Does partaking in Covid vaccination drive provide brands a chance to be socially relevant?

Hamsini Shivakumar, Founder, Leapfrog Strategy Consulting, writes that raising awareness for vaccination is a meaningful opportunity for brands. If done not just via expression (videos, songs, etc.) but via enablement, it can result in increasing their goodwill among the public and position them as social benefactors

Hamsini Shivakumar
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India’s Covid vaccination campaign launched in January 2021 has been impeded by issues such as vaccination hesitancy, myths, fake news, stock shortage, and logistical problems. For vaccines that have been developed in record time for a virus that mutates every other day, these issues are perhaps understandable. While there have been attempts such as the ‘Tika Utsav’ to encourage people, the response has been slow. Now, some Indian brands have come forward with appeals of their own through awareness campaigns and branded content. They strike a conversation around vaccination with their consumers not as sellers but as fellow citizens.

Tata Tea: “Iss Baar #SabkeLiyeJaago”

Tata Tea has always been at the forefront of social causes. Previously, it has advocated for gender sensitisation, equality, voting in elections, et al. With their latest campaign, Tata is once again part of the relevant discourse in the social realm. #SabkeLiyeJaago allows one to take a virtual pledge for assisting in the process of vaccination. Once taken, the pledge page lists simple yet effective methods to help one’s ‘helpers’ in getting their vaccine shots. These include educating them about the facts, booking their slots or driving them to the vaccination centre. The sense of giving back or rather helping back people who make one’s everyday life easier is imbibed within the Tata campaign.

The campaign is open to all and one does not need to be a consumer of Tata Tea to take the pledge. It is a very simply designed interface and the pledge is completed simply with a click. The website then provides relevant search options for a vaccination centre by area pin codes. While taking the pledge does not bind one to carry out the tasks, it does give a sense of collective belonging. It does invite everyone to be part of a bigger moment. Photographs of many who’ve pledged are pinned at the end of the page. Interestingly, these include common people along with famous influencers and Bollywood celebrities such as Dia Mirza and Faye DSouza. So, all those who partake in the appeal put forward by Tata are just the same. They get a chance to be featured alongside famous celebrities. By keeping their appeal short, simple and designing it in a manner that reflects the same, Tata successfully incentivises ‘inspiring change’.

Facebook: ‘More Together - Rizwan’

Released in May, ‘Rizwan’ is the latest addition to Facebook’s ‘More Together’ series. Set in a small hilly town, the six minutes video shows a young male named Rizwan helping the elderly in his community. Rizwan used Facebook to convey his availability in case someone’s looking for help with vaccination. He carries on with booking slots and accompanying senior citizens to vaccination centres jovially until the day he encounters an old lady who is adamant about not getting vaccinated. He then takes an extended unpaid leave and goes about the town fighting vaccine hesitancy. Of course, he is able to locate such people with help from Facebook only. The brand thus emerges as a facilitator in the community.

Towards the end of the video, it is revealed that Rizwan has lost both his parents, most likely to Covid. He makes a post on Facebook remembering them. Upon reading the post, the old lady who Rizwan had convinced for vaccination after multiple attempts, prepares an Eid meal and visits him. Facebook not only successfully motivates the senior section of our society to get vaccinated but also taps into the secular cultural fabric of the nation. It merges symbols of safety and prevention with symbols of celebrations and festivals. The messaging in the ‘More Together’ videos stays optimistic even as their characters undergo grim situations. Facebook presents itself as a space that is available for facilitating dialogue that can help a community fight a pandemic, bond over, grieve, and even celebrate!

By trying to convey a universal message for vaccination across the class and religion divide, Tata Tea and Facebook acknowledge the values of equality and fraternity as enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The inherent pride that most Indians take in their diverse culture is subtly mentioned in both their contents. The value of helping others regardless of their class status is used meaningfully by Tata Tea. Similarly, Facebook employs the textbook dictum of ‘unity in diversity’ by showing a young Muslim character helping everyone in his community and the community helping him back. Eventually, helping others is shown as a good way to deal with the pandemic and its many challenges.

However, Tata Tea’s effort merits a discussion in the direction of brand expression vs. brand action.  Tata Tea’s campaign is rooted in action. It provides one with the database of vaccination centres and the subsequent relevant procedures. By providing the wherewithal, Tata Tea is going beyond expression to enablement. It is asking people to join them and hence reinforcing the feeling of collective citizenship. By contrast, the potential impact of Facebook’s video is lesser than that of Tata Tea, as it does well on the emotional appeal but lacks action on the brand’s part per se. The responsibility of taking action is left with the audience. According to their video, the brand’s role is restricted to providing services where citizens can possibly take action if they so desire. The brand thus is still a seller and fails to cross over the gap that reconstitutes its identity as a fellow citizen.

Brands’ participation in the vaccination drive foregrounds them as potential good citizens. Engaging with consumers on an issue such a vaccination goes above and beyond their role as just producers or sellers of products and services. Brands come across rather as concerned citizens who are trying to converse with their consumers in their capacity as fellow citizens. Therefore, raising awareness for or initiating a dialogue that assists in the process of vaccination is a meaningful opportunity for brands. If done not just via expression (videos, songs, etc.,) but via enablement, it can result in increasing their goodwill among the public and position them as social benefactors.

Does partaking in Covid vaccination