Caught in #BoycottFarhanAkhtar crossfire, the way out for Bridgestone

There are times when brands inadvertently get caught in the crossfire, thanks to the activities of its brand ambassadors. Bridgestone - Farhan Akhtar - Toofan is one such case in point. 

Farhan Akhtar is currently busy with his latest film ‘Toofan’, directed by Rakesh Omprakash Mehra. The actor-producer recently put up a still from the movie on social media, which shows him in a boxing ring in the attire of a boxer. 

While the production house released the still as a teaser, a section of Twitterati started trolling the actor for his involvement in the CAA and NRC protests that are sweeping across the country. Akhtar had also shared a post stating the “Facts” about NRC and CAA, which many said were misleading and false. This led to outrage among the people, with #BoycottFarhanAkhtar and #BoycottToofan trending on Twitter.


Amid all this, tyre brand Bridgestone has got caught in the imbroglio. How? The still from ‘Toofan’ shows Akhtar sporting boxing gear branded with Bridgestone logo. 

This is an extremely sensitive time as the brand managers at Bridgestone would be carefully watching the tide of the protests. On the one side, the name Bridgestone finds mention in numerous tweets, which might have scaled their presence, but the flip side is that those tweets are trolls and associated to Akhtar. 

It is difficult to say at present how the brand would be evaluating the situation. Hence, we decided to speak to experts to understand what the brand might be thinking and the options before it. 

Independent communications consultant Karthik Srinivasan feels that if ‘Toofan’ turns out to be a good movie, these people will eventually go out and watch the film. “People now want to boycott the movie because it is the easiest way for them to show their bravery. If it was #BoycottChineseGoods, that wouldn’t really happen because it isn’t practical. All Chinese goods like cellphones and other electronics are used extensively. It is one of the most cowardly ways to show anger. These people might try to troll Bridgestone, but the brand will hardly be affected. They think they are trying to do damage, but really it’s a shame to our country if people really believe this is the right way to pull down a movie or an actor who disagrees with them.” 

Agreeing with this, Himanshu Manglik, Founder and President,Walnutcap Consulting, also feels the association will not impact Bridgestone. “The reaction to Farhan Akhtar’s stand and #BoycottToofan is like a low intensity road bump for Bridgestone. In my opinion, this is unlikely to create a populist surge of negative emotions towards the Bridgestone-Farhan association, unless politically engineered. The association does not impact Bridgestone’s brand equity as of now.” 

It is true that the brand will hardly be affected by this. We have seen similar instances with call for banning movies like ‘Padmaavat’ in the past. Eventually, movies are released, people do watch them and the movie earns crores on the box office. It is truly a passive – and in a way spineless – move to even try taking down a movie or an actor like this. Neither the brand nor the film is affected in any way. 

Having said that, this isn’t something that Bridgestone can completely ignore. In fact, they can find an opportunity within this. 

As Manglik points out, “It is good to keep your ear to the ground and Bridgestone should not ignore the signals on Twitter. The way forward needs to be well thought out. It certainly needs to protect the business from short term disruption, but it also has to ensure that the brand does not suffer. Bridgestone needs to symbolise support, safety and reassurance through tough terrains, and this is a potentially tough situation.” 

Brands are built over time and need to continuously reinforce their values, especially in times of perceived crisis. It is necessary for established companies, especially MNCs, to be conservative and to safeguard against any disruption in business. Therefore, it may be prudent to stay low key until the #BoycottToofan fades away with the release of the film. 

Manglik further adds that if corporate image purists want to pull back from associating with Farhan Akhtar, then they must also realise that it would be a regressive step with long term implications for the brand. “It will be a deviation from its global positioning as a brand that stands for durability, stability, reliability in different road conditions. My personal view is that Bridgestone can leverage the visibility from #BoycottToofan to strengthen and reinforce the brand by just staying the course. Consumers will remember it for its strong stand and commitment in the long run. Finally, that is what matters for the brand.” 

While boycott trends become a norm on social media, brands associated indirectly – as in the current situation of Bridgestone and ‘Toofan’ – do not get affected at all by this. 

Rini Dutta, Founder, Centric Brand Advisors LLP, commented, “Farhan Akhtar has espoused a cause at a personal level that is controversial. To gauge its impact on the brand, we need to consider the length of brand association, whether the celebrity overshadows the brand’s personality and how the company and celebrity respond to the situation on social media. Social media is unpredictable and results as yet unclear on the overall sentiment. The company can either wait it out or communicate its stand. But what is clear is that the millennial consumer prefers to associate with honest brands – which state their position clearly.” 

We believe that people will still watch the movie, still pay for it and the brand will get its visibility that it has invested in. However, Bridgestone will have to look out for short term damages instead of ignoring them and might also find an opportunity to leverage the visibility they are already getting.


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