Myntra Meltdown: When logos and taglines turn into slugfests

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani | Updated on February 07, 2021

Shape of outrage: The old ‘offensive’ and the newly ‘sanitised’ Myntra logo

And this: Sample from the meme-storm that soon followed

How can brands counter the trolling and activism they increasingly face on social media even as they need to stay active on these platforms?

After the Tanishq trouble, it is the Myntra meltdown. Brands have never had it so difficult. With social media activism getting shrill and loud, brands are finding it hard to stand up for their purpose, values or even logos!

If in the Tanishq case the commenters expressed unhappiness at the brand bowing to pressure and taking down a meaningful ad after another group found it “offensive”, in the Myntra logo controversy, both consumers and brand experts are perplexed why the e-commerce company allowed someone else’s perception to colour and shape something as important as its logo.

As Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and former Asia Marketing Head of HP Inc, says, “I am a bit surprised that Myntra capitulated to the logo change so easily. They should have stood their ground — that would have earned them immense respect. Only a warped mind could see something [objectionable] in the logo that millions did not over so many years.”

Mathias says that while it is important for brands to respect public sentiment, “bending backwards to placate a fringe, at the slightest whiff of a controversy, does not speak well for the conviction of the brand custodians.”

He adds, “Brands should always be sensitive to the boycott culture. However, they must also recognise that issues and trends on social media are mostly ephemeral, and die down quickly, when trolls divert attention to the next thing.”

The ease with which social media trolls and activists of all hues are hijacking the narrative, begs the question: Are brands unable to distinguish between their real consumers versus the fringe set?

Also, placating one set raises the risk of offending another set or, worse, making one a laughing stock — witness the plethora of memes that have surfaced around the Myntra logo.

Pragmatism over idealism

Brand expert Harish Bijoor says in Myntra’s case brand pragmatism outweighed brand idealism. “We live in a world full of issues — real, unreal, made-up and even fantasised. In such a world a marketer chooses how to react to negative pings on brand image. Myntra therefore had a choice — to tweak logo design to look ‘less offensive’, as pointed out in this case, or stand by the logo and say that there is just no case out here,” he added. Bijoor believes that if a meaningless and frivolous controversy is to be stopped, a brand or a collective of brands needs to stand up and say ‘no’. “Since that looks a remote possibility, brands prefer to bow down and withdraw,” he pointed out.

Of course there are exceptions. In 2019, Zomato firmly responded to a customer on social media who had declined to accept the food he had ordered because it was delivered by a non-Hindu, by stating, “Food does not have a religion. It is a religion.”

Cut to 2020, jewellery brand Tanishq was forced to change its entire campaign due to a backlash from a certain section of consumers on religious grounds.

According to observers, the decision to stand up or bow down depends a lot on the kind of commercial impact it will have.

Jessie Paul, CEO, Paul Writer said, “I often like to say that companies don’t have morals, employees do. Companies adopt the moral values that work best with their stakeholders, be it customers, vendors or employees. So when a brand or company comes up against a claim of “hurt sentiments’ from its stakeholders, it views it only through the lens of business impact — what is the cost of defending the stance, what is the cost of giving in.”

A matter of inclination

It is also a matter of inclination, points out Paul.

“While the noise levels of a social media drive against the brand can be high, it can be countered by investment in a customer community and influencers. The key question is whether the brand has an inclination and bandwidth to win the battle, and whether it has a strong backing of its customers.”

She cites the example of Xiaomi. Despite the anti-China sentiment of last year, Xiaomi continues to lead in the phone market, and upwards of 75 per cent of smartphones shipped to India came from China. So if a business is committed to overcoming any real or imagined flaws pointed out by its stakeholders, it can be done, she says.

Bring in the believers

According to those in the know, the Myntra logo issue had been raised many times in the past three years. So, why did the brand not act on it before?

As Anisha Motwani, founder and director of Storm the Norm Ventures, says, “Brands should be quick to address an issue in time and not let it precipitate to a crisis level that it reaches the litigation stage. They must have an online reputation management in place and have dedicated resources to execute an action plan.”

In addition, if a brand strongly believes in something it should have the conviction to put it out there. It’s important for brands to build a community on social media, she says.

“Let the brand believers and brand lovers silence the voice of brand critics,” she advises.

Will brands act on this?

In a spot

There have been times when pressure on brands to take action can yield positive results. What’s important is for brands to discern when course correction is necessary.

A look at past cases:

  • Tanishq’s ad campaign showing an interfaith babyshower ceremony faced backlash from certain sections of social media. Even though ad bodies condemned the backlash and Tanishq got support, it dropped the ad
  • Scotch Brite promised to change its logo after being called out for promoting regressive gender stereotypes. A good call
  • Kent RO withdrew a controversial digital ad that depicted domestic help as Covid-19 carriers. It got kudos for its prompt step
  • Brands such as Tiffany and NBA had to distance themselves from tweets or ads that were perceived to be supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests
  • PepsiCo had to drop an ad featuring Kendall Jenner after being accused of trivialising Black Lives Matter

Published on February 07, 2021

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