Rewind 2016:Ad campaigns that courted social media backlash this year

Brands like Ola, Havells, Jack & Jones and Paytm came under social media scanner because of their controversial or ‘sexist’ creatives

e4m by Sarmistha Neogy
Updated: Dec 26, 2016 8:13 AM
Rewind 2016:Ad campaigns that courted social media backlash this year

As we move towards the end of the year, we look at some ad campaigns that triggered social media backlash. Their controversial creatives forced brands like Ola, Havells, Jack & Jones and Paytm to either pull back or modify their campaigns on the back of social media ire.

With the rise of the social media platforms, it has become the need of the hour that brands across categories also realise the importance of having a crisis management strategy in place, especially when consumers take to the social media to dent a brand’s image.

According to Neville Medhora, Vice President, Rage Communications, rising ‘intolerance’ is often blamed for the higher levels of noise that is a departure from what the normal invokes. Which is surely a factor but hardly the raison d’être for the backlash. Not just for ads but all forms of communication - be it news, opinions or boardroom battles!

In 2015, one of Kalyan Jewellers’ print ad featuring Aishwarya ‘representing aristocracy in the bygone era’ along with an underage child holding an umbrella over her head had to be removed, after it received a lot of backlash on social media for depicting child labour. This year the jewellery brand replaced Rai with Sonam Kapoor as the face of the brand.

Commenting on the trend where increasingly ad creatives are coming under the scrutiny of social media, Anil S Nair – CEO & Managing Partner, Law & Kenneth Saatchi & Saatchi said, “Brands and its custodians will have to calibrate their marketing programme keeping the new reality in mind - we live in a responsive world where real time feedback is the norm. While we crave for engagement with the consumers we also need to be ready to respond to consumer sentiments. Bowing to consumer pressure isn’t a defeat for the brand but delaying the inevitable is. Be fast and smart about how you respond to consumer push back. This is an art and many brands do too little too late.  Sorry is still a powerful word and consumers like humility.”

Below are few examples of ads which courted controversy in 2016:

Havells’ Hawa Badlegi

In March, Havells was forced to withdraw their ‘anti-reservation’ creative because of social media backlash. The ad has been criticised on the grounds of being ‘castiest’ which showed a girl from today’s age rejecting the need for any ‘ladder’ in order to move ahead in life. Post the Twitter furore; the company issued a statement --- “a sequence in our recent fan campaign of ‘Hawa Badlegi’ seems to have hurt the sentiments of some viewers. Havells is a responsible brand and it never intends to hurt anybody’s sentiment. The intention of the company has always been in the interest of people; hence we are withdrawing this ad sequence immediately.”

According to reports, the ad came at a wrong time, especially, when students across the country were simmering with anger over the death of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit scholar at the University of Hyderabad, allegedly as a result of systematic, castiest bias against him and other Dalit students.

Ola Micro’s expensive date

In the month of April, Ola Cabs withdrew one of their television campaigns titled ‘Too expensive to take girlfriend out on a date?’ for Ola Micro after facing severe social media backlash. The ad created by Happy Creative Services underlined the message that using an Ola Micro was cheaper than dating one’s girlfriend--"My girlfriend costs Rs 525 per km but Ola Micro costs just Rs 6 per km." As a result of all the negative publicity Ola Cabs decided to pull down the ad and also apologised for hurting the sentiments.

Paytm’s Drama Bandh Karo to Chinta Mat Karo

Post the announcement of demonetisation on November 8, Mobile wallet company Paytm came out with a digital ad ‘Drama Bandh Karo…Paytm Karo’, which they had to tone down following the social media backlash. The creative conceptualised by McCann Delhiwas seen mocking at the entire scenario.

The ad didn’t go down well with the Twitteratis and the brand modified the creative by removing the ‘Drama bandh karo’ tagline and added ‘Chinta Mat Karo, Paytm Karo’. A lot of people had threatened to uninstall the app if the brand fails to take the requisite action and there were also some, who expressed their surprise and called the brand a coward for coming under pressure so easily and changing their creative.

Upgraded ad:

Arnab Mitra, Managing Director, Liqvd Asia World Wideopines, “Maintaining positive consumer sentiment is one of the foremost responsibilities of advertising. However that has never stopped marketing rebels. But India is yet to see such home grown mavericks. In fact, post 1990s India has produced brands which only know how to play safe; actually that's what we have become as a country. Safe! Precisely why we produce less of adventurers - who is our counter part of Columbus? I feel as a race we don't like challenging status quo and that's why probably we will never produce brand campaigns like Benetton's. We need brands with guts, until then we will keep deleting campaigns from social media.”

Jack & Jones’ sexist ad faces ire

A month back, Danish fashion brand Jack & Jones India pulled down their controversial and alleged ‘sexist’ outdoor ad featuring Ranveer Singh after facing ire on social media. The creative focussed on the brand’s ‘Sharp Office Shirts’ range and showed Singh carrying a woman on his shoulders and about to enter an elevator with the tagline ‘Don’t hold back, take your work home’. Twitteratis objected to the portrayal of women in the creative as sexual objects. On November 21, the brand apologised individually to consumers on social media for the ad hurting their sentiments and also informed their decision of withdrawing it immediately.

To sum up the prominent trend, Medhora pointed “There is a growing need of advertisers to break away from the norm and be noticed. This in turn translates into some truly insensitive and blasé work under cover of ‘cut thru' communication. Secondly the very definition of social media means the world and its dog can now see your posts. You are bound to ruffle some feathers (or fur). Social media by definition amplifies these ‘rufflers’. And lastly no one wants to be left out in the chorus, I have a voice and you will hear it! I think it will be a shame if we all were ‘normal’. We need to break the shackles but with sensitivity, compassion and an ear out for feedback. There will be fails along the way but there will also be successes. And a forward looking world needs both.”

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