Aman Sethi and Priscilla Jebaraj, march 6, The HIndu
Hostile online campaign takes some of the shine off Vedanta‘s promotionals.
An advertisement flooding airwaves across the country would have you believe that a company called Vedanta is a creating a product called happiness. A young child called “Binno” plays, studies, and thinks big dreams in one of India‘s lusher and more idyllic villages. Binno’s joy, the voice-over says, is relatively recent: Binno’s parents probably didn’t have as much fun or as many dreams as Binno does.
Binno’s parents don’t dispute the claims, but it is safe to assume that they certainly didn’t have ad-firm Ogilvy and Mather on hand to film their childhood as part of the first national campaign to signal the entry of controversial mining and metals giant Vedanta into the happiness market.
London-based Vedanta Resources is the holding company for a host of Indian and international companies like BALCO, Vedanta Aluminum, Sterlite, Sesa Goa, and Cairn India Ltd with annual revenues in excess of $11 billion. The company’s rapid expansion has attracted the ire of environmental activists and human rights groups like Amnesty International who have accused the company of exploiting indigenous communities — such as the Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri in Odisha — without due process.
The company is also involved in litigation over a proposed university in Odisha, and a separate case in Chhattisgarh in which 45 labourers were killed in a construction accident in their BALCO plant in Korba. Company spokespersons have denied such allegations and say that the company has improved the lives of thousands of individuals through employment and social initiatives implemented by the Vedanta Foundation.
Telling its side of the story
Vedanta’s “Creating Happiness” campaign, according to company spokesperson Senjam Raj Sekhar, is part of an “initiative to tell our side of the story”; yet the hostile reception on blogs and social-media networks like Facebook and Twitter highlights the risks of exposing a tightly controlled corporate message to the anarchy of the internet.
Case in point: The television commercial starring Binno is merely the launch pad of the campaign, which also includes a film competition, in which media and mass communication students from 21 institutions across the country were invited to make three-minute films on the company’s various Corporate Social Responsibilty projects. An online campaign appears to have influenced film director Shyam Benegal and film artiste Gul Panag‘s decision to withdraw from the competition jury.
Activists have even started a viral “Faking Happiness” campaign in an attempt to highlight Vedanta’s alleged malpractices.
- Vedanta’s PR campaign backfires as Bollywood celebs pull out (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Vedanta -Creating Happiness? Certainly Not in Puri (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Happiness Quotient Vedanta’s corporate campaign sparks off a controversy (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Benegal pulls out of jury on Vedanta-promoted film competition (kractivist.wordpress.com)