Nisha Qureshi
Influencer Marketing

Should brands be cautious of associating with toxic influencers?

Political parties, just like brands, are investing in influencer marketing to appeal to the youth. However, what happens when a said influencer’s content begins to become toxic? Shouldn’t brand safety be a priority for all brands? Let’s ask some experts.

A few weeks ago, a clip from influencer and YouTuber Ranveer Allahbadia’s podcast ‘The Ranveer Show’, talking to advocate J Sai Deepak, went viral. Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons.

In the clip, Allahbadia asks Deepak a controversial question – to name three Indians who should leave India and never come back. Deepak responds by mentioning the names of journalist Barkha Dutt, and renowned historians Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib.

The clip went viral and sparked a debate online about Deepak’s views. People have criticised Allahbadia for asking an insensitive question. He was accused of spreading political propaganda.

A number of YouTubers are under scrutiny for interviewing politicians and minsters in the runup to the 2024 General elections. Political parties, just like brands, are investing in influencer marketing to appeal to the youth. However, what happens when a said influencer’s content becomes toxic?

Apparel brand Ajio’s logo is visible in the background of Allahbadia’s viral clip. He has over 5.8 million subscribers on YouTube, a million followers on Instagram and 546,000 on Twitter. Despite their massive following, should brands invest in influencers who back a said political narrative? Shouldn’t brand safety be a priority for all brands?

Let’s ask a few experts.

Brands should differentiate between social and political

Ambika Sharma, founder and MD at Pulp Strategy, says that brands should focus on taking a stand on social issues, instead of political ones. When you are in the media business, it is your responsibility to maintain and promote positivity, she adds.

“Most brands do this. The question, however, is whose views can be considered toxic. Safety should be the priority for every brand. Unless it is something you actually care about or believe in, you should stay away from it. Brands should differentiate between what is political and what is nationalistic. They sometimes are nationalistic, but they can’t be political.”

It’s not about playing safe, but about brand safety

This may be a déjà vu situation for brands, where they had to think twice before spending their ad budgets on news channels. The content on news channels was becoming extremely toxic to the extent of hurting the harmony and unity of the country. A number of national advertisers like Amul and Maruti Suzuki, had to pull the plug on TV news advertising. 

Speaking about the current scenario, Shashank Srivastava, executive director at Maruti Suzuki, states that the content from an influencer or a channel may not be directly related to the sponsor. But there is always a concern about a backlash and people associating you with the content.

“Brands may not be aware about what the content will be (on TV or with an influencer). However, it is possible for people to start associating the brand with it. Although you could always raise that larger question as to what is toxic and what is an independent view.”

“Influencers are generally known for their views on a particular product or category. People tend to follow influencers based on what his or her thoughts on a subject are. For example, I follow an automobile influencer, for his views on cars and not politics. However, if that person’s political views are known and he starts talking about it, one (brand) would like to stay away.”

Brand expert and independent consultant Sai Ganesh shares that brands always tend to walk away from toxic environments, be it TV news channels or Twitter.

“Brands walked away from Twitter when it became toxic. When they (brands) were associating with toxic news channels, people called them out. Brands should be equally careful about influencers too. There is always a risk of things blowing out of proportion.”

Divisha Iyer, associate vice president at Schbang, says that it is crucial to think about the long-term impact of the associations. According to her, if the influencer’s views are in harmony with the brand’s principles and resonate with the target audience, it could strengthen the brand’s message. However, if it’s contradictory to the brand’s values, it will pose a threat to its image.

“Political narratives and affiliations can change rapidly, and an influencer’s views may evolve over time. Whether it is right for brands to associate with influencers who openly back a specific political narrative, depends on various factors and considerations. Knowing it is a huge investment for the brand, and not just financially, one must consider the potential implications of this evolution on their image and reputation.”

We reached out to Ajio to comment on the topic, however, it had not responded until the time of filing this story.

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