The rise of goodvertising: Do consumers actually buy it?

How does a brand remain authentic in its pursuit of purpose and how effective is purposeful advertising? Experts open up...

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Nov 13, 2018 8:22 AM

Look at ads today and you will notice that campaigns championing social causes are becoming commonplace. Majority of them explicitly use social causes to stir our hearts and activate our tear ducts. This festive season too witnessed ads by brands such as Ghadi Detergent to Bajaj Electricals making conversations about societal issues such as removing dirt from one's mind and making a difference to the society. This trend of cause-led ads triggers a thought: Do consumers actually buy it and does it really work in the favour of a brand? How does a brand remain authentic in its pursuit of purpose? And how does a brand establish where it has the right to play? We delve deeper into this discourse…

Meaningful marketing

Take the recent Vicks #TouchofCare ad that has presented the story of Nisha, an orphaned girl with ichthyosis who was abandoned by her biological parents when she was just two weeks old. It captured Nisha’s story as she sails through the challenges and complexities of life. And it sure worked! The ad has made over 21 million views on YouTube. Ritu Mittal, Country Marketing Manager, Vicks India, acknowledges that it took courage to go ahead with a film that was minimal on branding. “Too much of the brand takes away the authenticity and credibility of story-telling. We wanted to bring the purpose of our brand to life, and we thought that the story of Nisha really deserved to be heard,” she explains.

Amer Jaleel, Group Chairman and CCO, MullenLoweLintas Group, says, “As a pure creative approach, I can see that if it’s well-timed, the social good video or even the caring message has huge resonance. I see a lot of these ads travel on WhatsApp and that is always a good indicator of whether they’re working or not. So that is settled. They have appeal and they are being forwarded. Some are even editing out the brand in the end and sending them as a piece of content.”

Vicks isn’t alone in adopting this advertising approach. Luggage manufacturer Samsonite recently launched a campaign focusing on reviving the tourism in Kerala after the devastating floods. It incepted an impactful video capturing the essence of every individual involved in the tourism sector, from taxi drivers and lodge managers, to elephant mahouts and others, who are eagerly waiting to welcome their guests. The ad has crossed over 2.5 million views and has fetched support and praises from a large number of people, including actors to politicians.

Talking about the campaign, Pradnya Popade, Marcom Head at Samsonite South Asia Pvt Ltd, shares that campaigning to bring tourists back to God’s Own Country was a great fit for a brand like Samsonite that is so closely tied to the tourism industry.

“Samsonite wanted to be sure that the ad would not just be riding a popular wave. We travelled to the badly affected areas and actually saw that despite Kerala being back on its feet, hotels, shops and tourist destinations, which are generally abuzz with tourists, were looking barren,” she reasons.

Raghu Bhat, Director, Scarecrow M&C Saatchi, shares that his experience is that consumers like authenticity and consistency. “We see a glut of videos trying to espouse a social cause. Many of them don't bother to integrate the product into the storyline. The intent is to engage rather than sell. The same brand manager who fights to increase branding in a 30-second ad speaks eloquently about not force-fitting the brand into the storyline of the 3-minute video,” he argues.


While experts applaud the ‘cause-vertising’ move, underlying this trend is a desire of brands to ultimately increase their market share. But are consumers really naïve to this? Rohit Ohri, Group Chairman & CEO, FCB India, notes that exploiting emotional spaces for commercial gain is something that consumers see through very easily and reject. “Authenticity is really key to how brands communicate with their consumers. If brands speak about change, it is imperative that this is done with searing honesty and with the brand genuinely committing to the cause.”

The message to brand-owners is clear: Words must follow actions. Agnello Dias, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Taproot Dentsu India, advises that if the so-called cause is related in some way to the category or the brand, it tends to work better.

“Soul cleansing is the new brand building I suppose. The jury is still out on how much this directly impacts sales. But sometimes it becomes a CSR-ish tick box. But by and large, it’s just a fanciful way of doing old fashioned product placement. Find a heart tugging story and place the product somewhere in the vicinity,” says Dias.

Substance versus sainthood

With ‘cause-vertising’ or ‘good-vertising’ as it is termed, the lines between meaningful and maudlin, caring and cloying often run thin. How does a brand establish where it has the right to play? Rahul Jauhari, Joint President & Chief Creative Officer, Rediffusion India & Everest Brand Solutions, spells that advertisers and their agency partners need to stay focused on what the brand stands for, its real business needs and on being relevant to the consumer’s life. Jauhari establishes that unless there is a genuine connection with the brand, chances are that the consumer will remember the cause, not the brand. Which again is meaningless. “Sure you can pick a cause, as long as it has something real to do with the brand and with the consumer’s life. Consumers are not fools. Neither do they have time for shallow or pretentious work. This needs to look like a brand that cares,” he opines.

Jaleel asserts, “What I have an issue with is the cloying melodramatic execution. This really gets to me and soon it will to everyone else too. Melodrama is dying in Indian films and that is a clear message to our filmmakers as well. Brand custodians especially need to take note that for a film to be emotional, it need not be OTT.”

As to the market share bit, today’s clear view is that there’s a place for both kinds of work: the hardworking and the soft-working, he remarks. “Now if only we can find someone to keep an eye on the brand, that’ll be useful. Because opportunistic acts don’t allow you enough time to figure whether they’re on brand or not and they come with such a mouth-watering budget that it’s easy to give the go-ahead,” Jaleel adds.

Bhat, meanwhile, hints that while opting for this approach, a long term association with a cause backed with concrete action on ground is a better approach. “A 'story' that has a product-connect might be remembered more. A co-relation with product and cause might also help. Also, one-offs rarely work. Finally, the most important thing is to break through clutter. Communication that ticks the internal boxes and yet looks identical to everyone else's is not recommended,” he suggests.


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