Morality, Ethics & Social Norms of Offline & Digital Marketing

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 947 , Published on 23 March 2015

The greatest challenge for a marketer is to promote a product or service which is not fully accepted by the society. I mean, think about it, it is true that several products, which are considered harmful or immoral still has large sales numbers. Businesses of these products are legal and they have demand so the marketer is stuck with the job of promoting them. So we end up promoting something that everyone criticizes but a lot of them also buy. So let us see how these products are traditionally marketed in India and how digital marketing is changing the age old theories.

Bold masculinity, timid femininity

The role of gender a product targets, changes its communication approach. Take the example of men’s deodorant advertising. For the last fifteen years women played the larger role in promoting men’s deodorants, most of the ads giving all the mischievous indications we can think of. The same can be said for men’s undergarments promotion. On the other hand, a female deodorant is promoted in a lot more milder approach. Big stars also understand this phenomena so we see them promoting men’s “energy boosting” medicine. Gender changes the social acceptance of a product. More women in undergarments are seen promoting men’s deodorants than promoting women’s undergarments.

Leave the customer alone

In India, the best promotion for some products is no promotion at all. It is as if the product, buyer, seller, demand everything is there, but no one wants to talk about it. Look at women’s undergarments for instance. They are hardly promoted when compared to men’s undergarments in traditional media. Logical business thinking would not give you any clear idea about such discrimination. I talked about men’s “energy booster” medicines and how boldly they are promoted. Now take the instance of their female counterparts see hardly any promotion. The silent rule for them is to produce, keep it in the shelves and the right customer would come and buy it.

Ethics and acceptance varies according to the product

Products also determine the level of ethics we are supposed to follow. Even media criticism and cry from activists is also segment specific. For example one of the biggest criticisms faced by products like men’s deodorant is these deodorants and fairness cream are making false claims about their product. Similar criticism is quite common for some other products as well. But it is not the case for every product. A classic example is real-estate marketing. We all know promises made by the marketer like “5 minutes from the airport” are blatant lies. Yet we are quite ok with such fake promises. The real-estate sector is also an area where the consumer makes a purchase knowing least about the product and is willing to borrow huge sums of money and pay for it. One more classic example is the different financial products like Insurance and Mutual funds marketing. Can we imagine a gym running a campaign stating “weight loss is a subject matter of your lifestyle” and still getting business? Just to show that we the consumers choose to be logical only at certain occasions and for certain products, it is for these products we are willing to accept the bitter truth as well.

Sexy is cool, sex is not

I think Bollywood taught us how to promote concepts that are socially taboo. Over the years a lot of bold movies got viewers acceptance and did great business just by cleaver presentation and marketing. The unique phenomenon of the Indian physiology is that we are cool about being sexy but we do have our reservations in talking about sex. So the marketer promotes soap, deodorant, mango flavored beverages and condoms in a similar way. Every product wants to be sexy, but it is sex that gives us a lot of hiccups.

Digital Marketing, the game changing potential

Digital marketing is probably one tool which I think would change the above stated rules of marketing in India. Digital marketing gives us the opportunity to directly communicate with the customer avoiding societies glare. Let’s look at Ranveer Singh’s “Do the rex” campaign. The much talked about campaign was solely made for online. Even such a successful campaign was not used for offline medium. Companies are increasingly using a much bolder, direct communication approach in digital medium than what they use in traditional media.

Traditional companies with established brands are losing the battle online. Truly digital identities with no presence in offline world and no image to protect are finding it easier to communicate in a much bolder manner.TOI recently faced a similar situation, when the online entertainment section trying to compete with young virtual entities, brought a lot of shame for a century old brand. Until our social norms and our consumption patterns align, the success of established offline entities in online world would depend on how well they play the role of ‘Two face’ in their communications.

I would like to draw attention to two sections of e-commerce in India that are questioning demography based demand and social norms as we know it. One of these sections is the women’s lingerie business. Lots of dedicated e-commerce sites has arrived in this sector and the amount of traffic coming from tier 2 and tier 3 cities is astonishing. Percentage of male customers in these websites when compared with offline medium is also on the higher side. The other section is the adult entertainment equipments business. This sector too saw huge growth, multiple startups and predominantly a large part of sales comes from areas which are perceived as conservative societies in India. These trends have raised the question like how much we really know our customers and how much of it is plain social norms which the customer was forced to follow. Now that the customer is having individuality in a digital world, he would truly take the centre stage.

This article has been authored by Pratip Ghatak from LIBA


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