I’ve been in India watching the cricket live on TV, which is much better than on my computer! But one of the downsides is having to watch the advertisements.
The India vs. West Indies series is being shown on Neo Sports which brands itself as “The home of Indian cricket”. A lot of the ads on Neo are house ads for the channel itself. Since it is a new channel, that makes sense.
Now, here’s where things get tricky. For the India-West Indies series, they have come up with a couple of ads to promote the series.
Ad #1 – A West Indian visitor is at an Indian outdoor dhaba. He takes a mouthful of the curry and his mouth is on fire. As he runs around for water, the waiter walks away, the other guests put their hands in the glasses, drop their dentures in their glasses of water and other things that prevent him from drinking water. Finally, in desperation, he turns to a tap and even that has no water. Tag line – “It is tough to be a West Indian in India “. And then there are images of the West Indian and Indian teams playing cricket.
Ad #2 – A West Indian couple are snuggling on a boat in the middle of a large and serene lake. The boatman looks at them and then he stands. He throws the oar away and then starts disrobing. The couple look at each other, frightened (I thought he was going to rape the poor woman). Then, when he’s down to his chuddies (boxers), he jumps off the boat, leaving the poor couple in the middle of the lake with no oar and the West Indian guy calling out “Hello? Hello maan??”. Tag line – “It is tough to be a West Indian in India”. And then there are images of the West Indian and Indian teams playing cricket.
At worst, these ads are racist. At best, they shout out a message that Indians are not hospitable and treat our guests terribly.
Let’s address hospitality.
“Atithi Devo Bhava” – The Guest is God
Every Indian has heard that phrase – hospitality has been ingrained in Indian culture. In fact, India’s Tourism Ministry has adopted this slogan as part of their Incredible India campaign. Clearly, this is *not* how we treat our guests. When someone’s mouth is on fire, would you deny them succor? Would you abandon someone in the middle of a lake? Clearly, no.
I understand what they were trying to say – they are trying to talk about how the Indian team will do well against the West Indian team. They thought the ads would be funny – any maybe they are for the first few seconds after you’ve seen them the very first time. But as soon as you think about it for a few seconds, that’s gone.
Here’s a better way do it –
New Ad #1 – The West Indian eats at a dhaba. He has a great time and makes friends with the locals. They go to watch the cricket together. India smacks the West Indies and the Indian hosts are happy. Tag line – “It is great to be a West Indian in India – except if you are on the cricket field”
New Ad #2 – A West Indian couple are snuggling on a boat in the middle of a large and serene lake.. Their guide is very chatty and friendly. The next day, they are in the stands next to each other. India smacks the West Indies and the Indian boatman is happy. Tag line – “It is great to be a West Indian in India – except if you are on the cricket field”
Wouldn’t that accomplish the purpose in a graceful, yet impactful way? I certainly think so.
Now, onto the charge of racism. I don’t believe that the ads were meant to be racist. I think that if the Australians were visiting, Neo might have made the same advertisement and said “It is tough to be an Aussie in India” (except the Aussies always win!). But the reality is that the Aussies aren’t visiting. The reality is that the West Indians are black and the ad could be perceived as racist. From a brand value perspective, as you are trying to establish your brand, why would you even take the risk?
I think Neo Sports and its parent company Nimbus Communications have missed the mark here. Time to pull these ads and issue a clarification.
Many Indians will head to the West Indies in March for the Cricket World Cup. How many will want to go if West Indian television had an ad where an Indian visitor was being treated rudely with the tag line “It is tough to be an Indian in the West Indies”?
As the saying goes, “Its just not cricket!”
UPDATE (January 27th): Another match today – they’ve now started putting out ads with the Sri Lankans. Here’s what they’ve done:
Ad #1: They have a Sri Lankan man being served food at the dhaba (the same hot curry) and the waiters gleefully waiting for him to start eating. The running around looking for water is not there since they’ve established what’s about to happen to him. Tag line ‘Now, even Sri Lankans will have a tough time in India”
Ad #2: A Sri Lankan couple in the boat. Shots of the boatman grinning expectantly at what’s about to happen to them. Shorter ad than the WI one. Same tag line as above.
So Nimbus seems to be sticking to their guns and by doing so, their message seems to be that there is no racist intent – they are treating the Sri Lankans (who are brown like Indians) the same as the West Indians. All very interesting.