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Points of View: Should brands bid adieu to Salman Khan?

By Prachi Srivastava and Saumya Tewari , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | May 07, 2015
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As the actor's PR machinery is at work dealing with the negative press that his conviction in the hit-and-run case has generated, we wonder what happens to the brands he endorses.

The popularity and good press earned by a celebrity brand endorser brings a lot of credibility to the brands he/she endorses. But what happens if a brand ambassador gets caught in a web of bad press and social media comments? In the wake of actor Salman Khan's conviction in the hit-and-run case, we try to figure out whether brands try to play safe when their endorsers are in the news for unpleasant reasons.

With Rs. 400-500 crore riding on Khan (movies and endorsements), the court verdict could be a big blow to the brands that have stood by him so far. These include beverage giant Thums Up, Chlormint,
Suzuki Motorcycles , Revital, Astral Poly Technik,Yatra.com, Wheel and Splash. Other than his movies and the brands he endorses, Khan also has his own clothing line - Being Human, and has been, till recently, the host of popular reality show, 'Bigg Boss' on Colors.

Points of View: Should brands bid adieu to Salman Khan?

Some of the movies the actor has in the pipeline include 'Prem Ratan Dhan Payo' (Rajshri Productions), 'Bajrangi Bhaijaan' (Salman Khan Films and Rockline Entertainment) and 'Shuddhi' (Dharma Productions).

Can brands stand to lose if they continue to stand by him or should they look for a more credible face to endorse their products? afaqs! talks to brand consultants to understand how this development affects the brands Khan endorses and how they should deal with the situation.

Samit Sinha, founder, Alchemist Brand Consulting

Samit Sinha

Whenever you are signing on a celebrity and putting investment behind him/her, you expect him/her to carry the brand image on his/her shoulders. In that case, you are taking a huge risk because the brand's fortune can fluctuate with the celebrity's fortune - it could be anything like a scandal (Tiger Woods) or an untimely demise. Brands can sometimes hedge their bet by not being dependent on one celebrity, like Lux. Typically, if there is a big scandal associated with a celebrity and public opinion turns negative towards him, then the best thing to do is to drop the association as quickly as possible and pull out the ad.

Having said that, I would suggest the brands being endorsed by Salman to wait and watch out for public opinion. If they dump him, the decision may backfire - people may not like the brand for not sticking by him in time of his trouble. Just because one is sentenced to prison doesn't mean the public will turn against him. Look at Sanjay Dutt, for example. He has spent a lot of his recent time in jail, but he is loved by many in the country. Sometimes, you may be a legal offender, but still people may see you as a hero. It can also generate sympathy. Salman has only been convicted now; the perpetration of the act happened long back. He got a fair amount of bad publicity even then, but he carried on. His movies have been blockbusters and are loved.

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Shubho Sengupta, independent brand consultant

Shubho Sengupta

With high-risk stars like Salman Khan, brands do have Plan B always in place. This is not the 90s where stars like Amitabh Bachchan associate with brands and there is an element of trust involved. Now, brands have legal contracts in place to help them wade through any controversy or issue. In India, where Bollywood and cricket is a religion, stars from these fraternities have mass appeal and people tend to forgive them.

A majority of Khan fans or followers who consume the products he endorses care much about what he has done 10 years back. This will be discussed on social media for three days and will fade away. India is a very insensitive country, where incidents like 'black buck' and 'hit-and-run case' keep happening and people tend to forget them. I might sound cynical, but because of this conviction the brands Khan endorses will be talked about more.

Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, Brand-Comm

Ramanujam Sridhar

Salman Khan, in my opinion, does not have universal appeal. There are certain audiences, probably from SEC C, D and E, to whom his films directly cater to. He's not Aamir Khan who tries to do different roles and whose fan following is more skewed towards SEC A of the population. The brands associated with him are fully aware of the controversies surrounding him, which, at times, also give the brand enough visibility. I don't see a Lux Cozi pulling out from the deal, unlike what Nike did with Tiger Woods. But, an international brand like Suzuki might consider revisiting its decision to continue with Khan, as the association is fairly new and international brands usually have certain guidelines when it comes to legal matters.

So, while his popularity will take a beating, not all brand categories will pull out deals with the actor. There will no major immediate impact and, over a period of time, there will be positive stories about his philanthropy work and his own brand Being Human doing good humanitarian work which will work for him and also the brands he has been endorsing. But, if he doesn't do many film projects and stays away from the public eye then problems might spring up and advertisers might consider replacing him.

Manish Porwal, MD, Alchemist Marketing & Talent Solutions

Manish Porwal

Today, the brands that Salman Khan endorses must be almost as anxious as he himself is. They are to take an inevitable but difficult decision - to be [with him] or not to be.

Most brands that fall in Salman's portfolio are the dare-devil or massy ones. Ones which, unlike in the case of Tiger Woods, can actually push the envelope and use the situation. Simplistically seen, they should stand with him and use this occasion cheekily to get attention and garner positive emotions towards Salman. Having said that, on grounds of reality - this is an extremely difficult and 'risky' strategy to execute. It can wipe off a brand's fortune in a day. It is easy for social influencers to target such a brand endeavour and make it a national wave against them. Simply put, they are consumer brands which are supposedly responsible and cannot favour something which is least controversial. It is not easy for them to show support in favour of someone convicted and hope for public sympathy to be with them. An odd irony that when Salman gets maximum news, his brand partners will have to desert him.

Thums up

The most likely scenario for most brands Salman endorses, is to stay quiet and not use him or release a campaign till the dust somewhat settles. The second step then would be to quietly replace him or go with a non-celeb campaign. I am also sure that most have been preparing for this eventuality and are already ready with a back-up plan. The ones I definitely feel will move on fast are Thums Up, Suzuki, Yatra, Revital and Wheel.

Jagdeep Kapoor, CMD, Samsika Marketing Consultants

Jagdeep Kapoor

Salman Khan has mass appeal and a fan following that has been built over the years. I do not think that this judgment will impact his popularity and, thereby, the brand endorsements negatively. There is only a Plan A for the brands being endorsed by popular actor that is to stick with him. This development will only increase his brand equity and also bring the brands associated with him in the limelight. Although controversial, we also cannot deny that Khan has helped some of the brands to grow in the market tremendously. Brands have to take a long-term view of the situation and tide through this.

Cajetan Vaz, independent branding consultant

Cajetan Vaz

If you look at Sanjay Dutt. He himself was endorsing several brands when he was arrested. I don't think the Indian public has problems with stars who get into any kind of criminal issues. I personally feel that the effect will be more on his appearance, but for brands he has endorsed in past, I don't see them getting impacted as such. I think one brand that got affected was Revital, when Yuvraj Singh had health issues, but it was because the brand is directly connected to health.

Unless the brand was talking about high-morals, it won't affect them. Whatever Salman Khan is endorsing, people know it is an ad and he is a brand ambassador. They don't see his personal life in the role he plays as an actor. If he was endorsing brands that stood for values or morals or society, or a brand like Tata that stands for trust, then yes, there could have been negative impact. But, if he is endorsing brands which talk about being daring and macho, I think for all you know it may just strengthen that image. The whole chatter is short-lived; India will forget about it soon. The negative impact will not be that bad. If he was talking something and doing something else, it would have been affected more.

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