The decision to pull a jewellery ad from all platforms after a massive social media backlash and threats of a brand boycott has opened a heated debate in India about the minefield that inclusive and purpose-led advertising can prove to be.

On the surface, the 45-second ad from jewellery brand Tanishq appears to be a celebration of oneness, mutual respect and unity; but when it comes to religion, things are rarely that straightforward. The ad features a Muslim family celebrating a traditional baby shower for their pregnant Hindu daughter-in-law.

The brand described the ad as a celebration of the coming together of people from different walks of life. Many who took to social media under the hashtag #BoycottTanishq saw it differently, with some even claiming it glorified “love jihad”, a phrase to describe an alleged campaign by Muslims to convert Hindu girls.

Others took to Twitter to push back against the trolls. Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted, “If Hindu-Muslim ‘ekatvam’ (oneness) irks them so much, why don’t they boycott the longest surviving symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity in world – India?"

Tanishq has long been known for its progressive and purpose-led advertising, in the past covering LGBT issues and re-marriage. Even so, it pulled the ad, which drew criticism from many who believed it should have stood up to what Brand Equity described as “irrational social media outrage”.

In a statement, Tanishq said, “This film has stimulated divergent and severe reactions, contrary to its very objective. 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."

Whatever its rights or wrongs about withdrawing the ad, it may be true that it had already done its job when it was pulled and had made a powerful statement about the brand that will be remembered.

Several senior executives told Brand Equity they believed the brand and its agency partner, What's Your Problem Brand Solutions, would have taken into account a backlash even as early as the scriptwriting stage. “It is hard to believe a legacy brand which has been doing progressive advertising work didn’t expect this,” said one executive.

Earlier this year, Arun Narayan, AVP, marketing, category and retail at Tanishq was reported as saying, “This is a year of staying salient (not silent) and solving problems instead of merely selling products.”

The ad has certainly achieved salience – and got the brand talked about.

Anupama Ramaswamy, managing partner and national creative director, Dentsu Impact, believes this a major plus in itself. “If you ask me,” she told Afaqs!, “this campaign has done more good than harm for Tanishq, even though it’s garnering so much hue and cry because people are noticing it.

“They might have not even seen it if it was a regular Plain Jane ad,” she added.

Sourced from Economic Times, Afaqs!; additional content by WARC staff