Kamayani Bali Mahabal, an activist-blogger, has posted an impassioned open letter to Ogilvy South Asia executive chairman and national creative director Piyush Pandey in the context of the campaign created by his agency for Vedanta and his role in the communication.
“After so many socially responsible ad campaigns by you I was aghast to see Vedanta’s “Creating Happiness” ad. Recently unveiling the campaign you said: “The Vedanta ‘Creating Happiness’ campaign is extremely close to my heart for it’s all about enabling India. I have worked on this campaign along with my team as an excited young copywriter and I look forward to the people of India not just appreciating Vedanta’s efforts, but getting inspired to do something on their own to make India a happier place.”
May I ask you, if you really know whether Vedanta has enabled or disabled India? Whether Vedanta has protected the environment of the tribals in India, or has been on a land-grabbing spree and attacking peaceful protestors?
I urge you to visit Niyamgiri hills, I am sure you will love the paradise on earth, which Vedanta is hell bent on destroying,” says the post.
You can see the Vedanta TVC which offends Mahabal below:
I do not have an informed view on what Vedanta is doing, and whether what they are doing is right or wrong, and that’s not the focus of the post.
What call does an advertising agency make when confronted with a situation like Pandey must have when Vedanta approached Ogilvy? Does an agency go into the merits of the company concerned? Does an agency go into the ‘ethics’ issue?
This is obviously not the first time that the issue of ethics has come up. “So we tell the truth — but not always the Whole Truth. Like lawyers, our job is to put our clients in the best light. When you go on a job interview or a first date, you don't assume a false identity - but you probably don't make a full disclosure either. Chances are you keep your lactose intolerance and foot odor issues in the background, and save your Federation Starfleet uniform for later in the relationship - if there is a later. For a company trying to sell something, an ad is like getting a job interview with millions of people all at once. The ad wants to make a good first impression…” said Chris Moore of Ogilvy & Mather in a speech on Ethics in advertising.
Advertising agencies are paid to project the client company or brand in good light; indeed, that is their expertise. As long as the client is not breaking a law or in an illegal business, the agency will not spend too much time on whether or not to consult for the client.
If Vedanta is, indeed, guilty of the many claims in the post, it is more an issue for the government departments concerned than for Ogilvy or Pandey.
As much as agencies, when they create communication for their clients, they stop short of telling the whole truth, and so do clients. Clients in categories such as mining, real estate, pharma do have a lot to hide – and agencies are ill-equipped to understand the operational aspects of the business and the impact.
Carbonated beverages, for example, result in depletion of ground water. Does this mean that advertising agencies should not work on brands such as Coke or Pepsi? Should the advertising agency concerned be hauled across the coals for creating the communication for Speak Asia? Should advertising agencies be blamed for the losses of investors in companies in the 2G scam?
It is for governments and statutory authorities to address these concerns, not an advertising agency’s.