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Retrospect 2016: Ads that faced social media justice

Digital became the way forward for brands, but it has also become a platform where consumers have mercilessly taken brands to task. And social media didn’t spare the ad industry last year for overstepping the Lakshman rekha. BestMediaInfo lists some of the most criticised ads in 2016

Akansha Mihir Mota | Mumbai | January 4, 2017


The word ‘intolerance’ became talk of the town after Bollywood actor Amir Khan talked about ‘rising intolerance in India’. People reacted on social media across the length and breadth of the country. Some felt bad while others were devastated and showed their anger. That episode showed how people have got a platform in social media to voice their anger, grief or appreciation whenever they spotted anything right or wrong.

The advertising industry was also not spared and any wrong portrayal of society was criticised heavily on social media. Here are some of the ads that raised quite a few eyebrows on social media in 2016 and were trolled heavily.


Pan Bahar-Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan, more known as James Bond, shocked everyone one fine morning when almost all the newspapers flashed his picture holding a box of Pan Bahar instead of a gun. In no time, social media was flooded with trolls and jokes around the advertisement.

Sexist Jack & Jones

In November, Jack & Jones released an outdoor campaign for the brand’s ‘Sharp office shirts’. It had Ranveer Singh carrying a girl on his back and entering an elevator. The ad had the tagline ‘Don’t hold back, take your work home’. The ad was considered sexist and mercilessly criticised for being disrespectful to women. Finally, the hoardings were pulled down and the brand apologised publically on November 21, 2016.

Paytm after demonetisation   After demonetisation on November 8, Paytm didn’t lose even a day to immediately come out with a campaign, ‘Drama bandh karo, paytm karo’. Again, social media didn’t take it lightly and the company had to change the line to ‘Chinta mat karo, paytm karo’. The ad faced flak for showing a woman talking about the inconvenience caused by the move and difficulty to pay her domestic help’s salary. The help responds saying, ‘Drama bandh karo, Paytm karo’. Paytm’s changed ad: [youtube][/youtube]  

Ola Micro’s expensive date

Ola had to pull down its ad from social media after a backlash. The Ola ad featured a man walking through a market with his girlfriend, being forced to stop at every shop, as she had to buy things with the man’s money. It ends with the boy turning to the camera and saying: ‘Meri girlfriend chalti hai Rs 525 per km, but Ola Micro chalti hai sirf Rs 6 per km’ (It costs me Rs 525 per km when my girlfriend walks but Ola Micro runs at just Rs 6 per km). Many Twitter users slammed Ola for what they called ‘sexist portrayal of women’. Others said the ad shouldn’t have been pulled down.


Havells Hawa Badlegi

In March, the brand had to pull down its ‘anti-reservation’ commercial due to social media outrage. The ad showed a girl refusing any ladder or help to move ahead in life. After being bashed heavily on social media outrage, the company issued a public statement saying: “A sequence in our recent fan campaign of ‘Hawa Badlegi’ seems to have hurt the sentiments of some viewers. Havells is a responsible brand and it never intends to hurt anybody’s sentiment. The intention of the company has always been in the interest of people; hence we are withdrawing this ad sequence immediately.”

Hava badlegi ad:



Times Jobs’ Sexist CEO

When we thought that the corporate world had become a better place for women to work, Times Job, in August, came out with an ad that was perceived as sexist. In the teasers, a girl, in a ‘pleasing’ voice, says, ‘I spent some time with CEO’. She then looks down, takes a pause and says, ‘…and got a promotion’, suggesting that she got a promotion as she associated herself with the CEO. The print ad goes the same way. The ad depicts a woman who ‘spent some time with the CEO and got a promotion’. The ad, at first instance, seems to be cheesy, but has a witty twist attached to it: For Times Jobs, CEO stands for ‘Career Enhancement Officer’!

This was intended to mark the transition of TimesJobs from being a mere job portal to a career adviser. But before the world could understand the real meaning of CEO or even if the brand tried to act witty in the ads, it was again hounded big time on social media.

‘Did no one at TimesJobs proof this ad before it was released?’ asked a Twitter user. The ad was presumably being clever about using the abbreviation CEO not as chief executive officer but as Career Enhancement Officer – a term that the company used to describe itself. But social media users didn’t see it that way. To them, the ad suggested a woman boasting that she’d go ahead by associating with the chief executive officer. The conversation soon snowballed into a discussion about other instances of sexism by the company and whether it was an error on the part of the ad agency or TimesJobs itself.

TimesJobs CEO ad:


ICICI’s sexist ad

In October, ICICI Bank launched an ad to promote its new app. The sexist ad portrayed women as though they always rely on husbands to buy things for them. The ad was trolled on social media, led by Gowri Thampi, an analyst, whose sarcasm got the point across in no time. Thampi’s comments inspired other women and they joined the conversation. The admin later had to shut the page and take down the ad.


Myntra’s extra-long saree

Myntra sarees advertisement showed an animated scene from Mahabharata depicting the famous episode when Draupadi was disrobed in the Kaurava court. In the advertisement, Lord Krishna, who came to Draupadi’s rescue, is seen shopping for an extra-long saree from Myntra in the poster. The ad was trolled on Twitter for hurting religious sentiments and for being ‘offensive’.

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