Much more than an ad

Social advertising is a new way to tug at your heart and loosen your purse strings

There was a time when advertising was all about tom-tomming how great a brand was. Now, in many ads, the product and the brand are almost incidental to the message being communicated — and it’s a deliberate strategy, not an unfortunate oversight. There’s Tata Tea’s ‘Jaago Re’ campaign and Coca-Cola’s ‘Believe in a happier tomorrow’. Now, Procter & Gamble (P&G), Johnson & Johnson and Tupperware, too, are reaching out to their customers through their hearts, not purses. 

P&G launched its global ‘Thank You Mom’ campaign just before the Winter Olympics of 2010. It made its way to India in time for the London Olympics, where it created a ‘good luck squad’ of mothers of Indian athletes. It has now been extended as ‘Moms for Playgrounds’, where celebrity moms highlight the need for playgrounds for kids. 

Direct marketing firm Tupperware India’s first TV campaign, too, is woman-centric. ‘She can You can’ showcases successful women like woman sarpanch Chhavi Rajawat and rural BPO owner Saloni Malhotra. Jyotsna Chauhan, COO of IBD India, Tupperware’s creative agency, says the idea was to create a social and emotional connect. “We want to motivate women to chase their dreams,” she adds. 

Recently, Johnson & Johnson’s Stayfree, too, jumped on the social message bandwagon with its ‘Time to change’ campaign. The ads show young women stepping out to help others while others just watch. The message: be proactive when it comes to making a difference. 

Why would a company deliberately sideline the brand in its own communication? It’s more of a convergence of brand and corporate social responsibility, says Amit Kekre, senior vice-president, planning, DDB Mudra. “The lady of the house is most important for an FMCG company and connecting with her emotionally is a fantastic strategy.” Besides, such a campaign can help a brand stand out in the clutter of similar products and communication. Veteran adman Prathap Suthan says it is essential for brands to differentiate themselves by being involved in more tangible areas. “This is also in line with the way the world is growing,” he says. 

There’s a caveat, though. “Brands need to walk the talk,” warns D Rajappa, president, Rediffusion Y&R. In other words, brands indulging in such communication need to ensure there’s a credible connect between their DNA and the line they’re adopting. One company that failed spectacularly in doing that is Vedanta. In January, it launched a corporate campaign where village children in Rajasthan went rah-rah on the company’s community activities. The irony wasn’t lost on anyone — Vedanta’s been enmeshed in several human rights issues — and the ad went off-air pretty soon.

For companies that do “walk the talk”, the rewards of such communication can be significant: P&G claimed $100 million in incremental revenue globally from the 2010 campaign and now is looking at $500 million from the current run.