Hindustan Unilever draws flak for new Brooke Bond Red Label ad film

Hindustan Unilever (HUL), the country’s largest consumer goods company, is in the eye of a storm over an advertisement for tea brand Brooke Bond Red Label. Reactions have been so sharp that #boycotthindustanunilever was among the top five Twitter trends for a while on Thursday, with users, including yoga guru Baba Ramdev commenting about it.   

The ad shows a man leaving his father in a crowd at the Kumbh before experiencing a change of heart. The video was first accompanied by a tweet, which went: “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: An eye opener to a harsh reality.”

The tweet has been replaced with a new one, but netizens are hardly impressed. The fresh tweet says: “Red Label encourages us to hold the hands of those who made us who we are. #ApnoKoApnao” In a statement, HUL’s spokesperson said, “Through the Brooke Bond Red Label campaign, our intention was to urge people to take care of the elderly. We do not intend to hurt the sentiments of people, and have modified the tweet which could have been inadvertently misconstrued.”

A screen grab of the video that shows a man trying to abandon his father at the Kumbh mela before returning to look for him
This is the second instance in three months where HUL, also the country's largest advertiser, has courted controversy over its commercial. 

In December, Closeup’s #FreeToLove campaign was criticised for showing a couple breaking up because of a difference in religion. Some other films, which were part of the campaign, also showed people in same-sex relationships breaking up because of the social stigma attached to it.

N Chandramouli, chief executive officer, TRA Research, which brings out the annual Brand Trust Report, says that while controversial ads can at times help a brand make a point, which happened in the case of Close-up — it was viewed as being open to a sensitive subject — that cannot be said about the Brooke Bond ad.

“The ad has been poorly conceived and executed. The chai-drinking father-son duo in the ad does not convey the brand message of Red Label, which is about bringing people together over a cup of tea. It almost seems like an afterthought. In attempting to do a jaago-re, HUL may have well done a bhaago-re for the brand,” he said.

Baba Ramdev tweeted: “From East India Co to @HUL_News that’s their true character. Their only agenda is to make the country poor economically & ideologically. Why shld we not boycott them? For them everything, every emotion is just a commodity. For us parents are next to Gods.”

A Twitter user with the handle @nanditathhakur said in response to HUL's tweet: “Time to say No to Unilever products and yes to Indian brands.” 

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