Brands, Marketeers, and the Pandemic


The latest Netflix ad featuring Ranbir Kapoor is being acknowledged as an excellent example of “moment marketing”. I personally like the ad, but it made me question the moment. Is IPL the current moment? IPL and most people, activities and messaging associated with it seems to be playing out in an alternate reality or moment. It seems completely disconnected with the current ground realities, the emotions and needs of people. There are many views out there on the need and relevance of IPL this year. The one being promoted by the participants is the role the entertainment platform plays in soothing frayed nerves. It seems too shallow an excuse. But it didn’t need to be. IPL is a powerful platform with a huge following and add to it the powerful mix of cricketers, Bollywood celebrities and brands and you have one of the most influential mediums to do good. And what exactly are they doing with that opportunity? Playing cricket and promoting products. What a waste. I am sure so many things could have been done even while it is being played out to make a difference. And I am not even a marketing guru or a brand ambassador or a brand with skin in the game. I am only a spectator who isn’t liking what he is seeing. 

Weren’t we taught that brands need to be relevant, meaningful, sensitive and honest amongst others? In the first phase of the pandemic last year brands were quick to be relevant by either introducing new and relevant product extensions or messaging.  One could question the honesty of the messaging but not the relevance. We had a range of product categories vying for our attention. Maybe it was the level of severity of the pandemic, or the relevance of the product and message that didn’t make it very jarring. 

But with the second wave being so severe so much in the advertising landscape make so little sense. What do viewers watching the grim scenes of life and death playing out on all news channel make of brands promoting gutka, new clothes, new shoes, fashion etc. in between breaks? Not much I am guessing. Indifference at one end and maybe anger on the other end of the spectrum but definitely not excitement to engage with the brand. But showing the same ads and selling the same things on IPL makes it relevant and less jarring? How does that work? Is the context so different? 

One way it could’ve worked irrespective of the channel and the product or service is tweaking the message to make it relevant to the current situation. Does the Jio fibre ad that gets played out incessantly have to be about song and dance and loud clothes and weird expressions? Couldn’t it have been a little sober and perhaps more focused on the benefits of the service in the current pandemic. And the benefits of the service are hugely relevant today. The internet, and social media are perhaps the biggest things that are helping people connect with solutions be it finding medicines or beds or any help. One may argue that it can’t be done in a 30 second ad on TV. Perhaps then you don’t need to be on TV where the medium defines how you are presented or perceived? I also question if brands have to advertise at all during these times? We are all lauding how great brands are protecting their employees and partners from the pandemic. Doesn’t the brand need protection too from being perceived as irrelevant, superficial, or dishonest? I understand the importance of business staying open for the livelihoods of millions. But then do we need to advertise? Do most brands being advertised today need ads on TV for discovery or conversion? And if they docan we do a better job please. 

I am amazed to see Bollywood and cricket celebrities dishing out their wares on TV completely oblivious of the pandemic. I wonder how they are perceived by their fans or ordinary people who don’t have the means or the need for most things promoted by them. Does Bhai inspire and instil a sense of confidence or comfort to the millions struggling when he advertises for a gutka ad with his trademark moves or do they expect more from him? Do they expect him to be human and maybe use TV to deliver something more powerful and relevant? Like a simple message of wear a mask or stay home. Or the Indian cricket captain asking us to make short videos and upload them. Seriously? 

I do wish they had a sense of the occasion or purpose and used their immense influence more meaningfully. And if they want to blame it on the brands and the brand custodians well, they can and should, but it doesn’t absolve anyone for this poor show. I understand that one needs an antidote to the grim events being played out every day but for once I am unable to fathom itsrelevance. 

Will IPL or the cricketers or the celebrities or brands come out stronger than before only time will tell but they surely didn’t rise to the occasion and stay relevant or show purpose beyond commerce. And if they did stay relevant and came out stronger in customer perception then I missed the whole point.