Yet another startup is finding out that signing on high-profile celebrities as brand ambassadors is a sword that can cut both ways.
“Uninstall PhonePe” is currently trending on Twitter with hundreds of users demanding that the company dissociate itself from Aamir Khan and Alia Bhat, its brand ambassadors. The trend Uninstall PhonePay (curiously with the spelling of Pe misspelled) currently has nearly 80,000 tweets on Twitter, and is trending at number 3 nationwide. PhonePe had signed on Aamir Khan and Alia Bhat as brand ambassadors in February this year as a part of a Rs. 800 crore marketing blitz.
As luck would have it, both celebrities have found themselves embroiled in controversies this month. Aamir Khan courted controversy by meeting with the wife of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan has consistently had a stridently anti-India rhetoric, criticizing India’s move to revoke Article 370, and reports suggesting that Turkey was funding anti-India activities. As pictures of Aamir Khan visiting his home last week went viral, Khan was criticized for fraternizing with a leader who was plainly anti-India.
Alia Bhatt hasn’t hasn’t had the best time of late either. As rumours swilled over how Sushant Singh Rajput’s death had been linked to the nepotism he’d had to suffer through while in Bollywood, public opinion had sought to attack the most visible forms of nepotism. Alia Bhatt is a third-generation Bollywood insider, and she’d been targeted — the trailer of Sadak 2, her upcoming release, became one of the most disliked YouTube videos in Indian history. It didn’t help that the movie’s director is her grandfather Mahesh Bhatt, who appears to be closely involved with the Sushant Singh Rajput case, with WhatsApp messages between him and Rhea Chakaravarty now being made public.
Both these issues seem to have come to a head for PhonePe users. “Urging all SSR fans to please #UninstallPhonePay because of its brand ambassadors. P.S: See the photo,” wrote a Twitter user.
— Anurag S (@im_anuragS) August 23, 2020
“PhonePe, Your App is good but I am uninstalling you, not because of your service or features. But your brand ambassadorz R amir khan and alia bhatt. We can’t support Inhumanity Thanks,” wrote another user.
Your App is good but I am uninstalling you, not because of your service or features. But your brand ambassadorz R amir khan and alia bhatt. We can't support Inhumanity Thanks. #UninstallPhonePay @PhonePe_ @PhonePeSupport @arnabofficial7 https://t.co/Jw7HrhgQsW
— HITENDER (@hitender1977) August 23, 2020
People also began sharing screenshots showing them uninstalling the app.
— Abhay kumar singh (@abhi00_007) August 23, 2020
And the anger spilled over onto the Google Play Store — PhonePe’s app has been hit by hundreds of one-star reviews, with people explicitly mentioning the company’s association with Aamir Khan and Alia Bhatt as the reason behind their rating.
It’s not the first time that a brand has been at the receiving end of a public backlash because of its brand ambassadors — in 2015, users had deleted Snapdeal and hit the app with one-star reviews after Aamir Khan’s comments in which he’d said that his wife no longer felt safe in India because of intolerance, and Snapdeal was ultimately forced to remove Aamir as its brand ambassador. Which just goes to show that having big-name brand ambassadors is a sword that can cut both ways — brands can use the stars’ credibility to quickly gain the trust of users, but if these stars find themselves falling out of favour with their fans, the backlash can be just as swift and extreme.