Dear Brands, Take A Stand!

BJP MP Tejasvi Surya, taking objection over urdu name of Fabindia’s Diwali collection, said it was a “deliberate attempt of abrahamisation of Hindu festivals”.

It all started in 2017 when Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegal reportedly said that the multimedia messaging app was not for ‘poor countries like India’. That was the first time when I heard ‘boycott’ call against a particular brand. Indians took to Twitter to slam, ridicule and troll Spiegal, causing #snapchat, #boycottsnapchat and #uninstallsnapchat to trend on the social media platform.

Spiegel, according to former Snapchat employee Anthony Pompliano’s lawsuit, said: “This app is only for rich people…I don’t want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain.”

What followed was a massive campaign by Indians downvoting the application on playstore and uninstalling the application in protest. Some of the protestors, who did not even use the application, installed it on their phones only to uninstall it later and post the screenshot on social media sites. Some even downvoted and uninstalled Snapdeal, an e-commerce app, mistaking it for Snapchat.

Nobody would have imagined back then that this boycott culture would become so toxic that a brand will have to take down its advertisement, just because it used an Urdu word for its collection.

4 years down the line, here we are. Apparel brand Fabindia on Monday had to take down a tweet promoting its Diwali collection — “Jashn-e-Riwaaz” — after facing a backlash on social media from many users, including BJP MP Tejasvi Surya, who “called out” the advertisement as “culturally inappropriate” and started a #BoycottFabindia campaign. The company is yet to issue a statement over the controversy.

Fabindia had posted a picture showing models wearing a new Diwali collection with a caption: “As we welcome the festival of love and light, Jashn-e-Riwaaz by Fabindia is a collection that beautifully pays homage to Indian culture”.

Soon after the brand posted the advertisement on the microblogging website, it started receiving sharp reactions over the usage of “Jashn-e-Riwaaz” word, which many outraged people thought was an “Abrahamisation” of Hindu festival.

Bengaluru (South) MP Tejasvi Surya, quote tweeting the now removed advertisement, said: “Deepavali is not Jash-e-Riwaaz. This deliberate attempt of abrahamisation of Hindu festivals, depicting models without traditional Hindu attires, must be called out. And brands like @FabindiaNews must face economic costs for such deliberate misadventures.”


No wonder the brand took the clue and removed the advertisement after the ruling party MP demanded that the brand must face an “economic costs”.

The ‘boycott culture’ that started with intention of harming a foreign brand has now come to the point where a sitting parliamentarian threatens a brand just for using an Urdu word and the usual suspects (who are part of troll armies) line in his support.

Communal pattern

Fabindia is not a first brand to face the wrath of social media users over a Hindu-Muslim issue.

Detergent brand Surf Excel, known for its heart-warming advertisements, tried to do something similar in 2019 with its Holi special (colours that bring us together) campaign. Under this campaign, the brand released an advertisement created around the Hindu-Muslim unity theme.

The one-minute-long ad featured a young Hindu girl, dressed in a white t-shirt, who chooses to get stained in Holi colours in order to protect her young Muslim friend who had to go to the nearby mosque to pray.

The ad ends with Surf Excel’s classic tagline: “Daag acche hain. Agar kuch achha karne mein daag lag jaaye toh daag achhe hain. (Stains that come as a part of a good deed are good stains).”

It was a campaign that gave a message of social harmony. However, many thought the ad was ‘Hindu-phobic’ and wanted to showcase that Namaaz is more important than Holi. Twitter was filled with tweets criticising the ad under the hashtag boycott Surf Excel.


Screengrab from Surf Excel’s Holi advertisement.


The critics of the campaign claimed that the advertisement promoted love jihad, a term coined by Hindu right to refer to marriage by forced conversion.

In a similar campaign in 2020 called Ekatvam, the Titan group’s jewellery brand Tanishq released an advertisement that showed a Muslim family preparing a traditional Hindu baby shower for their pregnant Hindu daughter-in-law. The description of the video on YouTube read, “She is married into a family that loves her like their own child. Only for her, they go out of their way to celebrate an occasion that they usually don’t. A beautiful confluence of two different religions, traditions, cultures.”

However, the advertisement which tried to promote religious harmony, was perceived by many as “promotion of love Jihad”. Social media users made #BoycottTanishq trend online, claiming it doesn’t show the reality of interfaith marriages.

As outrage against the ad grew, Tanishq officially removed the video from all their platforms. “We are deeply saddened with the inadvertent stirring of emotions and withdraw this film keeping in mind the hurt sentiments and well being of our employees, partners and store staff,” Tanishq said in a statement.


Brand at stake

In the new age of marketing, public feedback is at the centre of the process. No brand consciously wants to displease even a single person from its potential customer base, let alone a section of angry customers. In order to solve this problem, brands from telecom to e-commerce industry have customer help handles on social media platforms that promptly reply to any complaints.

In such customer-centric era of business, any brand that faces such wrath from hundreds or thousands of users over an advertisement will bow down under the pressure. If there’s someone from the government warning the brand publically over the advertisement, the pressure goes a notch above. Most of the brands in such situation would withdraw their advertisement and issue an apology if needed, to save the potential customer base they could lose for not doing so. Moreover, there is a risk of spoiling the relationship with those in power. It’s safe to say sorry and withdraw the advertisement.

The other side

If there have been concerted efforts to target brands which make ads on religious harmony or use Urdu word for their collection, there have also been an organic support for these brands from people who like the brands’ message and think the ‘boycott’ culture is stupid and unnecessary.

Many consider these boycott calls as political theatrics, while many feel anguished if brands bow down to the pressure and withdraw their advertisements.

The fact of the matter is, neither Tanishq nor Fabindia, have done anything wrong. Thier advertisement or the name of collection are not meant to and will not hurt religious sentiments of any sane practising Hindu. Their ads have been presented out of context by a section of people to evoke emotions of anger and frustration among masses. However, Twitter does not represent the masses by any chance. 20,000 tweets on Twitter do not represent the vast population of India.


Representational picture of Fabindia store.


Do the brands realise that in a quest to please the ruling class or section of Twitter users, they are sending a wrong message to those who actually liked their advertisement? What does the brand tell those who think it should not have withdrawn the advertisement and stood by its conviction?


The brands, in general, are very conscious of their reputation and tend to analyse all the factors that could affect their reputation. When a brand releases an advertisement for its campaign, there are hundreds of internal meetings with ad agency that have taken place to make sure that it doesn’t hurt, offend people or bring bad name to the brand. The brand has a conviction in the message it wants to be sent through its advertisement. They want people to relate the brand with the message.

However, when brands withdraw their advertisements over online outrage, aren’t they doing injustice to thier own marketing team? Can brands not take a stand for themselves?

In late July, a customer whose Twitter handle was @NaMo_SARKAAR (now deleted), refused to take an order from a Muslim delivery man of food delivery app Zomato. Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal, instead of brushing it under the carpet, took a strong stand and said his company “wasn’t sorry to lose any business that comes in the way of our values”.

Mr Goyal wrote on Twitter: “We are proud of the idea of India – and the diversity of our esteemed customers and partners. We aren’t sorry to lose any business that comes in the way of our values. ”

Overnight, more than 5,866 one-star ratings hit the Zomato app, with over 100K tweets of #BoycottZomato and #ZomatoUninstalled surging on Twitter.

It would be naive to assume that Mr Goyal didn’t foresee the response considering the times we live in. However, he chose to firmly stand by the values he wants his brand to represent. Zomato, as a brand, has been doing fine.

If you could make an advertisement on social or religious harmony, then you can also take a stand when a section of users take a diabolically polarising position on your honest efforts. If you have a conviction to speak of unity in diversity in your advertisement, you should also have a conviction to stand by these values when they are under attack.

Dear brands, please take a stand!

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