I must admit, I am a sucker for online drama created by the actions of marketing departments. Whenever brands get cancelled globally, I see it as an opportunity to keenly observe and learn. So, When I saw #BoycottHyundai trending in India I got really intrigued!

In the era of cancel culture, brands are walking a tight rope – brands face daily scrutiny and are expected to always do, say, and sell the right things. Till a few years ago, if a brand was facing a consumer boycott, chances were that it was due to their own socially irresponsible behaviour. Today boycotts have become a mainstream consumer reaction that can be directed towards a brand for many reasons including speaking about things that they shouldn’t be. According to a study by Edelman, 64% of consumers around the world will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its stand on a social or political issue (Clearly, people want the brands that they buy from, to reflect the same values as them).

In the case of the Hyundai boycott, here’s what transpired:

Feb 5, 2022

Brand Action – The Social Media handles of Hyundai Pakistan decided to pick sides in a 75-year-old geopolitical conflict and posted content that prayed for the freedom of Kashmir.

Consumer Reaction – Some folks in India saw the posts and were baffled. Why would this Global brand, which happens to be the 2nd largest car manufacturer in India with a 16% market share, choose to pick sides in a political matter and rattle its Indian consumers like this? Since it did not make any business or logical sense, they went to the Hyundai India Handle and started asking questions – Why was this happening, what is the brand’s policy regarding such matters and what is their official stand in this case.

Brand Action – Overwhelmed with Twitter mentions and questions, the Hyundai India handle decides to block Indian users asking questions about the content shared on the Pakistani handles.

Consumer Reaction – People who got blocked, started highlighting the aggressive stance taken by the brand against them and urged more people to start asking questions (at some point, it became like a challenge – how many people can this page really block or ban in a day?).

Brand Action – When blocking users didn’t suppress the revolt, the team managing this page thought that protecting the handle’s tweets and playing dead would definitely do the trick.

Feb 6, 2022

Consumer Reaction – The brand had not answered any questions, made no statements and had gone into hiding – this made the brand look guilty and people saw it as a sign of them being an accomplice to this whole propaganda. In absence of any response from the India Page, people went in hoards to spam other Hyundai Global Handles asking the same questions plus an additional question now – why does the brand think it’s ok to block people and restrict its account. The next day, still no word was heard from the brand till late in the night, giving the boycott trend ample time to magnify beyond the digital scape. People started calling their Hyundai dealers – some to cancel their bookings and others to just vent against the brand. Some existing customers of Hyundai even put-up posters saying they were ashamed they own this car.

Brand Action: 31 hours later, the handle unprotects (or opens) its tweets and releases an Official Statement at 8.30 p.m. on 6th Feb. In this statement, Hyundai rendered the ultimate “I’m Not Going to Say Sorry For My BS” Apology.

Feb 7, 2022:

Consumer Reaction: Consumers largely didn’t consider it an apology and claimed that the statement itself reeks of arrogance. The consumers (or tweeples) felt that the brand is not being honest and thought that what it has delivered is a vague political statement at best which still does not address the key questions that have been asked since day one – why did this happen and what is being done to ensure that this won’t happen again in the future? “We don’t accept it.”

Many people expressed their intent to cancel their vehicle bookings as a protest against the brand and urged people to choose Indian brands instead.

Feb 8, 2022:

Brand Action: 37 hours after the first statement, the Hyundai handle puts out another statement. This time with more details. Also, it seems that they realized, after two days that they do indeed have a brand policy to not comment on politics and religion and these posts were clearly not in compliance with that.

Government’s Reaction: At some point, this even became a diplomatic issue. The brand’s oversight was not only affecting it directly but was also creating diplomatic troubles for the country of its origin.


What is surprising is the fact that Hyundai wasn’t the only one going through this mess. Similar posts went out from accounts of other global brands as well.

And just like Hyundai, in the past few days, these brands have also been busy issuing statements and apologies. Clearly, when it comes to managing a crisis, many large companies have a plan… until they don’t.

Often when brands face boycott, it is due to their own actions and things that they did approve of to go out in the world. However, in this case, the brands had no intention to.

Evidently, despite having guidelines and policies against using religion or political matters in brand-related communication, how did this non-compliance happen? And after it did happen, how did the brands deal with it?

While India is busy boycotting Hyundai, there are lessons that every global company can learn from this communication disaster.

Lesson#1 – Do not comment on politics or religion. Review everything that is published representing your brand.

When an organization operates across borders and caters to customers of varied nationalities, religions and cultures, the last thing it should be doing is commenting on matters of politics or religion. Picking any side in such an argument will only make you look bad and alienate a large chunk of your potential customers. Clearly, it makes no business sense at all. In this case, as highlighted in the numerous apologies, the brands called these messages unsolicited and not in line with the corporate policy. Then why did this happen?

Today, companies sell in various countries through different business models – in some countries like India, they do have a local presence that can ensure compliance with global brand guidelines directly. However, in other countries, like Pakistan, they sell through independent dealers and franchisees, who as it seems now, have been operating with minimal or no oversight. Apparently, a similar event happened a few years ago as well, but in that episode, the brand caught the inappropriate post early on. Unfortunately, this time they couldn’t.

If a company is signing off the rights to use its brand name to a third party, perhaps it makes sense to invest ample time and energy in training these people about their policies and clearly communicate acceptable and unacceptable behaviours online.

Global organizations need to have better regional and global communication sync and need to be dialled into the nuances of every region they are operating in. Repeat offenders need to be penalized and controls should be put in place to review each piece of communication being sent out by such partners under your brand’s name.

Lesson #2 – Do Not Block People or Restrict Social Accounts. It will only make things worse.

You can’t win over your critics by blocking them. Blocking accounts does not silence people, on the contrary, it only adds fuel to fury. If you block people, they will only complain louder. . As is evident from this case, blocking users and restricting the account only led people to spam the brand’s global and other regional accounts, push the boycott trend further and take the fight out of the online world to the dealerships. Blocking people without explaining themselves made the brand look quite guilty and an accomplice to the crime. If the brand did not have the right answers at the time the first objections were raised or wanted to buy time before it responded to the audience, it could have just kept quiet. Sometimes silence is indeed golden. The brand would have been better off not commenting at all for a while than going into a shell and succumbing to pressure. If the audience doesn’t hear from the brand for a while, they might still cut them some slack thinking the

issue hasn’t come to their notice yet. But when they started blocking people without acknowledging the problem, people saw it as enemy action.

Lesson #3- If you don’t take control of the narrative in time, the narrative will take control instead. Respond first. Respond fast.

In this case, the response time of the brand was abysmal at best. The company took too long to issue a statement, and not once was there an apology in either of the versions. The first statement came out 31 hours after the crisis had begun and didn’t even address why this issue occurred or what was being done to prevent such things from happening again. The longer they took to give the right response, the easier it was for people to create a narrative against them. People assumed whatever they felt like about Hyundai’s stand on the matter as they were not there to defend themselves. The statement that came on the third day would have been a good first response but it came 2 days too late. Perhaps the communication team discovered the existence of Hyundai’s policy to not comment on political matters only after the first statement was already sent out. This mismanagement shows that there was no crisis communication mechanism or policy in place.

Hyundai wasn’t the only brand that faced a backlash in this manner for an unsolicited post, which was not in line with the company’s global policy. Other global organizations like Honda, Dominos, Pizza Hut, Bosch, Suzuki, Osaka, and others also saw similar non-compliant social media posts going out in representing their brands on the same day in the same country with respect to the same event. Evidently, when it comes to managing a crisis, many large companies have a plan… until they don’t. Perhaps global brands need to ponder that in the case of a country like Pakistan where most of the businesses are owned by people with political or military links, how safe is it to let your brand communications go unchecked.


In the world of social media, where public opinion reigns supreme, you need to tread carefully and come up with a well-thought-through response before you start reacting to public outrage. Your brand’s image is of great value and therefore must be protected fiercely. Remember, it takes years to build a brand, but only a few seconds, and a few clicks, to ruin it.