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India 2015: Brand Building: Empowerment

Brands can play an important role in empowering people in India

Consumers will remember and reward the brands that help empower them 

  J. Walter Thompson is South Asia’s leading and most admired marketing communications agency that offers a truly integrated network across South Asia. It provides powerful 360 degree total communication solutions to its clients across India through: Mainstream advertising, Hungama Digital Services, Social Wavelength, Encompass, Thompson Social and J. Walter Thompson Rural.

National development is not possible without the empowerment of people. If development is the fruit of modernization then empowerment is the root. The context for empowerment, the reason and rationale, may vary with circumstances, but empowerment has always been at the threshold of change.

At the core of empowerment is power. Unlike development, which can be easily quantified and measured, empowerment is a variable that needs to be analyzed in a more comprehensive manner. The scale and intensity of empowerment depend upon the context, the specific conditions that it is exhibited in. For example, a person living in a northeastern Indian state may not feel powerless in his or her own environment, but the same person when placed in a state like Delhi suddenly becomes a minority and feels the need to be empowered.

To understand the complexity and dynamism of empowerment in today’s India, it is imperative that the need of empowerment is seen and analyzed with a relevant cultural, social, political and economic lens. In a time when value systems are merging, borders are diminishing and new ideas are welcomed, the need as well as scope of empowerment has increased manifold.

Some populations feel they are in the minority in terms of beliefs and values. Discrimination is not just social, but also societal. Deprivation is not just of rights, but also of opportunities. Equality is also about equal privileges. These emerging groups may not be weak economically or socially, but they definitely feel a loss of power, and they are scripting their own empowerment stories.

Do brands have a choice about whether to play an active role in these empowerment stories or remain bystanders? No. These are the future consumers and thought leaders who will decide the success or failure of brands. So either brands are a part of their story, or in the future brands will have no story at all.

The entry point for a brand could be anything – from a customized savings scheme to an app for young twentysomethings living away from home pursuing their dream, or something for single parents facing unique challenges in raising their children alone. But can we build a framework that brands can refer to when taking this opportunity? Here are five possible ways:


Bharat Matrimony, an online matchmaking service, showed how a husband supporting his wife’s decision to pursue her career can lead to a better relationship. 


KBC, a popular TV game show, highlighted the prevalence of racial discrimination even in a modern, urban society.


The laundry detergent Ariel became an advocate for women with its “Share the Load”campaign, which shared a poll showing that more than three-quarters of Indian men think doing the laundry is a woman’s task. 


Product and service innovations by many brands accommodate the changing needs of consumers in today’s India. These brands include Domino’s Pizza with affordable pricing, McDonald’s restaurants with extended hours and the food ordering app Tiny Owl providing all- night delivery.


The “Be You” campaign of the e-commerce brand Jabong showcased the point-of-view of a couple in a live-in relationship 

In order to become part of the discourse it is not necessary for brands to a position themselves exclusively as for these audiences of people seeking some aspect of empowerment.

The trick is to identify relevant entry points. For example, Cadbury’s Diwali campaign empowers single men and women living away from home to be a part of the festivities. In a fly home free offer, the snack food Kurkure promises to send people home for the festive season. To help students or workers living away from home, Fortune Oil’s “Mother Exchange” connects them with local mothers who prepare their favorite foods.

The degree and intensity of involvement may vary. Brands will have to find their own entry points and roles in helping to empower people whose needs, wants, aspirations, problems and values are unique in nature due to their to unique life stories. As we move ahead, we may find new frontiers, conversations, and even a new dimension to their stories.