A statement on Amitabh Bachchan's blog explained that the 79-year-old actor had signed the contract with Kamala Pasand without the knowledge that it was categorised as "surrogate advertising". (Image: News18 Creative)
Amitabh Bachchan announced his decision to cut short his association with a paan masala brand, attributing it to lack of clarity on the details of the deal. The actor has been at the receiving end of social media ire for promoting the paan masala brand.
A statement shared on his blog post, which said "From the office of Mr Amitabh Bachchan", read: "Kamala Pasand - a few days after the commercial was aired, Mr Bachchan contacted the brand and stepped out of it last week." The statement added that the 79-year-old star, one of India’s most prolific brand endorsers, signed the contract with the brand without the knowledge that it is categorised as "surrogate advertising". Bachchan has also returned the endorsement fee to Kamala Pasand, which is an associate sponsor of the on-going Indian Premier League (IPL).
But Kamala Pasand, it seems, is not the only brand Bachchan is sceptical of.
The actor who recently came on board as brand ambassador of crypto exchange platform CoinDCX has also stated in his blog that he 'held back the association, till there is clarity on its legality.'
CoinDCX confirmed to Storyboard that currently the association has been “paused”.
Celebrity-brand matches: Swipe left or right?
Branding and marketing experts Storyboard spoke to said that when a brand and an endorser come together, they generally get tied up in a medium- to long-term arrangement, and both have a checklist to tick off when they sign on the dotted lines. While a celebrity considers a lot of factors like the brand category, the brand image and if it syncs well with her or his personal brand image, for the brand, the only agenda is to enhance the brand value by attaching their name to an endorser.
However, in the age of social media, where both the brand and the endorser can face backlash and boycotts, both parties are increasingly becoming more sensitive. Moreover, with the introduction of the Consumer Protection Law 2019, celebrity endorsers are now accountable in case of a misleading advertisement that features them.
Read more: Healing Space | Who are we cancelling today?
Lloyd Mathias, a business strategist and investor, says that the first concern of celebrities is their personal popularity in an era where social media empowers millions to call out celebrities for endorsing inappropriate products or categories. “Consequently celebrities, conscious of their own image, resist associating with categories incongruent with them,” he said.
For instance, Kangana Ranaut, Abhay Deol and Taapsee Pannu have refused to endorse skin lightening products, while cricketer Virat Kohli, who is known for his clean and healthy lifestyle, chose to stay away from promoting cola brands.
“The other factor contributing to this is an increasingly woke generation that expects its stars and brands to reflect their true values,” Mathias said.
When in doubt, hit “pause”
In a politically and socially charged environment, brands are also taking a cautious approach to celebrity endorsements. For instance, edtech platform Byju’s recently chose to “pause” all advertising featuring its brand ambassador Shah Rukh Khan, following Khan’s son’s alleged involvement in an ongoing drug-related case.
“Advertisers do not want external factors attached to the endorser to hamper the brand image. This is exactly why Byju’s paused SRK commercials temporarily,” said N. Chandramouli, CEO of TRA Research.
While using celebrities and well-known personalities has always been a shortcut for a brand to beat media clutter, it comes with its own set of challenges. Take for instance, e-tailer Snapdeal, which chose to move away from its ambassador actor Aamir Khan after he made a comment on rising intolerance in the country. The company did not renew the contract with the actor after being trolled viciously across social media platforms.
Chandramouli was quick to add that Shah Rukh Khan has not been dropped by the brand because brands do not want to complicate their relationship with the endorser by backing off during his or her lows.
“This is the reason why Thums Up never took Salman Khan off the board even during the worst of his personal crisis. Once you drop a celebrity and get another one on board, the new endorser is left with doubts about the stability of the brand in terms of their endorsement deals,” Chandramouli added. Thums Up and Khan did eventually split up, and now the actor endorses rival cola brand Pepsi.
But, besides these pitfalls, there’s also the matter of over-saturation of certain stars. Bachchan, for instance, is among the most widely seen celebrities in advertising. Often, viewers remember Big B in the ads, but they don't always the other B: the brand he is endorsing in that particular commercial.
Combine star power with brand proposition
Experts point out that now more than ever, celebrities should be used wisely by advertisers. Marketers who continue using celebrity faces without a strong proposition will lose out, they say.
“Brands need to integrate a celebrity into their communication in a manner that works off the celebrity’s popularity and yet remains meaningful and relevant to the brand’s proposition. Using a celebrity only to beat media clutter is not just lazy marketing, it’s also counterproductive,” said Mathias.
Experts also highlighted the need to ensure consistency, authenticity and relevance. A better approach would be to examine and address underlying brand problems, said Ashok Lalla, an independent digital business adviser. “Only go the celebrity endorser route if it makes sense for the brand, and not just to find a quick-fix answer to the problems, or to serve the vanity of the CMO/promoter,” Lalla said.
There must be an easier way to get that selfie with the star.