SonyLiv's latest thriller offering Undekhi, starring Dibyendu Bhattacharya and Harsh Chhaya, has landed itself in an unenviable soup, of its own making. A promotional gimmick it put out, has gone horribly wrong. As a part of the promotion for the web series, people all across the country have been receiving a call from a man named Rishi, who in a trembling voice says that he has witnessed a murder and now the murderers are after his life. At the end of the call, the man reveals that it is a promotional call from SonyLiv for their latest web series Undekhi that went on air on 10 July, 2020.
Many users who didn’t listen to the full message panicked, and apparently called the police. More importantly, the channel, its new offering and the promotion have been roasted on social media.
Actor Mini Mathur took to Twitter saying, “Has everyone finally LOST THE PLOT??? Such a pathetic, insensitive marketing gimmick at a time when people are already on edge and anxious. What a blooming shame!”. Another viewer posted saying, “#SonyLIV #sonylivoriginals #MumbaiPolice I want to report an insensitive and ridiculous promotional activity undertaken by #SonyLIV i got a call saying main rishi bol raha hoon i need help i saw a murder and i recorded it and now they are trying to murder me”. Yet another one tweeted, “A ridiculous #promotional call trick by #Undekhi #SonyLIV Do U even realise what this can cause to a person if they miss out the last few words in panic”. Creepy. Crappy. Callous. Cringe-worthy. That was the unanimous verdict.
Crime thriller Undekhi actually revolves around a murder after an intoxicated rich man shoots a dancer dead, when she refuses to match steps with him at a stag party. Rishi, who is the wedding photographer captures the entire crime and is then threatened by powerful people. But the promotional phone calls – some say they were pre-recorded OBDs (out-bound dialers), while others who received them say it were live tele-callers – have been in real bad taste, for sure. Explaining their part, SonyLIV took to Twitter. Their statement read, “If you have received a call for our show Undekhi & it has disturbed you we would like to sincerely apologise to you. This was a test activity which has gone out accidentally & our intention was not to cause any kind of discomfort or panic. We sincerely regret any inconvenience.”
Some promotions do go wrong, and like the Undekhi one, quite horribly.
- A PR company tasked with promoting a Nokia event asked famous American athlete Desean Jackson to send out a tweet from his personal Twitter account saying how cool the party was, and constructed a message to help him do so. However, rather than copy and paste the message, Jackson simply retweeted it – complete with the instructions from the PR company! Half a million followers received the tweet and even though Jackson managed to quickly delete the message it didn’t stop it from spreading like wildfire. Lot of reputational damage for Nokia and Jackson resulted.
- And then there’s the terrible story of when McDonald's gave away a free virus! You wouldn't normally expect McDonald's to run a promotion giving away free Trojans (Trojan viruses, that is). In 2006, McDonald's locations in Japan gave away 10,000 MP3 players, fully loaded with 10 free songs. Problem was that many of them were also loaded with a QQPass Trojan virus that captured user info and sent it to hackers as soon as it was plugged into a computer. That's 10,000 folks who weren't necessarily ‘lovin' it’.
- Pepsi's ballgame blowout is a somewhat similar story. Pepsi offered to give away 250 pairs of Yankee Stadium opening day tickets. But when the Pepsi reps showed up in Times Square, instead of the 250 pairs of the promised tickets, they showed up with just 100 sets, and most were for a game in June. As one would expect, this basically led to a mob scene, with angry fans yelling “Pepsi sucks!” and pouring cans of soda out on the street. What a nightmare it must have been!
- McDonald's McAfrika Burger disaster was even bigger. In 2002, Norwegian McDonald's restaurants came up with the bright idea to name a burger after a place where millions of people were facing starvation: Africa. McDonald’s claimed the McAfrika sandwich was based on an authentic African recipe, but that didn't stop many in Norway from accusing McDonald's of extreme insensitivity. McDonald's considered donating proceeds to famine relief, but ended up allowing relief agencies to place collection boxes in participating restaurants. I think that was the same year when they considered the McTsunami filet-o-fish … !!!
- Closer home, the online food ordering and delivery app Zomato’s outdoor ad campaign a couple of years ago got everyone talking. But not talking positive. A quirky ad ‘MC.BC.’ was put out in media. It naturally raised quite a few heckles. MC.BC. were actually meant to be acronyms for mac n’ cheese and butter chicken (how nice!) but the joke kind of back-fired badly. Angry netizens lashed out at Zomato, following which Pankaj Chaddah, the co-founder of Zomato apologized and assured that they would take the ad down immediately.
- Almost 25 years ago, Tuff Shoes ran an ad with the then allegedly dating couple – models Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre. They were shown caressing each other and posing nude with a python wrapped around their bodies. A case of obscenity was filed against the ad, which was bad enough; but Tuff also faced another case filed by animal right protestors under the Wildlife Protection Act for using the python illegally. Of course the hoarding was off the street in no time.
Well, were they all genuine ‘mistakes’? Yes, surely some were. Sh*t happens. Like the McDonald’s Trojan viruses. Or athlete Jackson. Carelessness, or lack of proper protocol, but errors nevertheless. But most others were just bad judgment calls by over-zealous, under-baked brand managers and agency folks. Much like what has happened on the Undekhi promotion. Sad!
Dr. Sandeep Goyal, in his 35 years in advertising has seen many blunders and gaffes up close – he forgives, but never forgets!