Red Label Kumbh film’s kudos and can of worms

UPDATE: March 8, 2019:

As I had anticipated, the trouble has moved to mainstream media too. Here’s The Economic Times, on the issue, today.


The Red Label film with Kumbh as the backdrop that I had shared last weekend on LinkedIn has an interesting problem to handle, now. I have seen the video being loved across LinkedIn, and Facebook (when it was shared by the film’s partner, The Logical Indian).

The comments back then were mostly, and uniformly, emotional and of curiosity about the insight/data statement made in the end about old people being abandoned in Kumbh.

I have not heard that data statement particularly connected to Kumbh, but do know that it is a reality, though I have no idea about the numbers or scale of the problem.

HUL/Red Label has depicted a father-son’s story in the film. If it is about those two individuals, the film still works exactly the way it is intended. But, on social media, people come to every piece of content from many, many perspectives and sides.

Unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, when HUL’s corporate handle shared the film yesterday on Twitter, the reaction seems completely negative.

The Twitter feedback is on the back of the fact that HUL, a multinational (I know, ‘Hindustan’ Uni Lever, but still…) is tarnishing India’s image by showcasing something so negative about one of the holiest, most famous festivals of India.

This is not a baseless allegation. The trouble is that the statement in the end lacks any credible backing. It’s just made casually.

If there was no such statement at the end, HUL could at least explain that this film is just about a/any father-son couple, not representative of a larger purported trend. Or, if there was some credible third-party data point/research substantiating the trend with some numbers, that could at least help explain the context better and people could debate other people who are outraging about the negativity with some degree of confidence.

But, when you remove that line that generalizes an incident into a trend, you can look at the film in a completely new light. Not just that it is about a father and a son, but also rephrase the narrative as Kumbh being the holy place where life-changing moments happen… where intent (neeyat) changes, from bad to good! Because Kumbh is a holy gathering and can have profound changes in people’s psyche given the vibe. And no change in the video is required beyond removing that line in the end. The rephrasing can be done in the description added to the video, on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.

Here’s a sample:

(This is not representative of the data or research, but is at least indicative that this may be a trend: Elderly Abandoned at World’s Largest Religious Festival. Of course, National Geographic’s credentials can be questioned in this backdrop too – I realize that).

Given how Twitter hordes work, if the negativity persists, it could move to mainstream media and gain legs. I hope HUL’s crisis management team is monitoring the situation.

Plus, a bigger problem with social media is that once a new counterpoint is shared and it gains tractions, it could color the way newer and older sets of audiences could see the same communication. For instance, the predominant tone of emotional resonance to the story and the simple curiosity (“I didn’t know that, so sad!”) around the sentence at the end of the video was fairly contagious in the first round of feedback and reactions.

In the second round, led by Twitter, once the seed for another way to look at it was sown (from the prism of insulting Hinduism’s most revered festival with a negative data point, that too presented without any credibility), this notion could also become widespread with, “Oh, I can look at this film like this too?”.

Whether or not it gets worse, this is a good cautionary lesson for brands in general. The specific lesson is to debate all kinds of communication from multiple view points and thrash out the logic of such communication, across PR, marketing, advertising etc. And to not assume that there will be only one way (the way the company and the agency sees it) that people may end up seeing such communication.

After such an exercise, the company can at least be cognizant of the potential feedback of the communication instead of being caught blindsided. From that perspective, I always remember this blog post by Mark Schaefer, when he asked the legendary Harold Burson of Burson-Marsteller about what the metric for crisis management should be. He asks, “What is your metric for success? In your line of extreme PR work and crisis management, what does a win look like? How do you know you’ve succeeded?”

Harold responds: “When a company is in crisis, I always gather the management team and ask them to explain the worst possible consequence of the problem. If we avoid the worst possible consequence, then, that would be our success.”

The point that connects that metric to this potential problem HUL/Red Label is sitting on is that when you analyze a piece of communication *before* it is shared with the outside world, you at least know the kinds of reactions you can expect. And be prepared for even the worst possible set of reactions.

For starters, it looks like HUL has took note of the reactions on Twitter, and have changed the way they framed the tweeted.


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