Geometry Encompass CEO Sukrit Singh explains the thinking behind the Brooke Bond Red Label campaign that dared to address one of the nation’s most sensitive subjects
Religion isn’t an easy subject for a brand to join the conversation about in any country, let alone in India, where that conversation is particularly loaded with historical baggage and complexity. But that didn’t stop Mumbai creative agency Geometry Encompass from writing a script directly addressing the divide between Hindus and Muslims for Unilever tea brand Brooke Bond Red Label, to mark the Hindu Ganesh Chaturthi festival.
Inspired by real-life stories and crafted with the utmost respect and sensitivity towards both religions, the touching film ‘Shree Ganesh Apnepan Ka’ (‘Beginning of Togetherness’) tells the tale of two men setting aside what divides them in favour of the humanity that unites them (and tea). And it’s captured the Indian imagination, particularly among the youth.
LBB’s Laura Swinton asked Geometry Encompass chief executive officer Sukrit Singh to explain the decisions they made in devising the film.
LBB> What was the initial conversation with the client that led to this idea? What were they trying to solve or communicate?
Sukrit Singh> We’ve been working with Unilever for over two decades and we understand the brand ethos. We are a medium-agnostic agency, which helps us sustain a perpetual dialogue with our clients on ideas and how can we make the brand more relevant to our consumers. For Brooke Bond Red Label specifically, we have been constantly following all their great campaigns that break uncommon ground by carrying forward its ‘Swad Apnepan Ka’ (‘Taste of Togetherness’) proposition. This led us to develop an occasion-specific campaign. There was no formal brief, this was a pro-active idea.
LBB> The idea is about overcoming differences and bringing people together… but why was religion the particular difference you wanted to address?
Sukrit> Religion was never a conscious choice. Today, brands must tell stories that resonate with real life and encourage relevant, meaningful conversations. We are always on the lookout for worthy stories for our clients, and in this perpetual process, our team brought forth their observation that in some parts of India, the idols of Lord Ganesha are made by skilled Muslim craftsman, and this observation gave us our story. Will a young devout Hindu man knowingly buy an idol from a Muslim craftsman? Will he break his prejudices, open himself and make a new beginning?
Inclusiveness is at the core of Brooke Bond Red Label brand purpose. Prejudices do come in the way of inclusiveness and questioning some of our deep-rooted prejudices can pave the way for a more inclusive society.
LBB> Unilever has been working hard across the globe to ‘unstereotype’ its marketing – how has that changed the sort of conversations you’ve been having with the client and the way you’ve worked together on the work you create?
Sukrit> Unilever is globally known for its path-breaking marketing campaigns and Hindustan Unilever (HUL), the local unit, has tread the same trail in India with its innovative and contextual campaigns that have brand purpose at the core. So, the conversation is now to strengthen the brand purpose, resonate with consumers and build brand love.
As one of Unilever’s long-standing partners, we are helping Unilever brands reach Indian households and become more relevant to Indian audiences. The enthusiasm and belief of our client partner empowers us to deliver topical, stimulating campaigns, year on year, be it through rural initiatives or content marketing.
LBB> Was there a particular demographic or part of society that you were trying to reach?
Sukrit> Not a particular demographic, but in India, there is a deep-rooted prejudice in the name of caste, culture and religion. Our attempt was to address that prejudice.
LBB> Can you give some context for our non-Indian readers about why this conversation around Hinduism and Islam in India is such an interesting one for a brand to address?
Sukrit> India is an exceptionally devout country. We are extremely proud of its cultural diversity, and every festival is celebrated by every community with the same enthusiasm.
The campaign is inspired by real-life stories and focuses on Hindu-Muslim brotherhood. It encourages everyone to break open the barriers of perceptions and come together.
LBB> Curiously, I was talking to one of my friends who is a creative director in India and she was saying that the issue of the underrepresentation of Muslim people in ads (or maybe just the unconscious assumption that everyone in advertising is Hindu) is a bit of a blind spot for Indian advertising. What are your thoughts on this? Is it an important issue to address?
Sukrit> We can’t comment about others but for us, honestly, we want to focus on telling a great story using the best medium possible and staying true to brand purpose. Any sort of conscious socio-economic classification comes only if it adds to the conversation.
LBB> It felt particularly brave that not only was the ad addressing difficulty between religions, the story took place in a ‘sacred’ context – surrounded by religious icons. It seems like that really elevates and emphasises the point. Was that always part of the idea or did that crop up later in the process? How do you think it gives the message more impact?
Sukrit> Context is as important as the content. Our objective with this film was to make people question their own deep-rooted prejudices. Not that the space is not explored by other brands in the past but it was important for us to tackle the problem at its root. That’s how the ‘sacred’ context came into play. Ganesh Chaturthi is one of India’s most loved festivals, and we saw a great similarity between the brand ethos, and the origin of the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi – togetherness. This gave the narrative a lot more weight. ‘Shree Ganesh Apnepan Ka’, the name of the campaign, translates to ‘Beginning of Togetherness’.
LBB> What was the brand’s response when you first came to them with this idea?
Sukrit> They absolutely loved the premise and helped us strengthen it.
LBB> I was chatting with someone who works in TV and film in India and he was saying that he thought that advertising was far more progressive than other parts of the media in terms of the content it produces and openness. Is that something you’ve experienced? Does the advertising industry in India have a duty or responsibility to tackle conversations like gender equality, religious discrimination etc.?
Sukrit> Advertising has changed drastically in last few years. I can only talk about our industry which is now breaking barriers, asking uncomfortable questions and becoming a mirror to society. Brooke Bond Red Label has been one of the flag-bearers of this change with campaigns addressing live-in relationships or the struggles trans people face, for instance with the 6-Pack Band
, a musical group of transgender performers. I don’t know if it’s a responsibility but the consumers want brands to stand for something. And it’s a brand’s responsibility to listen.
LBB> The film has had a massive response in India - has it been divisive or is it largely supported?
Sukrit> Religion is an extremely sensitive topic for any brand, however, the script was phrased to respect both religions and keep in mind a cultural-balance. As a result, people from across the spectrum of society have supported the film. Popular Facebook pages are sharing the film
and it has had half a million organic views. A lot of social media influencers
are using this video to start a conversation on their own social media pages.
LBB> And how has it been for you to see the responses from the public? Any responses that have particularly moved you personally?
Sukrit> Our client and us, we are truly thrilled and humbled by the response the film has received. While numbers are important, many young Indians have shared the film calling it a beacon of hope and unity. We couldn’t be happier.