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Balakot strike: Opportunistic marketing backfires for Pizza Hut, other brands

In the wake of Indian Air Force’s Balakot strike and the return of Wg Cdr Abhinandan from Pakistan, brands choosing to cash in on the opportunity have faced the ire of consumers online. Why do brands push themselves to be a part of ongoing conversation and what's the flipside of such marketing tactics? finds out

Pizza Hut had to face the ire of netizens after it launched an offer for a free pizza to anyone named 'Abhinandan' on March 4.

The Twitterati did not like the food brand’s initiative and trolled its move, calling it a misplaced and insensitive marketing opportunity.


Several other brands who tried such tactics in recent times also had to face criticism from consumers. Homegrown brand Burger Singh had launched a discount offer the day Balakot strikes were conducted by the Indian Air Force.

Experts told that piggy-backing on events that are sacred for the country was completely wrong marketing and brands tend to lose more than gain in terms of brand reputation.

Karthik Srinivasan

Karthik Srinivasan, Independent Brand Consultant, found the marketing activity in ‘poor taste’ and a tactic to ride on something popular. “It looks like they simply wanted to ride on Abhinandan's name since everyone's searching or reading about it now. The offer is a free personal pan pizza, which makes it a rather cheap tribute. The intent that comes out is simply that Pizza Hut wanted to tag itself to the name just because it is popular now. Instead, if they had offered those free pizzas to people with the names of the martyred CRPF jawans or IAF pilots, people would have looked at that idea as a way to make the names of those martyrs more popular and memorable.”

Harish Bijoor

Harish Bijoor, Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults, agreed, “This is totally incorrect marketing practice. The marketer looks nifty and has acted on a topical event, but this topical event is a sacred event for the country. Piggy-backing on such an event is totally wrong.”

On the other hand, the brand must have intended to celebrate Abhinandan’s return to India and hence offered free pizza to someone with his name as one of the topicals that Pizza Hut does often. The idea would have been to utilise the opportunity to connect and come closer to the consumers but it never thought it would backfire.

Although, there were a few people who came in support of the brand.


Nowadays, everybody with a smartphone consider themselves as social police. Social media has given a free platform for anyone and everyone to act as influencers and make opinions on various matters that have the potential to harm people, brands and seed negativity in the society and vice versa.

So brands should be careful while picking up topics to comment on and associate with as the social media police is always on the alert to attack or protect.

Kiran Khalap

Kiran Khalap, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy, said, “It is best for brands to avoid sensitive subjects like religion, caste and politics. Sports, entertainment and history are relatively safe subjects to comment on.”

It’s alright for brands to latch on to topics, but they should be very careful while drafting the communication and look at the intent that the piece is projecting to the consumers. “Particularly when such themes have negative connotations or can easily be misconstrued,” added Srinivasan.

Shivaji Dasgupta

Also, the context of the topic or the event should somehow relate to the brand’s ideology and positioning, pointed out Shivaji Dasgupta, Founder, Inexgro Brand Advisory. He said, “The context should be in line with the brand business.”

Recently, when the Indian Army attacked the Jaish terror camps in Pakistan in answer to the Pulwama attack, Bajaj Allianz rejoiced and ran an electronic banner outside its office, calling out ‘How is the josh and Jai Hind’.

The Bajaj Allianz electronic banner video:

Going further back in time, in 2016, when India did a surgical strike in Pakistan, brands like Burger Singh, Smaaash, Mobikwik offered discounts to the consumers to celebrate the move.  But they were also not spared by the social media police and had to face the aftermath of riding on a sensitive national issue.

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