Recently, Akshay Kumar was seen on stage completing an impressive 21 KM walk on a treadmill during an event organised by Harpic India and Network18. While Kumar, a known fitness junkie, hardly seemed to break a sweat completing the walk, it’s the ‘why’ behind this entire gimmick that’s problematic.
Kumar took on this 21 KM-challenge as a part of Network18’ ‘Mission Paani Waterthon’. The entire stunt looked to highlight the horrifying plight of women in rural India who have to walk long distances to simply fetch water for their homes, daily. Further, Kumar even went on to list quite a few ways for all and sundry to save water – offering guests half a glass instead of a whole glass, installations of taps over urinals and installations of sensors that help control wastage.
Leaving aside the fact that Kumar had no heavy vessels of water to lug for the 21 KMs of his pleasant walk, and was probably wearing the most comfortable walking shoes in his arsenal as he jauntily trotted along in an AC auditorium, the entire initiative speaks volumes about brands and marketers’ lip-service to causes they don’t truly believe in.
Speaking of installing technology like sensors in an event that also aims to highlight the basic lack of human dignity in terms of low access to water is also quite frankly, shocking. Instances like this event are also demonstrative of how more often than not, the truly privileged are unable to get under the skin of a problem, empathise and relate to it, resulting in tone-deafness of gargantuan proportions. Much like this one.
We’ve seen this happen before: brands going all guns blazing to support a cause to find a larger, loose connect that fits well with the product proposition, and then roll out their communication. The problem with this approach is the blatant hypocrisy: where the leveraging of real-life survival problems of a large chunk of the population to sell products is on full display.
However, being this tone-deaf in 2021 is surprising, considering the sheer amount of people that are involved to pull off an activation of this scale. Did no one notice anything amiss at all?
It is also telling, then, of how advertising and marketing, collectively, are so cut off from the ground realities of the masses they are targetting. It’s about time the people behind this business put themselves in TG's shoes to truly understand their plight or just blatantly sell products. It’s this facade of caring in between that is deeply disturbing.
(The author is a contributing consultant to Campaign India.)