Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

Social media lessons for brands as shampoo ad slip-up goes viral

Naina Redhu expressed shock over an advertisement plugging P&G's shampoo brand Pantene, using the social networking site Twitter to vent her ire

This story was first published on September 2011. It is being republished due to a technical error.

Mumbai: On Saturday, Delhi-based photographer Naina Redhu expressed shock over an advertisement plugging Procter and Gamble (P&G) Home Products Ltd’s shampoo brand Pantene, using the social networking site Twitter to vent her ire.

Her permission had been sought for publishing her pictures, but she hadn’t been told that it would feature a page-long interview that she had never conducted with the actor Katrina Kaif.

“The entire ‘interview’ has been cooked up. I haven’t said/asked/interviewed Kaif & I’m NOT a ‘beauty-addict’", Redhu tweeted on Saturday and followed it up with another tweet, “Is this common practice? Cooking up entire interviews?"

By the time the company reached out to her on Monday and “resolved" the matter (the company apologized and Redhu deleted the tweet), the damage had already been done. Her tweets had been picked up by others on social media networks and also been blogged about as they raised much larger questions about the digital advertising strategy of brands and their use of the medium.

“FMCGs don’t get digital? Unilever turns Sunsilk GOG 2a mens site P&G fakes Pantene interview," tweeted Mahesh Murthy, founder of Mumbai-based digital marketing company Pinstorm Technologies Pvt. Ltd the same evening.

A P&G spokesperson declined to comment on the matter. Calls made to the advertising agency WATConsult were not returned.

The advertisement of Redhu interviewing Kaif was featured in the weekly magazine India Today’s latest edition, which, according to the Indian Readership Survey 2011 first quarter survey, has a readership of 467,700.

The reach of Twitter in India is about 10 million. Redhu’s tweets and retweets reached close to 50,000 people, according to TweetReach’s calculation on TweetReach. TweetReach helps to measure how far a tweet has travelled on Twitter.

“So, certainly, for these 50,000 or more people who read the story on Twitter (and tens of thousands more on Facebook) Pantene tried to cheat them. More importantly, the India Today ad content won’t be seen online, and will die with the print issue in a week. But this controversy will live online in Google search results forever, for all future searchers," said Murthy.

Redhu is the winner of an online contest run by Pantene’s digital advertising agency WATConsult a year ago. The agency sought Redhu’s permission to use her pictures in brand endorsements, but forgot to get her approval for generating content under her name, according to a P&G executive, who declined to be named.

Unfortunately, for the brand, she chose to express her discontent on social media.

“The nature of social media is such that people are very sensitive to stuff being made up and anything overtly or covertly selling a product," said Robert Holdheim, managing director of Edelman India Pvt. Ltd, a communications consulting firm.

“So, while there may not have been any real intent to deceive, and this may well have been a difference in opinion of what can, and cannot be done (online), it is going to look bad. What we have, in our experience, learnt, is that brands have to be very clear and above board when it comes to social media and conversations (online and offline) with people."

According to a study on social media usage by market researcher Nielsen Co. conducted in collaboration with analytics and market research provider AbsolutData Research and Analytics (P) Ltd in April, nearly 30 million Indians are members of social networking sites, and about two-thirds of them spend time on these sites daily.

In fact, Indians spend more time on social media than they do checking personal email.

Interestingly, 58% of users participated in discussions, on issues, products and services when on social networking sites. Nearly 40 million Indians are using online reviews to make their purchase decisions. As personal opinions gain currency on the social websites, online users are seeking various outlets to express themselves, be it blogs or social media sites.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers Pvt. Ltd’s India Entertainment and Media Outlook, 2011, Internet advertising was a Rs770 crore market in 2010 and is estimated to grow to Rs2,400 crore by 2015.

“Brands have been slow to understand that online media is not controllable like traditional media is. You don’t so much as create an image online as you co-manage one," said Murthy.