Can Nirma wash away social media flak for latest ad?

We asked industry watchers if this furore could mean serious damage to the brand’s image

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Jan 9, 2020 8:10 AM



It’s not the first time that an ad has drawn public ire, but what’s worth noting is that this time the brand in question is Nirma, a brand that has been known for some of the most celebrated ads.

The catchy jingle of ‘Washing Powder Nirma’ captured the nation’s attention in the early 1980s, overtaking all other big names in the market. However, the latest ad from the brand, featuring Akshay Kumar, has led to a boycott on social media, with many alleging that the ad defames Maratha warriors.

The hashtag #BoycottNirma has been trending on microblogging platform Twitter with more than 22,000 tweets since Tuesday.

In the ad, Akshay is seen playing the role of a Maratha king whose army returns victorious from a battle and then sets about washing their own soiled clothes. “The king's army knows how to thrash enemies as well as wash their clothes," Akshay is seen saying in the ad.

The advertisement did not go down well with a section of people who said it mocked Maratha warriors. According to reports, a police complaint has been filed against the actor for allegedly defaming Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the advertisement.

We asked industry watchers if this furore could mean serious damage to the brand.

According to Samit Sinha, Managing Partner of Alchemist Brand Consulting, Twitter’s reach in India as a percentage of the country’s population is too little to be of serious consequence for a brand that is mainly for the masses. “These days it’s almost impossible to say or do anything without someone getting offended and then trying to amplify it through social media. I think it’s a storm in a teacup that’s bound to blow away in a few days. One possible outcome could be the brand owners getting rattled and withdrawing the advertisement and perhaps also issuing an apology just to be on the side of caution because of the volatile climate that is prevailing at present,” Sinha observed.

Prathap Suthan, Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer (CCO) of Bang In The Middle notes that there are surely two angles to this story. In this currently inflammable cauldron, even water can catch fire and that is something brands must bear in mind, he asserted. “One aspect to this is that Nirma ought to have checked and researched with all sections of Marathas if this was acceptable before making and releasing the ad. Brands ought to be wiser. The other point is our people need to relax and not pick up the gauntlet for everything. We need to bank on our sense of humour. We must develop it. A lot of anger issues can be solved without going to war. A progressive society ought to have a very robust sense of humour. Look at the Sikhs or even the Parsis and the jokes that they crack about themselves. Again, the history and the valour of the Marathas will and can never be erased or dismissed by something as small as an ad. Is history and pride written with erasable ink? Will we start boycotting every brand that takes a lighter look at history?” he asked.

Meanwhile, N Chandramouli, CEO, TRA, feels that this should not translate into long-term action by consumers, unless the brand transgression is extremely grave. “Boycott calls have been made in the past for brands to movies. A few brands have made knee-jerk reactions earlier, including removing brand ambassadors due to statements made by them. One must keep in mind that expressions of negative experiences are always more vocal than positive ones, and so the noise is loud on social media. However, we live in a more balanced online world now with positive experiences as well. In a similar instance, we are also seeing #Boycott Chapaak for Deepika Padukone's upcoming movie on account of her participation in the JNU protests. There are parallel groups who approve of her positive action and are hence endorsing and supporting the movie for this very reason. It is not that easy to polarise social media that easily any more,” he asserted.

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