Brand social responsibility 2.0

  21st Nov 2013, Business Standard

The country's largest fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) company, Hindustan Unilever (HUL), has just kicked off Project Sunlight, simultaneously with Unilever's other markets, to compile the social missions of its many brands. It is an attempt to invite consumers to get involved in doing small things to help their own families, others and the planet. In India, HUL will highlight brands such as Lifebuoy (cleanliness), Dove (improving women's self esteem) and Knorr (work with farmers).

It is a manifestation of how brands are combining CSR with business objectives.

HUL has been scaling up initiatives for social good across brands. Its recent Domex Toilet Academy, for example, has the objective of building 24,000 toilets by 2015 in areas where there is lack of sanitation. The motivation came from the increasing importance its parent Unilever is giving to the cause of social good as espoused in its "Sustainable Living Plan" flagged off three years ago.

Besides specific sustainability targets, managers at HUL were asked to interpret a social purpose in the local context. The lack of basic sanitation afflicts Indians is well-known in a country which accounts for almost 60 per cent of open defecation in the world.

HUL saw an opportunity to plug its brand Domex, a toilet cleaner competing with Harpic from Reckitt Benckiser. Hemant Bakshi, executive director, home & personal care, HUL, says, "We realise the importance of the need for safe and hygienic sanitation practices. We have an important role to play to help make our communities free of open defecation. As a brand, Domex can make toilets free of disease and safe to use."

Under Lifebuoy, the company has been running a large school contact programme to help sensitise children to the need to wash their hands. Experts say, it is a clever marriage of social and business objectives. By targeting children and instilling in them the need to use a soap to wash hands, HUL is playing a good corporate citizen, even as it creates a ready market in the schools and among the parents of the students.

Tanishq and Havells, through their recent ad campaigns, have been questioning so-called taboos. Tanishq's on-going campaign for its bridal collection, where it portrays remarriage of a woman with a child, has been noted as a break-through by pundits on social media (though, a similar trope had appeared in a Femina ad in 2001).

Havells, the electrical components and appliances brand, touched on issues such as inclusivity (a domestic help being asked to join her employer-family for dinner at the table) and women's rights (a husband's decision to adopt his wife's surname) in its summer campaign this year. Vijay Narayananan, vice-president, marketing, Havells, admits the campaign did stir people enough, making them sit up and take notice of the brand. Launched at a time when the clutter is high on television, Narayanan says the campaign induced recall in a low-involvement category such as fans.

Tata Tea's Jaago Re campaign, meanwhile, has evolved into a viable platform for change. Jaago Re's current edition, coinciding with the relaunch of Tata Tea Gold, dwells on how women should not be ignored by politicians since they constitute 49 per cent of the voter base. Harish Bhat, MD, Tata Global Beverages, says, "At a time when the country is gearing up for elections, it made perfect sense to dwell on this aspect."

As corporate social responsibility (CSR) becomes mandatory for Indian companies, the seriousness with which most are approaching it has increased. Gautam Chemburkar, partner, KPMG, says, "From something that was tracked by a small team, CSR has moved up as a key item on the CEO's list. By making it mandatory for companies to disclose what they've done with the two per cent of profits they now have to set aside for CSR activities, companies will track where the money will go, since it will form part of their distributable profits."

According to industry estimates, the likely obligation arising out of the CSR Bill, which comes into force next fiscal, will be $2 billion (or Rs 12,400 crore). This is if the cumulative profit of India Inc will be $100 billion (or Rs 6.2 lakh crore) by then.

Chemburkar says the Indian corporations can't afford to ignore such an amount. "If earlier companies paid lip-service to CSR, restricting their efforts to communities around their factories, today the scope of their operations has increased," Alpana Parida, president, DY Works, a Mumbai-based brand consultant, says.

Beauty major L'Oreal has just announced its commitment to transform the way it does business by 2020, spanning the entire value chain from manufacturing, marketing to business development. L'Oreal, like Unilever, hopes to touch consumer lives with not only sustainable products, but also initiatives that can help make a difference.

Alpana Parida is president of DY Works (erstwhile DMA Branding).

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