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‘Cause-driven advertising’: does it help in brand building?

Advertising is creativity with a commercial angle. Unlike art of art’s sake, advertising has a clear business role to play – it has to help improve sales or brand affinity (which will have an impact on brand loyalty and therefore, sales). Over the years, brand owners and ad agencies have used several kinds of stimulus as tools to get across the brand message. Entertainment (jingles, humorous ads), shock value, tugging at the heartstrings are just a few of such ‘tools’. In many of such ads, the role of the brand takes a back seat while in some the product is anchored at the centre of the creative idea. When the brand becomes incidental to an ad, it often becomes a case of consumers remembering elements of the ad but not the brand being advertised. Moreover, many a times viewers are left wondering what the advertised brand has to do with the story. In marketing circles, ‘Why is this advertising claim true of only this brand?’ is a question which must be asked but not done so often, primarily because feature parity is common across categories.

The fact that the advertiser is selling his wares is at least clear to the consumer in paid advertising. Consumers know ‘it’s only advertising’ and are forgiving and even indulgent towards exaggerated claims. However, when a promotional piece is not clearly mentioned as advertising, some readers may feel cheated when they discover it to be so. Advertorials disguised as editorial, some native advertising which clearly does not mention that it is a sponsored article fall in this category. It could make the brand seem opportunistic and dishonest.

Brands have been making efforts to be seen as responsible, empathetic through do-good acts and promoting that fact. A portion of sales being apportioned for charity or good cause, sponsorships in some form for social-good organisations – these are common. In this age of ‘new advertising’ this fits in well because it is all about ‘brand action’ than brand messaging. Brands ‘do’ something – a product innovation, a stunt, an activation which gets talked about and shared. Some (good) examples come to mind: P&G’s ‘Thank You, Mom’, Volvo’s product stunts and more. The belief is that consumers talking about brands voluntarily is far better than a ‘paid ad’ sending out a one-way message and helps strengthen brand equity.

In this quest to get consumers talking about the brand, the online-only, long-format YouTube video has become a default option for marketers. So we’ve seen a host of stunts, activations, occasion or festival-driven topical videos and videos associated with a cause. Many such videos have actors staging a stunt or acting out a situation, supposedly to pass off as candid video.

Cause-driven advertising (as opposed to activism where brands take a stand, sometimes with political overtones) has often seen little or no link to the brand advertised. In both cases, if there is a credible, relevant link to the brand, it helps. I found such a relevant, credible link missing when I saw the #ReleaseThePressure effort from Mirinda.

As the father of a 11-year old daughter, I could relate to the pressures parents subject their kids to when it comes to exams. However, I could not find answers to questions like, ‘what does it do for the brand? Increase sales? Strengthen brand equity? Get more people to look at the brand in a positive light?’. Sure, going by some comments on Facebook, it sure has made parents feel a bit guilty about how they behave with kids when it comes to exams. The film seemed to have real people (not actors) and their angst came through. But if the video ended with a brand signature from an education or coaching class brand, it would have been more credible than a sugared, carbonated drink. The link to ‘releasing the pressure’ and the brand is so tenuous that it undoes all the empathy generated while watching the video.

In my view, cause-driven marketing (and advertising promoting it) has a good chance of success in brand building, if:

– there is a genuine on-the-ground effort and not limited to a mere advertising claim. Many companies hire differently-abled people or share a portion of the sales towards a social-good cause as part of their CSR efforts
– the central cause being supported is not incongruous with the products or services of the company. A strong, visible link between the two helps. A company manufacturing a product which is a health risk (tobacco, alcohol) cannot be seen to be associated with a healthy cause (say, a marathon). When P&G (with its range of products aimed at mothers) sponsored the US Olympic team with ‘Thank You, mom’ it is still a lot more credible even if there is a commercial interest for the brand (hoping to increase sales)

As far as the Miranda effort is concerned I am sure there are plans to expand the effort beyond just a film. It is a genuinely moving film, it got me teared up, conscious of how not to behave with kids during exams, etc. The film had me riveted till the end. But the residual feeling I am left with is being let down and that the brand is being opportunistic. As a YouTube commenter wrote on the Miranda ad: Playing with emotions to push a product, their commercial agenda. They have just figured where to strike right, which emotion to evoke. You feel like being played with. And that too an aerated drink like Mirinda, that’s anyways not good for these children whether under exam pressure or not. It’s better and clean if advertisers just said it out loud and clean – that we want to sell and not hide behind this Public Interest.

Your views?

bhatnaturally

Ex-ad man. Love advertising, Apple, tech, digital, design and all things creative. VP - MarCom, @Robosoft. Views personal. See disclaimer for more.

http://www.bhatnaturally.com