Abid Hussain Barlaskar

HUL in Twitter soup over Kumbh Mela post

We spoke to experts about the recent social media backlash faced by the FMCG major – and what we can learn from it.

Social media doesn't forgive. FMCG giant Hindustan Unilever (HUL) was the latest target of a social media backlash for a post about its ad campaign for tea brand Brooke Bond Red Label on Twitter.

HUL in Twitter soup over Kumbh Mela post
Screen grab of the first tweet (Source - Twitter)

The ad film, a Kumbh Mela-themed communication, shows a man abandoning his elderly father in the crowd at the holy congregation but later realising his misdeed. HUL first posted the film on Twitter with a caption that referred Kumbh as "a place where old people get abandoned". This angered netizens with them calling for a boycott of HUL products.

Post the initial backlash, HUL removed the post and re-tweeted the video with a new caption - "@RedLabelChai encourages us to hold the hands of those who made us who we are."

However, the lashing didn't subside and people responded to the new post with screenshots of the previous post accompanied by #BoycottHindustanUnilever.

It didn't end there too. Baba Ramdev, who has been opposing multi-national-companies with his "swadeshi" brand Patanjali, seized the opportunity to take a jab at HUL in a Twitter post.

Hindu BusinessLine cited a HUL spokesperson saying, “Through the Brooke Bond Red Label campaign, our intention is to urge people to take care of the elderly. We do not intend to hurt the sentiments of people, and have modified the tweet which could have been inadvertently misconstrued.”

We spoke to industry experts about it:

HUL in Twitter soup over Kumbh Mela post
Karthik Srinivasan

Communications consultant Karthik Srinivasan says that the film didn't draw any negative reaction when it was first shared on Facebook and LinkedIn. "It was a uniformly positive reaction for the film. At best people were curious about it. The negativity started right after it was posted on Twitter. But its not uncalled for," Srinivasan says.

He explains that the statement in the first post was used without any credible backing or data. "It was like casually saying 'this happens, so we made this ad'. People may not have reacted so badly if it was backed by data. Also, when the post was replaced by the new post, there was no change in HUL's stance with regard to the feedback and did not acknowledge the anger." he says.

"The brand should have removed the line. They could have changed the entire thing from negative to positive by saying that Kumbh is actually a holy place where the negative attitude and idea changes to a positive one. The video stands for that," Srinivasan signs off.

HUL in Twitter soup over Kumbh Mela post
Sita Lakshmi Narayan Swamy

Brand and consumer expert Sita Lakshmi Narayan Swamy, says, "HUL is a very well-researched company and they are very circumspect about their communication. So, if it was thoughtfully put out, they must have stuck to it. There will always be naysayers. The new post is more of a general statement and the older one resonates with the video. If the brand really wanted to be politically correct, it shouldn't have put it out in the first place."

"HUL should have put out a public explanation about the campaign and say that they didn't want to hurt the sentiments of people," Swamy further adds.

HUL in Twitter soup over Kumbh Mela post
N Chandramouli

N Chandramouli, CEO, Trust Research Advisory, a brand intelligence and data insights company, says, "In the ad, the brand tried to imitate a 'Jaago re' kind of an attitude but it's not there in its culture."

Speaking about the way the brand dealt with the social media crisis, Chandramouli says, "In the Twitter world, you cannot take back words unless you have caused too much harm. The brand should instead talk on that and carry on a normal conversation. They almost behave as if nobody saw the post."

"The brand has not only committed a mistake but also didn't get the benefit of what they were trying. Today you cannot escape it, and say that you didn't do it. You have to admit it first. With the internet, things get shared really fast. The ad looked like it was hastily made and the social media management looks panicky in its attempt at repairing the damage," he signs off.

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