Walking the fine line: how brands can market better by leveraging social issues


As access to content grows among the masses, the scope for delivering important messages directly to intended audiences has increased. You can leverage the power of digital media to share an important message with a large audience not just locally but globally. The world has truly become a stage.

From our living room to our Twitter feeds, conversations on social marketing campaigns have been thrust into the limelight. There has probably never been a time before when such a large audience – no matter what background, life stage, or civic needs – was so socially and civically engaged, with an opinion on every ad, policy, and social issue. Naturally, brands need to stay relevant at such times and tapping into social consciousness as a trend is a good way to do it.

Why create socially conscious marketing?

While diving deep into social causes is a noble way to go about brand campaigning, it also raises the stakes for brands to get it right. In the past, there have been marketing efforts which have come across as questionable, some making light of grave concerns such as social movements. On the other hand, there have also been brands which ticked all the right boxes and made their point in an exemplary manner.

Taking account of these developments, more brands have now started incorporating social themes into their marketing campaigns, making cause-related, socially conscious marketing the new trend. We focus on some marketing efforts which stood out and can be taken up as case studies for other brands to learn from.

The right messaging could be the wake-up call

Around the 2009 general elections, there were concerns of a lack of interest among young and first-time voters showing up to cast their ballot. As the world’s largest democracy was on its way to decide who would be handed the reins to lead India, there was the need for a wake-up call for Indian youth to be an active part of this democratic process. Enter Tata Tea with the ‘Jaago Re’ campaign. The campaign aimed at persuading voters to show up and make their vote count, in what was perhaps one of the first times a brand was so vocal with its social consciousness message. It was strong and persuasive and touched a nerve.

Since then, the campaign has touched upon many issues that plague India, including poverty, corruption, and women’s empowerment. Its USP has always been its focus on social subjects which the audience has seemingly accepted comfortably, and questioning issues which have been normalized.

At a time when it is almost fashionable to express Twitter outrage every single day just to stay relevant, the brand’s simple and thought-provoking messages hit the right note. As a brand riding this trend of leveraging social issues, it is essential to create a balance where you educate consumers without shaming them. 

Treading carefully when it comes to gender issues

Gender equality has been a hot topic among brands, from Havells telling society that women aren’t household appliances to Airtel showing a co-working modern couple with changing power dynamics at home and work. But they fall short in their messaging and portrayal of women still taking on the burden of household chores, no matter what the power dynamics are at work.

But when it comes to breaking down the constructs of patriarchy, Ariel takes the lead by focusing on the fathers’ voices. The brand’s ad strikes a chord because the woman’s father apologises for perpetuating gender roles and not sharing the burden of housework and setting the right examples. It puts on display the hypocrisy of most brands’ and society’s approach to women’s empowerment, where the woman is encouraged to study and have a career, but at the same time, the burden at home still continues to fall singularly on her shoulders.

Often when it comes to gender issues, brands fail to deliver the message or set the right tone to get rid of the inherent patriarchy that is deeply ingrained in our behaviour and mindset. So when a brand talks about the challenges women face but turns around to place them in the same archetype, it does more damage than good. As the ad shows, even a small gesture like acknowledgment by the opposite gender can go a long way to address archaic gender roles and that's an important marketing lesson to learn from.

From marginal to mainstream

A masterful rendition of a life which has seen it all, the advert weaves the story of Gauri Sawant. The story transcended beyond the limits of an advert to retell the story of motherhood, freeing it from the confines of sexual orientation.

Breaking down any and every stereotype perpetuated by society over motherhood, the brand nonchalantly explores the relationship between the mother-daughter duo, while also putting the focus on debated topics of transgender rights and adoption.

Socially conscious marketing is not just about leveraging trending social issues but should also offer an opportunity to allow the cause to reach the masses. This campaign by Vicks not only places itself as a household brand, it also showcases that the bond of motherhood has nothing to do with someone’s sexual orientation. One of the most resounding campaigns of our times, it left audiences teary-eyed, awe-inspired, and socially conscious. That is the message brands need to deliver.

Initiating conversations on long-held taboos

Change as a phenomenon is a gradual process, considering that even a misconstrued societal norm takes roots over a period of time. Hence, the process of uprooting is not about a single effort, but a continuous one. Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, social change is a brick-by-brick process where every step is considered to lead to the larger goal of taking down these archetypes. The first step in the journey is to initiate a conversation, especially in a society where gender roles and social taboos are far from being a thing of the past. So, if you are a brand looking to make inroads using social conscious marketing, this is where you start.

Thus far, the market was all about perpetuating stereotypes – diamonds are a girls’ best friends, jewellery buying is the husband’s burden just to keep his wife happy, and many more such run-of-the-mill messages and characters. Then in 2013, Tanishq’s annual wedding film ad introduced a mature single mother as the bride with her daughter in tow, holding the mirror up to society. Remarriage and single motherhood are hardly the most common topics in wedding and wedding accessory circles. We consider them taboo as if to say that second marriages are no reason to celebrate.

The advertisement automatically touched a chord with forward-thinking, liberal audiences while educating everyone else on breaking stereotypes and accepting women as individuals with agency and power over their lives.

Clearly, socially aware advertising is here to stay. But only those who take a truly progressive and unique approach to storytelling will stand out and make an impact. The examples above have done a really good job of combining new ideologies with touching, inspirational storytelling and bold messages and characters to break the clutter. The brands that prove to be truly socially aware are not just “virtue signalling” to ride on a trend. It is a move in the right direction, and hopefully, brands and their agencies are listening carefully to lessons on how to do social awareness right in their next campaign.


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