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In the digital world brands are much more in your face and not so much in your mind

As budget 2020 turns out to be a non-event and a lot of focus still on Kunal Kamra’s encounter with Arnab Goswami on an Indigo flight, I could not help but think about how our biases have taken over professional etiquette, acceptable social behaviour and plain old common sense. I have no intention of wading into a political debate and this anyways is not the place for it but I keep looking for patterns in our behaviour that will help marketers influence the way they run their marketing campaigns, pick up some widely held beliefs or changing mindsets to create an ahead of the curve idea. This leads me to the thought that – today’s brands are much more in your face and not so much in your mind. Aggressive behavioural traits are kind of accepted as a norm, look around – Virat Kohli, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Kanye West, even a student like Greta Thunberg has succeeded in turning anxieties about the planet into a worldwide movement by aggressive behaviour. I have purposely stayed with successful personalities because they have kind of become iconic in their own right. There are many more who have tried to use the shock and awe technique but most of them have not been so successful.

Our ability to be discerning with the ideas and feelings of others, particularly those who hold views different from our own, seems to have hit an all-time nadir. There is this famous Elvis quote – ‘Before you abuse, criticize, and accuse…. walk a mile in my shoes.’ Who has the patience to do that in today’s world? It has become virtually impossible for us to try harder to understand others or their perspective. We judge people in seconds, with a swipe or a tweet. So, what happens to brands? Online, offline, celebrity endorsements, influencers, insight-based communication, empathy, emotional, heart tugging, rational, irrational, wild, metaphorical, just in time, real time, intuitive, personalised, automated, martech, adtech, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data, phew! The list of boxes that need to be ticked by marketers are endless. Some sympathy for the marketer here?

Things might look bad now but they in all probability will get worse from here on. As the digital era drowns us with yottabytes of data, we have a choice to either ignore or process it at a tectonic speed, albeit less carefully. The world is now dominated by echo chambers, look alikes, people trying to fit in and people trying to stand out. It’s the same for brands. Some more sympathy for the marketers?

We live in an era of fake news and deep fakes where credibility comes at a huge discount. I am sure you would find it very difficult to believe that Greta Thunberg represents certain corporate interests that had failed to communicate effectively to the world about the dangers of climate change and the need to move towards green energy. So, what do they do? Use a regular and angry student citizen as a symbol to wage their battle and give it credibility as a people’s movement. Is this accusation true? I hope not. Is it possible? Certainly yes.

Going back to my original thought – that today’s brands are much more in your face and not so much in your mind. The response could very well be if you aren’t in your face, you aren’t getting anywhere close to my mind. True that. But there is subtle difference, what I mean by being in your face is – being loud, uncouth, belligerent and aggressive. A brand can be in their customers mind by being subtle, sophisticated and considerate too. When I reflect on the state of marketing, I sometimes feel that I have seen it all from the era of rational advertising to tugging at the heart strings to brands having a purpose. So, what comes next? We now live in a world of heightened biases and flawed thinking where people are struggling to understand each other or do not have the patience to make the effort. Brands and marketers have a choice to make in the digital world – they can either be a mirror to society, ride the current trend of aggression and isolation or be bold and take a knee, ironically! Do we have the marketing leaders in India to do that? Well, I certainly think so.

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