Thursday, March 10, 2011


World Cup 2011, ad-fest. Like clockwork, at the end of the over, transmission shifts to an advertisement. Shah Rukh Khan is on a living room couch with a girl half his age. Just as things are about to get interesting, a WWE-style wrestler jumps into the frame, followed by a couple of cricketers, and then a saas-bahu prototype. There’s a LCD TV mounted on the wall behind him. It’s an ad for the HD package of a DTH provider, DishTV.

Wait, rewind that. (I don’t have a DVR, but bear with me here). Didn’t you just see Shah Rukh Khan on TV a few days back endorsing the Airtel phone network? Doesn’t Airtel also have its own DTH service? He’s endorsing two competing brands?

So, you say? What’s wrong with him earning a bit of money on the side for his star power? Oh, none, I say. More power to him. However, I’ve already made the SRK-AirTel connection in my mind, so I unconsciously associate Airtel DTH with him. Dish is getting the short end of the stick. I’ve also linked A.R. Rahman to Airtel, Junior Bachchan  to Idea Cellular, and of course, Saif Ali Khan to some brand of banians (Amul Macho, really?)

Which brings me to my second point. I’m all for Saif Ali Khan in banians and a luscious Katrina Kaif posing with juicy mangoes. But just because you can do it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. For the celebrity, for the brand, or for the audience. 

It should be straightforward to state what a brand stands for. And if we’re treating the celebrity as a brand, very few celebrities in India can claim to have that kind of consistency, especially when it comes to their endorsements. The Detroit ad for Chrysler with Eminem, for instance, is a great example of how Eminem’s persona and his Detroit roots can tie in to a good story, enhancing the perception of both celebrity and brand.

The only celebrity in India giving his endorsements some kind of thought is, of course, Aamir Khan. (He does march to his own drum-beat, doesn’t he?). After a moment’s thought, I can instantly say what his general endorsement philosophy is. He endorses mass-market brands that are affordable, but not necessarily cheap – Samsung, Titan, Tata Sky (and Coke). He has an instantly recognizable face, so he plays characters that tie back to a story the ad campaign is trying to tell. His series of advertisements for Coke were quite memorable, and the current Tata Sky Bablu series is another good ad series spread over multiple advertisements.

I do wish he didn’t do the finger-wagging, funda-spouting bit in the Incredible India ads, but that, too ties back well with his on-screen persona. He does do a lot of that in films like Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots. Though that is a story for another post.

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