Mohey ad backlash is another lesson why brands need to tread carefully around traditions

There’s a scene towards the end of that iconic buddy film, ‘Dil Chahta Hai’, when Akshaye Khanna’s Sid tells Aamir Khan’s Aakash, “Tu nahin badlega”, to which Aakash replies, “Perfection ko improve karna mushkil hota hai!” Well, not all deeply-rooted customs and traditions of the country are perfect, but there are some territories that brands may do best to steer away from.

For Mohey, the bridal wear brand from the house of Manyavar, the concept must have looked good on paper – promote women empowerment and give a more gender-sensitive touch to the age old tradition of ‘Kanyandaan’ in Hindu weddings and instead bring in ‘Kanyamaan’ in its latest ad featuring recently appointed brand ambassador Alia Bhatt. In its press note, the brand elaborated on the thought, stating, “Through the film, Mohey’s brand ambassador Alia Bhatt questions the conventional beliefs that require a daughter to conform to being ‘given away’ at her wedding. She makes a choice on her wedding day to rethink rituals, stating what Kanyadaan means in modern times, making it more equal and progressive for her present and future generations.”

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However, the ad has not gone down well with the netizens and has drawn a lot of flak on social media and the hashtag #BoycottManyavar has been trending on Twitter. Why? Netizens feel that the Mohey ad questions an important part of Hindu wedding rituals and presents the practice of Kanyadaan as regressive and oppressive. They have slammed Mohey for “disrespecting culture and manipulating the naive customers”.

Bollywood actress Kangana Ranuat lashed out at Alia Bhatt, which kickstarted a debate on the Internet on Tuesday, where she asked brands to not mix religion in their advertisement to manipulate “naïve customers”.

In an Instagram post, the actress wrote: “Humble request to all brands... don't use religion, minority, majority politics to sell things... Stop manipulating naïve consumers with shrewd divisive concepts and advertising...”

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The actress further said that one should not mock Hindus and their rituals. “The way society looks at the concept of renunciation shows its core value system... When they start to look down upon the very idea of daan... then you know it is time for the re-establishment of Ram Rajya... The king who renounced everything he ever loved only to live the life of a monk.” She also tagged Alia Bhatt and others in the post.

In response to the severe backlash, Manyavar issued a detailed statement saying that Mohey’s recent ad featuring Alia Bhatt tries to promote a more inclusive and equal space for women in marriage and in life.

According to the media reports, the company had said in its statement, “In India, weddings are all about rituals and traditions that bring about a happy union. These age-old rituals have been an intrinsic part of our society and one of the most important being ‘Kanyadaan’. Harping upon this ritual and the conventional thought behind it, Mohey’s recent DVC featuring Alia Bhatt tries to promote a more inclusive and equal space for women in marriage and in life.”

It brought back memories of jewellery brand Tanishq’s Diwali ad campaign in 2020, featuring actors like Neena Gupta, Nimrat Kaur, Sayani Gupta and Alaya Furniturewala. This ad, which saw one of the actresses asking people not to burst firecrackers during Diwali, also faced social media backlash, wherein netizens took offence to the advice being doled out on how to celebrate Diwali. This ad was later withdrawn by Tanishq from Twitter and YouTube.

When inter-faith harmony messages misfire

Just a couple of months before the Tanishq Diwali ad, another of the brand’s campaign for its Ekatvam range had drawn people’s ire. It showcased an inter-faith couple, wherein the pregnant Hindu daughter-in-law is pampered by her Muslim in-laws on her traditional Hindu ‘godh bharai’ ceremony. The message was to promote communal harmony, but the ad ended up receiving flak from a section of the netizens for promoting ‘love jihad’. The backlash received was so severe that Tanishq had to withdraw the ad, while stating, “This film has stimulated divergent and severe reactions, contrary to its very objective.”

(Edited and Additional Inputs by Shanta Saikia.)


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