The Emotional Cause By Kartikeya Kompella

By Kartikeya Kompella

There’s a cause wave that’s building in India. The combination of mandatory CSR, consumers wanting brands to demonstrate purpose and more purposeful brands has led to more companies in India supporting causes than ever before.

As more companies put money behind causes, it’s worth understanding what makes some causes earn consumer support while others don’t. It’s not always a function of the amount of money spent in promoting the cause or benefiting society. So what drives some causes and not others? Pantene Beautiful Lengths in the US is an emotive cause that probably has a much larger brand impact than social impact.

The thinking behind the cause is simple. Every year thousands of women lose their hair due to chemotherapy. Pantene appealed to women to donate a length of hair (8 inches) so that wigs can be made for the women who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy.

No cause is insignificant or unworthy and the intention is not to belittle any cause. Having said that, for arguments’ sake, we must consider that the impact of this cause on society is not as profound or widespread as many others that are lesser known. It does not save lives or feed the hungry. Its impact is on a few thousands rather than hundreds of thousands.

But Pantene Beautiful Lengths is based on empathy and sacrifice. What donors give is small but emotionally significant to both the donor and recipient.

In the US, every day 10 postal bins of hair arrive much of which is consigned to the dustbin because it is unfit for use in making wigs. Moving closer home, the Aircel Save the Tiger campaign is one that tugged at heart strings and resulted in an outpouring of support for tigers. If the pathos of a baby tiger losing its mother was stirring, the growing awareness of the dwindling tiger population drove lakhs of people to support the cause.

NDTV’s telethon in 2014 is said to have raised close to Rs. 6 crores for the cause.But it’s not as though Indians have a fascination with wildlife. In 2008, Titan tied up with WWF to build awareness of endangered species in India. Titan launched a wildlife range of 13 watches to build awareness of the plight of the Tiger, Gangetic Dolphin, the Indian Rhino and Oliver Ridley Turtles amongst others.

Titan is one of India’s finest marketing companies and used their brand ambassador Aamir Khan to promote their wildlife range of watches through ads and PR. Yet the cause passed quietly unnoticed into the night.

Dabur Sanifresh’s 700 se 7 Kadamis a deeply relevant cause, insightfully developed and well-communicated. It is early days still,but the cause does not seem to have earned the kind of instant viral resonance that Save the Tigers did. All this may indicate that the fastest way to build a brand using a cause is to stir up emotions. An emotive cause does help but it’s notreally about manipulating emotions.

Using a cause to build brands is clearly about building involvement with the cause. It’s not necessarily about how much money the brand puts into the cause, how many people the cause impacts or how profound its impact is – none of these count for much if consumers haven’t bought into the cause.

P&G’s Shiksha – India’s best known cause marketing initiative has contributed Rs 22 crores over 8 years. This sum while significant is not jaw-droppingly large given the time frame. What makes Shiksha a big draw is that P&G’s choice of cause area was great. Indians have always valued education and the need for education today is even greater. The cause is simple and uncomplicated and supporting the cause is easy.

Shiksha has made thousands of consumers feel good over the years about the choices they’ve made and continue to make in P&G brands. This has been achieved with minimal fuss and no histrionics. Consumers feel involved with the program and feel that over the years they have contributed to the growth of the program.

Shiksha was probably the first serious cause marketing initiative that India had seen and consumer involvement was easier to earn those days.
The awareness and goodwill that Shiksha has earned for P&G is significant. The initiative has been able to engender the attention of various celebrities who have supported it in cash and kind.

This support has further enhanced the awareness and stature of the program.Viewed through the lens of involvement, it is easy to understand where Titan failed and P&G succeeded. Make involvement your play and watch while your audience drives your cause.

(Kartikeya Kompella is the editor of the internationally acclaimed ‘The Definitive Book of Branding’ in which he has written about CSR & Branding. He is more recently the editor of ‘The Brand Challenge’. Kartik is the author of ‘Building Brands Building Meaning’ and ‘Applying the Branding Iron’. He is the founder of Purposeful Brands and would be interested in hearing your views. He can be reached at