Akhil Jain, CEO of the company that markets Pan Bahar, spoke to us about his new ads and the flak they've fetched.
This new ad campaign, that broke on Friday (October 7, a play on James Bond's 007 code), featuring Hollywood actor Pierce Brosnan, has become the talk of the town - in and outside ad-land.
'Class never goes out of style - Pan Bahar. Pehchan Kamyabi Ki' goes the copy. It's also what Brosnan says at the end of the ad film. DDB Mudra has created this campaign; it falls under the 'Pehchaan Kamyabi ki' umbrella thought.
The identity of this new brand ambassador was unveiled after a brief teaser campaign.
Akhil Jain, CEO, Ashok & Co. Pan Bahar, parent company of the brand (Pan Bahar), told afaqs!, during the course of a telephonic interview, "We were scouting for someone masculine, someone who can tell a story without saying anything. We also had some lesser known models in mind, and did not begin the process by thinking of Hollywood names, but finally thought Brosnan lent a certain authenticity to the character. We wanted someone stylish... and stylish does not mean Rajinikanth." (Never mind that Brosnan is doing some dangerously Rajinikanth-like stunts in the TVC).
About the flak the new campaign has attracted, Jain says, "See, criticism is coming and we expected that. People are shocked... it is a new kind of brand endorsement. It has shock value. After 15-20 days people will start accepting it, definitely. Criticism is coming from marketing gurus right now, because this is all a problem of perception - the perception that it is gutka (tobacco). We believe it will gain acceptance. This negative excitement will die off soon."
His TG comprises the 20-30 year old "corporate" guy from SECs A and B, in the Hindi speaking belt and Eastern region. He's not concentrating much on Southern regions "because the trend (of consuming Pan Bahar-like products) is not popular there... We want to break the reservations people have about this product."
Previously, Bollywood actors like Feroz Khan, Fardeen Khan and Saif Ali Khan have endorsed Pan Bahar.
The company's 'masala portfolio' includes names like Pan Bahar Crystal (launched in 2012 and positioned as the 'World's most expensive pan masala'), Begum, Dilruba, Natkhat and Wah, among others.
Recall that earlier this year, Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan, Sunny Leone, Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan, Arbaaz Khan and Govinda were issued letters, by the health department of the Delhi Government, requesting them to stop endorsing pan masala brands.
At the time, Shweta Purandare, secretary general, ASCI, said, "At this juncture, we would like to educate consumers and advertisers that while products like pan masala and supari are not banned for sale or from advertising by law, the ASCI code does not permit the use of celebrities in advertisements of products which by law require a health warning on their packaging or those that cannot be purchased or used by minors."
Defends Jain, "See, ASCI's rule says one cannot get a celebrity to endorse a pan masala brand. But we're talking about Pan Bahar mouth freshener here."
Meanwhile, categories Jain is looking to diversify into include candy and gum. "We're at the product development level at the moment," he says.
Other high profile overseas brand associations in this market, that come to mind readily, include Hugh Jackman-Micromax, Lionel Messi-Tata Tiago and Zinedine Zidane-Kanakia Paris.
(With inputs from Ashee Sharma)