Times of India’s “Lost Votes” initiative demonstrates how brand purpose drives media

By Sundar Kondur

Mumbai, India

Why does a brand do what it does? Why does a company or a brand exist beyond making profits? Simon Sinek asks these questions and others when he explains the Golden Circle in his book Start With Why.

Leading brands in the world have realised they need to have a purpose for which they exist, and discerning customers will continue to buy into the brand only if their value systems match that of the brand.

A few years back, the “what” (features) of brands and their unique selling points in comparison to other brands in the category were used by marketers to communicate and attract customers. The commonly held belief was that additional features and “uniqueness,” if any, equated to increased reasons for customers to purchase the product.

If the features were indistinguishable and not unique to the brand, it became a commodity. To stand out from the sea of sameness and avoid being faceless, “why” becomes the single biggest reason for a customer to buy the brand as “what” has now become indistinguishable.

News brands have a "why" built into their value systems. At the Times of India, putting this purpose into play results in campaigns like "Lost Votes."
News brands have a "why" built into their value systems. At the Times of India, putting this purpose into play results in campaigns like "Lost Votes."

Brand purpose, then, is the new mantra and will continue to be in the near and medium term. Clear brand purpose transmitted through storytelling seems to be the most common thread across successful brands in the world. Customers are at the focus of these stories — never the brand — and rightfully so.

Journalists are the original influencers and storytellers. And newspapers are the original medium to package and broadcast these stories. The investigative stories, in-depth reportage of news, and things that concern the common man and civil society humanised the content and helped become the cultural fabric of society. Therefore, when editors clicks the “publish” button on a story, they don’t just publish a news item. They give birth to a story that takes on a life of its own and permanently gets entwined into the cultural ethos of the society.

No wonder Peter Drucker said culture eats strategy for breakfast. By having the power to influence public opinion and chatter in civil society, newspapers catalyse debates at the pinnacle of powers and policy makers. This helps in behavioural change, reforms, and positive outcomes for civil society.

Raison d’etre of a newspaper

Luckily for newspapers, the reason for their existence or purpose is rooted in their very existence. The principles that birthed newspapers in the 17th century continue to be the justification for their existence even now. The reader (or customer) is at the core of what we do. Hence, every story is humanised to the extent possible, relatable to their sphere of life, and it becomes a part of their life.

Truthful reporting and credibility then become an additional layer or glue that binds the reader to its loyal readership. Trust in newspapers is at an all-time high now, more than ever, due to a widespread pandemic of fake news on many user-generated content platforms. The stories change every day, but the purpose doesn’t.

The Times of India (TOI) has done some trailblazing work in this space, armed with a purpose that benefits all. Can we then be called social scientists in its purest form?


During the early stages of national emergency due to COVID-19, global studies acknowledged the role of masks in reducing the spread of the virus. There was a realisation that masks such as N95 would be in short supply and needed most by frontline health workers. #MaskIndia became a rallying cry for all Indians to wear masks, emphasising that homemade masks are effective.

But the biggest success of this ongoing campaign has been to make the mask a normal habit for people, becoming an extension of oneself. An acknowledgement from the Prime Minister himself for #MaskIndia became a people’s movement for which TOI blazed a pioneering trail.

Lead India

Lead India was launched as a platform to give the ordinary Indian citizen, sans any political background, a forum to contribute to the leadership in the world’s largest democracy.

Lead India was probably the largest national activist campaign led by a newspaper. This was no longer about criticising the system; it was asking citizens to convert their words and thoughts into tangible action and be the change they sought.

Lead India made millions of readers believe that an empowered citizen could be a true change-maker. We believe one of them has now become a chief minister of an important state.

Lost votes

The 2014 general elections resulted in about 290 million Indians not being able to vote — the “Lost Votes of India.” Like in any modern country, Indians travel and temporarily domicile in various part of the country for educational, economic, or family reasons. These people are unable to vote in the place they are in due to some archaic rules of the election commission.

TOI’s “Lost Votes” initiative increased the chatter amongst citizens and discussion amongst policy makers, and we will soon see a tech solution to the lost votes in world’s largest democratic elections.

The TOI Group has been at the forefront of purpose, echoing the voice of its constituents with many campaigns, like “Teach India,” “Organ Donation Drive,” and “Aman Ki Asha.”

The allure that purpose-driven stories cast on humans is innate, and its stimulus goes on to shape many of our thoughts and actions, often resulting in good tidings for all. A news media brand creates a connection with its audience and gives them something to hold onto that goes beyond price points and packaging, engaging them emotionally with shared beliefs and solving problems together.

Shared beliefs and purposes should pave the way for many consumer brands to forge partnerships with news media brands to make the world a better place. After all, brand purpose may be new for many in today’s world, but it has been the raison d’etre for news media brands for centuries.

About Sundar Kondur

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