Can marketing be a force for good?

The great Indian season of festivals is a spectacular carnival of consumption. That would explain brands across categories injecting words like mela and dhamaka in everything from flyers to films. In our real and virtual worlds, we are bombarded with ads and offers designed to create more consumption. But what happens when messages of unbridled and carefree consumption clash with brands’ higher-order, do-good dispatches about people, planet and everything in between.

In the past few months, climate change and plastic pollution have dominated global discourse. New laws and regulations have caused a flurry of activity on business and branding fronts. What 2019 has done, though, is put the spotlight on a new problem for marketers today; increasingly brands are getting caught in the paradoxes inherent to the idea of conscious consumption in our throwaway society.


As peak shopping season in India was about to kick off, ecommerce giant Amazon launched an influencer-led marketing campaign that urged people to discard their clothes, accessories and beauty products, and go on shopping sprees. Required criteria for a total wardrobe overhaul were ‘boring’ and ‘old’. This, essentially, is the story across categories, from FMCG to consumer durables, with skilled writers in advertising companies.showing us countless ways to justify the bill after celebrations .

Meanwhile, companies and ‘woke’ leaders across the world were joining the corporate chorus on plastic and climate change, sharing images of climate pledges, glass water bottles and bamboo straws.
 

Meanwhile, companies and ‘woke’ leaders across the world were joining the corporate chorus on plastic and climate change, sharing images of climate pledges, glass water bottles and bamboo straws.

What these calls to “join the movement” from across the world demonstrated was that the Greta ThuEffect was felt everywhere from classrooms to boardrooms. Soon enough, brands switched gears, launching several new “purpose-driven” branding initiatives - from clothes made of marine plastic to a 25-feet Raavan made of plastic waste. Eco-friendly marketing efforts are no longer limited to World Environment Day.

The Bottom-line & the Life-line
Aside from “soft initiatives”, globally, brands are finding different ways, from incremental changes to existing systems to large scale disruptive programs, to usher in change that doesn’t dent bottom-lines. For people on the marketing frontline, however, navigating the lines between people, planet and profits is increasingly challenging. The current wave of eco-consciousness coinciding with the Indian festive season exposes the problem at at the heart of brand purpose and activism.
 

The problem is a “ticking bomb” says branding expert Harish Bijoor, as marketing is designed to create and accelerate moments of consumption for products and services, while consumption today is related to waste. Bijoor believes that “responsible consumption” will call for a total disruption in business - product, packaging, process, brand ethos and spend even - keeping in mind the changing marketing environment we are about to enter. He adds, “Marketing and marketers need to now think of three ines: the top-line, the bottom-line and the life-line.”

Professor Freda Swaminathan of FORE School of Management, believes that organizations need to develop an intellectual dimension to brand management, “to overcome societal problems that are caused by the transactional nature of marketing products and brands.” She adds that stakeholders of organizations, including government, need to be educated on the social issues that marketing raises and suitable communication norms need to be framed. The same principle of ‘fasten seat belt’ (or be fined) need ..