Brands must take a stand, not bow to bullies

None of the brands took a stand and instead bowed down to the demand of those who aggressively claimed to be offended

Parvati Sasankan Jan 05, 2022
Zomato (Photo: Youtube)

Nowadays anything can cause outrage. Voices are picked up from obscure corners on social media, relayed by the ultra-powerful also on social media, and sometimes seconded by the ruling party leaders. Such outrages happened earlier too but now their frequency is causing alarm. 

Late last year Fab India got brickbats because it used an Urdu phrase which means celebration of traditions while referring to a collection being launched before Diwali. Then national designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s jewelry ad where women wearing ‘mangalsutra’ showing their bared body offended some. The designer was forced to publicly apologize for the advertisement.  

Tanishq advertisement resulted in uproar when it portrayed a Muslim woman celebrating her Hindu daughter-in-law’s baby shower in Hindu tradition. This offended so many that Tanishq withdrew the advertisement from all the media and apologized.  

Brands simply bowed 

There is a pattern here. None of the brands took a stand and instead bowed down to the demand of those who aggressively claimed to be offended. 

All this anger seems to be rooted in the fear that advertisements have the potential to influence people -- whether it is about being casual with regard to religious rituals during Hindu festivals or about the intermingling of people from different religions.  

To stop advertisements from influencing people, people react in two ways. The first is launching a coordinated campaign for a product. To put across a counterview to what advertisements propagate is to show a civil disagreement with the advertisements.  

In the case of threat, coercion and backlash to an advertisement, the brands should engage in a conversation with such people by putting forward their counterpoint.  

Learn from Zomato 

Recently, Zomato engaged with its critics. It is the only brand which had a talk with people who had a disagreement due to the stressful working conditions and low paying of gig workers. Zomato responded that its advertisement was “well intentioned” but was misinterpreted by some people.  

Brands advertise positive narratives. They do not ask anyone to boycott, hate or hurt someone. Brands merely propagate a message in order to sell a product. Brands cannot impose anything on the people, unlike governments. 

People have freedom to disapprove or approve of advertisements. The problem arises when disagreement leads to extreme level by calling for a boycott if it doesn’t comply with the aggrieved person’s view. Due to the social media era, any advertisement and news can go viral in minutes. This can lead to disagreements or boycott if it doesn’t match the ideology of certain aggrieved people.  

It is high time brands take a strong stand and not bow down to threats and bullying; otherwise it will lead to rapid intolerance and questioning of well-intentioned creativity of advertisements.

(The writer is a Chennai-based journalist. The views expressed are personal. She can be contacted at 


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