We analyse his equity as the face of a brand.
Not too long ago, Ambuja Cement made a pretty 'solid' ad starring WWE superstar - Dalip Singh Rana or as he's more popularly known - The Great Khali. The mockumentary-style film depicted the larger-than-life wrestler's struggles as his strength became his weakness. The brand used the wrestler's strength to drive home its 'walls that cannot be broken' message.
Cut to 2018 and Nestlé Munch's launch of its latest ad film featuring, once again, the Great Khali. This time around he shares screen-time with Bollywood's latest sensation - Ishaan Khattar. Shot at Srinagar's picturesque Dal Lake, the 45-second film, conceptualised by JWT, opens with Khattar's stunned reaction after seeing his date and her chaperone, Khali. The cheeky moment heightens the tension when Khattar's date asks him to sit next to her on a Shikara (a Kashmiri boat). Under-confident and afraid, Khattar bites into a Nestlé Munch Nuts bar and conceives of an idea to save the date.
Recently Vigo Video, an app for original short-video content, dubbed the wrestling star the face of the brand.
afaqs! asked a few senior people from the industry if Khali would able to re-create the magic or was the success of Ambuja a one-time thing. We were also curious to know just how they would classify Khali's equity as a celebrity endorser - being neither a quintessential athlete who can sell brands on the back of attributes like grit and determination (Virat Kohli) nor a 'typical star'. Perhaps humour is becoming the only recourse for brands that sign Khali on, i.e. Khali's endorsement equity may not be able to go further than just hilarious histrionics. Naturally, this would also require understanding which product categories can look at Khali as a viable face, as well.
According to Tarun Singh Chauhan - former managing partner, JWT and former president - Lowe Lintas, Khali's main selling point that brands can tap into is the 'strength story'. He doesn't stand for any other value. Any brand in the strength/strong space can use him as an endorser - tactfully.
He says, "Khali - the comedian - will not work, just like Johny Lever playing a hero. Celebrities sit in tight brackets in consumers' minds and it's tough to get them out of these brackets. Very few celebrities can pull this off. For Ambuja Cement, it was a perfect fit. The brand played on Khali's core value which is strength. These things become a blind spot if repeated and will not remain fresh."
Malaica Abreu - managing consultant at Alchemist Marketing Solutions is of the opinion that large-scale audience fragmentation has occurred in recent times and one can classify them in various ways now, including psychographics. This gave rise to a lot of endorsers who are more than models, but less than superstars - Paresh Rawal and Boman Irani, to more recently, Pankaj Tripathi. "Many of them found a place in what I would call the 'quasi-endorser' space. Khali would be one of them," she says.
According to Abreu, some characters, in certain ads, are remembered for a long time; it feels as if there wouldn't be a second match for them. Khali's role in Ambuja Cement was just that.
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She adds that in commercials which are short, the time required for the establishment of a character is saved when you use a relatable character like Khali, who depicts physical power. "The scripts, so far, have demanded that Khali be portrayed in a comical role. But Khali is engaged by brands because of this persona - being strong, broad built and huge. There was a distinct advantage that Ambuja had in using Khali for the first time which no other brand would get, not even Munch."
Navin Kansal, chief creative officer, 21N78E Creative Labs feels that Khali's endorsement equity can go beyond 'hilarious histrionics' as the gentle giant, an enabler of all things that are beyond the bounds of people like us or for brands which inherently need to convey power and strength.
He says, "Product categories from tyres to fleet services and even logistics can look at Khali as a viable face."
However, Kansal maintains, "The sheer novelty factor of having someone like Khali coupled with endearing storytelling made the Ambuja Cement campaign a highly successful one. Once the novelty factor has worn off, it's never easy to replicate the magic. Nestlé Munch is a classic case of brawn being outfoxed by the brain."
Agreeing with Kansal, Jagdeep Kapoor, CMD - Samsika Marketing Consultants says that Khali can be humorous, frightening, childlike, a villain, a hero, ferocious or gentle. Hence, he cuts the clutter. He can create magic for brands again and again and again.
According to Kapoor, "All product categories can look at Khali as a viable face as he is able, stable and hence, viable. He is adaptable and a unique brand ambassador. He is his own category. I would call Khali's category GGG - Great Gentle Giant."