Guest Column: Can a brand be an antidote to student stress?

NCRB data reveals that close to 40,000 students in India committed stress-related suicide from 2011 to 2015, with 8,934 cases in 2015 alone. Are brands doing their bit for the stressed out youth?

by Prof. Anand Narasimha, Surekha Shetty
Published - Aug 1, 2017 8:05 AM Updated: Aug 1, 2017 8:05 AM


Stress is a part and parcel of human life. Millions of people succumb to stress-related disorders and the number keeps growing every year. Historically, several brands have driven their narratives by positioning themselves as stress-busters. 

 

Categories such as financial services, insurance, travel and tourism, home appliances, health and wellness, among others, have targeted predominantly adult segments like business executives, homemakers and senior citizens by promising them stress relief as the end benefit. 

 

Since brands cater to various segments of people, many leading brands have researched that stress has seeped into a younger demographic over the past decade and the latest victims of stress are not just middle-aged professionals but adolescent students. 

 

Psychologists who specialize in student counselling suggest that students suffer from traumatic disorders and anxiety, all related to academic performance and fear of examinations. With students, the complication is that the fear is not just intrinsic (from within,) but also extrinsic, which stems from schools, colleges, peers and parents that go to extreme levels to push their offspring into securing better grades.

 

Student-Stress: The New Trend

 

Conventionally, brands targeted at students used themes like achievement, winning or growth as their marketing planks. Nowadays, brands targeted at the student community have taken a leaf out of the book of adult categories and are pitching themselves as an ‘antidote to student-stress.’ 

 

Recently, PepsiCo rolled out a campaign #ReleaseThePressure for Mirinda. The campaign gave voice to millions of students who experience extreme pressure during their exams. Brands like TATA Tea, Cello Pens and Lenovo followed suit, using student-stress as a platform. 

 

Are we witnessing a new trend with brands targeted at students?

 

When we consider overall student wellbeing, looking at academic stressors on health, brands are capitalizing on the growing realization to pay attention to the serious long-term health effects pressure has on students. Hence, the positioning of ‘stress-busters,’ ‘stress-relief’ and ‘instant-happiness solutions.’

 

Organizations like Lipton, Palmolive, Nestle, VLCC, McDonalds, etc. are taking notice and also getting innovative and creative in the branding process and trying unconventional approaches to help students feel less stressed by focussing on relaxation and happiness during daily student activities like eating (KitKat Break, McDonalds Happy Meal,) bathing (Palmolive Anti-stress shower gel) and drinking (VLCC and Lipton relaxing Green Tea.) 

 

Re-targeting the Juggernaut

 

This is hardly surprising. Given India’s young demographic, students represent a lucrative target market for a large number of products and services, both as users and as influencers.

According to various estimates, there are in excess of 400 million students enrolled across schools and colleges in India, the highest in the world. This means that India’s student population is higher than the entire population of the United States.

 

What’s more relevant is that stress is becoming younger. India’s economic growth has fuelled aspirations and created a hyper competitive environment for the student population. Not only for getting admission in a reputed institute but coping with the academic rigor and subsequent career challenges. Adding fuel to the fire are the high expectations from parents, relatives, friends and one’s peer group. Over and above the academic and professional demands, today’s students have to also cope with societal pressures ignited by the social media. 

 

Alarmingly, statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reveal that close to 40,000 students in India committed stress related suicide from 2011 to 2015, with 8,934 cases in 2015 alone. The once ‘bindaas’ student life has now become a ‘24x7 pressure cooker’.

 

Not just Ads, but Acts!

 

While brands seem to have latched onto this bandwagon, here is the moot question. Is it enough to do ads and hashtags that take a stand against student stress and present the brand’s point of view as a stress antidote? Will this alone create resonance for the brand and powerful student engagement?

 

The best and most productive time in a student’s life is youth, which they are supposed to enjoy and cherish. Instead, they are pushed to extreme levels which can be overwhelming for many. Marketing to today’s cynical and savvy youth has to go beyond just advertising and selling and move to demonstrating a genuine concern through the actions of the brand.

 

The old way of marketing, ‘Brand Talks. People Listen,’ has given way to the new mantra, ‘Brand Does. People Talk.’ This is where brands need to also ‘do’ things to demonstrate their commitment to the issue of student-stress. This needs to be achieved through tangible programs and activities, both on ground and online (beyond just advertising on air.)

 

Any brand that takes a ‘bigger point of view’ in society and culture than just its product functionality, must ‘walk the talk.’ Or else, the stand it takes will end up being only a marketing gimmick, which consumers will eventually see through. 

 

This is something brands need to certainly get stressed about.

 

 

Prof. Anand Narasimha is the Professor-Marketing & Strategy, IFIM Business School; Surekha Shetty is Director – Admissions and Student Services (IFIM Business School, Bangalore)

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com.

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