#FreeToLove campaign was swamped by critics on
social media but embraced and praised by others as uplifting after Hindustan Unilever’s toothpaste brand released the latest in a series of short films on the theme. It shows a couple breaking up because of a difference in religion, which triggered a ferocious response from some quarters.
“The problem arose when my family got to know that he was not a Hindu, he was a Muslim… families chose to prioritise that over our happiness,” says the woman in the video.
Some people tweeted that the ad hurt Hindu sentiments and that they would boycott the brand and all the company’s products, accusing it of “fake liberalism”.
“You people are defaming Hindus all over the world,” said a Twitter user. “Delete this tweet or we will stop using your products and will also run a campaign. Let Hindus live peacefully.”
Other comments on social media were from the opposite end of the spectrum.
“Have you guys watched the videos from close-up?” said one user. “They’re (heart)warming! Encourages everyone to choose to love and to never give up on love whatever the circumstances are.”
Closeup’s #FreeToLove campaign has also featured samegender relationships running into trouble because of the social stigma.
Adman and commentator Santosh Desai suggested the response reflected the emergence of long-suppressed views.
Opinions Divided Within Fraternity
“Such reactions on social media show how there is rediscovery in the voice of groups that were otherwise silenced in the age of mainstream media and Twitter gives them their voice back and amplifies that,” Desai said. “At the same time, I am personally suspicious about how such messages could help brands in the long term and talk about something which is not really aligned with the brand.”
Opinions were divided within the advertising fraternity on the campaign and the agitated reactions it is drawing on social media.
“It’s a brilliant idea but has to be carefully thought since the subject is quite tricky,” said Rahul da Cunha, managing director and creative head of DaCunha Communications, the company behind the Amul ads. “Brands need to be careful of religion. Trying to create anything in the subject whether in ads or theatre and film in present religious climate is a crazy risk.”
FCB India chairman Rohit Ohri said he didn’t think the video was objectionable. “A complex society like ours needs constant dialogue about all issues,” he said. “Today, our sentiments have become so fragile that they are always getting hurt. We need to be more open to all points of view, now more than ever before.”
Prathap Suthan, known for creating the India Shining campaign and managing partner of creative agency Bang in the Middle, said: “HUL would have thought this through. These things are coming back in our country which is perhaps what the video is reflecting — it is showing a mirror of current times.”
A spokesperson for HUL said it was early days in the campaign but that the company has got “good engagement across platforms”.
“Our new campaign #Free-ToLove seeks to celebrate this confidence and reflects our belief in the freedom to choose the person whom you want to be with regardless of caste, religion, gender or age,” the spokesperson said. “This stems from the brand’s commitment to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness through this campaign and beyond.”
HUL’s oral care business has been a laggard for several years now with market share consistently declining, especially after Patanjali’s entry. In the 12 months ended October, HUL’s share was 16.7%, a drop of 140 basis points in a year. Closeup accounts for nearly two-thirds of HUL’s oral care business with a share of 11.9% in the toothpaste segment, down from 12.7% a year ago.