There has been a spurt of young faces in Bollywood, which in turn is reflected in the kind of brand endorsers who appear on TV screens. Interestingly, however, these young celebrities are women, not men.
The latest in the queue is BlackBerry which has taken on a brand endorser for the very first time in Ranbir. The announcement comes at a time when BlackBerry is struggling to maintain its special connection with the young. The company's official statement says that Ranbir's portrayal of unconventional roles as a young and vibrant actor is the reason he was chosen. BlackBerry is only the latest in a long line of truly big brands which have gone with Ranbir: among them, Pepsi, Tata Docomo, Lenovo, Nissan, Hero Moto Corp, John Players and Panasonic.
Says Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, "There is an acute shortage of young male movie celebrities. A lot of the current brand endorsers are ageing Madonnas."
With half the Indians under 25 years, what brands desperately needs is young faces. Bijoor concedes that the ruling stars, all in their forties, are fit. They can get away with playing the young man in their films because of their following but it does not work when they represent a brand, he thinks. Considering the situation, Bijoor suggests that some brands could perhaps tap into regional cinema actors as Thums Up has with Telugu star Mahesh Babu.
Vibha Desai, partner, Advertising, Media and Marketing, believes that the paucity is not in the talent pool but in ideas. "When it comes to celebrities, there seems to be a herd mentality. There is no shortage of young celebrities if a brand decides to try more interesting creatives and develop interesting angles in the script. The endorser should be able to arouse the curiosity and interest of the consumers and be able to tease them," Desai says. Because brands head towards the same celebrities, consumers find it hard to identify the face with a particular brand.
Shailendra Katyal, director, marketing, Lenovo India, concedes that there are many celebrities to choose from. Having said that, he points out that few can match up to the star status of the Khans in the movie business.
Lenovo India signed up Ranbir Kapoor last year because "being a technology company, our target is youngsters. So, we wanted a youthful, tech-savvy, intelligent personality. Also, because we are a brand for 'doers', the endorser had to be an achiever. The way Ranbir Kapoor has handled his career and chosen movies, he is seen as a self-made celebrity rather than a star son. So, on all these parameters Ranbir fitted the best," he explains.
Katyal adds that based on research, the brand also found Kapoor was universally accepted, had unisex as well as family appeal. He explains that the brand needed an endorser to strengthen its presence in small-town India where Lenovo is expanding in the personal computing space. And a familiar face helps the brand gain acceptance.
If a young celebrity is what brands need, why don't they turn to cricketers, Virat Kohli being a case in point? The problem here - apart from limited acting skills - is that public adoration can quickly turn to anger with a cricketer because Indians are crazy about the game, and take each defeat or slump in form personally. This can hurt a brand by association.
A film star, on the other hand, is recognised and loved even after a string of flops (ask Akshay Kumar). That makes them a safer bet than cricketers. Now you know why Ranbir Kapoor is special.