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Tanishq: Should brands buckle to trolls & boycotts?

Did it take the right step by withdrawing the ad?

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NEW DELHI: Last week, #BabaKaDhaba went viral and showed the positive impact social media can have when used constructively. However, this week the internet was once again caught in a digital storm, divided on an ad posted by Titan Group’s Tanishq. The popular jewellery brand recently launched a new ad titled Ekatvamto celebrate “unity in oneness.” 

The 45-second Tanishqspot, released ahead of the festive season, showed a baby shower being thrown by a Muslim family for their daughter-in-law, who is a Hindu. In the video, the young woman, realising that the ceremony has been organised conforming with Hindu traditions, anxiously asks her mother-in-law: "Par yeh rasam toh aapke ghar mein nahi hoti hai na? (But this ceremony is not observed at your place, is it not so?)," to which the latter replies, "Bitiya ko khush karne ki rasam toh har ghar mein hoti hai na? (The ceremony to make the daughter happy is held in every house, isit not so?)"

The description of the Tanishq commercial is as follows: “She is married into a family that loves her like their own child. Only for her, they go out of their way to celebrate an occasion that they usually don’t. A beautiful confluence of two different religions, traditions, and cultures.” 

No sooner was the ad posted than it met with vicious trolling and expletives by a section of social media users who alleged that it promoted ‘love jihad’ and began trending the hashtag #BoycottTanishq.

However, another section of users on Twitter also supported India’s most trusted jewellery brand, lauding its effort to highlight that interfaith marriages can work and upholding the idea of a secular India.

Taken aback by the controversy, Tanishq pulled down the spot, tweeting, “One as a Nation. One as Humanity.’ That is what Ekatvam stands for,” to reiterate the message of communal harmony in the film.

Yesterday, it once again gave a lengthier explanation on Twitter why it took the extreme step: “The idea behind the Ekatvam campaign is to celebrate the coming together of people from different walks of life, local communities and families during these challenging times and celebrate the beauty of oneness. This film has stimulated divergent and severe reactions, contrary to its very objective. We are deeply saddened by this inadvertent stirring of emotions and withdraw this film, keeping in mind the hurt sentiments and well-being of our employees, partners and store staff.”

Which once again got the trollers annoyed, who stated the boycott Tanishq campaign would continue as the brand had insinuated that the trollers would resort to strong arm tactics, showing “Hindus” in poor light.

Various brands in India have faced a similar situation where they had to buckle to the collective pressure on social media. But should brands bow down to these attacks? 

Brand expert N. Chandramouli says that brands that have attempted to take a brave moral stance should anticipate recoil from those on social media. "The portents are not good if a brand takes a step back, as it shows a lack of courage, conviction, and spine." 

He further says that a brand may do away with an ad under various circumstances, and not all of them are due to boycott calls. “Sometimes there are certain calls that may get made that pressurise the management. Sometimes, of course, the boycott calls are so vociferous, that the brand does so on its own. However, in both cases, the brand’s image gets tarnished due to the pull-back.”

Brand-nomics MD Viren Razdan has a different take on the issue, when he asks: "If the ad has been pulled down, did Tanishq not foresee any such issues? Or were they okay with the controversy it would kick up? If it’s the latter then it’s really a new brand direction for them.”

Nevertheless, this is not for the first time that a creative product has been brutally trolled for portraying Hindus and Muslims doing things out of the ordinary with each other. In 2019, just before the festival of Holi, Surf Excel had released an wherein a Hindu girl respects a young Muslim boy dressed all in white (going for his prayers) and prevents her friends from spraying him with coloured water. She then rides him to the mosque on her cycle, giving him a shield of protection all the way. Apparently, the film evoked a severe reaction on social media for promoting love jihad and for describing the colours of Holi as daag (stain). 

Around the same time, Brooke Bond too got called out on Twitter for “portraying Kumbh Mela in a bad light” and “hurting the sentiments of Hindu pilgrims.”

Even after producing brilliant creatives and thought-provoking ads, the question that arises in light of the Tanishq episode is: whether advertisers have any space for experimenting or going bold or touching grey areas while expressing oneselfcreatively?

Chandramouli says that owing to the current state of affairs in the country, social media has become highly polarised. Trolls who have seen their actions yield ‘results’ resort to the tactics of provocation and outrage to drive negative sentiment against whatever challenges their biased views. “It must be remembered that when a big brand pulls back, it further encourages the trolls, and sets an incorrect impediment for other brands attempting to venture to do something bold.”

Mirum India director of brand strategy and client services Mohit Ahuja also agrees that Tanishq’s fearful reaction has set a wrong precedent. "It not only bows to the pressure tactics of trolls who get braver by actions like these but also encourages similar action by other brands. It will make communication as a whole poorer. If advertising does not foster love and inclusivity, what will? Is communication like this not the main reason that most of us remain in advertising?"

Using religion and politics in advertising is a ticking time bomb, as it requires a nuanced understanding of how the people of India, beyond one's Facebook friends, think.

Scarecrow M&C Saatchi founder Raghu Bhatt opines that an ad is supposed to create goodwill and sales, not rancour and a product boycott.“If an ad is offending people, every brand will be sensible about it, apologise, and withdraw. The people who are criticising Tanishq for its action have nothing to lose. Unlike brand creators, brands can't have egos. Tanishq is sending a message that it doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings,” he asserts.

Rediffusion Y&R former president Dhunji S. Wadia wrote on his Facebook page: “Community before commerce has been the founding tenet of the Tata group (of which Titan and Tanishq are a part). If the life of even one employee is threatened then it's prudent to act in the individual's interest. Check out the threats to the marketing person on social media. Withdrawing the ad seems far gracious than putting your employee's life in danger. Keyboard warriors can keep bashing on. It won't tarnish the reputation of the group whose humane quality remains unmatched, #TanishqAd".

 Taproot Dentsu chief creative officer and co-founder Santosh Paddy declares that it’s high time that the industry stood together on issues such as these. “Why is our industry being targeted every single time? Creativity is the core of our business and we cannot be pushed in the corner every single time. We are the soft targets as brands are involved. It’s high time we give a hard push back, to theauthorities for this biased behaviour. It’s creative freedom for some and beating for some?”

indiantelevision.com has compiled a list of ads which have faced criticism in the recent past: -

Anouk Myntra

The ad with the tagline 'Bold is Beautiful' by Anouk fashion brand under Myntra was applauded as well as criticised for taking on the sensitive topic of homosexuality. The ad featured a lesbian couple preparing to break the news to one set of parents.

Kalyan Jewellers

In 2018, Kalyan Jewellers withdrew an ad featuring Amitabh Bachchan and his daughter after it came under attack for creating 'distrust' in the banking system. People threatened to sue the brand for accusing it of "casting aspersion and hurting the sentiments of millions of personnel" through the advertisement.

Amazon

The e-commerce company found itself in the midst of a controversy for allegedly selling products like slippers, doormats, and toilet seat covers with the pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses. The pictures were widely circulated on social media and Amazon was roundly criticised for hurting the sentiments of Hindus. People expressed their displeasure on social media and raised calls to boycott the e-tailer.

Gillette

The brand launched a commercial asking men to be better versions of themselves, which sparked a debate about whether companies should simply stick to promoting their products or sell social causes.

Ola

Ride-hailing app, Ola rolled out an ad a few years back to promote the affordability proposition for its Micro service. The ad featured a young couple out shopping on the streets. The boyfriend, who is paying for his better half, eventually says: “My girlfriend costs Rs 525 per Km but Ola Micro costs just Rs 6 per km". The underlying message was that using an Ola Micro is cheaper than dating a woman. The campaign was attacked on social media for being sexist and was withdrawn by the company.

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