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Shah Rukh Khan and Byju's: What do brands do when their ambassador is in firing line?

The recent controversy around his son has put brand Shah Rukh Khan in a spot, jeopardizing the actor's brand associations. But experts are calling it a ‘temporary disassociation’.

October 11, 2021 / 08:09 AM IST
Shah Rukh Khan has a brand value of USD 51.1 million, according to the Duff & Phelps Celebrity Brand Valuation Report 2020.  (Image: @iamsrk)

Shah Rukh Khan has a brand value of USD 51.1 million, according to the Duff & Phelps Celebrity Brand Valuation Report 2020. (Image: @iamsrk)

The past few days have put "King Khan" in a tricky situation. Following Shah Rukh Khan's son Aryan Khan’s arrest in a drug-related case last week, brands have been sceptical about their association with the Bollywood super star.

Turns out Byju's has decided to take all ads featuring the actor off air till the ongoing case around his son is settled.

“The decision was taken to respect public sentiment,” a source close to the development tells Storyboard.

The ed-tech startup took the call soon after ‘Boycott Byju’s’ started trending on Twitter after the Aryan Khan case came to light.

Does this mean brands have the tendency to take a side? Perhaps not, say brand gurus.

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It's strictly business 

“Any action taken now by any brand associated with Shah Rukh Khan is not personal. It is in the interest of the brand’s credibility. For brands, credibility is more important than celebrity,” says Jagdeep Kapoor, founder and MD, Samsika Marketing Consultant. Kapoor has seen his share of celebrity brand associations and their ups and downs.

“Celebrities are meant to enhance the value of a brand and not diminish it. Any brand that is targeting sustainable growth will stay away from all possible controversies, be it directly or indirectly. These decisions don't prove whether brands are for or against an ongoing controversy,” he adds.

Experts are also calling this a ‘temporary disassociation’.

“Celebrity controversies tend to be largely incapable of denting their brands seriously. Salman (Khan) and Sanjay Dutt continue to be popular despite severe issues including arrests and jail. Last year’s drug probe hardly had any impact on Deepika Padukone. Where ‘lifestyle’ crimes are involved, they are easily forgiven by the public because it is this ‘colourfulness’ that makes celebrities interesting and saleable,” says Dr Sandeep Goyal, chief mentor, Indian Institute of Human Brands, and MD, Rediffusion.

In Khan’s case, according to Goyal, Byju’s is just being cautious. "SRK has a deep following amongst fans. This controversy cannot impact him in the long run,” he adds.

Besides Byju's, not much has happened in terms of brand disassociations for Khan. The likes of Vimal Pan Masala, Hyundai, D'décor and others that Khan endorses have made no announcements around hitting the pause button on ongoing endorsement deals with the actor.

Interestingly, even after back-to-back box-office failures, brand SRK has shown growth. From number five in 2019, he has risen to the fourth-most valued brand in the Duff & Phelps’ Celebrity Brand Valuation Report 2020. As per the report, Khan has a brand value of USD 51.1 million.

No wonder, experts are optimistic about his brand. “Brand SRK has made many comebacks and will continue to do so after the Aryan Khan case is forgotten,” says Kapoor.

When celebrities dissociate from brands 

On the other hand, brand dissociations have become a two-way road, with celebrity endorsers feeling the pressure of responsibilities when it comes to advocating for a brand. Especially in emerging categories.

The ‘endorser and brand’ relationship has gotten complicated in the last few years with the public often holding the endorser accountable for any discrepancies or controversies around the brand they endorse. In such cases, celebrities also take no time to walk out on a brand.

Amitabh Bachchan, for instance, took to his personal blog to explain how he had to back out of an endorsement deal with a cryptocurrency brand because of growing debate on the currency’s legality in the country.

An excerpt from the said blog read: “A withdrawal from an endorsement, a returning of advances and a gesture to be shown because of the sudden withdrawal, by permitting the campaign now on air to go about till the end of the programmed broadcast of the game in question..

.. the other being a rapidly growing business of crypto and the endorsement signed, but on the verge of second thoughts, despite SC and RBI permits of operation .. albeit in a private capacity ..

.. but the thought for me was that if things were to go wrong then the target of blame would come on me .. so withdraw.”
Tasmayee Laha Roy is Assistant Editor of Storyboard. Storyboard is Network18's flagship platform focussed on the advertising & marketing community and a leading source of news and analyses on the business of brands.

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