Friday, March 07, 2008


Vicarious Corporate Social Responsibility Activity

Vicarious CSR Activity?

By Harish Bijoor

Q: Corporate Social Responsibility activity seems to be emerging as the new marketing tool. What’s with it?

-Rohit Balakumar, Delhi

A: Rohit, CSR is a strategic marketing tool for sure.

Let’s take the highly visible soft-drink category as an example. It works this way. In the early days of marketing, the USP is essentially physical. It is all about the taste, the color, the clarity of the liquid, the refreshing ability, the fizz and such other sundry product features.

In mid-marketing years, the functional USPs are over-done. Every marketer in the space has used some or all of it, at different points of time. The consumer at large has tired of it all as well. There is a degree of consumer cynicism that sets in on these functional USPs. The USP has got commoditized.

Therefore in comes the emotional USP. Here, the Marketing USP of the product is all about focusing on the arena of product benefit. What the consumption of the product leads to. These benefits could again be functional or emotional. For instance in a tooth-paste, it could be whiter teeth and in a Cola it could be the ability to quench thirst. Further still, the emotional USP could be about the tooth-paste getting people in Close-up situations and in the Cola category the ability of the brand to actually help people make friends. "Food, friends and Thums Up" for instance!

The emotional USPs can climb from the sublime to the ridiculous. In such situations brands advertise crazy situations even! Quite like the toothpaste with Oxygen in it attempted!

When consumers tire of the emotional USP as well, we enter the later marketing era. Here, the consumer is rather cynical of the functional and emotional USPs altogether. The marketer notices this. In a bid to capture mind-share for his brand, he does some degree of self-criticism of the category and its advertising on the whole as well. Quite like what Sprite did with its "Baaki sab Bakwas, sirf Sprite bujhaye pyaas” campaign with shots of bathing in soft-drink even at play as the dominant visual.

In the later marketing years, in comes the role of the CSR USP. Here, consumers of the category have climbed Maslowe's hierarchy of needs and are cynical about basic product and emotional USPs of every kind. Even tired of the device of ridicule as USP.

In comes CSR as USP. CSR appeals to consumers sitting atop Maslowe's hierarchy of needs. These are the self-actualizing consumers who like to think that the product they drink is politically correct and that their contributions to the brand actually help contribute at large to the society they live in. This is vicarious Individual Social Responsibility (what I call ISR activity).

Indirect social responsibility activity even! This is quite like indirect taxation. When you buy a product you actually fork out a sales tax which is a form of indirect tax. This is in addition to the direct taxes you pay.

This is indirect CSR. Makes you feel happy, provided you are at that state of self-actualization. Vicarious CSR.

A good tool to use in tired market categories such as Cola and Tea. Therefore you see a Pepsi with its campaign and Coke with its "Little drops of joy" and Tata Tea with "Jaago re" versus plain old "Utho"!

Q: College youth festivals seem to be attracting mega-bucks. Why? What is the rationale here?

-Monica P Tiwari, New Delhi

A: Monica, college cultural and sports festivals are seen to be low-cost marketing options by some sets of Corporate houses. Festivals are occasions of on-campus frenzy. Further still, apart from the actual students attending the festival, there is some degree of media coverage that helps brands in the overall context.

Brands are willing to invest money for one other reason. Youngsters on campus are at a reasonably impressionable age. Catch them young is certainly the buzz slogan here.

One other reason as well: The alma mater influence.

Most moneys that come in as sponsorship come in from senior managers and CEOs within brand organizations who are alumni as well. There is a benign contribution angle here as well.

Festivals are on the whole positive occasions when a lot of positive consumer sentiment can be harvested to the benefit of the brand. Irrationality rules high during festivals, and the marketer loves to harvest irrationality.

A lot of money moves into festival marketing of the Ganesh Utsav and Puja kind in the country. Dandiya as well attracts a sizeable amount of money. The college festival is another such festive avenue.

Q: Do the logos of Private sector banks stand out more than those of Private sector banks? If so why?

-Pavithra Ramana, Chennai

A: Pavithra, not always true.

This is true largely in the bigger cities of India. In the smaller towns, and we have plenty of these in our country, the traditional old logos of Public sector banks still hold water. Public sector banks are still respected in the bulk of the country. The keyhole of an SBI, and the Icon of Vijaya Bank, and the memory of the Pigmy collector of Syndicate Bank are still fresh in the minds of people who stay in what I call "Real India". Virtual India lives in the bigger cities. This part of India is more besotted with the big names like a Citi and a Stanchart.

And even in the big cities, there are a host of people who read the fine print of the banking sector carefully and still appreciate the Value-for-money services afforded by the Public sector banks in the country.

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.


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