These recent PR crises show why language matters

What’s in a word? Plenty, according to these social media rows that have managed to spark national debates.

Timah Whiskey
Timah Whiskey

Time and time again, we’ve seen why language can be make-or-break in a campaign or when dealing with the aftermath of a crisis. This week, these situations show us why words are not just, in the words of Kendall Roy, ‘complicated airflow’. They are, in fact, loaded in history and context that can be misconstrued in a matter of minutes on social media.

Zomato

Indian food delivery platform Zomato caused a ruckus on Twitter yesterday after a customer service operator was claimed to have told a customer that “Hindi is our national language”. The public incident was triggered when a Twitter user lamented a missing food order upon which the aforementioned Zomato staff misspoke. Screenshots were posted and the incident quickly blew up as regional politics.


The company issued an apology and said that the staff in question has been terminated for “their negligence towards our diverse culture”. However, CEO Deepinder Goyal later said on Twitter that the staff was reinstated as “this alone is not something she should be fired for”. He said that “this is easily something she can learn and do better about going forward”.

Goyal alluded to the issue being blown out of proportion. “An ignorant mistake by someone in a support centre of a food delivery company became a national issue. The level of tolerance and chill in our country needs to be way higher than it is nowadays. Who's to be blamed here?” he said.

Timah

Timah, a new brand of whiskey launched in Malaysia, has been at the centre of a nationwide debate due to its name. The controversy erupted when The Consumer Association of Penang (CAP) called on the government to ban Timah because "the brand name 'Timah' insults the Muslim community as it resembles a Malay and Muslim name shortened from Fatimah”.


CAP’s accusations drew attention of conservative politicians including PAS leader Mohd Nor Hamzah who said that he had submitted four proposals to the federal government to address the issue, which includes closing down the manufacturing company to prevent the emergence of more new liquor producers. 

The brand issued a statement to clarify the meaning behind its name: “Timah is a local word meaning ‘tin’. The name of Timah Whiskey harks back to the tin mining era during British Malaya. Any interpretation of our name unrelating to Malaysian tin mining is false.”

The online furore and unexpected publicity, ironically, has also driven many on social media to support the brand by purchasing bottles.

Fabindia 

Indian clothing line Fabindia has ruffled feathers for a Tweet promoting their latest collection for Diwali which has since been deleted. The collection in question was labelled Jashn-e-Riwaaz which means “celebrations of rituals/festive celebrations” in Urdu. 


The brand has been accused—by social media users and some BJP leaders—for ‘defacing’ Diwali and being anti-Hindu. It has also been criticised for featuring models without bhindi, speaking a larger conversation about traditional attire and religion. For example, BJP leader Tejasvi Surya said that “this deliberate attempt of abrahamisation of Hindu festivals, depicting models without traditional Hindu attires, must be called out.”

The brand pulled the ad and issued a clarification that the collection was not Diwali-related but rather a capsule collection that had no connection to the festival of lights.

This isn’t the first time an Indian brand has been attacked for being ‘anti-Hindu’. Last year, jewellery retail brand Tanishq famously withdrew an ad that featured a Muslim household. 

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