Sharat Verma, chief marketing officer, P&G India, and vice president, Fabric Care, P&G IndiaS
ince 2015, Ariel, the detergent brand from the stable of P&G, in India has been asking some uncomfortable questions. Why can’t men do the laundry? Why are parents not teaching their sons to pick up the laundry basket? Why can’t men see laundry as an equal household chore? Seven years into the movement and several awards and debates later, Ariel has sent out an open letter to brands, media partners, and content creators to deliberately focus on the way women are being portrayed in advertising today. Ariel is calling this an invitation to partner with like-minded organisations and creators who believe in equality and the power of representation, to make the future more equal.
In an exclusive interview with Storyboard18, Sharat Verma, chief marketing officer, P&G India, and vice president, Fabric Care, P&G India, shares what the #ShareTheLoad movement has taught him as a marketer, the creative challenges of taking forward a purpose-driven campaign, and more. He also talks about Ariel’s NFTs play. Yes, you heard that right. Edited excerpts.Q. Why did you think an open letter to all the stakeholders of the advertising industry was needed at this point?
We are in this movement since 2015. This time around, the spotlight is on the unconscious bias that comes in the way of men taking up more household responsibilities. The idea this year is that if men can share the load equally with other men, then why not with their wives? We know from data that when we see each other as equal, we share equally. Over the years, we have identified multiple conversations and created imagery to bring in change faster. We think these conversations have had the power to create realisation. We are all influenced by what we see and hear around us. That’s why imagery has the power to dismantle biases and stereotypes. The inappropriate portrayal of women can reinforce bias without us even realising it. Whereas gender-neutral, progressive, and authentic imagery makes a huge difference and helps in shattering these stereotypes to make people introspect.
Content creators can help us accelerate this change. Our open letter is also to all the like-minded brands to collaborate with us to create an equal world
. The letter addresses the vicious circle of imagery in society. We will continue to imitate each other unless an effort is made to break the cycle. Things are changing but more can be done as an industry to move on from decades of conditioning.Q. Recently, Ariel forayed into non-fungible tokens (NFT). The reach of NFT is still niche in the country. What was the objective behind this?
Our NFTs are aimed at creating the positive imagery that we want in the world. We want to promote authentic representation through pop culture. We collaborated with NFT artists
for their interpretation of the movement. This partnership is in direction of bringing in nuanced changes and staying relevant. We want future generations to see things from the right lens, especially through advertising.Q. Over the years, have there been any challenges while diversifying the #ShareTheLoad movement?
The core idea has remained consistent—how can we give men one more reason to share the load
. That was the brief to our creative partner (BBDO India) on Day One. Honestly, since then, we haven’t briefed them. Mainly because we are in the movement together for seven years. What is important is addressing it by aligning it to the context.
Brand movements are like having close conversations with the consumers. That’s why it is essential to listen and understand where people are coming from before you respond and take your argument forward. They may not always agree with you, but you have to continue the dialogue constructively. There is no creative formula. We just keep our eyes and ears open to create openness and action.
Josy (chairman and chief creative officer of BBDO India) always says, "Context is more important than content". The world has changed around us since we started the movement, however, our focus is to understand the barriers to change, to spark newer conversations. The movement is about nuances that we gather over the years. It’s all about amplifying, curating, and driving conversations. Today, we have qualitative research and quantitative understanding to pick and choose the right style of storytelling.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, it will take an average of 135.6 years for women and men to reach parity on a range of factors
worldwide. That means we will not see the changes we want to bring in our lifetime. We are definitely seeing some changes. Our campaigns are attempting to show the realities of today, which is moving in the right direction. However, men are still coming from the mindset that I need to help the woman/women in the house. Unless men think it’s a joint responsibility, we are still going to be far away from the purpose of the movement.Q. As a marketer, what is the biggest lesson you have learnt from Share The Load movement?
Purpose cannot be seasonal. It is a long-term journey. There are so many things you can lend your voice to. It is important to stay relevant and relentless. Social and cultural change takes time. Brands can execute social campaigns as much as they want, but it is difficult to advocate the same cause and weave the same conversation year after year. However, the reward of doing all this is exponential. It is satisfying to see your work making large societal changes.