Muhammad Ali Khan on how to make your brand matter.
As the world in 2020 moves forward, so do the issues surrounding it. At any point in time whenever there was a dystopian state of events taking place or an uprising against it, there were always people who stood on either side of the argument – those in favour and those against. Amidst this turmoil, brands would usually take neutral stances, preferring to avoid becoming part of the conversation; they couldn’t risk something so ‘irrelevant’ affecting their business. After all, they serve both sides.
However, now that most brands are at the mercy of Millennials and the infamous GenZ, and whose sentiments fill the digital space, there has been a demand that brands have a ‘true purpose’. Research shows that most audiences (in fact 74% of people according to the Brands in Motion Whitepaper) prefer brands that take a firm stance on important issues. A 2017 study conducted by Edelman called Beyond No Brand’s Land found that more than half of respondents believe that brands have more power to solve social issues than governments do.
Realising this power, brands around the world have started to speak up about flaws in the system and the result is that today brands around us are challenging the status quo – from Nike’s support for Colin Kaepernick to Dove’s #realbeautycampaign, more and more brands are raising their voices and even joining movements by donating their profits. The view also looks promising from here in Pakistan, especially in terms of what brands are doing in the wake of the reignited #BlackLivesMatter movement.
The Pakistani Cause Marketing Landscape
In Pakistan you find marketers referring to social good marketing efforts by global brands as ‘gora kaam’, while admitting most of the time that ‘yeh sub Pakistan mai nahi ker saktay’. On the contrary, I find that Pakistani brands have learnt from these trends, as they make the effort to challenge the status quo in whatever way they can. Some get it right, while others simply find opportunity in cause marketing by jumping on the bandwagon of the moment. One of the reasons why these days you may find husbands making tea for their wives and fathers cooking for their working daughters in Pakistani ads is because feminism is the new trend – BUT without there being any REAL action taken in the real world that substantiates their positioning. This is where authenticity comes into play.
Relevance Is Key
Brands in Pakistan need to walk the talk if they want to support a social cause that is relevant to local issues. One such issue would be to challenge the ‘fairness’ preference in Pakistani culture – and rather than just talk about it as part of their messaging, they should embed the idea in their very DNA. Have you ever noticed how Pakistani ads, even when supporting a social cause, subtly and perhaps even unknowingly, reinforce gender or fairness stereotypes? Is this then why we see so many weddings in Pakistani ads, or why we hardly ever see a dark-toned person as the protagonist of an ad?
Being Authentic Is More Than An Instagram Post
When brands advocate social causes, authenticity is extremely important. Consumers are wise to manipulation – they will take no time to note discrepancies between what a company says and what it does. Even globally, many brands have faced a public backlash due to misguided cause marketing campaigns, such as the 2017 Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner. While Pepsi tried jumping on this particular social cause with good intentions, they fell flat on faces when they were perceived as a corporation trying to cash in on the climate of political protest. Let’s say a Pakistani brand advocates the rights of the transgender community, given the conversation making rounds on social media.
The ad is incredible, is celebrated and even wins an award – but have they truly made a difference if they have done nothing to support the transgender community in real life? Would that brand be willing to hire transgender people and challenge the status quo by placing them inside their very office? It’s never just about saying you support a cause, until you actually DO something. This is where Pakistani brands need to focus their efforts if they want to go big on cause marketing.
Should Your Brand Align With A Social Cause?
If you strategically think this through and are ready to take the role of a thought-leader, then sure, by all means. But think about this – if you are going to start by joining an ongoing conversation and say a few words that show how socially responsible you are, people might end up believing you are just jumping the bandwagon to attract attention (even if you are truly committed to the cause). One of the best ways to avoid this is by showing people that your commitment is authentic, and then focus on doing something meaningful rather than simply talking.
If you want to truly make a difference as a brand, you have to fly before you can tweet!
Muhammad Ali Khan is Associate Director Creative & Strategy at Spectrum VMLY&R. He also teaches in the Masters of Advertising program at SZABIST-Karachi.