Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Points of View

Has Fortune set a new precedent in the 'brand versus troll' tussle?

The Valentines Day ad by Fortune with Sourav Ganguly talking about heart health flipped the narrative in favour of the brand.

Despite the precautionary layers of checks and approvals, a brand can land itself in a (troll)soup on social media for literally no fault of its own. But what really matters is how it emerges from the muck, unscathed or with as little damage as possible.

Even better, if the brand manages to turn the tables to its own advantage. A recent (but rare) example is that of Fortune, the cooking oil brand from Adani Wilmar.

Fortune’s sportstar brand ambassador Sourav Ganguly recently suffered a heart attack. Soon after, netizens cited an ad for Fortune’s Rice Bran oil featuring Ganguly, which promotes the oil’s heart health benefits. The brand was attacked severely as trolls chose to highlight the irony of the situation.

Folks at Adani Wilmar temporarily halted the brand’s advertising campaign across mediums. Instead of a knee-jerk reaction to the trolling, they chose to stick with Ganguly and said that they would resume communication once he had recovered.

On Sunday (February 14), Fortune published a Valentine’s Day special print ad featuring its endorser. The ad was a long format copy presented as a signed letter from the former cricketer.

Has Fortune set a new precedent in the 'brand versus troll' tussle?

The ‘letter’ took an educational/scientific stance with Ganguly informing that there are several reasons that could cause heart ailments. While the ad does not push a specific brand or product, it highlights ‘Gamma Oryzanol’, an antioxidant, present in rice bran. It is known to help control bad cholesterol in the body and has been prominently advertised by Fortune. The copy puts forth a bunch of good heart health practices, like regular checkups, sleep, workouts, etc.

In light of Fortune’s strategy, we asked industry experts if the brand has set a new precedent in the ‘brand versus troll’ tussle on social media.

Edited excerpts:

Jishnu Sen, marketing consultant (ex-CMO, Future Retail, and ex-CEO, GREY group)

It’s a very well done ad, which very nicely pivoted from Ganguly’s experience to healthy lifestyle. Fortune’s decision to retain Ganguly isn’t just bold, but a very intelligent strategy.

Jishnu Sen
Jishnu Sen

Trolling has been an unfortunate side effect of an otherwise powerful force of social media. Brands will gladly accept the praise, but will have to also accept criticism too. Mature, sensible brands do intelligent social listening and separate the grain from the chaff. They learn and respond to genuine feedback and ignore the rest.

Fortune has realised that many things work in its favour - Ganguly’s fan following, his quick recovery and fitness. So, it kept him on and used him to have a ‘heart’ conversation on Valentine’s Day. An intelligent brand response all-around.

Divyapratap Mehta, consumer insights, brand and strategy expert

Fortune has handled the issue in a very mature manner. In a moment of crisis, it is best to pull back, think with a cool mind and get out of a sticky situation, especially in today's troll-active world. It's sometimes best to not react, and tell your own story in a manner that automatically shuts the trolls and reinforces in an honest manner to the brand believers and those on the fringe.

Divyapratap Mehta
Divyapratap Mehta

The fact that Fortune has been transparent, cool and factual, selling not the brand but the rice bran and Gamma Oryzanol story, makes it look like a responsible brand built on science, and not just a marketing gimmick. Unlike some brands that give in to trolls, here is a brand that stood its ground, stood by its celebrity endorser and made a confident and factual comeback - something for brands and people to ponder over and learn.

Ronita Mitra, business consultant and founder, Brand Eagle Consulting (ex-marketing manager at Marico and J&J)

Fortune, by retaining its brand ambassador Ganguly, has acted like a statuesque brand and a leader. By choosing not to pay any attention to trolls, it has shown that it refuses to get distracted by conversations that do not add value to the brand. In this case, Fortune has shown support for its brand ambassador, who experienced a genuine incident with his health.

Ronita Mitra
Ronita Mitra

This action will also convey to its consumer base that the brand is consistent and not short-term-oriented in its decisions and actions. It will also convey to its consumers that it values relationships and considers them as being there for the long-term and, in the process, assuring its consumers that they too are valued.

Finally, by standing by their ambassador during a difficult phase in his life, Fortune has displayed strength of character and brand values - action that will convey much more about the brand, its value and purpose than any brand-led communication would have.

Lakshmipathy Bhat, marketing communication professional

On hindsight, by not reacting immediately to all the social media jibes and sticking to providing a factual picture of what causes heart attack, Fortune has elevated the conversation. And, it came aross as a responsible brand. The strategy played a bigger role than the actual creative execution.

Lakshmipathy Bhat
Lakshmipathy Bhat

It is fairly straightforward but it is engaging because the strategy was right. They got Sourav to speak like an individual acknowledging that there was a problem and that there were several reasons including hereditary that could have caused it. And that lifestyle also played role. Also, not overtly selling the brand came across as doing the right thing.