Is it an ad? Is it CSR? Is it PR?

 In Communication

As a communicator today, CSR is top priority for most companies. With the Government’s mandate of 2% revenue going back to society, CSR is on everyone’s ‘Things to Do’ list. Considering that I am frequently called upon to give back, in my personal capacity, this idea has captured my imagination. It excites me to say that my work has made an impact to those less fortunate as well. However as this is a new ‘trend’, for lack of a better word, in the communication space, it is something I have been following.

Does CSR add to your brand, when you decide to communicate about it?

While most people will trust brands like the Tata’s and the CSR activities they do without question, when something new comes up, the narrative behind it becomes important. Logically CSR should be done for its own sake. Now companies want to be viewed as responsible citizens. They are embracing the triple bottom line of sustainability, profitability and people. Employees especially millennials want to be seen as joining a company that is passionate about causes that are close to their heart. Thus it makes sense to communicate about your CSR. Or so you think….

Is your heart in the right place?

What got me thinking about how CSR adds value to a brand was triggered with The Vicks ad. This TVC (television campaign) has made quite a buzz recently. It has resonated with me, from a communication perspective. The ad depicts the transgender Gauri and her journey on adopting her daughter. It is a beautifully shot PSA (Public service announcement) on the rights of the transgender community and ends with the tagline ‘Touch of Care.’ The tagline brings in Vicks and how one touch, when you’re sick makes all the difference. Now the communication and media fraternity is either hating or loving it. And herein lies the dilemma, how does a brand show its authentic intent without showcasing its commercial agenda (here Publicity for Vicks).

Putting your money where your heart is, is one thing, but how do you support it with communication? The public can smell a rat a mile away and with the social media explosion, the smell can get carried far and wide. And so they are calling this ad a gimmick, a publicity stunt!

What is the end objective?

Now comes the even more important question what is CSR supposed to do? If it is just to raise awareness then the Vicks campaign did bring transgender rights to the forefront. It needs to get credit for that. It highlights an overlooked issue. If it is somehow seen as selling its products on the back of that, it won’t work. The brand connect doesn’t work for me and it doesn’t work for some in the media. I am happy about that because in a clutter of voices, it’s not always about getting another story out. You need to ask, is your story worth telling? Is it actually having an impact?

Branding & CSR a tenuous partnership

While a good narrative can make up for anything, for an established brand gimmicks don’t work, just make it look amateurish. Does Vicks have a program which supports transgenders? Is it to support human rights and do they do work in that area? Nothing is clear. While one can say any publicity is good publicity, it can also reflect as a pure marketing tactic. But was the objective to raise the brand from its current level to one with a higher purpose? I think it failed here because the impact on the transgender community is unclear. It’s the same questions that come to my mind, one’s my media colleagues ask me, when I talk to them about a CSR initiative. What are the numbers? Did it open up dialogue? Did it help to bestow more rights to the transgender community?

Why the narrative is important

A good example of this is the HUL behavioural change campaign ‘Haath Muh Bum’ a simple narrative of washing up after yourselves, told by children. The ad hits the nail on the head for a FMCG company, aligns with the brand and the products they make and highlights a very pertinent problem. Also they pitch it as a campaign for behavioural change. They want you to know that washing your hands after you use the toilet is important to maintain hygiene and prevent disease. That’s the whole point of the campaign.

Believe it or not while the jury is still out on what the campaign did for Vicks, it sure enough made me aware of the issue. I donated to Gauri’s new campaign where she is planning to build a safe house for children of sex workers. Because you know I saw her in the Vicks ad. So the campaign succeeded in that area! However for me to buy into the fact that Vicks actually did something for the community, I would need to see how they supported on ground. Honestly for a brand like Vicks they really don’t need to resort to riding on a cause, but now that they did, one would expect them to put their money where their mouth is!


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