A barrage of brands have been trolled in recent times. When trolls rear their heads, should brands backtrack?
Yesteryear brand advertising covered a variety of topics - romance, friendship, love, and even communal harmony. Even in recent times during the covid-19 pandemic, brands like Red Label Tea advised users to not isolate Covid positive patients and to be kind to them instead.
However, times are changing now. Social media has become a battleground of sorts for those who feel wronged, to raise their swords and sound a battle cry. Brands have to be careful with their communications and one misstep can result in criticism and trolling.
Multiple brands have been trolled this way in recent times. When Shah Rukh Khan's son Aryan Khan got arrested, netizens wondered how he'd be a good fit as a Byju's brand ambassador. Unacademy was trolled for a skit that many called "Anti-Hindu". FabIndia was accused of "Abrahmanising" Diwali by naming a Diwali collection Jashn-e-Rivaaz. The brand also took down an ad for the collection.
Zomato is the latest brand who got criticised on social media. A customer residing in Tamil Nadu was told by a customer service executive that he should know Hindi as it's the national language. This resulted in widespread criticism and as a result, Zomato had to post an apology - both in English and Tamil.
Social media has become a tricky landscape for a brand manager to navigate. It raises the question - in today's day and age, is it possible to make a piece of communication that does not offend anyone?
Speaking to industry experts, Anupama Ramaswamy managing partner at Dentsu Impact still believes that creative professionals and brand managers should do what is right for a brand.
"If we get tied up into these wordplays, we can never create ads that will be loved. But how many ads are universally loved? The keyword is universal. We still need to take risks. We still need to be brave," she says.
Ramaswamy opines that people should not hurt sentiments knowingly but to be scared of faceless trolls is also not ok.
She adds that by removing the ad, Fabindia just threw away decades of goodwill. "Fabindia always catered to the intelligent, the secular but when brands retract, then it feels as if they didn’t have conviction in what they put out there. It also makes these trollers stronger and brands weaker," says Ramaswamy.
She says that content should Ideally be entertaining and engaging and that it's important to keep the communication authentic, real and memorable. "The Rest cannot be controlled. But nowadays brands are definitely thinking of a lot of things like religion, gender parity, equality, racism-free etc etc, she mentions.
Rajul Kulshreshtha former CEO of Madison Media Plus, believes that at the end of the day, it all comes down to what the brands want to communicate. He reiterates that as a country, India has always been a secular and that needs to be respected.
“The brand envisaged the kind of reactions that the communication would invoke, one is quite sure of it. The question remains what was the brand was trying to communicate."
He theorises that in a cluttered world, this could be the brand's attempt to stand out.