NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A badly phrased teaser ad by TBWA India to launch Haagen-Dazs ice cream in India has offended Indians and sparked a backlash by bloggers.
The posters, hung near India's first Haagen-Dazs outlet opening in a Delhi mall, tried to strike a cosmopolitan note with a reference to the French Riviera and the words "Exclusive Preview for International Travellers. Access restricted only to holders of international passports."
In a blog post headlined "Sorry, Indians Not Allowed," a Times of India web editor said a friend was refused entry to the new ice-cream store, and e-mailed him a photo of the ad, which the editor posted, calling the campaign "idiotic."
The post generated over 1,000 lively and mostly deeply offended comments, starting with one that said, "This is an insult of Indian nationals. ... They should be barred from doing business in India." The next comment began: "The store should be shut down immediately," and subsequent commentors suggested Haagen-Dazs should be fined or thrown out of the country, or both.
'A significant miscommunication'
In a flurry of updates on the Times of India blog, Haagen-Dazs executives said that if anyone was barred from entering the store, it was only because it was too crowded, and apologized for the unfortunate wording of the teaser ad.
Anindo Mukherji, managing director of Haagen-Dazs parent General Mills in India, said in a lengthy statement: "The message was intended to suggest that you can enjoy, for instance, a taste of the French Riviera without traveling to France -- by enjoying Haagen-Dazs. Unfortunately, the reference to the international-passport holder on the poster may have led to a significant miscommunication."
Meanwhile, the Times of India did an online news story that drew 330 comments, and posted a video interview with their own editor punctuated by written on-screen phrases like "Racism at home," "Scoop of controversy" and "Ice-cream maker denied Indians entry."
TBWA already handles Haagen-Dazs in 10 countries in Europe and Asia, according to Ad Age's annual Global Brands report, and did the India teaser campaign, although that relationship seems unlikely to continue. The two companies said in a statement: "That project has now ended. Haagen-Dazs will decide on their agency at the appropriate moment, as originally planned."
'An affront on our pride'
As the debate rages in India, trade publisher Exchange4media, Ad Age's partner in India, weighed in with comments from top industry executives:
"If there is one thing that we as Indians will not truck with, is an affront on our pride," Prathap Suthan, national creative director at Cheil Worldwide for Southwest Asia, told Exchange4media. "As it is, we have been at the wrong end of the discrimination stick, and it rankles me no end as to how one could have not seen the nerves this route would jangle."
"The whole campaign is issued with a clear idea of having fun," said KV Sridhar, Leo Burnett's creative director in India. "[But] we need to remember that India is very strong when it comes to social activists and NGOs, who like to make a small issue into a fire, and obviously that is supported by our very own media."
"Social media has changed everything," said Rahul Jauhari, national creative director, Pickle Lintas. "But brands are slow to catch on. What I am sure happened as a result of a silly oversight by the agency and the client got magnified in an instant. ... In today's times, it is even more critical to be conscious of what your brand is saying, because today every consumer is a voice that will be heard, in favor or against what the brand does. ... One wrong tweet can lead to a PR nightmare.