Is it fair that Snapdeal had to bear the brunt of Aamir Khan’s reckless statement?

Yesterday I wrote about how the way people reacted to Aamir Khan’s fear mongering is a Ghandhian way of protesting. For the first time, along with simply trolling him (which is never productive), people on social media decided to hit where it hurts the most — make their opinion matter financially. And what would be a better way than to target a company that uses Aamir Khan as its brand ambassador?

The usual voices have begun to surface. Take for instance Barkha Dutt’s comment:

The co-founder of Flipkart has also extended support to the beleaguered Snapdeal.com:

So how fair is it to target Snapdeal for Aamir Khan’s statement? Should his conduct be viewed separately for the brands he endorses? Bansal says that businesses hiring celebrities (or any public figure for that matter) shouldn’t be held accountable for the conduct of those celebrities. Flip the question: why are celebrities made brand ambassadors?

A brand ambassador is a complete package. When you hire someone as your brand ambassador, you don’t just hire the person. You hire his/her entire persona. If people were made brand ambassadors just because they are celebrities and renowned, then Snapdeal shouldn’t have a problem hiring Sunny Leone as their brand ambassador because she too is equally, if not more, famous. Two more recent examples before we move on…

Tiger Woods, after his sex scandals surfaced, lost more than 66 million dollars worth of endorsement contacts. The companies could have easily said that what Tiger did in his personal life should have no impact on what he says about the brands but it doesn’t work this way. When you become a brand ambassador, it’s what you say and how you live your life that makes you the brand ambassador, not merely your fame.

Belgian award-winning model lost her contract with L’Oreal after her photographs with the dead gazelle she had just hunted went viral on the Internet. So yes, the personal conduct of individuals endorsing and showcasing brands does matter.

Snapdeal hired Aamir Khan as its brand ambassador because the people running the company thought that there are many people who admire him for the kind of films he makes and for the kind of public image he has (thinking actor and all other pretenses). If people like him, if people appreciate him, they would also like to purchase products endorsed by him. Simple logic. Using this logic, had people shown collective inclination to do business with Snapdeal because Aamir Khan endorses it, people wouldn’t have a problem. So why have a problem with people deciding not to do business with Snapdeal because Aamir Khan is endorsing it? If it works one way, why shouldn’t it also work the other way?

Aamir Khan says that conditions are not good in the country and his wife feels like leaving the country because she does not feel safe here. Instead of assuaging her fears as a “publicly conscious” person, in an award ceremony, sitting in front of scores of journalists, politicians and commentators, while his interview is being beamed on national television, he confesses the feelings of his wife and seems to be in total agreement that yes, there is an air of intolerance in the country and the condition is quite bad.

Whatever was his motivation, a big section of the society disagrees with him. A big section of the society also believes that this is not a one-off event. There is a concerted effort to communicate to the world that right now the country is not in good hands (under the premiership of Narendra Modi). A big misinformation campaign is being carried out.

The common person feels helpless. He or she knows that things are not as bad as they are being constantly portrayed. An artificial state of emergency is being fabricated using every major forum. Celebrities, writers, journalists, activists, scientists, license-Raj industrialists, all are being roped in to constantly communicate to the world that there is communal tension in the country, that minorities are not feeling safe and the majority Hindu community is becoming intolerant. Despite knowing that these are all lies, the common person has no platform. He or she has no voice. He or she has no control over what sort of discourse goes on on electronic media and print media. Even the government — whatever reason there might be — also appears clueless.

But the common person wields the most potent weapon as far as the moneymaking machinery is concerned — he or she has the purchasing power. He or she can decide whom to do business with or not to do business with. On the Internet, he or she can also communicate to the others what sort of decisions he or she is making regarding this.

So this is how it goes. Aamir Khan says something that is highly offensive to the people of the country. Being law-abiding citizens, all they can do is abuse. You abuse, you get labelled as a troll, people cry victim and after a while it is business as usual. It is the “business as usual” approach that motivates people like Aamir Khan to say whatever they want to say without giving a second thought to how people might take it. They think people will cry and abuse for a while and then things will be back to normal. And this actually happens.

For the first time, as Barkha rightly says in her tweet, commerce is being used as a weapon, although not as an intimidation weapon as she erroneously puts it, but as a “level playing field” weapon. It’s like, you have the power of fame and money, we have the power of number and distributed money. You can’t just get away with whatever you want to say about the people who help you make piles of money.

Think it like the embargo a country has to face because of the stand its political class takes. The entire country has to suffer. The same thing is happening with Snapdeal. It is a brand endorsed by Aamir Khan. If due to him they are making money, due to him they should also lose money. This is how people become accountable. The next time Aamir Khan and people like him make public statements they will think twice because they know there are going to be financial consequences.

I don’t care much about being politically correct. Things are just right or wrong and yes, sometimes there are grey areas in this is why we write, don’t we?

I don’t care much about being politically correct. Things are just right or wrong and yes, sometimes there are grey areas in this is why we write, don’t we?