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February 3, 2000

BUDGET 1999-2000

Soulful social circuit: corporates mix consumerism with conscience

Neena Haridas and Yuvraj Mehta in New Delhi

Delhi milk retailer Mother Dairy ads promote health consciousness Feeling philanthropic? Buy a pack of the Whisper brand of sanitary napkins. Or brush your teeth with Colgate toothpaste, bathe your kid with Doy soap, wear a Benetton T-shirt and Acuvue contact lens, have Kelloggs packaged cereal for breakfast, wash it down with tea made with Nestle milk powder, then make sure you drive down to the marketplace in a Maruti car which runs on Shell engine oil, pay your bills with your American Express credit card.

Make this your ritual if you care about blind adolescent girls, air pollution, AIDS, racism, destitute children, iron deficiency among pregnant women, world hunger... In short, if you care about the world, buy! Buy anything that comes with a social cause. And that would not be a tough job considering that the retail shelves today are choc-a-bloc with products that claim to have a heart and a penny for the poor and needy.

Bennetton ads speak out against racism Email this report to a friend Call it a marketing gimmick or cause-related marketing, 'social service' is the new mantra in corporate boardrooms, even if it means throwing Philip Kotler out of the window. Says Suhel Seth, chief executive, Equus Advertising, "Cause-related marketing is a strategy that links the company or its brand with a social cause. Here, the corporate is giving two reasons to buy the product: one, the product benefit itself, and two, the intrinsic satisfaction of participating in a social cause. In a way, it is transaction-based philanthropy, which says, 'I am a responsible corporate citizen, so you can buy from me'. This kind of promotion creates a differentiating platform for the corporate in a marketplace where everyone is trying to push his own product, especially in a scenario where the consumer is increasingly growing cynical of self-laudatory advertising."

Which is why Procter & Gamble speaks very little about the product specifics of Whisper sanitary napkins. Instead, its ads talk about the superstitions associated with the subject.

Click for the full image. MRF tyre adverts exhort motorists to smile while stuck at traffic junctions But the real 'cause' is that the company donates one rupee from every pack of Whisper sold towards educating blind adolescent girls. Called 'Project Drishti', P&G launched this programme in the wake of Whisper market-share falling from 51.1 per cent to 44.9 per cent in the first half of 1999. Says a P&G spokesperson, "Our product and the brand identify the women of today -- it's modern, not forgetting the traditional values and has a heart too."

And how far has the 'cause' helped boost sales? "Well, considerably. We have gained in volume significantly," he says. "A study showed that quite a few of the women interviewed responded that they bought Whisper for three dominant reasons -- charity value, community feeling and functionality." The hygiene factor came last for a sanitary product.

But Whisper will definitely not feel lonesome in this 'social' circuit. Sample this: Maruti Udyog has associated itself with environment with its air pollution campaigns and pollution checking counters, Kelloggs contributes towards creating awareness on ills of iron deficiency, Doy Soap (kids soap) makes a contribution towards giving a home to destitute children, MRF Tyres have espoused the cause of promoting stress-free driving on roads by highlighting the value of the smile through half-page colour advertisements, Benetton has internationally been associated with creating awareness about AIDS, safe sex, and fight against racial inequality and capital punishment even as American Express works for eradication of world hunger.

Then there are the health-freaks such as Johnson & Johnson which promotes eyecare clinics across the country, Nestle sells milk powder and the fact that mother's milk is the best babyfood, while Tata Steel contributes towards creating more healthcare centres in small towns and villages, and cosmetics MNC Avon makes a gesture towards creating awareness about breast cancer. Not to mention the computer literacy drive kicked off by computer companies NIIT and Zenith Computers.

Says Joe Plummer, executive vice-president, McCann-Erickson Worldwide, says, "The consumers that these companies want to reach out to are the socially and politically active trend-setters. They are receptive to such causes. In fact, a survey shows that the receptivity of cause-related marketing is highest among those between the age-groups of 19 and 49. Cause-related marketing is gaining ground world-wide.

In the United States, about 7 per cent of the marketing spend goes toward cause-related marketing. Statistics reveal that social causes as part of business culture has increased 8 per cent since 1993. The reason is that it creates a strategic positioning in the consumer's mind and increases brand loyalty and brand switches from competition. A survey reveals that eight in ten customers have a more positive image of a firm which supports a cause close to their heart. About two-thirds of them say they would like to switch to brands or organisations with a cause." Which probably explains women citing charity value -- and not hygiene -- as a reason for buying Whisper!

What prompts a company to pick a social cause? Says marketing guru Shunu Sen, "Theoretically it is in the latter part of a company's growth chart -- when a brand has attained certain maturity -- that it transcends to the emotional or psychological level. As in the sanitary market, when the market got highly competitive, P&G decided to give Whisper a different push by making it more humane."

However, Doy Soaps, targeted at children, used this strategy -- by contributing towards giving destitute children a better life -- as its launching pad.

At times, an organisation planning to diversify or multiply its portfolio also takes the 'social' route. For instance, when J&J launched its new Vision Product division, which sells Acuvue and Vistavue brands of disposable contact lenses, the company decided to donate a percentage of its sales proceeds to eye-care societies.

Says S Nadkarni, representative of J&J in Delhi, "Consumers respond to brands in a holistic way, irrespective of what lifestage the brand is in. Cause-related emotions play a key role in creating involvement and bonding. In fact, the earlier a brand dons the role of a cause-related emotion, the quicker will be the bonding process with the consumer. Hence, when we launched our eye-care programme we were not just aiming at creating sales. It was meant to be an awareness programme because eye-care is a problem in India. And what better way to do than linking it up with our own brand."

"In a way, a company which sells contact lens creating awareness about eye-care or a company which sells milk powder promoting mother's milk or car manufacturers working towards green air adds to the credibility of the company itself. But it depends a lot on the cause that one associates with. It has to be in tandem with the product and the target audience, otherwise it could backfire," says Plummer.

In fact, in what marketing gurus term as Lazarfelt/Merton analysis, there are three conditions that need to be fulfilled for an effective cause-related campaign. First, there must be a mass feeling for that particular social communication such as concern for blind girl children. Second, there must be a real or psychological monopolisation of the media, which implies the absence of any counter propaganda for the given social cause. Third, supplementation, that is the effort to follow up the promo with other contacts as and when desired, such as eye-care clinics.

Warns Sen, "The potential problem with cause-related marketing is that it does not directly promote the brand's benefit. Hence, if the cause is not good one or relevant to the target consumer, or if the execution is shoddy, not convincing enough, the money would have been badly spent. In worst cases, it might even adversely impact the brand's image."



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