The almost still-born Tanishq ad purporting to sell jewellery by promoting inter-faith marriages had the makings of a disaster though liberals were fulsome in their praise for the ad and its copywriters.

That it was almost still-born (it had to be pulled down no sooner than it was put up) testifies to the recklessness of the ad. And ironically its backdrop was the baby shower ceremony called seemandham in South India performed for the welfare of the expectant mother and her child in which an affectionate Muslim mother-in-law is seen showering her affection on her doting Hindu daughter-in-law. It must have been chastening for the advertising agency to see its baby still-born.

Secular liberals can afford to hail the ad but the company — Titan Industries — must be ruing its decision to go ahead with an ad that touched many a religious raw nerve. There is nothing wrong in promoting communal harmony.

Indeed, in a secular nation with an eclectic mix of minority population, peaceful coexistence is a prerequisite for the nation’s progress. Religious communities respecting each other’s sensibilities is one thing. But to exhort them to encourage and indulge in inter-faith marriages is quite another.

It is akin to compelling a Hindu to pray at a mosque and compelling a Muslim to pray at a Hindu temple. It is similar to promote a non-vegetarian food product by running down vegetarians. And this coming from a commercial brand was bound to attract immediate flak. The government encouraging inter-caste marriages may be kosher but a brand doing that is inviting trouble as even loyal customers resent intrusion into their religious faith. Indeed, Tanishq was courting trouble by entering the political and religious thicket.

If commentators can criticise the government for making it mandatory for companies to spend 2 per cent of their profits on activities related to Corporate Social Responsibility, they should also be critical of a brand getting sanctimonious and preachy about social and religious mores.

If business of a business is business and not fulfillment of social responsibilities, it is equally true that a business of a business is not to tell people whom they should marry.

While a secular state must be religion-neutral even as its citizens including corporate citizens are free to profess their own religions, brands would do well to avoid touching controversial issues pertaining to religion as it risks attracting huge backlash as the ill-fated and ill-conceived Tanishq ad did.

Some of the brand gurus instinctively sprang up in defence of the Tanishq ad saying that an ad must first and foremost promote the idea of happiness and well-being.

Well, inter-faith marriage may or may not promote such an idea.

And certainly there are myriad other ways of promoting the idea of happiness and well-bring. Who a person marries is strictly his/her choice and commercial brands would do well to steer clear of any exhortation in this regard lest it becomes counterproductive.

Social reformers can be preachy and sanctimonious about the desirability of inter-faith marriages but if a commercial brand does so it has to be ready for a backlash as brand loyalty is next only to one’s loyalty to his religion.

The writer is a Chennai-based Chartered Accountant