Brands Have an Opportunity to Reset the Narrative – but Without Being Gimmicky

These are extraordinary times. Society, our lives and our consumerist lifestyles have come to a standstill. We are in limbo, but what does that mean for brands?

1. People just want the comfort of the familiar

My brother is under lockdown alone in his apartment. Every time I call him, he seems to be re-watching Scrubs. I make fun of him (as big sisters tend to do), give him suggestions of what else he can watch, but he always says “nah, I’d rather re-watch this.”

He is also re-playing an old basketball video game that he used to play when he was younger.

It’s not just my brother. Family WhatsApp groups are sending each other Tintin, Asterix and Phantom comics. Indians today are connecting with stuff from the past. Doordarshan is re-launching Dekh Bhai Dekh, Sriman Srimati, Shaktimaaan, Alif Laila, Buniyaad, Upnishad Gang and Chanakya.

It seems that in an atmosphere of uncertainty, Indians want the familiar; as opposed to the thrill of the unknown they want the comfort of what is known.

Some brands are picking up on that. Asian Paints’s new advertisement ‘Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai’ shows families cooking, playing chess, kids playing cricket and gardening. These are not just acts of survival in a lockdown. These are also acts of the familiar. Merely doing these gives us a sense of continuity and meaning to days that otherwise seem so meaningless.

2. People are overworked and overwhelmed. What they want is an escape

Initially, I was excited about the lockdown. I thought, ‘Great, more time to work out, write, read and spend more time with my dog.’ But as the days pass, I see myself as growing more anxious and bogged down. That sense of so much free time is eating me whole.

Screen time has increased, social media access has increased. As per a survey conducted by Hammerkopf Consumer Survey, “In the first week of lockdown, Indians spent more than four hours every day on social media. This is an 87% increase from a week before lockdown. 75% people were spending more time on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp compared to the week before.” 

Gaming has increased manifold. Games2Win, one of the largest publishers of mobile games in India, saw an increase of around 15 lakh people playing their games daily against 11-12 lakh people earlier. Paytm has announced that its first games app has seen a 200% increase in its user base in the last one month.

Consumers are looking at content which is engaging, which makes them forget their struggles – they want games, virtual tours and chat sessions with celebrities. Myntra, BookMyShow, FirstCry and Nykaa are doing just that. An article in the Economic Times says that these brands are, “…using informational content, gaming, and entertainment on their apps to connect with customers… The (Myntra) app has a show, Fashion Superstar, and games including crosswords. It also has a health activity tracker, cooking classes and fashion advice… Nykaa, too, has launched quizzes, contextual work from home, health and social distancing content and campaigns.”

In the midst of a pandemic, consumers want an escape and brands have the opportunity to give them that.

3. In times of loneliness, people want a sense of community

I live in an area where neighbours rarely talk to each other – other than to argue over parking. As I walk my dog on my rare outings during the lockdown, everyone is waving, smiling, and exchanging pleasantries from the balcony. Part of it is being inactive at home, but it’s also something more. People crave human interaction. We know that we are in this crisis together. Never before, has one felt so invested in what the community does. Collective action feels more real.

Also read: ‘Shit is Gettin’ Real’: COVID-19 Pandemic Reveals Cracks in Celebrity Capitalism

Brands need to echo that sense of community. It’s in the same vein that Toyota is saying ‘We Are Here For You’ or Hyundai talks of Hyundai Assurance that provides financial assistance to help tide over this difficult time. Benedict Cumberbatch, the MG Motors ambassador, saying “we all are in this together” making one feel warm and fuzzy towards a brand that appears to care beyond just selling you a car. The message is the same, ‘we need each other to fight this’. More brands need to echo that sentiment.

4. People want brands to solve a human problem, not a marketing problem

This is not the time for push advertising, or for anything that appears opportunistic and gimmicky. Brands must be seen as responsible members of society. Brands need to be more humane, empathic and compassionate. The examples have been many. Diageo is making hand sanitisers for frontline health care workers.

As per the Economic Times article, “Anand Mahindra, the chairman of Mahindra & Mahindra has decided to offer his 100% salary… and has directed his group to immediately begin work on manufacturing of ventilators at its own factories… Mahindra Holidays will offer resorts as temporary care facilities and the group’s project team stands ready to assist the Govt/Army in erecting the temporary care facilities.”

Now is the time to huddle, provide a sense of community, a sense of solace.

5. People seek heroes

Indians today are relying on mythologies of yesterday and today. As per BARC, Ramayan has the highest TRP rating since 2015 for an Indian show. Each episode has seen 42.6 million tune-ins. Watching good prevail over evil, in spite of what gets thrown in the hero’s direction, partaking in traditional family values – is a case of worshipping, a form of cleansing.

It’s possibly the same reason why so many rationalisations followed all of PM Modi’s announcements during the COVID-19 outbreak. He is seen as a mythical leader, who works in quasi mysterious-religious ways. The timing of his announcement, date and clothes are clues to how the mystic is at play. We don’t understand his actions, but we believe in his ways, as he has aligned himself to the mythical, glorious days of our past.

Brands need to create their own hero narrative. Vivo’s campaign #HeroesWhoCare salutes healthcare professionals, but by donating lakhs of protective masks to doctor and medical devices, it also managed to imbibe some of the halo of the heroes it is saluting.

Brands need to craft their own hero narrative to make us believe in them. In these senseless times, you want a brand that you can rely on.

These are difficult times and brands are required to be creative. The need of the hour is to put the community first. Reassurance, resilience, comfort, empathy and compassion are values that should be the essence of the narrative that brands create.

Ritika Goswami is an experienced marketing professional, who works across brands and categories.

Featured image credit: YouTube screengrab