L SureshPublished: 10 Nov 2019, 11:15 PM
Guest Article

How many brand ambassadors does it take…

There was a time when a lone superhero was enough to save the world. (Think Superman.) A little later, the requirement doubled, so Batman and Robin came onto the scene. Two became four with the Fantastic Four and what followed was a fantastic geometric sequence which, in its most recent avatar, resulted in 32 superheroes fighting Thanos.

A similar kind of progression is taking place in advertising. There was a time when one brand ambassador was enough to save the brand, be it Kishore Kumar for Brylcreem, Kapil Dev for Palmolive or Zakir Hussain for Taj tea. Then came star duos, such as Pankaj Kapur and Javed Jaffrey (Remember the ‘It’s different!’ series for Maggi ketchup?) and later, power couples such as Virat and Anushka, Ranveer and Deepika, Ranbir and Alia, and Saif and Kareena.

Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli for Manyavar
Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli for Manyavar
Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt for Lay's
Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt for Lay's

Three was never a crowd in the brand world. Decades ago, BSA SLR had a comic strip series with Kapil Dev, Vijay Amritraj and Prakash Padukone in desperate situations, and the cycle coming to their rescue. After that came families. The Kurkure family, with Farida Jalal, Boman Irani, Kunal Kapoor, Parineeti Chopra and Ramya Krishnan, created a blast at snack time.

BSA SLR's comic strip with Kapil Dev
BSA SLR's comic strip with Kapil Dev

This festive season became the season of MBAs (Multiple Brand Ambassadors), with brands such as Manyavar and boAt exploding in the ad space with a galaxy of stars. Traditionally, Lux and Pepsi were always at it. It was like the BEE Energy Rating - more the stars, greater the efficiency.

So, what makes brands opt for MBAs? Here are a few not-so-serious reasons.

1. ‘I’ll have what he has’ strategy

It is strange that despite being a leader, Coke has had several hand-me-downs from Pepsi. Ex-Pepsi stars such as Aamir, Aishwarya, Sachin, Deepika Padukone, Ranbir, Shah Rukh (Sprite), and Dhoni (Gatorade) have become ‘turncokes’.

With that, Coke now has joined the MBA bandwagon, with actors Ranbir and Paresh Rawal, and cricketers Yuvraj and Rishabh featuring in its communication.

2. The numb them with numbers strategy

Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Kangana Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Shilpa Shetty, Shruti Hassan, Parineeti Chopra, Yami Gautam, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu, Bipasha Basu, Jr NTR, Surya, and Huma Qureshi.

That’s just a partial list of the 27 brand ambassadors that Emami had in 2017. (Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif and Varun Dhawan have also been added in recent months.) A few years earlier, this number was at 60.

The strategy here is clear — it doesn’t matter how badly the smog affects your visibility. The brand will make sure you see stars.

3. When hall of fame turns hall of shame

There are times when you need to have a Plan B (more brand ambassadors). And occasionally, as Gillette found out, a Plan C as well (even more brand ambassadors).

In quick succession, its famous troika — Tiger Woods, Thierry Henry and Roger Federer — landed themselves or the brand in trouble, Tiger through indiscretion, Henry through a ‘hand of God’ incident and Federer, through a loss (an occurrence not normally associated with him). Incidentally, the trio was brought on board in lieu of David Beckham who was axed by the brand amidst rumours of poor form and a contract dispute.

Cut to a few years later in India, and the streak of bad luck hadn’t ended for the brand. Hardik Pandya, its brand ambassador, had motor-mouthed his way onto a razor’s edge, leaving his career and endorsements dangling. The media and fans had already worked up a lather, referring to the episodes as 'the curse of Gillette'.

One wouldn’t be surprised if all of this left Gillette wondering if this was the worst a man can get.

L Suresh
L Suresh

4. The Bollywood strategy

David Ogilvy famously said that when you have nothing to say, sing it. And that was how the horrendous ‘jingle-based’ ad became legitimised in the industry. Bollywood has its own take on this — when you don’t have a story, have a star.

Home Trade took the hint. With no real products or services to offer, they roped in three of the biggest stars of the early 2000s — Sachin Tendulkar, Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan — and went on an advertising blitzkrieg that ironically claimed ‘Life means more’. As for the company, it’s no more.

5. The Indian Popularity League

If signing up individual players takes time and money, there’s a better route for brands — sign up with a team. The players come as part of the package. Brands such as Peter England, Nokia, Domino's, Samsung and Daikin have sponsored individual teams, while Goibibo and Kingfisher have associated themselves with multiple teams. As for Jio, it sponsors all eight franchises.

The result? The world’s most popular cricketers in one frame, displaying their two left feet and limited acting talent, even as they gamely play ball with their contracted brands.

6. If it’s not IPL, it’s IPO

Multiple brand ambassadors can not just boost sales, but also bring in investors or help a brand with its IPO, as is rumoured with both Manyavar and boAt. While the former brought together Amitabh Bachchan, Ranveer Singh, Virat Kohli, Anushka Sharma, Alia Bhatt and Kartik Aaryan, the audio brand had a longer list, with Kartik Aaryan, Kiara Advani, Jacqueline Fernandez, Guru Randhawa, Neha Kakkar, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, Shikhar Dhawan, Jasprit Bumrah and KL Rahul, amongst others.

7. Finish with a flourish

In the case of jewellery brand Gitanjali, it's not just their diamonds that glittered — they also had a galaxy of stars who lent their sparkle to the brand.

Gitanjali had assembled over a dozen stars, from Katrina to Kareena, from Kangana to Kriti Sanon, and the beauty queens – Aishwarya, Priyanka Chopra, Lara Dutta, and Celina Jaitley, to name a few. Other names included Sunny Leone, Bipasha Basu and Neha Dhupia.

However, unknown to everyone, the infinity war had begun, involving a lot of star power and certainly more than six precious stones. Unfortunately, the climax was gut-wrenching — it was end game for the brand.

The author is a creative consultant.