Industry POV

The humanisation of brands: Rules of what is acceptable, what is not, are being rewritten - Rajiv Dingra

04/09/2016

n In the quest for creating a likeable personality for themselves, how far will brands go when it comes to topical opportunities?

Increasingly, in today’s over-communicated world, we are finding brands eager to latch on to topical trends to be seen as ‘cool’, ‘caring’ or even socially responsible. In short, they are trying to acquire a personality, or get humanised, all the while walking on eggshells to be politically and socially correct across communication platforms. The struggle is quite real.

Coca-Cola’s Sprite came under a lot of fire not too long ago for its #BrutallyRefreshing campaign in Ireland. The brand was made aware, equally brutally, by the audience about how far from refreshing the ‘sexist’ content really was. An apology was later issued by the brand and the campaign pulled down.

The rules, of what is acceptable to what is definitely not a joke to what is mildly offensive, are being rewritten every day. Missteps in communication, then, are neither affordable nor forgettable.

Lenskart and American Swan were slammed for the clearly insensitive content put out by the brands during the Nepal earthquake in 2015. Apologies issued later didn’t seem sensitive enough to rectify the damage caused, either.

EY India’s Social Media Marketing India Trends Study 2016 states that the top two objectives for brands to be present on social media were building brand awareness/highlight brand news (96%) and building a community (76%). This was followed by thought leadership or building credibility and customer engagement at 72%.

The issues that brands need to address or feel the need to have an opinion about, vary greatly. But a growing need to address them is being felt in any case. They range from festivals to gender issues, racial discrimination, women empowerment and anything that is important to any section of the society.

This is a step in the right direction, feels Rajiv Dingra, founder and CEO, WATConsult. “Brands are starting to realise that having a viewpoint is actually a good thing,” he notes. “They are no longer seen as inanimate entities, but rather as identities with feelings. The humanisation of brands started when social media became conversational. The brands that are not humanised are doing run-of-the-mill updates.”

The challenge digital specifically presents is that the metrics of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ take the attention away from the softer aspects. It is easier to work with numbers than to go back to the drawing board and recreate the creative or the communication.

Santosh Desai, MD and CEO, Future Brands explains: “Brands have been used to one-way conversations from the safety of their positions but now it is like being thrust into a wide crowd of opinion where you are still trying to use your old moves.”

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