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New face of 'social' advertising

Source: PTI
November 29, 2005 11:44 IST
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Social concerns as an advertising strategy and creative execution is emerging as the latest trend among advertisers to sell their ware.

Earlier it was the preserve of public sector undertakings or companies that were in businesses that were polluting or posed a threat to nature or the community at large like oil, petroleum and steel majors, explains Shadab Abidi, copywriter with a reputed firm.

Debajit Rath who heads corporate communications at SAIL explains that PSUs were conceived with an inherent motive of public-good.

Earlier, due to lack of competition there was no need to convey this. But with more corporates jumping into the fray it became imperative for PSUs to communicate that they were socially responsible.

Rath adds, "It's almost the advertising equivalent of corporate social responsibility. It gives a human face to a brand and protects it in the face of negative publicity. Brands are awakening to this."

The Cannes Lion 2005 winner, the Honda commercial (Hate something, change something) perhaps best exemplifies this trend.

In the Indian context Surf (save two buckets of water), Lifebuoy (boy sweeping the street), Aaj Tak, Saffola (Thank you Aunty) and the latest Red FM (Bajate Raho) campaign are some of the advertisements that have effectively used the strategy to create a distinct resonance for their brand.

"The trend is increasing across brands and categories because it is seen as an effective way to break clutter, " says Anand Bhushan, copywriter with EuroRSCG, who has worked extensively on one such campaign.

"I think at the end of the day the idea is to get a positive evaluation for the brand and sell more units. The social twist makes the consumer feel like using a brand is a virtue," say Ashish Chakraborty, creative director, Contract.

In the case of the Surf advertisement, which was first launched in Chennai, the creative came out of the chronic water shortage that the city has been facing for several years now.

"People there wash their clothes twice a week or so. The R&D unit then came out with a version of the product that would use less water. We articulated this and gave it the shape of a creative solution," say Brajesh Jacob, creative director, Lowe.

A similar logic was applied to the Honda ad explains Charkaborty. "The diesel engine is detestable. It was made pollution-free and the creative communicated the same.

Samir Pasrich, creative director, R K Swami, says that the cause has to fit in with the nature of the product and the core competency of the brand.  "Philips can't say save water and surf can't say save electricity," he says.

In the case of Red FM the idea was to talk to housewives, rikshawallahs and panwallas. In other words to the so-called  periphery in terms of demographics that are normally addressed in advertising, says Satbir Singh, vice president (creative), Euro RSCG.

"The brand aspired to articulate their voice. With so many stations in the fray, people have to belong to a station, else they will tune out, " Singh adds.

Programming head of Red FM, Vehrnon Ibrahim cites the example of the Mumbai rains, when they went live and aired messages to relatives of those stuck in the rain. "We didn't call up clients and push for ads, " he says adding, " This is before our campaign was aired."

Red has latched onto an umbrella of social issues specific to the city. "So if it is parking, water, employment in Mumbai, defacement of monuments and red tapism in Delhi…  People like it when you can "rip apart" people in positions of authority. We can't create a revolution, but at least we can bring concerns to the fore," says Anand Bhushan, copywriter, who has extensively worked on the brand.

Jacob and Singh both emphasise that the  "product lives up to the promise." As Singh puts it, ' You can fool some people all the time and some people some of the time, but even in the garb of a social concern a bad product will not sell." Chakraobarty adds,  "This strategy is like an icing on the cake if you have a solid product." 
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