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The celeb quotient

Sachin Tendulkar Photo: Vivek Bendre

Sachin Tendulkar Photo: Vivek Bendre

Madhuri Dixit is not a woman who takes her cooking lightly. Soon after her marriage to Dr. Shriram Nene, I had interviewed the newly-minted wife in her Mumbai home. She sat in a baggy T-shirt, looking beautiful in a comfortably domesticated way. She talked at some length about marriage, her good doctor, and the anonymity she enjoyed in the U.S.

But my overriding memory of that interview is of her telling me with obvious delight of her efforts to cook for her husband and how she had finally learnt to make the perfect dosa . As with so much else in her life and career, the heartthrob-turned-homemaker had thrown herself with enormous sincerity into the task at hand.

I was reminded of that conversation when I saw this eminently sensible woman, doctor’s wife and mother of two prance about pushing Maggi noodles as a “healthy breakfast”. Tasty, yes. Convenient and comforting, okay. But healthy, even with oats? Madhuri’s dosa days were over. Certainly I wasn’t the only one who didn’t quite buy Madhuri’s idea of a healthy breakfast. Celebrity endorsements are not exactly benchmarks of credibility in India. Who, for instance, would believe that Bollywood seductress Katrina Kaif (I hesitate to label her an actor) would be seen in public in clothes from budget-conscious Big Bazaar? Unless of course she’s being paid extravagantly for doing so (approximately Rs. 3-5 crores a day, last heard; enough to keep her in haute couture for quite a few outings). How many times do you think Shah Rukh Khan has driven around in the Santro he endorsed for so many years? Or Saif Ali Khan popped the paan masala he peddles in ads?

More pertinently, do you even care? We take it as a given that these celebrities don’t necessarily use the products they sell so glibly. We know the spiel they spout is pretty much like the dialogue in their films — lines uttered with smooth conviction but not always reflecting their real selves, beliefs or actions.  

“Brands are increasingly using celebrities,” says Ambi M.G. Parameshwaran, Executive Director, FCB Ulka and President of the Advertising Agencies Association of India. “In the Maggi ad, Madhuri Dixit is playing a role: that of a mother of two; she’s not there as Madhuri Dixit in her personal capacity, giving a testimonial for Maggi.”

Testimonials are what come from, say, L’Oreal’s brand ambassadors Aishwarya Rai or Sonam Kapoor, who are identified as such and speak for themselves in their ads for the cosmetic major. “It’s a personal testimonial versus an actor playing a role,” argues Parameshwaran.

The dividing line is thin; one can scarcely de-link the name from the face but it’s, well, there, if push came to shove in the question of responsibility, if not culpability.

Worse, an organic connect between the celebrity and the product they’re endorsing doesn’t seem to worry too many advertisers in India. Look elsewhere in the world — Roger Federer wearing an Omega watch? You’d be surprised if the Swiss champion didn’t. Rafael Nadal or Maria Sharapova wearing Nike shoes? Of course. But Saif Ali Khan wearing Amul Macho banians or his wife Kareena Kapoor sporting faux leather Lavie handbags? That’s a stretch.

To be fair, some of our endorsements do make sense. Hunky John Abraham doing a headstand for soya milk, Saina Nehwal massaging away an ache with Iodex or Mahendra Singh Dhoni batting for a Sony Bravia TV set. But when the same Saina endorses Top Ramen noodles or Sachin Tendulkar first endorses Pepsi and then switches to Coca Cola, their credibility starts to get shaky.  

But here’s the problem: it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference to the Indian consumer, who can approve of a celebrity in an ad without needing to believe their selling pitch. And the celebrities don’t seem to be too fussy either. How else does one explain Shah Rukh Khan endorsing a whitening cream? Or others doing the honours for paan masala and surrogate ads for alcohol (the objection being to surrogate and not alcohol)?

Money matters, of course. And if you see a celebrity posing for a not-too-glamorous or respected brand, it’s probably because the moolah has been too tempting to resist. Celebrities will hike their fees by 200 or 300 per cent for a smaller or less prestigious brand like, shall we say, a banian or paan masala . The reverse is also true — as with films, stars are known to cut their rates for a prestigious name. And competition can get fierce, especially among the women. I’ve listened to one actor endorsing a major cosmetic brand gloat about bagging it, comparing the ads in her kitty to those in her rival’s. The claws come out when it’s a question of plum projects.

Because endorsements can do much more than bring in a fat cheque. Parmeshwaran puts it in adspeak when he explains: “There’s an equity transfer from brand to celebrity and vice versa. If the brand is prestigious, there’s a positive rub-off for the celebrity.” Conversely, the celebrity could see an erosion of their brand equity with an iffy product. Not that that has stopped our ad-happy endorsers, of course. Or our advertisers who baulk at celebrity rates but pull out their cheque books all the same. Says an ad agency head who declined to be quoted for obvious reasons: “Celebrities are a huge millstone around our necks. They charge a bomb but they’re available for just one day for the shoot; they’re always in a hurry, they ask to change the script, they’re a pain to deal with.”

But they sell the goods. Even when they run into troubled waters. If it’s lead today with noodles, it was pesticide yesterday with colas. The latter has ridden out that wave; noodles will eventually do the same. And soon everyone will be back in gloriously multicolour HD business.

How they rake it in

Aamir Khan: His Snapdeal contract was worth Rs.30 crores; the star is also said to charge Rs.5 crores a day to shoot.

Shah Rukh Khan: Believed to charge Rs.8-10 crores for a campaign, Rs.3-4 crores a day.

Salman Khan: Charges Rs.7 to 10 crores for an endorsement; Rs.3-4 crores a day to shoot.

Virat Kohli: His Audi deal this year was worth Rs.5 crores; he also has a Rs.30 crores three-year deal with Adidas.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni: Charges Rs.10-12 crores per campaign; a couple of big wins and he’ll be hiking his rate.

Deepika Padukone: Her fees were in the range of Rs.7-8 crores last year, leaving Katrina Kaif (Rs.5-6 crores)

and Kareena Kapoor (Rs.3-4 crores) way behind.

Akshay Kumar: He keeps his endorsement fees around the Rs.5-6 crores mark.

Saina Nehwal: Said to charge Rs.75 lakh to a crore for a campaign.

Amitabh Bachchan: The baritone’s fees are in the Rs.2-4 crore range.


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Printable version | Aug 8, 2022 9:38:10 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/are-celebrity-endorsements-a-benchmarks-of-credibility/article7309197.ece