In the era of trolls and Twitter mobs, should brands rethink their 'woke' ad campaigns?

Venkatesha Babu Bengaluru | Updated on October 27, 2021

‘Reforming’ society is also fraught with risk, say experts

On Monday, home-grown FMCG major, Dabur India, was forced to apologise and withdraw an advertisement for its Fem Crème bleach. The advertisement had depicted a same-sex couple celebrating Karva Chauth. After a huge online backlash and some ruling party politicians criticising the company for being ‘insensitive’ to Hindu feelings, Dabur decided to ‘unconditionally apologise’ and dropped the ad.

Dabur is not alone. A few days ago, an ad by CEAT Tyres, featuring Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan, in which he made an appeal for responsible Diwali celebrations by saying that ‘roads are for traffic and not burning firecrackers’ created a storm. BJP MP, Anantkumar Hegde demanded the company issue a similar one for the ‘problem of blocking roads in the name of namaz and noise from mosques during azaan’.

Fab India, Manyavar, Tanishq have all faced similar backlash in recent times. Is it time for brands to rethink their messaging?

Call for sensitivity

Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and former marketing head of HP Asia, Motorola & PepsiCo, says that while brands need to take all precautions in their messaging, they also need “to grow a spine. While we live in difficult polarised times, it is no excuse for them to cave in, if they believe in something.”

However, ad industry veteran and brand strategist Ambi Parmeswaran says that companies need to be sensitive and not preach. “While the intention might not be bad, they need to have nuance and context. Companies and brands should not try to reform society,” he says.

Brand guru Harish Bijoor feels brands should steer clear of religion and politics in their messaging. “Both these topics are highly divisive and companies need to be careful.” Communications consultant Manjunath Seetharam says that while any kind of threat is reprehensible, companies also need to be aware of social, political and economic realities.

Published on October 26, 2021

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