Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Commercial Disparagement: Harbhajan Singh v. United Breweries

Thanks to an advertisement that’s got the entire country talking, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain of the World Cup-winning Indian team finds himself at the centre of a potential commercial disparagement controversy. The advert is for McDowell Platinum No.1 Soda, a product from the Vijay Mallya-owned United Breweries.

Here’s the link to the original Seagram’s advertisement. Here’s the link to the controversial advertisement which pokes fun at Seagram’s Royal Stag’s caption “Have I made it Large?”. The ad also seems to have drawn flak for making fun of a particular community and for mocking Indian cricket team’s bowling powerhouse Harbhajan Singh.

Harbhajan Singh’s mother has apparently sent a legal notice to Vijay Mallya. The notice demands a public apology from the UB group for hurting the sentiments of the community and for making fun of Harbhajan Singh’s father, who apparently is no more.

On the issue of commercial disparagement, I have written earlier on the Rin v. Tide controversy elsewhere. In this case, I think there are quite a few other issues involved which could obscure commercial disparagement. For instance, the fact that this fracas pits two Indian sporting superstars against each other could hog more print and mind space than the very products they endorse.

Also, the fact that the ad could be construed as hurting the sentiments of a community could give the issue an altogether different twist, which is possibly inflammatory. For all his vaunted reputation of being the iceman, I really don’t know what was going in Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s head when he decided to go ahead with this ad.

Dhoni is known for being an extremely humble and grounded leader who leads by example and insists on team unity. He is the last person one would have expected this ad from. Let’s see where this controversy heads. We’ll keep our readers posted on the issue.

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