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Celebrity endorsements and Pan Masala brands: The debate continues...

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Celebrity endorsements and Pan Masala brands: The debate continues...

In the last one year, there has been a sudden surge in Bollywood celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan, Ajay Devgan, Akshay Kumar, Govinda, Sunny Leone and others endorsing pan masala brands. There were reports that Shah Rukh was paid Rs 20 crore to endorse Pan Vilas, while actor Akshay Kumar recently became the star face of the Baba Elaich’s ad campaign.

According to recent reports, the Delhi government has written to these Bollywood stars not to endorse pan masala brands as they contain potential cancer causing agents, and has requested them to join its Anti-Tobacco Drive. Even in November 2015, Bollywood actors--Shah Rukh Khan, Govinda and Manoj Vajpayee were served notice by the regulator-- Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), for endorsing Pan Masala brands.

Most of these brands, which operate under the mouth-freshener category, are actually surrogate forms to promote zarda, tobacco and gutkha and that they subtly endorse their consumption.

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Vimal Pan Masala (Ajay Devgan):

Pan Vilas (Shah Rukh Khan):

Shilajit Pan Masala (Sunny Leone):

Rajnigandha (Priyanka Chopra):

Pan E Shahi (Govinda):

Pan Bahar (Saif Ali Khan):

Baba Elaichi (Akshay Kumar):

Expert view:

Harish Bijoor, Brand-expert &Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc says, “Some categories such as pan masala are emerging to be socially ostracized categories. To that extent, these categories are best avoided by brand-endorsers. It is best that these categories depend on offtake that is retail-driven rather than offtake that is brand-endorser driven.”

Saurabh Uboweja, Chief Brand Strategist and CEO Brands of Desire elaborated, “This industry works like surrogate inspite of bans and endorsements by celebrities. Advertising for Pan Masala is surrogate for Gutkha and advertising for silver coated Elaichi is a surrogate for Pan Masala and Gutkha. Interestingly, the Delhi Government has 'requested' celebrities, who make crores of rupees every year by promoting hazardous/cancerous food products like Pan Masala, whether direct or surrogate to refrain from such endorsements. I wish there was a Supreme Court order for the same. Though campaigns with celebrities are built with a premium appeal, but the real target market is actually the mass market. Brands follow master brand architecture to appeal to the masses in the disguise of premium products.” 

However, Amitava Mitra, Founder & Managing Director, Bee Advertising says, “I think it’s an unfair request. My point is, if it is proven that pan masalas contain areca nuts which is supposed to be a cancer causing agent, then why is the government not banning the sale of pan masalas? Like for cigarettes and liquor, the Govt. has banned ads, let them ban all advertising of pan masalas too. Years ago when cigarette and liquor advertising was banned, brands had to and continue to focus on surrogate or event-led communication and also build branded properties like "Red & White Bravery Awards" etc. Pan Masalas too would have to resort to such communication in the event the government bans all pan masala advertising. They will need to create branded properties which complement the brand and what it stands for. But till then I don't see anything wrong in celebrity endorsement of pan masalas/mouth fresheners. Yes, you can appeal to them on moral ground, but it's unfair to pass the buck.”

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