Brands are once again finding out that festivals aren’t the best time to dispense life lessons to Indians.
“Boycott Hindustan Unilever” is currently the top trending topic on Twitter after the company posted an ad film where it said that Hindus abandon their elderly parents at the Kumbh. The Kumbh is the world’s largest religious gathering, and was attended by 25 crore people this year. Immediately after its conclusion, Hindustan Unilever posted a film where it appears as though the protagonist was trying to abandon his father at the Mela, but the duo reunite over a cup of Red Label tea. “At the holy gathering, many elderly are abandoned by their families,” says the film towards its conclusion.
— Hindustan Unilever (@HUL_News) March 7, 2019
This hasn’t gone down with many people, who are outraged that HUL — which is a British-Dutch company — reduced a grand Hindu festival to an event where elderly are abandoned by their families. Some people said that HUL didn’t run similar campaigns in the west, where abandonment rates are much higher.
Dear @HUL_News we go to #KumbhMela to cleanse our sins and to rediscover ourselves. #Kumbh is a culture, a celebration of Bharat. the world knows how we look after our elders. We don’t flee homes at 18 and abandon our parents like you do in west. #BoycottHindustanUnilever pic.twitter.com/5NELQF5Aia
— Bharat – The VishwaGuru (@TheVishwaGuru) March 7, 2019
Others felt that the ad film was distasteful.
Dear @PaulPolman I and many have decided to boycott Unilever products after this distasteful advertisement by @HUL_News… Defaming Hinduism in the name of social awanessness will not be tolerated anymore. Ahimsa Satyagrah 2 #BoycottHindustanUnilever #BoycottHULProducts pic.twitter.com/37rwDJwEoh
— नंदिता ठाकुर (@nanditathhakur) March 7, 2019
And soon enough, people were sharing lists of brands owned by HUL that they’d boycott. HUL, which is a global multinational, and produces diverse FMCG products including Vaseline, Fair and Lovely, Ponds, Dove, Knorr soups, Vim bars, Rexona deodrants, Lifebuoy soaps, Lux, Pears, Axe, and Rin and Wheel detergents.
— Anuraag Saxena (@anuraag_saxena) March 7, 2019
Interestingly, Baba Ramdev also got in on the action. “From East India Co to HUL 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,” he said. Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali brand of products competes with several HUL brands, and he didn’t miss the change to hit his arch-rival when it was down.
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 #BoycottHindustanUnilever https://t.co/suozbymLBI
— Swami Ramdev (@yogrishiramdev) March 7, 2019
This isn’t the first time that hundreds of thousands of Indians have been outraged by brands’ messaging during Hindu festivals. In the past, people have threatened to boycott Airtel, because it had run an ad film on Diwali asking people to not bursts crackers because they caused noise pollution. A similar campaign had been run against ScoopWhoop when it had published an article claiming that Holi was an excuse for harassment and the “worst festival”, right on the day of Holi. In both instances, netizens had claimed that brands didn’t sermonize during festivals of other faiths, but chose to only represent Hindu festivals in a negative light.
In a country that’s nearly 80 percent Hindu, that might not be smartest idea for brands, especially those which have a mass consumer base. For most people, festivals are a time for celebration, and bringing up distasteful aspects during that time can cause some resentment. And with social media letting people make themselves heard so easily, it’s not hard for a movement to pick up and quickly gain steam. Hindustan Unilever might’ve thought that it would help make people not abandon their parents with its latest ad film — instead, it must now make sure that people don’t end up abandoning its products instead.