The recent ad campaign 'Kachra Bhi Khelega' resulted in Zomato being criticised for being extremely insensitive. Launched on the World Environment Day, Zomato claimed that the advertisement intended to promote the importance of recycling plastic waste, but instead ended up reinforcing casteist beliefs.
As pointed out by a lot of people, the ad further humiliated the already marginalised (and problematic) character Kachra from the movie Lagaan by depicting him as 'waste' that can be recycled. After heavy criticism, the company withdrew its ad and apologised for hurting the sentiments of the Dalit community.
However, this is not the first time that companies, through various advertisements, have spread problematic ideas under the guise of social issues or in an effort to sound amusing. Here is a list of controversial ads that have been called out:
McDonald's' 'Less For More' Ad
McDonald's India's latest advertisement campaign 'Less For More' was criticised for promoting an unprofessional environment that could lead to harassment of staff members.
The video shows a customer placing his order at the McDonald’s counter, where he is being served by a female staff member. The duo exchange romantic glances and are seemingly infatuated with each other. Later, after finishing his meal, he queues up again pretending to place another order just so he can speak with her.
While the ad in itself may seem harmless, the video is then followed by their tag line "a lot can happen at Rs 179" that further sets a wrong precedent and makes it sound problematic.
“Sometimes, the greatest love stories start with the tiniest things – a glance, a smile, a meal. Watch this unusual date and find out how a meal can give you #MoreForLess at just Rs.179! We warn you, there’s gonna be a lot of blushing. Visit a McDonald’s near you and get McVeggie Meals @ Rs.179,” read the caption of the video posted by McDonald's India on Twitter.
When gig workers, especially women, are already in a vulnerable position and are frequently taken advantage of, such an advertisement is not just tone-deaf but also dangerous.
As pointed out by several people, the advertisement may lead to creating more unsafe places for women, and would, in fact, give green signals to customers to flirt with the staff members or worse, make unwanted sexual or romantic advances.
Kent RO Systems' 'Purity' Ad
In 2020, Kent's advertising for their bread and atta maker sparked a significant outcry against the firm for propagating classist ideas. The ad was launched at a time when domestic workers were already experiencing discrimination, many had lost their employment, they were barred from entering workplaces, and some were being sprayed with bleach and disinfectants.
The advertisement further fueled this narrative and suggested that the domestic workers were carriers of infection, and should not be allowed to knead the dough as their hands might be dirty.
In a series of images on Instagram, the ad first asks "Are you allowing your maid to knead your atta dough by hand?" and then says "Her hands may be infected", stating customers should not "compromise on health and purity".
After receiving major backlash, the ad was withdrawn and the company apologised for its insensitive ad portrayal.
PayTm's 'Making the Right Decision' Campaign
The PayTm First games' ‘Making the Right Decision’ campaign featuring Sachin Tendulkar was met with criticism. The campaign intended to inspire people to follow their dreams and take the right decision by documenting Sachin’s journey. However, it ended up causing a big controversy.
In the ad, a young Sachin leaves his own training to cheer for his seniors. The coach spots him there and slaps him, asking whether he wants to play or cheer for someone. The young boy is disappointed and hurt, but he returns to the coach and tells him that he wants to play.
Later, the video shows Sachin becoming one of the greatest players in cricket history. The clip ends with Sachin saying, “It’s all about the choices you make”
The campaign received a negative response from people, as they mentioned that there is nothing wrong with cheering for others, and in fact, that is the spirit of true sportsmanship. They further said that the ad fuelled unnecessary competition and normalised inflicting violence on children.
Amul's Wuhan Ad
Amul is often known for its creative takes on contemporary issues through its signature cartoon; however they have also drawn criticism, from time to time.
For instance, during the COVID-19 outbreak in February 2020, Amul shared an advertisement featuring some Indian nationals who had been evacuated from Wuhan, including the Amul girl. The slogan of the advertisement, "Wuhan Se Yahaan Le Aaye," was a pun on the name Wuhan.
The ad garnered mixed reactions from people. While some found it creative, others felt that the ad was in "poor taste", especially owing to the xenophobic attacks Asians were facing, amidst the pandemic. Netizens also pointed how Amul was aiming to reap profits from a situation that had already claimed hundreds of lives at the time.