Tanishq ad pullback: The right move in an era of easy outrage?

Industry bodies like ASCI, AAAI and IAA have come out in support of Tanishq and backed the ad

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Oct 15, 2020 9:11 AM

Ever since Monday, Twitter has been abuzz with #BoycottTanishq tweets. The spot by Tata Group's jewellery brand Tanishq faced flak, owing to its narrative around interfaith marriage. The row, however, didn't just end on vicious social media trolling and boycott but ended up escalating to an extent where a Tanishq jewellery showroom in Gandhidham town of Gujarat's Kutch district was even made to put up a note on its door, apologising to Hindus in the district over the controversial TV ad. Eventually, Tanishq had to withdraw the ad. And now lots of people are protesting the pulling down of the ad itself, calling it a regressive move.

Industry Stance

Industry bodies like ASCI, AAAI and IAA have come out in support of Tanishq and backed the ad. The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) received a complaint against the Tanishq advertisement stating it to be objectionable since it promoted communal intermingling, but ASCI has come out in support of the commercial.

“The advertisement in question was viewed at ASCI by an independent multi-stakeholder panel, The Consumer Complaints Council, which balances viewpoints from industry, civil society, lawyers, consumer activists as well as domain experts. This panel was unanimous that nothing in the advertisement was indecent or vulgar or repulsive, which is likely in the light of generally prevailing standards of decency and propriety, to cause grave and widespread offence. The complaint was not upheld, as the advertisement did not violate the ASCI codes of honesty, truthfulness and decency in advertising. Therefore ASCI has no objection to the airing of this advertisement, should the advertiser choose to do so,” an ASCI spokesperson said.

Meanwhile The India Chapter of the International Advertising Association (IAA) in its statement said that it strongly reiterates the need to strengthen and safeguard the fundamental right to express and receive commercial expression as guaranteed in Section 19 (1) (A) of the Constitution of India and that any attempt to stifle this should be condemned in the strongest of terms.

“The events which led to the recent Tanishq advertisement being pulled back are very unfortunate. While we respect the opinion of every individual on subjective matters, these should not descend to illegal threats and anti-social behaviour. We appeal to the concerned Governments to take a serious view of such intimidating behaviour and take exemplary action where required to ensure that businesses are provided a safe environment to communicate their brand advertising messages and contribute to the economic resurgence of the country,” the body’s statement said.
Furthermore, it added that both, the Advertising Agencies Association Of India (AAAI) and The Advertising Club (TAC) are also united with India chapter of IAA on this.

TAC too noted that it condemns the threatening and targeting of Tanishq and its employees in regards to the ad. “After review by our internal team consisting of multi-sectoral experts, we have come to a clear consensus that the advertisement breaks no ethical standards, is not derogatory to any person, organization or religion and does not hurt any national sentiment. Our industry allied bodies of IAA and AAAI endorse our view that such baseless and irrelevant attack on creative expression is extremely concerning and we together stand by the team at Tanishq and against such aggression,” it said in its press statement.

The Era of Easy Outrage

The question that remains is whether the pull-back was the right move by Tanishq and what the fiasco says about advertising today.

K V Sridhar (Pops), Global Chief Creative Officer Nihilent & Hypercollective, observed that the company’s move to pull out the ad is most likely to have stemmed from its concerns around employee safety and the current landscape of several mounting tensions that people are going through which, he feels, is fair on the company's part.“The ad was a beautiful piece of work. Tanishq has been known for creating courageous conversations as a progressive brand, sticking to its progessive values. Tatas as we know it is a very thoughtful, transparent and honest brand. We all know the Taj terrorist attacks incident wherein they stood by their employees and their employees stood by them. Given those core values it's known to abide by, the brand might have taken the call to withdraw it, keeping the employee safety parameters in mind," he opined.
"Secondly, we are in a landscape where there are multiple things people are grappling with: from the upcoming elections, the verdict in the Ram Mandir case and the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic affecting their lives. Tanishq might have had to pull out the ad,” he added.

It should be noted that the internet criticism clearly had an effect, with shares of Titan Company Limited, Tanishq's owner, falling by 2.18 per cent or Rs 27.35 on the Bombay Stock Exchange, to close the session at Rs 1,229.75 per share.

Anil Nair, CEO, VML Y&R, too understands the dilemma the brand was faced with, giving the challenging times. “I believe that certain iconic brands through their advertising have the power to influence the social zeitgeist. I have always looked up to Tanishq as one such brand. Ideologically, I feel they should not have (withdrawan the ad) as the protestors are not a fair representation of the national sentiment. But I can understand their predicament given these times,” Nair states.

Responding to the backlash, a company spokesperson, reportedly, stated 'The idea behind the Ekatvam campaign is to celebrate the coming together of people from different walks of life, local communities and families during these challenging times and celebrate the beauty of oneness. This film has stimulated divergent and severe reactions, contrary to its very objective.'
The brand's decision to remove the ad indicates that it wasn't willing to engage in a debate over the film's themes, instead seeking to go into damage control mode.'

Jagdish Acharya, Founder-Creative Head, Cut The Crap, feels that there should have been no compulsion on the brand to withdraw the ad. “There is no dearth of retrograde ads with stereotypical portrayals of women. That this one got targeted only because it involves two communities shows our own regressive mindset. The lesson for brands is to stay away from such sensitive issues or stick by it come hell or whatever. Tanishq, sadly, hasn't done either,” Acharya opined.

Furthermore, there have also been reports about how Tanishq's employees were hunted down on Linkedin and bombarded with death threats and were forced to delete accounts following the threats.

Prathap Suthan, Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer (CCO) of Bang In The Middle, asserted that if Tanishq had the gumption to buy the script, execute the ad and make it public, they should have gone whole hog and kept pushing it. “Right now it’s a bit of a question on their commitment to their own stance. And if a Tata can get stomped down by trolls, which other company has the kind of spine to back a message that comes from the essence of what India stands for. After all, the core of the message is about love and peace, and oneness. How is that in any way opposite to what religions stand for? We even have the great Sanskrit verse that most of our leadership uses - Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam - The world is one family. Where and how has Tanishq erred on that?” he argued.

On the other hand, Suthan noted that the trolls have given the brand all the mileage and more than they planned for. “It has spiralled into a national discussion. The more the trolls get after the ad, the more it will go viral and give Tanishq more bang for their buck,” Suthan remarked.

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