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What an Idea sirjee – and the rise of online communication in a post-corona world

What an Idea sirjee – and the rise of online communication in a post-corona world

I recall that over 10 years ago, Idea Cellular made an immensely popular and meaningful series of ads with a smart  tagline of – What an Idea sirjee. Who would have ever thought that most of global education would be imparted on smartphones in 2020. The core of the campaign was a series of ideas which had the potential to cause powerful social change and overcome the problems that society is facing. It addressed issues like communal divide, keeping in touch with loved ones, overcoming barriers of languages and also the challenge to provide quality education for millions across the country.  

 

The ad I am referring to has actor Abhishek Bachchan playing the part of a school principal who is profoundly moved due to a highly emotional scene where a father is struggling to get admission for his son. In a compelling representation of the challenges that millions of families across the country face, the father is roughly pushed out. The character representing the principal is so profoundly touched by the incident that he exerts himself in prayer and gets a brainwave while doing so. He starts a virtual school where he is able to connect millions of children online. The character later thanks God saying – What an Idea sirjee.

 

I recall this ad for three reasons. The first one is that the ad can now accurately be called prophetic. The second reason is my deep personal attachment for the cause of childhood education. The third is the high degree of relevance of this topic today. 

 

With nostalgia, I recall that in 2010, I was a part of team Coca-Cola and at that time I was at the helm of the “Support My School” campaign. I had a chance to see first-hand, the challenges faced in rural education, especially for the girl child. The ambitious campaign was started with a tie up with a leading TV channel. Initial funds came from the global foundation of Coca-Cola but we needed additional money to fund the programme. It was quite a challenge to stitch together a coalition between Coca-Cola, a leading TV channel, a UN body and several other Indian NGOs. The campaign was a resounding success. Over 1000 schools were a part of the programme and several million dollars were generated to implement the programmes in these schools. Over a hundred corporates, foundations and NGOs participated in the success of the programme. Providing good essential facilities in schools is one of the most important factors in retaining students in schools and since this program was highly successful in this regard, I derive a great deal of satisfaction from the same.

 

Online communication and online education are truly exciting for me as I feel that the reach and scope of digital media is unlimited. Community professionals too are amazed at the possibilities for business communication and online education.  I and my colleagues are constantly in touch with clients, each other and business stakeholders using multiple tools of technology like Zoom, Google Meets, Hangouts, Skype and Microsoft Teams. Interestingly, almost all these platforms have been made free for schools and educational institutes for a few months.  

 

In a recent experience, my teams have been instrumental in organising webinars for Shopping Centers Association of India, (SCAI) to create awareness on the safety processes of malls and organised retail shopping complexes. We have been able to reach out to and engage with thousands of people. The videos have generated thousands of views from community and other stakeholders. The webinars have been highly successful in dispelling myths and clearing doubts on various important concerns. Panels of business experts presented factual information to correct erroneous beliefs. Publications took note of the facts and started reporting balanced news stories which highlighted the problems of the sector. 

 

JKLU a rapidly growing university is offering online training sessions for students like various other institutions. Additionally, they are examining new technologies and processes to ensure online examinations, online evaluations and even online laboratories. Popular learning apps like Byjus are witnessing unprecedented growth and are offering some free classes as sampling to school students. And what are the schools doing to engage with junior classes like KG and Nursery? I have seen tiny tot family members attending classes sitting on parents laps, studying via homemade videos of teachers on pre-primary and primary concepts.  

 

Over the next few months, as online classes continue, it will be most important for parents to help their children imbibe the values and ideals of hard work. Parents are getting the unique insider view of their children studying in classes and these moments are actually special for them.

 

The communications professionals of today can use a wide variety of formats to package their campaigns as high quality home shot videos can be created almost anywhere. Additionally, the wide plethora of editing and finishing tools online provide campaign creation capabilities to the savvy professional. Keeping this in view, at Consocia Advisory, I encourage all the team members to keep learning new skill sets and we have a robust in house training program to help encourage employee development in a structured manner. 

 

Click, edit, create and post will be the new mantra now for communication professionals as they learn to develop and deploy campaigns for their brands and companies. The challenges and the opportunities here are huge. The learning curve for many professionals will be steep, but will give them rewards as they develop their skillsets towards the requirements of community in a post Covid world.

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Strengthening employee wellness in the wake of COVID19

Strengthening employee wellness in the wake of COVID19

The impact of the Corona virus has created a strong need for companies to overhaul their initiatives towards employee wellness. According to health experts, sudden changes of habits resulting from prolonged work from home, worry about self and family members and enforced isolation are all significant mental and physical pressures which can lead to stress and physical ailments. Companies are reevaluating the measures they can take in order to help their employees stay sharp, healthy and productive.

 

I recently saw an interview of Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson, Biocon where she shared her views on the care required for the lifting of the lockdown and gave the 3 T mantra of aggressive testing, tracing and treating. She also stressed that livelihoods are also very important and we need to start a planned exit which strikes a balance between lives and livelihood.  

 

Companies should also keep an Emergency Response Protocol well prepared with various guidelines that can mitigate problems and guide employees on what needs to be done in case any COVID 19 case is detected among employees. These guidelines should be circulated to all and should include the government instructions on the do’s and don’ts for all employees. Clearly, office administrators need to be careful to sustain the best hygiene practices that can create a safe working environment for all employees.

 

At Consocia Advisory, today was our first working day back in the office after over two months. While working from home still continues for some associates, we have set up hygiene and safety protocols at the office. We ensure vacant space between each employee and have sanitisation of surfaces multiple times a day. We are also following strict social distancing in conference rooms, meal areas and other common areas to ensure that employees are protected and kept safe.

 

Now many companies are opening their offices after having started their manufacturing operations and some of them are setting examples to show the way in preventive hygiene practices at the workspace. The way the social distancing norms have come up by the Shopping Centers Association Of India, (SCAI) is very comforting and exemplary. They will be controlling the entry and exit of the number of footfalls in the malls and will only allow 78 sq feet per person as a part of the social distancing norms.

 

Companies are using employee communications to drive and sustain awareness about their wellness programs. Several companies are providing free medical consultations to their employees and their families so that they can get advice on simple health measures related to diets, food, exercise and other medical queries. Besides the services of doctors, companies are also hiring nutritionists which can help individuals and families achieve healthy balanced meal plans.

 

Companies are also hiring mental health experts like clinical psychologists as many employees have behavioral and attitudinal changes due to the experience of a prolonged work-from-home for the first time. The strain of sitting at one place sans interaction with teams and colleagues can be very demotivating for many employees. Calls and video conferences have only a limited role in uplifting the morale while working from home, opine experts.

 

Important stress busters that can make a significant impact are yoga and meditation opine experts. They help in providing agility and calm the mind so that the impact of the stress factors is diluted. Companies are connecting employees with professionals who can train them in these stress busters. Often, there are enough capable people in house who can double up on the role of training employees. 

 

Telemedicine and online consultation of doctors enable employees and families of employees to consult medical professionals without leaving their homes. This helps employees and families get access to good quality medical help even if they are staying in remote locations.

 

The emerging trend of virtual fitness sessions, where employees can attend fitness programs online is growing rapidly. Virtual fitness allows thousands of people to take advantage of high quality trainers and also choose training programs best suited to their needs. In fact, online training may offer a far higher number of choices. Companies are connecting their employees to such training programmers. 

 

Fitness and health apps are the latest fitness tools that health enthusiasts use to keep track of fitness regimen, which may include reminders for exercise, hydration, stretching food and sleep.  Additionally, there are even mindfulness apps which help in reminding people to do mindfulness exercises like deep breathing exercises etc.  Experts say proper use of these apps can help the efforts to be more self-aware about healthy practices.  Some companies which have large employee strength, have gone to the extent of creating employee help desks with 24×7 advice. This can be used by employees to take information about symptoms and nearest treatment centers etc.

 

The thread which can bring together these various initiatives is a robust employee communications program. Periodic engagement with employees via team and individual calls, video meetings, emailers from the company have to be initiated and sustained so that employees do not feel disconnected from the office environment or feel that their efforts are not being recognised. One should be able to remove the fear and create the right environment for a safe work environment in the office. Special rewards and recognition programs for those who come forward and help in removing and mitigating the fear will boost company morale considerably. For communicators, this is a time to strengthen internal communications as employees are likely to be subjected to fake news. Speed will be essential to ensure that everyone is well versed on the present situation in the company and employee redressal will be critical.

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How Covid19 lockdown has changed the way we eat, live and stay connected

How Covid19 lockdown has changed the way we eat, live and stay connected

The famous movie starring Julia Roberts, “Eat, pray, love”, has become a catchphrase, representing in a sense, the basic necessities of life in modern society. The character in the movie is on a journey in life seeking meaning in order to discover her true self and achieves some fundamental realisations about the nature of life. COVID 19 too has created such a situation across the world that across all classes of society, many of us have come to a common realisation of what the “essentials” of our life are, and how those who have them are fortunate indeed. The pandemic has wreaked such havoc in societies all across the world that, as society and individuals we have fundamentally changed all the basic habits that have defined how we live.

 

My family members and I are experimenting with new dishes and learning more about food. My wife runs a food blog, Vaishalee’s Tips & Treats and we are experimenting with one new dish a day. Yesterday she baked Buns which turned out fluffy and delicious, better than the store bought ones that use preservatives. And having hot buns straight out of the oven was a new high. Over and over again, we are able to make food that we usually bought at stores or had at restaurants like Jalebis . Homemade Papri, GolgappeChaat, Biryani, Breads, Cake, Pizza including the base etc at home together using traditional processes of cooking, with time, patience and love. Friends on social groups too, are sharing and trying out recipes of new dishes everyday. Baking and Cooking has brought families together as a common source of joy. Prior to the lockdown many office goers had food in the office canteens or Cafeterias or ordered in through delivery portals, now home cooked food has a new safety and joy.

 

In the lockdown,  households are shifting to traditional patterns of cooking instead of using ready made, packaged foods. This is a huge shift in consumption habits for the more developed markets across the country. If consumers’ preferences shift to traditional patterns of consumption, it would be a major challenge for many companies selling packaged foods and for the entire restaurant industry. They would need to reinvent themselves completely, either in terms of their product or in terms of their marketing, or both. Restaurateurs are facing extremely difficult and challenging times. Their outlets are facing severe losses and they need to enhance customer traffic to outlets as soon as the lockdown ends. Additionally, implementing social distancing norms and will further eat into their costs. 

 

As a society, we have started looking inwards in all our daily activities and prayers. As a devotee of god Hanuman, I had been going to the temple every Tuesday for the past 40 years. However, I am now worshiping at home with equally firm conviction and there is a deep realisation that if God is in our heart, worshipping at home is equally meaningful as worshiping at the temple outside.

 

Along with our ways of worshipping, our mode of work too has undergone a drastic change, as millions of people are now working virtually. Tiny tots, of Nursery and KG classes are attending video classes. For business organisations online seminars and conferences, video calls and meetings, digitally shared documents and reporting via instant messaging applications have become the new normal. They were present earlier as well, however, post the lockdowns globally, these forms of communication have experienced explosive growth for business purposes. ‘Zooming’ now has become a commonly used verb to denote online conferencing instead of speed. When the name of a brand becomes common parlance, one can safely say that the use of the product or the category has been well and truly established in everyday life.

 

Due to the lockdown and new ways of working from home we are saving on time travelling to work and we are able to spend abundant time with our loved ones at home, cooking, playing board games or singing together etc This is certainly creating more love and bonding in our lives.

 

Even more drastic changes have come about in our pursuits of leisure, entertainment, business, social and cultural activities. With virtual family dinners and get-togethers for birthdays or other occasions, live streaming of musical albums instead of musical shows and virtual prayer meetings becoming the accepted norm everywhere, humans have become digitally connected and physically isolated. My group of walking friends meet online every day at 7:15 pm. Earlier, I used to think that working from home was impossible for me, and I am sure millions of people around the world would have felt the same. Now I have already become accustomed to leading my teams for virtual work sessions. Recently, I moderated a health webinar which is just one among the many that are to come.

 

This trend is not expected to vanish soon. A large Indian multinational IT company has announced its plans to continue remote working till September and many other companies are in the process of making similar plans. What are the new and emerging challenges for marketing in a world where customer behaviour has changed so radically? Companies marketing foods, dining chains, musical events, travel, entertainment shows and malls as well as  many other categories of products will require a re-think in the way they do business.

 

Communicators have begun creating campaigns to carry out continuous customer engagement so that there is better recall among customers. However, it is most important for brands and companies to not only ensure safety and social distancing but also inform all the key stakeholders of the business about the steps taken to ensure the same. This will go a long way to help alleviate the anxiety in the minds of customers, when they contemplate going out post the lockdown. Therefore, assurance of safety will become a key message in all the communications that are done by brands, across all categories.

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Ad wars and brand wars

Ad wars and brand wars

In my earlier years at Unilever, I saw the launch of Ariel by P&G, and Unliver reacted by launching a campaign on how Ariel was not good for coloured clothes. This campaign was done at a time when detergents were used by fewer housewives in India. Consumers at the time saw the largest brand wars of the category in the early 90’s, and the impact was so high that detergent powders became a way of life.


In 1993, Coke was re launched in India after a gap of 16 years. Pepsi, which had been launched in India in 1990, saw its rival walking away with the most prestigious event – the cricket World Cup. How could Pepsi be kept away from this event? I had joined Pepsico India in 1995, and was a part of the team which was building bridges with teenagers. We took pride in building a brand for the new generation. Well, some of the media at that time called it, “The time of Cola wars”.


Pepsi, which was the largest sponsor of cricket in India could not miss this highly significant opportunity. So, if Coke was the official beverage sponsor, what would Pepsi be doing, was the question being asked, by loyal consumers. So how did Pepsi win back the share of mind? While brand Coke was busy with its biggest campaign of communications for the World Cup, Pepsi was getting ready to do the unconventional. The campaign was called “Nothing Official About It and came from research insights that teenagers do not like the term”Official”.


With this campaign, Pepsi first got into its fold, all the top players of cricket playing countries. Even the most famous cricket umpire in the world – Dickie Bird was also roped into the campaign, saying “There is nothing official about it.” The campaign created media and advertising history and is regarded by the advertising and marketing fraternity as one of the most successful campaigns ever.


The tremendous success of the campaign led to the line “Nothing Official About It” becoming a catchphrase in popular vocabulary. The campaign was strategically brilliant and the Pepsi brand was shown to be fun and irreverent as opposed to the “official” sponsor. During this four month campaign, I spoke to almost every publication in the country, about how Pepsi’s strategy won the hearts and minds of Indians.


I remember that the Indian media, and publications from across the world including the UK, Canada, South Africa and Australia wrote about this campaign in their newspapers. But the best compliment was by an English author, who wrote about the passion of cricket in the sub continent, and mentioned how the brands leveraged this passion in their journey of Indian operations. So much so, that he named one chapter of the book – “Nothing Official About It”.


I have also seen telecom wars in 2003 to 2005 where Airtel and Vodafone, Airtel v/s Reliance Communications both helped in raising the category the way the cola wars had done. While Vodafone came with the launch of its mascot (the Pug) in 2003, Airtel came up with – Express Yourself campaign. These campaigns really raised the bar for the category. People still ask me, who benefitted in these so called ‘brand wars’ and my answer is always simple – it’s the consumer.

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The new responsibility code of brands

The new responsibility code of brands

The old advertising adage goes, “All publicity, is good publicity.” I have seen many communication professionals take this as a gospel truth. However, companies which are sensitive to customers’ needs and perceptions always watchful of the holy trinity of correct communications, namely “Culture, customers and creativity.” Let’s take a closer look at the name change case of “Fair and Lovely”. Almost three decades ago, when I was at the Lever’s group, we faced pushbacks for the “Fair and lovely” brand even then. However, popular customer sentiment in India was hugely in favour of the brand. It was popular knowledge that several leading Indian film actors and actresses of the day were regular users of the product. The cultural and societal dynamics of the day allowed advertisements for such products, and this thought process exists in India even today. One regularly sees matrimonial advertisements seeking “fair” brides or grooms. Skin complexion bias is a known and tolerated cultural norm, and the communication of the brands reflected this since many decades.

 

Cut to 2020, and there is a global uprising sweeping the globe on issues related to racism. The anti-racism protests and activism that were sparked from the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has reignited several debates, and many of these discussions are centered around marketing and imagery that is used to sell products. In this supercharged atmosphere, it comes as no surprise that brands are picking up the cues of the changing feelings and perceptions of customers.

 

This is perhaps the context to understand Hindustan Unilever Ltd. decision to re-name an entire best-selling range of ‘Fair & Lovely’ products as ‘Glow & Lovely’. Additionally, the company has also decided to remove nomenclature that propagates racial stereotypes. While the name might have been socially acceptable in a bygone era, it is clearly not so now, and the company has quite correctly take the stance to change all names that might not be acceptable for the worldview of consumers of today.

 

The other aspect of responsibility by brands is correct product information so that there are no misleading claims. The huge furore over the launch of Patanjali brand “Coronil” was due to the fact that the company had first given the impression that the product was a “cure” for COVID. Government agencies immediately questioned Patanjali’s claim to have developed a drug to cure COVID-19. Under pressure from regulatory authorities the brand changed the positioning of the product to that of an “immunity booster”. The above case is not an isolated one. According to news reports the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has flagged off 90 advertisements since April for violating the AYUSH Ministry guidelines and making claims related to Covid-19 across media platforms in May. This proves that there is an urgent need for business self-regulation as well as regulatory oversight.

 

Other advertisement campaigns which faced flack in the media were of cricket hero M S Dhoni, in a campaign for Matrimony.com campaign for claims could not be adequately substantiated, and there was also a mention of the fact that Dhoni appeared to not have done any due diligence prior to endorsement. Telecom major Vodafone Idea also faced some heat for its ‘REDX’ campaign for misleading information in their advertisements and lack of appropriate disclaimers.

 

On a positive note, there are also several instances of responsible behavior as well. MAI (the Multiplex Association of India) and the major cinema brands Inox, PVR and Cinepolis have all taken steps to create a set of safety SOP’s that can be benchmarked with the best in the world. They have factored in safety aspects for customers and employees. This is a significant initiative which can provide a global standard safety net for customers. In the conditions of the day, this behavior is not only responsible but also admirable.

 

So, summing up the maxims of articulated above, we see that the quintessential struggle for brands is essentially their effort to create a positive narrative about the brand while conforming to the prevailing cultural and ethical sensitivities of the day. I and my team at Consocia Advisory, are working with various associations, which are trying to rebuild positive brand narratives and work proactively with the government to build lockdown exit strategies for better functioning. A key tip we always share with clients is to keep in mind the socio cultural sensitivities and challenges while trying to frame the communication plans for any brand.

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