Brands cannot afford to be ostriches


We Indians are an optimistic lot.
On the 9th of July 2019 with 24 runs to make in 10 balls, we hoped for a miracle. Dhoni might just rediscover the finisher in him, we hoped.

And why would we not be optimists?
We have seen our lives improve significantly since the early ’90s. This sense of optimism was visible even in our cinema. The angry young man of the 70s slowly disappeared. He was replaced by a young man with an eclectic fashion sense who rapped ‘apna time aayega’.

We embraced optimism unconditionally. India topped Grant Thornton’s Global Optimism Index for four years leading up to 2018. When we slipped to the 6th spot in the first quarter of 2018, it made the news. Today we have the top spot in another index – the Global Anxiety Index. Run by Deloitte, this index measures how worried people are across the world. And it appears that Indians are the most anxious people in the world today. Worried about losing our jobs, worried about our health, worried about upcoming payments, worried about our families.

The fact that we are the most anxious people should not come as a surprise given all that we lived through in the past two months. However, surprisingly very little of this anxiety is getting reflected in popular culture or in the world of brands and advertising. Apart from Aarkariyam, a Malayalam movie and a few scenes in Joji, another Malayalam movie, the existence of COVID – 19 has barely been acknowledged by cinema. Someday, India might find it’s ownSteinbeck who will capture what we as a people went through in 2020 and 2021 just as vividly as the original Steinbeck captured stories of American lives caught up in the great depression.

But what about the world of brands? True, some brands jumped onto the hand-sanitizer, hand-wash bandwagon in the early days of the pandemic. But most of these newborn hand sanitizers and hand-washes can no longer be found on supermarket shelves. Apart from this, most brands put out social media posts acknowledging the work done by frontline workers. Dettol pushed this line of thinking and has now put frontline workers and their stories on their packs. A positive move.

But most brands seem to ignore the reality of the pandemic and the impact that it has had. Can brands continue to exist in this parallel universe? Can they afford to not acknowledge reality? Can they continue to put out social media posts and not do anything more substantial? What is preventing brands from acting more purposively? Surely, they can and should do something to be a positive force in the lives of their consumers. Surely this is a better strategy than blowing up money on an IPL sponsorship or signing up the latest celebrity.

If you are in the business of cosmetics or fashion, or if you’re running a hotel then not acting or responding constructively to COVID may just be a missed opportunity. But what if you are a Small Finance Bank (AU, Ujjivan, ESAF, etc. there are totally ten Small Finance Banks in India)– a financial institution that is mandated to serve the unserved and underserved sections of Indian society? Then you must assess how your consumers have been impacted by COVID and you need to find ways in which you can be a positive force in their lives.

It is time that brands acknowledge the reality of this pandemic.
It is time to study the impact that COVID has had on consumers and evolve a comprehensive strategy that encompasses product, content, and engagement. Remember the costliest and most dangerous option is to sit quiet and carry on as if nothing has changed.

About the author

Suresh Mohankumar

A seasoned strategist with 28 years of experience conceiving, launching and growing some of India’s biggest brands, Suresh, has worked as the head of Strategic Planning in large advertising agencies.

He is known for breaking down complex situations to bring meaningful insights to the surface in order to arrive at a water-tight strategy.

He has handled a variety of categories like Automobiles, Jewelry, FMCG, AlcoBev, Leisure, Food, Fashion, Retail, Technology, New Media, etc.

By Suresh Mohankumar

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