Ad gurus ask brands to show some spine, not to be bogged down by online trolls

Talking to, India's top creative directors say it was about time for advertisers and the creative fraternity to stand for themselves and protect creative freedom. They say brands shouldn't talk about purpose-driven values if they can't live up to it in real life

Shradha Mishra
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Ad gurus ask brands to show some spine, not to be bogged down by online trolls

In the backdrop of the controversy surrounding the ad of jewellery brand Tanishq, some of leading creative minds from the Indian advertising industry have asked brands to show some spine and not be bogged down by online trolling when they know their creatives are not violating any guidelines.

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Tanishq on Tuesday withdrew its campaign showcasing wedding jewellery after a backlash on Twitter, with a section of people alleging that the ad promoted ‘love jihad’.

The advertising regulator, ASCI, had said the ads had no problems and the brand was free to air it. Tanishq, however, decided against keeping the ad that showed a pregnant Hindu woman with her Muslim in-laws on air and pulled it down after issuing an apology.

R Balki

In a conversation with, R Balki, filmmaker, screenwriter and former Group Chairman of Lowe Lintas, said what has happened to Tanishq is a dangerous trend and if it isn’t stopped, it is going to happen again and again.

“The digital gundaism is really going to unbelievable levels and as an advertising industry, we need to get up and protest. Forget whether the ad is great or not, it's a great message and a thought. I feel it needs to be supported and if we don’t support it as an advertising industry, we are not supporting a concept of humanity in our country,” Balki said.

Santosh Padhi

Santosh Padhi, Founder and CCO, Taproot Dentsu, told, “I don’t think it was a great decision to withdraw campaigns that you have launched with full conviction after a great amount of thinking and research.”

Padhi said the big corporates launch ads after doing a lot of groundwork and situation analyses, and given the influence they have, backing out isn’t a good option. “Definitely not when you have PR and media muscles. If you are worried about consumers boycotting, you don’t forget when you stand for the wellness of the society. There will be hundreds who’ll love you against every single fake hater.”

Balki said, “It’s not about backing creatives or not, what has happened to Tanishq is a dangerous situation to happen anywhere and I feel that corporates do campaigns with the best of their intentions. The Tanishq ad is a very good ad. Unfortunately, we don’t have the system support that we need to take on the gundaism (trolling) happening around us.”

KV Sridhar

Talking about the frequent approach of brands to take their ads off air as soon as there’s slightest of outrage from a few radical groups, KV Sridhar, Global Chief Creative Officer, Nihilent Hypercollective, said, “They should not withdraw. Otherwise there’s no point embracing the purpose and jumping on either side. If you keep doing that, people will not value you for a long time because you don't stand for anything.”

Mentioning specifically the Tanishq campaign, Sridhar said, “In the context of Tanishq, this campaign is not bad at all, they have done more courageous conversations in the past and people have embraced it.”

Padhi said it was about time for the entire creative industry to come together and ensure trolling doesn’t kill creative freedom in the country.

“Why is our industry being targeted every single time? Just because we aren’t united as an industry. It's high time we come together. We have been adding value to many industries; we better come together and protect our creative freedom. Remember that creativity is the core of our business and we cannot be pushed in the corner every single time.”

Echoing Padhi’s views, Balki added, “As a society and the industry, we need to find ways to support people creating communication who are going to be attacked by this kind of violence. It's the duty of the industry to not just issue statements but to protest, take such matters to court and ensure that companies are not forced to buckle down to such threats. Because trust me, these threats are going to happen again and again.”

Talking about why it was time for brands to act on what they actually believed, Sridhar said, “Over the years a brand develops a certain purpose and value and they can't leave those values because somebody is conveniently doing something. Brands must stand by their purpose and values completely. Whatever you preach, you have to live and walk the talk. If you are not able to walk the talk then don't talk at all.”

Tanishq’s decision to pull out the ad could be a calculated move

Tanishq in a statement said, “The idea behind the Ekatvam campaign is to celebrate the coming together of people from different walks of life, local communities and families during these challenging times and celebrate the beauty of oneness. This film has stimulated divergent and severe reactions, contrary to its very objective.”

“We are deeply saddened with the inadvertent stirring of emotions and withdraw this film keeping in mind the hurt sentiments and well-being of our employees, partners and store staff,” it said.

Kuber Chopra

Highlighting that pulling down the advertisement by Tanishq could have been a calculated move by the brand to drive more conversations, Kuber Chopra, Founder, Creative and Strategy Director, Rasta (Creative agency), said, “The brand deserves credit to have released this creative, but perhaps more so on taking it down swiftly. In my opinion, the ‘release and remove’ tactic was not a random reaction to the outrage but an intentional stroke of genius. The brand’s decision to pull down the ad was a pragmatic business decision. Even if riding the easily offended trolls comes as a handy technique, culturally it reveals that we are in a deeply disturbing place.”

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