Star power abounds in Indian advertising

Bollywood celebrities are lending their names and faces to brands more often than ever, and for more money. From the adored Amitabh Bachchan to the dodgy Salman Kahn, they tout everything from property to cement.
The Shah Rukh Khan-endorsed Royal Estates development in Dubai is an example of Indian star power’s influence in the Emirates. Pawan Singh / The National
The Shah Rukh Khan-endorsed Royal Estates development in Dubai is an example of Indian star power’s influence in the Emirates. Pawan Singh / The National

Billboards with Bollywood faces tower over the streets of Mumbai, advertising products from biscuits to cement. At home, viewers are bombarded with television advertisements featuring Indian film stars endorsing a plethora of brands.

The use of Bollywood stars in Indian marketing campaigns might already seem to be at a saturation level – and yet Bollywood celebrities are appearing in an ever-rising number of ads for ever-greater fees, and, perhaps surprisingly, in an ever-greater number of markets.

This month, for example, Shah Rukh Khan, the biggest name in Bollywood, jetted into Dubai to announce a tie-up with a luxury home project in the emirate, the Dh2.3 billion Royal Estates development. Bollywood stars make frequent appearances at launches in Dubai as companies try to appeal to the sizeable Indian expatriate population in the emirate. In India, having a Bollywood celebrity on board in your marketing campaign is de rigueur – for those who can afford it.

“It’s growing rapidly because it’s the easiest thing that brands can do while starting up or making an entry to get noticed immediately,” says Joji George, the managing director of UBM India, a media company.

“It’s almost a level playing field across various demographics and economics,” he explains. “If you can afford the money, the easiest thing to cut through would be to use a Bollywood or a cricket star to be able to promote your message. Even if you look at coverage on television or print or any other mass media, you obviously look for hooks and look for a photo opportunity, and nobody wants to see a chief executive of a company or some bureaucrat cutting a ribbon.”

Shah Rukh Khan, estimated to have a fortune of US$600 million, has a multitude of endorsement deals, from the watch brand Tag Heuer to paint and skin-fairness products. He reportedly recently landed a deal worth 200m rupees (Dh12.1m) to promote a brand of pan masala – a mix of seeds and spices served after meals.

One of Bollywood’s highest-paid actresses, Priyanka Chopra, is understood to typically charge about 40m to 50m rupees per endorsement, with Pepsi in India among the brands she is associated with.

The biggest challenges are to “get their time, and the cost”, Mr George says.

“I think the brand endorsement market is growing at more than 18 to 20 per cent because of the fees,” he says. “Even if you don’t look at it in terms of volume, the fees of the guys are increasing to in excess of 3 crore [30 million rupees]. That’s how the value has increased.”

Dentsu India, part of an international advertising and public relations group, is involved in a campaign for Honda Motors and Scooters India that features the Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar. Dentsu has used Bollywood stars in a number of campaigns to give brands a “leg up”, says Narayan Devanathan, the company’s executive vice president and national planning head.

“Their use can be tracked to the success of Bollywood films and the stars who currently enjoy fame and fortune.”

Jabong, an online fashion portal, says that Bollywood association has played a major part in boosting its business.

“Jabong stands for fashion and hence Bollywood has a significant importance in our overall strategy,” says Praveen Sinha, the founder and managing director of the company. “Bollywood also introduces a lot of fashion trends and aspiration within India. Entertainment is of course widespread and the TV across the country ensures that the leverage and the communication of the brand and the star is all-across.”

Jabong has employed Bollywood stars to promote launches and has been the fashion provider for a number of Indian films, including Dhoom 3, which was the most expensive Bollywood movie ever with a budget of about 1.5 billion rupees. The film broke records at the box office when it grossed more than 5bn rupees. Bollywood celebrities including Yami Gautam and Aditya Roy Kapoor have been involved in Jabong’s promotions.

“Widespread involvement can also happen when there is a tweet or a Facebook post or an Instagram post,” says Mr Sinha. “The amplification of the stars is huge when it comes to the online world because they have a lot of fans following them.”

It is difficult to put a figure on the immediate returns from Bollywood campaigns, but such initiatives go a long way towards long-term brand building of companies, he says.

Jabong is eager to increase its association with Bollywood.

“Participation is growing at a very rapid pace in terms of stars launching new brands and also sponsoring movies,” Mr Sinha says. “In the coming time, this is going to be even more intense and this will be the highest-growing spend budget for us.”

Emami, a skincare and health care company headquartered in Kolkata, employs a number of Bollywood stars to endorse its products, including Shah Rukh Khan for its Fair and Handsome male fairness cream.

“Bollywood has for long exerted a deep influence on Indian psyche,” an Emami spokesman said by email. “When a popular star endorses a particular product or brand, it creates an immediate brand recall among consumers and the general public, which more often than not results in good sales.”

Emami cites the example of a campaign with the actress Malaika Arora Khan that prompted its Zandu Balm sales to increase by 44 per cent. The company even had Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan endorsing one product – Navratna Cool Oil – at the same time.

Amitabh Bachchan, the Bollywood eminence who appeared in Hollywood’s production of The Great Gatsby last year, is associated with an array of products, including appearing on billboards in Mumbai promoting cement and television adverts for noodles. Are Bollywood stars perhaps linked to too many products?

“Well, absolutely,” says Mr George. “But who are we to say that, because at the end of the day people still want to see them more. I think [Bachchan is] a tad overexposed. You really don’t know which brand he’s endorsing because everything thing looks the same and he does not have a different look for each product.”

Brands like to associate themselves with actors such as Bachchan because he has a wholesome and credible image, Mr George adds.

“Many brands associate with people like this because they seem to be safe bets versus some Bollywood star who’s a bad boy and you really don’t know tomorrow if he’s going to be on the headlines of a newspaper because he hit somebody.”

The actor Salman Khan is an example of a bad boy. He has been involved in a number of controversies over the years, including being accused in a hit-and-run case and hunting the Indian gazelle, an endangered species. However, Khan is not short of endorsement deals. He is a brand ambassador for Suzuki motorcycles and the popular cola drink Thums Up, among many other products.

“If you’re looking at a family brand, you wouldn’t go for a Salman,” says Mr George. “But if you’re looking for something edgy, you want somebody who’s a little rebellious, who’s breaking the status quo, you’d probably look for a Salman.”

Indian Bollywood celebrities obviously have the biggest effect in the home country and carry a lot of cachet in the UAE because of the large Indian community in the country.

Their reach is expanding. Priyanka Chopra last year became the first Indian face of the American fashion brand Guess. Another Bollywood actress, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, endorses the Swiss watch brand Longines in a campaign that goes beyond India. Her husband, Abhishek Bachchan (the son of Amitabh), endorses the Swiss watch brand Omega.

The Indian diaspora is becoming an increasingly important target market for brands, experts say.

“Bollywood stars appeal also to the non-resident Indian segment, which is a very economically forward class in most places around the world,” Mr George says. “Most of them by virtue of the fact that they’re non-resident Indians and earning in foreign exchange do have a considerable amount of money to spend. Now, Indian movies that are launching in India have simultaneous releases in many part of the world and run to full houses.”

Bollywood culture is even gaining traction among non-Indians, he adds. It would therefore not be surprising to see Indian film stars more widely used in advertising campaigns abroad in the not too distant future, he adds.

“In a couple of years you will probably have a biscuit brand out of the UK also using some Bollywood star to appeal to the Indian community.”

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Published: August 30, 2014 04:00 AM


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