Home >Companies >News >Tanishq ad divides branding experts
Tanishq withdrew its ad featuring an interfaith couple after it was trolled (AFP)
Tanishq withdrew its ad featuring an interfaith couple after it was trolled (AFP)

Tanishq ad divides branding experts

Several brand experts weigh in on the controversy surrounding the new ad campaign by jewellery brand Tanishq, the role and responsibility of brands and activism in the age of a polarised society

In interviews with Mint, brand experts weigh in on the controversy surrounding the new ad campaign by jewellery brand Tanishq, the role and responsibility of brands and activism in the age of a polarised society.

Harish Bijoor, brand-strategy expert & founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

In the age of social media and an active consumer, should brands re-think their advertising campaigns?

Yes, brands need to sit up and take note. These are heated times. Consumers are very active in their search for causes to stand by, defend and attack. In many ways we are an overheated people today. Add to it the stresses brought about by the pandemic in progress. There is less money in hand, there is job stress, and there is stress all around. In such an environment brands need to take a step back and return to being commercial beings interested in selling what is on offer. It's best to return to the basics of branding, rather than push the envelope of woke at this point of time.

Do brands have the freedom to express their views in their campaigns?

Of course, they do. There is the law of the land, there is the re-invigorated Consumer Protection Act, there is the self-governance body ASCI, there are the very responsible advertising bodies of India, and there are indeed very responsible people in advertising, branding and marketing in India. The environment is well-regulated, governed and monitored. Just as long as advertising operates within the bounds of these, there is no problem. I do believe brands do have plenty of freedom. The important thing to note is that brands need to have a finger on the pulse of the consumers, by and large. Brands must understand not only their own consumers, but also the ecosystem of people who are exposed to the advertising that is put together. When I make an advertising piece, it is made for all the people who watch it, and not only for the people who will buy what I offer. That is a fine point to note.

Today, no medium is a niche anymore. In the old days, the digital medium was considered niche. Niche advertising could be placed on niche mediums. However, today nothing is a niche. The digital medium has grown tremendously and there is nothing called a niche. Therefore, niche messaging has no vehicle to be used upon. If niche messaging that is woke in nature is used on mass media, there is bound to be a tumult.

Should they stay clear of social and political issues in their advertising strategy?

I do believe brands today must stay away from social and political issues, for now, for sure.

Brands must not aim to stir up the sentiment further in an overheated environment. Brands must aim not to be a catalyst of new thought and new-action for now. Brands must instead be palliatives in a rough economy. The covid pandemic has been largely about fear. We therefore live in a fear economy, as opposed to the celebratory economy we have been long used to live and thrive within. Even this shall pass. Brands must wait for this to pass, before attempting to do the different and the necessary even.

Is it important for them to keep their ear to the ground and listen increasingly to their customers?

Yes, it is. The key operative word is "listen"! Listen carefully. Listen with a finger on the pulse of the entire eco-system of marketing. Listen to society, its politics, its dynamic social moorings, its religious attitudes and its economic realities. These are important to listen to with care. The one who listens best acts best. Wins best even. Sometimes, it’s good to look as if brands have taken a step backwards, rather than take too many steps forward. Brand pragmatism is the need of the day, not brand idealism.

If there is a logo for the marketer that is of utmost importance, it is that of a very large ear. The listening ear. The very sensitive ear.

After the threats to Tanishq and its employees for its ad, will brands rely on more mainstream work rather than any edgy or controversial messaging?

I think brands will start listening carefully. Brands will dole out work that is correctly placed for the society we live in and within. Brands will evolve a new code of what is appropriate for the moment, and what is not. What is not will be shelved, to be brought back once again when the time is right.

Santosh Desai, managing director and chief executive officer, Futurebrands Ltd

In the age of social media and an active consumer, should brands re-think their advertising campaigns?

There is a change in media landscape in a way that everyone is now a broadcaster and there is an assertive voice that is coming out on social media. The new framework for brands in marketing is an emerging trend of purpose led brands which are taking social positions through advertising. The more actively a brand takes up social positions, chances are it will end up being perceived as taking a political position because of the polarised environment that we are currently living in. Therefore, brands will have to look at their campaigns through the lens of politics.

Do brands have the freedom to express their views in their campaigns?

Yes, but the freedom comes at a cost. Brands need to have the courage to stand by their beliefs and willing to pay that cost as the overall environment, which has become increasingly hostile, forces them to self- censor.

Should they stay clear of social and political issues in their advertising strategy?

If a corporation has a strong belief in a socio‐political issue and they are willing to stand by it then only they should get into such advertising as it is highly contentious.

Is it important for them to keep their ear to the ground and listen increasingly to their customers?

A company's interest in their consumer cannot be limited to their product category or brand anymore. Advertisers have to understand what their customers' beliefs and opinions are concerning politics, society or life in general. They have to mindful of how they are processing any message that a brand gives out and how it will be decoded. Having said that, brands need to filter out the noise on social media as it might not be the true representation of their consumer base while assessing the likely tangible impact.

After the threats to Tanishq and its employees for its ad, will brands rely on more mainstream work rather than any edgy or controversial messaging?

The dominant reaction would be brands practicing caution however I expect certain advertisers to continue to take a stand and create bold advertising. A lot of established brands, which have high stakes and reputational risk, will be cautious in their advertising. However, we will continue to witness young brands or startups using controversial or bold advertising to grab eyeballs.

Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting

In the age of social media and an active consumer, should brands re-think their advertising campaigns?

Absolutely. Brands need to be far more circumspect than earlier because backlash against their communication can gather momentum very quickly and spiral out of control with severe unintended consequences.

Do brands have the freedom to express their views in their campaigns?

Yes, of course they do, and they must. For a brand to foster loyalty towards itself and for it to be less of a commodity and more of a brand, it must articulate its point of view and allude to a higher purpose that is above and beyond its features, material attributes or functional benefits.

Should they stay clear of social and political issues in their advertising strategy? Or should they take a stand?

Risks and rewards are invariably commensurate. Referencing social and political issues and taking a stand on them do carry a significant risk, as it tends to be polarising. However, if a brand has a clear understanding of its target segment and a good sense of where that segment stands on social and political issues, then it can be very rewarding. We have to remember that no brand can, and therefore no brand should, attempt to please everyone.

Is it important for them to keep their ear to the ground and listen increasingly to their customers?

Yes, that is a timeless and universal principle of marketing and brand building, and in the era of social media, it is even more crucial than ever before. Having said that, with specific reference to the brouhaha around the Tanishq ad, I don’t believe that the backlash was from their intended customers. For that matter, I even have doubts whether the protests were spontaneous and a true reflection of public opinion. It is becoming increasingly difficult to separate genuine public outcry from those that are being engineered and fuelled as distractions for political gains.

After the threats to Tanishq and its employees for its ad, will brands rely on more mainstream work rather than any edgy or controversial messaging?

It is unfortunate, but it is quite likely to happen because of the pervading political climate of mobocracy. There will be fewer businesses who will have the courage to take a strong stand against mongers of hate and fear.

Sandeep Goyal, chairman, Mogae media

In the age of social media and an active consumer, should brands re-think their advertising campaigns?

I don’t know if it is only about rethinking advertising campaigns. Brands need to be very clear on who they are, what they stand for, what do they want to be seen to be standing for, what is their relationship with their customers, what is their brand promise and what therefore should be their brand communication.

Brands most times tend to state lofty visions and make grand brand statements on intent and purpose. But in reality, what they really do is most times ‘clever’ advertising or indulge in ‘moment’ marketing. All of it is driven by a desire for instant visibility and ‘conversationalability’, such that the brand is always top of mind, and ‘famous’. In many ways most brands try to behave like the celebrities they hire. There is a lot of superficial gloss but below the surface, there is little or no brand philosophy or brand moorings.

So, rethinking is not enough. There has to be a fundamental reorientation of self-belief and also a measure of self-control. For older brands, somehow the imperative has become to pivot and transform so that they do not look anachronistic; for new age brands, the focus is on quick growth to unicorn status and getting public recognition and recall, come what may. All I say, this cannot work.

Do brands have the freedom to express their views in their campaigns?

Of course, it is a free world. But then with freedom comes responsibility.

Especially in the case of brands, they do not exist as islands. Their ecosystem, most importantly includes their consumers. So, the sensitivities of these key constituents are fundamental to the very existence of any brand. Hence, the freedom of expression cannot be absolute. It has to be tempered by reality. Commercial reality, societal reality and cultural reality. Hence, if you wish to maintain a healthy relationship with your customers and future customers, then you cannot just decide that you are at Hyde Park and that you are free to say whatever you want to.

Somehow, also, the mistaken notion is that if we talk of freedom of expression, it can be one sided, that is, as a brand I can say whatever I like but when someone reacts in exercise of his freedom and criticizes what you have said per your freedom, then it becomes trolling and negative. That your communication was motivated then is conveniently forgotten.

Should they stay clear of social and political issues in their advertising strategy? Or should they take a stand?

I am, and I have said this before, a bit old fashioned. I believe that advertising is about salesmanship. It is not about politics and it is not about social issues. Most importantly, it has no business being in religion.

Nevertheless, if brands insist on being ‘woke’ and believe that they need to have a voice, then, I simply say that a voice is not enough. You need also to have a strong spine. The problem is that it is easy to shape that voice, very difficult to sustain the spine. Brands and their ad agencies ignite a fire but when it singes them, they start to cry foul. The point is if you play with fire, you are bound to get hurt. So, either you can decide to remain in the happy space of advertising that is fun, humorous, witty, intelligent, Green, tech and more such ‘boring’ domains or get adventurous and out-of-the-box but then have the courage to fight to the finish. Nike did that with the Blacks campaign and flourished; Tanishq put out a hot number put surrendered in no time. The surrender is the issue.

Is it important for them to keep their ear to the ground and listen increasingly to their customers?

I think loyalty is built on many more foundations than just advertising. Brand loyalty starts with trust. Trust is all about product quality, product experience, product consistency, product promise and product delivery. All brands are first built on product goodness. The next layer is of product connect where a consumer need or aspiration is satisfied. Good advertising reiterates the need and desire for the brand to the consumer. It builds a brand’s empathy and loyalty with a customer, provided other factors of price, product availability and product goodness remain above threshold. Above all, a customer must see himself / herself in the brand: “Like me" is the biggest bord between brand and customer. When brand strays away from “Like me", dissonance is the result.

After the threats to Tanishq and its employees for its ad, will brands rely on more mainstream work rather than any edgy or controversial messaging?

I think the whole Tanishq episode has been blown up out of proportion. The trolling has been over estimated and it has been kind of made out as if unruly mobs were headed to loot Tanishq stores or to hurt their employees. Sure, a couple of employees may have been trolled but it had not become a matter of life and death. A lot of it has been exaggerated. I am completely apolitical and do not in any way subscribe to the trolling. But those who do not like anything on social media, and it could be advertising or anything else, react negatively. Their choice of vocabulary, and their sense of restrain is not in anyone’s control. If the volumes rise, the naysayers say they are vicious.

My view is if you ask for trouble and run advertising that you know could have a backlash, then you cannot claim to be completely innocent or that you naively believed that no one will have a contra point of view. If you have created advertising with your eyes open, then there is no excuse about running for cover.

Good advertising is good advertising. I don’t remember anything controversial or negative or divisive about Fevicol ads or Asian Paints ads or Maruti Suzuki ads and many, many more. And it is not as if their brands don’t sell.

Subscribe to Mint Newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Click here to read the Mint ePaperMint is now on Telegram. Join Mint channel in your Telegram and stay updated with the latest business news.

Close
×
My Reads Redeem a Gift Card Logout