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5 minutes read

Having birthed Poonam Pandey’s fake death stunt, Schbang posted an apology not once, but twice

Earlier this month, the farce news of Poonam Pandey succumbing to Cervical Cancer made headlines. But for the past more than a fortnight's time, what has been trending is Schbang's apology and people's furore over the shockvertising stunt. So much so, the agency had to post an apology, not once, but twice, on its official social media handle.

| Published on February 19, 2024

Having birthed Poonam Pandey's fake death stunt, Schbang posted an apology not once, but twice

On February 2, when the news of Poonam Pandey‘s death made headlines, what trended on the internet was herself and cervical cancer. But the other day, when people woke up to realise that they’d been played and that the news was nothing but a farce, what began trending was Schbang, the digital marketing agency which conceptualised the shockvertising stunt for Cervical Cancer’s awareness.

What had actually happened on the second day of February 2024 was that a social media post penned by Pandey’s team, claiming that she had succumbed to cervical cancer, was posted on her official Instagram page.

Following this, people from all over the world began mourning her demise and started paying their condolences.

And since there wasn’t much awareness about what Cervical Cancer actually was, even though the Union Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, spoke about it in her budget unveiling speech on February 1, 2024, people began searching about the illness to know for themselves what it actually was.

Cut to next day, the model posted a video of herself, in her own flesh and bones, where she clarified that she was alive, and the hoax post was part of an awareness campaign for Cervical Cancer and the fact that the disease is “preventable’.

This left the public in a shock as they didn’t know how to react to the fact that Pandey staged her own death for an ad campaign!

And so, she began getting attention and engagement, but for all the negative reasons Pandey could interpret when she herself opened the gates to audience venting their frustrations against her.

Several people took to social media to call this stunt ‘ridiculous’, ‘in bad taste’ and even ‘disgraceful’.

It was post this that the agency took to social media to release a statement wherein they clarified that the idea behind this “pro-bono activity” between Schbang and Hauterfly was to bring about Cervical Cancer Awareness, solely, and therefore apologised for triggering the public and causing grief to the audience.

“To start off, we would like to extend a heartfelt apology – especially towards those who have been triggered as a result of having faced/ having a loved one face the hardships of any kind of Cancer. Our actions were driven by a singular mission – to elevate awareness about Cervical Cancer. In 2022, India registered 123,907 Cervical Cancer cases and 77,348 deaths. After Breast Cancer, Cervical Cancer is the second-most frequent malignancy affecting middle-aged women in India,” the agency mentioned in the statement.

In its apology, the digital agency also justified its actions by highlighting that ever since the news of Pandey’s demise saw the face of the internet, the term cervical cancer became one of the most searched topics on Google, something that even the FinMin couldn’t do when she mentioned the term in her budget day speech, a day prior.

“Many of you may be unaware but Poonam’s own mother has bravely battled Cancer. Having been through the challenges of battling a disease like this at such close personal quarters, she understands the importance of prevention and the criticality of awareness, especially when a vaccine is available. There was no change in people’s curiosity regarding Cervical Cancer when our Honourable Finance Minister mentioned it no less than a few days ago during the Union Budget. This act by Poonam has now resulted in making ‘Cervical Cancer’ and its related terms the most searched topic(s) on Google. This is the first time in the history of this country that the word ‘Cervical Cancer’ has been on 1000+ Headlines,” the agency added in its apology.

In the aftermath of this ‘pro bono’ Poonam Pandey and Cervical Cancer saga, what happened was that pharma major MSD cut ties with Schbang over ‘conflict of interest’ with its involvement in a controverisal publicity stunt.

As for Pandey, she, along with her husband, Sam Bombay, was slammed with a Rs 100 crore defamation case for ‘fabricating a false conspiracy of death’ and ‘orchestrating all the drama’ to toy away with people’s emotion for publicity.

However, people still had their inhibitions about the truth in Schbang’s apology for the shockvertising campaign it executed with Pandey and in collaboration with Hauterfly.

Hence, Schbang removed the apology it has posted for kickstarting this entire fiasco from all social media handles and reissued another statement where it openly stated- “We made a mistake. Not Once, but twice.”

As per this statement, the second mistake was the agency’s hasty reaction to the events that unfolded after the campaign went live because even though it was an apology, it came across as a justification.

Schbang’s second apology over the shockvertising campaign stated, “To everyone, those hurt or not hurt by the campaign, our Schbangers, Partners, Friends, Families, and the young talent reconsidering their career choice to be in advertising, we are deeply sorry. We know the end doesn’t justify the means.”

This ‘second’ apology was reposted by the agency’s Founder, Harshil Karia, as well on his LinkedIn handle as well.

That being said, the agency also expressed its gratitude towards Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) for helping them ‘correct the mistakes’ and ‘set a strong foundation for auditing future campaign ideas’.

“If there’s one thing we know, it’s this: Something like this will never happen again,” the agency mentioned in conclusion.

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