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India 2015: Brand Building: Empowerment

Brands gain power by shifting from consumer engagement to consumer empowerment 

Brands with a higher purpose break through the competitive clutter 

Abhishek Hariharan
Senior Planning Director
Ogilvy & Mather

Ogilvy & Mather is one of the largest marketing communications companies in the world. It was named the Cannes Lions Network of the Year for four consecutive years, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015; and the EFFIEs World’s Most Effective Agency Network for two consecutive years 2012 and 2013. Ogilvy Mumbai, the flagship office of Ogilvy & Mather India, continues to be the most awarded agency office in India, has been named Most Effective Agency of the Year in Asia Pacific 2014.


What does Tata Tea have to do with young people registering as voters? The connection comes from the ability of the brand to move from a generic tea benefit (“wakes you up”) to an emotionally engaging one (“awakens you”).

Taking this idea a step further, the brand then went on to develop a website that helped those who had turned 18 to register as voters. In a manner relevant to the brand, Tata advanced the idea that awakened citizens are engaged citizens and voting in elections is a simple but powerful way to participate in a democracy.

In a cluttered competitive environment, brands like Tata are able to transcend the product battle by speaking the language of empathy and empowerment. What makes their approach worth noticing? Brands that strive to solve a real problem in consumers’ lives are well-placed to rise above their competition.

Figuring out how your brand can seek to empower its audience should start with the answer to a few questions. What are the biggest problems in consumers’ lives today? What can your brand do to solve them over and above delivering the physical and emotional benefits of your product? What societal tension can your brand credibly address and resolve? What is your brand’s bigger purpose?

Adopting a stance of consumer empowerment rather than just consumer engagement helps you go beyond just ads. It converts opportunities to communicate into opportunities to act. Brands are remembered for their actions, not only their campaigns.

Purpose benefits consumers and brands

Unilever’s Project Shakti created many women entrepreneurs by appointing them as retailers for their products in rural areas where the company’s traditional distribution was not viable.

Apart from positively impacting women’s lives, the company was also able to gain a lot of media coverage and became the subject of discussion among stakeholders and the public – a benefit that money can’t buy.

Consumers are less likely to tune out actions that relate to improving their lives. They will be more receptive to messages addressing real-life topics rather than simply selling products. A newspaper that advocated for a “No TV Day” engaged with audiences by taking on a consumer concern about excessive TV watching. The idea also was a clever way for the newspaper to take a dig at its biggest competitive threat at the time, TV news.

An empowerment approach can dramatically raise public awareness not only of the brand, but also of important social issues. By building wheelchair ramps, a leading floor tile brand advocated for equal access. Similarly, the ads of a leading laundry detergent made the case for a more equitable sharing of household work between men and women.

Competitors would be loath to undertake a similar exercise. This presents an opportunity to strongly “own” a particular concept in the consumer mind. So when Dove talks about “real beauty” and delivers on by it creating a program of self-esteem education for young people, it is difficult for a competitor to even attempt something similar.

Taking up a particular cause also helps to create a multiplier effect as the campaign rolls out over time, across different geographies and to additional audiences. 

Actions for advancing consumer empowerment


A sincere, empathetic attempt will pay off in the longer term. In contrast, consumers can smell an insincere effort from a mile away.


Success strongly depends on how deeply the initiative is able to touch the consumer.


An empowerment campaign could remain just an advertising message, but if you effect change in real life you’ll be more successful.


While there is no dearth of problems to be solved or lives to be touched, it is best to focus on a purpose that connects with your brand.


The right audience appeal will build grass-roots support to ensure that the initiative gains a life of its own.


It’s important to measure the success of consumer empowerment initiatives, but it requires more than metrics commonly used for sales or brand awareness.