What makes you relevant?
If you are a person, our relevance can be defined by a few things. How we present ourselves, the words we choose, the tone that accompany what we say and the battles we pick are all part of the package that makes us who we are. This is what makes us pertinent or otherwise.
Brands are like people. They become part of our lives and language; our routine and memories. A whiff of crinkly chips can take us back to the school playground. The mention of twins and triplets may only ever make us think of deep freezers. Maybe we refer to all detergents as ‘Surf’. Brands have the unique luxury of becoming family and advertising has the interesting task of getting them there.
Of course, to stay relevant, brands have to read the room. Sometimes the room is the collective consciousness of the country. You can joke about the elections: you cannot be flippant about democracy. At other times, the room is a million or more individuals reacting to something trending on the internet.
Smack in the middle of this digital age, the one thing brands cannot be flippant about are digital trends. Saeen Tu Saeen? Saeen ka brand bhi Saeen. #10YearChallenge? Guess what this shampoo looked like in 2009! Dananeer ki #PawriHoRaiHai? Sub brands ki bhi ho rai hai.
However, (and I say this with trepidation) does every brand need to jump on every trend, every time? Should we sometimes, as brands and agencies, practice discernment rather than trying to cash in on every trend?
Sometimes, a brand may masterfully slide an ‘asscuse me’, in a potato chip ad, as a cute nod to the viral video creator Waseem Hassan Sheikh. Other times, they will try to entice a younger audience into drinking their juice, because of the ‘enjoyz’ it offers. Do pop culture references always work? Sometimes they do and at others… ki vaat lag jati hai.
Yes, by adapting a trending hashtag, they become part of the conversation. They may even attain that coveted ‘talkability’ although talkability is not always a good thing. There are conversations we should steer clear of. There are things that are just not going to fit your brand, so let’s not even venture there. You do not, for example (a fridge brand once did) do the 10-year challenge if no drastic changes have been made to your product in those 10 years. Or perhaps a brand that usually throws its weight and communication behind female health or empowerment, will choose not to #pawri anything at all.
As agencies, we have to start thinking more about how we present the brands we are the custodians of. If you think that the brand you manage should not try to follow a trend, please advise them against it. And if you as a brand are advised by your agency to stay away from a trend, pay heed to the advice. Your agency only wants you to look good. If you look good, so do they. And that is always a good goal to have.
Of course, in 2021, when most of us only communicate through memes, hashtags, emojis and tweets reposted as Insta posts, we must recognise that this is what is content now. And as always, content is king. Let’s just make sure we are creating the spaces, collaborations and content that ultimately allow our brands to attain the lofty spaces they aim for.
Amina Baig is Head of Operations at East River.