Businesses might look to piggyback on social causes to build their brands, but such is the nature of today’s hypersensitive times that even the best-meaning attempts can sometimes backfire in completely unexpected ways.
On Women’s Day, Flipkart sent out messages which it presumed would’ve brought a smile to the faces of its women users. “Dear Customer, This Women’s Day, let’s celebrate You. Get kitchen appliances from Rs. 299. Shop at Flipkart Now,” the SMSes said, which helpfully included a link that allowed customers to access kitchen appliances at discount prices.
Now Flipkart’s promotions are presumably based on hard data, and the data would’ve likely suggested that women do indeed buy kitchen appliances in large numbers, and would be enthused with an offer to buy them for cheap. But the promotion elicited a completely different response among a section of Twitter users.
Some Twitter users began complaining that the promotion appeared to imply that women belonged only in the kitchen. “This women’s day @Flipkart wants you to think ” Kitchen is where women belong,” wrote a Twitter user.
“Epic Failure on Women’s Day by @Flipkart – reducing women to the kitchen and making it sound like a favor!” wrote another.
Some called the offer sexist. “Bravo for such a stereotypical and sexist offer. Hundreds of women are fighting stereotypes and here you are, offering discount on kitchen appliances. Are women only meant for kitchen?” a Twitter user complained.
It’s not immediately apparent how cheaper prices on products that women often buy — as statistics will likely demonstrate — can now cause offence, but Flipkart immediately gave in to the online mob. “We messed up and we are sorry. We did not intend to hurt anyone’s sentiments and apologise for the Women’s Day message shared earlier,” Flipkart tweeted from its official account.
The apology, though, had a strange consequence — lots of people jumped on the tweet, and maintained that Flipkart had done nothing wrong by promoting discounts on kitchen appliances on Women’s Day. Some people now began attacking Flipkart for its apology.
“Nothing wrong to promote Kitchen appliances on Women’s Day. It is proud moment for every woman who enjoys taking care of their family & they are the know as Home Minister of our home,” wrote a Twitter user.
Others began making fun of how Facebook had appeared to capitulate before a small set of Twitter users.
And yet others began trolling Flipkart by demanding discounts of their own. “I’m going on dharna if they don’t celebrate engineering day by giving 100% discounts,” wrote another user.
At this point, one wonders if Flipkart will post another apology for the set of people who seem offended with the first apology, but the entire incident shows how much of a minefield social media has become — it is nearly impossible to express any opinion without antagonizing a set of extremely vocal users, who take offence and threaten boycotts at the slightest provocation. And as Flipkart found out, even the best-intentioned promotions — driven likely by business rationale and sound logic — can now end up with some unintended consequences.