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Say. Do. Confirm

by Ambi Parameswaran
Indian Management May 2021

Summary: It is not a compulsion that you should look for a purpose to hitch your brand to. Sometimes your brand comes with a well-infused purpose. In India, you can think of Tata, Amul, FabIndia and a few more.

Toto Chan–Girl by the Window is reputed to be the largest selling Japanese book of all time. Written by Tetsuko Kurayonagi, a TV personality, it is a charming story about her childhood in post-World War II Japan. She attended a small school called Tomoe Gaukuen that had some unique practices that made the children fall in love with the school and its principal. One such practice was that children should come dressed in their oldest set of clothes. Why? Well, the school encouraged them to play in the dirt and sand. Clothes could get dirty and may even tear.

As I was reading this delightful book, I was reminded of the Unilever’s Persil ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign, now in its 13th year. In India the campaign was adapted for another Unilever brand Surf and the line was the evocative ‘Daag Ache Hain’. Just as the kindly principal of Tomoe Gaukuen, Surf wants parents to encourage their kids to get their clothes dirty by playing in the open. Because Surf had the detergent power to remove the deepest of deep stains and dirt.

Surf and Persil are good examples of a brand that has transcended from rational and emotional benefits to a purpose-driven campaign. Why are purpose driven brands becoming more and more important? In a highly cluttered market place, brands are getting more and more commoditised. They contain similar raw materials and provide similar benefits. In the 1970s and 1980s, for example, in the case of cleaning detergents, brands could stand apart based on their cleaning power. Once that bridge was crossed, brands started harping on emotional benefits—love care, bonding, and so on.

The new millennium has levelled the field for both rational and emotional benefits. And as Bob Garfield of Ad Age observed about purpose-driven branding: “It is not positioning. It does not aim to be differentiating. Purposefulness is an ethic. A worldview. A mentality.”

If Unilever did a fabulous ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign, Procter & Gamble, maker of Ariel, was not to be left behind. They unearthed a social truth in Indian society. Washing clothes, even in washingmachine equipped upper market homes, was the woman’s domain. Why can’t men be roped into this? The campaign ‘Share The Load’ is now in its sixth year and every year they manage to add a new layer to the campaign.

Let us pause here for a bit. Why are these two campaigns case study material. Simply because they are strongly integrated with what the product does. It is not like a fashion label running a LGBTQ campaign, or an insurance company showcasing a girl with a disability.

Surf’s ‘Dirt is Good’ is all about the product; it cleans, irrespective of the kind of amount dirt. In a different vein, Ariel ‘Share the Load’ is also about the fact that the detergent is so good that even an untrained man will be able to do the job. Not to worry.

If we were to analyse these two campaigns we find that they adhere to what T Duncan and S Moriarty [authors of the book Driving Brand Value – Using Integrated Marketing to Manage Profitable Stakeholder Relationships] suggested as the Strategic Consistency Triangle. Say. Do. Confirm.

What are the planed messages you are going to say. What does your product and service do. What is the way you are going to get a confirmation from your customers/stakeholders.

If we examine Ariel and Surf we will see that their effort was not a whitewashing ,or should I say ‘purposewashing’ exercise, but based on what their products actually deliver to customers. Thanks to this ‘say-do connect’ they actually got a very strong ‘confirm’ from all the stakeholders concerned.

Their consumers loved the campaign, opinion leaders and influencers loved the campaigns, and the ads even won some awards. Ariel and Surf are not the only two brands to have run successful purposed based brand campaigns. In packaged tea both Tata Tea and Brooke Bond Red Label have run successful purpose led campaigns.

Tata Tea’s ‘Jaago Re’ was rooted in what a hot cup of tea does for you, it wakes up all your senses. And Tata Tea made it a call to activism. Brooke Bond Red label’s campaign ‘Taste of Togetherness’ managed to use the bonding power of a cup of tea to building relationships across caste, creed, and religion. Both these campaigns have had a good deal of confirmation from customers and media.

Among all the global purpose driven campaigns none has received more recognition than Dove’s ‘Campaign For Real Beauty’. This was lauded as the No. 1 Campaign on the Ad Age’s top 15 campaigns of the 21st century. The brand has been able to adapt this concept to various cultures and geographies. In India this year they have started a campaign ‘Stop the Beauty Test’, to get parents to stop looking for fair and beautiful brides for their sons. Their campaign has been well received, and, instead of just doing a campaign, the brand is engaging with all matrimonial websites and newspapers to nudge advertisers to avoid beauty terms in their ads. We have to wait and see if it has an impact on behaviour, but it is a good effort. If you were to layer the fact that Dove is a premium soap that is almost clinically devoid of perfumes, it sits well with the ‘real beauty’ promise.

While these are all great purpose led brand campaigns, there is also the virus of ‘jump on to the new purpose’ gripping marketers. You may have seen a oneoff campaign from health insurance companies using differently abled children. Or a fashion label showing off an LGBTQ activist. Or a paint company touting women empowerment. Girl child. Poverty alleviation. Eradicating illiteracy. Improving nutrition.

Many of these campaigns are one-off efforts and will be forgotten the moment they stop running. Building purpose driven brands is not the job of an advertising agency or a film maker. You need to examine what your brand does and then see how you can discover the purpose behind the brand. Take Lifebuoy. It always stood for health: ‘Tandurusthi Ka Raksha Karta Hai Lifebuoy’, went the old jingle. They managed to find a link to health, hand washing, and preventable diseases in children. Their campaign ‘Help a Child Reach Five’, created in India has gone to many developed countries. Lifebuoy could not have done a ‘Share the Load’ or an ‘LGBTQ Empowerment’ campaign.

In her article in Journal of Brand Strategy [Spring 2017, Chung-Kue [Jennifer] Hsu suggests a five step process. Start with a long-term commitment—what does your brand do and what can your brand do that is credible? Be relevant and have a serving mindset: the purpose you pick should intersect your brand, your target consumers and the larger cultural ecosystem. Be honest and transparent in your ‘say’ messages: express your messages in an authentic tone of voice. Be consistent with your ‘say’ and ‘do’ messaging: you cannot have a campaign that is disjointed with what you are doing on the ground [State Street Global Advisors that sponsored the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue in Wall Street New York was discovered to be discriminating between its male and female employees]. And finally use social media to reach and inspire your audience.

Remember, if you are not getting a confirmation message back from your target audience then your efforts are not getting recognised.

Lastly, it is not a compulsion that you should look for a purpose to hitch your brand to. Sometimes your brand comes with a well-infused purpose. In India, you can think of Tata, Amul, FabIndia and a few more. But it is not always possible to find a purpose that you can ‘say-doconfirm’. If so, better stick with rational and emotional messaging.

Ambi Parameswaran is founder, He is also a best-selling author and a brand/ executive coach.

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