Sanjeev Kotnala: Time For Smear Index & Scar Service

02 Dec,2020

By Sanjeev Kotnala


Well, I have some news. Remember Vermajee, my dear friend and a well-known  brand-marketing consultant. I met him yesterday. I wanted to pick his brains over the recent social media outrage, serious trolling and boycott call against some of the brands.


Vermajee was tired after what was a day-long meeting on a similar subject. Being a friend, he did not have the option of terminating my call.



We have recently seen social media outrages against a few of the brands and campaigns. Amazon on use of deity images. Tanishq for the baby shower of a Hindu daughter-in-law in a Muslim family and for the call for a cracker-free Diwali. Gillette for supporting #MeToo with  toxic masculinity.  Zomato on hate money. Airtel for the empowered wife asking husband what he will eat. Ike yoga issue. Kumbha Mela, Red Label Tea  for asking people to take care of adults. Man Force Condoms in celebrating LoveRatri. Fortune Foods for insulting Hindu faith by showing couple consuming non-veg during puja. Netflix for kissing in temples. Beer brands for using the names of Hindu Deity and many more.


I had some idea of what the brands should do. However, I wanted a second opinion. How can brands avoid such situations? And will this spectre of social outrage kill creative voice, process and intent? 



Start with a basic assumption that no brand is doing this intentionally, Vermajee said. Brands also hate this undesired buzz in social media. Let us presume that no brand uses this as a strategic tool to amplify their media weights and message delivery. So, for all practical purpose, it is a genuine mistake. An oversight. An irresponsible act of compromising brand values. And then only we should address what can be done?



Vermajee was clear, the first step for brands have to act proactively. Predict and plan. Resolve and ratify and Rectify. Brands must keep an ear to the ground and be aware and sensitive to the realities. They must read every tremor caused by the tectonic plates of  Religion, Region, Politics, Gender, Caste and such issues.


It is good to have a purpose but then risking it in a purposeless world does not make sense.

There are segments of consumers pushing  against each other, just like the tectonic plates. Pushing for dominance.  Everyone thinks they are right. Consultants expect the brands will listen when they tell them what to do. 



Proactive means that when a creative is developed, before approval, run it through a common-sense sensor. Ask within the team if it wrongly presses any of the current socio-political tension points.  The answer, if the brand will be able to take a hit and stand for what they communicate.  Still then, build a possible scenario and design an  honourable escape. As for location, model costumes- with preferably a pan Indian looks and feel.  The brand CMO should never forget that they should be answerable to Brand more than the Management. Just like the consultants, the brand must choose the battles they want to really fight.


In fact, Vermajee sees an opportunity and recommends the agency to add a  ‘Social Media Engagement and  Adverse Reaction’ ( SMEAR) report as a part of the presentation. A short deck, advising the client on the probability  of adverse reaction in the social media and escape plans. 



Vermajee as you know is a strategically sound and a highly confident person. He has the mind of a curious researcher. In the current scenario, he saw an opportunity and has developed SMEAR INDEX©  and SMEAR PREDICTOR©.


It is based on category sensitivity, past reaction, customer psyche, fringe group interaction, current political and religious climate. It gives a numeric value between 0 to 1 as a possibility of adverse social media reaction to the Campaign.


Test runs are more encouraging than the  Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. In fact, there have been few false-positive reports but mostly the predictor worked.  Anyone interested to know more about it or be a co-developer, founder or funder can connect directly.


Vermajee has meanwhile applied for the trademark for the name and copyright for the process. He shared a part of  initial working on SMEAR  and promises to make a full presentation with a revenue model, sometime later. 



One could buy just the Index or predictor or the complete report with reasoning. Available as a per creative basis or loyalty programme with up-to 10 creative a month. In loyalty programme also included is the suggestions on how to SAFE  or SAVE the creative with least changes. 



Vermajee is a smart cookie. He has gone a step further and is in talks with three big Insurance Companies to start a Social Campaign Adverse Reaction (SCAR™) insurance.


As usual, brands with certain pre-existing strategic problems will not be offered this insurance, just like most insurance companies do not offer Covid Kavatch to smokers. The  pre-existing strategic ailments.

:: The brand has a past history of adverse social media reaction.

:: The brand campaign is based on senseless brand purpose not supported by actions or tangible results.

:: The brand is a surrogate product for any Tobacco—liquor, Weed, Drugs, prostitution or dating service.

:: The Campaign features anyone of the well-known usual suspect brand endorses.

:: The Campaign talks of National integration, Inclusive community and inter-caste, region, religion environment.

:: The Campaign takes a dig at any recent celebrity death or natural calamity.

:: The Campaign involves



Vermajee was in a happy mood. He shared a story to make his points as to how the brands must behave. The old wise saying tells us,  ‘if you want to hit with a stone, wrap that is Muslin cloth’.


He said, brands do not have to change their stance or the promise. They don’t even have to  the ad or the act. But they have to be creative while messaging.





Once there was a King, and two astrologer friends came to his Darbar. The first one read his horoscope and said- Raja, all your relatives will die before your eyes. The Raja was very furious and asked the astrologer to be beheaded.


The second astrologer read the horoscope. He realized that the first Astrologer was right. He also knew as an oath to his profession, if he did not tell the right thing Maa Sarawati ( Goddess of knowledge) will leave him. So he said, ‘Rajan, Your will live longest among all your relatives’. The second astrologer was praised for his prediction and given lot many gifts.


It is time for the brands and their agencies be the second Astrologer. Better they should be made to discuss the moral of  a Panchatantra story every Monday.




As a friend, I want to help Vermajee. We welcome  strategist and consultant to share their gut-feeling about the potential of such process  and product. I am talking of SMEAR and SCAR.





The one Cadbury ad that the predictor gave a wrong reading. Vermajee is still trying to understand what went wrong. Is it because of the background structures?

I think the brand is smart and in touch with reality.  That’s the kind of neutrality brands need.

Just visualise it with the guy with a pathani or surma in the eyes and the girl with Bindi on her forehead. There you go.





Sanjeev Kotnala is a senior marketing and business strategist and educator. He writes on MxMIndia every Wednesday. His views here are personal

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