Marketers are Merchants of Hope

This is the 489th edition of Marketing Booster Shot, my newsletter for anyone interested in marketing, leadership, cabbages, Kardashians – and more:)
This week my whatsapp groups have been flooded with messages for help in finding doctors, oxygen, ICU beds. The only relevant skill most of us have in this context is researching, calling and connecting – with that elusive scarce resource.

But the world continues to turn, and marketers continue to, er, market. What does it mean for marketers, who thrive on creating and sustaining hope, in this context of crisis? Is it ok to sell an anti-viral shirt or recommend an exercise machine as a way to build immunity?

Dabur’s Chyawanprash promised immunity on the basis of flaky research and an even shakier brand ambassador who contracted COVID in the middle of his immunity pledge. That lives up to the stereotype of marketers as snake oil salesmen. I thought of saying salesperson to be gender neutral, but my ‘research” says that those who sold mineral oil with dubious additives as panaceas were men 🙂 So that’s not an example of good marketing.

But what about an anti-viral shirt? It doesn’t do any harm and possibly provides an insignificant additional layer of protection. Or an air purifier or sanitiser or the umpteen other products trying to gain a spot in your COVID armoury? You might say that these are also instances of marketers capitalising on doom.  But I say, no, they are selling hope.  When we put on a shirt or make-up, we’re hoping that we look better, more confident, more attractive, more….As the founder of Revlon, Charles Revson put it “In our factory, we make lipstick, in our advertising, we sell hope.”  And sometimes hope can lead to actual transformation. 

Let me step back a bit. When I was in Ogilvy I felt a bit of guilt about marketing a “premium” sachet of tea priced at 50paise to people who seemingly should not be paying the 25 paise premium over unbranded tea. But when I did field research and actually met these consumers at the weekly haat market, I understood that the primary buyer – the man of the house – paid the premium so that his family could start the day with a tiny dose of bottom of the pyramid luxury – branded tea. He felt like a provider! A morning boost of pride! 25p in this context was literally ‘affordable luxury’. 

Anyone who is passionate about gardening or has the tiniest farm plot will know the desire to protect your plants from the vagaries of the weather. We know that we cannot control the storms or droughts, but we try – with little nets, plastic sheets, “drip” irrigation and silent prayers to the weather gods. These devices make you feel a bit more in control of the situation. (I do not have a green thumb -and my feeble efforts do not result in happier plants. But they give me hope.) 

In the current sea of helplessness – inability to procure your family protection from a tiny virus – is it wrong to clutch at anything that gives you a sense of control over the future? Or is it better to provide people with a little bit of confidence and hope in these hard times?  For example, though the “lipstick index” proposed by Mr Lauder hasn’t worked for COVID, sales of nail polishes, candles and pretty masks are popular pick-me-ups. In the same way an anti-viral shirt may not be effective against COVID but will make the person wearing it feel a little better about going to work even when he is scared to.

We humans hate entropy and chaos. Human progression is a story of control over nature, and building predictability. Whether that predictability, the feeling that you’ve done your best, comes from a real-time hospital availability spreadsheet or sanitising your room or prayer or yoga is a personal choice.

Marketing and sales are changing – take a look at this report from Gartner on trends for 2021.  The fact that your employees might be loud voices against you is an interesting one. 

Sales is undergoing a lot of transformation. And I’m going to be moderating a panel with Dr. Suraj Bahirwani, President and Global Sales Head,
Grasim Industries Limited (India), Vimalendra Singh, CSO, Mahindra Lifespace Developers, and Prabhakar Venugopal, Director – Sales Hitachi Vantara for “‘The Economic Business Transformation Summit 2021’ taking place on Wednesday.

Should you still consider a career in sales and/or marketing? Elkana Ezekiel a CMO, CEO and now professor thinks you should – here’s his article.

As marketers we don’t judge. We don’t mislead. We just give you hope. Gift-wrapped.

And now, I head back to the giant virtual call center.

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Jessie Paul is the Founder and CEO of Paul Writer, a firm she founded in early 2010 to raise the bar for marketing in India. Previously, as Chief Marketing Officer of Wipro’s IT business and as Global Brand Manager at Infosys, Jessie has been recognized for her contribution towards putting the Indian IT industry on the global map. With over 18 years in services marketing, including a stint with Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, Jessie is considered an expert in brand globalization and has been named one of the most influential business women in the Indian IT industry.


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