Opinion and Editorial

Special: Religious trolls are killing creativity in India

ambica@khaleejtimes.com Filed on October 16, 2020 | Last updated on October 16, 2020 at 10.21 am
Tanishq, India, Ambica Sachin, Khaleej Times, Nike, ad, creativity, secular India

It's no doubt a sad state of affair in modern India that once took pride in proclaiming itself as secular.

A house bedecked with festive lights and traditional Kerala lamps entwined with marigolds welcomes us in. As the young mother-to-be is escorted by her loving mother-in-law, she looks longingly at the Puli-Kuti, the customary tamarind juice served to pregnant women during their godh-bharai (baby shower) ceremony in South Indian homes, in the kitchen.

Relatives in traditional wear are busy putting the final touches to the setting in the inner courtyard replete with auspicious symbols. An elaborate gold necklace is presented to the young woman who is informed that even if these rituals are not part of her in-laws' family customs, keeping daughters' happy is after all customary in every household.

I confess the only takeaway for me while watching this South-Indian themed ad from a reputed Indian jewellery brand promoting their new collection, was the emphasis on the happiness of daughters.

In a country where a 19-year-old Dalit girl was mercilessly raped and left to die by men from the so-called 'upper-caste', isn't it refreshing to see a life-affirming, albeit fictional, take on an inter-faith marriage that shows there are still people who will go the extra mile to keep the girl-child happy?

Apparently not, if you go by the social media onslaught that followed the release of this 45-second creative. Cowered by relentless trolls, many of whom branded it as a glorification of 'love-jihad', the brand was forced to take the ad-film down from public platforms. In their succinct statement while expressing their sadness at the "inadvertent stirring of emotions" they made it clear it was the "hurt sentiments" as well as tellingly, the "well-being of our employees, partners and store staff" that had led them to withdraw the ad film.

Contrary to their objective of celebrating "the coming together of people from different walks of life, local communities, and families during these challenging times," the ad, the brand went on to say, had "stimulated divergent and severe reactions."

It's no doubt a sad state of affairs in modern India that once took pride in proclaiming itself as secular. A nameless, faceless mob (made up of paid trolls or bots as the case maybe powered by a deeply entrenched political agenda) that instils fear through viral incendiary statements that threaten the very moral fabric of our society has taken our collective consciousness hostage today. It's not so much the social media trolls that worry me. It's the very public stance by so-called celebrities like the Bollywood actress who gave a clarion call to "save our civilisation" from these "creative terrorists." Really?

"Heads should roll," another social media user ominously proclaimed even as a section rallied behind the brand empathising that they had been caught with their back to the wall, with regards to the physical safety of their employees.

The calling card of a truly powerful brand worth investing in is not its social posturing but its willingness to imbibe and proudly wear on its sleeves the very same emotion it seeks to evoke through its often million-dollar campaigns.

Back in 2018 the revolutionary Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick was seen as divisive but what it ultimately taught us was that brands need to walk the talk if they want to be taken seriously in the long-term. As Nike Founder Phil Knight told Fast Company at the time; "... you can't be afraid of offending people. You can't try and go down the middle of the road. You have to take a stand on something, which is ultimately I think why the Kaepernick ad worked."

In my mind Tanishq will forever be the brand that had the golden opportunity to 'Just Do It' but sadly took the easy way out, though admittedly it was for the security of their own people.

This is what tragically happens when an ad is just an ad, merely meant to grab eyeballs but not backed by any real conviction. Staying neutral or striving to be 'politically correct' is no longer an option for revolutionary brands that strive to create an impact. You might lose some (clients) for sure, but what you gain will be far more beneficial for your identity and who you seek to be seen as.

But guess not everybody can be a Kaepernick in today's world, and stand by the motto: Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. 

- ambica@khaleejtimes.com



Ambica Sachin

Armed with a double masters in English Literature, Ambica Sachin embarked on a career that has seen her straddle teaching, assisting an award-winning author, and reviewing books and movies, before finding her forte in critical writing and interviewing celebrities. She is currently Editor, City Times, the lifestyle and entertainment portal of Khaleej Times.

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