Premium American ice-cream maker Haagen-Dazs probably got it right when it decided to tap the Indian market, with its tropical climate and rising incomes in the midst of a global downturn. It must also have seemed a good idea at the time to hire an Indian publicity company - TBWA - to do the 'teaser' campaign for the launch of the brand in New Delhi.
In posters splashed around the South Delhi mall where the ice cream was launched, the words 'Entry restricted only to holders of international passports' splashed at the bottom.
Since all passports are used for international travel rather than domestic identification, most of those who saw it obviously thought it meant that entry was restricted to foreigners, and Indians were barred. This impression was reinforced by the line 'exclusive preview for international travellers' - as also by the fact that some Indians were refused entry to the 'preview'.
As the company clarified later, the message the advertiser was supposed to convey is that Indians need not go abroad to get the 'international flavour' of Haagen-Dazs.
With its launch gone sour, a the company was forced to come up with an apology on the very first day. ''An error was made in the creative execution,'' Anindo Mukherji, managing director of General Mills India, which markets the brand here, said: ''It was a wrong choice of words, and we regret the error.''
In a more detailed press statement, Mukherji said, ''There have been some reports alleging that the recently opened Häagen-Dazs shop denied access to Indians. We vehemently and categorically deny this. Häagen-Dazs products and our Häagen-Dazs shop in India are and will always be for our consumers in India.''
''No one was turned away because of nationality.'' insisted Arindam Haldar, director, Haagen-Dazs. ''I was present on all days. If people were refused entry momentarily, it was only due to overcrowding as there was a rush.'' Obviously, Haagen-Dazs is here to tap the Indian market, not keep it out, but the words of the teaser campaign left the company vulnerable to the charge of apartheid. And it was compounded by the very poor choice of words by TBWA, the agency that did the teaser campaign.
Nonetheless, the campaign-gone-sour is bound to leave some potential customers dissatisfied. Even the original concept as explained by Mukherji was in bad taste for a country that has been under British Raj - a country where signs like 'dogs and Indians not allowed' are still within public memory.