Sundeep Chugh on UCB’s ‘enabler for social change’ marketing strategy

Sundeep Chugh

In a freewheeling chat, Benetton India’s CEO Sundeep Chugh talks at length about the brand’s age-old philosophy of driving socially relevant conversations and marketing efforts to bring in the ‘change’ with their #UnitedBy proposition.

Often found breaking the shackles of stereotypes and promoting a progressive mindset through its campaigns, United Colors of Benetton as a brand has stood by its norms and beliefs. The brand’s latest campaign for India #UnitedByCause encourages everyone to help each other because that’s the only way to beat the pandemic.

We get talking to Sundeep Chugh, CEO, Benetton India to know more about the campaign, surviving the crisis, the brand’s #UnitedBy philosophy, and more.

The Stance Towards the Pandemic

Eventually, during these difficult times, everyone looked at conveying something optimistic and futuristic. Benetton India went with a similar take.

Chugh elaborates, “It was not about selling our products or make revenue but spread positivity. For brands like Benetton, it’s about societal responsibilities that we have been communicating through our campaigns for decades. It was impertinent for us to highlight the aspect and do our bit for society.”

Through the #UnitedByCause campaign, Benetton India is not looking at the intensity but is more focused on the acts of kindness from different individuals and societies and celebrating them.

Marketing During COVID

Even after six months when the situation is not under control, you have to redraw the lines. “When you have a pandemic like COVID-19, you have to look at every aspect and not only the business plans,” says Chugh.

He further informs that the brand has been investing more in social media which also has been its key medium for connecting with the consumers. “We thought if we could utilize the medium more that would help us connect in a better way. 85%-90% of our TG is between the age of 25-35 who are young adults and during these times this was the age group very much responsive on social media,” he adds.  

Social Media Plug-In

Benetton India has more than 6.3 million followers on Facebook right now and close to 72k on Instagram followed by around 7k on Twitter.

Commenting on the brand’s social media presence, Chugh observes, “When we look at Instagram and Twitter, it encapsulates our journey of last 12-18 months. Meanwhile, Facebook has been there for a long time. All our digital campaigns have seen a significant amount of success in all these mediums. Our TG spends 3-4 hours daily on the medium and in a country that is seeing massive digitalization, it becomes imperative to see how you are visible and how strongly you are representing the brand. Most of our campaigns have scored more than 95% positive sentiments.”  

Also Read: Does United Colors of Benetton’s #UnitedByFaith click?

If we skim through Benetton India’s social media pages, the prominent themes adopted by the brand revolves around staying environmentally conscious, driving relevant conversations around societal norms, and voicing the need of the hour.

Through #BenettonTalks and #LiveItUpWithBenetton, the brand has been leading conversations around LGBTQ rights, busting myths surrounding menstrual hygiene, and standing strong against racism.

Apart from walking the talk, Benetton India has been vocal for its beliefs and standings all this while creating an inclusive social media communication to amplify its messages be it through influencers or experts.  

“We want to keep building the consumers through this medium and will keep investing more on the medium because it is where the youth- our primary target audience- is,” states Chugh.

Also, digital will be at the core of all things marketing at UCB India for the next six months.

The Tale of Social Causes

Benetton India started the #UnitedBy journey-made for and from India – in 2016 and has executed almost 20 campaigns within the series so far.

“For us, it’s like defining something which helps consumers associate with the brand. For instance- United By as terminology or language helped us build a strong community of followers,” asserts Chugh.  

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#unitedbyDonts

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The brand started with #UnitedbyDonts which happened during the ‘Nirbhaya’ case attempting to give a wider voice to the social concerns driving the Women Empowerment Program and its projects which was followed by the launch of #UnitedByHalf in 2017 during International Women’s Day. Since then it has been weaving pegs looking at what is more relevant to initiate positive conversations.

In 2019, the brand ran #UnitedbyVote wherein it encouraged people to use their minds instead of listening to others and vote responsibly.

Chugh says, “In India, we always looked at the prevailing ecosystem and drive conversations around it, how do we help consumers understand the ecosystem or issue and try contributing in a way that the population which we are talking to is able to take a right decision. We try acting as an enabler.”  

For #UnitedbyCause, the thought behind it was when we get up in the morning and switch on the TV or any social media platform, we find a lot of negative news around, too many things which are not motivating.

For Chugh, the inspiration for the campaign came from his own house as his wife and her friends decided to make parathas for the #FeedIndia NGO when the pandemic was at its peak.

They have almost touched around 11k parathas till now and practice doing it twice every week.

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“These are the times that create *heros* out of us. ” Rajeev Sinha lives in Gurgaon. He realized early on that this lockdown would be difficult for many, especially the workers who were at constructions sites around his home. He sprung into action. From scouting for funds to getting ration, Rajeev was determined to help these workers and their families.
Basic ration kits were created and these included food for 10 days for each family. Each kit was neatly packed, segregated and well managed before it was delivered to them. With a little help from the ‘Zomato feeding India’ team, a whole lot of families were provided with basic food necessities. “…it becomes our responsibility to come forward and help people. We should be ready to help – through various means, emotionally, by providing support for food, medicine, community help.” We salute you, Rajiv. #UnitedByCause

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According to Chugh, it’s not about reaching out in a big way but looking at your surroundings and what you can do with your neighbor’s help in your locality. “Otherwise how do you fight this pandemic because it is definitely going to last for long so the only way to keep going is to keep doing your bit. So, the campaign was all about celebrating the act of kindness and spreading positive messages,” he says.  

He also states that given the times, Benetton India could have easily invested the money in talking about the brand and focused more on generating ROI, but commercially sound comes after being socially responsible for them where the communication has always taken an inclusive approach.

The Marketing NAMA – Curating Impactful Stories

For Benetton India, marketing as a function primarily depends on what gets decided at the beginning of the year i.e. campaign launches, trendy collections, etc. The teams work on a calendar year basis and do it along with the budget exercise. For instance, they knew that the elections are going to happen in 2019, so they started preparing for the campaign in 2018 itself.

“At times, when sudden developments take place, we are also flexible on that front. Nobody anticipated COVID-19 to be so big. We were not prepared for this but again looking at the situation we always keep that flexibility element alive to kick in our marketing efforts,” notes Chugh.  

Further leveraging its social media presence, Benetton India keeps asking its followers on Instagram and Twitter to share their stories at times and connect them with the campaigns to amplify the message across.

Chugh explains, “We also try to crowdsource a lot. We love listening to stories we aren’t aware of- it helps us stay connected to our consumers in a realistic manner. #UnitedbyHarmony was one such campaign that was inspired by stories of our followers. Apart from the routine planning and standard template setups, the team wherein they really strive hard to collect what they can actually talk to the consumers at the moment and scouting themes for a potential brand campaign.”

#UnitedbyFaith was also created around a beautiful story. He states that the team working behind such campaigns, they are the onus of the brand. “For all our campaigns, my team has actually been there on the ground and I could never imagine that Jasleen (a colleague) could go all the way to Lucknow, she could have easily said that this is the story and we can hire a good actor. But she instead met Noorul Hasan, listened to his story, interacted with him to bring true emotion into the story. She also spent a couple of days there to convince him for the feature in the campaign,” highlights Chugh.

The Key to Effective Marketing

According to Chugh, marketing, most importantly is not period specific.  It is the language through which you connect to the consumers. “During times like this, that language should become a bit more vibrant and pandemic independent and should be something that goes on since the expectation is on the higher side”.

He also advises that the brands should stay true to themselves and its DNA and importantly you need to be watchful about which medium is the best one to connect with the consumer and adopt it more vigorously.

“The pandemic has pushed us 12-18 months back in terms of what we had planned for the season. But we expect to come back to normalcy by the end of 2021. Marketing is not all about spending money but also about the relationships and bonds that you create with your consumers through time,” concludes Chugh.


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