Last week’s most in-the-news by far was the father-son ‘togetherness’ Kumbh Mela ad of Brooke Bond Red Label tea. The newest in the ‘Swad Apnepan Ka’ series, the film shows a father-son duo at the Kumbh Mela. The father shows concern about the milling crowds at the Kumbh. The son is brusque with him, ignores his protestations and looks to get rid of him by himself getting ‘lost’ in the crowd.
The son successfully manages to ‘lose’ the father, only to stumble upon another father-son duo where the father is tying a cloth to his son’s hand so that he doesn’t lose him in the multitude. Seeing that, the son in the original narrative realises his mistake. Conscience pricks, and he goes frantically searching for his own father. And find him he does. Sitting next to a tea stall. As the father chides him for having got ‘lost’, the tea-vendor brings along two cups of the beverage: the father smiles, says he ordered two cups as he was confident the son would soon come back.
The video ends with the text: Kumbh Mela is the largest gathering in the world. At the holy gathering, many elderly are abandoned by their families. HUL tried to strengthen the narrative with a tweet (that has since been deleted), saying, “Kumbh Mela is a place where old people get abandoned, isn’t it sad that we do not care for our elders? Red Label encourages us to hold the hands of those who made us who we are,” and asked viewers to watch the video which is “an eye-opener to a harsh reality”.
Oh, boy! Social media erupted with much revulsion and vengeance on what was termed as HUL’s lack of sensitivity and cultural understanding. Within hours, the #Boycott-HUL and related hashtags were trending at an incredible 41.6 million on Twitter with 42,100 mentions! An anti-HUL tsunami swept everything in sight. Baba Ramdev added fuel to the fire by tweeting, “For us parents are next to Gods. @HUL_News — why shld we not boycott them? For them everything, every emotion is just a commodity”. Ramdev, in fact, drew parallels with the East India Company and called for a complete boycott of the foreign company for hurting Hindu sentiments.
Initially, HUL did not react. It has after-all in the past combated controversies when it sought to address issues on Hindu-Muslim live-in relationships and transgender inclusions through its advertising. But this was different. The backlash was too severe. In 20 hours, the tweet had been pulled down and HUL even issued a half-hearted apology, while also blaming right-wingers for unjustly targeting it.#ApnoKoApnao as a thought for this Brooke Bond Red Label film has both its supporters and detractors.
Supporters say the film depicts the social issue of abandonment of the elderly and ends the story on a high and in hope. Detractors are quick to point out that the ad has really no category connect or brand connect and has perhaps been created purely with an eye on advertising awards. To me, the way the film addresses human depravity, albeit just for a few fleeting seconds before good sense prevails is actually unreal and somewhat forced. The very thought that the act of ‘losing’ the father is pre-mediated, makes one squirm. Yes, it may have happened in real life in a few instances, but to use that as a template for pontification by Brooke Bond is wholly unwarranted, and unnecessary. For once, I think the trolls are right.
Which brings me to this whole new genre of causevertising and story-telling… the new belief that brands need to evolve and go beyond functional attributes and brand benefits. Well, it is a worthy new way of looking at brand communication and consumer connect, but sometimes brand marketers conveniently forget that they still need to operate within boundaries… lines need to be drawn on where the brand will go, and where it will not. In the case of Brooke Bond’s competitor, Tata Tea, the focus of their ‘Jaago Re’ credo has always remained positive and uplifting, challenging societal issues but always in a tone and manner that is encouraging of change, and where the brand is seen to be a positive catalyst. In the current ad, Brooke Bond seems to have erred. It has gone where the brand needn’t have strayed. The brand’s story has no soul.
(The author is an advertising veteran)