Two tweets from the Pakistan-based subsidiaries of Hyundai and Kia car makers snowballed into a major controversy on Monday with the South Korean auto major having to issue a clarification in India. The whole episode was a case of major brand mismanagement, said experts.

Social media was flooded with hordes of netizens calling for a boycott of Hyundai cars after its Pakistan counterpart tweeted in support of “freedom of Kashmir”. Some angry Indian social media users went to the extent of saying they have canceled their Hyundai bookings and instead purchased cars from other competitors whether it was Honda, Mahindra & Mahindra or Tata Motors’.

Row over tweet

This row erupted after Pakistan marked the annual ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ on Sunday and the posts on behalf of Hyundai’s partner Nishat Group appeared on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram commemorating the “sacrifices of Kashmiris” struggling for self-determination. Kia’s (Hyundai is the parent company) Pakistan partner also tweeted in similar fashion saying ‘stand in solidarity with Kashmir’.

While Hyundai Motor India came out with a statement talking about its journey for the last 25 years in India and how committed it was towards India, Kia India did not offer any statement on this.

Related Stories
Hyundai Motor issues a statement after #BoycottHyundai trends on Twitter
The tweet was deleted but it was noticed by some Indian Twitter users which later became trending

“We stand firmly for our strong ethos of respecting nationalism...India is a second home to the Hyundai brand and we have zero tolerance policy towards insensitive communication and we strongly condemn any such view,” Hyundai India said in its statement. However, brand experts and netizens said a ‘simple apology’ should have been put out for the public sentiment.

“Firstly, if we look at what’s happened at Hyundai Pakistan, it either means that Hyundai Global does not have internal protocols of not touching upon sensitive topics, or such protocols were flouted by Hyundai Pakistan. Either way, this should be addressed by Hyundai internally. Hyundai India should have disowned the Pakistan-based tweet unequivocally and apologised for the same,” Vigyan Verma, Founder, The Bottom Line (a brand consulting company), told BusinessLine.

He said this was quite unlike a lot of other cases of trolling in recent times where the offence inflicted is quite subjective. Brands with large interests in a country should display heightened sensitivity towards matters that are non-negotiable, and this case is one of them.

“The lack of pace in responding appropriately is alarming as is the attempt to stifle voices that have raised the issue on Twitter. This remarkably poor judgement and tardy response can have short-term impact on Hyundai sales for sure. If the brand doesn’t come clean soon enough, it could hurt long-term sentiments as well, especially in brand parity situations,” he added

.Anisha Motwani, another brand expert said that companies do not realise that brands are transboundaries in today’s age and that is why brands should be responsible. It was a suicidal thing for brands to start having point of view in political issues and that too such sensitive political issue, she said.

“For instance if we look at Google, Google India is same as Google US or Google Europe or Google Pakistan for that brands always transcend geographies…brands transcend culture, societies and much more. That is why brands should be responsible. Imagine if any global brand had to start a point of view on the Russia-Ukraine issue? What will it do for the brand,” Motwani said.

The biggest problem with brand custodians is that they actually control the businesses very well but people really don’t know how to nurture brands, she added.

Similar controversy

Similar row had erupted last year also when global fast food brand KFC Pakistan’s twitter account talked about ‘right to freedom’. Netizens tweeted saying the international companies should understand that Pakistan is using them, their investment and brands as tool against India’s Kashmir.

“Brands try to capitalise on every tweetable moment without realising the full implication of their action. This is all the more worrisome if the brand operates across the world. Brands can show solidarity and patriotism. But, when they echo jingoistic sentiment of a country they can get negative backlash elsewhere. So brands should think twice or thrice before jumping on to a Moment Marketing opportunity,” Ambi Parameswaran , Ad industry veteran and founder, Brand-, said.

Meanwhile, Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations said, “We strictly condemn the act Hyundai Pakistan and Kia Pakistan for the tweets on Kashmir. We remain committed to our motherland and have written to both the companies in India to clear their stand on the same. We also urge Ministry of Heavy Industries and SIAM to seek clarifications. Kashmir is India’s integral part and will continue to remain so till eternity.”