This is a story of an ad campaign cast(e) in a different mould going awry.

Put it down to thin skin, the hunger for publicity or our ever-expanding republic of hurt sentiments but Hero Motocorp Ltd, the largest motorcycle manufacturer in India, finds itself defending an advertisement in which it called its popular Splendor bike ‘Iyer’ in Tamil Nadu. A little known organisation from Coimbatore has lodged a complaint with the Commissioner of Police of that city, seeking action against Hero Motocorp, ad agency JWT which devised the campaign, and the newspapers that published the advertisement.

The complaint? ‘Iyer’ is part of the Brahmin caste and the advertisement has “denigrated” the community by using it as a surname for a mere machine, says the Brahmin Youth Federation of India (BYFI), which is seeking action for defamation.

Hero, to drive home the point that it’s best-selling Splendor has become an integral part of the Indian family called the bike ‘Splendor Iyer’ along with the picture of a jovial father-daughter duo named Shivram Iyer and Sowmya Iyer. This was a pan-India campaign, and the bike was given different surnames appealing to local communities. In Mumbai and Karnataka, the bike was called Patil, while in Gujarat it was Patel and in Delhi, Chauhan.

“How can they give the Iyer surname to a machine? It is cheap creativity without responsibility to give the Iyer surname to a machine which is inferior to human beings,” K. Ramasubramanian, national convener, BYFI, said, speaking on the phone from Coimbatore. “Had they given any other surname, it could have created law and order problems in Tamil Nadu. We are silent people, and they are taking us for granted and making fun of us. It is a part of the agenda to show Brahmins in a poor light in the mass media.”

According to a Hero MotoCorp spokesperson: “The recent communication of Splendor in various national and regional dailies showcases the bike as part of happy families across India. We have depicted multiple societal groups in these campaigns with the objective of connecting with the people by using local flavours, e.g. local language and local family names.”

Marketing experts also agreed with Hero’s point of view. “In fact, the company has respected the community. It has to be seen positively. The brand has given respect to the surname by getting associated with it. One should feel proud,” said Mr Jagdeep Kapoor, Chairman & Managing Director, Samsika Marketing Consultants.