Shreyas Kulkarni

What is Akshay Kumar doing in the Vimal “Bolo Zubaan Kesari” Elaichi universe?

Does endorsing a brand similar to a sibling pan masala brand, affect his brand image?

Akshay Kumar is a no-nonsense guy. The actor wakes up before most residents in his society building, his exercise regime is more disciplined than three-fourths of Mumbai’s population, his diet is healthy and he looks quite fit for his age (54).

He wraps up his film and ad shoots on time, and before the clock strikes 11 p.m., he is said to appear drowsy.

He is, undoubtedly, your adult version of ‘Adarsh Balak’.

So, why is ‘Action Khiladi’, as he’s called by many, endorsing Vimal Elaichi, a brand of edible cardamom seeds, whose parent company is known for selling ‘toxic’ (unhealthy) pan masala

This is the same actor who, a few years ago, spoke against stars endorsing toxic and unhealthy products, at a press conference. “I request them (the actors) to not endorse such products, because people see them, follow them…,” remarked Kumar.

One may assume that such a move would negatively impact Kumar’s brand image. He is ranked number three on the Duff and Phelps Celebrity Brand Valuation 2021, with a brand value of close to $140 million. He counts the likes of Harpic, PolicyBazaar, Kajaria Tiles, Lever Ayush, Sting Energy, Kurkure and Dollar Big Boss in his brand portfolio.

To endorse Vimal Elaichi, which many claim is nothing but surrogate advertising for the company’s pan masala offering, is a risky move for Kumar’s brand personality.

Naresh Gupta, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Gurugram-based new age communication company Bang In The Middle, terms pan masala as a ‘sin’ category. “It is not a category Akshay Kumar should associate himself with.”

But that is not necessarily true, others feel. “It will not affect his brand image, because his on-screen (star) persona has nothing to do with it,” says KS Chakravarty (or ‘Chax’, as he is known as), vice president of creative services, Zenoti, a SaaS firm. (Chakravarty was former chief creative officer at Leo Burnett, Rediffusion and FCB Ulka.)

Chakravarty feels Kumar has done varied roles to not just be defined as a fitness freak on the 70mm screen, and that is why people go to watch him.

But, is Kumar really associating himself with the pan masala category? One can make a clear distinction between a pack of elaichi pods and a pack of gutkha or pan masala. Kumar is endorsing the former and not the latter. People have various investments and interests. You can’t taint your opinion basis one of the businesses of the parent company.

Gupta asks if one has ever read the fine print of the brand in its advertisement. “The disclaimer says that it has artificial sweeteners in it, and saffron is one small added flavour in it. Forget surrogate, even for what it is, it is not the fairest of all the products out there.”

Money speaks

If it is such a risky category, or maybe it is not, then Kumar must have surely done due diligence.

Manish Porwal, managing director at Mumbai-based Alchemist Marketing Solutions, feels that Kumar must have got enough indemnity and charged an exorbitant sum for this endorsement.

“There are enough brands in his portfolio. This one is slightly lower down and may not do much for his brand image. Second, I am sure that he will have mutual creative control (to offset anything that could go against him),” Porwal signs off.

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