How should Corporations Navigate the world of  Polarised Politics?

19 Jul,2018

 

By Prabhakar Mundkur

 

For the last few years, polarised views on politics has remained limited to the sphere of politics.  But now suddenly the polarisation seems to be erupting into a virus that is infecting both business and personal life. When a Kotak employee made an incendiary statement on social media on the Kathua rapes Kotak had issued a statement that said: “ It is extremely disheartening to see such comments being made in the aftermath of such tragedy….”.  The company terminated the services of the employee.

 

Then came the Ola customer who refused to travel in a cab driven by a driver of a particular community. Fortunately Ola too like Kotak took a stand which was in consonance with the constitution of the country.

 

 

When an Airtel customer on Twitter asked to attended by a person of a certain community it shocked the country.  And while ostensibly there was a change of the customer relationship executive Airtel explained that it was not intentional neither was it in response to the consumers request with a tweet that said “ At Airtel, we do not differentiate between customers or our employees/partners on the basis of caste or religion. If a customer contacts us again for an ongoing service issue then the first available service executive responds in the interest of time. We request everyone not to misinterpret and give it unnecessary religious colour. The said customer has been responded to.” Of course not before Twitter users, including former Jammu-Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, alleged that Airtel was involved in bigotry.

 

 

Polarisation and Consumer Activism

The question is, as we approach the 2019 elections, the atmosphere is going to get even more polarised. Putting pressures on corporate on how to react to polarised responses. So far corporates have responded according to the law of the land. Will they continue to do so or get pressurised remains to be seen?

 

In the US, we have already seen consumers and employees putting pressure on corporations to behave in a particular way. One of the high points of polarisation were when Stephanie Wilkinson restaurant owner of Red Hen in Virginia asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders White House Press Secretary to leave her restaurant with the family as her staff was taking objection to Sarah being in the restaurant because of her views on the children being separated from immigrants and also Sarah’s views on gender.  The pressure on the restaurant owner to take this stance actually came from the restaurant’s employees.  It is a great case study of a service business like a restaurant asking a very important customer to leave the restaurant.  The Red Hen incident is a flashpoint of simmering emotions just like the Ola, Airtel and Kotak cases.  Is this a meme that can travel?

 

Earlier this year, consumer activists asked retailer Nordstrom to drop Ivanka Trump’s fashion line drawing sympathy from the American President.

 

 

But have companies been doing anything to promote the cause of diversity to reduce the effects of political polarization?  Many companies have taken a proactive stance on it. One of them is Uber which last year aired this spot-on diversity.

 

 

The spot names #WeAccept was truly done in the spirit of diversity. In fact, many people seemed to miss the point that the commercial was even from Uber.  But somehow it doesn’t seem to have mattered.   Another brave attempt was from the Ad Council which expressed its philosophy on diversity with a much broader view.

 

 

I really loved their sign-off line. Rethink bias at lovehasnolabels.com

 

Have Indian corporations been doing enough on the diversity platform especially with regard to national integration when the country really needs it?  I am not sure. In the old days, Hamara Bajaj, or Hero Motors’ well-known campaign, DeshkiDhadkan and Doordarshan’s Mile Sur MeraTumhara promoted the cause of national integration when in fact the country was quite well integrated.   But when we just need it, there seems to be not enough support from corporates!

 

Titan’s #Colourmeright Campaign

Muna Beatty, a Bengaluru-based working mother, started a campaign through change.org after seeing Tanishq’sRivaah campaign. She felt that the campaign should feature dark-skinned women.  Tanishq has now committed that they would reflect diversity in their advertising.

 

 

Deepika Tiwari, Associate Vice President Marketing said in a post on change.org:“We at Tanishq, truly believe in celebrating the spirit of a woman without any kind of differentiation or bias. We assure you that we will continue to create commercials that reflect the truly diverse nature of the country,”  This case surely proves the power of consumers and the power of consumer activism.

 

ITC Vivel’s Women’s Rights Campaign 

The new campaign from ITC’s VivelKnow you Right – Equality at work and home seems to be an admirable effort in the right direction. If corporates took up more campaigns like these, it would be a great benefit for Indian society. The campaign features Karuna Nundy who is a renowned Supreme Court lawyer.  MsNundy introduces the concept and then the communication is then taken over by simple animation which is easy to understand.  In addition, ITC is designing a series of interactive workshops across colleges in India.  This is truly a Herculean effort for a good social cause.

 

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