Indian ads that faced severe social media backlash

- August 21, 2022
| By : Jayali Wavhal |

Recently, Zomato faced severe backlash for its ad about the thali at Ujjain's Mahakal restaurant being mistaken for the prasad offered at a renowned religious place. We take a look at some ads that also bore the brunt of the boycott trend on social media

Alia Bhatt in the Manyavar Mohey ad which challenged the patriarchal tradition of 'kanyadaan' by suggesting audience to change the term to 'kanyamaan' (Photo: Representational image, Twitter)

One of India’s leading food delivery services, Zomato recently found itself in a controversy sparked by its latest ad starring Hrithik Roshan. The ad showed the actor ordering food from ‘Mahakal’ when he felt like having a ‘thali’.

The restaurant aggregator said that their latest ad campaign in collaboration with Roshan targeted top restaurants in each city and their famous dishes. The statement noted that Mahakal restaurant in Ujjain was one of their high-order-volume restaurant partners, and the thali was a recommended item on their menu. 

“We deeply respect the sentiments of the people of Ujjain, and the ad in question is no longer running. We offer our sincerest apologies, for the intent here was never to hurt anyone’s beliefs and sentiments,” the statement read”, a statement issued by Zomato said.

The advertisement, on Friday, went viral in no time and garnered negative attention for insulting the Shree Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh. Two priests at the temple demanded immediate withdrawal of the ad while seeking intervention from Ujjain district collector Ashish Singh. The priests said that the prasad is distributed on a plate (thali) free of cost and cannot be ordered online.

But the Zomato ad isn’t the only one that bore the brunt of the ‘boycott’ trend which has currently kept Twitterati and slactivists occupied. Several ads in the past have been withdrawn or heavily criticized – for completely rational reasons, or for reasons where offence was created out of thin air. Here’s a look at some of these ads:

1. When Fem/Dabur released an ad which showed a same-sex couple celebrating the Hindi festival of Karvachauth, Madhya Pradesh minister Narottam Mishra warned them of legal action. Consequently, Dabur had to withdraw the ad – an action that added to the woes of the queer community who has been struggling for representation in society.

2. Last year, jewellery brand Tanishq released an ad that showed the unity of two communities using two female characters – one Hindu and the other Muslim. The video shows the pregnant Hindu woman being led to a baby shower (goad bharai) by the Muslim woman, who is later revealed to be her mother-in-law. 

Upon seeing the ad, Twitterati went into a frenzy, saying that the ad promotes ‘love jihad’ and endangers the freedom of Hindu women. The brand was forced to withdraw the ad citing hurt sentiments, threats of lawsuits and the safety of their employees. 

3. For it’s Holi special Rang Laaye Sang (Colours bring us together) campaign, Surf Excel made an ad that promoted Hindu-Muslim unity. In the ad, a small girl rides her bicycle into a building compound, asking her friends to throw balloons filled with coloured water on her. She provokes them until her friends are left with no more balloons. It is then revealed that the girl was protecting her Muslim friend so that he doesn’t get colours on his new clothes before he offers namaz at the mosque. 

Social media stayed true to its nature and called for a boycott of the ad as it was “Hinduphobic” and it implied that “offering namaz is more important than celebrating Holi”. 

4. Challenging the patriarchal and sexist tradition of ‘kanyadaan’ (literally meaning to donate your daughter’), women’s bridal clothing brand Manyavar Mohey’s ad starring Alia Bhatt suggests that the term be changed to ‘kanyamaan’ (respecting the daughter).  The ad emphasizes how girls are seen as a burden and a liability. However, the ad received severe backlash for not respecting Hindu culture and insulting the age-old traditions. 

5. During Covid,  Kent RO released an ad for its atta maker by warning the audience that their domestic help’s hand may be infected and are hence unsafe to knead the dough. The ad, which featured Hema Malini and her daughter Esha Deol, received severe backlash for being ‘classist’ and ‘discriminatory’.

6. Indian brand FabIndia had released an ad for Diwali last year, when it named a range of Diwali-themed clothing Jashn-e-riwaaz (celebration of traditions). Not only was the ad tagged “culturally inappropriate”, but was also accused of insulting Hindu culture and hurting the sentiments of many. 

As brands find creative ways to endorse and promote their products while challenging the societal norms and status quo, Indian social media space needs to introspect how far is it willing to go to restrict freedom of creative expression. Twitterati and slacktivists need to accept subjectivity of topics as the advertisements are made for a wide array of reasons that exceed the limited thought process of social media users waiting to get offended.