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Guest column: Digital campaigns for social change

There has not been a better time than this age of the viral wave to come together

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India’s digital transformation is proceeding at a breakneck pace. As a generation, we are fortunate to be witnessing the unprecedented absorption of digital in our lives. Digital has the power to orient young populations into better thinkers and conscious citizens, and exponentially enhance the power of campaigns turning them into mass movements. For brands and agencies, there has not been a better time than this age of the viral wave to come together to right the wrongs and transform the social order. Here are a set of fundamental learnings to gulp before you ideate a development campaign.

Think issue first, brand second

While we may argue that the cause must be apparently contextual to the brand’s vision, as responsible citizens, we must remember that issues are looming, the social atmosphere seems bleak and the need for corporations to step forward and drive action has never been greater. Having a direct connect between the brand and the issue is archetypal, but there is also a great assurance of consumer-confidence in atypically championing a cause and changing the public discourse. A campaign crafted with concern for the issue, compassion for people and conviction in the idea will find a brand to front it with full might.

Vicks, a brand with a lineage in the Family Care segment, with its ‘Touch of Care’ campaign went beyond the traditional definition of a family, emphasising how a simple step of affection, unbound by blood or reason, can give someone’s life a new purpose.

Discover your social conscience

To change the way people live, you need to change the way people think. That requires you be a better citizen yourself, be empathetic to people and problems, and have clear intent. Look beyond issues that only affect you, instead those that affect the population at large.

Suicides are an issue grappling nations, as pressures around academics, careers and relationships rise. While suicide by a person impacts the immediate society around the person, it took the Suicide Prevention India Foundation to convey through #GiveSubtitlesToSuicide, that all that is needed is an alert and patient ear to one’s problems, to identify subtle signs of suicidal behaviour and to address them timely. Not only did the campaign uniquely leverage the subtitles feature on YouTube, but also had a genuine conscience to delve into a crisis and create empathy among peers for each other to help in times of distress.

Research is key, mobilise stakeholders – civil and political

Delving deep into the subject allows you to understand the social, economic and political complexities surrounding it and identifying the barriers to change. Research is indispensable and mustn’t be limited to the realm of the theory available online. Identify stakeholders responsible for the problem, those affected, those pioneering solutions for it.  The takeaways gathered become the rationale for a strategy which has been critically developed and sensitively constructed.

#KidsNotForSale, a disruptive sale showcased by Save The Children on snapdeal.com went beyond the edge to expose gruesome, lesser reported stories of children trapped in trafficking situations.

The research was uncompromising. It resonated with key opinion leaders including celebrities and MPs and led them to lend their voice of support.

Attach issues to capitalism

It is a myth that the multitude of social problems surfacing in India concerns only the underprivileged, while the urban and affluent are immune to them. Danger is knocking on the door for all and the urban that have access to information to curb the damage tend to ignore it more often than not.

Stakeholders have to be made to realise how not solving the issue will directly impact them and have a long term bearing on their life and commerce.

#StartALittleGood by HUL impeccably weaves in issues of nature conservation and thoughtfully picks the protagonists of the campaign.

The messaging of reducing your shower time to save water is age-old, but the creative route of placing a glass shower in the middle of a drought-affected desert and to draw that inconsistency is fit to provoke an indifferent urban resident to rethink his habits.
 
Don’t think big

You are combating issues that are age-old, rooted in culture, and that has only gotten complex over time and civilizations. Base your campaign strategy in a specific target group and geography. Aim to affect change at the most local level with concrete actions, gauge impact and then tread forward. Small can lead to scale.
 
A pilot matters

Testing what you create, on a targeted focus group can hold evidence for the potential of the strategy and uncover areas that need work before the campaign is rolled out.

A cause needs no day

If you have an impending crisis and an idea to tackle it, don’t wait for a topical day. As ambitious as it may sound, one initiative sparked by you could save a child from getting trafficked, a couple in love from getting killed for honour, an ailing person battling for life in the wait for an organ. Got an idea, convert it!

Close Up’s latest #FreeToLove movement is a fresh wave that the world needed in this critical climate of resistance.

Be remembered

Your audiences are going through kilometre-long timelines. The challenge is to create messaging that cuts through a cross-section of audiences. Simplicity is your weapon.

We all remember some remarkable ads of the decades gone by not just because of linear, appointment viewing of the television, but also because of great themes and character iconography. Break down complex information into a language that resonates with all, create messaging that educates and entertains, imagery that is iconic and a delivery format that is disruptive and you will be one step closer.

Engagement beyond hashtags and petitions

Trending hashtags and rising numbers on online petitions are great. But, go beyond. Capitalise the time spent by your audiences on digital and use them to fuel community interventions and ground movements. Encourage the young - the protagonists of social media - to initiate change at home, engage families and peers into a debate, introduce positive practices, and question the political regime or media to change the landscape.  

Sustain

People resist change. Making them think differently is difficult, and sustaining that change is even more challenging. The intent for change has to be consistent, ideation has to be continuous, engagement has to grow, and if behaviourial responses from communities get mature, you have won!

Thinktanks of agencies – this is the hour. The social sphere can be transformed dramatically. Are we ready to push the envelope and write the alternate narrative?

(The author is Group Head for Video Strategy and Production, at WATConsult. The views expressed here are her own and Indiantelevision.com may not subscribe to them)

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