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The boycott trend: Is it a case of sheer negligence of global SOPs?

The Pakistan handles of close to eight international brands have posted insensitive content about Kashmir. talks about importance of global SOPs for any brand communication

Hyundai, Kia Motors, Pizza Hut, Osaka Batteries, Bosch Pharmaceuticals, Isuzu Motors, Atlas Honda Limited, and KFC, these are the brands whose Pakistan handles took to social media to extend their support to “Kashmir Solidarity Day ''. The day is observed by some across the border to show solidarity and support with separatist elements working on the Indian side.

Indian Twitterati, therefore, rightly expressed their angst against the aforementioned brands as the matter is a very important and delicate one. People lost no time in rubbishing the half-hearted apology which came from Hyundai India’s side.

The matter became so heated on social media that #BoycottHyundai, #BoycottKiaMotors, #BoycottPizzaHut, and #BoycottKFC were amongst the top trends on Twitter.

Now, in a situation like this, what role does the global team play? reached out to industry experts to understand the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that brands follow for sharing any creative or communication.

Hamsini Shivakumar

Hamsini Shivakumar, Founder, Leapfrog Strategy Consulting, said that SOP is usually the Brand Positioning Document with some broad guidelines. Global brands have the most well-worked out SOPs that are implemented globally on brand identity. The manuals are usually very detailed, covering the widest array of use cases and contexts.  Implementation is usually monitored very carefully so compliance is almost 100%.

“On advertising campaigns, there is no standardisation that is implemented on an ongoing basis. Brands will need to develop locally resonant campaigns to global positioning, if they wish to grow.  The approval process requires local campaigns, especially thematic campaigns to be shared with global brand teams, who can reject those campaigns that seem to be totally "off-brand,” she added.

Shivakumar also said that for social media posts and digital PR, global brands might not have any SOPs because digital agencies and digital PR agencies can be very local.

Anil Nair

Anil Nair, CEO India, vmly&r, said, “We are living in a hyper-connected world. There are no boundaries of distance, time or access. Brands need to navigate this new global omnipresent reality and take into account while creating sensitive campaigns.”

Nisha Sampath

Nisha Sampath, Managing Partner, Bright Angels Consulting, feels that a centralised communication was doable before the digital era. “I have worked with some of these global brands where we had centralised communication teams with a very strong mandate on Dos and Don’ts. It worked very well until the digital era came in. And then one realises that to some extent, it needs to have a decentralised communication. Because you’re talking about consumers in different markets,” she says.

Nisha Singhania

Nisha Singhania, Co-founder and Director, Infectious Advertising, said that Kashmir is a sensitive matter for both India and Pakistan and brands should not take sides when it comes to anything like this.

Global brands need to be cognisant of the fact that their consumers are a very large base of audience across borders and races and hence they need to be sensitive to all, especially when they do local communication. So, while it’s good to take a stance on humane issues, they cannot and should not take sides between countries.

Shradha Agarwal

Shradha Agarwal, COO and Strategy Head, Grapes, puts across the fact that brands do have SOPs, but at times, the entire procedure, if followed, takes too long. “Brands do have SOPs in place, and at times the creative are created well in advance say two-months back in order to get approval from all the chain of command.”

“When it comes to MNCs, if there is something that has been popularised by the people at the moment, they might think of moment marketing. For instance, an influencer or anything as such but they also have to work according to the system,” she added.

What’s the way out?  

The very first thing that one can think of, in a situation like this, is to issue an apology. A genuine apology.

Singhania, while suggesting the need for a cultural manager, said, “In today’s day and age maybe there is need for a ‘culture manager’ - someone who understands different cultures, is updated on political issues and will be able to guide brands on being fair and sensitive to all.” 

While Nair suggests having a new set of SOPs for the digital era. He says, “I believe that going forward global brands and MNCs need to create a new set of SOPs for the internet age or the digital economy. Which takes into account speed of transmission, sphere of influence, business risk mapping, friend and foe cohorts, brand interactivity index amongst other factors. The old ostrich with its head buried approach just won’t work in this hyper-real post- digital world.”

Sampath, on the other hand, suggests that brands must take up such issues promptly. “You have to kind of have a crisis plan and today I think public memory is also very short-term. There’s one scam and then in a few days, there’s a bigger scam. But what matters is to close that loop on mistakes that you make. You really need to have a plan in place to issue an apology swiftly, to have the senior people stepping in to handle the crisis and I think Hyundai could have done a better job with what they did with their apology,” she added.

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