In 1996, bpl, then a well-known Indian consumer durables brand, did something interesting. With the intention of driving home that it was as good as anything imported, it signed on Amitabh Bachchan as brand ambassador for a new campaign. Through print and television advertisements, it was the first time one would see the superstar playing this role.
Twenty-five years on, Bachchan has been the face of an array of brands, including Cadbury Dairy Milk, Pepsi, ICICI Prudential, Emami (Navratna oil), Gujarat Tourism, Reid & Taylor, Dr Fixit, Dabur Chyawanprash and Kalyan Jewellers. The list is long and cuts across sectors. Even today, Bachchan is everywhere, endorsing several brands, despite the fact that he charges a not-so-small Rs 5-8 crore per endorsement. Without a doubt, brand Bachchan is well and getting better with age.
To mark his 80th birthday on October 11, 2022, PVR aired a rerun of 11 of his well-known films—released in the 1970s and the decade after—at its multiplexes across 17 centres. The reaction from fans was overwhelming. Footage of people clapping, whistling, dancing, mouthing Bachchan’s unforgettable one-liners, and just being themselves quickly went viral. Be it Khaike Pan Banaraswala or the Main Hoon Don songs from the 1978 blockbuster Don or “main aaj bhi pheke hue paise nahi uthata”, the iconic one-liner from Deewaar (1975), PVR’s showcase took the audience to a part of the universe only they knew. The sustenance of brand Bachchan, in many ways, defies many an immutable law of marketing.
Clearly, the man strikes a chord with one and all. But what makes him tick? Vivek Sharma, Founder of Altivyst Advisors and former CMO of Pidilite and Philips, thinks one of the biggest strengths of Bachchan is his credibility. “That’s why he works well when it comes to sensitive areas such as polio or Covid-19. Here, he speaks like a person of national stature and goes beyond the boundaries of a film star,” he says. Prasoon Pandey, Director of Corcoise Films, who has worked with Bachchan in several advertising campaigns, is blunt: “Look, brands just want him. He is multi-faceted and a fantastic combination of talent and great upbringing.”
Competition, of course, is fierce and the actor is up against others in the business, including star sportsmen. According to Manish Porwal, MD of Alchemist Marketing Solutions, only a few celebrity brands “always remain in vogue” and Bachchan is one of them. Unlike sports personalities, he says, film stars have a longer shelf life. “He has managed to reengineer himself when things were looking difficult and stayed relevant,” says Porwal.
The resilience of brand Bachchan cuts across not just his audience but even the people who work with him. Pandey recalls an incident when the star was shooting for a Dr Fixit commercial in Mumbai’s Mehboob Studios. “I got a call from his office saying he was running 15 minutes late since his driver was unwell,” he narrates. A stickler for time, the star decided to get behind the wheel himself. “I can only imagine the reaction of the people who recognised him on the streets!” The lesson here is one of professionalism and the ability to adapt: “Just look at the roles he has played in the early part of his career—from a serious doctor in Anand to an angry young man in Zanjeer to the incredibly funny guy in Amar Akbar Anthony. Compare it to Hollywood where the likes of Steve Martin will rarely step out of their comfort zone.”
Bachchan’s credibility was at play during the worm crisis that hit Cadbury in late 2003. Abhijit Avasthi, Founder of consultancy Sideways and a key member of the team that roped in Bachchan, maintains that he was the only person India would accept an endorsement of trust from. “He was aware of this responsibility and hence wanted to be convinced of the corrective measures taken by the company before agreeing to speak on its behalf. And this pretty much became the ad we did,” he says.
Sharma of Altivyst Advisors points out that it’s important to use Bachchan effectively: “It is critical to align the objective of the brand to what he stands for. There is no doubt that his face will cut through the clutter, but delivering a long-term sustained brand advantage and RoI is a different proposition altogether.” According to him, brand Bachchan works well in categories that are underpenetrated, where a certain change in consumer attitude or behaviour is necessary. “With his credible voice, that message has a better chance of acceptance by consumers,” he says.
Clearly, even at 80, brand Bachchan is at the peak of its classic product life cycle.
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