5 social cause advertising campaigns that took our breath away

By: Malini Bhattacharya

Published On: May 21, 2018

Consumers today are the smartest. With the internet literally at their fingertips, a shopper, both online and offline, can make canny choices about what brands they buy from depending upon the kind of brand image and identity they associate with a particular company and its products and services.

With an abundance of information so easily available - again, thanks to the internet and social media boom - buyers can form intelligent and educated opinions about corporates (who are behind the detergent, medicine, furniture, electronics, cookware, clothing, toothpaste, beverages, lipstick, petrol, and packaged food you buy nearly every day), their policies, and how they treat the communities of people who work for them. 

Often, modern consumers ask if brands are humane in their treatment of their labourers, if they pay a decent living wage, if they have sustainable environmental policies in place, and/or support a social cause long term. As many as 81% of all consumers express a wish to buy from those brands who support a social cause (even if it is not the cause they would personally lend support to). 

These consumers report feeling empowered to participate with ease in philanthropic processes by simply buying a product or making an online or offline donation. In business jargon, this would be called donation at purchase.

Corporates around the world and in India are responding well to this demand, this expectation, that they must be transparent with their social responsibility plans, and keep their consumers in the know about the kind of cause-based social support work they are doing for their communities. Sometimes in partnership with a non profit and sometimes without, corporates in India have made history in recent years to create social and cultural awareness around crippling problems that have needed focused attention for the longest time. 

Photo credit: Modern Marketing Partners

One wonderful thing about big brands stepping up to buttress social causes and send the right messages to an eager public is that these waiting people will listen if their favorite brands talk to them about social problems (and their solutions). The other great thing about these campaigns lie not only in the important endemic messages they were sending across in simple and relatable ways, but also in how beautifully and succinctly they did so through advertising across mainstream and social media. 

Here is a little list of those campaigns we have compiled for you: 

Dark is beautiful

French cosmetics giant L’oreal launched Women of Worth, a philanthropic program, to honor women who have gone above and beyond their set and chosen roles to leave a mark in the larger world, becoming role models for other girls and young women. 10 women are felicitated annually for the impact they have made as philanthropists or as social enterprise or developmental leaders, from among thousands of nominees. 

In 2009, Women of Worth launched the Dark is Beautiful campaign in India, where such a campaign was needed more than anything else, with the country’s deep seated history of belief that perpetuates the myth that light skinned girls are beautiful (and marriageable) and darker girls are not. Discriminatory and even abusive behavior from parents, teachers, and other authority figures routinely stem from such belief systems, damaging the dark girl or woman in insidious psychological and emotional ways, and even preventing her from accessing opportunities. Constantly, dark girls in India are told they are not beautiful, and cannot be. 

The Dark is Beautiful campaign is to throw off such narrow standards of beauty and embrace the fact that dark is beautiful, too. The campaign is to discourage dusky girls from using fairness products and embrace their own true colors. The campaign is to celebrate the fact that beauty can come in any color, to remember to honor race struggles that have finally ensured that people of all colors have equal rights, to remember one’s self-worth no matter what color one’s skin.

Tata Tea's Jaago re

Jaago Re has been the clarion call of a lot of Tata Tea advertising initiatives since 2009, although the object of Jaago Re, which translates from Hindi as Wake up, has changed through the years. The very first Jaago Re campaign was a reminder to the country’s citizenry to assert their political franchise, vote, and elect their leaders who would be accountable to them in the process of governance. Later campaigns have spread messages about anti-bribery, dissemination of knowledge in simplified form, and Chhoti Shuruaat (New Beginning), for the empowerment of women. 

For the Chhoti Shuruaat effort, Tata Tea’s team encouraged men in India to step up with ideas for small gestures they could make for the women in their lives to show them respect and a sense of egalitarianism. What could these men do for women so that as a society we could stop gender stereotyping and move away from traditionally held gender roles? How could men join the nationwide feminist initiative to empower women by the life choices and decisions they make, by the way they treat the women in their lives? Men responded with innovative, kind, and meaningful gestures, often documenting these on social media. The most famous example of a man coming forward with a gesture to acknowledge women’s equality was when Shah Rukh Khan announced that his women co-stars’ names would come before his own on the title cards of his films. 

King Khan has maintained the promise, and Chhoti Shuruaat is beginning to emerge as the flagbearer of a great change that will sweep across India, grassroots to upper crust. 

KFC Plate of hope

Fast food biggie KFC’s Add Hope campaign began a digital Plate of Hope initiative to join the fight against hunger in India in 2016. Those who bought food at KFC through an online order, can contribute to create a virtual plate of food on the KFC website, which would go to feed one hungry mouth somewhere across the country. The digitally promoted and conducted project aimed to send food to 20 million hungry people, with children and vulnerable women on priority, and contain the hunger problem India has been battling in traditional and relatively unconventional ways in the years since independence, without a break. 

KFC also encouraged each person who created a Plate of Hope to share their Plate on their social media handles (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp), so other people would be encouraged to make contributions for more Plates. A Plate of Hope could combat malnutrition in young Indian children. A Plate could mean that a child gets to go to school on a full stomach and learn well. A Plate means happiness. A Plate means contentment. 

Lifebuoy’s Help a child reach 5

Preventable infections, usually diarrhea and pneumonia, kill over 1.3 million children in India every year before they reach the age of five. Many of these infants and children are from rural and semi-rural regions and low income families, which almost necessarily means that their mothers, who are also often their primary caregivers, have little awareness about how the simplest little acts can prevent the infections in the first place. 

One of these things is washing hands with soap after eating, using the lavatory, caring for sick people, and touching animals. 

Lifebuoy promoted the benefits of hand-washing and widely publicized hand hygiene information in rural areas. For a time, Hindustan Unilever, which is the corporate that owns the Lifebuoy brand, worked in tandem with the Swachh Bharat (or Clean India) program spearheaded by the Modi government to broadcast a simple, compelling message - Wash hands, save lives. 

130 million people have been trained to have better hand hygiene already via the Help a child reach 5 program, and many of these are parents of children who were at risk, but are now protected. One in three mothers wash their hands at the right times. Diarrhea incidence has fallen across India from 47% to 11%. 

#EducateTheGirlChild by Nestle

Consumer goods magnate Nestle entered into a partnership with Mumbai-based education reform non profit Nanhi Kali, in late 2016, to Educate the Girl Child in a long term project of the same name. Nanhi Kali has already worked for years to improve opportunities for Indian girls from low-income and otherwise disadvantaged families to access opportunities for education, with helps open up possibilities and prospects for growth and upward social mobility, but Nestle was only venturing into this philanthropic space to help empower young girls with education. 

Nestle chose to address the gendered gap in education by sensitizing the nation to the very existence of this gap, and by attempting to change Indian mindsets that firmly hold on to gender role stereotypes for boys (who should go to school) and girls (who should ideally stay home and do housework and be married off as soon as possible). Nestle and Nanhi Kali strengthened the Educate the Girl Child project by identifying vulnerable girls who faced the most resistance with getting an education and supplied them with academic material so they could continue to attend school, and social backing to help their morale and develop collectives for self help. 

Good non profit marketing and cause marketing has brought the stories of these campaigns to us, not only making us feel good but also inspiring and motivating us to buy from brands who take their social missions seriously. Successful non profit advertising allows the customer to make an informed choice and buy from a brand that supports a social cause they believe in, and put their own weight behind it. Consumerism and charity and activism can all go hand in hand if careful choices are made, with each act of buying (or sharing, or passing a message on) changing the world a little for the better). 

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