In 2021, P.V. Sindhu filed a lawsuit against 20 brands that released congratulatory ads following her Olympic win. Were the brands within their rights to use her moment for their moment marketing campaigns? Naresh Gupta helps us understand the concept of moment marketing, its effectiveness in engaging with consumers and beyond, and given the recent backlash, how it fits into the future of marketing?
In 2021, P.V. Sindhu filed a lawsuit against 20 brands who put out congratulatory ads post her Olympic win, for using her image and name without consent. Were the brands within their rights to use her moment, for their moment marketing campaign?
Hi, I am Madhuleen, representing ISB Management ReThink, an online management practice journal published quarterly by the Centre for Learning and Management Practice. In this session, we explore the phenomena called ‘moment marketing’, its origins, and if it has lived its moment. Here with us today is Mr. Naresh Gupta. Mr. Gupta is a top practitioner in the field of advertising, media, and communications and is the Co-founder and Managing Partner of the communications company—Bang in the Middle.
Welcome to the podcast Mr. Gupta
To start us off, can you help us understand what is moment marketing?
And while it is abuzz today, how and for how long have brands engaged in this type of marketing strategy?
Uh, let me take you back to 2013.
This is when America had a nationwide power outage, cities like New York went dark, and there was a very quick tweet put out by Oreo that said, "You can still dunk it in dark". Now, that was the earliest example of a brand using a moment very, very sharply and very cleverly. Okay, so if you, I don't know if you will remember the post, but it had a dark black background, one Oreo kept at the bottom and the line said that "You can still dunk it in dark". It went crazy viral. It gave them the reach almost like being on Super Bowl and that somewhere is the start of the love affair with Oreo that the world has seen happen after that. That also told a lot of brands that you can do something like this. You can ride the trend. You can be a part of conversation.
See, consumers now live on a 24/7 news cycle. So, something happened somewhere and there is constantly chatter that is happening on it. Lots of brands try and get into it by saying, okay, let me become a part of that conversation that is happening.
The other thing that happens is because the social media brands are always alive, they're always wanting to make some noise, they're always wanting to make some conversation happen. They also feel that by doing some of this, they will beat the entire algorithm of these channels and the reach will expand, so that is when they start to do it.
I don't think, say for Amul, and I don't know if Amul does it strategically it’s just Amul. It's that personality that has become of taking up a topic and having a conversation around it and 99% they get it right, once in a while they also get slack for it. But apart from that, no brand actually has it in their DNA. Some of these new-age brands like Zomato and Swiggy and BlinkIt and stuff like that do try to ride on a certain thing that is happening, but even for them, moment is not a...not a strategy. And if you then look at Amul, Amul is not commenting on everything that happens every day. It picks up whatever is convenient for it. So, it's not the most spoken about, it's not the most conversation about. It's what's the most convenient to Amul to have a conversation on.
So that's roughly where the entire bit of moment marketing is.
So as you mentioned, social media is a big part of the need for constant communication by brands. How beneficial is this marketing strategy in crowded information spaces of today, with increasing consumer awareness and decreasing attention spans?
I would tend to say that it's not useful, but that... Okay, let's go back and start to look at it a little more carefully. 2013, we all remember what Oreo put out. I don't know what else do we remember from that time. So, we remember Oreo, we remember Amul, as I started by saying. We remember Amul because Amul, I think is a 30-year-old conversation that they've been doing on ‘moments’. I remember when I was a kid, when India lost in Sharjah, they put up hoardings all over the country that said “It was Sharjah boys, not haar ja.”
That is how they've been doing it for so long. When Zahir Abbas was killing India on field, they put up an ad that said, “Zahir ab-bas.” But do we remember anything else? Do we have any memory of anything done by any brand? And if we don't, then I would tend to think that it comes as a blip, it's enjoyable for a moment that you are consuming it and then consumers go over it. Also, when hundreds of brands start to do a moment conversation, nothing comes to a certain brand. It's the moment conversation, the moment becomes big, the brand just rides that moment and gets away. So, there is a momentary engagement the brand gets. It does not get a long-term memorability. Now this is what the brands have to decide, what are they seeking? If they're seeking memorability, then they have to make it a part of their culture. If they're seeking a slightly increased engagement and a slightly increased reach, then that's perfectly fine for doing whatever little moment marketing they do.
In recent years moment marketing has also been under the scanner due to the ethicality of its practices. It's a fast-paced medium and automatically limited checks are in place for it.
So what are the ethical standards that should monitor moment marketing for brands?
Uh, let’s put ethics on one side, let’s go legality the first thing. Where there is a bigger problem, is that brands do not even think that there is a legal problem that they may enter into by doing a lot of stuff that they do. So, for instance, the Oscars happened and a lot of people are wishing Guneet for winning the producer and all of them are using the Oscar statuette in the creative way that they find to use It. Do you know that the Oscar statuette is protected under IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) and it cannot be used without explicit permission from the Academy? And once used, the Academy is free to sue you and take you to cleaners. They haven't done it till now, but they reserve the right to do it to you.
Now imagine what happens. Now this happens, say, with World Cup cricket, with Olympics. You can’t say a certain thing. I can’t use Olympic rings to congratulate a gold medal winner. I’m not allowed to, as a brand. As a consumer, as a media house, it is okay, but as a brand for a commercial usage, I’m not allowed to. I’m breaking an explicitly written condition of usage of those rings in the…in the way they put it out, so that is one bit. The second bit, and the most interesting example of that is what P.V. Sindhu did to a lot of brands. She went after a lot of those brands for using her image and making it sound as if the brand is responsible for P.V. Sindhu’s win. That is where the problem started. The issue was, some of those brands had rejected P.V. Sindhu as an ambassador. When P.V. Sindhu reached out to them, or P.V. Sindhu's management company reached out to those brands, those brands refused to partner with her, and then when she won, they decided that this is a good moment to do a bit of banter or do a bit of riding the wave and they did stuff that clearly was…and I'm not even saying ethical, that was clearly breaching copyright laws.
Now, ethics is okay. We can keep debating, ethical or not. But when brands break the law, it's a big problem. And that's exactly what happened in that case. Actually, that is the problem of moment marketing. Lots of times, agencies, and clients do not consider the legal angles. Now, when you normally produce an advertising piece, it goes to legal for approval, it takes its own time. Moment is moment. You're riding the wave, it has to be done quickly. Now, if you start to take legal approvals and things like that, the moment will go. So, everybody takes the shortcut. But, no, it's not so easy and taking the shortcut sometimes will come back to bite you.
As you said, taking a shortcut can sometimes come back to bite you. Has the recent backlash left a bad taste in the mouth of the consumers? Has it changed the consumer outlook? If so, how has it changed and how are the marketing strategies changing and adapting to it?
I have seen brands now reduce doing a moment post for everything that is happening. Um, I…I’ve seen on feeds people saying ‘Happy Good Friday’. Now, that is really the problem that moment marketing can start to have. You can't be wishing ‘Happy Good Friday’. Because the tendency is to wish on every festival, suddenly you look like an idiot doing something like that. Brands then have to take the post down, apologize, all that has happened in the past 3-4 years. So this is where brands have started to get a little careful and I think also the boredom is starting to set in with a lot of this moment marketing thing that happens. Like this issue that we are debating, a lot of brands are feeling that it doesn't benefit them. So yes, on a big festival we would want to. Independence Day will come and we will see every brand painting themselves in saffron, white, and green and then wishing us ‘Happy Independence Day’. But a question I’ve always asked is what happens if my favorite brand does not wish me Independence Day? Does the brand change or does the importance of Independence Day change? Neither happens. So, it's…it's unless the result very strong reason for you to wish me, that wish is just one of those vanilla things that happen. It does nothing.
But the bid for relevance is still an ongoing struggle for brands.
Can brands still be part of trends without latching onto everything that’s trending and still have a meaningful conversation with their consumers?
Uh, let’s take example of a detergent brand that says dirt is good. It’s a very evocative promise, very interesting promise, done very, very nicely. It’s not about soap suds, and it’s not about active oxygen, and it’s not about the usual product bollocks that brands do.
Now if dirt is good, then ride every trend where dirt is a part of the conversation. You can leave everything else. You don’t need to write everything else that is happening. And that is the clever way in which you can be a part of a conversation and yet own the conversation for you. Now suppose there is a post that has come out which has got nothing to do with dirt or nothing to do with goodness. Why would I want to insert my brand into it? Yes, there would be 500 other people talking about it, but does that benefit me? Or it just takes the chatter on that piece up, many fold? So, that is where you have to find where you can be and where is it a fit for the brand. Where it is not a fit for the brand, the brand should not do it.
Here’s what I have learned from our conversation today. All attention might not always be good attention. To make the most of a moment, brands need to be conscious and meticulous with the moments they pick to market on. In the end, it should be about amplifying your message, not mindlessly riding a trend.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us, Mr. Gupta.
It has truly been an interesting and insightful session.
Thank you very much.
Naresh Gupta has been in the communication business for over three decades as a market researcher, brand marketer, and communication strategist. He has watched the industry move from primacy of print to the evolution of digital medium. Having worked across brands, agencies, and geographies, he thrives on the dynamism of this industry. Apart from founding and running a successful communication agency, Bang in the Middle, he also teaches, coaches, and writes.