Why brands need to do good when times are bad

Whilst health experts and economists are searching for new expressions to best describe the catastrophic effects of the pandemic let’s look at the opportunity it provides for companies to show that they have a human face. Clichéd though it may sound, let’s not forget that every crisis presents an opportunity for someone. A brand like Lifebuoy for instance has found medical support for what it has been saying for years, cleanliness matters. Interestingly, their commercial is you must wash your hands with Lifebuoy or any other soap but for God’s sake wash your hands! Now that’s an interesting way of capitalising on the situation (even if that sounds a bit crass) without being in your face.

The human side of enterprise 

If you closely observe the statements of global FMCG giants like Levers and P&G, they talk less and less about profits but more about the environment, sustainability and giving back. I am sure they know a thing or two about running businesses and being there for the long run. And that’s a lesson for all other aspiring companies who want to be seen in the same league. It makes sense to be good, do good and seen as being good. And what better time to reach out a helping hand than now when thousands are dying, millions will be jobless and many more may take years to recover both emotionally and financially. So the question organisations need to ask themselves is “how good are we and how can we better?”

A reservoir of goodwill 

Companies exist for the long term, even if some of us live and die by the quarter. And the strong companies ride the crises and live to tell the tale. Who can forget Tylenol? Johnson and Johnson went through the gravest crisis of their lives with people dying in hordes. The company acted swiftly, humanely and took ownership for its ills. And yet the fact that millions of babies all over the world, including you and me, have used its products over the years came to Johnson & Johnson’s rescue. The company had built a reservoir of goodwill that stood it in good stead when crisis struck. Contrast this with Union Carbide which was just a company that made batteries, nothing more, nothing less. And what happened to it after the gas tragedy? So companies would do well to think of a community connect in times like these if they don’t already have one in place. Be an integral part of society not merely because you need them but because you care.

Can we do more

Times like these cause companies to do some soul searching on whether they are really doing enough. While it is not my intention to compare the charitable efforts of different companies, I can only give my humble gratitude to the Tatas, the Reliances, the TVSs and numerous other groups, that are giving to help the distressed, I have a related thought. Giving money is still the easier part, but can organisations induce their employees to give their time to caregivers and service providers who are risking their very lives to fight this virus. Any attempts to serve in times like these will definitely get noticed and make organisations stand apart from their competition. And if that isn’t branding I wonder what is!

A change in outlook 

Perhaps it needs a crisis for us to go back to our basics and wonder about the very purpose of our existence. Why do brands exist? Surely not only to make money and profits. They have a larger purpose to touch the lives of people that come into contact with them whether they are employees, investors or customers. Can we do some soul searching on what we can ‘give’ rather than what we can ‘get’?

And that might be the biggest blow that we can deliver on this deadly virus!

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Ramanujam Sridhar
Ramanujam Sridhar is a communication consultant, author, columnist, teacher, trainer, cricket enthusiast and a passionate social activist.

A postgraduate in Management from IIM Bangalore and an MA in Economics from Loyola College, Chennai. After completing over 25 years in the business and holding high-profile positions such as CEO of Pratibha Advertising (now Quadrant), Executive Director, RK Swamy BBDO and Executive Vice President, Mudra Communications, Sridhar founded brand-comm, in 1998. Brand-Comm is now part of Madison World, a niche communications company headquartered in Bangalore with six offices pan-India. Its range of services includes Brand Consulting, Public Relations and Digital Marketing.

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