Prachi Srivastava and Ashwini Gangal
Interviews

"A brand should stick by its 'face' through thick and thin": Ranveer Singh

Does Ranveer Singh even know what afaqs! is, we wonder, as we make our way to Mumbai's Yash Raj Studios for a rather atypical interview. Our doubts are put to rest when he answers the question with, "Of course, I know what it is... I was a copywriter with O&M and JWT!" He also reminds us that he has worked on brands like Mattel, Pond's, Goodnight and the Right to Information Act.

Of course, that was the proverbial lifetime ago. Today, the 29-year-old actor is much sought after not only in Bollywood, but also in the world of brands. And his choice of brands is markedly outlandish.

He broke what he famously calls his "brand virginity" with Durex; we're still not over his naughty 'Do The Rex' dance number. We then saw him dance to a far tamer yet immensely entertaining song called 'My name is Ranveer Ching', which is a branded music video by food brand Ching's.

Cheeky creatives by Myntra's private label Roadster followed. And most recently, he played a suited-booted office-goer in an ad for Ciaz, a car from the house of Maruti Suzuki. Seen the shot in which he smiles into the rear-view mirror? It's almost like he's sharing a private joke with the viewer. In 'real life', he drives a Jaguar, by the way.

Liquor brand Royal Stag has roped him (along with his colleague Arjun Kapoor) in for an upcoming VFX-heavy campaign titled 'Ab mein sab daal do'.

In a recent interview - a delightful flight from tradition - we spoke to the verbose actor to understand the way in which he approaches brand endorsements. Edited Excerpts:

Edited Excerpts

You stayed away from brand endorsements for a long time before Durex happened. What were you waiting for, really?

Maybe I was waiting for something as disruptive as Durex to happen. I wanted my first foray into the ad space to make a big noise. I didn't want to make conventional choices. After Band Baaja Baaraat (2010) there was a flood of endorsement offers - wrong brands at the right prices, right brands at the wrong prices. Something wasn't fitting.

"A brand should stick by its 'face' through thick and thin": Ranveer Singh
"A brand should stick by its 'face' through thick and thin": Ranveer Singh
I passed up some very lucrative offers from beverage brands and telecom brands. Either the creatives weren't fitting, or they weren't valuing me - all the criteria boxes weren't being ticked off at once. In retrospect, I made some mistakes... some bad decisions. I've declined umpteen number of brands and a staggering amount of money.

Finally, after the success of Lootera (2013), Ram-Leela (2013) and Gunday (2014), I started getting better endorsement offers. As much as talent management agencies try and sell talent into the market, it is successful films that lead to better endorsement offers.

Having waited for so long, I decided to start on my own terms. And a thought struck - why has a mainstream actor never endorsed a condom? And why are these ads made in such a lusty, seductive way - they're all the same! Indian society has come a long way from treating sex as a taboo subject. Sex is a beautiful thing that needs to be celebrated and safe sex needs to be promoted.

I told my team I wanted to do this. Some thought it was cool idea; others thought I'd lost the plot. I said, 'Call Durex.' And when my team went to Durex, they jumped at the idea. We collaborated and came up with the idea of making a dance to celebrate sex. Reckitt Benckiser said, 'But we don't have spends.' I said, 'Fine, put all the money into the production of the film and we'll release it online, not TV.'

Ranveer Singh at a recent event by Tommy Hilfiger
You are consciously making unconventional brand choices. Why? What's the strategy?

Some of my peers view endorsements as the 'place where you make your money'. You don't charge that much for your films because you try and do the 'best' films... and the best films don't pay the best money. The films you probably don't want to do are the ones that are going to pay you good money.

But I don't look at endorsements that way. For me, it's never about the money. Fortunately, my father was well off enough to never put that kind of pressure on me.

I view endorsements as a part of my equity. It is a 30-45 second short film that's going to feature me, my pictures are going to be blown up around 80 feet and put on the road. For me, it's an avatar in which I'll be seen.

I take endorsements very seriously. What I've managed to acquire so far is an enviable equity of advertising.

Mainstream actors don't usually endorse certain 'types' of brands like feminine hygiene products. But you did Durex and Anushka Sharma endorsed Sofy sanitary napkins. What has caused this shift?

That was my idea! We were shooting Ladies vs Ricky Bahl (2011) at the time. And she said, 'You know, there's this offer....' I said, 'Why don't you just do it?'

We have come a long way from being cagey about these things. Today we can talk about normal health issues in an open manner. We need to break away from a regressive mindset.

You were a copywriter once. To what extent does your advertising experience help you? Do you take part in the creative process?

Given my copywriting background, I take immense pride in the fact that I am able to give creative inputs when asked. For instance, Ching's came to me with a very unique problem. They said their unit sales were doing just fine; in fact, they're a leading brand. Everyone buys it but nobody recognises the name. The consumers are buying a sauce, but don't know the name.

What will happen when they start making soups and noodles? Where is the brand value? They wanted the name to have a ring to it. That's when I suggested - why not attach the brand name to my name and create this character (Ranveer Ching)? Now we have big plans for 'The Return of Ranveer Ching'.

"A brand should stick by its 'face' through thick and thin": Ranveer Singh
We've heard that you're very involved with the ad-making process. That must give you a heightened sense of ownership...

Yes. I want to know the creatives and the campaign. I am very involved. It keeps the copywriter in me happy. And I am happy that whenever I have given creative inputs, the ad has worked.

It's not that I interfere. Much to my dismay, rival talent management agencies are spreading rumours about me, saying I'm difficult to work with because I interfere with creatives.

I can't just go in, service the brand and come out. I take my craft seriously.

Now that you have developed this naughty image on the brand scene, aren't certain product segments off limits?

Like what?

Well, for instance, we just can't picture you doing a 'Do Boond Zindagi Ke' kind of ad...

Okay, so I won't do Pulse Polio. What else?

I think I'm balancing it well. See the Ciaz ad. It's about a straight-laced, suited-booted, young corporate vibe. It's a clean campaign, cut and dried, nothing quirky about it. It appeals to serious guys.

"A brand should stick by its 'face' through thick and thin": Ranveer Singh
Nowadays, celebrities have started treating their endorsement deals as a 'second career' and ads today are scrutinised more than they ever used to be. Does this affect your brand choices? Does it add to the pressure?

If my ads are highly anticipated, it means there is something right in what I am doing. That's how I want it to be too. It will keep me on my toes, make sure I don't make any wrong decision, and keep some amount of quality control.

Which product categories would you like to start endorsing?

I would like to make a splash in the marquee categories - beverages, telecommunication service providers, two-wheelers and electronics.

The endorsement game is harder on sportspersons than it is on actors. It takes a series of flops before your endorsements are affected but one bad match and that's it for a cricketer...

I am not an expert on the trade side of things so I don't know why this difference exists.

Sure, I understand that it's a capitalist game. But if a brand has married itself to a face, I think it should stick by the person through thick and thin. For me, it's a relationship that extends beyond a monetary exchange.

Home page picture courtesy: Rohan Shrestha