Pathkind Fishes in Troubled Waters
The new tear-jerker Pathkind ad was shared on multiple groups. It is intended to bring to life Pathkind’s (a part of Mankind Pharma) chosen position of inclusive healthcare. It highlights transgender inclusivity, child adoption and also spotlights their technician as a hardworking hero who puts his job above family commitments. (Other than inclusivity it gets a lot of things wrong – the child appears to have been taken to their home with no legal process, nobody in the film wears masks, and one wonders if the employees get overtime.) But let’s talk about why. Why would Pathkind make an ad like that?

They wouldn’t be the first. Let’s take a quick look at history. Tata Tea started the ball rolling with social activism ads under the Jaago Re umbrella. That campaign has worked for over 13 years. Myntra launched its Anouk range with a lesbian themed ad. Tanishq has done various ads on the inclusivity theme too. Internationally, United Colors of Bennetton did some path-breaking ads on diversity. Nike’s choice of Colin Kaepernick was a show of support for racial inclusivity.

In last week’s newsletter I talked about framing, and the art of juxtaposing two pieces of information for contrast. This week we are going to talk about “cause marketing”. Where brands take up advocacy for a cause. They do this for three reasons:

(1) the promoter or key decision-maker wants to drive forward change on that dimension
and/or
(2) the marketing team believes that the topic will catch the attention of the target audience and create a positive halo for the brand by association
The second reason springs from a hunt for a storytelling hook. There are two approaches to brand building – core and surround. In core, it is about the product benefit and features. In surround it is about all the attributes that make brand ‘different”. Surround is often used by products that are commoditized – for example if you sell sugared water there is only so much you can talk about the flavour, but lots and lots about the footballers who drink it or the parties it is consumed at.I suspect that Pathkind is driven mostly by the desire to be interesting. Given the industry they operate in, however, there is potential to differentiate on parameters like hygiene, speed, accuracy, convenience, trust, so it is surprising that for their first campaign they have gone down the surround branding path. I doubt if the first element – where the company wants to associate with the cause – is present, because of the incorrect way in which the adoption has been portrayed.  An internet search of Pathkind’s efforts on diversity hiring or transgender support did not deliver any results so the campaign seems opportunistic and not the outcome of a deep association with the issue. (Amazon shows up with a lot of details on their systematic approach towards transgender inclusivity.)

But do these ad campaigns work? If the aim is to catch attention and stand out in a crowded market, yes, they do. I had put together a basket of causes in 2014 (an updated version appears in my new book being launched in December) and most will work. But the campaigns may fail on relevance and acceptability to the main target audience. Further, depending on the campaign, trolls may choose to amplify their discomfort with whatever cause you are championing, and mobilize a boycott of your product. For example, Tanishq was targeted last year for a campaign espousing interfaith weddings.

So how should you do an embrace-a-cause campaign?

Firstly, if you are a core brand, you need not explore this route.

If you are a surround brand, please ensure that

  1. The cause is something you are willing to support beyond the campaign
  2. The cause should appeal to the majority of your target audience
  3. Should be linked – at least tenuously – to what your product does
Done right, these campaigns can be a great storytelling opportunity. But approached superficially it will get a lot of visibility but not deliver lasting brand value.

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