Oscar Award winner AR Rahman had to grow and maintain his long locks for five years during his association with Sony Music in the late 90’s. The boys, men and uncles of the Indian Cricket team must wear formal clothing only from Pantaloons during their official public engagements. Shah Rukh must wear only a Tag Heuer (even as a local tapori in the movie DON) and Abhishek must use only a Motorola mobile outside his home. No one knows if Big B Amitabh Bachhan actually drinks only Pepsi at home and munches Cadbury chocolates with his grand children and if Sachin drinks only Boost to build his energy levels. Superstar Rajnikanth has endorsed only one campaign – The Polio Immunization in the early 90’s and never supported any particular Brand ever. Apparently, he doesn’t use a mobile phone and a telecom operator’s connection in his own name because he doesn’t appreciate the fact that they may consider his usage as an endorsement!
According to a recent study by Sunday ET-Synovate, the most popular Brand Ambassador in India is the King of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan followed by ace cricketer – The Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar. While Khan earns over Eight Crores (USD Two Million) a year, Sachin earns about half of that; quite a lot of money by Indian standards. Not surprising for a movie and cricket crazy country like ours. A number of actors and sportspersons endorse products and services that are required for day-to-day living, many of which are discretionary purchases. The earliest acts were for “Lux” body soaps by erstwhile Bollywood actresses in the 80’s and that of the former cricketer Sunil Gavaskar who appeared for a TV Ad in the 90’s for “Dinesh” suitings. The soaps matched the complexion of the actresses and the formal attire matched the cricketer’s profile – a gentlemanly appearance but a terror on the field. By the late 90s, as many as 50 products were already being endorsed by as many or more personalities!
Actress Madhuri Dixit for Lux and Preity Zinta for Liril, the public noticed Aishwarya Rai, former Miss World, budding actress and future Bollywood queen Rani Mukherjee and the most versatile actor Amir Khan when they appeared together for a Cola Ad. Later on, Pepsi and Coke roped in over a dozen actors and sportspersons from time to time, so did Titan (watches) and many automobile manufacturers. So much so, that most actors are obliged to show (off) their brands even in their movies while sports persons are expected to carry the Brands in public.
However, in the history of Indian advertising, I believe there would be more examples of “ordinary people - aam admi” endorsing Brands than celebrities. Some of such Brands and products have more market share even today, than their competitors who pay hefty fees for their stars. For Ex., Raymond Suiting’s, more famous for its ad jingle than anyone else in its segment, has never used strong celebrities, when compared to Reid & Taylor (BIG B, Amitabh Bachan) and Belmonte (Shah Rukh Khan). Washing Powder Nirma and Surf used and continue to use home-makers and mothers to demonstrate the power of the detergents. So did Glucon-D and Crocin, both medications for daily use for general health care and common ailments respectively. Complan, a premium health drink showed young siblings proudly screaming “I am a Complan boy, I am a Complan girl”. Bajaj Scooters and Luna Mopeds were more popular because they were being shown as used by common people. Bajaj Electricals emphasized on the quality of their bulbs using common households.
The first Indian Retailer to use a celebrity for endorsing the business is The Future Group in the year 2008 when MS Dhoni, presently the captain of the Indian Cricket Team was roped in specifically as a face of “Big Bazaar Fashion” – a vertical that’s most popular among the fastest growing Indian middle-class.
But there is a reason that most Indian Brands and Retailers don’t need an ambassador, rather an endorser. Over 60% of India (largely rural) doesn’t have access to popular media such as TV & Radio while over 30% of India cannot read (newspapers or magazines). What works with this segment is word of mouth popularity and performance of the Brand/Product. Even in the urban areas, I wonder how many including me and you would buy certain Brands because they are endorsed by our favorite actors and sportsmen. For sure, I wouldn’t buy Tag Heuer because Shah Rukh sports one – I just don’t like the collections at the entry level which I can probably afford while the Korean cars that I have are not just because my favorite actor endorses them.
Brands and Retailers should rather focus on the promise for what the product stands for. It would be worth investing the monies on the buyers – the consumers, as they would automatically turn endorsers, vouching for the consistency of the quality of the products and over a period of time, would become Brand Ambassadors. For a nation of a billion people, a million ambassadors is all is needed – for every aspiring Brand to survive in the long run.