Surgical strikes: Are brands cashing in on nationalism in ad campaigns?

While brands latching on to topical subjects are not new in advertising, but experts feel that sensitive issues such as national security must be handled with care


An increasing number of brands such as Hero Motocorp have incorporated the national pride theme or feature soldiers in their communication ever since India’s surgical strikes against Pakistani terrorists across the Line of Control (LoC) happened on 29 September. Photo: Bloomberg
An increasing number of brands such as Hero Motocorp have incorporated the national pride theme or feature soldiers in their communication ever since India’s surgical strikes against Pakistani terrorists across the Line of Control (LoC) happened on 29 September. Photo: Bloomberg

New Delhi: Weeks after India’s 29 September anti-terror surgical strikes, the festive season is seeing a growing number of firms highlight national pride in advertisement campaigns, being rewarded when handled sensitively but facing a backlash if seen as opportunistic.

In the former group is Bajaj Auto, which recently rolled out the second leg of its campaign for V, the motorcycle that is made from the metal body of the warship INS Vikrant used in the 1971 India-Pakistan war. The film features Rear Admiral S.K. Gupta, a Mahavir Chakra winner, who served aboard the INS Vikrant, asking: Why should the mind evoke national pride only on select days of the year?

Online furniture marketplace, Pepperfry, has also been running a festive Diwali campaign, Iss Diwali Kuch Badal Ke Dekhiye with one of the ad-spots showing how a junior officer gets a wooden cupboard as a Diwali gift.

Hero MotoCorp was probably the first to instantly tweet a video campaign featuring armed forces personnel being saluted by civilians.

Sumeet Narang, vice-president, marketing, Bajaj Auto, said his is not an opportunistic campaign: “We have been working on it since May. The genesis of this ad came from consumers’ response who felt proud everyday riding a product which has a piece of Indian history. For them, it is way to give a daily salute to the soldiers of this country.”

According to Rahul Nangia, joint national creative director, Law and Kenneth Saatchi and Saatchi, who made the Pepperfry Diwali ads, the idea behind featuring armymen is to look beyond the usual settings of a furniture brand ad. “We have tried to find newer characters, outside the home setting, where fresher dynamics between people can exist,” he said.

Experts said sensitive issues such as national security must be handled with care, with attempts by some brands to leverage the buzz around surgical strikes failing miserably and attracting criticism.

Delhi-based fast food outlet Burger Singh announced a 20% discount on its items to mark the surgical strikes. But the discount was withdrawn after it was slammed on social media. Online mobile recharge platform MobiKwik offered 20% cashback with a special code “ISTSTRIKE”. It too had to withdraw the offer after scathing attacks on social media. “Being contextual and being opportunistic aren’t too distant from each other if not calibrated properly, especially when it is about taking a slightly exalted position by choosing a subject like patriotism. The brand’s stature and past association on similar issues always plays an important role,” said Jitender Dabas, chief strategy officer, McCann Worldgroup India.

“MotoCorp does it but not all brands will get that benefit because Brand ‘Hero’ has done more than its bit in the past to earn that credibility,” noted Jitender Dabas, chief strategy officer, McCann Worldgroup India.

Dabas observation is reflective of how some brands’ attempt to leverage the buzz around surgical strikes has failed miserably, attracting criticism.

Uday Mohan, managing partner, north and east India, Havas Media, thinks that when it comes to sensitive issues, right creative execution is crucial. There should be no sensationalism of the issue and there has to be a creative synergy between the brand message and the communication.

Saurabh Uboweja, chief executive and chief brand strategist, Brands of Desire, believes brands have a Herculean task in trying to leverage topical sensitive subjects. If done wrong, brands can come across as opportunist.

“Not everyone takes to such campaigns positively unless the brand proposition being communicated or the communication itself is authentic, has a deeper purpose and is believable or relatable. Like in the Bajaj V campaign, they have developed a complete brand identity around INS Vikrant, taking a long-term view on patriotism. It’s a choice the brands have made between short-term brand recall and long-term equity creation,” he added.

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