Ananya Pathak

After cric-freak granny, Pepsi does it again with Sonu Sood

The Cola brand has yet again extended moment marketing to celebrity endorsement, with no possible long-term association. Does it work well?

Earlier this week, PepsiCo, India’s leading food and beverage company, brought actor Sonu Sood onboard for its digital video campaign. The ‘lockdown hero’ (Sood) has been in the news lately for all the good reasons - an opportunity that no brand would like to miss, especially not Pepsi. Remember the Cola giant wasted no time in seizing the opportunity to ride on the popularity of Charulata Patel, the cric-freak granny who cheered for the 'Men in Blue' in the India-Bangladesh one-day match on July 2, 2019.

The brand had roped in the 87-year-old for its #HarGhoontMeinSwagHai campaign for the 2019 ICC World Cup. This time around, as an extension of the same campaign, Sood, the ‘Messiah of Migrants’, is seen dancing to the tunes of ‘Swag Se Solo’ in a branded Instagram video shared by him.

The campaign aims to champion the cause of contactless greetings, and encourages adherence to social distancing norms through the rather traditional 'Salaam Namaste'. With this video, Sood joins fellow actor and Pepsi brand ambassador Salman Khan, who kicked off the digital forward campaign last week. This duo take us back to their ‘Dabangg’ connection. Who wouldn’t remember ‘Robin Hood’ Chulbul Pandey (Khan) and ‘antagonist’ Chedi Singh (Sood) from the 2010 film.

But can the off-screen popularity of a celeb turn into a long-term brand relationship? We wonder as the granny’s face quickly faded away from the brand’s image, after netizens moved on from her.

Well, to Amit Dhawan, head of digital at Sociowash, and co-founder of Sociowash Digital Academy, it does not seem like a long-term association. “Pepsi would rather stick to one ambassador (Khan) and collaborate, with the other... lt's on and off for a few campaigns, like they always do.”

Amit Dhawan
Amit Dhawan

But then, looking at the rising popularity of Sood, Dhawan has his doubts. “As these times are here to stay for a while, a lot may change in marketing, and brands may look at continued association with multiple ambassadors, not just one. It will be interesting to see.”

Dhawan finds this collaboration ‘absolutely spot on’. “Sood is actively working for the cause, and Pepsi has taken a stand as well, so it's a perfect fit... He has gained massive popularity in the last few weeks and that makes it a great association for any brand. So yes, it works well.”

Also Read: Here's how Pepsi rides on the cric-freak granny swag...

But Dhawan looks at it in a different way, as well. According to him, when Pepsi launched 'Swag Se Solo' campaign with Khan, it implied that one is single by choice/style. 'Swag Se Solo' continues as Pepsi's umbrella campaign, but what the brand now ‘wants to’ communicate has changed.

'Swag Se Solo' now implies living a distant life in the COVID times, Dhawan feels. “That’s what they are doing with the 'Salaam Namaste' communication with multiple celebrities, of which Sood is also a part now. The perspective here is, will Pepsi’s, or Sood’s, or Khan’s, audience understand, or resonate, with the new meaning/inference of the word 'Solo'? Because otherwise, it doesn’t work. Sood isn’t solo. He is a married man. The majority of the audience come from Tier 2 and 3 regions. So, we need to look at the thought process of the receivers (audience) as well.”

Overall, Dhawan thinks it is a great move, but execution wise, he believes that in the communication, Pepsi could have been a little more elaborate.

Commenting on the same, Manish Porwal, managing director, Alchemist Marketing and Talent Solutions, sets forth two values of a celebrity – popularity and influence. He opines that going forward, it will be okay for brands to choose less popular, or lesser-known, celebs who have more influence. In Pepsi’s context, he says, “Sood’s added advantage today is the CSR stuff he’s doing. Why would you otherwise think of him, and not Mohit Chauhan…”

Manish Porwal
Manish Porwal

Porwal feels a brand like Pepsi has enough reach and muscle behind it, and it can also afford celebrities as an ingredient. “We’ll see a lot of celebrities being used as influencers in the name of moment marketing.”

Porwal also sees a sharp decline in the use of top end celebrities in favor of the smaller ones, and who may have deeper and more contextual influence circle.

Also Read: Sonu Sood joins Pepsi's Instagram campaign, encourages ‘Salaam And Namaste’ greetings

Harikrishnan Pillai, CEO and co-founder, TheSmallBigIdea, believes Sood is the flavour of the season, courtesy the brilliant work he's done for the migrant labourers.

Harikrishnan Pillai
Harikrishnan Pillai

“Pepsi’s 'Salaam Namaste' rendition of its 'Swag Se Solo' campaign itself is a time-bound tactical campaign, and Sood’s inclusion is a tactical inclusion. Honestly, it’s nothing more than a topical post with a relevant actor willing to be a part of it for a brand with deep pockets. It’s unlikely that this association will continue beyond this,” Pillai signs off.

Also Read: Pepsi unveils new anthem; celebrates being single by choice