Misleading title puts marketing concepts on slippery slope (Book Review)

Journalists are oftentimes, particularly since the ballooning of the digital and social media, accused of purveying “fake news” or motivated information in the garb of news with the intention of influencing public opinion on sensitive issues.

However, when a professor of marketing at a private university in the NCR mixes his metaphors to firstly introduce and alien concept in India and simultaneously combine this with what could be termed a rather pernicious concept that is in vogue – and insists there isn’t a difference between the two – it makes one wonder how a book on this could have been released by a leading publisher and secondly, where this kind of “bending” will lead to.

The issue here is a book titled ‘Troll Proof Branding In The Age Of Doppelgangers’ (SAGE) by Gaurav Sood.

Now, the Cambridge English Dictionary defines trolling as “the act of leaving an insulting message on the internet in order to annoy someone”.

Merriam-Webster describes trolling as to “antagonise (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content”.

A doppelganger is defined as a “ghostly double or counterpart of a living person”. An extension of this, Doppelganger Brand Imaging (DBI), a concept that exists in the West, is described as a company logo that has been modified in a pejorative manner; such images being most likely spread via social media or through websites of anti-brand activists.

So, why raise the spectre of ‘The Age of Doppelgangers’ by mixing up metaphors – two separate issues?

“Trolling creates a parallel imagery of the brand in question. This is rampant all around the world even in case of Russia-Ukrainian war,” Sood declared blandly during an extended interview with IANS.

In support of his contention, he pointed to the criticism of recent Tanishq and Dabur advertisements and even threw in Alia Bhat (‘Alia So Dumb’) and Rahul Gandhi (‘Pappu’) for good measure.

Tanishq faced a considerable amount of backlash for its advertisement showcasing its new ‘Ekatvam’ collection featuring an inter-faith baby shower. It got heavily trolled for promoting inter-faith marriages and ‘love jihad’, and soon saw a boycott trend as well. This led to a fall in stocks and amid all the trolling, Tanishq pulled the video down.

This was even though the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) said that there was nothing indecent or vulgar or repulsive in the advertisement to cause grave and widespread offence.

Similarly, campaigns like Manyavar’s ‘Kanyamaan’, Dabur’s ‘Karwa Chauth’ designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s ‘Mangalsutra Collection’, and diversified retailer FabIndia’s ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’ faced a major fallout for what many have termed their “progressive thoughts”.

There’s a fine line between tolling and backlash, says industry veteran Himanshu Manglik, who has extensive experience in marketing, media and communications with MNCs and other businesses, is visiting faculty at various business schools, and currently President of Walnutcap Consulting.

“Trolling is like an intent to disrupt by baiting; it could be simply ‘psychopathic fun’ as well. Very often, people resort to trolling to indulge their ego or whatever, but backlash is often a very focussed divergence of opinion that is meant to rundown or destroy,” Manglik told IANS in an interview.

“The confusion would be because both result from similar actions, but the difference will be the intent. There are gray areas between negative trolling that is meant to bully and harass and elicit angry responses or destroy,” he added.

There is also a world of a difference between trolling and DBI, Manglik maintained.

“DBI can be a conscious strategic tool in brand management, and marketers need to be familiar with it, but Indian brands need not worry about DBI as yet. Indian brands are unlikely to be targets of systematic DBI, though random trolling tends to throw up ‘crisis moments’ on social media,” he asserted.

“Tanishq/Dabur were examples of angry reactions and spontaneous short-term trolling. Other recent examples are Hyundai and KFC, where the tweets that originated from dealers in Pakistan led to systematic trolling and threats of boycott,” Manglik maintained.

“Trolling is only like sniping at an existing brand. It is not DBI. DBI is a systematic process of brand rivalry and that is not happening in India yet,” he added.

To be fair, Sood’s book does have its moments – like for instance when he traces the history of marketing and branding per se – but falters when he ventures to draw a parallel between trolling and DBI.

The publisher declined to respond one way or the other on this mixing of metaphors. One would hope for greater due diligence in the future.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at vishnu.makhijani@ians.in)

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