Shreyas Kulkarni

Sourav Ganguly’s health misfortune throws a googly at Fortune Rice Bran Health oil

The 48-year-old BCCI president and former India cricket captain endorses a brand that promises a healthy heart. After his recent heart attack, netizens overreact to the irony of the situation.

Sourav Ganguly, president, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), and former team India captain, had to undergo an emergency angioplasty in Kolkata last week after he suffered a mild heart attack. Nobody saw it coming, especially Ganguly and Fortune Rice Bran Health, a healthy heart oil brand that he endorses.

Turns out that social media has rediscovered a 2020 Ogilvy ad, where Ganguly, affectionately known as `Dada’, endorsed Adani Wilmar’s Fortune Rice Bran Health oil. Aimed at people over 40 years of age, Ganguly asks in the ad, “Will you stop living if you’ve turned 40?” Ganguly, 48, was an international cricketer for over a decade before venturing into sports administration. So, he fit the endorser criteria.

Ganguly goes on to say that the oil contains “Gamma Oryzanol that increases good cholesterol, reduces bad cholesterol and keeps your heart healthy.”

The cooking oil brand promises to keep your heart healthy, but it doesn’t claim that it will prevent a heart attack. Many netizens, however, overlooked this aspect and, instead, overreacted to the irony of the situation.

What astonished us (afaqs!) was the number of people commenting (read mocking) on the situation. From Dada’s choice of endorsing the brand to the latter’s claim falling flat, and even blaming it (the brand) for his heart attack.

Also Read: Have bullies and bigots taken Tanishq's advertising hostage?

Unfortunately, insensitivity has now become the norm. Last year (2020), online fanatics came together to troll jewellery brand Tanishq to such an extent that it had to pull down two ads in the space of a month. This wasn’t the case 5-10 years ago. Do you remember when the same Tanishq was lauded for its remarriage ad?

Manish Porwal
Manish Porwal

“The intensity of trolling has increased, but its long-lastingness has decreased,” remarks Manish Porwal, managing director, Alchemist Marketing & Talent Solutions. (Porwal was CEO at Percept Talent Management when it handled Ganguly’s endorsements.)

Porwal went on to say that you won’t remember a Twitter trend from a year ago, but will remember an ad campaign from 20 years ago.

He recalled Princess Diana’s 1997 car crash that killed her. “… died in a Mercedes, but the brand lived with it and grew…. Good brands outlive those backstories.”

Ramanujam Sridhar
Ramanujam Sridhar

“On Twitter, the hateful messages are surprising and I suppose there’s an inherent desire of people to get noticed,” says Sridhar Ramanujam, founder-CEO, brand-comm, a brand and PR consultancy. Ramanujam adds that face to face “I can’t make comments like this… most violent people aren’t that strong… It’s the medium that brings the worst of people.”

Ramanajum is thankful that public memory is short. Everyone is interested because Ganguly is famous… "There may be a short-term impact in terms of sales and negative sentiment…”

Brand fallout

Ganguly is currently recovering in Kolkata’s Woodlands Hospital, and Fortune has become the target of netizens, who are taking digs at the brand and sharing memes online. It’s an unfortunate situation for a brand to be in. The age-old tactic for brands during such times is to lay low and let the storm pass because public memory is short.

However, all this is being played online. So, Akanksha Patnakar Mirji, a brand and corporate storyteller (she was AVP at GolinOpion, MullenLowe Lintas’ PR consultancy), asks, “Is the brand equipped to deal with the crisis on social media?”

Akanksha Patankar Mirji
Akanksha Patankar Mirji

She remarks that the brand is stuck in a corner and it now has three options. First, to lay low and do nothing. The second is to hit back and reiterate that “it had nothing to do with it using linguistics… Ganguly may be endorsing Fortune oil, but that doesn’t mean it caused the heart attack.” Third is to take some knocks, i.e., the taunts, memes and trolling, and then go on to “run information campaign more than anything else.”

Wish your brand ambassador well and “build appropriate points of content, educate the general population about the right amount of oil to use, say, for different age groups… If you put extra oil into your food…. No matter how much protective it is, you’re putting extra oil.”

Fortune can’t wash its hands off its brand ambassador (Ganguly), states Mirji. “He’s called Dada and Indians have a special place in their hearts for him, you have to build empathy…”

Porwal too spoke on similar lines when he told us that if he was the brand, he’d go to Ganguly and ask him, “Hey, would you later talk about how this can happen to anyone and, thank god, I was using Fortune…”

Of course, it has to be done tastefully and not look planted. Can you imagine the brand coming around with a story on how it (the heart attack) was delayed because Ganguly was a genuine user…

The CCPA concern

Another interesting point we observed online was the creation of Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), under the Consumer Protection Act 2019, that came into effect on July 20, 2020.

The CCPA can penalise an endorser Rs 10 lakh or imprison him/her for two years for false or misleading advertisements. We’d be quite surprised if Ganguly was penalised for his heart attack once he recovers. Honestly, it sounds ridiculous.

For instance, The News Minute on 4 January 2021 said the Kerala redressal commission has asked Dhathri, a hair cream company that promised “hair growth in just six weeks” and Malayalam actor Anoop Menon who appeared in an advertisement for the company to pay Rs 10,000 fine each to a consumer for making ‘false’ promises.

But it turns out that top stars “cover themselves with something called an indemnity clause. They can’t be liable for any fault in the product,” reveals Porwal. He explains that in case of a problem due to the product quality, like Dabur Honey (referring to the honey purity scandal), they can’t go after Amitabh Bachchan… he will say this is what I was told…. They didn’t tell me this, I am not supposed to be an expert, sorry.

And, if the court holds him responsible and doles out a sentence (punishment), “the brand takes the hit as long as it’s monetary”.