Why even ordinary products need to be emotionally and socially relevant

When the logic grows old or doesn't help strongly distinguish between category competitors, reaching out to the emotional faculty can possibly ensure your product's renewed usage, writes Hamsini Shivakumar, the founder of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting

Hamsini Shivakumar
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How much do you, as a user, think about the ordinary products that comprise your life? The cooking oil that makes your meals or the milk bags that land up outside your door every morning? Maybe you do, if there’s a news piece on which kind of oil is the healthiest to cook with or if you miss the delivery of milk one morning. Or if another brand tempts you to switch by offering a better deal.

That’s how ordinary products are. They don’t usually create memorable experiences by bringing on heightened emotions. Characterised by a background presence, they go for consistency and reliability. Given how routine they are, unless their usage is deeply habituated, they face the risk of being switched out for a cheaper alternative.

How can your brand, presumably a source of similar ordinary products, work with this limitation? It needs to bring greater meaning to your product’s consumption, at least from time to time. It needs to reframe the everyday nature of the product as so effective that it faces no trouble seamlessly integrating with consumers’ lives. And it needs to tap into the cultural significance of the product, to show consumers that it isn’t just a utilitarian item but an emotionally and socially relevant part of their life.

All of this can be done through content that gives your brand the chance to briefly put away benefit listing and bring the product’s place in people’s lives to fore.

To show you how, here are the common techniques we identified from our analysis of five branded content pieces/thematic TVCs, created around ordinary products such as tea, hair oil, fuel, newspaper and a mouth freshener.

Methods for you to note

When looking to emphasise their product’s subtle omnipresence in consumers’ lives as a positive, brands often create a culturally rooted montage featuring/referencing their product. The expectation is for viewers to see the product’s consistent presence in diverse scenarios and think ‘if it so deeply embedded in our varied lives and powers multiple aspects of it, then it really is something we can’t do without’.

Take Society Tea’s video essay ‘The Tea Society Called India’ that shows chai as the unfailing companion to Indians across the country as they fight sleep before work, catch a quiet moment during the day or share time with a loved one.

Such content puts human stories at the forefront and shows the product facilitating their smooth progression. Unlike a traditional ad, it doesn’t rely on selling solutions to need gaps. It appeals to consumers by visualising the endearing side of people and having the product play into their context.

Like Indian Oil’s 'Pehle Indian Phir Oil' that shows amiable interactions between users whose meals and journeys are made possible by its fuel.

To make such stories memorable, brands often go beyond bringing viewing pleasure through cultural familiarity by turning the narratives relatable for their target consumers.

Here’s Times of India with ‘That Morning Feeling’, because whose eye hasn’t been caught by a newspaper that someone near them is reading?

By describing the product or the experience of its usage lyrically/poetically, brands make their communication seem more like an ode than branded content/a thematic TVC. This makes the product feel like its transcended the world of consumption and materialism, and joined a higher plane of thinking and feeling.

For TOI, it was Gulzar who penned and narrated the voiceover. For Parachute Advansed, a largely instrumental version of Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘Aye Dil E Nadan’ plays in the background, as the narrator puts forward metaphor after metaphor for what a woman’s hair means to her.

To strengthen its emotional value over the utilitarian one, brands will also associate the product with desirable feelings.

Centre fresh India’s recent music video ‘Keep It Fresh x Walk With Me’ shows its protagonists popping the brand’s mint each time they need a confidence boost, whether it’s while sitting down for a virtual first date or when choosing to match the other’s bad haircut with their own.

Your key takeaways

Overall, every example highlighted here appeals to consumers through the senses and through the heart. Not through logical arguments or explanations.

Which is not to say that there isn’t a logical reason to buy from these brands. After all, it is through a reasoned approach that consumers buy one alternative over another, or sign up for subscriptions. But when the logic grows old or doesn’t help strongly distinguish between category competitors, reaching out to the emotional faculty can possibly ensure your product’s renewed usage.

Especially for brands selling everyday products whose significance needs reinforcement through cultural anchoring.

Leapfrog Strategy Consulting Hamsini Shivakumar emotionally and socially relevant