Guilt by association merits a bollocking if evidence is a done deal. After the whistle blew on Indian news television last week, it is the turn of the media’s godfather, the corporate world, to get mud on its pinstripes.
The internet is apoplectic over Tanishq withdrawing a commercial on interfaith marriage after fringe fanatics threatened to bust up showrooms and intimidate employees. Companies, which spend their ad budgets to boost brand value, need to watch their integrity index.
The public is a fickle flirt, usually bored out of its wits. Once it loved Arnab’s inappropriate inanities because they brought out the armchair worst in them - nothing tastes better than the cola of righteous hypocrisy.
But the public is also consistent. Just as it cheered lickspittle anchors walloping sickulars, seditionists and presstitutes, now it jeers at Arnab, an untrustworthy charlatan who cheated to get TRPs. There is nothing the public hates more than a loser.
From where I stand, that’s what he looks like. A loser. This couldn’t have come at a worse time for India’s capitalists who are going through an image crisis: from world beaters, they are now seen as bunnies who fear to talk about fear.
Mega corporations do have the power to bring errant influencers to their knees. Journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who exposed the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scam, points out in a stellar TED Talk how great Silicon Valley visionaries like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey set out to connect people and ultimately ended up dividing them with hate. Many corporate giants pulled their ads from Facebook, owned by Trump lackey Zuckerberg, for its protection of hate speech.
The #StopHateForProfit campaign inspired major advertisers such as Verizon, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Honda, Starbucks, Diageo and more heavy hitters to pull paid advertising causing a Trump-sized USD 7-billion dent in Zuckie’s net worth in a week. He was forced to say "pretty please" and put in some circuit breakers. Nike stopped selling in China bowing to support for Hong Kongers. Take the ‘Ethical Consumer’ website’s take on jeans.
The cotton comes from Uzbekistan, the fabric is woven and dyed in Bangladesh, the buttons are made in China and the whole garment is put together in a Turkish factory. This is a supply chain of violations: forced labour, pesticide, child labour and toxic dyes.
Look at the technology sector whose electronic components are made with metals from war-torn countries such as the Republic of Congo where a savage civil war rages, supported with profits from mining the very same metals. Ethics is the new currency and cowards get none.
Indian companies have never been known for bravery either in or out of Davos, irrespective of Anand Mahindra’s trendy suits and tweets, and Ratan Tata’s Harrison Ford charm. Their CSR videos are angelically aesthetic that avoid controversy.
They have a history of capitulations, since India is and has always been a Licence Raj. Open windows of opportunity do come along once in a while to cast the light on hate and bigotry.
All brands worth their balance sheets are conscious of legacy and history. The Indian business world has been coasting along on its Gymkhana past and sepia-coloured centennial tributes. The country has changed. Brands that speak their mind will create a new history and honour of their own. Dude, drop the ads, not your wallet for a worthy cause.
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