Playing on sentiment: Topical ads is the new mantra for brand promotion

Social Media

Social media sites give an open forum for people to have discussions on serious topics. However, many brands too want to be a part of these conversations and use it as a plug for their brand.

A recent topic which gripped every Indian on social media was the recent ‘surgical strikes’ by the Indian Army following the Uri attacks. While everyone had something to say, tweet, like or share, some brands too felt that they should be a part of this conversation. Brands such as Hero MotorCorp released an ad campaign which paid tribute to the bravery of soldiers by showing civilians repaying their gratitude towards them by ways of a salute.

Amul, with its long-running topical cartoon sketch had a play of words with surgical strike highlighting the ‘Uri’ to signify the revenge India got for the Uri attack. There was even a food joint called Burger Singh which offered 20% discount on all orders in light of the announcement of the surgical strikes. Even mobile recharge website MobiKwik and entertainment hub Smaaash were reported to offer similar discounts.

But these are not one-off cases; brands in India are increasingly looking to ride on topicality. While sometimes they may work, more often than not they come back to bite the brand.

Like recently, the brand Burger Singh faced a whiplash of criticism for its 20% discount scheme after which it was forced to withdraw the ad and issue an apology. This saga remains unended for many brands playing topicality.

Despite this, why do many brands prefer to ride on topicality? “Topicality is used by brands to keep the excitement going on for themselves and for customers. In terms of a long-term perspective, it is difficult for brands to sustain their core message and communication and remain relevant to your audience all the time and hence, sometimes they choose to ride on topical issues,” says Sridhar Ramanujam, founder & CEO of Integrated Brand-Comm. He added that it is a calculated risk that brands take for short-term gains.

K V Sridhar, chief creative officer of Sapient Nitro, says that brands need an excuse to talk to consumers and with the increasing use of social media it has become much easier to ride on topics be it LGBT rights, P V Sindhu winning a silver at the Rio Olympics or a Supreme Court order on an issue. “However, one needs to be far clearer about their message and their stance in all this,” said Sridhar.

“For brands that make topicality a part of their DNA, it works for them. Like for Amul and its campaign. But for other brands to create ads or campaigns on issues such as the surgical strikes, they have to be very careful,” says Harish Bijoor, brand expert and CEO of Harish Bijoor Consultants.

“If you do it in bad taste then people will get angry. However, if you have a strong point of view and are consistent with, it can work,” said Ramanujam.

“Even Fastrack has created controversial ads but they touch upon such topics because it is relevant to their audience. These brands talk to a section of people and they do not care about what other have to say,” he adds.