Commentary: Why is the government silent as excessive trolling of brands is hurting the ease of doing business in India?

The corporates are getting jittery before launching any ad campaign as there is always an overarching threat of trolling. In the long term, it may dissuade international brands from entering India as marketing their products would be an impossible task

Niraj Sharma
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Commentary: Why is the government silent as excessive trolling of brands is hurting the ease of doing business in India?

A jewellery brand was trolled so badly for its ad that it has to shut some of its stores because it got worried about the safety of its staff at the showrooms.

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Given the polarised environment on social media and society in general, it has become almost impossible for companies to market their products without someone getting offended.

In the current environment, brands are toning down their marketing initiatives to mitigate the trolling threat to creative campaigns.

This may come across just as a marketing challenge. But in the long term, it can dissuade the international brands who are planning to invest in India. What companies seek is not only a good consumer base but also how easy it is to operate in a country.

This isn’t just true for products and services focused companies but also for international advertising and creative agencies who may not want to enter India given the increased level of trolling and the government’s disinterest in protecting the brands from it.

Though the government has several laws to protect the consumers, there isn’t any to protect the brands from any sort of onslaught on social media that also at times becomes a law and order situation for the staff and physical properties of the brand.

During the past one month, around five brands had to take down their campaigns and issue an apology because of incessant trolling from a certain section of social media users and open threats from political leaders including Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra.

Even as designer brand Sabyasachi and Dabur India withdrew their ad campaigns, Mishra, who had earlier issued ultimatums to the two, on Monday said a direct action will be taken without a warning in case of repetition of such act.

Referring to the controversial advertisements of Dabur and Sabyasachi, Mishra said he was considering them as a "mistake" committed for the first time.

Sabyasachi on Sunday withdrew its Mangalsutra campaign saying it was "deeply saddened" that the advertisement offended a section of the society, hours after the MP home minister issued a 24-hour ultimatum to Sabyasachi Mukherjee to withdraw the advertisement which has an "objectionable and obscene" portrayal of mangalsutra or else face statutory action.

Given the involvement of leaders and ministers from the ruling party, many brands share the feeling that it is the government that is behind the trolling and terrorising brands. In such a situation, where should the brands go and plead for the safety of their businesses and people?

They wonder how can a government of the world’s largest democracy see businesses as their enemy and not proactively protect them. They fear India is becoming what China is for global brands.

Neither the industry bodies such as CII or FICCI have voiced their concern on how this trolling is impacting the image of India as an attractive consumer market for corporates nor has the government taken note of it.

At the advertising industry level, all the bodies including the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA), Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) are acting as a bystander.

Advertising veterans such as Piyush Pandey, Prasoon Joshi, Sam Balsara, who are considered to be close to the current dispensation, have not made any representation in the government on this issue.

Whenever there’s labour violence at any factory, the state machinery gets into the act to ensure that such instances shouldn’t affect India’s image as an investment destination.

The online trolling of brands that at times also becomes a physical danger for the brand also causes a similar threat to India’s image.

Though most of this trolling is driven by the politics of the day, the least the government can do is to provide a legal remedy to brands in case trolling of their marketing campaigns is impacting their business. And the government will have to take suo moto action because none of the industry bodies will come in open to make any representation as they believe this is government-sponsored.