Social Movements as brands

Building a social movement brand is an awesome experience as well a tiring one. Many such brands have been able to garner unconditional support in the recent past and some have even been able to get a lot of money pledged for the cause. Many times it depends on who is the man (or woman) behind the movement and also a function of powerful media support. Am trying to analyse some points about a couple of social movements here:

Living in Bombay brings its own idiosyncrasies. One of them is the various modes of public transport. No. I am not talking about trains. The reference points here are the Black-Yellow Taxis and Autos. The germ behind the movement is very simple. Three advertising professionals (Jaidev Rupani, Rachna Brar and Abhilash Krishnan) just decided to take the issue in their hands when they were facing the constant ‘nays’ by these ‘service providers’. Adding fuel to fire, a few weeks back the public transport system came under the mercy of the auto and taxi drivers when they decided to go on a strike demanding a fare hike.

Dubbed Meter Jam and designed like a reverse auction, Meter Jam is a reverse strike. While the taxis and autos be plying the road, the idea was to motivate the common man NOT to take either of these modes.

The movement appealed to the sentiments of the public because everyone has been affected by the ridiculous ways of these operators. It was initially promoted only through Social Networking Sites (SNS). But Six Degrees of Separation led this to become a national movement. Well almost!

To add fuel to the fire, news papers (read ‘tabloids’) picked up this cause and fanning it decently. With Mumbai Mirror starting it and Mid-day following right behind, the rest of the publications didn’t want to be left behind and covered it sufficiently. They actually interviewed the union heads and asked if they were afraid! PR picked up steam and the trio was nothing less than celebrities giving interviews to every channel / newspaper.

It has reached a peak and if you search for Meter Jam today, you would find the press articles before the actual site.

Meter Jam was held (or upheld) on the August 12, 2010. There are mixed reports on how successful the reverse strike was, but I felt the roads to be relatively easy to navigate. There were lesser number of black-yellow vehicles on the road and I personally offered a ride to a few colleagues on my way back.

The movement needed a mainstream support like that of PR for it to be known amongst a larger audience. It is absolutely true that it is not possible to build or retain brand salience only through Facebook and Twitter. It may be a very good starting point. Few reasons:

  • The SNS user is looking at a quick bang. You don’t see a topic trending beyond say, 8 hours?!
  • There still is a large audience outside SNS. Take me for instance. I have been bitten by the IT Policy bug and I don’t have connectivity to any social media (irrespective of the fact that I use them for official purposes too).
  • The relevance of SNS may get restricted to a finite set of audience because amongst your connections / friends / followers, it is not a guarantee that everyone would be moved by your appeal. Striking the right chord at least for a movement should be more than just SNS.

The other one was a media sponsored movement along with an NGO of high repute. The NDTV Greenathon, which the channel conducts on its Flagship NDTV 24×7 every year, is generally a great success. The entire package is 360 degree in approach. The event is well promoted in all the channels owned or is part of the NDTV bouquet. The event is also taken on to other media including online. Today it is possible to connect with your favorite news personality through their website. They have their own social networking platform which is also activated during the Greenathon, which is conducted over a period of 24 hours.

Adding glamour is the presence of Bollywood personalities every year. They have some film start co-hosting it for the entire period, thus ensuring enough eye-balls for the key time-bands at least. The event is generally tied up with TERI and is in support of providing basic amenities in far flung villages of India. Some reasons why it almost always is a hit:

  • Promoted by a large news channel, thus ensuring enough reach and visibility for the event.
  • Presence of a celebrities (which Meter Jam lacked).
  • 360 degree in approach thus ensuring a larger reach and awareness for the event.
  • Sufficiently sponsored. With a lot of money going into running this ‘on air, on ground, online’ event, reaching and making it a success is not a great difficulty.
  • Having a well known NGO brings in its own set of audience and credibility.

By bringing a serious issue out in the open, social movements take its own course to spread, propagate and in hopefully making this world a better place. However, not all such movements get to see as many reams of paper or footage time. Building a brand like ‘Jaago Re’ cost the Tata Group 2 years and sufficient funds to push the thought through. Even then, we had a key market like Bombay registering 34% votes in the general elections.

Though these social movements become large brands, effectiveness still depends on the buyer of the concept. Pity this is not a product / service. 🙁

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