Cross-Cultural Conflict

Indian Company Tests Interfaith Message

Finding a fresh perspective for a luxury jewelry brand is tough going in India, given the highly competitive nature of this wear-your-wealth business. Despite its best efforts, Tanishq may have been too edgy in launching its Ekvatam line of premium baubles. A recent misstep suggests that India may not be ready for mainstreaming Hindu-Muslim marriage.

The #BoycottTanishq movement sprouted from a 40-second YouTube video that featured a woman, apparently Hindu, preparing for a baby shower at a palatial home. The advertisement was designed to be a “beautiful confluence of two different religions, traditions and cultures,” according to the company. Ekvatam is a Sanskrit term for “oneness.”

Hindu-Muslim marriages are uncommon in India. The term “love jihad” is used perjoratively to describe relationships where Hindu women marry Muslim men, being forced to convert to Islam. For context, the Hindu population of India may be five-to-six times the size of the Muslim population. Violence against interreligious couples is common.

Part of the problem is that Tanishq is owned by ever-conservative Tata Group. Many Indians consider Tata, founded in 1868, to be a public trust, if not a national treasure. In some cases, its gravitas may be more powerful than the government itself.

Tata and its tentacles is not an enterprise that routinely missteps. But good companies can make bad decisions. While some may suggest the ad was a bona fide attempt by Tanishq executives to stir controversy, business instincts suggest that few companies can afford to be cavalier with their marketing budgets amid a global pandemic.

The fix by Tanishq to its brand reputation is telling. The current, “live” YouTube video for Ekvatam runs some 10 minutes, not 40 seconds. In deference to multiculturalism, it briefly features a Muslim goldsmith, among other craftsmen. The featured jewelry is laden with Hindu imagery.

Our Vantage Point: Interfaith issues are a marketing frontier for consumer-driven companies, especially in emerging markets. While marketers may aim to project inclusion, their campaigns can amplify social discord. The attendant backsplash undermines an otherwise carefully-composed brand.

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Image shows traditional jewelry workshop in Rajastan. Credit: Kalcutta at Can Stock Photo.

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