In today's day and age, where mass media and communication plays a huge role in the way that perspectives and ideologies are formed, their impact on mass consumerism is hardly guised as anything noble. It is already known that mass media is one of the fundamental factors for socialisation in any society, considering advertisement films and marketing strategies also contribute to the larger field of mass communication along with entertainment media, news, music, literature etc. Large corporate houses now also have a part to play in this ideological formation. These not only impact current generations but also have a huge part to play in the ideologies formed for future generations, the generation of the internet. Thus, it is particularly important for large brands and multinational companies to take a stand on socio-political issues, especially in a country like India, which is under consistent socio-political distress.
With the evolution of social media and technology, corporations have risen from traditional means of one way advertisement to a two way street. Iron curtains between producers and consumers of goods and services have been removed with the metaphoric unveiling of the barricade, allowing transparency and accountability to form the foundation of a more personalised relationship between the two. Brand identities have also grown from purely profit making, to now more purpose driven due to the same reason. Social Media has made sure that the focus is now shifted from accumulation of economic capital to redistribution of social capital.
Many socio-political issues torment Indians today, CAA NRC, LGBTQ+, Dalit Lives Matter, Farm Laws, women inequality, classism, corruption, poverty and of course, the Covid-19 pandemic. When the ministers themselves choose to turn a blind eye towards these situations, it becomes a humanitarian duty for big corporations to give the oppressed a platform to be represented. Not by making a controversial statement declaring their stand, not even producing large advertising and marketing campaigns but simply by tweeting, retweeting, or posting in solidarity of the oppressed. They could give recognition to ongoing protests, movements or even simply a social distress that the community faces. Cadbury, for the past two years, using location based technology like Cookies and GPS have given recognition to local artisans and producers, who lost their jobs or have had very low income due to the Covid-19 pandemic, through their advertisement campaigns. This proves that one does not need to take an extreme stand to leave an impact.
The year 2018 saw the rearmament of commercial brands via radical politicisation in the Super Bowl, when the vacation rental company Airbnb aired its ‘We Accept’ ad campaign on the big screen, publicly taking a stand opposing the Donald Trump led government’s decision to close the borders for immigration control. While the pragmatics of this move might be subject to sceptic dismissal under the purview of liberal appeasement, what remains unchanged is the public outrage seen through a brand with international recognition picking a fight with a populist regime.
This move made one thing certain: brands are evolving. Media has always been central to the idea of revolution or any insurgent social change, allowing people and communities to propagate ideas and raise their issues. The rampant othering of dysfunctionality shown by commercial, for-profit organisations during turbulent political times has made them susceptible to criticism from the entire political spectrum, calling into question the moral backbone of these companies. Thus now, advertisements aimed at propagating socio-political beliefs of corporations give them the ammunition they require to humanise their intersectionality with the responsibilities toward the society and for them to redeem themselves of the power-hungry capitalist image.
However, sceptics may argue that performative PR gimmicks by big corporations have no underlying pragmatism associated with them. They serve the purpose of liberal appeasement through virtue signalling, effectively tapping into untouched markets under the garb of being politically aware and active, which is inevitably aimed at increasing profit margins. While these arguments have merit, these issues have been and can be tackled. McDonald’s, the leading fast food chain in the world, tweeted in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. However, they prompted heavy backlash for their hypocritical, performative commercialisation of the Black Lives Matter movement, considering they have been accused of constant racial discrimination in their work environment. Moreover, what matters more is that these issues have been talked about and been given the representation they deserve. Even if big corporations choose to be performative and not actually inculcate these values, what matters more is that a multinational company like Nike, Cadbury, Coca Cola or Microsoft takes a stand on a social issue. One could run an advertisement campaign or just simply tweet about it, every bit counts.
Another thing to be considered here is that it is not just socially profitable but also economically profitable. An article from Forbes says “According to a recent Forrester survey of 600 U.S. adults, 47% of all respondents (and 51% of Gen-Z) associate the social, environmental and political views of CEOs with those of the businesses they lead. In fact, 35% say they’re more likely to trust brands when they take a stance, with 43% favoring companies that do so on social, environmental and political issues in particular.” Hence the old belief that being apolitical is the most economically profitable is also dismantled. Another article by The Times of India suggests that “... a couple of global studies indicate that more than two-third of Indians want companies to stand up on issues they believe in. The number increases as we go down the socio-economic segments and younger consumers. The “belief-driven” consumers are on the rise globally too, with China at the top (78%) followed by Brazil, India and France (68%) and the USA at 57%.”
Modern consumers are not just buyers of commodities anymore, they are agents driving decisions of big corporations from simple issues like the hostile treatment of a singular worker to the next product to be shelved. It is time brands clean up their act and engage in their duties and responsibilities of stakeholders in society.
Globally, economies are evolving and consumers are proving to be belief driven agents, and expect brands to evolve from being bystanders to activists and thicken their moral backbone, why should Indian brands be left behind?