This morning I saw a few tweets with the hashtag #Ramayana140 and most of them were trying hard to be funny. Nothing wrong with that – Twitter is meant for such tweets. But I felt a little uncomfortable with the tone of voice of some tweets with that hashtag – I could sense trouble for the brand. Sure enough, earlier today Pepsi India apologised for the contest and withdrew it.
— Pepsi India (@PepsiIndia) November 1, 2013
And all that needs to be said about the contest was said by @GabbarSingh
Always risky when a Brand dabbles with religion or anything related to religion. Case in point #Ramayana140 by Pepsi.
— Gabbar singh (@GabbbarSingh) November 1, 2013
I totally agree with that sentiment and would urge that politics be included as ‘taboo’ categories for most brands. Unless a brand deliberately wants to create controversy, any reference to politics or religion should totally be avoided in paid-for communication by the brand. And when the brand in question is a multi-national brand (read, ‘alien brand which does not understand India’) the risk is doubled. I am not sure if the ramifications of the contest were thought through by the team which created it. In fact, a senior official of the company had tweeted that he was looking forward to the contest. While he has since deleted the tweets, there is no delete button on the internet.
I also feel this is a symptom of brands placing eagerness to trend (or create buzz) as a priority over ‘being on brand’ and adding value to the brand’s business. I do not have details of the agency which created this campaign idea but chances are that an eager, social media savvy person was involved. His (or her) intention may not have been to hurt people’s sentiment but going by the retweets of insensitive tweets, they were oblivious of what was coming. Maybe a senior, experienced hand whose priority is brand management (as opposed to social media management) would have helped. Ideally, such a position should exist within the ad agency, who should supervise all the brand communication.
Another aspect, which I have touched upon earlier (see here, here and here) is the desperation to trend on Twitter and deploy hashtag contests that have nothing to do with the brand. And crafting a hashtag which makes it unequaly ownable by the brand is not easy. Most of the time, the easy way out (‘replace movie names with…’ – groan) is adopted. At least with the Pepsi India episode brands will think twice before running a hashtag/RT/follower based contest on Twitter. OK, that’s wishful thinking – at least the contest running the risk of a controversy will stop.