Bold moves in marketing are reaping returns

India’s first transgender band created by HUL’s Brooke Bond Red Label won the top honour at the 63rd International Festival of Creativity in Cannes.

Amin Lakhani, head of Mindshare Fulcrum (left) and Prasanth Kumar, CEO, Mindshare South Asia.

It is not every day that the transgender community gets celebrated in a society ridden with stigmas. But India’s first transgender band created by Hindustan Unilever Ltd’s (HUL) Brooke Bond Red Label won the top honour at the 63rd International Festival of Creativity in Cannes. The Brooke Bond Red Label 6 Pack Band won the Glass Lions Grand Prix, a category introduced to celebrate culture-shifting creativity that positively impacts gender inequality, imbalance and injustice. The idea, which was created jointly by the brand team at HUL, Mindshare, a GroupM agency and Y-Films, took a year to reach where it has. Taking time out during celebrations at his Mumbai office, Prasanth Kumar, CEO, Mindshare South Asia, and Amin Lakhani, head of Mindshare Fulcrum, a specialized media team dedicated for Unilever, talked about the challenges as well as accolades that came their way while working on the thought-provoking project. Edited excerpts:
How did you come up with the idea?
Kumar: The 6 Pack actually came up as part of content day that we put together for Hindustan Unilever Ltd, where we invited 35 to 40 content partners from the entire ecosystem—producers, platforms, radio channels, TV networks, digital platforms and social media platforms—to pitch hundreds of ideas for various Unilever brands. This was done in June 2015. The 6 Pack band was one of the top shortlisted ideas that came in that day. What helped was the framework which allowed for an idea like this to even be considered. We went on to distilling different details about it and fine tuning it to the right form.
Lakhani: The whole idea was not to do a flash-in-the pan thing. It’s taken a year of commitment to actually plan this, find the right talent, nurture this talent, sensitise the band, get them to be open to performing.
How important is it to have a client that will take that leap of faith?
Kumar: It’s not easy and it is by far one of the boldest marketing moves by a client. So hats off to the Unilever team that backed us and supported us. Everybody knew that this was anything but a zero-risk situation. The team picked this because it was radical and probably had the ability to outshout any other regular campaign. And that required a bit of risk. It took some time to iron out the details, and like any marketing idea, the apprehensions were multiple—whether it was scalability, backlash or scaling it back in case of controversy.
Lakhani: It was really difficult. There is a lot at stake. And there were some very valid concerns. Is this the brand? Are we being provocative for the sake of being provocative? Are we just doing this for fun? What are the pros and cons? What if there is a backlash? There were a lot of questions and, therefore, a lot of deliberations. At every meeting we were a divided house.
What other challenges did you face?
Lakhani: It was very, very challenging and, therefore, the expertise of Y-Films and the Humsafar Trust (an NGO in Mumbai which promotes LGBT rights) came into play. They had experience in identifying talent and knew what will go into creating a band. They were literally going to different slums and traffic signals to find potential candidates. We’ve worked with singers, models and artistes. But here we were working with people who had never done this before, and had to be trained and groomed to be camera-ready. I still remember the first day of shoot, Ashish (Ashish Patil of Y-Films) calling me three hours into the shoot, saying, “We can’t do this. This is taking too long. These guys are just too raw.”
Why did you choose digital? Was the medium more conducive to a theme like this?
Lakhani: All mediums were used. It’s just that digital media was the natural fit for this content. It got picked up by music channels as content, mobile phone operators as ring-back tones, Saavn, the audio streaming service, picked it up and we have no commercial relationship with them. But it was trending there and it was showcased on the masthead. The music will show up on the masthead, only if people are coming in to listen to the song. News channels covered conversations around it. If you look at where the content resides, it resides on a digital platform before it’s picked up by any other media. Primarily because it’s so easy for consumers to pick up and share such content online. Moreover, the digital medium also lends itself well to analysis, so everything from who is watching to consumer behavioural patterns and monitoring in real time.
Did you expect to win?
Kumar: You’re the nth person to ask this question and we really don’t know what to say. Having said that, did we think that we would win a Grand Prix? No. Someone who had been on the jury before said that the chance of winning a Gran Prix was 0.07%. No one ever expects to win it. It’s as big as it gets. When you enter an award, it is with the expectation to win. It had won at other awards, so we did know that it had the potential. We are very excited and thrilled that the award has come our way.
Does an award such as this encourage clients to take that leap of faith?
Kumar: I don’t think clients create or encourage content to win awards. It has to do well for the brand. Secondly, these are very bold moves in marketing. It (the award) just recognises the fact that bold moves are reaping returns. So it definitely encourages the fraternity to look at bolder themes, and encourages the fraternity and the ecosystem to look at provocative ideas.

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