Ads that landed big brands in the soup

A syncretic India celebrating its culture and vibrancy has been at the heart of Indian advertising. But syncretism roots itself in equality and respect for the beliefs of others. The increased perception that Hindu religious practices, rituals, and customs are being targeted in the name of modernity in commercial advertisements has not gone down well with society at large as these recent controversies show.  

By Arvind Singh in Jaipur 

A good public controversy is better than a good advertisement for a brand. Or so believe many advertising and marketing professionals. But many a time, the brand lands in a controversy and faces boycott calls on social media.

In the highly charged political atmosphere and increased religious sensitivities, advertising pitch and out-of-the-line concepts are increasingly facing protest and hue and cry lately in India.

Recently, Fabindia, a prestigious clothing brand known for its ethnic products, faced boycott calls as it pitched its festival collection as ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’. Young actress Alia Bhatt was trolled for calling out ‘Kanyadaan’ – the ritual of giving away of the daughter in a Hindu wedding and superstar Aamir Khan and Ceat tyre manufacturer got unsolicited advice after he was seen advising children not to burst crackers on road.

One  legal and constitutional expert believes that despite the increased sensitivity of the right-wing in India, Hindu customs are in no danger. “Hindu customs have survived, grown, and flourished through the centuries. What is actually being attacked are the famed India principles of tolerance and inclusivity.”

It is pertinent to note that the Indian constitution in its Article 51-A (f) speaks of cherishing and protecting the composite culture – a legacy of the blending of great minds, traditions, and beliefs. Moreover, Urdu is an official language of India, listed in the Eighth Schedule of the constitution. It is considered an inherent element of the Indian ‘composite culture’, a ‘rich heritage’ that the constitution exhorts to value and preserve.

However, there is a growing sentiment in India that Hindu culture and traditions are always on target in the grab of creativity while other religions get away with impractical extreme beliefs in modern times. Indians have become more sensitive towards their religion, culture, and customs and increased awareness has also resulted in stronger views and fierce arguments on social media.

Fabindia: ‘Jhilmil si Diwali’ not ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’

On October 9, Fabindia, clothing and furnishing brand, posted a promotional tweet advancing its Diwali Collection. The ‘contentious’ caption read as follows: “As we welcome the festival of love and light, Jashn-e-Riwaaz by Fabindia is a collection that beautifully pays homage to Indian culture.” The post featured men and women adorning ethnic Indian clothing in a vibrant shade of red.

Social media expolded with comment and boycott calls of Fabindia products. What led to the furor was the use of an Urdu phrase to promote a Hindu festival. Fabindia was accused of hurting Hindu sentiments and the promotional campaign was termed as Abrahamisation of the Diwali. Jashn-e-Riwaaz literally means a celebration of tradition.

“Deepavali is not Jashn-e-Riwaaz. This deliberate attempt of abrahmisation of Hindu festivals depicting models without traditional Hindu attires, must be called out. And brands like @FabindiaNews must face economic costs for such deliberate misadventure,” Tejsavi Surya, a BJP MP from Bengaluru South and National President of BJP’s youth wing. tweeted.

Politicians like Independent MLA in Delhi assembly Kapil Mishra, and BJP MLA from Uttarakhand Rajkumar echoed the same sentiment.

Fabindia issued a statement saying that their Diwali Collection named, ‘Jhilmil si Diwali’ – the shimmering Festival of Diwali, is yet to be launched. “We at Fabindia have always stood for the celebration of India with its myriad traditions in all hues. In fact ‘Fabindia – Celebrate India’ is our tagline,” read their  statement issued by FabIndia.

But, Fabindia quietly withdrew the ‘controversial’ tweet.

Fabindia was founded by John Bissell in the 1960s with a single store and evolved into an established chain with multiple stores in almost all major cities of India.

Alia Bhatt featured in Manyavar’s ad that takes issue with the term ‘Kanyadaan’.

Manyavar ‘Kanyadaan’ Controversy

In September, another clothing brand faced the #BycottManyavar social media trend when in their ad, Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt was shown at a Hindu wedding ‘mandap’ awaiting the rituals before the marriage is solemnized. She questions whether the practice of ‘Kanyadaan’ is something we should still be doing in the modern age. The advertisement ended with the groom’s parents also joining in the ‘giving away’ ritual and Bhatt summarizing it as ‘Kanya Maan’, respect of the daughter.

But those opposing the theme of advertisement as anti-Hindu pointed out that Kanyadaan is considered a pious act in Hinduism. But Nandini Bhowmik, a drama enthusiast and professor of Sanskrit in Kolkata, pointed out that Kanyadaan was not part of the rituals as mentioned in Rigveda.

The advertisement was accused of hurting religious sentiments and was withdrawn by the brand.


Caption For Aamir Khan – Ceat tyre ad featuring Aamir Khan was slammed for a Muslim telling kids not to burst crackers on Diwali.

Firecrackers not on road, a selective sermon

This controversy was triggered by BJP MP from Uttara Kannada, Anantkumar Hegde. He took offense at an ad  by Ceat starring Aamir Khan. The 30-second ad shows him asking children of an apartment complex to burst as many as crackers they want, but inside the society premises and not on the roads.

Hedge wrote on October 14 to MD/CEO of Ceat, Anant Vardhan Goenka, saying that a group of anti-Hindu actors always hurt the Hindu sentiments whereas they never try to expose the wrongdoing of their own community.

“It is a very common scene in many Indian cities where Muslims block busy roads and perform namaz. At that time, vehicles like ambulances and firefighters vehicles are also stuck in traffic causing grave losses. I also request you to highlight the issue of noise pollution in your ads. Every day loud noise is emitted from mikes arranged on the top of mosques in our country when azan is given.” reads the letter sent by Hegde.

Though Ceat has not withdrawn the ad, politicians, nonetheless, have tried to explore their opportunity to pamper the sensitivities of their followers and earn some brownie points.

Kangana Ranaut slammed Tanishq’s Ekatvam ad for promoting Love Jihad and sexism.

Tanishq’s ‘Ekatvam’

Last year, Tanishq, the jewelry brand of Tata, was trolled for their ad promoting inter-faith marriages. The #BycottTanishq hashtag trended on social media with various sections of society calling it out for ‘Promoting Love Jihad’.

The Tanishq ad showed a pregnant Hindu woman accompanied by her Muslim mother-in-law to her baby shower ceremony. The woman asks her, “this ceremony is not held at your home..”, to which the mother-in-law latter replies, “Isn’t it a tradition to keep daughters happy everywhere.”

Celebrities like Kangana Ranaut criticized the advertisement as well as the brand as a whole. “As Hindus, we need to be absolutely conscious of what these creative terrorists are injecting into our subconscious,” she tweeted.

Following the uproar, Tanishq took down the ad from its social media handles and from its official YouTube channel. But that also did not go down well with netizens.

“If Hindu-Muslim ‘ekatvam’ irks them so much, why don’t they boycott the longest surviving symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity in the world — India?” Congress leader and MP Shashi Tharoor retorted.

However, the controversy increased the visibility of Tanishq and burnished its brand reputation. But controversy is always a double-edged sword.

Images courtesy of (Photo courtesy: Fabindia), (Photo courtesy: Manyavar), (Photo courtesy The Quint) and (Photo courtesy IndiansInGulf).

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