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Indian online detergent boycott misfires

Surf Excel's Holi-themed washing powder advert, India, 2019Image copyright
Surf excel/YouTube

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Ten million people have watched the advert

A social-media campaign against a brand of washing powder in India has raised eyebrows by taking an accidental sideswipe at a Microsoft app.

The advert for Surf Excel uses the upcoming Hindu spring festival of Holi to illustrate a story about cross-communal harmony, India’s Telegraph newspaper reports.

The advert shows a girl on a bicycle enjoying the popular Holi practice of being pelted with balloons full of coloured paint and water, then taking a small boy dressed in pristine white Muslim clothes to prayers at his mosque before promising to play Holi games with him afterwards.

The ad received more than ten million views and 100,000 “likes” on YouTube, but angered some viewers.

‘Colours unite’

Critics of the advert have organised complaints against Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), who make Surf Excel, accusing its Colours Unite (Rang laaye sang) advert of being “anti-Hindu” and “anti-national”.

They have posted pictures of used HUL products like flattened toothpaste tubes along with the hashtags #BoycottSurfExcel and #BoycottHindustanUnilever.

But some of their followers have confused the washing powder with Microsoft Excel, giving the mobile spreadsheet app single-star ratings on the Google Play Store – much to the amusement of other social-media users.

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“I have not laughed this hard in a long time,” tweeted software engineer Dhiraj Kumar, as he and others came across the Google Play reviews.

‘Collective facepalm’

“Twitter collectively facepalmed,” was how News 18 TV characterised the choice selection of mockery and incredulity that it showcased on its website.

The Times of India reports that “some good Samaritans” have been giving five-star ratings to the Microsoft Excel app, in order to “counter out-of-context reviews”.

The Surf Excel advert has attracted many online defenders, some of them very high-profile.

Sanjay Nirupam, the leader of the opposition Congress party in Mumbai, tweeted: “He who objects to this ad by #SurfExcel is nothing but against the idea of India. Hatsoff who created this beautiful film.”

And the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir State, Mehbooba Mufti, was not alone in thinking the campaign was the work of the “bhakts” – a term often used to describe the online supporters of the governing BJP, a party associated with Hindu nationalism.

“I have a better suggestion. Bhakts should be washed properly with Surf Excel,” she tweeted.

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Some observers suspect a political motivation

Reporting by Alistair Coleman and Martin Morgan

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