Today’s day 3 of the 90-90-1. In case you don’t know about this, you may read this post to get a sense of what C and I are trying to do. The last two days were spent trying to build a habit of clearing the calendar and not doing anything else but writing. At some point in time (hopefully today), I want to start talking about marketing. After all, that’s what I decided yesterday.
The times we live in are, well, interesting. The world around us is changing faster than you can blink and it’s still the same. We now have self-driving cars, chatGPT and LK-99. And yet we have countries divided over religion and race and color and all that. As a marketer, the job has never been more exciting. Or tougher. People no longer hide behind veils and mumble disapprovals. They now assert their individuality and talk about things that don’t fit into their value system. And when they do that, they are louder than the loudest cheer of fans in a stadium and more articulate than the politicians at the altar. And they spread their ideas with a distribution that brands are envious of.
So, conventional wisdom would say, tread carefully.
And this is where I sort of disagree.
Why tread carefully? As a brand, while you are out there to make a profit and create shareholder value, you have the obligation to lead the charge and herald people into the new. You need to play the role of an instigator, a politician, a pastor, a provocateur, a pop star, a painter. As the brand (and you as the brand manager, the custodian of the brand) you need to take stands. And have what it takes to face the music. Or the cacophony.
Truth be told, many brands have tried this and may I say, bowed down. Tanishq had to take down one of their ads and issue a public apology when they took a brave stand of showcasing an ad featuring an interfaith couple. If you are curious, you may see it here (on a politician’s Twitter handle). Yesterday, Aditi showed #teamSoG an ad by Nike where they took the brave decision of featuring an athlete that apparently had disrespected America’s national anthem. I can’t imagine that happening in India. Staying with Nike and what’s happening around us, I found this beautiful message where they are imploring us to Not Do It! Isn’t this the exact responsibility brand custodians have?
We need brands and businesses to take such stands in India and talk about what’s happening around us. There have been some starts. Future Generali (disclaimer – I had featured their CMO on a podcast) has been taking bold bets. One of their campaigns celebrated same-sex relationships and they did so in as loud a manner as they could for that small cohort – hoarding at one of the most popular junctions in Mumbai at least. I am not sure if they did it at other places too. Axis Bank did Dil Se Open. Kotak has been the harbinger of creating communication that showcases our diversity as a nation. While there are starts, we need things to go mainstream and we need more businesses and brands to take a stand. But then, that would require you to have some spine. No?
As a passive participant in the communication industry, all I can do is stay hopeful that someday the eyes would open up. And with each thing that I work on, I can push things a bit, if not a lot.
Lemme give an example.
As a cohort. As a consumer set. As the “niche” that every brand wants to be pally with. Each brand I work on, without an exception, – from hotels to financial services to healthcare to travel to everything else wants to be the new best friend to women. And it’s not surprising to see why. Almost 48.4% of India is women. Less than 20% are engaged in “active, meaningful, paid work” outside the farm and casual labour space. And I am not even counting women that are part of the unorganized economy and the ones that “work” at home.
Even if I consider the ones in active work, more and more women are choosing to take control. Of how they live, work, think, operate and spend their money. And of their families. And have an influence over the money of their friends and relatives and neighbors. Women now assert their opinions and voices and dictate where their wallets open up.
While brands understand this trend, they are failing to do the right thing.
In the next few lines, I will make a few statements about what women want. From the vantage point of being a man. Not to mansplain but to learn more. If I am wrong, which I probably would be, PLEASE help me correct.
So, coming back to women and brands, I refuse to see why or how brands create products or communication. I mean, no woman wants a pen that comes in a pink body but writes in blue. Most women don’t really care about “whiter” intimate body parts. No woman wants to “have a happy period”.
What women probably want is equality (not special treatment). They probably want marketers to have a deeper understanding of challenges specific to them. Women probably want solutions to the problems they face as individuals – if that solution is pink or blue or black or whatever, it’s cool. Brands need to arrive at solutions first and then think of colors. Brands need to take a stand and not amplify the already deep-seated biases against women. I mean why would a brand create communication about how a woman eats last and whatever is left after her entire family has eaten? Rather, why can’t we have more pieces of work that encourage everyone to Share The Load?
I know my understanding and knowledge of these issues is flawed. I know that I don’t understand women. I know I need to do better if I want to make a dent. And that is what I would try and work on over the next few days.
While I am on the journey to do so, come help me! Tell me when I go wrong. Point me at resources that allow me to learn. Share things that I can read. You know where to reach me!
Over and out.
PS: As I write these over the next 3 months or so, I plan to share early drafts with some people. If you want to get those, give me feedback before I publish, lemme me know and I will add you to a WA group. Lol, I love these groups ;P