Govt’s oil companies can make good with the wrong idea

Social cause related marketing can yield positive results by the clarity on the cause and purpose of the campaign.

adve-srinivasa-bhat

Adve Srinivasa Bhat | August 27, 2014




Preaching philanthropy as a marketing technique is not new but the current effort by the government’s oil companies for partially fixing the huge short recovery owing to the subsidy on domestic gas supplies, by that (preaching philanthropy), does look a bit strange and therefore innovative too. Nonetheless, the initiative may turn out to be a deficient effort.

Why is it that the proposition of gas providers does not sound as good as the familiar social cause related to the sales promotion programs run by fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies? Foremost, these programs by FMCG companies clearly specify the social cause, they would be helping out with the money which gets the trust of the people and thus motivates them to buy – for that satisfaction of – giving for a cause. And, of course with the companies committing to pay a fraction of the regular price for the cause on their own, these promotions do not ask the buyers to pay extra which indeed makes it quite appealing to the consumers.

Cause related promotion programs are not regular nor are there stories of brands cutting through markets or hurting competitors with that. The insights are simple. With consumer trust (in the brand) and a big spend on communication being critical for success, only reputed big brands would try to balance the cost for the possibility of reinforcing the awareness on the brand with the element of social conscience – beyond a possible temporary surge in sales. Such programs run the risk of turning out to be cost ineffective with communication cost exceeding the amount generated for the cause – and thus collectively resulting in low or negative return on investment (ROI). In fact, companies across board seem to foster a flawed belief on the technique. Social cause related marketing as a technique is primarily suited for building brand image. Companies fail to make good with it because of using it as a sales promotion campaign and precisely because of the misapplication they often fail to charge up the brand with the attribute – benevolent.

Social cause related marketing can yield positive results essentially by the clarity on the cause and purpose of the campaign. Trust (in the brand) and cost (efficiency) are the twin factors critical for making good with it – which precisely happens to be the reason for lesser brands shying away from trying with it. The kind of proposition hopes to seek positive philanthropic actions by influencing the altruistic self actualization aspirations of people. Such initiatives can be successful in persuading people to act if the connect with the cause is well established and is built with elements that can convincingly draw the trust of the people on honesty and able management. With the trait of general disinclination – to give, people in India, particularly the rich find excuses – not to give – which makes the technique harder to work with.

So, what is missing in the offer of the oil companies that cuts the chances of worthwhile results? Well, the government’s call lacks the essentials of an offer and of course lacks the people’s trust in the government, to move the affluent citizens to act. To ensure demand potential for services and intangible products the offer needs to be structured in the same meticulous way physical products are developed. The undoing of the oil companies is in making the ‘plain call’ instead of a comprehensive proposition. The cost of ‘giving-up’ @ about Rs.450 a cylinder is steep which considering the targeted set is not really an issue, in fact it can be considered as an advantage in creating the proposition. But the genuine question one would have is; ‘give-up’ for ‘what’ and not necessarily ‘why’. Since, sharing subsidy burden is bit too vague a proposition for people to buy-into, more so since many who can afford may not give-up, government should have swapped a distressed social cause, particularly that is caused by the consumption of fossil fuel – to sell the thought of philanthropy. And to a good extent that would have also eased people’s general lack of trust on the government’s handling of public money – in the face of multiple scams, at least on this initiative.

Though it is early days yet, the count – of those who have given-up so far, is too few to expect it to rise to reach even a fraction of the real potential – though it would progress but at a disappointing pace. I believe, the situation would now push the government to take the next logical step – the normal wrong thing even companies in the private sector do. Advertising. In fact, there ought to be quite a few creative agencies hovering over those in charge already with the offer to make it happen. Sure, advertising would get a lot more to ‘give-up’ but with a product which lacks salability potential the risk is obvious – of collecting a lot less for the cost or worse, less than even the cost. To know it for sure the government need to understand the loss in nano – the car, a lot of it is advertisement money wasted way beyond its salability potential – as a product. The talk of image trap now which was in fact created by the loads of good ads with the wrong message can at best serve as a good excuse to continue to have misplaced belief in the car.

The truth, however, is that the government is working with a wrong approach for settling the issue of massive subsidy burden. Though the initiative does sound innovative it only reveals government’s inability to evolve more appropriate solutions. Wrong solutions arise due to deficient understanding of the problem. A short recovery of cost can hardly be made good by preaching philanthropy. The straight forward way is identify either the deserving or the non-deserving – for the subsidy – through an appropriate method. Tossing up ideas on that is in fact the right approach and ought to be feasible in many possible methods.

What should the government ideally do? Scrap the initiative since it is most likely to fail. However, if the government is keen on getting the affluent to share the burden of subsidy by preaching philanthropy – which as said is not the right approach to settle short recovery – it needs to create a credible proposition that can rationally influence the intrinsic philanthropic aspirations of people. Establishing two critical product values can make this good initiative highly successful. Firstly, as said, the government needs to give a clear reason to the citizens to feel satisfied – of having helped a desperate social cause. It can be about education, crimes against women, pollution but should be clearly defined. A simple swapping of money and purpose between the oil companies and the chosen government department. Secondly, and more importantly government needs to create a method to make the trait of – benevolence – of the participants visible for others to appreciate and follow. Government’s scroll up to check is hardly enthusing.

While the first product value (sense of satisfaction) infuses salability potential and is easy to establish the second (creating visibility) promotes the product but is hard to create with the given situation.

An innovation for Modi sarkar

Scope for evolving innovations always exists in all helpless and impossible situations. Greater the sense of impossibility, greater is the chance of striking real and powerful innovations.

A cheque leaf, with indicative design, as provided on top has the potential to create keen interest to participate by giving up the subsidy – not just in the minds of the affluent but also in those who can possibly afford it. It has the power to urge the rich and motivate those who can afford – to give-up the subsidy.

The participants (those who give up the subsidy) enjoy the satisfaction of continuous contribution to a pressing social cause and also would be happy to communicate about their – benevolence – every time they use the cheques. It would also remind and urge lot many others receiving these cheques – to also give-up the subsidy, if they can afford.

These cheques are to be provided by all scheduled banks as per the design that may be stipulated by the government against submission of proof of giving up the subsidy which should also be confirmed directly by the oil companies to the banks. Some logistics and interdepartmental consultations can activate the plan in fairly quick time. It shouldn’t be a hard task at all.






 

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