As India grapples with one of the worst crises in its history, WARC’s principal consultant Kunal Sinha asks why corporate India has not taken responsibility for the country’s needs.

In the wake of India’s worst ever public health crisis, the response of most corporates – along with that of the media and advertising industry – has been, to say the least, disastrous. 

It seems that they are deaf to the needs of the people, completely oblivious to the fact that they need to step up, change their game and become part of the solution.

Consider the defence put up by a leading IT industry head honcho when asked how his company might have helped by creating an app to help desperate relatives of someone in need of hospitalisation, oxygen and ventilators. He merely responded that a student had created such an app in Hyderabad. 

In West Bengal, Carrd is a crowdsourced platform that updates and verifies medical resources. It was created by one person – Meghomala Bhowmik. Right now, the CoWin app doesn’t work for most. Arogya Setu, does it do anything at all? What use are our combined and individual IT capabilities if they can’t create a solution that works? 

Consider the response of so many in the corporate and startup ecosystem to the question of whether the Indian Premier League (IPL) should be allowed to go on. A large number are convinced that the matches are the only opportunity for positive engagement for viewers, that they are a stressbuster, that they provide employment to groundsmen, pitch curators, past-their-prime commentators et al, and that the players are in a bubble and endanger no one. 

Meanwhile, food delivery brands urge you to flood Instagram with your favourite post-match, during-match snacks because going hungry is not an option for couch potatoes. For advertisers, their agencies and the media, the show must go on even as the sirens of ambulances and the wailing of the grieving get louder. IPL is a sorry substitute for mental health counsellors, who are desperately needed in this country right now. 

Consider the preoccupation of the advertising agency creatives, suits and planners with Rahul Dravid’s flip into an angry middle-aged man in a CRED ad, and their wonder at how another completely unknown brand was able to spoof it in three to days. 

Is that all that matters to people who believe they are such a creative breed, on the verge of global domination, yet cannot come up with one single idea that can solve any one of the multiple crises facing us all, them included? 

Or are some of them too caught up creating slogans for their political party clients (this is the season for that business after all) to be able to pivot and apply all their fancy behavioral economics models to matters of life and death? Purveyors of brand purpose, disruption, big ideals, black sheep thinking – where are you? In case you didn’t notice, the biggest ad in today’s Times of India is an obituary for Jagdish Khattar, former MD of Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest car manufacturer. Isn't that sobering? 

We are seeing a shocking silence of the lambs. Cowed by a domineering political class, the comfort of WFH and traffic avoidance, turning the volume down on the screaming and shouting and accusations on our TV screens, unsure if the next WhatsApp forwarded to you is fake or fact.

Is it time to throw up our hands and give up? Or feel the “positivity” from the slight dip in cases in a bubble called Mumbai? That would entirely defeat the purpose of this rant.

We have to find solutions. Brands and agencies and tech have to come together, identify the main challenges, divvy up the work and get down to solving some of these problems. 

There are challenges of shortage, perhaps down to unequal distribution. How can that be automated, linked up and made accessible? If trains and airplanes can be mobilised overnight to move oxygen tankers, so can essentials – medical or otherwise. 

As vaccination is opened up to people above 18, we know that there will be queues – long ones, putting many who had stayed home at risk. How can vaccination be decentralised and how can waiting times (hence exposure) be minimised? Who are the players that must be mobilised, apart from private enterprise selfishly saying they will vaccinate their own employees? 

There are agencies that have proudly announced their healthcare practices in recent years. If this isn’t a time to put them in the driver’s seat and enable solutions, then what is?

Stay safe, stay sane.