‘If a brand wants to build an enduring legacy, it will have to talk about social change’

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On Day 1 of e4m India Brand Conclave 2020, Sudhakar Rao, Director-Branding, ICFAI Group, discussed how brands can stand their ground in the face of illogical trolling

On Day 1 of exchange4media’s India Brand Conclave on Wednesday, Sudhakar Rao, Director-Branding, ICFAI Group, spoke about branding challenges in a polarized world.

Rao began his presentation by giving an example of a competition called ‘Boardroom challenge for B-school students’ which he was tasked to judge. Students were supposed to study a case and provide solutions. The case was of Colgate. As part of the jury, he observed that students from B-schools were of the opinion that the toothpaste market was de-growing because certain brands were not perceived to be “Indian”.

“Everyone is trying to assert jumpily that there is nationalism even for toothpaste. I think that inference is wrong. Not many people know that Colgate is a foreign brand but it has become a household name,” Rao said. He said the actual reason is that people are looking for a specialized toothpaste.

“But if you tend to follow your leader too much and add masculinity to your hero, it will result in toxic positivity and fatal optimism. It does not stop at that as it will fuel negativity towards others,” he averred.

Rao shared that an anthropological perspective tells us that we are all different and the civilization has flourished by way of exploration. “We have now picked up different regions, different schools of thought now called religion and therefore as we move forward, this becomes a melting pot.”

He added that this gives birth to nation states, and the chaos triggers a need for law and order. And with the advent of smartphones, everyone is pouring their thoughts on to social media which leads to encroachment of thoughts due to overcrowding.

“Folks who have an agenda and create an inflammatory situation can be called a troll factory as they text and bots. Evolutionary growth giving rise to differences should not be mistaken for fault lines, but for political reasons, it is made a fault line,” he bemoaned.

He warned that if people of a certain religion will have to be thrown out of the window politically then this genesis of hatred will not stop anywhere. “A guy on street 1 will not like the guy from street 2. It will come down to colour, and height and it will not end anywhere,” said Rao.

Trolls search for negatives in every story, said Rao, adding that criticism should be based on reason not unreasonable expression of anger.

“We do not have to like everything or dislike everything. Sometimes we have to put down atrocities committed by the strong against the weak but troll is of a different nature,” Rao said while trying to underline how to differentiate a troll from a non-troll.

Talking about the recent controversy over an ad of Tanishq depicting inter-faith marriage, Rao said “the Tanishq Ekatvam ad is honest, truthful and decent, and it is neither repulsive nor inflammatory, and least of all, it is not love jihad.

“Only politics could insert that kind of jargon and create tension. The ASCI said that everything was fine with the ad and the clean chit came from many,” he pointed out.

He asked us to remember that India is founded upon love and not hate. He said that people questioning the timing of the ad or the sensitivity have nothing of value.

“The Special Marriages Act, 1954, actually guarantees inter-faith marriage which is why one cannot give it a different colour,” Rao concluded.

He proceeded to talk about the survey of Brands in Motion which said that 74 per cent of consumers want brands to take a stand on issues which matter to them. Rao said that brands must focus on local action for global impact as they pick a route and lead the path. “83 per cent consumers think brands can provide stability in this unstable world,” said Rao while terming that this was a huge expectation to be ignored.

He explored the term “woke” and whether India was ready for woke advertising. “India is not going to hold a placard and say that we are ready for woke advertising.” He advised that it is the responsibility of the brand to keep up the conscience of its consumer and indulge in woke advertising from time to time.

He cited the example of Surf Excel which ran into trouble but did not stray from its course in the face of outrage. He commended the brand for showing spine. If the brand is looking to build an enduring legacy then it will have to talk about social change.

He said that brands will make mistakes along the way and they must be called out accordingly. He pondered that the root cause of polarization was the rigidity of one nation and one culture for everyone. “It will create fear psychosis to not accommodate everyone.”

Rao’s advice would be that whenever trolls show up on the scene, they should be dealt with patiently while using technology to uncover their real face. “Brands like Amul, Parle, Bajaj, Bingo, and Zomato have already stated that they will not advertise on channels spewing hate.”

Rao believes that trolls do not have patience nor logic and this should be used to counter them.

“Politics will come and go but social change promoting human values will stay and brands will definitely associate with human values,” Rao declared.

In conclusion, Rao said that if a brand stands for a purpose, it should not be only on social media but also on the ground round the clock otherwise it is only going to be for the sake of advertising or a façade.

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