Before the concept of brand purpose became popular, Tata Tea immortalised itself with the message “Jaago Re” or “Wake up”. Over the years, the Jaago Re cause marketing initiative has helped the Tata Tea brand to stay relevant by championing various causes. Puneet Das, senior vice-president, marketing – beverages, Tata Consumer Products, tells WARC how standing up for a cause must go beyond just communicating it in order to be meaningful.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on how brands in India can take a stand and communicate effectively. Read more

Key insights

  • Understand the issues through social listening and focus on what you as a company and individual can do about a cause relevant to your brand’s purpose.
  • With many asking brands what they stand for and how they are making society better, brands need think about what they say to their consumers.
  • Indian consumers’ connection with a brand becomes stronger when they understand the brand’s philosophy, regardless of brand stature.
How do you define brand activism in relation to brand purpose and how does this manifest in the work that you do?

Purpose is the reason why you exist as a brand or a company beyond profits. It is the ethos that you believe in. And activism is what you are doing about it – the actions that you are taking to act on that purpose.

For us, Jaago Re or Wake up has been that clarion call for social awakening. In 2007-08, Jaago Re came to fore. We took a humble cup of tea that stands for waking up and took that ethos to awakening – our awakening and society’s, a better society for a better generation. Through Jaago Re, we are acting on it.

It’s not just about sending out the message that we do good; we’ve also taken up themes and inspired individuals to take action, to awaken, and also as a company, to walk the talk.

To me, that is brand purpose and activism working together.

Jaago Re is a phrase that lends itself to just about everything. Share with us some of Jaago Re’s success stories.

Jaago Re is broad enough to keep it contemporary every year or to make it long-lasting. At the same time, what you need to do is understand the pulse of the society or country at that particular point in time and see what the need of the hour is.

When it started in 2007-08, the theme that was chosen was elections and a lot of effort was put in to make people aware of their right to vote and ensuring they go out and cast that vote. It wasn’t just about the messaging but also about enabling people to vote. A famous ad of ours said, “If you’re not voting, you’re sleeping”. A website was launched where people could register themselves as voters. A lot of this was targeted towards first-time voters.

Post that, the theme was corruption. The messaging has never been about pointing fingers at anyone. It is about looking within and asking what we, as individuals, can do. We believe it is about solving the problem and not taking a jab at anybody.

In 2013, it was about the “Power of 49” and it centred on women’s empowerment.

Those were some of the key milestone campaigns.

In 2017, we upped the ante saying, it’s not just about activism: it’s about pre-activism. You shouldn’t react or ask about changes when issues crop up but attack at the grassroots level so things don’t become issues. It was a fundamental shift in approach. We took up themes like women’s safety and building up India as a sports nation.

The last one that we did was during COVID. There was a lot of talk about washing hands, taking care and being safe but we realised that people who were the most vulnerable were senior citizens. Nobody was talking about them in a focussed manner. So, we came up with Iss Baar Badho Ke Liye Jaago Re (This time wake up for the elders) where we explained how to take care of senior citizens. We tied up with NGOs, Help Age India, and had a counselling helpline to help the elderly.

So, Jaago Re is broad enough but at the same time, you pick up the pulse of the country. That makes you relevant and more contemporary, and most importantly, it is that particular problem we solve at that particular time.

Puneet Das, SVP, Tata Consumer Products

How did Tata Tea identify what it needed to stand for?

We do social listening and so we understand the issues that are happening. Iss Baar Badho Ke Liye Jaago Re was a result of that.

In this digital age, a lot of these conversations are happening around us. The idea is to focus and see how you can separate the noise from the actual issue, and what you as a company and individual can do about it.

Iss Baar Badho Ke Liye Jaago Re wasn’t a planned campaign, it wasn’t part of the brand calendar. We picked up conversations from social chatter and people reaching out for help on our WhatsApp groups. We realised this was an issue to talk about. We also asked individuals what they could do to solve it. As a company, we did all we could.

As a part of the Tata Group, we stand for taking care of society while running a business. At Tata Consumer Products, our ethos is “for the better” – to make better products that make life better. So Jaago Re fits well with that ethos. It’s about making society better. It’s a perfect connect.

How does the team define success in this case?

When we are looking at the brand signature and the Tata Tea equity, one of the things that comes up is how people trust you. They see you as someone who is authentic, walking the talk and not gimmicky. They know that when they choose a Tata Tea product, there is something genuine and authentic about it.

As far as success goes, it can’t be measured in terms of market share or equity scores. It can be measured more in terms of longevity and your brand equity.

A lot of this is not from a marketing point of view because it’s not a marketing campaign but a genuine social campaign. If you look at our Jaago Re campaigns, you will notice that the product isn’t there at the forefront although the philosophy is.

But then, the line has become synonymous with the product; you don’t even have to put it up front.

That is what people have realised over the years. And kudos to the teams in the past and their legacy. It is a legacy we cherish and every team carries it on. It’s the consistency and it’s not gimmicky or a one-off thing.

People see it’s genuine and consistent. There is a positive intent to make a change on our part and people reward us with their trust.

How important is it for a brand to be sympathetic to social issues? And how should it approach communicating this?

Today, everyone, especially the millennials, is expecting brands to have a point of view on issues. They are asking, “What do you stand for besides making money and how are you making society better”? Brands really need to sit back and think about what they say to their consumers regarding what they stand for.

What you don’t say is also very important. It should not look forced. Ideally, it should be a part of your domain expertise.

As a brand championing a cause, how do you balance between being relevant and genuine, without being gimmicky or looking opportunistic?

Before making certain decisions, we always ask ourselves: Am I doing it to stay in the news or because it is the need of the hour?

These days, there is a lot of pressure on brands to be present at the right moment. Moment marketing has become a big thing. Sometimes, brands are pressured to participate in something. At such times, one needs to step back and see what the motive is: Is it to make a positive impact on society or to leverage on the hype that is created? When the answer is the latter, you should not! People will see through it.

For example, in our Iss Baar Badho Ke Liye Jaago Re campaign, we realised that as individuals, we want someone to help them – the elders – genuinely. We approached it from that spirit and voice so that it relates to even people like us.

The other example is a tea brand of ours in Tamil Nadu called Tata Tea Chakra Gold. A significant part of its sales comes from hot tea shops. During the lockdown, we found that the out-of-home channel was disrupted and the hot tea shops were suffering. We realised it was time to help the tea shop owners. We asked consumers to buy a virtual cup of tea. As a company, we committed to a certain number of cups. All the money went to those hot tea shops. It was a genuine effort to make a difference and not just leveraging for news.

If you feel you can make a genuine difference by either inspiring people or by doing it yourself, people will see. They will understand you're being authentic.

In the current scenario, is it getting difficult for brands to stand for something when you can’t please everyone? Are marketers walking on eggshells all the time?

A bit of wariness might have crept in. It’s about the issues you choose. If you are focussed on elevating society, there is not going to be much of an issue at all.

People recognise social issues. For us, we do not see that as a problem. Whether it is about helping senior citizens or hot tea shops, you are making a difference, which everyone acknowledges.

As long as you are clear about what your philosophy is and you have been displaying it consistently, most times you will get it right. Of course 1.3 billion people have 1.3 billion opinions. You will never be able to please everyone. If you’re making a fundamental difference, as opposed to just giving your point of view, people see that. Points of views create debates but if you’re working on the ground and doing what you believe in, it isn’t an issue.

What role does the marketing function play in ensuring consistent progress to shore up the business case and a programme’s longevity?

They need to see the end objective. You need to put the consumer at the centre and understand how the purpose is benefiting the consumer, the audience or the section for whom the purpose is met and not just the brand. The brand needs to take a back seat and the philosophy must be up front. That is what will give longevity and consistency.

It is said that not all brands need to have a social purpose and such endeavours should be undertaken only when a brand is in a position of strength. Would you agree?

I fully endorse that every business should start by answering the questions: what are we in the business of and why do we exist? Gone are the days of challenger and leader brands. A few years back, answering these questions could have been a luxury but today, it is an expectation.

People understand a product’s rational benefits but the connection becomes stronger when they understand the philosophy of the brand and what it stands for. They are willing to help brands that are behind in terms of stature if they connect with the brand philosophy and know that the brand’s heart is in the right place.

So you don’t believe that a brand needs to be an established one to take up activism?

Maybe a few years back but today, it is expected of every brand. What I believe is that the causes brands take up should be ingrained somewhere in what is core to them, at least to the category or the immediate domain. It shouldn’t be something far off. Then it’s CSR. That’s the difference between CSR and a brand cause.