–Kakali Das |
To the uninformed, Tanishq, the jewellery brand had put out an advertisement which promoted peace and integration between people of religions, which showed a young woman on her way to her baby shower that her Muslim in-laws had arranged for her. She was surprised by the efforts they had gone through. They professed that in their family they tried to keep their daughters happy and the brand put out an example of a jewellery. This ad had to be pulled off by the brand because trolls on the internet called for the brand to be boycotted for promoting what they called ‘love-jihad’. Some reports even suggested that the brand employees were being targeted and abused online and that might have been a cause of concern for the brand. This is not the first brand that has encountered such a situation. There was a Closeup campaign that came out which similarly talked about relationships across religious line and was trolled brutally along with Surf Excel and Red Label advertisements on similar grounds. What’s fascinating is that the Tanishq ad is the first ad in history that has been viewed by more people post taken off air.
Tanishq and Tata have been widely known to take certain social issues head on like, re-marriage, racism, child marriage etc. The problem is that these eminent brands are suddenly of the opinion that the trolls represent the large mass of Indians and necessarily Hindus since we are an 80% Hindu country. The fear of being polarised by the markets has engulfed their minds. They believe that if 80% of the market drops out because of a stand that they have taken, their business may collapse.
If certain social media trolls or keyboard warriors impede the creative process of such majestic brands and compel them take their ads down, there is something to be definitely worried about. Good advertising always thrives on cultural tensions which prevail in the society, which is the heartbeat of creativity. If any individual aspires to be a leader but doesn’t have an opinion, nobody will respect him; it’s solely because of his opinions he will be admired. Likewise, if the brands fail to deliver their opinions or take a stand on what they believe in, they can never be leaders. Any leadership brand across the world stands true to their opinions and that stand is what makes people believe in their values and rally around them. One can’t please 1.3 billion people at a time; there is a target audience and if that 5-10% progressive urban youth shows no objection, there is hardly anything to be worried about. It’s also understandable that the situation today is grim and sensitive due to the recent massive Supreme Court verdict on Ram Mandir and this context too might have driven the brand to take a step back.
But, is this trolling even real? If it were real, it would have been a matter of concern. According to a website known as Hootsuite, in between 6 pm to 12 pm, 1700 tweets and about 733 users and in between 12 to 6 pm, 1500 tweets and about 812 users are enough to make a topic trend on Twitter. There are millions of people up there and if I tell my entire colony to tweet on a particular topic within that time frame, we would be trending too. It is beyond stupidity to believe in trends. For brands, it has always been their primary priority to trend and Twitter built the ground efficiently.
“The Red Label ad was made by me; as Geometry Encompass we took a stand for Red Label. We narrated a script and they loved the idea, ‘Is the religion of the maker important?’ –which was discussed there. It was put out beautifully and sensibly and Unilever stood by the ad and continue to stand by it”, Roshan Abbas, MD, Geometry Encompass said.
We have trolled and vilified Bollywood for two months; a 16-year-old boy, from behind the screens of his computer, trolled Dhoni and posed absurd rape threats to his daughter. What are we becoming? Where are we heading towards? Yes, material threats do exist and we are mostly oblivious to the truths behind the curtains -who’s giving what calls to whom and feeding what. But this outrage has perhaps, become a fashion now and everybody feels noticed. On Facebook, there are groups evidently discussing top 10 topics today and mulling over what to trend tomorrow. We have witnessed how editors of mainstream media have handed over editorial digression to social media trends. Brands are going down that route too.
The statement that Tanishq has put out portrays their cowardly, mealy-mouthed attitude as an eminent brand. We are living in a polarised society; everybody is ideologically conflicted. In today’s age whatever we say and do are interpreted through ideologically polarised lenses. People are expected to take a stand and stick with it. Anybody or any brand who can’t stomach the heat and blood on the streets – literal streets, social media streets, drawing room streets of India today should not do real themes in their creative interpretations. The brands have to get with the times and refrain from living in a la-la land and exhibiting happy, smiling faces and the product.
How important is it for brands that Facebook or Twitter validates them? I think we are more mindful now about every single point of view and what they might think or comment. It’s on every brand’s mind. What also surprises me is the fact that if a brand is building in an advertisement which can be a tad controversial, it must have a contingency plan since a section of people are expected to react against it. “We all have worked with contingency plans in every scenario; we did a piece for Closeup a couple of years ago where we spoke about different kinds of couples – interracial, same gender, inter-religion etc. and we expected and planned for what the people’s response would be, we discussed it with the clients before it went live”, Varun Duggirala, Co-founder and content chief of The Glitch said.
Because of the conversations that were going on around the ‘black lives matter’ fiasco, a lot of MNCs took a stand saying that they would no longer advertise on social media platforms which were spreading toxicity or not having the right measures to control toxicity being spread. The brands stood by it and the platforms decided on how they could monitor and actually create a better environment for brands and audiences on those platforms. It is about brands actually wanting to take their stands and then walking the talk on that. One cannot have a flexible spine with everything, because whatever they do passes on to the brands personality. So if the owner of the brand has a backbone, the brand has the same and people perceive it as such.
Moreover, I hardly think that consumers necessarily equate their opinions to their purchasing habits. Someone might have a serious issue with a brand online and decide to be a troll for a day, get his/her dopamine rush and then storm out to the same store the next day and make purchases from there. This is a basic human behaviour prevailing at the moment. But, some of the reports carried details like Tanishq was worried about the safety of their employees, showrooms and that they might be singled out and abused. These might have been the factors into the whole mix of things.