Script goes wrong: Caught in a social media storm, Kent looks for cover

Topics Kent | Coronavirus | Lockdown

The ads were released on Instagram on Tuesday and within hours had stirred up outrage and revulsion across social media channels
In a lockdown as consumers struggle with health and financial scares and keep their consumerist instincts under check, how can a brand grab attention and a share of the wallet? By advertising, staying topical and addressing the consumer’s immediate concerns, say the brand gurus. Even so, the script can go horribly wrong.

Ask Kent—the consumer durables brand that wedged its way into public consciousness with Hema Malini endorsing its range of water purifiers. Its ads on Instagram asked: “Are you allowing your maid to knead atta dough by hand? Her hands may be infected.” 

Topicality and relevance were probably what the advertisers were aiming for, but instead the inherent class prejudices and insensitive portrayal of a crisis as seen in the script have brought the brand to its knees. The ads were released on Instagram on Tuesday and within hours had stirred up outrage and revulsion across social media channels. The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) was asked to step in and censure the agency. As the protests grew louder, the ad was withdrawn and Kent Chairman and Managing Director Mahesh Gupta tendered a public apology as did endorser Hema Malini. 

“Our recent advertisement of Kent Atta and Bread Maker on social media was unintentional, badly communicated and was wrong,” Gupta said, adding that he would investigate how their advertisement standards were compromised. Hema Malini too said that she did not agree with the message.

 

 
However the fires are not doused yet. And the controversy is unlikely to fade out given that in a lockdown, social media conversations last longer and the chatter is usually louder over insensitive narratives. Hence now more than ever, advertisers must watch the script very closely, be it an ad, a post or a tweet.

Ambi Parameswaran, founder of Brand-Building.com said that since the company has withdrawn the ad and issued an apology the matter is closed.  But it is important to ensure that companies have a robust approval system in place, irrespective of whether one is working from home or office. “Every social media post, every tweet is an ad. So without slowing things too much companies need to have the processes not to let such things happen,” he added.

Many believe that the ad is a case of oversight, on the part of the brand’s custodians. Sandeep Goyal, chairman of marketing and communication agency Mogae Media says, “There was really no need to bring the maid into the narrative. The brand could simply have said that kneading atta with hands could sometimes be unhygienic.” He is not rushing to castigate the brand. “The mention of the maid was extraneous, not discriminatory,” he adds.

Harish Bijoor, founder of Harish Bijoor Consults  believes the brand was wrong associate the maid with lack of hygeine. He says, “Brands must talk inclusion. Not exclusion. This is a fault!” 

By apologising and withdrawing the ad, Kent has been quick to respond and that is how brands must tackle a serious error of judgement of this kind, say the experts. But there is another lesson to be learnt from this debacle and that Goyal believes, is that we must be more measured in our criticism and judgements. 


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