- Sourav Ganguly, BCCI President and Former India Cricket Captain, suffered a mild heart attack last month.
- Netizens happened to re-discover his old ad endorsing Fortune's Cooking Oil, which then triggered a slew of tweets and jokes with people questioning the effectiveness of the oil and also wondering how the brand will tackle this crisis.
- On Valentine’s day, the brand published an honest print ad clarifying that there are many factors that can affect our heart's health.
- We speak to PR experts to find out if communication like this is enough to win audiences over.
Twitterati had re-discovered Ganguly’s old ad with Fortune Oil that said it is ‘a healthy for heart oil’ and the irony was not lost on people. They were also quick to jump to the conclusion that Fortune oil is unhealthy and its old ad even started making rounds on WhatsApp.
To soften the uproar coming in its way, Fortune Oil deleted the ad from its official website and social media handles. It had also immediately released a media statement asserting that it would continue to work with Ganguly.
Dada, get well soon. We love you. You are a tiger, you will come back roaring. @SGanguly99 https://t.co/F5rkPAlmNE— Arif Aajakia (@arifaajakia) 1609734280000
@beastoftraal WhatsApp forwards are already making rounds https://t.co/ouMXMTxcwW— AYU (@aliusmani) 1609678780000
Post that, netizens, including brand experts and consumers, had eyes on Fortune’s next move for it was going to take a lot of come out of this huge PR crisis and win its consumers’ trust back.
As an FMCG brand that caters to a mass audience, how do you deal with this cloud of resentment coming your way on social media? Fortune Oil has given us a case study with its latest move.
On Valentine’s Day, when the whole brandverse got mushy and there were hearts splashed across the newspaper ads, Adani Wilmar decided to have a heart-to-heart conversation with fans. It launched a personalised print ad penned by its ambassador Ganguly to clarify that there are multiple reasons that can affect one’s heart's health.
Dada made a healthy comeback, as he always does! Here's a 'heart' felt message from him on Valentine's Day. Let's h… https://t.co/Je2cGatoz8— Fortune Foods (@FortuneFoods) 1613277036000
Titled, ‘Today seems like a good day to talk about the heart,’ the body copy read, "You don't expect a fairly young and fit person like me to have a heart-related ailment. But here's the thing, there are just too many factors that can affect our heart's health. One of them could be family history of heart ailments, as it was in my case." It further shared a few tips to keep one’s heart-healthy.
In a personalised note, Ganguly openly talked about his heart condition and what consumers can learn from his episode. “Love your heart. Take good care of it,” he concluded.
Fortune Oil appointed Ganguly as its brand face in 2020 to target mid-age people with its campaign ‘Welcome to the 40s,' which aimed to promote maintaining heart health and good lifestyle. The campaign backfired a year later and it was a blow hard to forget.
However, when a brand faces a huge crisis related to their brand ambassadors such as this, the traditional PR advice is to maintain a low profile to cushion the blow. Adani Wilmar, on the other hand, decided to address the concerns and face the situation head-on. It also waited for the right amount of time to launch a piece of communication -- long enough to give its consumers some space to process the news and but not too long before it is a distant memory. And it seems to have won brand experts admiration.
Albeit, will a brand ambassador coming to bat for a brand and talk about the health benefits it serves, be enough to regain its consumers' trust? Here is what experts had to say:
Dilip Cherian, Founder and Partner, Perfect Relations:
There is no doubt that some response would have been expected from any consumer products company which is also substantially consumer-facing. So I guess, Fortune really didn’t have too much of a choice or perhaps was facing image pressures to explain its stance. This actually is one of the huge consequences of having an extremely popular and visible brand ambassador. The price you have to pay is often that, anything that happens to the ambassador actually happens to the company. So rather than entering a situation where a stent within the company would be necessary, I think that responding was smart. Opting for a print advertisement allowed the company to actually communicate at many levels. As we tell our clients today, owned media and paid media can be multiplied appropriately to reach the audiences you want in the ways you want. Taking a print advertisement was only one of the options. It could easily have been addressed far more cheaply and just as effectively by having this content put on the Fortune website. Would it have worked? The answer is yes, if properly promoted. Owned media can very often play the role that conventional media has played in recent times. This is one of the huge advantages that we have been able to get companies involved in understanding during the year of lockdown. Now that the advertisement is out, clever digital manipulation and propagation is the answer if that is done then the point will be well taken amongst many more stakeholders than just those who happened to read the print copy.
The lessons a brand can learn from this are quite clear. There is no doubt that large consumer facing brands need to be conscious of who they choose as a brand ambassador and recognise that along with huge gains come the pains. The second lesson would be that responding is smarter than smarting in silence. Third lesson is that using your owned media would have been infinitely cheaper as a means of responding. Lesson four, clever use of social media and aggressive use of traditional media can very often multiply what you choose to put out on owned media.
Archana Jain, Managing Director, PR pundit
There is no 'one size fits all' strategic response in a crisis; two identical scenarios can have different responses as they may be taking place at two different times, in two different domains, or with varied company cultures. A crisis always merits a response – as they say, 'Feed the shark before it feeds on you!" The key points to have got across swiftly would have been on how the company feels about the incident as its important to be humanly concerned, first, last and foremost.
A lesson that brands can learn from this: When good health is the claim, it’s important to monitor the health of the brand ambassador just like insurance companies do each year of the insured. This was capture in the T of the HEART message in the advertisement
Tarunjeet Rattan, Founder and Managing Partner, Nucleus and Co-founder of PRPOI
Absolutely, it was a good strategy. In fact, they should have done that when Sourav first got the attack. If I recall correctly a lot of personal branding experts at that point of time had recommended that Sourav drop the brand. On the other hand, they also urged the brand to take a stand and leverage this opportunity to educate everyone on the various causes of a heart attack. Fortune shied away from it at that point. To me, that was an opportunity lost. What if Sourav had not recovered. It would have ensured the loss of customer trust forever. Good that he did, and it gave the brand an opportunity to address it. It is great to see them take this up now and in such a sweet and toned down manner. In today's day and age, it does not work if you choose to lie low. Apart from it being a wasted opportunity to connect with your audience, the silence will backfire. Crisis needs to be addressed head-on with a smart strategy when the fires are the hottest.
I do believe they've hit the sweet spot with a heartfelt message and on an appropriate day. Using a single medium is in line with their cautionary wait & watch approach. Not too massive but at the same time reaching just about enough audiences. What I am sure they would have anticipated and counted on was that the same branding experts who pulled them up for not addressing the crisis earlier would be impressed enough or have an opinion either way to give them more space on their social media real estate. Lo and behold ! It worked out just as planned.
Some lessons that brands can learn from this crisis and its management: Never ever waste a good crisis. Every crisis is an opportunity in disguise so use it. When you do choose to address it make sure you are aware of the circumstances around the crisis so that you can choose the right medium for the message. This awareness will help you use your budget wisely. Amplification is essential. Identify the people and channels who will be most apt for it before deciding on your response.
Respond to a crisis with facts and a lot of empathy. A situation like this would have worked really well for the brand and earned it a lot of goodwill if it had stood by its brand ambassador on the day of the heart attack. Be human. Whether now or later …whether the individual is your brand ambassador or not…being human won’t hurt you. It will only earn you loyalty points and love.
Don’t make outright claims that you cannot control. They will come back to haunt you. Temper all claims with a dose of reality.
Akshaara Lalwani, Founder and CEO of Communicate India:
Firstly, we have to understand Mr. Sourav Ganguly’s case wasn’t an anomaly. Scores of athletes and sportspersons across the world have had heart attacks when in the prime of their careers and lives. So this really was an unexpected event in terms of public relations because Sourav Ganguly was always the right fit for the brand and he is a national treasure, but it was just unfortunate that this happened to him.
Having said this, from a PR perspective, when something like this happens, conventional wisdom does suggest that a brand lie low, retract all their communication and pull out adverts, as was the case with Fortune. This is understandable because no brand would not want to alienate its customers or lose out on revenue. However, we have to understand that we’re part of a more evolved digital economy today and that a brand need not necessarily hide behind a crisis. Bringing the issue to the forefront and addressing it head-on, is the best suited strategy for a modern PR and communications landscape. Without being insensitive to a brand ambassador’s health situation, it is an opportune moment to reiterate messaging around heart health eating and the importance of eating well and living well. This is not to say that a brand should use someone's misfortune to push sales and marketing, but it is about communicating and engaging with customers in an honest manner, and telling them that the risk of heart attacks is real for everyone. In a crisis situation like this, there has to be an acute understanding of brand sentiment and a two-way-communication model has to be adopted. Customers and brands need to work together to identify messages because at the end of the day, customers understand risks of a product and it is the duty of any company to educate its customers about these risks. Making the customer your partner and working in a symbiotic relationship is the key.
Therefore it isn’t advisable to have a knee-jerk reaction of retracting communication and adverts during an unprecedented situation like this. In fact, creating honest communication, addressing the situation directly, and working through issues is advisable. It’s all about responding to your customer and providing them with the most correct, accurate, and valuable information.