India’s largest online retail portal, Snapdeal, has released a statement distancing itself from comments made by its main celebrity ambassador, Aamir Khan, about the growing intolerance across the country.
Khan, one of Bollywood’s biggest and most beloved stars, caused outrage earlier this week in an interview at a national journalism awards ceremony.
He revealed that he and his wife Kiran Rao discussed leaving India "for the first time" and felt a "growing sense of despondency" over the situation that has seen more than 50 prominent people returning national awards in protest. Khan is a Muslim and Rao is Hindu.
Khan is the face of Snapdeal’s advertising, with his face plastered on billboards and posters across India next to the online retailer’s logo.
Following a litany of responses on social media to Khan’s comments, most of which were negative, Snapdeal also came in for heavy criticism for its association with Khan.
Snapdeal then released a public statement this week dissociating itself from the Bollywood actor.
"Snapdeal is neither connected nor plays a role in comments made by Aamir Khan in his personal capacity," the statement read.
"Snapdeal is a proud Indian company built by passionate young Indians focused on building an inclusive digital India. Everyday we are positively impacting thousands of small businesses and millions of consumers in India."
From a PR perspective, Snapdeal’s decision to distance itself is "premature and looks defensive", said Rishi Seth, co-founder and partner at Cohn & Wolfe Six Degrees.
"When brands look to getting celebrities to endorse them, they need to recognise that they cannot dissociate themselves from them, and what they decide to stand for," he told PRWeek Asia.
"Further, by taking distancing itself, Snapdeal has taken a stance on intolerance and nationalism without thinking through the impact. They would now need to neutralise this impact. This relationship is likely to end as the relationship is no longer authentic for the audience."
Nitin Mantri, CEO of Avian Media, said while the public condemnation of Snapdeal was illogical, the company’s handling of the situation is disconcerting.
"Their reaction doesn’t seem to be well thought through, and seems to be inspired by fear. It also reeks of desperation, which is death knell for a brand. There will always be bullies out there, but you can’t pander to their whims," he told PRWeek Asia.
"This overzealous reaction to Aamir’s statement will die down soon, so in my view, Snapdeal should have waited for the storm to pass. Indeed, they do not have any connection with the personal views of their ambassador, but they could have refrained from giving in to people’s illogical and exaggerated reaction."
One unlikely source of support for Snapdeal came from one of its main rivals in the e-commerce space, Flipkart. CEO Sachin Bansal tweeted that Snapdeal should not be attacked for Khan's comments.