Updated on: Friday, November 26, 2021, 03:14 PM IST

Dabur ad: Another one bites the dust…

Dabur ad: Another one bites the dust… |

Dabur ad: Another one bites the dust… |


The Dabur Fem bleach ad raked up controversy and was withdrawn, but who is asking how many LGBTQ hires Dabur has made in recent times?

Many years ago, my nephew - then a little boy of six or seven - came running home from school and said he had two new classmates and he found it unusual that X had two moms while Y had two dads. He studied in the United States and the school 20 years ago was trying to fulfill its diversity and inclusion commitment by admitting more children with same-sex parents.

That was an early lesson to me in active inclusion. Now, of course, inclusivity and diversity are trending words. Which brings me to the Dabur Fem bleach ad.


The Dabur ad was considered offensive by a Minister for offending Hindu sentiments as it featured a same-sex couple celebrating Karva Chauth. Dabur promptly withdrew the ad and also offered an apology which seems to be the norm for brands.

On the other hand, at least from some of the comments I saw on social media, it wasn't that the LGBTQ community was applauding Dabur either. Perhaps Dabur did not run any focus groups with the LGBTQ community to get their feedback on the ad before they released it. Perhaps someone from the community could ask Dabur how many LGBTQ hires they have made in recent times. I've said this before in earlier columns too - woke-vertising doesn't work unless you truly believe in what you are saying. And if you truly believe, then you need to stand up for your communication.

For me, it wasn’t about showing a same-sex couple or Karva Chauth, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that the ad was for a fairness cream bleach nestled in a diversity and inclusion message. Which part of this missed the creators of the ad? As a country, we are guilty of all kinds of exclusion and discrimination based on skin colour. Women’s groups have been objecting to fairness cream ads for ages. I don’t know why the honourable Minister did not object to that. Not so ‘woke’ of Dabur when even market leader Fair & Lovely decided to rename itself Glow & Lovely as a token to end colour bias.


Tata Steel, for example, announced that they would be hiring transgenders for one unit of their business in Jharkhand and training them in operating earth-moving equipment. That, to my mind, actively says inclusion – not only will someone benefit and earn money, but will not be discriminated against at the workplace because of their orientation or their gender. Not surprisingly, Tata Steel has been rated top employer in the LGBTQ Inclusion Index. No advertising campaign there, just a press announcement .

Nike chose to stand by their brand spokesperson Nicolas Kapernick when he bent the knee and the brand faced threats, store boycotts and extreme trolling. A year later, they came out winners but I am sure it was not a pleasant year for them. However, look at the larger impact of staying the course. Last week, the Indian Premier League (IPL) got its players to take the knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter (BLM). While it was strange to see Indian players take the knee for BLM and not include farmers or Dalits or our soldiers in their messaging, it shows us how much a movement that is supported can impact communication. This would not have happened if IPL’s advertisers, sponsors and management had not agreed that this was good optics.


Controversy is a moving target on social media. Advertising will always be a soft target. It is very difficult to know which day something will be deemed offensive and which day it will go below the radar. However, that is no excuse not to examine the subtext of your own communication. Consumers will question your communication and expect you to stand by it in the face of controversy. A leaf from Nike’s playbook may help.

(Geeta Rao has been Regional Creative Director, Ogilvy and has devoted many column inches and years to advertising and brands.)


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Published on: Monday, November 01, 2021, 12:00 AM IST