The heating political environment and the vehemence of nationalism are turning out to be a nightmare for giant conglomerate Hindustan Unilever Limited. The advertisement of two HUL products – Red label and Surf Excel faced backlash for their recent advertising campaigns. Recently, Detergent brand Surf Excel tried to do something new with their latest Holi edition advertisement ‘Rang laye Sang’. The campaign with more than 7 million views on Youtube talks about the Hindu-Muslim unity in the backdrop of Holi. In the ad, a ‘Hindu’ girl dressed in white clothes chooses to get stained in Holi colours to protect his young ‘Muslim’ friend who has to go to the mosque to pray. Titled #ranglayesang, The campaign brings the true essence of the Holi by explicitly sending out a message of togetherness and showing how colours can bring equality in society. It ultimately points out to the fact that ”Agar kuch acha karne me daag lag jaye to daag ache hain” .
However, for the people in masses, the advertisement comes as something which is complex and to which they cannot easily relate to. They felt the sense of betrayal and belittlement of the major religion. HUL got extensively trolled for the ad and hashtags like #boycotthul, #boycottsurfexcel topped the Twitter list. Of course, there were kinder words too, but those came out from the mouths of ‘creative brand experts’ only. Only to a ‘considerable’ section of viewers, the advertisement seems to be Progressive, Bold, Positive and most importantly ‘SECULAR’.

Before moving into further details, let’s have a look over the issue in detail.

  • Surf Excel Hindu-Muslim themed advertisement.

The advertisement, that explicitly talks about the Hindu Muslim harmony reached to people exactly in the opposite way. From allegation of promoting ‘jihaad’, to hatred for calling the Holi Colors ‘daag’ as part of their ‘daag achhe hai’ campaign, the ad has been called out on various fronts. The major objection was that why a girl and that too a Hindu made the entire sacrifice? Why it wasn’t showed in the opposite way?

This is not the only ad that made the headlines.

HUL’s another product Red label was also in headlines previous days for a controversial advertisement. The issue becomes more controversial after HUL tweeted about the Kumbh, the company suggested, “Kumbh Mela is a place where old people get abandoned, isn’t it sad that we do not care for our elders? Red Label encourages us to hold the hands of those who made us who we are.”

Diverse Reaction

Major sections on Twitter reacted in one way. They claimed that the majority religion was not showed in good light. Swami Ramdev tweeted :

हम किसी भी मजहब के विरोध में नहीं हैं,
लेकिन जो चल रहा है उस पर गंभीरता से सोचने की जरूरत है, लगता है जिस विदेशी सर्फ से हम कपड़ों की धुलाई करते हैं अब उसकी धुलाई के दिन आ गए हैं?

#BoycottSurfExcel #BoycottHULproducts #surfexcel

However, Vasan Bala, a member of the creative team tweeted in the favour of the ad. He mentioned,

Proud to have been a part of the #SurfExcel Holi commercial. An amazing and a brave team behind this! Unfortunately to convey compassion, tolerance and love one needs to be brave these days.

Priya Nair, Executive Director, HUL, said, “Holi is one of our biggest festivals, celebrated with much fanfare across the country. However, in the midst of the fun and revelry, one can often forget the true spirit of the festival. The #RangLaayeSang campaign from Surf Excel beautifully captures how the colors of Holi can be a force for good, melting differences and bringing people together. It seamlessly brings to life our decade long ‘Dirt is Good’ philosophy – ‘Agar kuch accha karne mein daag lag jaaye, toh daag acche hain’.
Talking about the reaction over otherwise impressive ad, Santosh Desai, Managing director and CEO, Future Brands Consulting points out “We are nearing elections. There is a whole constituency that is ready to pounce on anything that it perceives is even slightly not favourable to the Hindu sentiment.”

Does HUL deliberately create such advertisements?

Here, We all are just arguing about the “appropriateness” of the advertisement but does anyone of you thought Why would a mature company with such a strong consumer base create such advertisements?

There are constant attempts on part of HUL to make ads more ‘contemporary’, real and engaging in nature. By seeing these, I want to imply that the ads now days are dealing more with day to day lives of common people like us. There is constant effort to connect with consumers emotionally than just on transactional basis.

And talking about this controversial ads, I feel that the company knows what they are doing. The constant negative publicity also makes them famous. After the Surf Excel controversy, more people looked for the ad to know the actual matter in detail. #BoycottSurfExcel was trending on Twitter for the entire day until the Election Commission came with their election dates and guess what? Surf Excel vanished from the top list, Bingo! Even they know that the backlash is for a day or two. And these are the kind of ads that win at Cannes for being ‘bold’ ‘insightful’ and of course, ‘Secular’ too. Smart strategy I would say.

Well, as so much has been said about the ad, I just want to add few words to that- Why to create such havoc for a detergent ad? The protagonist of the ad are two kids – yes two kids and how kids can promote ‘jihaad’? Secondly, when clothes get stained by Holi colours, that’s exactly what they are – stains – ‘Daag’.

We need to stop taking ourselves so seriously and let’s take the ad for what it is – A friend trying to help another friend.

News source : Times of India, livemint.co, Deccan Herald and bestmediainfo.

Image source: Moneycontrol.com

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