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Amul topical on evacuation of Indians from Afghanistan divides netizens and industry

While some say the brand has always been using topical situations for its communication, others feel it is capitalising on a humanitarian crisis

A recent communication by Amul in its typical doodle style has divided the internet. The brand in its recent creative depicted the evacuation of Indians from Afghanistan after the Taliban took over. The communication seems to show the evacuation of Indian nationals, journalists, diplomats, embassy staffers and security personnel last week.

For decades, the brand has been sketching topical situations, often with a touch of humour, featuring the iconic Amul girl. 

But this time the brand was called out for ‘cashing in on’ a humanitarian crisis. 

The post: 

Some said the ad is capitalising on the dire situation. 

“While it's true that Amul ads have been all about a humorous take on contemporary events, this one is stretching that logic a bit too far. Where's the humour in an unfolding human tragedy?” said another tweet. 

Others differed, saying it is just like any other Amul ad that talks about a current situation. 

Jayen Mehta

Jayen Mehta, Senior General Manager (Planning & Marketing) at Amul (GCMMF), who has been consistently behind their topical creatives, told, “Amul does topical advertising not to sell Amul products, but to talk about the things happening in the country, which affects all of us. We did something similar when Indians were evacuated from Wuhan in China. Everything that is of importance to Indians comes to Amul topicals.” 

“If Amul has to sell its butter, ghee, etc., we are doing that differently. This topical advertising has been going on for the last 55 years. It comments on everything and anything that is happening.” 

“It is okay that people take offence, but our intention is not mala fide; it is the same for the last 55 years. If people doubt we are taking mileage out of that, it is their personal opinion; we can’t comment on that. Evacuation of Indians and Indians outside the country has been a major issue in the news over the last several days,” Mehta said. 

Experts say brands must be careful about their communications in an environment where people don’t hesitate to call out anyone. 

Ajay Gahlaut

Ajay Gahlaut, former CCO and MD of Publicis Worldwide, said it would be better for brands to stay clear of anything that can be even seen as remotely controversial. 

“While Amul has been doing topical communication, one has to be extremely careful. I am not making a value judgement on whether it is right or wrong. There are things to be said on both sides of the argument, brands should be a little careful. Sometimes even the most innocent kind of stand or opinion can be discussed because people are extremely sensitive these days. Brands are especially vulnerable to these things; it is very easy for people to start saying they are boycotting the brand.” 

Lloyd Mathias

According to Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and former marketing head of PepsiCo India & HP Asia-Pacific, using a serious crisis such as emergency evacuation for moment marketing is in extremely bad taste.  

“While it’s understandable for a brand to make a comment on an issue of the day, they must be careful not to capitalise on a serious humanitarian crisis like the one unfolding in Afghanistan. This piece of communication from Amul is completely insensitive to the plight of the many trapped in Afghanistan and their near and dear ones. An utterly irresponsible way to reinforce the brand's proposition ‘taste of home’,” he explained. 

Mathias said it is important for companies and brands to respect public sentiment and tread cautiously. After all, a brand exists within a larger community and it needs to reflect the values of that community, he said.

Nisha Sampath

Nisha Sampath, Managing Partner, Bright Angels Consulting, on the other hand, said the brand communicated just like it always has. 

“Amul topical advertising has always been embedded in pop culture. Such is the equity of the brand that it can comment on most sensitive issues such as politics and war, which other brands would shun. The brand commentary will always be light-hearted and humorous, again a rare feat. Long before we called it ‘moment marketing’, Amul was already doing it with aplomb.” 

“The flip side is that if you comment with humour on issues, almost every day, some days it will backfire on you. This is not the first time Amul has faced flak, and it probably won’t be the last. But I think the brand is being true to its DNA in this ad. It is not a rebel, but nor is it a politically correct brand. It just playfully shares its view,” Sampath said. 

“Perhaps the difference is that today we have audiences who have sharply polarised opinions, and don’t hesitate to call out brands they disagree with. This is the new reality Amul has to deal with. Maybe the brand can engage more with audiences after posting, which I feel they don’t do enough. But I don’t think Amul should stop being itself. Few brands have an authentic voice. Amul is one of them,” she said. 

Samit Sinha

Samit Sinha, Founder and Managing Partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, said, "I have always been a fan of the Amul brand and its inimitable style of communication that has been so consistent over several decades. In many ways by always focusing on topicality it was a kind of pioneer in moment marketing in India, long before the term even came into existence. However, in following this path, sometimes it is brilliant and hits the spot. Some other times, it looks a bit forced and pedestrian. This time, I have to say, it was simply insensitive and tasteless."

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