Walking the thin line between propaganda & communication

Starting my Monday morning on my way to work, I am hit by the advertisement that screams ‘VEDAS’, a social initiative launched by the Sahara Group. The sheer scale of the ad and the content took me aback.

Sahara Vedas (2)

Let me explain why –

Full page colour ads released across main line publications would have at least cost the group Rs 15-20 crs.

Whereas the adoption of villages is a brilliant idea, the schedule and the expanse of this project along with the time frame is simply not practical. Let me illustrate – How do you decide the criteria about adoption of villages out of the 6 lakh villages.

 UP State alone comprises close to a lakh and eight thousand villages. Out of this only 20,000 villages have a population of 2000plus and that can talk about electricity, some element of infrastructure, patchy primary education and health infrastructure, however, greater mobile density.

So I started looking at criteria’s for consideration other than population strata for the chosen 1000 villages under VEDAS. Didn’t find a word in the advertisement or on the net.

The trend of making announcements without measures is right thru the advertisement or e.g.

The ad goes on to illustrate a host of subjects such as Agriculture Yield without measurable.Education which is hinting at distance learning and physical centres.  And I am scratching my head thinking about the lack of broadband connectivity within the states I mean has someone looked at beyond the KAVAL towns and Gorakhpur? And here Sahara is talking about rural interiors!!!!!

And the floral content continues we read about Sanitation, Safe Drinking Water, JoyfulEducation, Safe Migration…………….

It is the bottom of the ad that makes it very interesting and I said “Ah Hah”, I figured is this about launching Q shops??!

By now the Cause Marketing Evangelist in me was furiously searching the net for more information on my phone and when I looked for Sahara I started coming across –

  • SEBI freezes bank accounts of two Sahara group cos”,(To read more click on the link)  http://bit.ly/VfR5ZO
  • “SEBI asks Sahara head Subrata Roy to provide asset details, bank accounts, tax returns”,  (To read more click the on link) http://bit.ly/14YWhHf 

 This led me to link this to series of advertisement released by the Sahara Group as a media reply …….And it seemed too uncanny a coincidence even to daft old me to understand the real  intent behind this hurried CSR announcement.

 And Full Page advertisement as a format of conversation with Government, Financial Institutions, and SEBI…And us audience at large reminded me of RELIANCE-INDIAN EXPRESS thriller.

Bottom line – Why does media have to be used to announce such plans unless there is an ulterior motive. It appears that the advice given to the Group is to use CSR as a tool to counter their tarnished image has backfired.

Here are few of my suggestions:

To begin with Social Responsibility needs creditable gestation period and sustenance for it to make a difference to the organisation’s eco system, its stakeholders, consumers and public at large.

This is a cardinal rule for all corporates who are considering CSR in a considerable manner. What I am proposing is build your creditability quietly with patience and let the world talk about it.

 Scale of announcement is a reflection of individual ego which has very little to do in the Social Responsibility area because CSR begins when you align your business interests to the society at large, leaving aside your ego. 

 Should you still want to go ahead and make an announcement or enchanting TV commercials, then select your medium carefully?Your medium, your choice of words, your timing………should be very carefully selected. Importantly who is delivering this for?

Describe measures, ensure that there will be sustainability reports and create a third part Audit Team of eminent people, including local leader and beneficiaries in the ECO system around the project for regular reporting and update.

In the VEDAS what is perhaps a gem of an idea, at the onset a lot seems to have gone totally out of control…It has become a classic case study for me of what not to do when I speak out at my subsequent sessions as a Cause Marketing Evangelist.

But then again it’s never too late to put this in order …Is the VEDAS team listening?

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