Why Brands have a Responsibility to Step Up & Help in Economic Recovery

28 Jul,2020


By Bhuvi Gupta


Bhuvi GuptaIndia has been under a full lockdown since March 24, 2020. After three subsequent extensions, a relatively unsuccessful Unlock 1.0 & 2.0 in June and July, spikes in positive cases are forcing many Indian cities to go under full lockdowns, again.


As the economy degrows, unemployment rises and sales decreases and every subsequent FY21 GDP forecast is worse than the previous one, the future seems bleak and unlikely to bounce back soon.


Basis a GroupM report released in June 2020, India’s GDP will contract by 3.7% and subsequently overall advertising spends will decline by more than 20% this year.  This follows, as advertising in current scenarios is an after-thought, with most companies focused on reviving production and distribution. The drop in advertising has led to unprecedented job losses in the ad-dependent media industry, so much so that industry body International Advertising Association (IAA) has been running a campaign, ‘Let’s Advertise’ to spur advertising, since June 2020.


The campaign seems to have made some impact  – brands in the Health & Hygiene categories or those that can pivot their messaging to sound Covid-wise have started advertising. However, this is a small portion of the market, and for the economy to revive, brands which can afford to, should, play a bigger role in recovery.


As Keynesian economics espouses, spending spurs consumption during times of economic downturns. If brands (which can) spend monies, this will spur demand, and the money will help the economy as a whole. In such pandemic times, the messaging of many brands is irrelevant, a great way to remain visible is by running Public Service Announcements (PSAs) campaigns.


While a decade ago, PSAs were issued by govt bodies, with the advent of social media, brands regularly run socially relevant campaigns because they help the brand earn respect and hence brand equity while also doing social good. Due to their affirming messages, PSAs also have higher than average trend-worthiness, i.e. audiences share these ads more because it helps them feel good about themselves to do something socially relevant.


With the notable exception of Mumbai Police PSAs, most PSAs released by government bodies in India, are pedagogical spiels, which are not engaging, even when starring celebrities.


In March 2020, just as the lockdown was announced, the Maharashtra government released a pedagogical PSA on Covid-19 headlined by the biggest stars of Bollywood including Amitabh Bachchan, Ranveer Singh, Ayushmann Khurrana, Alia Bhatt, Akshay Kumar etc. A month later, Sony launched a PSA with a similar Bollywood lineup but a much better storyline. (The PSA can be viewed here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQk0VrL2I-w


Short film – ‘Family’, conceptualised and virtually directed by Prasoon Pandey for Sony Network starring celebs from across the country used storytelling creatively to communicate the importance of staying at home. It was telecast in April 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ju7ku–S6F4


Hence, in Covid-stricken times, effective PSAs can help brands kill many birds with one stone  – create brand equity, earn public goodwill, spur good behaviour, meet annual CSR target spends as mandated by Indian law and, most importantly, help the economy recover.  Earned goodwill will also spur trials for those whose loyalties lie with competitors.


Budget-struck brands can collaborate with other brands; conduct digital-only campaigns to give the push to the economy to help its recovery.


As brands with diverse target audiences release PSAs, different strata of society will get targeted which will help in overall compliance. This is backed by research conducted by 2019 Nobel laureates in Economics, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. In a paper released last month, they have shown that frequent celebrity messaging, in addition to the existent large-scale government messaging on Covid-19, can positively impact behaviour by nudging people to follow best practices. The research also shows that there are spillovers of good behaviour in the entire community even when a few are targeted.

In a CSR initiative, waiting to be replicated by national dailies, Kashmir ‘s Urdu newspaper Roshni, affixed a mask on the front page of the paper on July 20 to drive home the message about mask usage. Kashmir was under complete lockdown from 22-27 July, due to a rise in Covid cases.


The challenge even for good PSAs is translating virality to behavioural change. The ease of communication brought on by social media has made armchair activists of the majority of the population. However, while these activists enable knowledge-sharing with other people they don’t bother much with acting upon the gained knowledge before moving on to the next trending topic. Which is why, despite the dangers of inobedience, many who wear a face mask, style it as a chin-guard.


Hence, brands should be careful to create PSAs which are not just a retelling of facts, but facts communicated in way to appeal to their targeted audience, whether it is through high quality storytelling, a new ‘Hook Step’ or a ‘Challenge’ which is creative enough to warrant sharing.  Basis the research by Banerjee and Duflo, leveraging brand ambassadors signed on for lavish multi-year contracts will also help to drive behavioural change. So brands, any takers?



Bhuvi Gupta is a marketer with over 10 years across industries, of which the last six have been in Media & Entertainment. She has been a part of many launch marketing campaigns – specifically at the Times of India group, Republic TV and the latest in marketing a Bollywood film. She will write on A&M (mostly marketing, but often on advertising too). Her views here are personal. She tweets at @bhuvigupta3






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