Tanishq Ad & the Conscience Market: Why Accept Everything Blindly?

The ‘conscience space’ has grown so much that everybody wants a piece of the pie.

Published
Opinion
3 min read
A still from the now retracted Tanishq ad.
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There was a time when people did not need advertisements to teach them about communal harmony or confirm their belief in it.

Rightwing trolls forced Tanishq, a brand promoted by the Tatas, to remove an ad that depicted a Muslim mother-in-law arranging a baby shower for her Hindu daughter-in-law according to the customs of the latter’s faith. The makers were trolled for promoting love jihad and caved in.

There was outrage. Those who hours ago were swearing by the jewellery brand began to call the Tatas spineless.

In a statement explaining the reason for the withdrawal, the company said, “We are deeply saddened with the inadvertent stirring of emotions and withdraw this film keeping in mind the hurt sentiments and well-being of our employees, partners and store staff.”

Problematic Messaging of ‘Feel Good’ Ads

What started out as a celebration of “the beauty of oneness” has ended with a capitulation to sentiments that are hurt by such oneness. People are likely to empathise with this position, though, given that there is a smart suggestion of safety of the staff. The storyteller becomes the story.

Few are interested in the inherently problematic messaging of such ads, to begin with.

In February 2019, a Surf Excel ad showed a Hindu girl saving a Muslim boy from being sprinkled with Holi colours so that he could offer his namaaz. It shamelessly made use of children to ride on the communal harmony gravy cart.

The Tanishq ad at least offers the Big Brother position to the Muslim. That’s a change. And that is what prompted the love jihad accusations.

Unfortunately, much of the support for brands is based on a kneejerk reaction to a bigoted position rather than any introspection on the tokenism that is promoted. The majoritarian bias of the ad is, in fact, in place. The bahu points out to her saas that this isn’t how ‘they’ celebrate such events. What if the mother-in-law had arranged for a Muslim-type baby shower – would her love for her daughter-like daughter-in-law be any less? Would it be seen as ‘mainstreaming’ her?

What lessons do those who swore to buy bulk packets of the detergent or to lend support to a jewellery brand learn from such messages? ‘Liberals’ and their satellites don’t realise how they help in such engineered marketing that gives pride of place to mere symbolic gestures. It is fine to laud the loveliness of these ads, but that is no reason to use it to camouflage the truth.

Congress MP and author Shashi Tharoor tweeted, “So Hindutva bigots have called for a boycott of @TanishqJewelry - for highlighting Hindu-Muslim unity through this beautiful ad. If Hindu-Muslim “ekatvam” irks them so much, why don’t they boycott the longest surviving symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity in the world -- India?”

How different is it from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat saying that Indian Muslims are most content in this world?

We are offered a utopian version that has limited bearing on reality in the age of lynching, and we buy it.

Any good advertiser will tell you that cravenly using emotions is marketing strategy. A company selling goods and services is not interested in any message other than the money it is likely to make, or at the very least the goodwill it can garner.

Outsourcing Concern to Corporate World

More than anything else, it is truly worrying how we are outsourcing concern to the corporate lobby. In the fiscal year 2018-2019, the Progressive Electoral Trust of the Tatas contributed Rs 356 crores to the Bharatiya Janata Party for the last elections, becoming the biggest donor. It is the party’s supporters that helm much of the hate. Corporate India will not call that out.

Recently, the Bajaj and Parle groups decided to stop advertising with toxic channels and to stop funding the hate. As Rajiv Bajaj said, “To me, it is a wise decision because my child, my brother’s children can’t inherit an India and a society where such hate festers.”

Honourable as the move is, we cannot ignore the position of privilege. The consequences of hate are felt at the bottom, by people who do not merely watch toxicity but experience it.

The ‘conscience space’ has grown so much that everybody wants a piece of this pie. Film director Anubhav Sinha said, “I wish to donate Parle-G biscuits for street children. Any organization that can help me with this, kindly reach out.” He got an “overwhelming response” and admitted he was doing it as an “appreciation for @officialparleg”.

Street kids who need nutrition will be fed sugary substitutes. The narrative, it appears, is, really, all about validating sugary substitutes.

(Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based writer. She tweets at @farzana_versey. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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