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Indian influencer cops flak for faking death in cervical cancer publicity stunt

Indian influencer cops flak for faking death in cervical cancer publicity stunt

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Indian influencer, model and actress Poonam Pandey has copped flak for faking her death as part of a cervical cancer awareness campaign. 

The news of her fake death was first announced on 2 February 2024 with a statement being released on her Instagram story stating that Pandey had passed due to cervical cancer. A day later, on 3 February, it was revealed that her death was a stunt to raise awareness on cervical cancer and the screenings available to prevent it. 

Don't miss: Study: 67% of marketers to increase investments in influencer marketing in 2024 

In a now-deleted post, which was earlier seen by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Pandey posted a statement that read, "I understand that the recent news of my supposed demise due to cervical cancer has taken a minute to digest." 

"I appreciate the warmth and concern that the world has extended in the last 24 hours," she continued. 

Pandey also posted a video as part of the reveal, which has now been deleted. In the video seen by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Pandey was sitting on a black chair in a blue long-sleeved shirt and blue jeans.  In the video, she admitted that she is alive and didn't die of cervical cancer, and later added that this is unfortunately not the case for "hundreds and thousands of women who have lost their lives because of cervical cancer." 

Pandey then shared to viewers that cervical cancer, unlike other cancers, is preventable and encouraged viewers to get tested and to get a HPV vaccine. She ended the video with a call to action to log onto a website called 'Poonampandeyisalive.com'. A check by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE also found that the website is no longer live. 

The stunt has gathered mass attention from many internet users, most of which have negatively impacted Pandey's brand sentiments. Majority of the negative sentiments arise from words such as 'saddened', 'grief' and 'shocking', according to media intelligence firm CARMA. 

These words were expressed by social media users after hearing about the supposed passing of Pandey. Her sentiments were approximately 64.5% negative after her fake death was revealed. Many users questioned the credibility of the campaign and expressed scepticism towards such awareness initiatives in the future, said CARMA.

These sentiments were expressed through the usage of "fake", "stunt" and "controversial". There was also a lack of emotional words used by netizens compared to the period before the post.

Despite the negative sentiments, there have been some support for Pandey. On her X account, Pandey had retweeted posts in support of the campaign. 

One user did not agree to Pandey's way to get attention but claimed the stunt had served a purpose. Another user, who identifies as a doctor, said that three patients had asked about cervical cancer since Pandey's publicity stunt. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has reached out to Pandey for a statement. 

Meanwhile the agency behind the campaign Schbang has also apologised and explained that the campaign was to spread awareness about Cervical Cancer and done in collaboration with Hauterfly on a pro-bono basis. "Our actions were driven by a singular mission - to elevate awareness about Cervical cancer". It added that Pandey's mom also bravely battled Cancer and having been through such an experience, Pandey understands the importance of prevention and awareness when a vaccine is available.

It added, "There was no change in people's curiousity regarding Cervical Cancer when the finance minister mentioned it just a few days prior during the Union Budget. However the act by Pandey led to cervical cancer and its related terms being one of the most searched topics on Google." It then went on to share screen shots of the spike in curiousity.

"We understand that our methods may have sparked debate about the approach. While we regret any destress caused, if the move results in spreading much needed awareness and preventing deaths, that would be its real impact."

While the move has undoubtedly gotten attention, such a stunt may raise concerns amongst using influencers for future campaigns given consumers are already losing trust in them, according to a January 2024 report by Impact.com.

That said, the global influencer ad spending is still expected to jump by 13% in 2024. This is especially since close to 65% of brands will increase their influencer budgets for 2024, indicating that the advertising form remains a top choice for marketers, said the report.

Data from Statista further showed that the total ad spending in the influencer advertising industry is expected to jump to US$39.3 billion in 2025, increasing by 12% annually. By 2028, it projected that the entire market would hit over US$ 52 billion in total ad spending, while the annual growth rate drops to less than 9%.

Related articles: 
KFC HK further helps students and citizens destress in latest publicity stunt 
HKTVmall showcases diversity of 50 mothers in latest publicity stunt
Creative OOH buy part of guerrilla marketing stunt for TamJai SamGor's new product 

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