Canadian rapper Shubh’s concert in Mumbai is under threat after BoAT withdrew their sponsorship citing that they are an Indian brand first and foremost. Cricketers like Virat Kohli have stopped ‘following’ him. Bookmyshow was under pressure to stop selling tickets for the show, and it is now cancelled. Shubh is Canadian, itself currently a bit dicey, but also has anti-India posts attributed to him in the past.

Did BoAT not see those posts before sponsoring his concert? Did Virat Kohli not know about them when he followed him? Celebrity endorsements are always fraught with the risk of what the person does in their personal life. In this particular case it appears that basic “employee verification” was not followed.

Celebs often think they are above the norm. Kanye West thought so when he said “I can say anti-Semitic things and Adidas can’t drop me.” Adidas did drop him, though the CEO is now blaming Ye’s artistic temperament. Adidas got stuck with over a billion dollars in unsold Yeezy inventory when they broke up – they ultimately decided to sell that stuff promising the money towards suitable causes.

Can companies have morals?

Yes, of course. BoAT sells primarily in India so it is easy to choose sides. Not so global firms which walk a tightrope. For example, just a couple of days ago I saw my Facebook feed celebrating the opening of the Canadian chain Tim Horton’s coffee shop in Bangalore. Now there are calls for a boycott. Can Tim Horton have a neutral view on the conflict?

Morals are essential. But morals are often linked to culture and hence not universal. Companies need to have a policy of what is “corporate morals” vs what are “market morals”. This needs to be thought through as it impacts employee perception as well as customer narrative.

Many large global organizations opted to continue operations in Russia despite their home countries being opposed. Commerce vs culture is a real dilemma.

What is your native

Asking what’s your hometown is an integral part of getting to know someone. Same question is often asked of brands. Country branding plays a part in brand perception. Companies often use it to their advantage. There is a premium for certain countries for certain categories – like French wine, Italian fashion, German engineering and Indian tech or medical care.

Until, of course, something happens to make your country look a bit bad in the eyes of your customers. Or worse when there are legal restrictions to being headquartered there.

This should not be a default choice – think it through from various angles. For example, if you are a Healthtech startup founded in India, you need to consider the ramifications not just for your brand but also regulatory impact if you intend to be a global company.

Inclusivity isn’t International or Universal

Over the past 25 years awareness of gender parity has risen tremendously in the corporate world. A conference with a manel – as a panel with only males is called – is sure to be flamed on social media. In India a female independent board member is mandated by the government.

And yet broadly speaking, inclusivity is still an undefined novelty. Who needs to be included or embraced as customers or employees, varies by culture and geography. You might be an LGBTQ+ ally in one country but be restricted by law to do the same in another. Cultural norms for women and various historically marginalised communities varies dramatically across regions. Including one religion can upset another. Getting it wrong can lead to violence and backlash. Roughly 15% of the world population is estimated to be “neurodiverse”. That term itself is loosely defined and how to make the world more inclusive to neurodivergents (ND) is a very new field. This interview in Zurich’s magazine is helpful in getting a quick overview of what it’s like to be ND in an NT (neurotypical) world.

Marketers and CEOs need to have a clear policy on what’s ok and what’s not.

This is now even more urgent and critical – because AI automates any bias that is in your data or policy, you need to get the rules clear or stipulate a human over-ride in these cases. I found this article by the Indeed CEO, Chris Hyams, spot on in highlighting the challenges.

Wishing you all a great weekend!


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