Sandeep Goyal
Sep 05, 2019

Blog: Gajraj Rao, Sobhita Dhulipala, Jim Sarbh and Bhumi Pednekar: Are celebrity endorsements getting more democratic?

The author believes that as more brands succeed with off-beat choices, brands too to will hopefully look to experiment beyond the biggies.

Gajraj Rao in the Carvaan commercial
Gajraj Rao in the Carvaan commercial
Ab Meri Baari. Well, it is finally happening. And happening earlier than I thought. 
The endorsement business had become so skewed in favour of the biggies in the past couple of years that I had begun to wonder if the lesser known faces would ever get a chance. Virat Kohli and Ranveer Singh at last count had 25+ active brand endorsements each; Akshay Kumar and Deepika Padukone had 20+ each; Alia Bhatt, Amitabh Bachchan, MS Dhoni and Ranbir Kapoor were also individually counting a dozen brand ambassadorships. It looked like a monopoly of just a chosen few. And I had begun to fear that brands and their ad agencies were afraid to step beyond a limited choice set of stars and take some risks.  
Well, in the past few months, one is witnessing visible change, and may I say welcome change, with newer faces being used by brands in their communication. 
It was Gajraj Rao of Badhai Ho fame who actually made me sit-up with the Carvaan commercials that went on air recently. Gajraj is a fabulous actor and the Carvaan ads are just the right mix of good humour and product goodness. Gajraj gets the laughs but does not overshadow the product in the ads, just the right balance that I always look for when a famous face is used. That actually set me thinking. Gajraj is really not all that famous. He is more well-known, kind of familiar, rather than famous. Maybe that is why the Carvaan ads are not dominated by the celebrity and you remember as much of Gajraj’s naughty playfulness as Jagjit Singh’s songs. 
Well, it is for similar reasons that ads featuring lesser famous celebrities are delivering more powerful brand messages in the last few weeks. Many of whom have been off-screen for a while, now seem to have been put to good use. Dia Mirza, not quite as visible these days on the big screen, has recently been featured by Dr. Oetker’s Fun Foods in a commercial for veg mayo. Since Dia is again a familiar face, she adds memorability to the message without getting you to forget the brand or its promise. Juhi Chawla too has kind of come out of retirement for a new commercial for Maggi Masala… Juhi was at the peak of her popularity when young mums of today were perhaps in school. So she is ‘someone I know’ delivering a brand message without overwhelming either the brand or its communication. Javed Jaffrey again has been missing from action for a very long time. Mobil has brought him back with its new #PoochaKyunNahi campaign. Boman Irani too has not been very active in the movies of late. He featured in a campaign for Cars24 a couple of years ago; he has resurfaced in a nice campaign recently for Savlon Handwash.
Much like Gajraj Rao and his newly acquired fame, others too are benefitting from visibility in recent successful releases. Bhumi Pednekar featured in an ad recently for Sofy Cool urging young girls to #SwitchToCool, a role surely assigned to her by the brand after her very visible presence in Padman, the movie.
Diljit Dosanjh was seen only last month, most likely prompted by his presence in Arjun Patiala, in a song-and-dance jig for Air Asia. Sobhita Dhulipala who attained fame after her very visible role in ‘Made in Heaven’ has recently been featured alongside Aishwarya Rai by L’Oreal. Similarly Radhika Apte who first got noticed in the first season of Sacred Games has been featured in the launch advertising for its new ‘smartwater’ by Coke; Rana Daggubati of Bahubali fame also endorses the same ‘smartwater’ from the Coke stable. So fame is starting to be suitably cashed beyond the usual suspects. 
Veteran actor Anil Kapoor came back to visibility with the Spotify ad, which also featured the young-and-upcoming Ishaan Khattar. But Kapoor has done one better with a recent assignment now from Malabar Gold & Diamonds … obviously some brands are starting to look beyond Big B (thank God!)! It is not that Kapoor is new to brand advertising – he has in the past been associated with South African Airways and Mont Blanc at the top-end of the spectrum, as well as endorsed Dabur’s Ratnaprash, Micromax and Lupin’s Softovac in the junta segment. But the return of Anil Kapoor with more and more advertising assignments is heartening as it supports my argument that the broad-basing of the celebrity base is good for brands. 
It is interesting to see that even multinational brands are sticking their necks out. Rajkumar Rao and Sanya Malhotra were featured by Nestle in the #AaoMaggiBanayein campaign. Rao, given his persona and the kind of roles he essays, would normally not be a regular choice for endorsements. But Maggi has shown the way and his Sacred Games visibility should hopefully help even Nawazuddin Siddiqui to get endorsement beyond PokerStars. It is also interesting to see that HP has chosen Zoya Akhtar to work with. I have not seen her featured in an ad so far for the brand but HP have been doing a lot of PR around their tie-up with the film-maker, whatever that translates into. 
Virat Kohli and wife Anushka had become almost synonymous with Maanyavar advertising. In fact, it was one of their first campaigns together. The baton at the wedding brand seems to have passed on to Kartik Aaryan (though there has been no announcement on whether Mr. & Mrs. Kohli continue with the brand or have been rested/ousted as the new Mohey ad for bridal-wear also has a new face in Alia Bhatt). 
What is also interesting is that actors like Jim Parbh (best known for his negative roles in Neerja, Padmaavat and Sanju), having also played a more neutral role in Amazon Prime’s Made in Heaven has got featured in a campaign for Dineout’s #FearNoBill. Similarly Bunty (Jatin Sarna) from Sacred Games has found himself an endorsement with OnePlus 7 Pro. My take from these selections is that brands are beginning to look out for new faces, perhaps somewhat unusual faces, hoping they would stand out in the crowd and give the brand some differentiation. 
Recent parents Neha Dhupia and Angad Bedi have been roped in by Japanese brand Panasonic for a digital campaign for their washing machines. Dhupia and Bedi don’t seem to have many screen roles for now but their marriage and now parenthood has kept them in the news, thereby helping Panasonic choose them for the campaign.   
Hima Das, nicknamed the Dhing Express, has also, of late gotten lucky with endorsements. She already had Adidas in her kitty post her five consecutive Gold medals at the Nove Mesto and Metuji Grand Prix. Edelweiss, State Bank’s YONO and her home state Assam, besides UNICEF, have mandated Das to front-face their communication in recent months. Even cricketer Mithali Raj who recently bowed out of the T20 format, has had American Tourister give her an endorsement. 
The success of Uri, and the recognition and prestige of a National Award, seems surely to be working for Vicky Kaushal. He has been increasingly featured by brands ranging from to Aegon Life to Goibibo to Wildstone in the past year. His most visible ad outing however is surely his recent Jashn Yaari Ka for McDowell’s No. 1. 
Ayushmann Khurrana too seems to be riding a massive wave of success post his National Award. He had already been in campaigns for established brands like Samsung Galaxy, Coca Cola and Mc Dowell’s No. 1. In recent months, the likes of Urban Clap, Magicbricks, Vingajoy and watch brand Daniel Wellington have also signed him on signaling trust in the versatile Chandigarh boy. 
What remains however to be seen whether these newer and sometimes unusual choices actually work for brands. The important fulcrum in all this communication is whether the known face is playing a celebrity or merely playing a more well-known model. In most advertising with this broad-based set, the narrative uses them more as actors which is actually the right thing to do. Using familiarity, rather than cashing fame.
Change is already on its way. As more brands succeed with off-beat choices, or with unusual endorsees, it will hopefully encourage other brands too to experiment beyond the biggies. In a way, it is a scenario that benefits everyone … the likes of Virat Kohli and Ranveer Singh were starting to run the risk of over-exposure and burn-out. More contenders in the fray will just take the pressure off them; not diminish their relevance or value as too much demand for far too long was unrealistically chasing too few celebrities. A more democratic tomorrow will open up the choice set for brands. It will also help track what works, who works and why it works … benefitting the entire ecosystem. 
(Dr. Sandeep Goyal is an expert in Human Brands.) 
Campaign India

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