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Kalyan Jewellers forced to withdraw controversial 'Child Slave' ad after facing backlash

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Kalyan Jewellers forced to withdraw controversial 'Child Slave' ad after facing backlash

The recent print ad from the Indian jewellery brand, Kalyan Jewellers which was under fire for depicting child labour will be withdrawn. The full page ad which was run on The Hindu (Delhi edition) on April 17, featuring the brand ambassador Aishwarya Rai Bachchan ‘representing aristocracy in the bygone era’ along with an underage child holding an umbrella over her head has been facing a lot of backlash on all the social media channels. The campaign was conceptualised by Push Integrated Communication.

The company has issued a press statement saying, "The creative was intended to present the royalty, timeless beauty and elegance. However, if we have inadvertently hurt the sentiments of any individual or organisation, we deeply regret the same. We have started the process of withdrawing this creative from our campaign."

The furore started after a group of irate activists sent an open letter to the actress and called the ad as ‘insidiously racist’.

Excerpts from the letter:

“We wish to convey our dismay at the concept of this advertisement, and that you have, perhaps unthinkingly, associated with such a regressive portrayal of a child to sell a product. While advertisers routinely use fantasy images to sell products, they must surely desist from using images that condone, legitimise, normalise, or build desirable fantasy around slavery or servitude of any kind, including child slavery or child servitude. Further, the extremely fair colour of your skin (as projected in the advertisement) contrasted with the black skin of the slave-boy is obviously a deliberate "creative" juxtaposition by the advertising agency, and insidiously racist.”

The publicist of Aishwarya Rai responded to it stating that the original photo shoot of the actress was without the child and that the ‘final layout of the ad is entirely the prerogative of the creative team for a brand’.

Social media was buzzing with negative comments on the ad. Here are some excerpts from the conversation which took place on Kalyan Jewellers’ Facebook page.

According to the ASCI CCC decisions, February 2015, the body upheld complaints against 125 out of 167 advertisements, out of which, Kalyan Jewellers was one of them. The TVC states ‘yeh aapke gher ki shaadi thodi hi hai" and "jitna dekar woh ladka khush hoga, theek hai" imply jewellery being given to please bridegroom and his family. The body also pointed out that the advertisement is likely to encourage dowry system which is in violation of Cable TV Act’s Advertising Code – 7.1(viii) (“exploits social evils like dowry, child marriage") so it was upheld.

Experts’ take:

Commenting on how badly the image of the brand will get tarnished, Rajiv Dingra, Founder & CEO, WatConsult said, “Kalyan Jewellers in their enthusiasm to portray Aishwarya in a larger than life image used a standard African child, who is dark and potbellied, thus depicting slavery. More damage was done after Aishwarya’s publicist released the original picture which was photo shopped. It actually questions the credibility of the brand. I don’t find any reason to put the blame on Aishwarya, yes it is her moral responsibility, but at the end of the day, she is just a model and she is being paid for it. The onus is entirely on the brand as well as the creative agency.”

Samir Kumar, Head of Creative Strategy, Brand Harvest explained that ideally, there shouldn't be a gap between intention and perception when a brand communicates. In this particular instance, however, the intention with which the brand created the ad and the perception that it ended up creating were diametrically opposite. It hurt the brand, despite having a very pure intention of recreating the aristocratic charm of the colonial era. It's visually reliving those times in its absolute reality. However, it ended up making a statement on racism. It should have been foreseen by any of the brand custodians. We are living in a time when brands are showing commitment towards doing good, and no brand can afford to get carried away by the aesthetics of its communication.

“My question is why only 'racism', can jewellery brands afford to keep showing giving large gifts to daughter at the time of marriage? There are social, contextual questions that brand custodians and creative teams need to look into because in this age of social media our every piece of communication (including print ads) turns into a dialogue. And every time a deep-seated prejudice 'slips' out in any piece of communication, there are people who will spot it. In a sense, what happened is equivalent of a Freudian slip by our industry. And we must be thankful to people who take time and effort to point out these instances. The brand can perhaps now take the stance of actively thanking everybody who has voiced their concern (rather than just removing the ads) and create a far better perception,” he cited. 

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