Shreyas Kulkarni
Points of View

Have bullies and bigots taken Tanishq's advertising hostage?

Tanishq has withdrawn another ad - a Diwali spot. The reason this time around is that it angered the trolls. Who’s empowering these bullies?

History repeats itself. For Tanishq, the leading jewellery brand from the Tata conglomerate, the adage has come true within a month.

Back in October, Tanishq, under heavy criticism from online extremists and trolls, pulled an ad that featured a Hindu bahu, a Muslim saas and husband, and a baby shower. It was made by creative agency What’s Your Problem (WYP) for Tanishq’s festival collection ‘Ekatvam’ - inspired by the theme of ‘Oneness’. As per narrowminded trolls, the ad promotes 'love jihad', a warped concept invented by them.

Also Read: Religion, Twitter trolls and the great Indian brand apology note…

On October 13, Tanishq posted an explanatory note about the ad on its social media platforms. Tejas Mehta, COO, WYP, posted a note on LinkedIn, that called out the trolls; it ended with “… But what I am not sorry for is my belief in that piece of communication or its core message of ‘Ekatvam’.”

Cut to November 9 (yesterday), and #BoycottTanishq was trending once again on Twitter. Only this time, it was for the brand’s new Diwali ad (made by WYP), featuring actresses Sayani Gupta, Neena Gupta, Alaya Furniturewala and Nimrat Kaur.

They spoke about how they’d celebrate Diwali this year. What irked the online trolls was Sayani’s line, “… Definitely, no firecrackers. I don’t think anyone should light (burst) any firecrackers, but lot of diyas, lot of laughter, hopefully, and positivity.”

Unfortunately, for Tanishq, this ad too came under a lot of negative fire online with #BoycottTanishq being retweeted over 15,000 times in just over half a day. People were furious that a brand (Tanishq in this case) was talking about not bursting firecrackers.

CT Ravi, a BJP MLA from Karnataka, said, “Why should anyone advice Hindus (on) how to celebrate our festivals? Companies must focus on selling their products, not lecture us to refrain from bursting crackers…”

States like Karnataka, Punjab, and Haryana have permitted the bursting of firecrackers on Diwali, while several others have banned it.

Bandra Turner Road Junction, Mumbai
Bandra Turner Road Junction, Mumbai

Tanishq, a brand with an offline retail presence (which is what makes the company vulnerable) was once again forced to pull down its latest ad. This begs the question: Are bullies and bigots on Twitter holding Tanishq’s advertising hostage?

In October, the brand pulled the (first) ad a few days after the barrage of online hate began. But this time around, the Diwali ad was pulled down quickly. When we (afaqs!) spoke to people about it, the most common response was, “When did this happen?”

Also Read: Learning from the Tanishq episode: When ads cause controversy, should brands stand by the work or apologise?

Has Tanishq empowered the bullies by giving in so quickly and, in turn, normalised trolling? The marketing head of one of India’s most prestigious firms said Tanishq is a lifestyle brand and has to advertise… “Whoever objects, respect it, clarify it… The other side will understand the rationale and context… You have to defend it.”

He mentioned his own brand’s mascot which, over the years, has garnered enough trust, and says that despite criticism, no ad from his stable has ever been pulled down.

He also made an interesting note: we shouldn’t call anyone a troll only because he/she comments on social media … “Communication goes to TG and non-TG... Brands can’t treat them as trolls… treat them as customers… If you’re not willing to listen, don’t be in media… Respond to them and continue advertising, there are people who support you.”

Juna Bazaar, Pune
Juna Bazaar, Pune

We wondered if this (pulling of the Diwali ad) was an unfortunate fallout of taking down the first ad and apologising for it, and if Tanishq will be able to advertise normally again.

Here is what some experts have to say:

Anupam Bokey, chief marketing officer, ABD (Allied Blenders & Distillers)

Anupam Bokey
Anupam Bokey

I think it’s unfortunate that a brand like Tanishq, with forward-looking viewpoint, is being trolled this way… Maybe it’s the pent-up emotion and stress of the COVID pandemic, and people are just finding any medium to vent (their views).

While the first ad bordered on a very large social issue, the second ad is a straightforward one, and I think there’s absolutely no reason why something like this should be trolled.

When a brand is in a situation like this, it may just help to be sensitive and stay away from something like this… You can be brave, but at the end of the day, you also need to stay on the air and stay salient. But if the trolling is forcing you to pull your ad, it may help to go safe and not infringe on cultural sensitive.

… There are, perhaps, certain sections of the society who’re just whipping up an opportunity and going for it (trolling).

The brand can take a strong stance that there is nothing wrong with it and (it) will stay put. But it (Tanishq) may be expecting some backlash, so it withdrew the ad for safety. (A Tanishq store and employees faced threat when the first ad was facing online hate.)

… During this festive season, when you want your brand (gold jewellery) to be salient, if you’re not able to stay on the air, it may help to take a conscious approach before you go back and make a big statement by taking one or other social issues... You can be brave and keep doing something, which hinges upon people’s sensitivities, or be prudent and take a safer approach for the time being.

Santosh Padhi, co-founder and chief creative officer, Taproot dentsu

Santosh Padhi
Santosh Padhi

I don’t think what it (Tanishq) did then (pulling the first ad) was correct. There’s nothing wrong in the ad, no wrong purpose or intention. Tanishq has done edgy work in the past, such as the remarriage ad. It was wrong for it (Tanishq) to apologise and stop the ad.

‘Ek jhukne wala hota, ek jhukane wala hota hai’… I can find loopholes in any ad and criticise it… Trolls will now point to any ad… You’re Tanishq, a Tata product, if you don’t/can’t stand up and believe in your work, what will happen to smaller brands? Flex your muscle, use PR… But by doing this, you look weak.

We’re a Rs 75,000-crore industry, and it is high time we (brands and agencies) come together and fight it out. We’re not united as an industry and so, the outsiders are taking advantage.

People say a 30-second condom ad is not right… Many times, we’ve been pushed back just because it’s an ad. Ultimately, it’s part of the content, ad or film... Have we not seen that equation in movies? How many times have they objected?

It’s going to impact us in future. These ‘idiots’ will start flexing their muscle on everything… If they can talk about crackers, they can talk about anything…

Anupama Ramaswamy, managing partner and national creative director, dentsu Impact

Anupama Ramaswamy
Anupama Ramaswamy

I personally think the world is becoming polarised. Everyone is feeling marginalised and is on the edge. With the power to comment, people feel empowered to be behind a tweet as they don’t need to come out in the open. It’s more like a mob. It doesn’t have a face.

But it does the damage. And unfortunately, if a giant like Tanishq gives in, the smaller players are only going to be scared. The freedom of speech is being challenged at every stage in this country.

Naresh Gupta, co-founder and chief strategy officer, Bang in the Middle

Naresh Gupta
Naresh Gupta

Twitter needs to act, it can’t let the trolls run free. I also think it’s a matter of time before some company sues the platform and the trolls for defamation. Today, the government is banning (the bursting of) crackers, consumers are choosing to not burst crackers, school children have been at the forefront of anti-cracker campaigns…

This is just a reaction to get fame from a brand. It has always worked for a small group of overactive vigilantes, and till the law doesn’t catch up, this will keep happening. Tanishq is neither the first brand, nor the only brand, that is talking about not bursting crackers. So, where will this madness stop?