Bollywood celebs, brands & the SSR controversy

Will the investigation into SSR's death and the drug scandal impact celebrity endorsements?

NEW DELHI: Apart from God, Indians worship cricket icons and Bollywood stars. On most occasions, all that a brand has to do is stick a product in a famous cricketer’s or actor’s hands, and, lo and behold, it starts moving off the shop shelves. It’s because of this most marketers and agencies are more than willing to sign hefty checks to the celeb for his or her endorsement of a product.

The negative outcome of depending on celebrity endorsements is the flak the brand faces from consumers should the big-name falter in public life.

Just like Bollywood is doing now. It has been losing its gleam and shine thanks to the unsolved, unexplained sudden death of Sushant Singh Rajput and the investigation by the CBI and the Narcotics Control Bureau, which has exposed the dark underbelly of the Mumbai film industry.

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Allegations of favouritism, me-too, drugs being rampant amongst Bollywood’s best are flying thick and fast and being played out on a majority of news channels almost like a reality show. Videos have been circulating like wildfire showing popular film faces red-eyed and in a state of stupor.

No one has been spared.  Even A-listers have been dragged into the Sushant Singh Rajput and the related drug investigation and got their images tarnished. Karan Johar, Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Zoya Akhtar, Ranbir Kapoor, Vicky Kaushal, Varun Dhawan, Malaika Arora Khan, Deepika Padukone, Rakul Preet Singh, Sara Ali Khan, and Shraddha Kapoor.  

It’s not the first time that personalities have been hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons. Hindi film actors have been discredited in the past, and they have on most occasions bounced back on to the big screen. But what gets impacted is their endorsement income as brands dissociate with them, come any signs of serious disrepute.

In 2015, actor Aamir Khan's statement about not feeling safe in India triggered a 'Hate Khan' campaign on social media platforms. At that time, he was the brand ambassador of the e-commerce website Snapdeal which faced the brunt of the anti-Khan ire. Over seven lakh customers uninstalled the Snapdeal app and over a lakh downgraded the app rating from five points to one. The whole situation led to Snapdeal dropping the method actor as its ambassador.

 Recently, PhonePe released a new ad on the IPL series which features Alia Bhatt and Aamir Khan. This has agitated a few users who trolled  the company for promoting the two  stars and soon the hashtag #BoycottPhonePe started. 

Will the current brouhaha impact how advertisers and brands view their associations with Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan and Shraddha Kapoor, three of the top stars who were summoned by the NCB and interrogated for their engagement on whatsapp in conversations around drugs?

Brand consultant N. Chandramouli believes it will. “Brands are a cautious lot, and would not like to be dragged into any such controversies, and will think about ambassadors they choose,” says he.

Hypercollective founder &  chief creative officer KV Sridhar agrees. “Nobody wants negative publicity after paying so much money,” says he. “So, brands would be more careful to protect their reputation and they will not take any risks.”

Yes, stars cost a lot. When it comes to their cinematic career, they might take a cut in fees for a film as they probably want to work with a banner or with a specific actor or director. But when it comes to advertising and brand endorsement campaigns, they charge top dollar.

Sara Ali Khan is associated with brands such as Fanta, Puma, Vivo, JBL, Ceriz, Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri (TBZ), Veet, ITC’s Fiama, and Garnier. Deepikais one of the biggest endorsers of  top end beauty brands. Shraddha can be seen in TVCs for  Lipton Tea, Body Shop, Realme, Lakme. She had also endorsed brands like Vogue Eyewear, Baggit, Flipkart, Secret Temptation, Veet, Vaseline, and others. Rakul appears in ads for Elleys’ switches, the Telangana Govt’s 'Beti Bachao Beti Padhao' campaign and Vaibhav Jewellers

Estimates are  that Deepika charges brands Rs eight crore for three days of ad shoot time. She leads the female endorsement brigade with a brand valuation of $93.5 million, with her husband Ranveer Singh having a similar valuation, according to the Duff & Phelps Celebrity Brand Valuation Report 2019.  Rakul Preet Singh has a sticker price of Rs 1.5 crore per endorsement according to the  Sandeep Goyal-mentored Indian Institute of Human Brands. Sara Ali Khan, Alia Bhatt, Shraddha Kapoor, are reportedly paid more than twice that.

Sridhar expects these rates and associations to get sharp cuts. “A couple of brands will drop them at this time,” he says. “Their prices will go down. Big brands go for multiple celebrities, so if something happens the brand cuts back immediately. Brands will lie low if their ambassadors are involved.”

He believes major FMCG players are the ones who would most likely take a decision to use the scissors on their relationship with the stars, while e-commerce websites might not.

Dentsu One president Harjot Singh Narang echoes Sridhar’s view, adding,  ”a brand selling health and wellness to its consumers would definitely not want an endorser who is caught up in drugs and illegal behaviour.”

He adds that some brands may “have to wait for these allegations and controversies to pass before making choices or have to choose differently given the seriousness and slightly longer than normal life that the current scandal seems to have.”

Sridhar opines that memories are short and people will forget the current scandal over time. “These very same stars will be back in time,” he says.

Taproot Dentsu chief creative officer and co-founder Santosh Paddy shares that brands will deal with Bollywood celebs cautiously going forward.  As it is, he Is not too much of a fan of doling out big money to stars. He’d rather focus on getting the idea for a brand right.

“I don’t like Bollywood endorsing for my clients because it’s a pain to deal with them,” says he. “I always feel that if you’re paying them Rs 5 crore put that money behind the media and you will get a lot more attention. Celebrities can be good in the short run but great stories built on great ideas in advertising last the distance. Creative people tend to take short-cuts when they have a celeb.”

Can we hear some advertising gurus clapping? 

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