“It’s not just about being white”

Yesterday was World Milk Day.

Most brands that deal with cow’s milk went to town on the occasion with print ads.

I was happy to look at advertisements in print newspapers after almost 2 months of terribly impoverished and thin newspapers.

Interestingly, World Milk Day is specifically about cow’s milk and the dairy sector. However, ‘milk’ has more varieties these days – plant-based milk like almond milk are reasonably known too, though far, far smaller in terms of market-size at least in India.

I figured that August 22nd is World Plant Milk Day 🙂

One of the ads yesterday caught my eye for a completely different reason. It was from Akshayakalpa and the headline had my brain confused for a second because I had finished reading another newspaper just before reaching The Hindu. In the other newspaper (Indian Express), I had completed reading the world news page that had the latest on the situation in Minneapolis (Minnesota, US). Coming from there, landing on a headline that goes, “It’s not just about being white” was a bit disorienting.

I said so too, on Twitter.

Later in the day, I figured that a few other people felt the disorientation too and expressed that in other ways.

I also noticed Akshayakalpa responding to some of them with a video they produced in context, from March 2020. That video is titled “Is it all about being white?”.

As I had mentioned in my tweet too, I fully understand the context behind that headline. We, in India, generally associate ‘white’ with purity. A quick check for milk’s purity is usually based on how white it is, from a consumers’ point of view. And Akshayakalpa is trying to change that perception as being shallow – that there is more to milk that we need to notice that cannot be ‘seen’ using rudimentary markers like the color. The video from March seems to explain that to some extent, though I don’t think it comes across that clearly in that communication either since it uses children’s point of view.

But, in an ad from a milk brand, “It’s not just about being white” has a clear connotation about the color of milk. It doesn’t refer to any other ‘white’, definitely not skin color.

Also, “It’s not just about being white” literally means looking beyond the color white. The brand is not advocating going by mere color to make assumptions about the quality (of milk, in this case).

But, as always, nothing exists in a vacuum. Even if Akshayakalpa did not mean any ‘white’ other than milk-white, there is heightened awareness of white as skin color in the aftermath of what is happening right now in the US.

To make it worse, Akshayakalpa’s ad presumes that people may have seen the video ad to get some background context for the headline and adds the source of the print ad (the video) as a reference point. This is also to set the context that given the March 2020 release of the video, their line and perspective on ‘white’ predates the problem in the US.

People however don’t get such nuances or make such additional observations, generally.

Specifically, the print ad doesn’t have anything other than the headline that could explain what exactly do they mean by that line. There is no context of ‘white’ being used as a surrogate for purity in milk and that it is a wrong way to gauge milk’s quality. All that is left to the readers’ intelligence and imagination with just a headline and a couple of product-based USP on the right.

All this together—lack of context in the print ad beyond a headline, the situation in the US and the video not being seen by the same audience as the print ad’s audience—may have aggravated the understanding of the ad yesterday in readers’ minds. Or, may have aggravated the misunderstanding, to be precise.

I get what they meant. They meant well and had a good enough context that is relevant to their industry and category. But it may have been prudent to see the ad’s headline critically with awareness about what is happening around us without presuming that since it was used without any counterpoints in March, it was good to go again in print.

That contextual and situation awareness is important. And that may not necessarily come from agencies. This is the prerogative of the brand team since they live and breathe the brand every day.

On a similar note, I had written about unfortunate ad placements by Amul and IndiGo last week.

That too is the prerogative of the brand team. The brand team should be aware and cognizant about the news breaking in the noon/evening about people in an IndiGo flight testing positive and the possibility of it making it to the front pages the next day. I wouldn’t the media team from the publication to alert the team at all. The advertising team doesn’t necessarily be in constant touch with the editorial team (they shouldn’t either) and are under no obligation to alert their clients about potentially unfavorable placement next to news that could puncture the intent of the ad.

I feel bad for Akshayakalpa’s brand manager who proudly showcased his first print ad on Twitter.

A little more situational awareness and a more diligent approach to the ad copy could have helped avoid the negative connotations.

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