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Brands are a reflection of the society

Brands have always reflected the socio-cultural themes of our times. Ashish Mishra writes.

india Updated: Jan 08, 2012 21:30 IST

Brands have always reflected the socio-cultural themes of our times. If we trace their historic evolution, we will see the brand moving from quality assurance during industrialisation (all the 'marka' brands), to symbolising lifestyles when prosperity grew (Coke, Vimal), to going beyond it with 'philosophy' and 'soul' (The Body Shop, Bajaj, VIP), to advocating bottomline as recession reined in consumerism (Ikea, Big Bazaar), to now, becoming a partner that espouses a conviction within the community it spawns.

If we look at the key signs of 2011 through a socio-cultural lens, half-a-dozen themes seem to have dominated our psyche: responsibility, inventiveness, sociability, customisation, gender issues, and impatience with the tedious. If we look at the notable brand expressions of the recent times, we would see fairly direct correspondences.

Let's begin with the owning up of social responsibility. Much before the civil society took up cudgels against corruption and attempted to make our society more responsible, Tata Tea had begun the awakening through its 'Jaago Re' campaign. Many brands have since taken to this platform, the most recent being Benetton advocating 'unhate'. And the most impactful of course, was Anna Hazare's Lokpal campaign.

Responsibility led to the resurgence of honesty and goodness. Jewellery brand Tanishq showed character by linking beautiful gold to beautiful people by highlighting the niceness. The inherent indulgence of the alcoholic drinks category gave way to showcasing of a strong and honest character by whisky brand Officer's Choice.

The post recessionary times saw 2011 placing a lot of emphasis on innovation and inventiveness. The iconoclastic PepsiCo's work 'Change the game' saw the brand saluting the inventive strokes of our effective cricketers. Other notable mentions on this theme should go to the fresh work from Diesel that ran down the irritating 'smart' and exhorted us to 'be stupid'; and perhaps, to the inventive use of media by Volkswagen.

In a society that was increasingly getting insular, relationships and friendships did make a comeback with the TV programming genre completing its shift from the 'saas bahu' era to the relationships era. Simultaneous to a similar occurrence in the world of cinema. From Bade Acche Lagte Hain to Kya Hua Tera Wada and from 3 Idiots to Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, there were signs all around us confirming the same.

The ad world joined in the trend definitively with Airtel and its 'Har friend Zaroori Hota Hai' advertising.

While the social offline gaining ground was inevitable, the technology evolution saw its intuitive simplification and integration as a life tool. Pressed for newer revenue stream through value added and data services, communication brands generally grew to be 'more than a phone'.

While the female empowerment brands like Fair & Lovely and Scooty continued their gender inequality battles, many of the smaller brands in the innerwear or contraception categories tried to embolden the long-repressed female sexuality as well.

Another refreshing theme to emerge was the growing impatience with anything tedious. There was a slew of messaging that centered around a 'start doing, stop talking' credo. Lenovo epitomised it with its 'Do' work that celebrated 'doers'.

Then, of course, there was the big trend of customisation - a medley of brands seem to be getting designed around 'you'. Through them we can easily see the onset of the 'you age'. The pick of work around this theme would easily be the Union Bank of India's 'your dreams are not yours alone' work that continues to bring alive the brand story of partnerships.

In a year that saw the optimism of recovery at the beginning and regression to the doom at the end, if we read carefully, there were enough signs that we can read about the future to come. And if we are keen at avoiding regressions, perhaps we should.

The writer is chief strategist & head, Water (Mudra)