Humour helps brands ramp up digital miles but can also backfire: Experts

The ad shows a funeral goer asking for a specially flavoured tea, much to the irritiation of other mourners
In the run up to the much awaited India-Pakistan World Cup encounter last month, Star India ran an ad that had an Indian fan cheekily hinting at his status as the father of the competing nations, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The ad notched up 1.7 million views on YouTube overnight, besides leading the online chatter for several days. However, while some loved it, others called it jingoistic and crass. 

A week ago, the popular tea chain Chaayos found itself in a similar storm of outrage and rebuke. Its campaign #MentalAboutChai drew flak, both for the hashtag seen as insensitive to mental health issues and for the ads that some saw as tactless and boorish. 

Apart from Star India and Chaayos, even Fogg has come for criticism for what has been called an inane attempt to be funny in its ads during the World Cup. In the past Zomato, Amul and others too have slipped up on similar grounds. Humour, often seen as the quickest route to digital glory, needs to be handled with care or else brands could end up losing their followers even as they gather likes and comments, say experts. 

Sandeep Goyal, chairman, Mogae Media, said, “In some cases, as for Chaayos, whoever created the communication, doesn't get the context quite right. The shok sabha ad was especially in bad taste. When we live, operate and sell in a society, the brand must be sensitive to the prevalent socio-cultural norms.” Goyal is referring to an ad where a young man is insistent on a particular kind of tea at a shok sabha or funeral, his comments seen as callous and out of sync with the social behavorial norms.  
Ambi Parameswaran, brand strategist and founder of, does not see anything wrong. He says, “In brand building terms, there is nothing like bad publicity. All publicity will help the brand. The brand is benefiting from this and since they have not insulted any one there is no harm in having some fun.” 

However, few are willing to give brands and people the kind of space that Parameswaran is talking about. As a country, India has made fun about death, birth and everything in the last 30-40 years and as he points out, advertising is part entertainment and if one forgot how to laugh then we would all be living in a boring country, he quipped. But in the age of hashtags and viral posts, humour is no longer about raising a good laugh, say both. 

Goyal believes that sometimes brands deliberately stoke controversy. “We wouldn't be discussing a brand like Chaayos, if they had not run an ad like this.” he added. And though he is not fond of the ad, if it got the mileage it was looking for then it counts as a successful ad.

Chaayos says it never expected the ad to generate such strong reactions. “The idea was to make an ad on ‘meriwali chai’, (my kind of tea),” said Verma. The idea was to show how the passion for a good cup of tea could drive a man to the ends of the earth. And the slightly zany situations were meant to demonstrate the over-the-top positioning that the brand is seeking for itself. “We have not made any derogatory remark about mental health or wellness. We used it in a very specific context. It was colloquial usage,” he said.

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