Sachin, Kim, and virtue signalling

Sachin Bansal recommended a Twitter handle to his male followers and added that women could follow it too. He promptly got engulfed in a fire-storm as it turns out the handle publishes misogynist posts every now and then. Kim Kardashian on the other hand has put out a nice endorsement of Greta Thunberg, and in an interview discusses her work in prisons.

When individuals started getting followers that were close to the circulation figures or print publications we celebrated the democratization of publishing – “everyone can be a publisher now”. Of course, many of these new publishers primarily use their social channels to promote their goods or services. But inherent in the word follower is that there is an intent to learn, to follow in their footsteps. And hence these celebrities see themselves as educators, not just publishers. As we can see from Sachin Bansal’s mis-step, not everyone can get into the education business without some pre-work and training.

Not just individuals. Brands with a good social presence also have a desire to educate rather than just push their products. Consumers are keen to consume from “good’ brands and hence showing your commitment to causes your followers believe in is useful. Inclusivity has been a popular theme recently with Samsung and Tata Harrier incorporating it into their brand messaging. Other potential hot buttons like sustainability, climate change, gender parity are also seeing a lot of use in commercial messaging.

What is good is always fluid and determined by the culture of the government, users and owners. Global companies have to perform a delicate dance of maintaining the balance between the beliefs of their users, the regulations of the countries they operate in, and the profit motives and beliefs of their owners. For example, Facebook’s ad policies are under fire in the US because of the redefinition of ‘misinformation’ that allows a politician to well, sort of, er, lie in an ad.

And what about ’sin’ products? An earnest twenties me did not want to apply for a marketing job in a alcoholic beverages company. An older and less earnest forties me sees the expansion of sin categories from alcohol, drugs and tobacco. Singapore wants to ban ads on high sugar drinks. Will we see a rise in regulation of Sugar? Fat? Air travel? The campaign against plastic is already underway in India. And milkmen/milkwomen are even making a return to London with glass bottles.
Also read: Can companies take moral stand?

Amidst the generally dire business news it was nice to see Snapdeal announcing a turn around. That too one attributed to a focus on the basics and ‘Bharat” . I’m just a teensy bit sceptical as to why Bharat needs a specific app and cannot get what it wants from Flipkart or Amazon. Or is it that Snapdeal finds it profitable to service the undeserved markets that the others have not prioritized. As an erstwhile customer, I’m happy for them!


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