Prabhakar Mundkur: While the world is rising for unity, are we digressing?

13 Oct,2020

By Prabhakar Mundkur


2020 is a year of huge upheavals not only because of Covid, but because of the huge social uprisings for unity.


The killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in Minneapolis, by the police sent a sweeping shock wave of social change the world over.


Racism of any kind just went out of the window this year. And the impact on brands was tremendous. Almost every brand worth its salt pledged to be fair and non- discriminatory. Brands asked people to stand against racism. Even the stoic Hindustan Unilever joined the tirade against discrimination of any kind when it decided to change the name of one its most profitable brands in country Fair & Lovely to Glow and Lovely. Such were the sweeping forces of an unprejudiced world. I sometimes wonder if Covid might have helped because it didn’t discriminate either between rich and poor, black and white or rich and poor.


So, when Tanishq one of India’s favourite brands put out a commercial about the unity between two religions the uprising on Twitter felt unfair and the height of discrimination. After all India has been a pot pourri of various races and religions for centuries.


Tanishq has pulled the creative off YouTube. The ad can be viewed here on a tweet by @bestoftraal – Ed


Another common practice has always been to celebrate each other’s festivals and cultural practices. After all who can but help to eat biryani at Id, order a Sadya menu for Onam, or offer tilgul for Makar Sakranti. Somehow India has grown up celebrating every festival irrespective of which state, language or community it belonged to. Following this pattern, the commercial shows the mutual respect for each other’s customs.


So, the outrage on Twitter seemed a little misplaced. Unless it was not representative of the feelings of the population at large.



Should brands give in?


I think when brands have done no wrong they should stick to their guns. And not get cowed down the mass hysteria on Twitter? Why do Twitter mobs behave in such extreme ways? Mob anger can be strange, pathological and monstrous. Behaviour of a larger group is known to have a big influence on individual behaviours and have been an area of interest in social psychology for years. Psychologists have found that group behaviour tends to be more extreme and amplifies the typical behaviour of its individual members. Mobs are known for losing their self-awareness. Sociologists refer to the process as de-individuation where individual personalities become dominated by the collective mindset of the crowd. Gustave Le Bon an early explorer of this phenomenon viewed crowd behaviour as “unanimous, emotional, and intellectually weak”.  The other reason is that twitter anger dies down as quickly as it is ignited. The half-life of a tweet ( average lifespan ) is 24 minutes or thereabouts.


So, a kneejerk reaction to take your commercial off the air might well be unfounded.



What else can brands do?


Companies need to figure out strategies for dealing with social media manipulation with respect to their ads. After all a pattern seems to have been established of cyber bullying to pull out movies and ads.


It can’t be difficult to gauge the reaction to your ads. Research should warn you about cultural inflections, and if there is an ad that has even a small probability of inciting twitter mob anger it might be better to go in well prepared. If social media and twitter can be manipulated by politicians and religious groups can’t they be manipulated equally by the biggest and best marketers in the country?


Maybe we are seeing the dawn of a new era. Where brands can use their marketing power to do what politics and the law can’t do. Right the wrong. Tell television channels to stop doling out trash to the public. Tell Twitter mobs to shut up. Hail brand power! We might well be at the edge of a new era in marketing!



Prabhakar Mundkur is a veteran advertising professional and has led agencies in various geographies, including India. He is a prolific writer and also a prolific musician. He comments frequently on MxMIndia, as on LinkedIn and other platforms. His views here are personal

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