Surf Excel backlash: Trolling of this kind has short-term effect on brands, say experts

While some criticized the brand for hurting their religious sentiments, many came out in Surf Excel’s support too

e4m by Dolly Mahayan
Published: Mar 12, 2019 9:02 AM  | 4 min read

Around festivals, brands often use ad campaigns to deliver social messages that resonate well with their philosophy and also bring a smile to the face of the consumer.

Detergent brand Surf Excel is known for spreading positive message in the society during festivals under their “daag acche hain” campaign. This time also it attempted the same with its Holi ad aimed at promoting communal harmony. The one-minute ad features a young Hindu girl and a Muslim Boy. The girl challenges neighbourhood friends to splash her with colors so that she could protect her Muslim friend who has to go to mosque to offer prayers.

But, the ad created quite a controversy on social media, with some saying that it has hurt their religious sentiments and #BoycottSurf soon started trending on Twitter 

However, not all felt so. Many, including politicians such as Mehbooba Mufti and Sanjay Nirupam also came out in support of the ad on Twitter.

Surf Excel is not the first ad that has faced backlash on social media. There’s a history of how brands have faced such criticism. So, does this scenario affect the brand’s value and sales?  We asked brand experts.

According to brand guru Harish Bijoor, it affects the brand value, but only temporarily. “Till consumers, competitors and trolls forget. Or there is some other event that shifts the attention,” he says.

Swati Nathani, CBO and Co-Founder, Team Pumpkin, feels that every trend is short- lived and it does affect the brand value and sales during that period.

“As netizens, it’s our responsibility to fairly judge any communication from our point of view rather than getting carried away by instigations by various groups,” Nathani cautions.

Brand expert N Chandramouli feels that #boycott is another expression of free will that social media seemingly creates.

“In some cases it can have a negative impact on the sales of the brand, and sometimes also on its brand value. However, if brands (and people too) succumb to the pressures of such pressure tactics of parochial interests, they will be playing right into their hands. Brands must keep to their core messages and promise and not change that,” adds Chandramouli.

This is the second time in a month that Hindustan Unilever has faced flak for its advertisements. Recently, Brooke Bond was trolled by users on twitter for “portraying Kumbh Mela in a bad light” and “hurting the sentiments of Hindu pilgrimages”.

Shares Swati, “HUL built a beautiful communication through the ad. They would’ve pre-empted such reactions as the communication was beyond the regular category codes.”

According to Chandramouli, elections are just a month away and such trolling on social media could be to keep the minds of the citizens diverted to trivia rather than real issues.

“Breads and circuses, they used to call it in ancient Rome,” he concludes.

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