Aamir Khan might probably not have thought that his candid statement at Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards in New Delhi on Monday would lead to such a storm of controversy.
Brands that are or have been associated with the actor would definitely not have expected to bear the brunt simply by association; but staying true to the spirit of Murphy’s Law, this is exactly what happened.
Not content with expressing their ire on the actor, people turned to Snapdeal and other brands which Aamir Khan endorses (or has endorsed). Overnight, Snapdeal got nearly 70,000 1 star (the lowest rating available) on the Google Play store.
Angry messages, with calls to block or ban the e-commerce company, followed on Twitter and, finally, Snapdeal decided to release a statement.
“Snapdeal is neither connected nor plays a role in comments made by Aamir Khan in his personal capacity. Snapdeal is a proud Indian company built by passionate young Indians focused on building an inclusive digital India. Everyday we are positively impacting thousands of small businesses and millions of consumers in India. We will continue towards our mission of creating one million successful online entrepreneurs in India,” said the company. It also started the hashtag #SnapdealForIndia to further drive in its message, getting supporters and company employees to tweet as much as possible using it.
Snapdeal was not the only target of the public’s ire. There were many who were calling for people to ban other brands like Samsung, Godrej, Titan, etc. which have had associations with Aamir Khan.
Seeking to distance itself from the issue, Godrej tweeted, clarifying that Aamir Khan was no longer the company’s brand ambassador. There were no statements from Samsung India or any of the others as of writing of this article.
Despite the controversy, Snapdeal did find support from Sachin Bansal, Co-founder of Flipkart, who pointed out that brands have no say in an ambassador’s personal opinions.
This is not the first time that a brand has had to face the brunt of the public’s displeasure, or vice versa, and it definitely won’t be the last. Just months earlier, there were many who took to social media criticizing or ridiculing Madhuri Dixit for her association with Maggi (this was when Maggi was still not cleared of potential health hazards). In most situations, the brands take a “hands off” policy, while distancing themselves from any controversy.
“The relationship between a brand and its brand ambassador is intertwined. One cannot say that I will be on your side only in the good times. It also calls into question the value of the brand. The first thing to do is to calm down, stabilize things and then consider an appropriate response. For example, the statement that Snapdeal released is basically distancing itself from Aamir Khan’s thoughts. This might actually cause them to lose brownie points with the section that actually does believe that Aamir is in the right and it shows that the relationship is only superficial,” opined N.Chandramouli, CEO of Trust Research Advisory (TRA) and Blue Lotus Communications.
The solution, he says, is to have watertight contracts so both parties are equally committed to the relationship. “There should also be counseling sessions for both that will help to strengthen the relationship even further,” he added.
But on the social media front, there is only so much the brand can do. When asked for his views on how brands like Snapdeal and Godrej handled the issue, Chetan Asher, CEO and Founder of Tonic Media, sided with the brands saying that their position was completely fair. “You do not have any control over the person (brand ambassador). If he voices his thoughts on something that is not connected to the brand, then it is his personal opinion and you cannot say anything about it,” he said.
He also pointed out that the most important thing in these situations is to keep the communication open and that was something which both Snapdeal and Godrej did do. “They clarified their position quickly, which is good. At some point, the mature audience will understand the fact for themselves and consider the whole thing logically. Beyond this there is not much a brand can do,” he said.
However, Asher did opine that the brands could probably do well to amplify messages from their supporters so that both perspectives are heard.
A similar policy was also advocated by Sanjay Mehta, Co-CEO of Mirum. “In these situations, discussing or reasoning the issue never helps because there is a deluge of people out to get you. You just have to send out a message and then wait it out. Unfortunately, people have a very short memory span, so you need to just hold out till then and then work to regain the trust of the people, especially, as in this case, the brand has not done anything wrong.”