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Why the outrage over Jio-PM ad is stupid

By Shutapa Paul
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Reliance Jio shook the telecom space with its entry. And quite literally. Reports suggest that Airtel and Idea lost anywhere between Rs 13,500 crore and Rs 15,000 crore in a day’s trading. But the Reliance Jio advertisement flanking the first page of every newspaper with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s smiling visage seems to have created even more tremors. And the epicentre is the idea behind the PM’s apparent blatant “modeling” for a private company.
The advertisement clearly shows that Reliance dedicates its Jio to India, 1.2 billion Indians and PM’s Digital India initiative. This is at best sycophancy or playing to the galleries or just a clever marketing ploy to fit into what’s the flavour of the season, Digital India is one of them.

But for political parties and individuals to accuse the PM of “modelling” for Mukesh Ambani is balderdash. Whatever Ambani’s personal relationship can be with the PM (and yes, we’ve heard a lot about their bonhomie; also with his other pal, Gautam Adani), we can’t accuse him of using the PM as brand ambassador; or the PM agreeing to model for India’s richest man. I don’t think India has become an oligarchy where government figures and corporates would show-off their ties so brazenly. Behind closed doors, why not, but rubbing it in the nation’s face? Most unlikely.
If connections between PM Modi and Reliance need to be drawn, then even the timing of his interview to Network 18 can be termed “interesting”, given that Reliance owns Network 18. But few raised that as an issue since PM also gave an interview to TimesNow’s Arnab Goswami earlier in the year. (Disclaimer: I have previously worked with Forbes India, which is part of Network 18).

When I spoke to some of my advertising and marketing friends, I received mixed views. Some said that there is no need for anyone to take the PM’s permission for a government scheme that he is already endorsing. Even if there were an issue of protocol, which would demand that Reliance take his permission, then it would most likely be granted, as it would be to any other company. Echoing the Congress’s view, some branding professionals felt that like celebrities the government can sue the private company for using PM Modi’s picture without permission. Some others quipped that best way to know what really transpired is for other corporates to start using PM Modi as their chosen model.

To play devil’s advocate, a lot of people from India Inc. have “dedicated”, commented or raved about various government initiatives, and many times openly praised the PM on Twitter and Facebook. Many times they too have linked their current projects to PM Modi’s ideas behind Make in India, Swachh Bharat, Digital India etc. Whether it’s to keep the current government masters happy are beside the point; mostly it seems a well-thought out marketing gimmick. As was the Reliance advertisement. If permission is indeed required, then what of the most used and abused public figure whose images have found their way into our daily lives via advertisements…Mahatma Gandhi?

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NEWSD and NEWSD does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.


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