What’s the next big social cause? Maybe it’s a small lesson in humility!

Is social cause the next hot button in gathering customers or a genuine subscription to life altering moments? ‘Goodness advertising’ started way back as a ploy to make brands integral to life. The simplest story was told as an infomercial with a closure that seemed to imply, that the brand cared. It said ‘Issued in public interest….’. Interesting way to appropriate a real need, by being useful. In the last few years many brands have got bolder in this expression. Lifebuoy soap in a very mature market moved out of ‘germkill for men @ sport’ to a family health care promise. While the trend was to empower kids, Lifebuoy made them mini-NGOs. Quite refreshing and believable given that it was the kids who took to the streets to clean up the mess, as they were protected by Lifebuoy. Not all brands have managed this linearity of thought.

But did it get people to have better civic sense?


For that matter did Tata Tea’s Jaago Re propel people to wake up from their inertia? The advertising did get people to think and log online especially with elections around the corner. Then what? Did Times of India’s Lead India give a voice to the masses? Did Hippo wafers spark a change in behavior with their fresh insight on the real cause of evil being hunger? Idea Cellular has been consistent, but one would wish they’d pick any one cause and magnify it to really effect change.


So if there was no real change among the populi except the desired brand growth, then is there an opportunity to be truly responsible? The question is: Should it stay at a mass media advertising hoopla level, with little follow up? Or can it travel to the grassroots to actually get the masses activated? Can it tell you & me what to do? Can we easily implement it? And if it’s for real, then maybe brand purchase would be a natural fallout.

What will make it action oriented? What will inspire us to act on it?

In advertising all social cause ideas, have merely been social in their expression of a large thought. Possibly a move from ‘social cause to personal contribution’ may trigger a change. I recently saw something in a rickshaw that got me thinking. The festering of many social evils, is our inability to recognize and often the inertia to change oneself. The mass populi in India are often blamed as being illiterate hence unpolished and that is where the ‘survival instincts’ take form, sometimes to exhibit unpleasant behavior too. So why not start there? And spark a change that truly touches the simplest folks in the purchase cycle.

The trigger for me was seeing a sticker in a few rickshaws in Mumbai that had this simple message. ‘Extend courtesy to your passenger & address him/her with respect. Smile & say thank you’. It’s very obvious that the sticker is visible to the rickshaw driver and the passenger too. Chances are the latter is surprised. Is it possible that he is now the first one to react & be courteous himself? Affirmative! HOW COME?

It definitely doesn’t impact a mega evil in the system (which incidentally may require more than mere advertising to transform things). It is not a BIG CHANGE either (that most people are afraid to execute). What could be working, is that the sticker story is a simple SMALL CHANGE that could make a big difference. And since it does not preach but coaxes both the driver & the traveler, chances are with the right presence, it can become a real movement. WHY?

Possibly because it’s a lesson in humility as it gently persuades & is very personal. It’s a story that requires very little effort on each individual’s part to initiate change.  So is it another campaign idea? Or a life changing truth that could also make the brand desirable & truly iconic? Do think about it.

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  1. The little things always add up…its really not difficult to say a thankyou each time you get out of a cab at your destination or carry the bus ticket with you to the next dustbin that you find…little things here and there and soon you will see that people around you start doing the same…
    So can brands talk about the little things and thus make it big ??

    • Sandhya Srinivasan |

      Thanks Gia for posting your thoughts. I totally resonate with your views. However in this rush to effect social change as the fad brandspeak, there is only so much brands can achieve. If the only purpose is to make impact in the shortest possible time and get out then possibly, one-offs and big social issues get picked. I find that odd really as it is most difficult to impact human behaviour w.r.t a social or cultural decay with advertising alone. And that too without consistency. If it doesn’t tie back to the brand purpose it will any way be a colossal waste of value monies and more importantly fall on deaf ears. It depends I guess on how overt or subtle the brand wants to be in effecting this change.

  2. This brings us to again asking Whats our Purpose ? Social advertising can bring about a change if just not stopped at the ATL level but carried through different consumer touch points and involves the consumer and get them engaged. Many social advertising is just seen as an opportunity for agencies to showcase their creativity and send them to award shows. After that everything is forgotten.
    Brands and Corporations need to assume responsibility and take ownership of issues and go about convincingly to bring about a sea change in the society and its definitely possible. Brands that can achieve this will definitely score cause they are purposeful not just profit- ful :)

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