the mantra of acts over ads.  

Some brands highlight their commitment to making their customers’ lives better, but focusing on all the steps that they take as a company towards achieving that mission, a blend of technology, process and people, is a part of their corporate communication.

The most interesting and new approach is when brands take an ecosystem perspective and speak not just for customers and consumers, but also for their other ecosystem partners. In these videos, the brand aims to educate consumers to behave better, adopt the right attitudes and play their part in making the ecosystem work.  

That brands are sharp focused on customers is expected, out of their commercial/business interest, but for them to take the side of their ecosystem partners and speak for them is new and unexpected.

It’s not the case that all brands that seek to present themselves as a force for good succeed. There are pieces of brand communication that, in seeking to highlight the problems they solve and the benefits they deliver to consumers, seem to either intimidate consumers or to encourage bad behaviour from them. Perhaps it’s time they learnt from the ones who most effectively represent themselves as a force for good in society. For instance: 

A Doctor Prescribes Care | Amitabh Bachchan | Mankind Pharma | Hindi

Mankind Pharma’s video identifies a very prevalent problem - that of self-diagnosis via the internet or otherwise. But instead of painting a horrifying picture or threatening consumers with sinister-looking characters, the brand goes for Amitabh Bachchan’s sage-like voice. It keeps the message very simple- one can lose out on important occasions and precious time if they do not visit a doctor or seek professional help. 

Instead of motivating a wrong practice/behaviour- the video advocates against it. 

While getting an A-list star to foreground the brand’s utility in a short format has been a winning formula, it cannot fly high without the support of meaningful messaging in the age of digital scrutiny. So, all the appeals to reckless choices or behaviour that brands end up putting out there whether knowingly or unknowingly will be called out eventually. Consumer-led change today is a big factor to consider while building a brand’s story. 

Consider for instance, the ire that the ten-minute grocery delivery is drawing nowadays. While an undoubted majority of consumers are for at-home delivery, they are aware enough to not fall for fads like ‘ten-minute’ grocery delivery in the interest of the delivery executives. Therefore, brand messaging that positions the delivery executive in an empathetic light will be received far better than a clone (or three) who threatens your access to the outside world. 

Case in point: 

Respect Every Delivery | Uber Eats 

Both Uber Eats and Mankind Pharma are examples of an emergent narrative that acknowledges the interconnected reality of the world. Their communication is not limited to the narrow definition that just concerns itself with the consumer-company binary. With multiple supply chains and stakeholders, a brand’s ecosystem is no more confined to customers and shareholders only. It is crucial to recognise the interdependence of different actors that ensure the delivery of a product or a service to the consumers. Therefore, speaking on behalf of doctors or delivery personnel bodes well for a brand. 

Brands thus need to explore such avenues to connect with consumers that go beyond the transactional nature of the relationship. In that scenario, appealing to the worst in their consumers is simply not a choice that brands have. Instead, there must be an appeal to a nobler purpose to complement brand products and services i.e. being a force for good. Consumers must also be amalgamated into the large ecosystems for a smooth running. Making a purchase, ordering food, getting a diagnosis, etc. now has to be a two-way street where consumers are expected to treat their service providers with dignity and trust. 

While attention can be achieved via advertisements, one must take to branded content for a sustained building of better values among consumers. Having observed a short format video from Mankind Pharma earlier, we now look at a three-minute branded content film to understand better: 

Mankind Pharma | Choti Chakri

Mankind Pharma as a brand seems to have achieved a good balance between product marketing and purpose marketing with the latter bringing out their message of ‘Spreading the kindness’.

Their short film centres around a small boy who is trying to look for a ‘chakri’ to fly his kite. Eventually, a stranger helps him by writing his request for a chakri on the kite and flying it in the distance. 

As we have often highlighted in this column, films of this kind not only advocate for wonderful behavioural traits but also go a long way in building brand trust and sustaining brand engagement. 

The film is also a good example for maintaining a thematic unity in one’s ads and branded content. The consistent messaging retains authenticity on the part of the brand and decreases the confusion for the consumer. Thus, the ads and branded content complement each other and achieve an even better impact. 

What To Avoid

Having discussed what can or rather must be done to add relevance to one’s brand and be a force for good, we briefly look at a few things to avoid: 

Take It Easy with Aamir Khan | Big Savings on Medicines

Even while offering good services like medicine delivery at home, PharmEasy for some reason chose a peculiarly sinister representation for their own brand i.e the three Aamir Khan clones. These clones first enter the consumer’s home uninvited, out of nowhere and then threaten him to never step out again. 

While both the brand and the associated app are enabling in nature by the virtue of their function, the communication put forth does not quite signal the same. The misplaced messaging has been in fact interpreted as motivating inaction and laziness. Some have even flagged it as a piece that depicts a home invasion! Three vicious-looking clones talking to the consumer in a challenging tone can hardly drive the focus on the convenience of the consumer, after all. Instead, they curb the autonomy of an individual consumer. 

In the very same field but lying very far on the spectrum in terms of brand communication is Medlife’s story: 

MedLife: an express medicine delivery service | India Start-Up Stories | Tonight at 7 PM

The five-minute clip taken from a larger documentary by the Discovery Channel is a behind-the-scenes of sorts showing the day-to-day functions of MedLife. Interestingly, it shows the founder, Ananth Narayanan personally visiting not only warehouses but also delivering medicines to doorsteps. He highlights their methodology to make up for the inconvenient experiences that consumers may face while placing orders. 

The video tries to bust myths, provides reassurance and motivates consumers to take to at-home testing and medicine delivery. 

But on the whole, it concerns itself entirely with the contractual model where a brand is responsible solely to its consumers for the set of services and products promised. It tends to come across as a rather microscopic point of view when pitted against the likes of Mankind Pharma who are far ahead and take a panoramic view of the field. 

To conclude, the focal point of the debate on whether brands are a force of good or not has already shifted. The question is not if brands advocate reckless choices/behaviour? Rather it is if brands can afford to condone such behaviour at all? And the answer of course is no. 

A consumer’s relationship with the brand is no more limited to just the product. In fact, the consumer and the company are surrounded by numerous stakeholders and all of them need to acknowledge each other’s contribution for the smooth running of the ecosystem. It is now imperative for brands to not only mirror society but also to find a culturally relevant pointer and pivot from it to a position that is meaningful and purposeful. 

Kanika Yadav Leapfrog Strategy Consulting brands Hamsini Shivakumar A force for good