The aftermath of Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan’s recent statement on ‘intolerance’ has the general public in debate mode, especially on social media. But it isn’t just the perfectionist Khan that is facing the brunt of public ire — a key brand in his endorsement kitty, Snapdeal, has found itself unwittingly in the eye of the storm. Twitter hashtags like #AppWapsi (a movement to uninstall the Snapdeal app) and #NoToSnapdeal are doing the rounds, while other users have given the app a one-star rating ? the lowest — on the Google Play. Such was the anger among a section of consumers that the brand was obliged to issue a statement: “Snapdeal is neither connected nor plays a role in comments made by Aamir Khan in his personal capacity.”
Interestingly, Sachin Bansal, founder of Snapdeal’s arch-rival Flipkart, came out in its defence. “This is a flawed logic. Brands don’t buy into brand ambassador’s personal opinions. @snapdeal shouldn’t face this. People change their opinions and get new thoughts all the time. Brands can’t know that at the time of signing up,” Bansal said in a series of tweets on Wednesday morning.
Snapdeal had roped in the 50-year-old actor as its brand ambassador in March this year starting with its TV campaign “Dil ki Deal, Snapdeal”.
While it goes without saying that Khan will ride out the storm, what happens to Snapdeal? Will this new development of trying to bully brands into dropping ambassadors who have made controversial statements become the norm? Naresh Gupta, CSO and managing partner of advertising agency Bang in the Middle, doesn’t think so. “This controversy is transient. Also, if you take on an ambassador, you have to take the good with the bad. What we are witnessing today is mob frenzy, especially on new media, that raise their voices every time they hear something they don’t like. But in the end sanity will prevail.”
But there are other schools of thought. Brand expert Harish Bijoor, founder of Harish Bijoor Consults, believes that there are long-term implications for brands post the Aamir Khan controversy. “Snapdeal definitely has to be careful because they are so closely associated with Aamir Khan. It is also a lesson people have learnt — if they want to punish X or Y, we will go after his earnings, ie, the brands he endorses.”
Such beliefs, if they hold true, will have major implications on how brands expect their ambassadors to behave and even perhaps on the way we see advertising in the future. N Chandramouli, CEO of Trust Research Advisory, believes that gentle counselling by brands to their ambassadors may be the answer. “More instances like this are likely to happen in the future. In this regard, I expect brands to become more stringent in their contracts as to what the ambassador’s role must be.”
But where does that leave Snapdeal? Kiran Khalap, co-founder and managing director, chlorophyll brand consultancy, believes Snapdeal must chalk down the Khan controversy as an ‘accident’. “Snapdeal needs to realise just how much goodwill and credibility it has received from having Aamir Khan as its brand ambassador. And of course one cannot stop anyone from expressing a personal opinion.”
But it is worth considering that post Aamirgate, brands will now have to have a rethink. “Today there is anarchy on new media. So far we have not learnt the rules of being civil on these mediums. Brands will have to prepare strategies to deal with issues like these in the future,” Khalap says.
However, in a survey done by Airloyal, a mobile advertising company, 60% of the respondents have said that they will continue to shop on Snapdeal as the comment was made by an actor who is entitled to have his own opinion.