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Soft drink brands can do without celebrities

By , agencyfaqs! | In Advertising | June 14, 2006
Last week, the Union health minister urged celebrities to refrain from endorsing soft drink brands because they were harmful for kids. Brand owners and advertising agencies handling the soft drink brands are unanimous in their opinion that such a rule won't work in India, but they are equally positive that soft drink brands can do without celebrities


Last week, Union & #BANNER1 & # health minister Ambumani Ramadoss urged celebrities - both cricketers and film stars - to refrain from endorsing colas and soft drink brands. The reason cited was that children were increasing their consumption of soft drinks and this was not a healthy trend.

But it seems that the industry - both the soft drink brands and their advertising agencies - is not really listening to Ramadoss. A spokesperson from Coca-Cola India, which owns five soft drink brands in India, says, "It was merely an innocuous comment made by the health minister."

Coca-Cola India feels there was no consensus and the issue is dead and buried now.

Arvind Sharma, CEO and chairman, Leo Burnett, the agency which handles Thums Up (a Coca-Cola brand), hopes no such ban will be effected in India.

He says, "We are part of the global network and we can't have any such specific policy for the brand in India."

"These allegations about colas being bad for health are baseless and irrational. It is an issue created by certain interest groups. They cannot curtail citizens' freedom," says Sharma.

Echoing his statement, JC Giri, president, Ogilvy & Mather, Mumbai, says, "We are certain such a rule won't be passed."

But his confidence may be misplaced. Recently, when a similar issue concerning film stars smoking on screen was raised, a ban was put into place after a lot of debate. One wonders if the soft drink 'rule' will also go the same way. Brand consultants such as Francis Xavier, managing director, Francis Kanoi Marketing Planning, say, "If health is the parameter, then one can go about banning so many things."

But can the soft drink brands survive without the help of celebrities? The two leading brands in this category - Coca-Cola and Pepsi - have more than one celebrity as brand ambassadors. Coca-Cola is endorsed by film actors Aamir Khan and Aishwarya Rai and cricketer Virendra Sehwag. Pepsi is endorsed by Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Kareena Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra.

Anirban Sen, vice-president, creative, McCann-Erickson, who handles the cola brand for the agency, says, "It's not that a cola brand can't do without a celebrity, but celebrities do help the brand create fast recall and cut through the clutter."

"Cola is a fun category, so a celebrity makes it easier for the brand to reach out to its young TG. Overall, this strategy is followed by brands worldwide."

When contacted by agencyfaqs!, JWT, the agency behind the Pepsi commercials in India, declined to comment on the issue, saying that its client had advised them not to do so. The Pepsi spokesperson was not available for a clarification

Industry people like JC Giri of O&M, which handles soft drink brands Limca and Sprite, say, "If ever any such thing happens, then the job will probably be more challenging. But then the purpose wouldn't be fulfilled as people will continue consuming these drinks, irrespective of whether a celeb endorses them or not."

Of the two brands that O&M handles, it doesn't use a celebrity for one. Sania Mirza is the brand ambassador for Sprite, but for Limca, the agency uses Deepika Padukone, a model and the daughter of ace badminton player Prakash Padukone.

Arvind Sharma of Leo Burnett, which handles the Thums Up brand, is also of the opinion that soft drink brands can do well without the help of a celebrity. He says, "We have already done it in the past."

In fact, Thums Up has used ads without celebrities in the past. In recent times, however, it has also started using celebrities, mainly Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan.

Even if the agencies and brand owners are confident that they can do without a celebrity, the celebrities themselves certainly wouldn't like it. After all, the ads mean loads of money for them.

2006 agencyfaqs!

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