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Should brands cash in on an ailing hero?

Yuvraj Singh played a stellar role in India's World Cup triumph in 2011. Now the popular brand ambassador is fighting a battle with cancer. Should brands like Birla Sun Life and Revital show greater sensitivity? Best Media Info explores

Ananya Saha | Delhi | February 7, 2012

Cricketer Yuvraj Singh’s association with Revital and Birla Sun Life Insurance is not news. What is news, however, is the fact that Birla Sun Life’s ad on the cricketer is drawing flak while Revital has replaced him with actor Salman Khan.

Birla Sun Life’s still on-air TVC uses the insight “Jab tak balla chaltha hai, thaat chalte hai. Jab balla nahi chalega toh…” (Till the bat rules, you rule). Many are finding this campaign now in bad taste as it appears to be cashing in on an ailing national hero for commercial benefit.

The social media is abuzz with criticism. Here is a sampling of some tweets: “Yuvraj Singh is battling cancer. Just to show some sensitivity, shouldn't Birla Sun Life stop airing the ad which says ‘Jab tak balla haath mein hai…Poor taste. May he emerge as the fighter that he has always been’; ‘Bit disturbed by Yuvraj Singh's Insurance advertisement. Would be different if it were a PSA campaign on cancer and fighting back’; and, ‘Birla Sun Life running Yuvraj Singh's TV ad several times a day is crass opportunism’.

The TVC went live on January, 30th 2012. View the ad here:


But how do brand experts and the creative fraternity view the situation? Is it in bad taste to use a campaign that seems to cash in on an ailing hero/icon?

Harish Bijoor, brand expert and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., commented, “Birla Sun Life is using Yuvraj in a creative manner that is a perfect fit for the current situation. However, I do believe the ad needs to be dropped now with the gravity of the medical situation that Yuvraj is going through. Brands must not link the personal ills of an individual to brand benefit. Sensitivity is more important than making a perfect hit with the creative. The company has other creatives to use. Possibly this is the right time to plug in the creative execution with Sehwag.”

KV Sridhar aka Pops, National Creative director, Leo Burnett, holds a similar view. He said, “The news of Yuvraj’s condition broke yesterday evening. So I assume that the brand got to know of it only yesterday. The ad in question is about life insurance, and is a sensitive and sad thing for a talented cricketer and his supporters. It would be better if the brand withdraws the ad for now, and bring it on-air once the cricketer is hale and hearty given that it is only a matter of 6-8 weeks.”

Anil Nair, President, Law & Kenneth, however, holds a different view. “The Birla Sun Life Insurance ad is true to life. It talks of uncertainty and unpredictability of life. It is unfortunate that Yuvraj was diagnosed with cancer, but it is also true. I do not think the brand should take it off-air,” he said.

Well-known marketing honcho and former CMO of Tata Teleservices Lloyd Mathias is of the opinion that there is nothing wrong per se with the Birla Sun Life campaign using Yuvraj, but he suggests that the timing for increasing the frequency of the TVC on air is perhaps not appropriate. He said, “I think the Birla Sun Life ad is a very well executed campaign. And it has been on air for more than two weeks now. They had signed Yuvraj much before his condition was detected or made public. However, upping the frequency of airing the ad might not be a good idea given the circumstances.”

Brijesh Kapil, Vice-President, Ranbaxy Global Consumer Healthcare, whose Revital campaign itself is under scrutiny, said of the Birla Sun Life’s TVC, “Had I been in their place, I would not have done (aired) it.”

Coming to Revital itself, it so happens that the brand from the house of Ranbaxy Global Consumer Healthcare (RGCH) has just launched a TVC and print ad featuring Salman Khan. Yuvraj Singh used to be the brand ambassador featuring in the Revital campaign till recently. Has Revital brought in Salman so that they don't seem to be cashing in on an ailing Yuvraj?

Brijesh Kapil of RGCH refutes this, maintaining that they had signed Salman Khan for commercial reasons after Yuvraj Singh’s contract with them got over on December 28, 2011. “We were never worried about Yuvraj’s career, for we aired the TVC featuring him even when his career hit the lows,” he said.

Nirmalya Sen, MD, TBWA India, said,Salman is at the right age to do a Revital ad. But I am not sure if Yuvraj’s ailment is the reason behind this change. I would like to give the brand the benefit of the doubt.”

But Nair of Law & Kenneth strongly disapproves of the move to replace Yuvraj. He said, “What Revital has done by bringing in Salman stands in bad taste.”

Meanwhile, the mani in contention, Yuvraj, himself had tweeted about his new ad for Birla Sun Life on January 31: “My new ad for Birla SunLife, Jab tak balla chalta hai thaath hai. Eager to hold my ‘balla’ again!”

We wish you a speedy recovery, Yuvraj, and want you to swing your ‘balla’ once again.

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Comments (1)
  • sanjay gora- 8 years ago

    Birla Sunlife ad, without increasing the frequency, will convey the message aptly. In my view there is no harm in continuing with the ad. Sanjay Gora Senior Manager, Corp Comm, SAIL