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Strategic importance of vulnerability


Strategic importance of vulnerability

Almost a decade ago, I was working on communication idea for a mid-premium formal shirt brand. We had agreed the brand would broadly operate in the ‘confidence’ space and needed a more specific, ownable perspective on it. We met our target audience and got them talking about their confidence stories, looking for insights.

There was an interesting pattern that seemed to emerge. The best stories almost always referred to moments of nervousness, self-doubt. Overcoming daunting, tough odds is what made for sweet success stories for people. It appeared to me that in the world of plasticky confidence portrayed by most apparel brands, a brand acknowledging nervousness would strike a chord. ‘Confidence is not the absence of self-doubt, but about overcoming it’

We presented the idea with much passion, only to be shot down. Today’s brash, cocky youth did not seem to experience nervousness to our client, so they felt it would not resonate with them.


It was an idea I had much conviction in and so I nursed my wounds, looking for validation all around, till about five years later, Mountain Dew’s Darr ke aagey jeet hai and ICICI’c Hum hain na redeemed it.

Over time, the importance of identifying the vulnerability has become central to our approach to working on insights. However, one tricky challenge crops up each time. Does the brand’s story telling acknowledge and portray the vulnerability? Or does it simply solve it, keeping the vulnerability as a back end understanding between the brand and its audience?

In most cases, we have not had the stomach to deal with the former (honest confession) and so have struck to the safer, latter option. Deep down, one has almost always felt, far greater possibilities lay in the trickier, but bolder approach of looking at the vulnerability in the eye.

On reflection, the reasons are evident. Whether you mask your vulnerability and present a near perfect façade, or you let your guard down is a clear indicator of the quality of your relationship with someone. Sharing a vulnerable moment is not merely a sign of deep relationship, but often the catalyst for building one.

It is in this context that the another interesting idea was mooted a few years back. Of brands expressing their own vulnerability to the consumer, rather than present the perfect world devoid of any chinks. This has been best utilised by celebrity brands, Kangana Ranaut and Alai Bhat in recent times being best examples of leveraging vulnerabilities.

Stories of some brands sometimes deliberately slipping up and then overcompensating to make for interesting stories also do the rounds every now and then. Vulnerability can be strategic.

This is what makes Airtel’s new campaign (Airtel open network) interesting. One is glad they acknowledged the growing clamour of call drops and poor network rather than brazenly continue with their best network campaign. Endearing as it was, in light of the mounting customer impatience with poor experience, it threatened to be insensitive.

Have you had a look at your brand and consumer connection? What opportunities in expressing vulnerabilities have you been exploring?