Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar is in the news over his nationality. Kumar has been heavily trolled on social media about his image as an out and out Indian patriot while it's a fact that he is, on paper, a Canadian citizen. Kumar's patriot avatar was built as a result of his choice of movies - Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Sathiyo, Holiday, Baby, Airlift and others. This slew of patriotic movies came after his 'Khiladi' image, one popular in the '90s, waned.
Kumar responded to all the trolling with clarification and a 'so what?' sort of post. This wasn't the first time his nationality was brought up in the public domain. This time around it took an ugly turn following his interview with PM Narendra Modi in what is arguably a highly-charged political atmosphere due to the elections.
Akki you can be brand ambassador of "Make in India " campaign now for NaMo.....made your entire career in India and retirement planned in Canada by dumping Indian citizenship .....don't forget to take Kajaria tiles for your new house in Canada @akshaykumar @kunalkamra88 https://t.co/8mloQlPqql— Kiratmohan (@kiratmohan) 4 May 2019
This article is not about Kumar's personal brand, his movies or his tweet. It is, rather, about the brands he endorses. You might recall how Snapdeal took a beating for Aamir Khan's remark about 'intolerance' in the context of the nation. While that was a different case and context, the fact is, a brand bore the brunt of something Khan said in an unconnected situation.
In the case of Kumar, one brand he endorses comes to mind over other perhaps more popular or dynamic ones - ceramic tiles brand Kajaria. Endorsed by Kumar, the brand launched an ad campaign about its 'desh ki mitti se bani tile', in 2016. In the ad, the brand highlights being "rooted to Indian soil as its global manufacturing base". The campaign also has visuals of Kumar in army attire.
"The celebrated actor, with his uber-fit personality, immense popularity among Indian audiences and innovative, patriotic choice of movies, makes for the perfect fit for the brand," reads the brand's website.
Now that Kumar's very nationality has come under the scanner, should the brand team be concerned about this association? Does - and should - this change anything for them? We asked a few brand experts.
"I see no reason for Kajaria to discontinue Akshay Kumar for the controversy around his citizenship. For all the technicality around his citizenship, this country has been Akshay's karmabhumi and it's perfectly fine for him as an actor to bring alive the brand's ethos 'desh ki mitti se bani'," says Abhijit Avasthi, ex-Ogilvy hand and present-day co-founder of Sideways, an advertising agency.
Consumer behaviour and brand strategy enthusiast Mythili Chandrasekar (former JWT), says, "The brand's usage of Akshay Kumar in the first place was not deep enough and did not have enough product differentiation or superiority. The brand can continue with him if he was only being used for breaking clutter. There is still an opportunity to pick other aspects of his personality that could tell stronger product stories."
"From a brand point of view, if Kajaria was trying to use nationalism as a plank, the plank was just strengthened in some ways as Kumar has garnered open support from the 'nationalists'. Therefore, all those people will think better of the brand. If the brand had taken a stand, it just got entrenched deeper. There is no reason for changing it," says Suman Srivastava, founder and innovation artist at Marketing Unplugged, a brand consultancy.
"There is no issue with Akshay Kumar's credibility. There are some attacks on him, but it does not matter and Kajaria should not bother at all. He owns the space when it comes to 'nationalism' and 'patriotism'. Kumar as a brand has been built over 20+ years and such controversy won't matter. After the Narendra Modi interview, it is now actually better for the brand. The general public and the end consumer don't really care about the citizenship issue. In my career, I have realised that Indians are really simple minded and they don't think in layers and angles," says Shubho Sengupta, a digital marketer (ex-Contract, JWT).
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