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8 Ads By Notable Brands That Were Taken Down After Public Outrage

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Social media today serves as the vehicle of protests that often lead to tangible consequences. We saw one such instance play out yesterday, October 12, when jewellery brand Tanishq took down an advertisement promoting a Hindu-Muslim family after trolls condemned it for allegedly glorifying “love jihad.” Read an opinion about it here. However, Tanishq is not the first, and going by how things are shaping up, definitely won’t be the last brand to succumb to public pressure and withdraw a campaign in the wake of outrage. As one sees below, in some cases the brand’s intent was good but social outrage pushed them to act.

Here’s a throwback of ads by major brands that were taken down, owing to public outcry:

1. Tanishq

The ad for ‘Ekatvam’ jewellery released October 9 showed a Muslim family organising a baby shower (goad bharai) for their Hindu daughter-in-law who is pregnant. Describing the ad as “a beautiful confluence of two different religions, traditions, cultures”, Tanishq showcased this spirit under their official YouTube video, that has since been taken down: “She is married into a family that loves her like their own child. Only for her, they go out of their way to celebrate an occasion that they usually don’t.”

Those criticising the ad said it endorsed “love jihad”, which is known in right-wing circles as a method used by the Muslim community to induct Hindu women into their religion through means of marriage or love, leading to conversion. Following the ad’s release, Titan and Tata, the parent companies behind Tanishq, also faced heat with people calling for a boycott of other Tata brands like Voltas and Starbucks.

The ad was taken down on October 12 from Tanishq’s platforms.

2. Kent RO

Recently in May, in the wake of sanitation advisories around coronavirus, water purifier Kent RO put out an ad graphic that immediately drew flak for class discrimination. The still endorsement, advertising the brand’s Atta Maker and Bread Maker, showed a pair of hands kneading dough, with the caption: “Are you allowing your maid to knead atta dough by hand? Her hands may be infected.”

The ad had evident classist overtones, as social media users pointed out, saying that it was horrible of the brand to imply that house helps (who primarily belong to economically weak sections) were susceptible to poor hygiene and the virus. Many even called out the brand’s use of the term “maid” which is perceived to have derogatory connotations. Following social media backlash, Kent apologised and pulled the ad down.

3. Ola

Ola’s 2016 ad titled “Micro Stories: Too expensive to take GF out on a date?” showed a couple roaming the market, with the woman halting to shop at every store, much to the “chagrin” of her boyfriend. He turned to the camera and apparently said, “Meri girlfriend chalti hai ₹ 525 per km, but Ola Micro chalti hai sirf ₹ 6 per km,” (It costs me ₹ 525 per km when my girlfriend walks but Ola Micro runs at just ₹ 6 per km).

The ad was criticised for being sexist, reinforcing the age-old trope of women causing annoyance to men, given their generalised penchant for shopping. Ola pulled the ad down, but not without a snarky jibe: “We understand one of our TVCs has ended up hurting some sentiments. We’ve pulled it down. However, #OlaMicro continues to run at Rs.6/km.” 

4. Jawed Habib

Hairstylist and businessman Jawed Habib, who runs hair salons across India under his banner, stirred controversy when he released an ad with religious symbolism around the time of Durga Puja. The 2017 newspaper ad showed various gods from Hindu mythology – Durga, along with her children Kartik, Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Ganesh – having a spa day at Jawed Habib’s. The caption read: “Gods too visit JH salon.”

The visuals of gods engaging in vanity, putting on make-up, and counting money drew flak from netizens who accused Habib of targeting gods of the religion he himself didn’t abide by. What’s more, a Habib salon was also vandalised in Uttar Pradesh owing to the outcry. Habib had later issued a video apology on social media for his ad, which was not reprinted in circulations after.

5. Zomato

Zomato, known for its quirky branding, perhaps had too much fun with one of its ad campaigns that eventually became cause for public outrage. For one of their OOH ads displayed across hoardings and banners in Delhi-NCR, the food delivery app had positioned the letters “MC. BC.” in bold, with tinier lettering beneath that read “mac n’ cheese” and “butter chicken.” The audience and several social media users did not take to the ad kindly, since MC BC expands into Hindi expletives generally understood as crass.

After outrage chiefly manifested on social media, the hoardings were taken down and the brand apologised. Various other ad moguls also criticised the use of such an ad, saying it was in poor taste.

Also Read: You Can’t Talk Of Women Empowerment By Discrediting Them

6. Manforce

A 2017 ad by Mankind Pharma, the company that manufactures Manforce condoms, was caught in controversy when it reportedly put up close to 500 public hoardings in Gujarat, featuring condom use themed around the Navratri festival. The product, advertised by actor Sunny Leone, displayed her as the poster face with the caption “play safe”, ahead of the nine-day festival. While, the ad intended to promote safe sex, many took it to be a desecration of the festival’s sanctity and promotion of undue sexual intimacy during that specific period.

Public protests ensued and led by the Confederation of All India Traders campaigned to have the ad pulled down from over Gujarat. Manforce later expressed regret, and said the ad “was not meant to hurt sentiments.”

7. Jack & Jones India

A 2016 ad for Jack & Jones India featuring Bollywood star Ranveer Singh drew a lot of flak from the audience and the actor himself for its sexist messaging. Across 12 cities, the international brand’s India chapter had put up hoardings that showed Singh carrying a skirt-clad woman over his shoulder, with a caption that read: “Don’t Hold Back, take your work home.” It was supposedly an ad for an office shirt, but social media users did not miss the tool of objectification of women used.

The company later pulled down their hoardings after mass outrage on social media, and Singh even went on to say, “It was important to give the brand creative freedom while designing their campaign, but I guess we got it wrong on one of those billboards and I’m sorry this happened but it’s a thing of the past… we rectified it immediately by having those hoardings taken down asap.”

8. Set Wet

Indian deodorant ads are known for being stereotypically raunchy with an overload of problematic character tropes of women falling for men because they smell good. A fairly older television ad by Set Wet Zatak fell into similar controversy some years back for selling this idea. It showed a newly married woman waiting on the night of suhaag raat for her husband, when she catches the scent of the neighbour next door, a well-built man applying the deodorant being sold. They lock eyes and we next see her take off her ring in a bid to engage with him sexually on the night of her marriage.

This ad by Set Wet aired for a while but faced outraged reactions from Indian viewers. It was soon pulled down by the Advertising Standards Council of India that deemed it inappropriate for viewing. Alongside, ASCI has also reportedly banned other similar “obscene” ads from deo brands Axe and Wildstone.

ASCI decrees that “advertisements should contain nothing indecent, vulgar, especially in the depiction of women, or nothing repulsive which is likely, in the light of generally prevailing standards of decency and propriety, to cause grave and widespread offence.”

Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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