Aishwarya Ramesh

Agency What's Your Problem speaks out on controversial Tanishq ad

The agency talks about the moot point of the ad – which was completely missed in the cacophony of the social media backlash.

After the backlash that Tanishq's 'Ekatvam' (oneness) ad received on social media, the company was forced to remove it from its official YouTube page. The ad was fairly benign – it had a theme of communal harmony and portrayed a Muslim mother-in-law throwing a baby shower for her Hindu daughter-in-law.

The contrast the ad portrays is unmissable. The woman in a white saree wears a bindi and jasmine flowers, whereas the woman accompanying her, presumably her mother-in-law, is seen wearing a salwar suit with a shawl over her head.

The only other religious marker in the film is perhaps a certain kind of head-gear worn by one of the men in the first few frames. Unfortunately, the ad was called anti-Hindu and accused of promoting a ridiculous concept called 'love jihad'. Now, What’s Your Problem, the advertising agency behind the ad, explains its stance.

Tejas Mehta, COO of What’s Your Problem, begins by telling afaqs! that the agency won the duties for Tanishq for the festive season after a multi-agency pitch. He says that the work started with what to name the collection, the stories they wanted to tell and their main focus area – the confluence of arts across regions and the concept of togetherness.

Tejas Mehta
Tejas Mehta

He tells us that never before had the company used illustrations in its ads, or explored individual stories in different ads in the same campaign. This year, the company bought spots in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL), which does not allow for long ads.

“As a student of the industry I’m working in, advertising has always been about going out and playing a pivotal role in changing consumer behaviour. It was about showcasing the possibility of a world that could be... Wear a shirt to gain confidence, spray a deo to get the girl of your dreams – all these advertising messages are about creating aspiration and a world of possibilities. That’s what a pieceof communication should be doing, that’s what our communication is doing too,” he explains.

Mehta claims that in today’s times, freedom of speech and expression is very loosely translated into a freedom to prosecute and pass judgement.

“If my sense of what’s okay is not in sync with what somebody’s proposing, then that’s not okay at all – there’s no room to coexist like this. I could like a brand a lot, but if I don’t like an ad it has made, I’d like to move on – that’s where the ability to be tolerant comes from,” says Mehta.

He harks back to 20-30 years, when there was a certain fear of expressing displeasure for something – because then you would have to have a strong argument to support your views.

“Social media gives you a smokescreen behind which anyone can have an opinion for any reason. It allows people to express what they feel without reasoning it out.”

Mehta admits that the agency never expected this ad to receive this much backlash. The whole idea, the moot point of the communication, was the line that the mother-in-law says.

“She (the daughter-in-law) asks her mother-in-law how they could hold this ceremony – which became a big point of conversation. But the moot point was supposed to be the line that follows – about how the tradition of keeping daughters happy is part of every household.”

It's pity that in all of this cacophony, the point is lost, he says. It's all about a mother-in-law accepting her daughter-in-law as her own daughter. Isn't that the story in every Indian household?

Mehta mentions that the brand (team) had been closely tracking the controversy since the sparks of it began emerging on Saturday night.

“By Sunday, it began picking up momentum, and by Monday, there was full-blown outrage. We had multiple calls with the brand (team) to decide on the best course of action, and when a Tanishq employee’s life was at risk, that’s when the client decided to take the film off air.”

He adds that a brand in today’s world should take a stance, and while creating a message, it is important to ask yourself: is there something wrong with what I’m trying to communicate? If you believe it is right, then the creative person should go ahead and stand by his/her work.