Honesty is the best policy

Last Updated: Sun, May 27, 2012 19:40 hrs

Tata Salt is taking its positioning as ‘desh ka namak’ a step forward, emphasing the role of mothers in nation-building by inculcating values of honesty in their children. In this season of scams and unmitigated cynicism, the theme is sure to find resonance with consumers. Ashvini Hiran, COO, consumer products business, Tata Chemicals, the manufacturer and marketer of Tata Salt, says, “The campaign is timely when seen against what’s happening in the society. The communication has a consumption as well social angle to it making it relevant for consumers.”

The said Tata Salt commercial was released on Mother’s Day (May 13) earlier this month. It begins with a mother adding Tata Salt to a drink. This is followed up with a montage of shots where the son is seen cheating in a game of chess but who quickly reverses his move; then in a game of musical chairs he pushes a girl aside to grab her seat but returns it almost immediately; he is finally seen returning the extra money a shopkeeper gives him by mistake. The voice in the background is that of the mother who speaks of her desire to raise her son as an honest and upright citizen.

Kapil Mishra, executive creative director, Leo Burnett Mumbai, the advertising agency that developed the television commercial, says, “Children learn their first lessons on honesty from their mothers. The simple and powerful idea is the commercial is that if every mother decides that she will teach her children the virtue of being honest, nobody can stop the whole country from being honest.”

Tata Salt’s new ad also helps to reinforce the brand's leadership position in the market. India’s edible salt market stands at 5.5-6 million tonne with the branded segment accounting for 1.3 million tonne. With a market share of 64 per cent in the branded salt market, Tata Salt is the leading player, followed by Hindustan Unilever’s Annapurna, Nirma’s Shudh Salt and ITC’s Aashirvaad Salt.

In India, salt and integrity have a strong connection, says Hiran. For instance, a man who stays faithful to the one who has fed him is referred to as ‘namak halal’ and the one who doesn’t as ‘namak haram’. Tata Salt’s positioning as ‘Desh ka namak’, when seen in this context, enjoys a perfect chemistry with the honesty platform. That said, Tata Salt isn’t the only one playing the honesty card. Others are using it too given the deficit of trust among consumers thanks to a series of unfortunate political and economic developments. But not all brands can afford such direct linkages. In the absence of which, the theme is used quite subtly or as a general theme to reinforce consumer confidence in the brand or services without any ambition of addressing the mood in the country.

Take the example of insurance company Max New York Life Insurance whose current campaign is about an insurance agent battling his inner devil, with his ‘good’ side emerging triumphant and urging him to offer honest advice to his customer. In this case, the ‘honesty’ theme has been used to address consumer concern about rampant mis-selling by unscrupulous insurance agents. “People have been questioning the way insurance products are sold. Is commission the driving point or is it the consumer’s interest? We wanted to address this issue head-on and state without any hesitation that it is very much the latter,” says Anisha Motwani, CMO, Max New York Life Insurance. She says “authenticity” is a big issue these days and consumers want brands that tell the full story and agents who can be trusted.

Another example could be that of air conditioner brand, Voltas. Its communication for this summer has a government official as protagonist who keeps getting transferred for being the whistleblower. Deba Ghoshal, head, marketing, Voltas UPBG, however says the characterisation was actually just a creative decision and the issue of transfer incidental. “For us the focus was the relevance of job transfers in the current environment and using that background to push our point across,” he explains.

The intention for choosing the ‘honesty’ theme may vary across brands, but it is there for all to see. “In the current context in India, honesty is seen to be taking a backseat. For the disillusioned consumer, when a brand uses honesty as a platform, there is a greater chance for being able to reinforce the bond with the consumer and more importantly the trust in the brand,” says a brand consultant. And of course consumers are believed to stay with brands perceived as ethical.

Communication along these lines can work as a double-edged sword though. “The company is making a commitment. We cannot fail on this front at the time of delivery,” says Motwani. If it does, a company runs the risk of losing its credibility with the consumer on two levels — of not being able to deliver honest services and more importantly, of making false claims. And in this age of social media and micro blogging sites, it can take just a few seconds for the message to go viral.

But that hasn’t deterred marketers who feel emotion as a hook is critical to ensure brand loyalty at a time when there is a proliferation of brands and differentiation remains a matter of perspective rather than intent. Like in the consumer durables category where technology lines are fast blurring and brands are beginning to realise both technology and price are not sustainable advantages any more, says Ghoshal. “That is when being seen as an honest brand makes all the difference,” he adds. What sets the Tata Salt campaign apart is the fact that it rises from being solely about Indianness to being about good citizens. Indeed, it celebrates the ‘everyday’ nature of patriotism, highlighting small deeds of selflessness that reflect a respect for the greater good.

Initially, the Tata Salt campaign will roll out on above-the-line media, with below-the-line activations following suit. In the second phase, an interactive social media campaign will also be explored.

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