Ubaid Zargar

Your favourite movie characters are being reprised in ads; here’s why

Brands are one-upping each other in reviving memorable old film characters for their ads. Experts dissect the incentive behind this approach.

Have you come across your favourite childhood film character selling you insurance, a phone, or a travel package? That is the new trend in the ad world, it seems. 

There has been a surge in ads where celebrities are reprising their old movie roles to promote various brands in India. These are some profoundly popular, some might even say iconic, characters being revived for promotional purposes.

Who hasn’t watched Jab We Met? And who doesn’t love 'Geet'? Well, online travel booking brand Goibibo’s new ad features Bollywood actress Kareena Kapoor, who has lent her bold and beautiful ‘Sikhni of Bhatinda’ character to the brand.

In another ad for the brand, the actress has also reenacted her ‘Poo’ character, from the film Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.

Kapoor is seen recreating her popular scene from the film, where she surfs through her university premises, rating the men she crosses by. Of course, here she is rating hotel rooms. The travel booking brand isn’t alone in this creative endeavour. 

Take 'Munna Bhai' and his sidekick 'Circuit', for example. Last year, both the characters from the blockbuster film Munna Bhai M.B.B.S., were seen advocating insurance for ACKO, an insurance company. Both the actors put on their old film shoes to simplify and promote ACKO’s Platinum Health Plan

Or how about the viral Wake Up Sid rendezvous being utilised for OPPO commercials? The smartphone brand gathered the cast of the 2009 film, including the stars Ranbir Kapoor and Konkona Sen Sharma, in its Sid Wakes Up in Goa campaign in January 2024, for the launch of the OPPO Reno 11 series.

Speaking of Ranbir Kapoor, his entire filmography is incomplete without the mention of his iconic character from the film Rockstar, 'Janardan Jakhar', "JJ for short". Such is the appeal of this film and this character, that Rungta Steel, a B2B brand, decided to onboard it for its promotional purposes in February 2024.

The ad film also features actors Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan, who are playing their on-screen avatars from Gangubai Kathiawadi and Raees.

Another notable entry in this list of fiction-led advertising is UPI Chalega’s recent ad featuring the infamous ‘Vasooli Bhai’ from the comedy blockbuster Golmaal: Fun Unlimited.

From a communications standpoint, this trend is conceivably effective. By tapping into the nostalgia and emotional connection viewers have with these beloved characters, brands can instantly capture attention and create a strong association with their products or services. But what do the industry folks make of it?

Brands onboard iconic characters from the past for their ads.
Brands onboard iconic characters from the past for their ads.

Ajeet Shukla, group executive director (west), Dentsu Creative India, says that the benefit behind such creatives for brands is that it allows them to stand out of the cluttered ad space.

Ajeet Shukla, group executive director (west), Dentsu Creative India
Ajeet Shukla, group executive director (west), Dentsu Creative India

“It’s the easiest way to grab people’s attention, especially when they are exposed to hundreds of ads on a daily basis. It just helps to stand out in the sea of sameness,” he says.

Shukla is also of the opinion that many of these ads have found tangible success, which is perhaps why other brands have tried their hands at the formula. He adds, “Recall value and relatability factors are always high when you see a blast from the past. Everyone tries to ride on a successful formula; it’s tried and tested and grabs immediate attention from viewers.”

The incentive for brands to hire celebrities to portray their fictional characters lies in the immense stardom and recognition these actors have achieved through these roles. But the idea of presenting them in a character they’ve already played, isn’t limited to a storyboard discussion. One can infer that it would require a lot of back and forth with the original film owners to sort out the legalities around copyrights.

For instance, Famous Innovations, the creative agency that conceptualised The OPPO campaign featuring the cast of Wake of Sid, had to acquire character rights from Dharma Productions, and music rights from Sony Music.

This is why, as per Prashant Gopalakrishnan, who is the founding partner at Talented, some brands are more experimental than others when it comes to such creative ventures.

Prashant Gopalakrishnan, founding partner at Talented
Prashant Gopalakrishnan, founding partner at Talented

He says, “In the era of daring new clients, there's a penchant for experimentation. These forward-thinking brands are eager to delve into pop culture, ensuring their audience is not just engaged but deeply invested. Additionally, employing celebrity avatars demands increased budgets, given the discussions revolving around royalties.”

Gopalakrishnan also cautions about the overuse of such tropes, citing the possibility of rendering the works mundane and forgettable. He says, “If used excessively, commercials featuring on-screen avatars risk becoming mundane and forgettable. Achieving a captivating blend of on-screen characters and celebrity allure is essential. Both elements must harmoniously coexist to leave a lasting impression.”

Sanjeev Kotnala,  brand and marketing consultant, Intradia World, believes that the choice between presenting a celebrity as themselves or an old character isn't solely a creative matter but a pivotal strategic decision that should complement the brand insights and storytelling. 

Sanjeev Kotnala,  brand and marketing consultant, Intradia World
Sanjeev Kotnala, brand and marketing consultant, Intradia World

He says, “ In many cases, the brand journey begins with the character or the celebrity, shaping the creatives and the questions that follow. If you must use them- do justice to them. Ensure that you exploit or leverage them for what they are and what their right area of expertise or influence would be. For me, the characters work better than the celebrities.”

According to him, characters often outshine celebrities in brand campaigns owing to their relatability and familiarity with audiences. “They are more focused and better suited to the situation, sometimes even overshadowing the celebrity. For instance, characters like Muna Bhai, Gabbar, Mogambo, Mr India, Don, and Animal have become household names, resonating deeply with the audience.”

Kotnala also warns against solely relying on celebrities for endorsements, especially if their association with the product seems improbable to consumers, as it could be perceived as a squandering of resources in today's media-savvy landscape.

Whilst celebrity endorsements persist in Indian advertising, Kotnala suggested that their prevalence might dwindle over time due to evolving consumer attitudes and increased exposure to social media. 

Shivaji Dasgupta, who is the founder and managing director at INEXGRO Brand Advisory, says that a celebrity's main job is to boost brand recognition and thrust it into consumers' consciousness. "When a celebrity channels a character from a beloved movie," he explains, "it accelerates brand familiarity."

Shivaji Dasgupta, founder and managing director at INEXGRO Brand Advisory
Shivaji Dasgupta, founder and managing director at INEXGRO Brand Advisory

However, he warns that the success of such campaigns depends on how well they resonate with the target audience. "If the nostalgia feels out of touch," Dasgupta says, "it won't work. But if it strikes a chord with today's audience, the celebrity's endorsement becomes even more powerful, maximising the brand's return on investment."

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