Surf Excel Outrage: How to Make the Perfect Ad for Supersensitive Indians


Surf Excel Outrage: How to Make the Perfect Ad for Supersensitive Indians

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Barely two weeks after tearing itself apart in a debate over military operations in a neighbouring country, beloved social media platform Twitter moved on to outraging about something more up its alley. Detergent brand Surf Excel released an ad celebrating Holi, and the very vocal section of social media that we all know and love, decided this was the final nail in the anti-national’s coffin. What followed were thousands of posts demanding that any product even closely related to the detergent be boycotted, and a number of ridiculously OTT reactions by anonymous accounts with three followers.

For those who haven’t seen the ad, it tells the story of every Indian Holi ever — dozens of children assault pedestrians with water balloons from their balconies, until a little girl rides into the screen on a cycle. The girl encourages the neighbourhood children to try and come at her (displaying her inner Roadies spirit) and the kids oblige. In the end it emerges that this was all just a charade, and that the girl had a hidden agenda. She took a number of balloons to the face, so that her little friend, a Muslim boy, could reach the masjid unharmed. That’s it, end of the ad. And the beginning of outrage from Indian trolls.  

The ad seems innocent enough, but somehow the idea that these two children of different faiths could even be cordial in a fictional setting triggered a section of social media to label the filmmakers, and HUL, the company that owns Surf, a bunch of anti-Hindu shit-stirrers. One dude even went on to set fire to a packet of Surf Excel (luckily he wasn’t wearing a protective mask), and the outrage went on to get the attention of brand ambassador of rival company, Baba Ramdev (no connection implied).

The main point of feedback: Why couldn’t the girl be Muslim and the boy be Hindu instead? Because then the situation would be less “love jihad” and more “ghar wapsi”. To the person making that argument, we must ask, “Wow, are you a yoga instructor? Because that is some stretch.” Once again, we’re talking about 10-year-old children here. The second point of contention was equally ludicrous: “Why should we take this video seriously when they’re just trying to grab eyeballs?” Well congratulations on finally figuring out advertising champ. That’s what they do…

A few days ago, a Red Label video about a man trying to abandon his father at the Kumbh received similar treatment. “HUL is trying to defame our famous Indian festivals, we should support swadeshi products instead, etc.” Even then a number of these critics were unable to distinguish between a work of fiction, and something entirely different that insults their religion.

Social media outrage can lead to a lot of good, but this is clearly not one of those cases.

Fine, even if we accept this completely insane reaction, what kind of ads should India corporates put out instead? How about one where Akshay Kumar is doing backflips into the arms of a beautiful woman on a colourful street as a mother with an aarti thali watches? Or another where a girl rides a scooty while the boys playfully try to blind her with awkward displays of affection? Better yet, should they have just gone with a 30-second PSA explaining the benefits of participating in Holi on our souls narrated by Amitabh Bachchan?

It wouldn’t matter because critics would find something to outrage about then as well: “Why you picked Akshay Kumar? Sallu Bhai is ma fave!” Social media outrage can lead to a lot of good, but this is clearly not one of those cases. The whole Colin Kaepernick situation in America was another one of these cases. Even though half the US went completely nuts over Nike using the athlete, who refused to stand for the national anthem at NFL games, as an ambassador, the company’s stock rose to an all-time high. Back home too, this outrage is probably going to make the Surf Excel ad more popular than it would have been otherwise. Oh and probably lead to a bit of confusion on the next laundry day.