From hair oil to men's inner wear and cars to potato chips, Bollywood stars are busy peddling a variety of products. Much as we love our filmi icons, the fondness doesn't seem to have translated into better sales for the products they are endorsing, in all cases.
Once viewed with heightened anticipation and excitement, today the prospect of signing on a tinsel star for endorsement is being viewed with increasing caution. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that a mere handful of the top-rung stars endorse a zillion products <1168933.cms>, so that it no longer seems the zing thing!
Superstars like Amitabh Bachchan pledge loyalty to everything from a Versa, Parker Pens, Pepsi, Reid & Taylor, right down to Navratna Tel; while Shah Rukh balances a pile, that includes Clinic All Clear, Santro, Tag Heuer, Videocon, Pepsi, Airtel and Omega!
So much so, that today the viewer's response tends to be “Woh Amitabh ka naya ad bahut achcha hai!” rather than “Nerolac Paints ka naya ad bahut achcha hai!” A case of vampiring of the brand, of celebrity overshadowing the brand? A debatable issue certainly, but as Adrian Mendonza, vice-president and executive creative director, Rediffusion DY & R, protests, “The responsibility does not lie with the star. Bachchan is a thorough professional. He will come on your sets and deliver his lines perfectly. But it is not his job to study the strategy or positioning of the product, or whether the script is creative enough. My point is, while a film star guarantees attention, you still need a great idea to drive the campaign. The star is not the idea.”
Yet, there is no doubt that clients respond favourably to the agency suggestion of a star endorsement, and expectations rocket sky-high. Often though, the delivery on that promise is weak. High recall value does not necessarily translate into buying patterns. Vivek Srivastava, executive director, Triton Communications, Delhi, says ruefully, “Frankly, research has yet to prove conclusively that film star endorsement translates into actual sales. Speaking from our own experience - we had signed on Bipasha Basu last year for the Panasonic campaign. The brand was re-launching itself with the youth as the target audience, and some oomph appeal merged with class, was in order. Bipasha seemed like the appropriate choice, but while the brand got a jumpstart, interest petered out after a while. I don't know whether we would be as eager again to spend the client's money on a star.”
“I believe that credibility takes a knock, the minute you have a star endorsing your product,” says Sunil Mahadik, managing director, The Flagship Advertising Pvt Ltd. “With exceptions like the car and bike categories, where mega stars like Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta (Santro), and even newer stars like John Abraham (Yamaha), have made an impact. When we conceived an idea for Talwalkars, which took the line that if God resides in all of us, should we not create a better temple, we didn't feel the need for a star to convey the message.”
Yet another risk perhaps would be having a tainted celebrity on one's hands. For instance, the recent Provogue scandal leaves the brand's image hanging in balance. Only time will assess the damage inflicted.
“It finally comes down to this - the advertising will work only if there is a perfect match between the core values of the product and the values that the star personifies,” opines Hemant Sachdev, corporate director - marketing, Bharti Tele-ventures. “Using the star as a mere poster boy is a waste as it only ensures short-term visibility. If there is no brand-celeb fit, it is lazy advertising; because it's not who you are, but what you stand for.”
He continues, “A classic example would be the Airtel campaign, that has featured both Sachin Tendulkar and SRK. Now, Airtel is a small domestic brand that more than delivered its promise and is now a giant to be reckoned with. Similarly, both Sachin and SRK came from ordinary backgrounds, and rose to super-stardom by sheer dint of hard work and consistent performance. The masses connect with these values, as also with the family values that these stars cherish and protect. All these things matter; advertising should be strategic, not opportunistic. Then the money you pay the star is worth it, especially when he is enervating the brand.”
The money expectedly runs into whopping figures. Tempting enough even for reclusive stars like Tabu, Ajay Devgan and Kajol to come out of hibernation and smile prettily for the camera. If as is rumoured, fees for stars like Amitabh Bachchan, SRK, Rani Mukherjee, Preity Zinta and Aishwarya Rai run into crores; other stars would charge anywhere between Rs 25 and Rs 50 lakh and even more. Obviously, the return on investment, at least a percentage of return, must seem lucrative enough for the client.
According to Prahlad Kakkar, ad guru and filmmaker, “You have to stay with a bankable star and let the brand grow with him. Look at SRK and Pepsi, look at Aamir Khan and Coke… These stars have a long-term association with the product, they voluntarily become brand ambassadors, they drink it, flaunt it in public - a kind of brand loyalty exists even in their own minds.” Kakkar stresses that complacency is one reason for many star endorsements failing. “So many ads simply show the star holding up the product - it looks so pathetic. The script must demand attention. For instance, when we did the Navratna Tel ad, we took the approach - Navratna presents 36 years of Amitabh Bachchan - he talked about his ups and downs, his triumphs and disasters, and finally got round to mentioning the product. It seemed more credible then.”
Mendonza sums it up, “In the final analysis, you don't need stars to sell your product. Campaigns for Hutch, Power and Fevicol are classics in their own right. But there are exceptions to any rule, and one campaign comes to mind in defence of star endorsement - the Thanda Matlab Coca Cola ad with Aamir Khan. The important thing is that the star was used effectively as an actor, not as a mere model, and the audience connected with the situations and the humour in a big way. It must be seen as a benchmark for star endorsement advertising.”