Amul raises a virtual storm amid rising sentiment against Chinese products

The Amul ad garnered 88,000 likes and nearly 45,000 retweets, besides getting the #BoycottTwitter to trend on Twitter
Amul has landed itself squarely in the middle of a Twitter storm with its latest ad; ‘Exit the Dragon,' runs the headline on its topical (ads that comment on social and political affairs) that is now pinned to its Twitter account. No stranger to controversy, Amul is making the most of the spotlight that it finds itself under, losing no chance to rub it in to the platform that temporarily suspended its account. While the GCMMF-owned (Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation) brand has emerged the winner this time around, experts ask if it has stepped too close to the line on this one.

Twitter has blamed the suspension of Amul’s account on a technical snag, denying it was censure for the ad's anti-China stand. But until it did that, in an ironic twist to the tale, the outpouring of support for Amul led the #Boycott Twitter to trend on the platform. Amul, meanwhile saw the social media meters ticking away in its favour.

Clearly the brand has its finger on the pulse, as its ad was merely taking off on the popular anti-China sentiment in the country. Be it local brands urging people to buy national or WhatsApp forwards warning consumers against Chinese goods and videos like the one by Ladakh-based innovator and educationist Sonam Wangchuk that blazed a fiery trail through all media platforms, baiting China is attractive today. 

The topical, released on June 3, showed its popular mascot fighting back a dragon bearing a placard with ‘China’ on it and the Chinese app TikTok's logo in the background while the tagline read ‘Amul: Made in India’. The topical has, since then, gone on to attract over 88,000 likes, nearly 45,000 retweets and more than 4,200 comments on Twitter. 

Clearly there is much to gain from such positioning but is it wise to do so, especially since Amul is a legacy brand with global ambitions?

Nationalistic alignments have seen a huge push in the past month, especially as the government has encouraged people to be ‘vocal for local.’ National brands have positioned themselves as ‘insiders’ against multinational outsiders and China has borne the brunt of such messaging, given the pandemic and its impact on the economy and the ongoing skirmishes at the border.

Amul has not done anything out of its character, say experts. Its ads have historically been “quasi journalistic, quasi opinion,” even when the topics explored have little bearing on the brand or its products, says independent communications consultant Karthik Srinivasan. “Amul didn't take a harsh stand unlike Wangchuk. Its topicals have got it right many times as have they got it wrong,” says Srinivasan. 

However what works for Amul is no indication of what sells for other brands. Experts say it is unwise to jump on to a political issue, merely to drive visibility. Brands have to consider themselves as global citizens as they operate in multiple markets (as does Amul). Consumers are unlikely to align themselves along jingoistic positioning lines in the long term.

Ashish Mishra, managing director Interbrand India, believes that many such narratives emanate from the political realms that tend to fuel the socio-cultural milieu. “Such political narratives get support from mainstream media both online and offline and even curated content is created to drum up these narratives which may have ulterior motives. In such a scenario brands find it very tempting to take sides, also it becomes difficult for them to stay agnostic,” says Mishra. However, in an age when publishing one's point of view is the new social currency, while an individual like Wangchuk may gain, brands are at a risk, he says. 

Amul has always skirted close to real-life issues with its advertising, but points out an industry professional, it has been careful adopt an independent voice. In this case, he believes, the problem was using the logo of a Chinese brand to buttress its case, in doing that, the brand may have stepped too close to the line.

“Amul may have a license to do it because it has always tried to be relevant. But even for Amul as a brand it would be the right thing not to alienate and take sides. For instance, Google took a stand recently when it removed the anti-China app from its play store which was the right thing to do as a global entity,” Mishra adds

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