#TouchOfCare: On March 29th, 2017, a new video advertisement promoting the Vicks brand created a sensation by striking the most sensitive nerve of the Indian population. Created by Publicis Singapore, the video, spanning 3 and a half minutes, tells the story of a young girl Gayatri who is on her way to boarding school. 10 years ago, Gayatri lost her mother to a life-threatening disease and was later adopted by Gauri Sawant. Being thrown out of the house at the age of 18, Gauri has seen her own share of struggles in life before she met Gayatri. Gauri raised Gayatri as her own child, pampering and looking after her all along. Gayatri recalls a memory of being ill and Gauri using Vicks to treat her and spending the night by her side. In a span of 10 years, the two grew closer to each other, surpassing the mother-daughter relationship and becoming best friends. Gauri wants Gayatri to become a doctor. But Gayatri aspires to become a lawyer, for her mother Gauri, a transgender woman.
The ad has received 10 million views on YouTube and has been one of the most touching ads to go viral in recent times. This video has been a part of numerous “Try not to cry” challenges as well. A guaranteed tear-jerker for most who have watched it, the video still continues to be shared on social media more than a year after it was released.
Vicks as a Brand: For generations, Vicks has been a part of nearly every household around the world. It’s an easily available over-the-counter medicine for mild fevers, cold and cough. Vicks VapoRub ointment, along with other products under the brand, basks in the glory of a 96.5 market share in the “VapoRub” segment. What began as an innovative new home remedy christened Vick’s Magic Croup Salve in 1905, by pharmacist Lunsford Richardson and Dr. Joshua Vick, was later rebranded as Vicks VapoRub in 1912. In 1985, American multi-national consumer products manufacturer Procter and Gamble Co. bought the Vicks brand and has been manufacturing and distributing its products worldwide. Vicks VapoRub can be found among the common medicines in a large number of households and even in travel kits of people all around the world.
“Mother”: With a brand image and a market share as immense as it has, why Vicks need to invest in such an emotionally charged advertisement to grab the attention of the masses? The answer lies in the very heart of Indian values and culture. In a typical Indian family, the father is the head of the family, following a patriarchal family system for centuries. But it’s the mother who breathes life into the family. A mother is someone who has borne intense pain to give birth to her children and raise them. And she continues to do so for the rest of her life even after her children have grown up and are capable of taking care of themselves. She spends sleepless nights when one of her children falls ill. Right from working and earning to doing household chores like cooking, a mother always does everything keeping her children in mind. For a majority of children in India, as well as a fair share of adults, there’s no worry in the world that a mother’s touch and soothing words cannot cure. Through this ad, Vicks and Publicis Singapore emphasize this very sentiment which has been the cornerstone of Indian families for ages. And Vicks VapoRub has been one of the instruments of motherly love as most Indians have a memory of falling ill and their mothers applying Vicks VapoRub on their chest, nose and foreheads before they drift off into a peaceful sleep for the night. And the ad reinforces this role that the product plays. But the story does not end there.
Discrimination against Transgender Women: India has a population of roughly 4.9 lakh transgender women. Discrimination against them is on the rise. Every day, they are subject to harassment in public, often even of a sexual nature. They are despised and looked down on by “normal” people as an abomination. There have been cases of doctors refusing to examine transgender women or trying to molest them during an examination. Humiliation has become a daily routine in their lives. In recent times, a number of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Institutions such as Sahodari Foundation and The Transgender Welfare Society have taken the bold initiative to stand up for transgender rights and welfare. But a lot more needs to be done so that the discrimination is curbed and transgender women are treated and respected as a member of the society that we all are a part of.
Marketing beyond Product Promotion: With subtle product placement in the video, the Vicks VapoRub ad calls the attention of the vast Indian society towards the concerns of the neglected and harassed transgender women of India. It showcases the capability and calibre of such a woman in raising and taking care of a girl child all by herself through the true story of Gauri Sawant and her daughter Gayatri. The adoption law makes it difficult for a single man or a woman to adopt a child. And it makes it much more difficult for a transgender woman to do so, owing to societal norms and taboos. Gauri Sawant sets an example by fighting all odds in making the right choices in life with pride.
Watch the heart-touching video here:
Author: Bruno Nellissery
PGPM, Class of 2019, Great Lakes, Gurgaon