Friday, February 05,2016

NEW DELHI: A systematic campaign against Aamir Khan has been launched with the government first dropping him as its ‘brand ambassador’ and now corporates being targeted by threats of boycott, to do the same. Snapdeal, a brand that the well known actor endorses, has decided not to renew his contract that expires at the end of this month.

Snapdeal has been under tremendous pressure to remove Aamir Khan after his remarks on intolerance last year. #NoToSnapdeal and #AppWasi hashtags were used to pressure the portal, with the anti-Khan brigade pushing for a boycott. Screenshots of deleting Snapdeal from cell phones were posted by the irate brigade---estimated to be in hundreds of thousands--- that were determined to make the actor “pay” for his freedom of speech and remarks against intolerance.

Snapdeal, to give it its due, held out at the beginning maintaining in a statement that these were the actors personal comments. "Snapdeal is neither connected nor plays a role in comments made by Aamir Khan in his personal capacity. Snapdeal is a proud Indian company built by passionate young Indians focused on building an inclusive digital India," Snapdeal had said in a statement at that time.However, it has now let it be known according to the Economic Times that it will not renew the contract that would have otherwise been extended by at least one more year.

Khan was speaking at the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards last November, and in response to a specific question admitted to “growing despondency” in India and a “sense of growing disquiet.” He said that his wife Kiran Rao had thought of leaving the country but there was no question of this. The storm of protest led by the Hindutva brigade led Khan to issue a statement clarifying, "Let me state categorically that neither I, nor my wife Kiran, have any intention of leaving the country. India is my country, I love it, I feel fortunate for being born here, and this is where I am staying. To all those people who are calling me anti-national, I would like to say that I am proud to be Indian, and I do not need anyone's permission nor endorsement for that."

However, the protests continued and the government took the first step by removing the well known actor who has received the highest national awards and never been questioned for his credentials, from the Incredible India campaign. This renewed the protests, although for the record the Ministry of Tourism maintained that he had not been dropped, only that his contract had not been renewed. Minister Mahesh Sharma told the Indian Express then, “Our agreement was with a media agency namely McCann. That was for a particular work. That work they have delivered to us. They have completed that project. Hence, that contract is now over,” Sharma said. Khan who had been the mascot for Incredible India free of cost, for ten years said at the time that he respected the government’s decision.

The ink had not dried on this denial when Aamir Khan was removed as the ambassador of the Road Safety campaign in India, in yet another government initiative. Minister Nitin Gadkari had been very impressed with Khan’s Satyamev Jayate TV reality show, and according to media reports, met the actor and offered the brand ambassador post to him. The ‘privilege’ has now been withdrawn.

The corporates for whom Khan had been endorsing products have voiced their worry over the past weeks. More so as Khan was seen as the most trusted film celebrity after Amitabh Bachan in the 2015 annual Brand Trust Report. However, there are two views here that have been coming through in the media, one that the actor was entitled to his personal views and these should not cut into the campaigns and/or that brand ambassadors should watch what they say, and corporates should avoid signing those known for speaking their mind. For instance as Business Standard reported, “Flipkart's co-founder and CEO Sachin Bansal came out strongly in support of Snapdeal on Wednesday, saying slamming it for Aamir Khan's views was wrong. "Brands don't buy into brand ambassadors' personal opinions. @Snapdeal shouldn't face this," Bansal tweeted on Wednesday.”

And conversely, “C M Singh, chief operating officer, Videocon Industries, says companies will watch the unfolding developments closely. "I expect most advertisers to watch this situation closely because there are implications when a celebrity says something. At the end of the day, he represents a brand. A positive activity or comment has a positive rub-off on the brand he endorses.”

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