Since the dawn of time, or the 1980s as my generation puts it, we’ve had famous faces help us pawn products. Sri Devi for Lux, Colleen Khan for Pond’s, Vinod Khanna for Cinthol – all staring out of billboards and TV screens and newspapers, urging us to buy this particular cream or soap or whatever.
Buy it, they seemed to say, so that you can be as young/beautiful/rich/famous/attractive to men/attractive to women as I am.
And then we all grew up.
Today instead of Colleen Khan there is Kareena Kapoor. Instead of Vinod Khanna, there is the sublime Hrithik Roshan. Instead of Sri Devi, there is Katrina Kaif. (Well, there is Sri Devi too, looking not a day older in a very sold-her-soul-to-stranger-with-forked-tail sort of way. ) And instead of celebrity endorsement, there is something that’s a whole different ballgame.
Coke and McCann tried it with Aamir Khan donning different roles for Coke. But if someone succeeded fabulously at it, it was Idea and Lowe with Abhishek Bachchan. From the very first ‘What an Idea, sirjee’ campaign, they used Abhishek very differently from regular celebrities. In most Idea commercials, Abhishek Bachchan isn’t an actor, a celebrity and Aishwarya Rai’s husband. He’s just a guy. Who sells tea, or is the village sarpanch or yes, sure, even a tree. The idea and consequently Idea, is bigger than Abhishek in the ad. And that makes me want to give a huge thumbs-up to everyone involved. To Lowe for changing the celeb endorsement format and creating interesting commercials time after time. To Idea, for allowing the agency to try something different. And to AB’s baby for being such a good sport about it all.
Other have tried to take the ‘celebrity as everyman’ road and gotten so hopelessly lost, one feels the urge to take them gently by the hand and explain in a soft voice that the ad on their hands is utter crap. It’s almost easier to watch Katrina Kaif profess her undying love for Yardley because it doesn’t pretend to be something creative. Sure, the London connect is painfully fake, but hey, it is what it is.
And what it is, is a tired old format. I’m so-and-so and I use XYZ brand. The ‘I’ could be anybody, but is usually Shah Rukh Khan. So much so that you can’t tell one SRK ad from another anymore. Toothpaste, soap, electronics, beauty products, mosquito repellent and whole-wheat atta have all blended into one celebrity face. And that’s just sad.
Because the brand that’s trying to gain mileage from a famous face, quite simply, isn’t.
One reason is that sometimes the connection between the brand and the celebrity is either mismatched or non-existent. Salman Khan for Mountain Dew, okay, maybe. Salman Khan for a diamond jewelry brand? Seriously?
And usually, the agency isn’t to be blamed for this kind of fiasco. Because enough star-struck fans on the client’s side usually means that Mr. Bachchan will be roped in to sell anything from digestive pills to insurance. Whether the audience remembers the name of the brand, the product being sold or anything except the deep baritone and stately face on screen, is somebody else’s problem.
So then why go for these Bollywood types at all, I hear people (mostly us creative types that is) ask. Let’s drop them like a shiny little hot potato and try something different already. But like the saying goes, easier said than done, isn’t it?
You see, we work out of metros, write in American-laced English and pick up D&AD annuals for a little light reading. Most of the consumers for our products, don’t. No, they live in class A and B towns and cities and use commercials during Balika Vadhu as valuable time to go turn off the gas under the dal. And when they visit their friendly neighbourhood store for their monthly supply of goods, they don’t ask for the product with the Cannes gold winning ad. No, they count the change carefully and say with a smile, “Woh Katrinawaali fairness cream dena.”
But perhaps the blame doesn’t lie only with the client or the consumer. Granted, doing a campaign with a celebrity is creatively restrictive and if he has the acting skills of Sreesanth, then probably a major pain in the backside as well. But we can at least try to not be boring. If McDonald’s Australia can push Shane Warne out of the frame with so much originality and humour, what exactly is our excuse?
Vedashree Khambete is an ACD with Mudra, a writer at heart and a coffee-addict by vocation.