W 13 — Purpose Driven Journey of Brands

Post lockdown, many brands are moving towards purpose-led communications. Even the youth of today lauds those brands which take a stand for contemporary causes, rather than staying complacent. But on a flip side, an act of kindness by a corporate can be seen as a ‘PR stunt’ by others, which is a term people usually use to undermine the authenticity of their work. We cannot forget the time when Gillette decided to take a stand against toxic masculinity, while having a history of ads which objectified women. Another such case is the 2017 Pepsi fiasco advertisement featuring the popular Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, rolling out a Pepsi can to a cop in a protest, as the brand tried to capitalize upon a sensitive political issue without substance, and featuring a celebrity who has never taken a stance before. Thus, many brands are slammed for hopping on to the woke bandwagon, either without genuine concern, or without a history to prove their genuine concern regarding the issue. But, if we come closer home, the memory of the Tanishq ad, which originally sought out to promote religious harmony but was later attacked, is etched in our memory.

The confusion further intensifies. Some brands are criticized for taking a stand (as with the Tanishq ad), while others are trolled for not doing enough (as with the Pepsi ad). Another question that may also arise is, whether brands should take a stand at all.

According to me, people view brands as an extension to themselves. They want to view these brands as humane, and responsible. Public Relations is not about building a façade for these brands, but for evoking consciousness in the corporate jungle! Goldman Sachs was recently lauded for setting gender and ethnic hiring targets in their firm, which created a ripple effect as many corporations announced such standards. Global fund managers such as BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street started laying more emphasis on ESG credentials while investing. Thus, when companies walk their talk, wonders do happen. Companies cannot showcase a healthy culture, without actually having one. As the famous saying goes, “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast”. British insurer Wesleyan, put out a simple statement saying “we do the right thing for our customers, staff and the community” while putting together an ESG framework for its 10.1 billion portfolio.

As far as the other question goes, the world of today admires a brand with a spine. The pandemic made us realise the importance of life, and community. A brand that does not vocalize on issues, ceases to be “humane” as people don’t identify with it. Nike has always been a forerunner in advocating for social issues like Black lives matter and gender equality. Their recent campaign called, “You can’t stop us”, launched in August advocates for racial equality, gender equality, equality for athletes with disabilities, and commends the efforts of COVID healthcare workers. No wonder, the internet went gaga over the ad. But can such projection of values conceal the fate of its sweatshop workers who are underpaid in third world countries? PR professionals are forced to face such tough questions, in the modern times.

Speaking of Nike, should all brands ‘just do it’, or do one while smiling for the camera? Ancient Indian value system encourages us to do the karma (the right deed) without caring about the fruits it will bear. While some advocate the following of principles of ESG without a public declaration, others believe in involving the media into it. However, I firmly believe in the latter half. We live in a world of butterfly effect. A brand garnering popularity for being socially conscious can encourage another to follow the same route, creating a ripple effect. Media helps in highlighting the importance of such initiatives and in urging others to follow the same path of goodwill. At the end of the day, as a communicator our primary role is to generate goodwill for the company and communicate to the world what it stands for.

A budding storyteller, exploring the ‘me’ in Media!