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Brands need to tell stories that break age-related stereotypes: Piali Dasgupta

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Pranali Tawte
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Piali Dasgupta


In conversation with Social Samosa, Piali Dasgupta talks about age and gender discrimination in the Indian A&M industry, challenges that women leaders face and highlights the existence of pay gap and glass ceiling. As a Jury Member of Social Samosa Superwomen 2023, she also shares a message for the participants.

With over 16 years of cross-category experience across media, e-commerce, retail and real estate Piali Dasgupta, Sr. VP Marketing, Columbia Pacific Communities, shares that 'gender inclusivity is one of the greatest needs of the hour.' She sheds light on how the advertising and marketing industry underrepresents senior citizens just as they underrepresent people with disability and members of the LGBTQIA community people. 

Edited Excerpts:

People in the age group of 55-75, who have good purchasing power, are often underrepresented in advertising or not targeted by brands. How can brands be more inclusive of age groups? 

Marketing, advertising, and pop culture does underrepresent senior citizens greatly just as they underrepresent differently-abled people, members of the LGBTQIA community, and neurodiverse people. 

Brands must remember that senior citizens have great purchasing power and are often consumers of high ticket-price categories. So, not targeting them doesn’t make much of a business sense, more than anything else.  

Things are changing, albeit slowly. A handful of brands are actively making senior citizens a part of their narratives and portraying seniors in a new light. Thomas Cook, Tanishq, Vodafone, and Pond’s are a few examples of the same. 

Brands need to craft communication that empowers seniors and shows them in a positive light by creating characters that are fun-loving, jovial, tech-savvy, and living life to the fullest. But most importantly, they need to tell stories that break age-related stereotypes and ageism that exist in society and are insight-based. By making seniors as a cohort more visible across brand communication, and creating the right narrative around them, brands can be more age inclusive. Fashion, lifestyle, and beauty brands, for example, shouldn’t only be showcasing Gen-Z in their ads. A dress has no age bar, so why can’t seniors be shown in fashion ads for a change? A few brands are breaking the mould for sure, but we need more mainstream brands to be age inclusive. 

What marketing mediums are effective for the demographic of senior citizens and others around them?

When it comes to offline channels, nothing beats print even today as seniors do like to start their day by reading a physical newspaper. Many of them watch television, and so that’s a great medium as well for both reach and frequency when it comes to targeting seniors.  

As for digital channels, our focus has been on Facebook as the primary channel of communication in the digital sphere for senior citizens, followed by emailers, YouTube, and WhatsApp. WhatsApp is a channel that seniors use heavily and it is a great platform to connect with them. YouTube, too, has become popular over the year and many seniors use it to watch how-to videos and recipes, and some of our senior residents also have their own YouTube channels. We have found that it’s a total misconception that senior citizens are not comfortable with the use of technology and shy away from it. Most urban senior citizens don’t. 

Also Read: Digital and television act as yin and yang: Swati Nathani

You have led campaigns that break stereotypes around gender (Ms. Santa) and age inclusivity (Chief Experience Officer). How does the brand impart the message of gender inclusivity? What message do you have for younger professionals in the fraternity?

Gender inclusivity is one of the greatest needs of the hour. I wish we realized it sooner than we did. As a brand, we believe that your dreams, aspirations, and ambition should not be dictated to or limited by your gender. And that’s exactly the narrative we built in our award-winning campaigns such as #MsSanta and #ChiefExperienceOfficer. 

My message to young professionals in the fraternity is to encourage and initiate difficult dialogues around gender. Brushing these under the carpet is not really the solution anymore, and we have done that for far too long. Gender is a very complex, layered subject with many subtexts. And they need to be understood. The young workforce can drive these conversations and action change. 

Being a successful woman leader, what challenges do you face within the industry? How are you using your organization as a platform to empower other women in the process?

I don’t necessarily view myself as “successful.” I look at myself as someone that’s trying her best to do her job well, works really hard, and is self-made. Sometimes my hard work pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s about it. I agree that there are many challenges for women leaders today.

Women that are assertive, not afraid to call out hypocrisy, sexism, and biases, and not keen to schmooze around and people please, can often be labeled as “unfriendly, aggressive, bossy” or even “difficult” (my favorite one!). They can also be alienated at work. That is, unfortunately, a reality, along with the existence of the pay gap and the glass ceiling.

While companies are doing their bit to improve gender diversity and even hiring Diversity Officers to drive this mission, there still are very few women leaders in boardrooms today. Therefore, the main challenge is that there is no diversity of thought in most places, and every decision could be viewed largely from a male perspective. 

I honestly don’t know if I have solutions to some of these challenges, because a lot of these need a paradigm shift and a change of mindsets, and consistent work over many years. We try our best to hire as many women as possible in our organization and empower them to take on roles that help them flourish and grow. 

Can you discuss any female leaders or mentors who have inspired you in your career, and how they have influenced your leadership style?

I am greatly inspired by the life of Indra Nooyi, the former Chairman of Pepsico. To be a woman, and a woman of color and helm one of the largest global conglomerates could not have been easy. It does look quite envious and glamorous on the outside, but her journey was not without challenges. I try to follow her three mantras of being successful: do your current job extremely well, be courageous, and have hip-pocket skills. I think that’s some very, very sound advice. She is someone that has always led by example, let her work speak for herself, and made many women across the world believe that if you persevere, it is possible to achieve greatness.    

What can we expect to see from Columbia Pacific Communities on the marketing front this year?

Columbia Pacific Communities is at the forefront of changing the dialogue around senior citizens in this country. This year, and in the coming years, you can expect bolder, more evocative narratives around seniors, campaigns that will hopefully trigger important conversations and win us critical acclaim as well. On the product offering front, there will be two new projects, one of which we have already launched. Therefore, building visibility and interest and raising awareness on these projects would be a key focus area for us this year, from a marketing and communication standpoint. 

We will continue to invest in and champion the brand credo of positive aging, a simple idea that encourages seniors to live their best lives in their golden years. We want to be synonymous with “senior citizens” in this country and we will continue to channel our energies towards this objective.   

marketing gender inclusivity gender discrimination Demographics senior citizen women leaders sexism ageism