Creativity for Society: Taking social awareness mainline

National television, radio channels and main line commercial channels are allotting time for social awareness campaigns. What is the story behind this? Here is what the experts think.

e4m by Shubhangi Mehta
Published: Apr 26, 2011 8:39 AM  | 6 min read
Creativity for Society: Taking social awareness mainline

‘Ek, Ankek aur Ekta’, which told us ‘Hind desh ke niwasi sabhi jan ek hain’, an animated campaign by NCERT in the 1980’s, is one of the classics when it comes to social awareness campaigns. This was at the time of Doordarshan’s dominance. Thirty years down the line, the focus on such campaigns has grown to a much larger degree.

Agencies are more involved and are respecting the importance of such campaigns, be it Save the Tigers, NACO’s initiative of ‘Donate Blood and feel good’, or the Silent National Anthem. All are focusing on the importance of social hurdles prevalent in our society and making people aware and alert. Some familiar examples of such advertisements in India include ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’, ‘School Chalein Hum’ ‘Ek Titli, Anek Titliyan’ ‘Bell Bajao’- Standing against domestic violence, among others.

It’s not like the world is not sentient of such tribulations existing in the society. The only issue is that we are so caught up in our day to day lives that we need a reminder. Campaigns like NACO’s blood donation campaign or ‘Atithi Devo Bhavah’ by Ministry of Tourism and McCann act as an aide memoire for us.

At the outset it was only Doordarshan that religiously aired social awareness campaigns. It’s only in th past few years that others channels are participating and doing their bit when it comes to generating the message of social wakefulness.

Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Executive Creative Director, South Asia, Ogilvy & Mather, remarked, “Indian companies are slowly waking up to the concept of corporate social responsibility. As part of the same phenomenon, television channels, too, are coming of age and wanting to give back to society. Reserving time slots for airing social messages is one of the ways in which they are fulfilling this responsibility. Various government agencies are spending money on social messaging. While these messages may not be very creative in their expression, their frequency goes some of the way in making an impact. Private donors such as the Bill Gates Foundation pour money into messaging for AIDS Awareness, for example. Add to that, corporates and TV channels are adopting social causes and the reason for the higher visibility of public service campaigns become clear. Today, news channels are raising awareness about issues ranging from disappearing tigers to disappearing beaches. Not just through spots, but through full length programmes. This sort of concerted approach has the ability to bring about real change.”

According to Rajeev Raja, NCD, DDB Mudra, “In India, people are increasingly becoming more environmentally and socially aware. More and more corporate houses have community development and social messaging as an important element in the interaction of their brand with consumers. This, together with a plethora of NGOs proliferating the market, has led to an increase in the number of social awareness campaigns.”

It’s true that with the advent of satellite channels, increased circulation of newspapers, more numbers of radio stations and so on, have definitely amplified the reach of such messages, but how much can a two-minute campaign on our television screens or a print ad on the fourth page of a newspaper impinge on our minds to an extent that we stop and think or is it more of an award winning strategy?

On this, Raja said, “Social awareness messages can have a huge impact on the minds of the audience. They can actually influence behaviour and create social change. Awards are definitely a bonus, but shouldn’t be the sole reason why social awareness campaigns are created in the first place. Out of all these, one piece of social awareness campaign that stands out for me is the ‘Silent National Anthem’.”

Sumanto pointed out, “A compelling advertisement can influence the way people think about a social issue. It can help start a debate. Along with other agents, it can reshape the mindset of the people. However, the message has to get enough exposure for the awareness to reach a critical mass. Token airing of spots late at night do not serve the purpose. Social awareness campaigns from India have distinguished themselves at Cannes and other international advertising award events. Sadly, India has many social ills. These are amenable to being presented dramatically in advertising – and they easily catch the eye of international juries. One such example that I think made the most difference is ‘The Heroes Project’. It has created an impact in the areas of AIDS Awareness through their messaging on television as well as on-ground activities and events.”

Mukesh Anand, Principal Consultant & Senior Creative Director, RK Swamy BBDO, noted, “Social awareness campaigns were earlier featured on Doordarshan simply because there were no other options back then. But after the arrival of various channels, the scope expanded. Some of these channels started partnering with NGOs under their Corporate Social Responsibility programmes and it did wonders for these campaigns. For instance, NGOs like ‘The Heroes Project’ and ‘Breakthrough’ had public education partnership with Star Television Network. As a result, Public Service Advertisements (PSAs) began to appear across the country on STAR’s bouquet of channels. Channels, too, have conscience and they are very supportive and forthright if they feel strongly about a particular social issue or issues. And we must thank them for this.”

The role of social messages is mainly two-pronged – a) to generate awareness; and b) lead to behaviour change. From this standpoint, PSAs are very effective and play a major role in sensitising the minds of the audience. They inform, educate and put the best behaviour practices into perspective. The sensitised minds then further influence others and thus it evokes a chain reaction, which leads to collective responsibility and response. And that’s the core of societal change.

Anand further said, “Most recently, Breakthrough’s ‘Bell Bajao’ campaign on curbing domestic violence and National AIDS Control Organization’s (NACO) ‘Resignations’ campaign on fighting HIV stigma and discrimination were affective campaigns.”

Social awareness campaigns, as the name suggests, are created to generate awareness. This is the thought that should be kept in mind. The main agenda should never be considered secondary; things like awards will definitely follow.


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