Why every brand must pass ‘seatbelt test’

By Shivaji Dasgupta
GURUGRAM: In the skies of India, Vistara is the only airline which insists that my four-year-old son fastens his seatbelt. The others are content with paying lip service. Such attention to safety is as significant as the luxury frills in curating its reputation. Because it often takes integrity and skill to make customers behave responsibly when the is not swayed by frequent outbursts of annoyance or a loss in revenue.

Every brand experience is created by the active collaboration of user and provider, and sealed by the convergence of desire and delivery. In this scenario, responsible consumption must become the self-imposed agenda of the brand owner, and not determined only by the statutory regulator, business policy or self-control. This is especially relevant in our age of modern-day brand-consumer relationships, which are based on sustainable partnerships and not just temporary transactions.

In categories like alcohol, brands urge regulated usage due to governmental decree but without such enforcement, owners consider such proactive limiting to be against business interests. This is exactly why QSR (quick service restaurant) chains will not issue anti-obesity portion warnings, or automakers will not urge restriction of speed limits in Indian conditions, thus squandering valuable lives in the process.

Which is where the Seatbelt Test comes in. This is a set of actions taken by a brand to make us consume responsibly, for the sake of safety, health and societal equilibrium. Some of these may be influenced by regulation and most others by perceived understanding. In each case, the brand is demonstrating maturity, knowing full well it might face a short-term setback, whether in , output or satisfaction.

This is the first and most underrated pillar of corporate social responsibility because the primary recipient of an organisation’s understanding must be the paying . When done intelligently, such steps will enhance the desired bonding, instead of burning bridges (commonly believed).

So, there’s urging drivers to stay within 100kmph on Indian highways, and (even better) installing speed governors with client consent. Domino’s Pizza recommending a maximum unit of consumption for obese customers or children, and Mondelez suggesting an optimal portion of chocolates as per age cohort (just like medicines). imposing a penalty on patients who do not follow doctor’s orders (just like traffic offenders), and restaurants escalating the fledgling practice of fining patrons who waste food.

Meanwhile, Uber urges pool services for daily office commuters who ride singly (as per proven customer data patterns). Tourist destinations impose a punitive code of conduct on customers they attracted warmly, if their behaviour affects or civic sanity. Mobile phones, and Netflix, run campaigns to ensure minimum hours of sleep while reducing engagement with devices. And Zomato and Swiggy provide critical analysis of personal orders every month, recommending, through restaurant partners, a balanced diet plan.

Such practices will deeply influence advertising programmes, be it digital or traditional, instilling fresh doses of insight, tact and creativity. By developing a whole new genre of communication techniques, the Seatbelt Test necessitates brands to use restraint as a strategic tool, and build long-term relationships by short-term denial, engaging the maturity of the customer while reinforcing the core aspects of the experience.

At times, such customs will be supplementary while on other occasions, they can well become the core messaging, as brands seek this evolved path to create responsible differentiation in an environment of greed. The illustrations above are merely beginnings, and with the fine interplay of technology, their potential can be fully realised.

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