Can Social Media Force Brands To Rethink Their Ads?

The article looks at the changing equation between brand communication and consumer opinion, citing recent advertising examples of Asian paints Husbands are useless, Cadbury 5 Star 'Inki condition serious hai' & H&S; Men Zindagi mili dobara

Social media advertising

Social media has indeed empowered the end consumer. No more is the consumer at the receiving end of insane product advertisements that defy logic or play around with creating stereotypes in the society. Today, the consumers’ voice can be heard on social platforms and often travels far and wide when it comes to collective negative opinion on an advertisement.

Viewer voices get amplified as they gather momentum on social media, but do they have the power to get brands to rollback their ad campaigns? We take a look at the changing equation between brand communication and consumer opinion.

This year, more than the previous years that India has seen an active social media involvement, has begun with quite a few examples of consumers taking to social media to voice their anger against a brand’s advertisement.

Asian Paints gets husbands angry with ‘Husbands are useless’ campaign

In January, Asian Paints, India’s largest paint company and also the third largest paint company in Asia, launched its ‘Husbands are useless’ campaign with a series of 4 TVCs. The ads were to promote the company’s online website feature where one could upload pictures of their homes and give the rooms a virtual paint to see how it would look after being painted. So the company resorted to showing husbands as useless when it came to contributing with their ideas for home decor, while paralleling them with a block of bricks.

In this ad at the breakfast table, the exasperated wife is finally advised to log on to the company website and help choose the colors for her home, as her husband (a brick wall) seated opposite her has no opinion whatsoever on how they should go about redesigning their home.

The ad went on to receive much flak from men as well as women with numerous tweets, Facebook comments, YouTube comments and blog posts condemning the company for suggesting that husbands are useless.

The company, however, resorted to humour in its defence, and asked the complainants to take it in good humour.

While the outrage continued, Asian Paints stuck to its guns; it did not accept that the ad portrayed husbands in bad light. Instead, it launched the ‘Wives are surprised’ campaign that featured real wives sharing how their husbands surprised them by redecorating the home.

Here, Apoorwa Gupta sings praises for her husband Deepak as he works hard to get the perfect antique finish jhoola for the living room.

Deliberate or not, ‘Wives are surprised’ formed the perfect antidote for ‘Husbands are useless’ campaign. Asian Paints, apparently, did heed to consumer opinion after all!

Cadbury 5 Star pulls down ‘Inki condition serious hai’ ad film

Cadbury 5 Star, chocolate bar brand from Cadbury, triggered a wave of anger when it launched its Inki condition serious hai’ campaign with a TVC. Portraying the bar as a cure for seriousness, the ad film shows very serious kids popping out from their mother’s wombs accompanied by a ‘pucchak’ sound.

The minute-long ad starts with a birth scene from centuries ago, where it says children were born happy while a newborn pops out laughing out loud. Then one fine day, a dangerous disease called ‘seriousness’ spread like an epidemic. Newborns came into the world with a ‘serious’ attitude, leading to a world of serious adults. Eventually, a doctor prescribes the 5 star bar as the only cure to get rid of this ‘seriousness’.

Viewer opinions ranged from downright anger at the brand showing mothers in a bad light to filing complaints with ad watchdog Advertising Standards Council of India ASCI.


Cadbury 5 Star no longer hosts the ad on its YouTube channel, but is nevertheless carrying on the message of curing ‘seriousness’ in the society. Another shining example of a brand being compelled to take down its ad, following consumer outrage.

H&S Men ‘Zindagi mili dobara’ wins against the gender stereotyping message

This March, for the promotions of Head & Shoulders India’s anti-dandruff shampoo for men, H&S Men, the brand had launched a 3-month campaign called ‘Zindagi mili dobara’ with a TVC that chided men for using their wives’ shampoos.

In the short film titled ‘Gym Revelations’, two men on dumbbells are seen chatting about their maid problems, an area of communication that is stereotypically ruled by women. Just then they are knocked down one by one from a bottle of the H&S shampoo for men, while the voice over puts good sense into them, ‘STOP before you stop being a man’.

Viewers complained of gender stereotype in the ad, while a viewer also emailed the media manager at Procter & Gamble because the ad offended her for two reasons, namely:

1. It suggests that men stop being men when they share some of their wives’ habits.

2. It suggests that by sharing their wives’ (feminine) habits they become worthy of derision and therefore get a shampoo bottle thrown at them to ‘knock them out’ and bring them back to their senses.

Attributing the videos to ‘creative expression’, the brand thanked the consumer for her valuable opinion and regretted having offended her.

These videos are a creative expression of the insight that men & women are different and therefore the products they use should cater to their unique needs. Our intent is only to enable men to use products that are meant for men.”

A petition was also filed at asking P&G India to stop airing the ads and a complaint was made at ASCI. The petition was closed, after reaching 1778 signatures but could not bring about P&G to stop airing the ad. ASCI previewed the ad and dismissed the complaint as it considered the ad ‘to be humorous and not so objectionable as to cause grave or widespread offence.

What may be humorous to some, may cause grave offence to others. But, what we can see with the advent of social media, is that brands are slowly waking up to the fact that the consumer on social media is no more a mute spectator, but can raise her voice and be heard far and wide. The consumer opinion finally matters enough to get the ads pulled down!

These might have positive implications at the drawing board where brand managers and their ad agency set about to design a commercial, because now they have two watchdogs to mind about – the ASCI, and most importantly, the social media empowered consumer.

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