In 2021, we don’t sell products. We sell ethics, morals and socially progressive ideas. The product is just incidental.
So now you have ads for ethnic Indian wear, fruit juices, pain balms and what not promoting the concept of equality, communal harmony, inclusiveness, and <insert moral virtue of choice>. “Woke advertising” is a thing now. A recent example was the Cadbury ad which was a reprisal of the original Cadbury’s ad from the 90s when a cricketer’s female spouse, overjoyed at him hitting a six breaches security and rushes to hug him on field. Cut to 2021. Cadbury’s reimagines the ad. The gender roles are reversed and it’s a woman cricketer on field now. The message is clear. Cricket, like most other erstwhile male dominated terrains, isn’t so anymore. Women have arrived and that male partners too can be supportive of their (more?) successful female partners.
This ad was good, it evoked that 90’s nostalgia, had a good message and didn’t court any controversy. It especially helped that the Indian women’s cricket team is doing well and has come into its own in the recent few years.
But do all the woke ads do well?
The Dabur ad attempted this too. It showed a lesbian couple performing the Karwa Chauth ceremony in its recent ad, but instead of being lauded for the progressive idea of a same sex union, it ended up enraging a whole section of the society – in fact it ended up pissing off both sides of the political aisle. The conservatives are outraged that the ad promotes ‘same sex marriages’ – a concept still illegal in India. On the other hand, the liberals didn’t like the ad because the ad purported to promote a regressive idea like ‘karwa chauth”. Dabur took notice of the umbrage and duly issued a public apology and retracted the ad almost immediately.
Dabur though, isn’t the first and only ad for whom woke has backfired. Recently, men’s ethnic wear brand, Manyavar came under fire for the ad in which Alia Bhatt, all dressed up in a glorious wedding attire, pontificated on how the Hindu custom of a father giving away the daughter is a regressive evil and smells of patriarchy. All while ironically talking about how she’s a ‘papa ki bigdail’ (loosely translated to a daddy’s spoilt brat.) The ad was panned for attacking a harmless Hindu symbolic ritual, that incidentally is also followed in other religions and was accused of being a part of a systemic attack against one particular religion.
The takeaway from these cases is clear. Brands should exercise some caution in trying to do woke marketing. Don’t do it for the sake of it. Don’t be tone deaf. Think about how your well-
intentioned messaging can actually end up hurting more people than are benefited by it. And as a marketer, the last thing you want is damaging your brand in trying to push product. When in doubt, remember, you can still sell a Chyawanprash by simply talking about its health benefits instead of berating a culture.
Writer’s bio: By, Monica Bansal, a marketing professional, advertising buff, traveler and blogger who does b2b marketing by day and at times writes on her home decor blog.