"Pan masala category suffers from baggage of gutka players": Pan Bahar CEO on why Pierce Brosnan ads got trolled

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | October 10, 2016
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Akhil Jain, CEO of the company that markets Pan Bahar, spoke to us about his new ads and the flak they've fetched.

This new ad campaign, that broke on Friday (October 7, a play on James Bond's 007 code), featuring Hollywood actor Pierce Brosnan, has become the talk of the town - in and outside ad-land.

'Class never goes out of style - Pan Bahar. Pehchan Kamyabi Ki' goes the copy. It's also what Brosnan says at the end of the ad film. DDB Mudra has created this campaign; it falls under the 'Pehchaan Kamyabi ki' umbrella thought.

The TVC, in which Brosnan - who plays an agent, of course - wields a dabba of Pan Bahar, like he would a deadly weapon. The ad film was shot in Austin, USA.

The identity of this new brand ambassador was unveiled after a brief teaser campaign.

Sambit Mohanty

Akhil Jain

Sambit Mohanty, creative head, DDB Mudra Group (North), said about the ad on his Facebook page, "...We, at DDB Mudra (North) are chuffed at having pulled off this coup! You may rave & rant, foam & froth...but there's no denying this endorsement has changed the rules of the game. Who needs the dreary old Kapoors, Khans & Kumars when an international star is up for grabs? To hell with your self-righteousness! And to quote from our recent Adidas campaign, we'll feel the love & use the hate. Because success, er Kamyaabi, is the child of audacity."

Akhil Jain, CEO, Ashok & Co. Pan Bahar, parent company of the brand (Pan Bahar), told afaqs!, during the course of a telephonic interview, "We were scouting for someone masculine, someone who can tell a story without saying anything. We also had some lesser known models in mind, and did not begin the process by thinking of Hollywood names, but finally thought Brosnan lent a certain authenticity to the character. We wanted someone stylish... and stylish does not mean Rajinikanth." (Never mind that Brosnan is doing some dangerously Rajinikanth-like stunts in the TVC).

Jain added about the need to 'premium-ise' the pan masala segment, "When I joined, around four to five years back, we repositioned the brand. Consumer behavior is changing - everyone wants to consume a premium brand, to show his/her status. We wanted to modernise our brand and fit it into the consumer's lifestyle. We wanted to associate our brand with success. If you hold/carry our dabba of Pan Bahar, people should immediately think you are a successful guy - and not just in terms of money."

About the flak the new campaign has attracted, Jain says, "See, criticism is coming and we expected that. People are shocked... it is a new kind of brand endorsement. It has shock value. After 15-20 days people will start accepting it, definitely. Criticism is coming from marketing gurus right now, because this is all a problem of perception - the perception that it is gutka (tobacco). We believe it will gain acceptance. This negative excitement will die off soon."

A screenshot of the brand's webpage - part of the teaser campaign

The trolling, he reasons, comes from the erroneous perception that pan masala is the same as gutka. Clarifies Jain, "Previously, gutka used to be a mix of pan masala and tobacco."

Pierce Brosnan - promo image

Today, though branded gutka sachets/boxes have more or less vacated retail shelves, consumers frequently put all similar looking products in one cognitive bracket, goes the explanation. "The pan masala category suffers from the baggage that gutka players have created in the market," Jain rues, adding, "And because the packaging is similar, people think this is gutka. We want people to shed this baggage - that's the biggest challenge in this category. People like Brosnan endorsing our products will help the process."

His TG comprises the 20-30 year old "corporate" guy from SECs A and B, in the Hindi speaking belt and Eastern region. He's not concentrating much on Southern regions "because the trend (of consuming Pan Bahar-like products) is not popular there... We want to break the reservations people have about this product."

Pierce Brosnan poses with a pouch of Pan Bahar

The media plan includes leading news, movie and niche TV channels, mainline print publications (Hindi, English), outdoor and digital platforms. The campaign will extend across Tier I and II markets.

Previously, Bollywood actors like Feroz Khan, Fardeen Khan and Saif Ali Khan have endorsed Pan Bahar.

The company's 'masala portfolio' includes names like Pan Bahar Crystal (launched in 2012 and positioned as the 'World's most expensive pan masala'), Begum, Dilruba, Natkhat and Wah, among others.

Recall that earlier this year, Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan, Sunny Leone, Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan, Arbaaz Khan and Govinda were issued letters, by the health department of the Delhi Government, requesting them to stop endorsing pan masala brands.

At the time, Shweta Purandare, secretary general, ASCI, said, "At this juncture, we would like to educate consumers and advertisers that while products like pan masala and supari are not banned for sale or from advertising by law, the ASCI code does not permit the use of celebrities in advertisements of products which by law require a health warning on their packaging or those that cannot be purchased or used by minors."

Defends Jain, "See, ASCI's rule says one cannot get a celebrity to endorse a pan masala brand. But we're talking about Pan Bahar mouth freshener here."

Meanwhile, categories Jain is looking to diversify into include candy and gum. "We're at the product development level at the moment," he says.

Other high profile overseas brand associations in this market, that come to mind readily, include Hugh Jackman-Micromax, Lionel Messi-Tata Tiago and Zinedine Zidane-Kanakia Paris.

(With inputs from Ashee Sharma)

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