A new advertisement for Surf Excel detergent, which shows a girl dropping her Muslim friend at a mosque to pray on Holi, has drawn a huge amount of flak on social media platforms as being anti-Hindu. And, apart from Facebook and Twitter, the keyboard nationalists have also taken to showing their displeasure by review-bombing Excel on the Google Play store. Not Surf Excel though—the negative reviews are turning up on Microsoft Excel.
As of now, the number of negative reviews are still pretty low—but the controversy has only just started to brew, and this could well grow with time. One of the latest reviews, which gives the app 5 stars, states, “I used to like this app, until they partnered with Surf and made such a disgusting anti religious ad. Now where ever I read the word Excel I can only think of anti Hindu propaganda. Shame on you for doing this.”
There is, of course, no partnership between Microsoft and Surf. The controversy around the Surf Excel ad is needlessly bizarre, as the advertisement promotes religious harmony and doesn’t actually make any negative statement, but logic and rhetoric are often divorced in India.
A one-star rating review is much more direct and to the point. The user writes, “boykot sarf excel. hindu birodh hai. pakisthan me ja kar business kar.” (Boycott Surf Excel. It is anti-Hindu. Take your business to Pakistan.) Another, coming in late in the day, writes, “Ye hindu virodhi hai,” meaning “this is anti-Hindu.”
Another one-star review from earlier on Monday goes into much more detail in Malayalam. The author writes: ”എടാ രാജ്യദ്രോഹികളെ, ഞങൾ സംഘം ഒന്ന് മനസ്സുവെച്ചാൽ നിന്റെയൊക്കെ സർഫെക്സൽ കച്ചവടവും പൂട്ടി കണ്ടം വഴി ഓടേണ്ടി വെരും നീയൊക്കെ. നിനക്കൊന്നും സംഘ പ്രവർത്തകരെ അറിയില്ല. ജയ് ഗോമാതാ..”
Translated, that roughly means: “You traitors, if we put our minds to it you’ll have to close your Surf Excel business and flee. You don’t know Sangh workers. Jai Gaumata”.
Now, as we pointed out, it’s only been a short while since the ad came out and the criticism began, so the number of reviews could rise. And it’s entirely likely that some of these reviews could have been put up as a joke—to parody the nationalist mindset, with phrases like ‘Jai Gaumata’ sprinkled in.
And on the plus side, while there are some negative reviews, the majority of reviews at this point (coming from users with names that sound to be of Indian origin) for the Excel app are mostly positive, or if negative, then related to the features of the app.
However, this is not the first time that Indians have used app ratings as a means of expressing displeasure—and worse, it’s not even the first time that we’ve review-bombed the wrong app!
In 2017, a leaked report said that Snapchat CEO Evan Speigel had said that the company didn’t plan to expand into India as the country was “too poor”—and Indians were instantly outraged. So much so that many took to Google Play to downrate Snapchat. Only, many people actually ended up giving one-star ratings to the Indian e-commerce company Snapdeal by mistake, either mixing the two up, or not realising that there’s a difference.
Hopefully, before the number of one-star ratings rises for the Excel app, people will realise that they’re targeting the wrong app, or better still, conclude that this whole controversy makes no sense. However, going by what you’ll find in reviews around the Internet, that might be asking for too much.
Checking online, we found that people have been more accurately targeting Surf on e-commerce sites. Surf’s detergent has the review: “worst product ever... and it also has a religious issue in advertisements... it devide [sic] communities in India so dnt use it.”