There is a great deal of hue and cry about Deepika Padukone’s recent visit to JNU during her movie promotional tour to Delhi. There are two major opposing views have cropped up on this matter. First, many people think that Deepika Padukone has engaged in a publicity stunt to promote her film. Second, many people also think that she has offered support to a cause. Therefore, it would be interesting to examine which view is perceived genuine, and if such actions are unethical.
Cause-related marketing (CRM) is a marketing strategy that involves an individuals and organizations getting associated with a social and charitable causes to augment sales and profits of a product or services while simultaneously furthering the social and charitable cause. Given that individuals and organization benefit commercially from such strategy, the norm is that the individuals and organizations donate the majority of the commercial gains from cause-related marketing. Also, the individuals and organizations engaging in usually remain committed to cause and its activities for a reasonable period of time. Such cause-related marketing is both ethical and legal.
Overall, the three conditions for a marketing strategy to be cause-related marketing are 1) sharing of commercial gains 2) long term commitment 3) Involvement in cause-related activities. If the individual or organization do not meet the three aforementioned conditions, it may have engaged in publicity stunt which is definitely unethical and borderline illegal if there is a breach of trust as it may be unfair to the cause and supporters of the cause. For instance, in Hollywood context, Leonardo DiCaprio engages in cause-related marketing on environmental issues and Meryl Streep does that for reproductive rights. In Bollywood context, Salman Khan engages in cause-related marketing for underprivileged, and Dia Mirza engages in cause-related marketing for animal welfare.
Thus, if Deepika Padukone’s actions do not meet three aforementioned criteria, then she may have engaged in publicity stunt. This view was supported by a survey conducted across 502 respondents, of which 89% felt that Deepika did a PR stunt to promote her film. Consequently, for Deepika to demonstrate that she engaged in CRM, she must share commercial gains from her movie, remain committed to the cause, and show continued participation in the activities of the cause for reasonable time period. However, if Deepika does not do that, she will have engaged in completely unethical and even borderline illegal activity. Given that in most countries law requires all the claims made during promotion of to be truthful, not deceptive and fair.
Publicity stunts have been employed by several individuals and organization as they garner attention, which money simply cannot buy. A PR stunt can bring large scale media coverage, add to brand equity, and fight completion but it can also results in mistrust, lawsuits, negative image, and bans. PR stunt is usually employed in specific situations by a weak brand to confront a strong brand because conventional marketing will simply not be able impact as much. Therefore, the PR firm employed by Deepika Padukone must have carefully evaluated the pros and cons before her entry into JNU.
Films are very important medium of promoting a certain type of life, attitudes, beliefs, and values. USA has successfully used its film industry as soft power to markets it’s life, attitudes, beliefs, and value system globally. They even framed laws to protect the American way of life. Starting with the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1940s, to senate committee in 1950s, to creating a Hollywood blacklist of all those writers, filmmakers, producers, actors etc. who were allegedly involved in anti-American propaganda. Subversive Activities Control Board (SACB) was constituted specifically prevent communists in USA. I am not sure whether the actions of the US government were right or wrong but I am sure that they felt very strongly about the influence of the movie on American way of life. US government remained deeply involved in the conduct of Hollywood community from 1940s till 1960s, thereby directly shaping the overarching direction of Hollywood. It is also interesting to note here that nearly all major actors in 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s had served in military. Similarly, Indian film industry has considerable influence on Indian way of life. However, Indian government has rarely interfered with the larger aspects of how Bollywood community conducts itself. Bollywood community has largely self-regulated itself. There is negligible regulation in marketing of films. Many even contend that several large filmmakers engage in anti-competitive practices by blocking more than 50% of the available screens. Hence, not only do several filmmakers monopolize screening but they also engage in PR stunts to trick the audience.
In recent times, we have witnessed several film celebrities espousing, causing opportunistically for promoting their films and leveraging on the themes of their films. For instance, celebrities who have success in a social issue theme film start projecting themselves as ambassadors of social issue without ever engaging in efforts to actually participate in any activities, profit sharing, foundations, charities, donations etc related to that social issue. Instances are galore, where celebrities start sharing stories related to depression, suicide, abuse, etc. around the release of their films, thus espousing a cause opportunistically and rarely following up on it. The aforementioned instances are tantamount to opportunism plausibly evidence of low ethical standards in marketing of films by Bollywood.
Therefore, the critical question for India today is whether film marketing can remain self-regulated or a legislation is needed to revive ethical practices.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.