Hari Sadu, the nasty, bad-tempered boss of the naukri.com advertisement has a new life. He and his company are being sued by young Hari Bhanot, because his classmates have been teasing him about the advertisement, where Hari Sadu’s employee hits back at him by spelling his first name as H-for Hitler, A for arrogant, R for rascal and I for idiot.
My friend Aneesh Bhanot, Hari’s father told me that he is seeking Rs one crore in damages from naukri.com, because his Hari was upset enough to refuse to go to school.
Frankly, I had found the advertisement rather funny, but I really sympathised with little Hari because school children can be merciless in their ragging. But Hari’s dad is doing what others would not. As a PR professional, he ensured that his threat to sue naukri.com received wide coverage and in the process got naukri.com a load of free publicity.
Newspapers, websites and television channels from Chandigarh to Kerala and abroad (even China) have reported the issue.Naukri.com then inspired a second round of publicity by refusing to apologise or discontinue the advertisement. After all, why should it do so? By now Hari Sadu, the fictional nasty boss is on his way to becoming as famous as Lalitaji of the Surf ads. One blogger compares him to Quick Gun Murugan, another to Balbir Pasha – who was successfully used to promote AIDs awareness. Someone else says that Hari Sadu has changed from a noun to a verb – as in “Don’t be such a Hari Sadu yaar”. If you don’t believe me, type “Hari Sadu” on Google – I found 14,500 entries and still growing. Clearly the advertising resonates with most youngsters, because everybody has had a boorish boss at some time. Also who wouldn’t want to be the bold employee who dares to slip a fat pastry on the boss’s chair or splashes water on him as he harangues people in the toilet? It is the irreverence of naukri.com’s advertisements that have made them such a hit.
Will Hari Bhanot’s action set a trend? Should we dispel first names from advertisements unless they are positive? Fortunately not. People find the advertisement humorous and support it. Everybody sympathises with 11-year old Hari, the majority view (at least on Internet blogs) is that eleven year-olds always find something to tease their classmates about --if it weren’t about Hari Sadu it would have been something else.
That was a big relief. I had begun to wonder if we Indians were so lacking in a sense of humour that every bit of sarcasm, black humour or even an off-beat viewpoint whether in a movie, a book, an advertisement or fashion show would end up in a mess of litigation and protests.The lawsuit suggested that apart from unscrupulous politicians and the publicity hungry morality brigade even individuals were going to begin slapping lawsuits on companies.I was especially worried because I know that little Hari’s father does not lack a sense of humour, except when it comes to his little boy.
Think about it, since Hari is also a Hindu religious name, it was the perfect opportunity for pro-Hindu groups to exploit the situation for some easy publicity. Thankfully, it hasn’t happened.
Interestingly, a large swathe of people, see the whole issue as a well-orchestrated publicity stunt to breathe life into Hari Sadu the character. Mohan Rajan, a PR professional who runs Paradigm Shift PR, is one of those rare individuals who are willing to go on record with his view that Ulka Advertising and Naukri.com has got them a load of free publicity through the lawsuit. “Without casting aspersions on any party, to me it is quite clear that somebody is behind this”, he says. He even thinks that the boy and his father are being manipulated by “someone smarter than them”.
Can we all run off and file law suits every time someone or the other uses our names or surnames in a derogatory manner? All my friends who are named Mona are invariably referred to as “Mona Darling” by their friends of either gender and it is often not funny. Mohan Rajan himself admits to being heckled as “pyare Mohan” a blogger called Priya laments about her name being a favourite for everything from pickles to biscuits and cement. Can they object?
Is the threat of a lawsuit a PR stunt? The Bhanots laugh off the suggestion and I do believe them. According to Aneesh Bhanot, it has made his son more confident and taught him that you don’t have to be afraid to take on anybody. This growing up lesson is in contrast to the traditional view articulated by blogger Anouradha Bakshi who says, ‘children’s problems should be left to children’. This too has a lot of support.
Having said that, here is a word about naukri.com’s attitude. The company’s legal department would have advised it to say and do nothing in response to Hari Bhanot’s letter that would jeopardise its position in court. Consequently, it had neither time nor sympathy for the little boy and tries to brush off the issue with a box of chocolates sent without an accompanying note. What a contrast between the irreverent advertisements and the actual attitude of naurkri.com. But then, it is not the first Indian company that needs some hard lessons in basic public relations.
On the other hand, if naukri.com had apologised, there would have been no threatened lawsuit and no free publicity!
(This column was first published by The Hindustan in hindi on 9 April 2006).