The intolerance brigade | The Financial Express

The intolerance brigade

Fringe elements can’t be allowed to weaponise a social media feature to generate false hatred for a brand

The intolerance brigade
The AU ad seems to have been quietly pulled from the popular social media platforms.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) must be lauded for batting for brands’ right to air advertisements as long as they follow the accepted guidelines. Following a social media campaign to “boycott” AU Small Finance Bank for allegedly mocking Hindu traditions, ASCI chief executive Manisha Kapoor was right in pointing out in a recent media interview that while people were free to voice their reservations about certain ads, “collective trolling on superficial grounds is not constructive”. The AU Small Finance Bank ad that features actors Aamir Khan and Kiara Advani came under fire for showing a reversal of the traditions of bidaai, or the bride leaving her paternal household and joining that of her in-laws’. In the ad, Khan portrays a groom moving in with the bride’s family. The ad’s punchline badlaav humse hai (change comes from us)—meant to draw attention to the bank’s attempts to modernise banking processes—also signals the shedding of age old practices that some see as regressive or patriarchal. There are many religions in the Indian sub-continent that have similar rituals under different names—one such being rukhsati. While the boycott-troupe have the AU Small Finance Bank in their crosshairs for challenging “social and religious traditions”, Khan has also been a lightning rod for the Hindu right for voicing concern about fraying communal harmony in the country.

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The AU ad seems to have been quietly pulled from the popular social media platforms. If indeed this is tacit bowing to the vicious campaign, this would not be the first time that the outrage factory has shut down advertisements over “disrespect and mockery”. Earlier this year, there was a sustained “boycott Manyavar” campaign after the festive-wear brand aired an ad featuring actor Alia Bhat—again, a favourite target of trolls—as a bride-to-be questioning the kanyadaan ritual and saying it is time for “kanya maan” (upholding the dignity of the bride/women). Before that, there was the FabIndia Jashn-e-Rivaaz campaign that drew considerable Hindu-right ire for “unnecessarily secularising” Diwali. Last October, Tanishq withdrew an ad showing a Muslim family observing the godh bharaai (baby-shower) ritual for their Hindu daughter-in-law after an online backlash spilled over to real life, with a Tanishq store in Gujarat having to put up an apology poster after local goons demanded it and the store employees received threat calls. Against such a backdrop, the ASCI has done well to spell out its stand clearly—it was high time time to stand up to such mindless intimidation tactics of fringe elements.

Every instance of brands and ad agencies capitulating to the thin-skinned mob over imagined insults to its sensibilities entrenches intolerance, even as it robs the ad space of the very creativity that is its life-blood. This is not to say that ads designed to offend should be treated as kosher. For example, two advertisements for the body spray Layer’r Shot justifiably came under fire for promoting “crudity” and insulting women. So, it is important that ASCI asserts its regulatory mandate and allows brands to do their messaging within the bounds of its guidelines. People, including those wielding social media influence, are free to state their opinion on ads, but browbeating companies just because they dislike an ad must not be endured silently. Fringe elements should not be allowed to weaponise a social media feature and generate false hatred for a brand.

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First published on: 15-10-2022 at 04:45 IST