Nirma has faced a consumer backlash following the unveiling of its latest ad film. The film features Hindi film star Akshay Kumar depicting a Maratha king. The advertisement has reportedly offended several consumers, who claim that Maratha culture has been mocked in the ad. Here is an overview.
Detergent brand Nirma has found itself in the middle of a controversy after the brand unveiled its latest ad film featuring Akshay Kumar.
The ad showcases Akshay Kumar as a Maratha king, who has returned home after a victorious battle. In a very comic storyline, one of the warriors is confronted by his wife after he calls for celebration – all thanks to his soiled attire. After a brief exchange of words, the characters are seen dancing around, washing their own clothes. The video has been created by Boing in partnership with Purnima Advertising.
While the overall mood of the film is comic and entertaining, some consumers have taken note of the way Maratha warriors have been depicted, sparking numerous enraged discussions on social media. Many consumers have taken offence at the ad film for allegedly mocking the Maratha warriors and their legacy. One Twitter user took to the platform to express discontentment with the ad film, saying “...They [Nirma] have made use of our brave Maratha soldiers to sell their product.”
The #BoycottNirma charted third on the top trends for India on Twitter, with a multitude of tweets pouring in to condemn the ad film. But it wasn't just the brand that faced the backlash, netizens made sure their anguish was directed at Akshay Kumar as well. One user addressed Kumar in a tweet, asking the actor to read up on the “history of Marathas”. Another user called for the boycott of Akshay Kumar's movies.
Here is a statement by Purnima Advertising: "It is a clear case of misunderstanding. Our story was to show an Indian king and his army who have come back victorious from the war. While they are in the mood to celebrate, a soldier's wife complains that while the men will celebrate, women will have to do the washing. To this the king responds, if they can destroy the enemy, they can very easily take care of the stains on 'their own clothes'. This clearly brings out 'gender equality' and 'forward thinking' of the evolved ruler. Following this, the king and his army are seen washing 'their own' clothes and celebrating alongside, because washing is that easy with our product.
Nowhere in the ad did we or the artist ever intend to hurt the sentiments of any community or religion. If it came across as that and has hurt anyone's feelings, we sincerely apologize. It was a clear case of creative depiction and the artist had no role in the creative decision making which involved script, concept, costume, set, music etc. Moreover, there is no reference made to any indian king nor Akshay Kumar’s appearance in the ad resembles to any Indian king.
We request everyone to clear out the misunderstanding and continue to have the loving relationship you have had with Nirma for over 30 years."
While the intent of this campaign is subject to interpretation, the brand has somehow stepped on some consumers' toes. We reached out to industry experts to get their perspective on the issue.
Amit Wadhwa, president, Dentsu Impact
My view of the ad is that it’s plain slapstick comedy. I am not a huge fan of the ad but I am sure it has its takers. As far as the consumer backlash is concerned, I think it’s completely unfounded. Most comic representations either in movies or ads will always have a character who has a Punjabi accent or a Gujarati one, they may play a police officer or a doctor or so on. By this logic, everything comic should hurt the sentiments of some community or the other. As long as Nirma is not pushed to pull out the ad, it might just create more conversations than what it would have normally.
Generally, I think consumers have a huge appetite for consuming different and a lot more evolved content. The kind of programmes on OTTs and the topics being picked for ads are testimony to this. Such reactions on ads certainly hamper creativity as you start playing safe with the fear of a negative backlash, and hence land up in a tried and tested space rather than trying out something new or bold.
Akanksha Patankar Mirji, brand consultant and storyteller
In the media world, there have been numerous ads where people have had various perspectives. For instance, there are so many ads that feature characters depicting Punjabis, Parsis, etc. But people don't take offence because they understand it is humour. One has to first understand the intention behind the ad. It is not to make fun of any culture.
The whole idea of this ad was strictly based on a story line – one of warriors. The way I look at it, it's just a matter of perspective. For me, the ad talks of victory, shuns stereotypes around women, and makes a statement on how we can all take care of ourselves while having fun at the same time. About the backlash that the ad film has received, I think it is a matter of perspective. People from the North might not even know the reason behind the outrage, just like people from the South won't when it comes to characters from the North. And when we take offence in advertisements like these, are we upholding segregation? If everyone is going to take offence at everything, then we might as well go back to how advertising functioned in the 20th century.