It is no surprise that in a country as culturally diverse as India, not a day goes by without a community or religion feeling offended. On August 26, Twitterers were up in arms against an illustration of Krishna and Draupadi, released by ScrollDroll. This came close on the heels of a controversial Flipkart ad that played into a stereotype that offended the Gorkha community.
In a bid to gain the upper hand over competitors, some brands, such as United Colors of Benetton, deliberately rope-walk and make shocking advertisements to catch eyeballs. But there are instances when the message of the ad gets unintentionally lost in translation and ends up offending sections of the society. Here's a round-up of ads that stirred religious or communal sentiments and caused a hullabaloo:
Not all chowkidars: Flipkart and the Gorkhali stereotype
Just days before the Myntra-ScrollDroll controversy, Flipkart (which owns Myntra) released two ads that allegedly stereotyped the Gorkha community. In the ad, which follows the long-running theme of children dressed as adults, two security guards discuss with 'sahebji' or 'madamji' if it is safe to order online. One of the guards wears the traditional Gorkhali hat. The Gorkha Youth and Students Association (GYASA) filed a complaint stating that the ad promotes the stereotype that all building security guards are Gorkhali people “with overly exaggerated and highly offensive Hindi accent”.
Swadeshi Baba Ramdev: Patanjali hurts Christian sentiments
In August this year, Baba Ramdev's Patanjali ad attracted flak from a group of Christians in Bhopal. The television ad was released on Independence Day, and called for boycott of foreign products, highlighting the Swadeshi movement of the pre-independence days. At 00:17, the clip shows three crosses with the letters E, I and 'Co' in between (meaning the East India Company), while the voice-over warns about the dangers of foreign products. The Christian group, Sarva Isai Mahasabha, claimed that while they supported the cause of promoting Indian-made products, they felt the depiction was “directly pointed at Christians and that has hurt us”.
Call for upper caste sweepers: Anti-discrimination campaign
It was meant to bring to light caste discrimination and the stereotype that certain castes do certain jobs, but an ad released in June this year by a Gujarat-based NGO caused more controversy than support. Human Resource Development Centre (HRDC) issued an ad in Gujarati calling for candidates from the “general caste” for the job of a sweeper. It specifically mentioned “Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaniya, Patel, Jain, Saiyad, Pathan, Syrian Christian, and Parsi communities”. Protesters from various religious and communal outfits rallied and caused trouble at the NGO premises, while the NGO maintained that there was nothing wrong with the ad.
Women and goddesses: Domestic abuse campaign
An ad campaign in 2013 that aimed at raising awareness on domestic abuse received criticism from both Hindus and feminists. The three ads commissioned by an NGO, Save The Children, and created by Mumbai-based ad agency Taproot, earned awards, but faced flak in public. Depicting Hindu goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga as victims of abuse, the posters state, “Tomorrow it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray, too.” While Hindus were offended at inappropriate representation of their gods, feminists said that it led to “deification of women”. Feminists were outraged by the idea that women had to be considered as goddesses in order to be saved, and not as people.
Sacred burgers: Spain's Burger King ad featuring Lakshmi
Burger King's ad in Spain has a hindu goddess sitting on top of a ham burger - "a snack that is sacred." http://tinyurl.com/m8wz4d.— vedant varma (@vedantvarma) July 9, 2009
In 2009, fast-food chain Burger King released an ad in Spain that had Hindu goddess Lakshmi sitting on a burger, with a tag line in Spanish saying, “a snack that is sacred”. Members from the US-based Hindu American Foundation decried the ad after a news channel carried a report on the depiction. Besides saying that it was offensive, the group said that most Hindus are vegetarians. It was an in-store ad that would have appeared for a limited period of time in two newly opened franchisees in Spain, but Burger King immediately pulled down the ad.
Controversial kiss: Benetton's Unhate campaign
United Colors of Benetton is known for its intentional edgy advertising. But the global negative response to the clothing brand's Unhate campaign, aimed to bring world leaders to stop hating each other, was unprecedented. Released in 2011, the series of photoshopped ads featured world leaders kissing their sworn enemies—US president Barack Obama kissing Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas with Isreali presidnt Benjamin Netanyahu. In another image, which was pulled down, the Pope was kissing an Egyptian Imam, which angered the Vatican.