Compassion, health, safety: Brands play down festive pitch on Ramzan

Topics Coronavirus | Ramadan | Lockdown

From Left: Dabur and some other brands have stuck to social media for their Eid messages while Parle-G biscuits and Tata Motors have spun a narrative around spreading cheer and compassion during the season
As Ramzan slipped in quietly this year, in the midst of a lockdown, the widespread hardship imposed by Covid-19 has put the lid on one of the big festive-marketing moments of the year. Brands, constrained by a broken supply chain and lack of demand, apart from the dampened mood of the festival this year, have stuck to messages of health and well-being, eschewing the routine call for spending and feasting.

Big Bazaar, Surf Excel, Tata Motors, start-ups in ecommerce and travel and commodity brands for sugar, flour and salt, have all taken the digital-first route this year with some sticking only to social media to spread the word. The ads universally focus on the emotional state of the individual, highlighting the sacrifices being made by employees or by frontline workers and their families. There is just a passing mention, if at all, of the product or the service the brand provides. 

Given the lack of an overall spirit of feasting and celebrations this year, many brands have chosen to keep their ad spends to the minimum and some have replaced the traditional digital film or television commercial with smart visuals and memes. Mondelez’s Oreo brand, Amul India, Dabur’s Real brand of juices and several others have chosen to use a striking image with the message of universal love and happiness to mark the occasion. 

The aim is to embed the brand in the sentiment of the moment, rather than leverage this as a marketing opportunity. Tata Motors is hoping to do that by telling the story of the festival and the prevalent crisis through that of the lives of truck drivers. The ad shows a boy emulating his truck-driver father who has chosen to stay away from home during Ramzan to help deliver essential commodities. The boy spends his day delivering essentials to the elderly people in his neighbourhood, maintaining all the rules of social distancing. Do good, the ad says, referring to the spirit of ‘neki’ or goodness of the season.

The ad is meant to acknowledge the huge effort being undertaken to keep the supply chain flowing smoothly, the company said. Rudrarup Maitra, vice president, Tata Motors CV International Business said, “The custodians of our supply chain are the unsung heroes who have managed to deliver our daily needs to our doorstep and helped us maintain some normalcy in our interrupted lives. They face a grave risk moving from place to place not knowing what to expect but knowing that they must deliver to fulfil the needs of others.”

This ad is about how a son follows his father’s example, much like another popular ad—that of Unilever Pakistan for Surf Excel called #NekiNahiRukegi (goodness can’t be stopped). A young boy and his friends are shown performing small acts of kindness to celebrate the festival, helping them overcome the challenge of a lockdown.

By channelling the underlying emotion of universal kindness, experts say that brands have hit upon an effective way to reach the consumer at a time when most are not thinking about anything but essential purchases. “I think brands have risen to the Covid-19 challenge. The celebratory economy is dead, and so is celebratory advertising. Every brand with a fresh creative has stuck to the tone, tenor and decibel of the moment. Brands are cautious, respectfully distant and yet congratulatory,” said Harish Bijoor, brand strategist and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults.

Most festivals carry an underlying message of compassion and caring, often given a secondary positioning in the cacophonous marketing that has come to accompany all such occasions in the country. With the lockdown making it impossible to advocate indulgent spending or bingeing on movies, food and such other desires, brands have had to reshuffle their priorities, said marketing experts. 

However the big problem is making one’s message sound authentic, and different from the rest. Future Group’s Big Bazaar team said it worked on a message that retained the spirit of the holy month and that of Covid-19. According to its spokesperson, the digital film ‘Ibaadat bhi, hifaazat bhi’ (prayers with safety) speaks about the power of prayer and the power of sanitising oneself to keep the virus away. A festival that would otherwise have had been marked by the release of a big movie, big discounts and new launches has learnt to live with less this year. 

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