Trendspotting: Brands speak the 'taboo' language to connect with customers

From Wagh Bakri to Myntra, Zigy to Whisper, brands are embracing controversial elements in storytelling to stay relevant with the changing times

e4m by Sarmistha Neogy
Updated: Sep 14, 2015 8:42 AM
Trendspotting: Brands speak the 'taboo' language to connect with customers, an online market place for medicines and healthcare products has recently, launched a new TVC which shows the beautiful bonding between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, in spite of the latter being divorced from her son. This portrayal is unique and different because be it in films, serials or ads, these two characters have always been depicted as enemies, when in reality, the relationship could be deeper. With this campaign, the brand stands out and creates a space in the minds of the viewers.


It indeed came as a shock to many, when heritage brand like Red Label spoke about live-in relationships and Wagh Bakri Chai highlighted the growing gap between a husband and a wife owing to his busy work life. These brands instead of going by the age old category cliché formula of showing ‘rejuvenation’ and ‘freshness’, decided to choose topics with which the current generation can easily relate to.

Red Label:

Wagh Bakri:

Brands today don’t deter from highlighting controversial and unconventional topics as part of their communications, in fear of getting ripped apart in backlashes. When in this digital age, the chance of coming under public scrutiny and getting criticised is much higher, some brands don’t believe in taking a safer route. They infact prefer to engage with users through meaningful conversations and don’t hesitate to broach topics which were considered taboos once. Be it talking about menstruation, same sex or live-in relationships, communication in every category has undergone a sea change. This is infact is a reflection of today’s progressive mind-set.

Rajiv Dingra, Founder & CEO, WATConsult feels that today people want brands to talk about something which can make them laugh, cry and ponder. “They wish for communication which is more profound and digital as a platform allows them to express themselves. Brands want to create a social equity by being socially relevant- an image of the brand which the youth today cares for,” he said.

He further added, “Digital gives you the space and freedom to experiment with unconventional topics. Today too many small things are happening on the digital platform; every other brand is coming out with videos, doing hashtag promotions, contests, as a result of which, there is low brand recall. But we at WATConsult believe in the philosophy of promoting fewer, bigger and bolder things. The impact of which is always higher.”

Communication for the female hygiene brands has also seen a drastic change because two decades ago, advertising of sanitary napkins was not only difficult, but it was also not allowed on Indian television before 9pm. The commercials used phrases like ‘Un Dino’, ‘Woh Chaar Din’ to project a woman’s distress during those days.  The tone used was extremely indirect and no one came out loud and open with it, because those were the days of joint families and women found it embarrassing to watch it along with their families. But today brands like Whisper through its ‘Touch the Pickle’ campaign are challenging the age old taboos about period, including ‘pickles will rot, when touched by a menstruating woman’. The communication for this category today is made to encourage women to defy inherent taboos and traditions which are ingrained deep in our society.


 Myntra’s in-house brand Anouk even grabbed a lot of eyeballs for choosing very unconventional topics like homosexuality and single motherhood in their campaign ‘Bold Is Beautiful’. As a result of the topics chosen, not only did the videos turn viral, but it increased the brand recall as well.

Myntra (lesbian):

Myntra (single motherhood):

Today there has been a sharp rise in communication to bring forward a certain marginalised and neglected section of the society. Be it taking the help of acid victims or transgenders in the videos, such communication not only grab eyeballs, but stand out because of its unique content. Recently, Ogilvy created a thought provoking campaign featuring acid attack survivor Reshma Qureshi in a bid to end sale of acids, through a series of three videos where she gives beauty tips. In the hugely popular Seatbelt crew ad, the transgender community came forward and gave the drivers a lesson on how to drive carefully by wearing seatbelts.

Acid attack victims and transgenders are usually shunned from the society, but through mainstream communications like these, the notion is gradually changing.

Seatbelt Crew:

Acid victim:

Commenting on this, Ronnie Wadia, Senior Partner & Creative Director, Alok Nanda and Company explained, “Issues previously considered taboo are now openly expressed and discussed through advertising films and print ads. Reaching out to the masses through commercial media is a great way to create and spread awareness about issues like acid attacks on women and serve to mobilise the government to act and pass legislatures that would prevent or curb recurrence of such events. This openness is necessary for the betterment of our society."

Saurabh Uboweja, CEO and Chief Brand Strategist, Brands of Desire said, “A controversial or an unconventional route can be a useful hook for brand recall. There is also intent to connect the brand with the youth, especially if that's the target audience or if a legacy brand is trying to remain relevant in a fast changing world. Brands want to be perceived as progressive by taking a stand against regressive social stigmas. However, if they wish to make a visible difference to a cause and build some real brand equity, they need to go beyond a campaign and work towards such causes extensively. If then, they talk about how they made a difference, then that would be far more convincing.”

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