Is there a danger in overdoing the attachment of a brand with a cause? Is there a science behind attaching a brand to a cause? Can any category or any brand do it?
Answering these questions, the panel moderated by Prasad Sangameshwaran, editor, ETBrandEquity.com with Puneet Das, vice president marketing, beverages – India, Tata Consumer Products and Sachin Killawala, marketing director, Nivea India as speakers, discussed the expectations of customers and investors from brands in terms of championing a cause.
Sangameshwaran started the discussion by asking the panelists their favourite example of cause related marketing and which brand has probably tried to crack the code.
To this, Killawala replied that authenticity of the cause really matters and picked up the example of Benetton championing the diversity cause perfectly. He also took up the example of Virgin Airlines living up to the cause of giving happiness.
Das reiterated the importance of authenticity, by taking up the example of Nike championing a cause. He said that remembering brands based on how they have championed a cause depends on two factors, one being the consistency with which the brand tries to live up to the cause, and the second being authenticity.
Next the moderator asked if it would be possible to replicate the bold work, like that done by Benetton and Nike, in the Indian context.
Killawala answered this by first pointing out the heterogeneity in India. He said that the segments here can be very diverse and sustainable, even to an extent where a business can be built based on that particular segment. Talking about championing a cause, he said that it needs to be done very single mindedly, which becomes a task in India. Because of the diversity, the topics that are being discussed one day, might not be the same the next day. Concluding his remarks on this question, Killawala said that replicating that kind of bold work is possible, but is difficult since it would involve antagonising a bunch of people, and that it isn’t easy to find a cause that would appeal to everyone.
Das took a different approach towards answering this question, by mentioning that rather than being bold, it is more important to remain consistent and committed. He mentioned that if a brand is consistent with a particular cause over the years, customers see it. He said it is difficult and the way out of it is avoiding the mix up of the ‘issue’ and the ‘cause’.
Speaking about building a brand over a period of time, the panel then pondered whether a cause may run its course.
Das pointed out that the philosophy has to run through, the cause may run its course. He took up the example of the ‘Jaago re’ campaign of Tata Tea, to explain the statement. He said that the campaign was primarily aimed at awakening the people. Awakening as a philosophy might run through the entire year, but the way the cause may take shape might change with the brand.
Next was the aspect of brand fit in terms of causes. Killawala replied to this by saying, if the cause is taken up only for the purpose of marketing, then the brand has already failed the cause. “It needs to be internalised, within the DNA of the company and that is a long term investment which you make”, he said. Championing a cause for a short term gain just because it may be in trend, is never going to work out, Killawala pointed.
the next question was whether times like COVID-19 especially put pressure on marketing teams to pick up a cause, and how brands could navigate such a challenge.
Reshaping the word ‘pressure’, Killawala mentioned that marketing teams do get to see a lot of interest from consumers finding affinity in a cause. Adding to this, he said that the ultimate goal of marketing is to get closest to the consumer, and to do that it is important to identify whether the cause is for real, or is it just a gimmick which will just change with the wind.
In this context, does taking up a cause in the times of distancing help to get closer to the consumer or it just exposes the brand to be hurt?
Das said, “If you decided the time of a pandemic to pick up a cause, it probably was never at the core of your strategy.” Talking about creating a line between moment and purpose-led marketing, he said what you don’t choose to do is actually more important than what you choose to do, in purpose-led marketing because it is fundamental to the brand’s DNA and what the brand stands for.
Killawala took this opportunity to share what Nivea did pre and post the pandemic induced lockdown. He shared how Nivea completely changed the tonality of communicating with consumers post the lockdown, while keeping their primary cause that is skin care, constant. He pointed out how the core philosophy of skin care remained the same, but it was just tweaked into taking care of the skin during lockdown.
Das added to this saying that if the philosophy is clear, it shouldn’t be a difficult task for brands to find the correct moments and utilise them. He also said that these are the times when brands can demonstrate themselves to their customers.
With brands realising the importance of purpose led and cause related marketing their is a very real fear of consumer fatigue and consumers may grow tired of seeing brands indulge in cause related marketing.
In this context, Das brought up the question almost every customer asks which is what the brands are doing to make the world a better place. He added that brands indulge in picking up causes because they see the consumers wanting them to. Talking about being too crowded in this space, he said, it seems crowded only if it isn’t authentic.
Does the first-mover advantage apply to cause-related marketing?
Killawala mentioned that cause is like personality and that first-mover advantage doesn’t really stand when it comes to cause, but what works is whether a brand can do it better than any other brand. It is essential for every single stakeholder to be living that cause because if there exists any dichotomy over there, consumers will understand. He added that Gen Z today is well aware about almost every cause, so it is extremely essential to be authentic, more than being first.
Can a brand latch on to multiple causes and still not look like it has a multiple personality disorder?
Killawala said that as long as the philosophy stays consistent, the brand can very well pick up multiple causes. But the moment the philosophy stands inconsistent, consumers will start associating the brand to different issues thus creating a dissonance in their minds.
Das added by saying there needs to be a common thread tying together the multiple causes. Again, taking up the example of the ‘Jaago Re’ campaign, he highlighted that the philosophy is awakening. Different causes can be taken up depending on the situation, as long as the common thread tying them is ‘awakening people’, he said.
The panel reached a clear philosophy by the end that said ‘Brands care for Customer, Customers need the cause, Brands support the cause’.