'Trust ad' starring Amitabh scrapped: What went wrong for Kalyan Jewellers

Amitabh Bachchan and Shweta Bachchan Nanda appear together for the first time on screen, they convey the message of trust and honesty that the brand says it stands for
Faced with protests from an irate group of bankers, Kalyan Jewellers finally pulled out its advertisement that has offended many, eager to stamp down on the wave of negative publicity that was threatening to engulf the brand. Was it hasty in doing so or are companies left with little choice in the face of consumer outrage?

“As a brand we wanted to say that we will not do anything bad, even if the customer does not know about it,” said Ramesh Kalyanaraman, executive director, Kalyan Jewellers. In the ad, Amitabh Bachchan and his daughter are shown to be suffering at the hands of insensitive bank employees who do not value an old man’s commitment to honesty and trust. 

Kalyanaraman said that his company thought it best to pull the ad out because the brand did not intend to hurt any community or group. He explained that even though the narrative involved a bank, it did not target bankers. Still, if they had hurt anyone, the brand would take responsibility and withdraw the offending ad. “We don’t like controversies,” he said. 

This is not the first advertising misstep by the brand. In 2015, it had to withdraw an ad that showed a dark-skinned boy holding up an umbrella to Aishwarya Rai. The ad was seen to be enforcing class stereotypes and supporting child labour.

This is a form of tone-deaf advertising where advertisers fail to correctly read the prevailing sentiments of the people says an expert. It may   not be deliberate, but ends up irking large groups of people.  However many do not see any wrongdoing on part of the brand and believe the company was hasty in pulling down the ad.

Globally,  brands find it best to backtrack in the face of public anger. For instance, H&M’s product listing (global) earlier this year featured a young black child wearing a sweatshirt that read, ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle.’ Its offensive tone was called out and the brand was hauled over the coals. In 2017, Unilever’s Dove was forced to pull out its ad that showed a black woman changing her clothes to reveal a white woman underneath; a Nivea ad with a similar theme was also the target of public anger. 

Actor Ranveer Singh came under attack in 2016 when he took part in a campaign for global clothing brand Jack and Jones that had him taking a woman over his shoulders as he entered the elevator with the tagline ‘Don’t hold back. Take your work home.’ The backlash against sexism in ads has been so great that globally deodorant advertising has changed its tone from asking men to wear their fragrance to win the best looking women to using their deos for confidence, success and fun.

The irony is that the makers of the Kalyan Jewellers’ ad seemed to have taken great effort to scrub it clean of every conceivable controversial note. It talked about trust, poor farmers and father-daughter bonds. Besides it had Amitabh Bachchan on board, the man with the Midas touch for endorsements, and his daughter was making her advertising debut for the brand. Bachchan tweeted that his eyes welled up every time he watched his daughter and himself on screen, his daughter tagged the advertisement as their (father-daughter) labour of love.

The advertisement was part of the company’s fifth edition of the ‘Trust Campaign’ series. The objective was to convey the plight of the common man. Unfortunately the company says, it chose to tell the story of his travails within a bank, but the setting is completely incidental to the message. Bankers are not the target in this story, the company  reiterated in its public message.

The All India Bank Officers' Confederation, an organisation with 3,20,000 officers, however is unwilling to treat this as an innocent mistake. It termed the ad “disgusting, derogatory, to say the least and is aimed to create distrust in the banking system, for pure commercial gain”. The Thrissur-based jewellery retailer in a written note addressed its concerns and stated, “...We understand that the advertisement has hurt sentiments of some people including members of our esteemed banking community. Any such hurtful interpretation being drawn is unintended.” 

Not everyone believes the company was wrong with the tone used in the ad.  “I have not seen anything objectionable. Kalyan Jewellers has acted with an undue haste on withdrawing the advertisement,” said Sandeep Goyal, chairman of Mogae Group, an integrated marketing and communications agency. Creative exaggeration of such life instances are part of an advertisement and there is nothing wrong in it, he averred. 

More than the reputation of Kalyan Jewellers, the withdrawal would have an impact on Brand Amitabh Bachchan, Goyal said. He may be right,  but for Kalyan Jewellers, it was a question of stepping away from the quicksand of public opinion before it was too late. And like its peers, it chose to walk away from the offending ad.

Pulled off air

2018:
  • Bankers’ associations protest that the Kalyan Jewellers ad shows public sector banks in poor light, officials are shown to be insensitive and lazy. The company withdraws the ad
  • H&M UK used a black child to sell a hoodie on its site that was labeled, ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle’. The Swedish clothing brand apologised and removed the image
2017:
  • Zomato used popular short forms for Hindi language expletives to describe popular dishes ordered on its app, many found it offensive and the ad was pulled down
  • A Dove ad showed a smiling black woman taking off her shirt to reveal a smiling white woman. It was accused of being racially insensitive, the ad was pulled out
  • Nivea had to pull out its ad taglined ‘White is purity’ after huge protests about its racist overtones