Addressing social problems, brands sustain relevance in changing India
Initiatives help build both
economic and social value
Sunil R. Shetty
Senior Vice President, Strategic Planning
Brands are perhaps stronger today than at any time in history. Apple’s valuation is greater than the GDP of some countries. The question arises: Can brands continue to be relevant in today’s world without embodying some form of brand social responsibility and identifying themselves with a mission that is larger than sales targets and market shares?
This question is graining greater traction in India because of the convergence of three distinct and concurrent trends:
- The conscientious consumer A large segment of consumers in India today has grown up being taught to be conscious—ecologically and socially—and this segment will continue to increase.
- The connected world Because of digitization and mobile devices, Indians have access to more information that enables them to scrutinize brands and have a point of view on brand decisions.
- Responsible brands Brands in India are increasingly articulating a clear purpose. They are emulating some of the brand pioneers in this area, such as Dove and The Body Shop, which raised consciousness about the ideals of beauty, and the ingredients in beauty products.
These trends have shown that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is just a start, and that investments that connect a brand to a higher social good are also good for business. Many brands have taken steps in this direction.
Some Indian brands have started adopting progressive messaging expressing a point of view on social issues. Laundry detergent Ariel has communicated themes of social change and gender equality in its “Share the Load” campaign, which questions the traditional separation of roles in a household. Similarly, the jewelry brand Tanishq has championed woman’s empowerment in its ads, while Anouk challenged mindsets towards sexuality.
Other Indian brands have created campaigns to address social problems, such as poverty or malnutrition. A Whirlpool initiative encourages people to donate, rather than discard, their used clothing. In a program developed by the sugar substitute viz Sugar Free, the brand donated the calories saved by consumers using Sugar Free into an equivalent calorific value of meals to the government’s midday meal program for underprivileged children, through an NGO .
These initiatives create a direct and causal link between the brand and a social cause, but they also tend to be topical, one-time events rather than part of a sustained conversation between the brand and consumer. That conversation is important and could be the next step.
Doing good is not an activity for bands to engage in for short-term rewards and benefits. Rather, when doing good is intrinsic to the brand’s purpose, it can help create long-term assets, which have tangible value to the consumer and the corporation. Brands can start with these three brand-building actions:
1. Set an ambitious goal A goal that builds on core competencies does not need brands to divert resources and energies into peripheral activities. Volvo’s Vision 2020 is that no one should die or be seriously injured in a Volvo. It builds on the brand’s core purpose of safety.
2. Improve people’s lives Lifebuoy is an excellent example of a brand that has ascribed a larger purpose to its soaps and other personal hygiene products by linking them to improved sanitation to protect children from disease.
3. Create opportunities for stakeholders Create opportunities for consumers to benefit from the brand’s business. Dairy brand Amul invests in helping dairy farmers improve their agricultural practices and in turn, their lives.
As business professor and author Michael Porter said, “The most powerful way for business to benefit society is by addressing social issues connected to the company’s industry and society directly with a business model.” In India, the time is ripe for brands to start thinking of valuation through a fresh lens—as a combination of the economic value and social value that they create.