I read a piece in the last edition of Mint Lounge on how Activism is for activists, not advertisers. It spoke about how brands in their zeal to appear socially-responsible and leverage the talk-point of the day, end up picking causes but end up doing disservice to the cause in the first place. Recently, a Vicks ad went viral and was celebrated for bringing transgender rights and people to the center of cultural narrative, there were some voices which spoke about how the brand makes a forced connect to ride the current wave of LGBT rights.
Do brands have a place in a world full of problems stemming from hyper-consumerism?
True, brands can be opportunistic, but they also form a large part of popular culture today, through them people understand the world around themselves.
What matters more – the intent (as in Vicks, one may argue break the clutter and get people’s attention by talking of an unconventional theme) or the result (more ‘presence’ for transgenders otherwise absent from the mainstream narrative)?
Can brands authentically espouse the new values that the people are seeking or are those new values actually about rejecting brands and the burden of consumption that they place on people’s heads, causing the imbalance we are seeing all over?
Is the growing polarisation and protectionism a backlash to this world where the dream of consumption is sold equally but fulfilment of that dream is far from equal?
What is the reality facing the world?
We are living in a world post Brexit, present-Modi & Trump (hardly in a modicum) and potential future La-Pen. If the world moves in circle of thesis (globalisation) and antithesis (protectionism), the hey-days of ‘the world is one big family’ seem to be over. World over and especially in the West, there is disenchantment and backlash against capitalist values that have only worked to make the rich and the elite more powerful. For all the ‘all is well’ whitewash that govts. and corporations have pushed, people who don’t find that wellness reflected in their own lives have refused to accept ‘hope’ as a hyperbole. Seeing the ‘dream’ belied, people are beginning to question everything. Institutions everywhere – governments, corporations and religion see the opportunity and threat in such a world.
Aside – if consumption as a God has failed, is it time for real Gods to secure their place back?
In this new world, the Pope is delivering the sermon not from the Vatican but through a TED talk and speaking of solidarity, revolution of tenderness and imploring the audience to , “think of me as well with tenderness, so that I can fulfil the task I have been given for the good of the other, of each and every one, of all of you, of all of us.” Even the Pope is not taking tenderness for him for granted, he is building his case. He also has a message for the powerful to act more humbly.
So, do brands have a rightful placing in addressing the chaos or are they the cause for the clamour?
Which brings us back to the original question in context of brands. And I have been thinking most of this even as I see this latest Heinken’s ‘Open your World’ campaign ad :
“It brings together strangers with directly opposing beliefs and points of view and gets them to build a bar together in a ‘social experiment’ designed to overcome barriers in an overly polarized world.”
The theme is most relevant in today’s reactionary times with digital/social medium fuelling further polarisation by compelling to define self in simple black/ white – leftist/rightist, feminist/conservative, man/woman, patriotic/anti-nationalist, pro-growth/protectionist.
The same theme was at the heart of a video celebrating diversity that we shared a few weeks ago on our FB feed by a Danish TV station on ‘All That We Share’:
If you see the two ads, they are fairly similar in the message they share – we can find a common ground with people who look radically different from us and in case of Heineken, if there are differences we can talk about them over a beer.
In case of Heineken, one can say that in a consumerist world, all problems can be solved through consumption. Build a bar, drink a beer and become a more open person. If people have less and less in common with ‘friends’ to hang-out and talk over a beer, go ahead talk all the differences you may have, just keep the beer sales going.
On the other hand, it can be argued that drinking a beer is hardly ‘consuming’ a product, it’s more a routine or ritual, a social occasion, a critical part of daily life and Heineken is a participant in this living. In a world pressured by social tensions, the brand is only playing its part to ease the tensions and soothe the senses. For a society under stress, can’t function normally. A relaxed environment is indeed more conducive for beer (or consumption as such!) and informality can only kick-in when we can let the guards be down.
Do you think brands can mediate the social chaos, when they in many ways they are perpetrating inequality and causing chaos in the same way? Do share your thoughts.