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#BoycottSurfExcel: Criticism of Holi ad backfires as brand's social media engagement spikes; Twitterati mock 'bhakts'

The latest Surf Excel advertisement, featuring a young 'Hindu' girl who ensures her Muslim friend gets to go to the mosque in pristine white clothes during the Holi festival, caused quite a stir on social media after it was released on 27 February. The "Hindu phobic" concept faced instant flak from Hindu extremists, however, the tide of hate was overtaken by activists, journalists, and others who came out in support of the ad's message of "unity and love".

Some users also pointed out that the '#BoycottSurfExcel' campaign run by "bhakts", had, in fact, helped increase traction for the ad on platforms like Facebook and YouTube. A Twitter user posted screenshots of Surf Excel's Facebook page engagement before and after the campaign against it. The 'likes' and 'follows', according to the screenshot, are shown to have jumped from 8,29,000 to 1.5 million and 9,08,000 to 1.4 million, respectively. The ad now has around 93 lakh views on YouTube.

Another user observed that the trending #BoycottSurfExcel hashtag had actually helped Hindustan Unilever (HUL) "up their share prices" in comparison to last week.

The HUL-owned brand, which is known for its "daag achhe hai" (stains are good) ads, tried to do something similar recently with its latest Holi special "Rang Laaye Sang" (colours bring us together) campaign. Under this campaign, the brand released an advertisement in a bid to promote Hindu-Muslim unity. The advertisement ends with Surf Excel's classic tagline "daag acche hain".

While those criticising the ad used #BoycottSurfExcel to share their messages, supporters also made #SurfExcel trend on Twitter. Critics of the ad perceived it as "Hindu phobic" and "controversial" and believed that it wants to showcase that "namaaz is more important than Holi". Supporters, however, labelled those outraging against Surf Excel as 'The Cult of Stupidity'.

"#BoycottSurfexcel because you also know that the add is humiliating Hinduism," read a user's tweet.

Claiming that the ad humiliates Muslims, a user wrote, "#SurfExcel ad is humiliating Muslim girls to the core... It is directly saying that a Muslim male child needs the help of a Hindu girl for doing his prayer. This is shaming and humiliating all Muslim children."

Many of the angry tweets seemed to have been deleted on Friday.

While opinion over the ad was clearly divided, some also advised "caution" during "crazy times".

South Indian actor Siddharth Suryanarayan wrote, "Can Indian advertisers keep religion out of the picture while pushing FMCG products? Don't complain when people witch hunt you later. I'm sure the red flags are visible when creatives are being finalised. You're selling detergent! Crazy times warrant caution."

By Monday, the tide had largely turned in favour of the ad.

"There is nothing wrong in this ad. Why people take everything so seriously and make unnecessary interpretations. Just cool always think simply," a tweet read.









This is not the first time Hindustan Unilever has faced flack for the story line of their advertisements. Days before releasing this Surf Excel ad, the company released an advertisement for Red Label based at the Kumbh Mela that had irked viewers. In the ad, a son contemplates abandoning his aged father in the crowd, but soon realises his mistake and comes back to him.

Soon after the ad was shared on the HUL Twitter handle, people objected to it, saying it hurt the sentiments of Hindus and portrayed the festival in the wrong light.

With inputs from ANI

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Updated Date: Mar 12, 2019 09:43:15 IST