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View: Ex-celebrity ex-factor makes the Indian advertising firmament hazier

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Celebrity advertising has always aroused strong passions with its efficacy at best in the realm of gushing sentimentality. Enter ex-celebrities, both who stick on glue-like beyond the use-by date and those dusted off from woodworks, the ex-factor becomes even more pronounced.

View: Ex-celebrity ex-factor makes the Indian advertising firmament hazier
Celebrity advertising has been in vogue for more than half a century now but yet it still evokes strong emotions with an opinion as to its effectiveness in terms of bang for the bucks divided right down the middle. Ever since the advertising guru David Ogilvy made his disillusionment with it public with his most disparaging remark to the effect — its bottom line is one forgets the brand and remembers the celebrity — the tribe of skeptics has been steadily rising.
The Indian advertising firmament lately has come to be crowded by ex-celebrities with Amitabh Bachchan leading the pack. He was the teenage heartthrob with his angry young man image half a century ago. But today he is practically the brand ambassador at large for every third Indian brand. If Tatas are the salt-to-software conglomerate, Bachchan is brand ambassador for products and services ranging from the mundane baby napkin to banking and finance. His fans may pivot and say he is by no means an ex-celebrity what with his KBC quiz programme consolidating his hold on the numero uno status in the celebrity bandwagon. Not so with his much junior colleague Anil Kapoor. As an actor, he was by no means in the same class as Bachchan but he has managed to get into the ex-celebrity juggernaut with a slew of ads ranging from sanitised meat to finance.
Shah Rukh Khan, a more contemporary heartthrob who has admittedly stopped wearing makeup and instead channelising his energies on promoting cricket, also enjoys the limelight and moolah that comes with brand endorsements. By the way, he and his contemporary actor-colleague Ajay Devgun are seen endorsing a pan masala product, which is a tobacco product, whose ads have been banned in the country.
The idea behind this article — which by no means is a tirade against celebrity advertising and its more recent manifestation, ex-celebrity advertising — is to provoke a larger and healthier debate on the issue of celebrity advertising in all its ramifications. It is one enduring mystery, an ex-factor that has not been cleared beyond superficialities and inanities like a celebrity bring with her the power of her own image to rub off onto the brand she is endorsing….blah, blah, blah.
Sachin Tendulkar in 2001 heaved a visible and audible sigh of relief when Mark Mascarenhas’ WorldTel renewed its contract with him for a whopping Rs 100 crore. In fact, he acknowledges with gratefulness the role played by Mascarenhas in securing his retired life.
Truth be told, Sachin was so overcome with emotion that he was reported saying now (in the wake of the Rs 100 crore deal) he could focus on cricket with the business side being taken care of by the late lobbyist who rubbed shoulders with the corporate bigwigs. Was it a tacit admission that he was torn between cricket and ads? Be that as it may.
Looks like middlemen and ad agencies hold complete sway over brand owners who supinely acquiesce in the choice of brand ambassadors suggested by the former despite the misfit between the ambassador and the brand writ large in many cases even to the novices. Nor do they question the promiscuity of the brand ambassadors — witness Bachchan promoting IDFC First Bank implicitly junking his earlier benefactor ICICI Bank. The choice of ex-celebrities may have something to do with economics — the reigning celebrities might be pricier.
Public i.e. the viewers, at least the discerning ones among them, are bemused at the end of the day. They are at a loss in digesting the relentless celebrity bombardment across product and service segments, thus vindicating Ogilvy — the public remembers the celebrity but forgets the brand. He could have as well added that celebrities laugh all their way to the bank even while the brand owners remain clueless as to the worth of the fancy fees paid.
Will someone demystify the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside the enigma called celebrity advertising and its Indian offshoot ex-celebrity advertising? Looks like Neeraj Chopra may have to wait for two more Olympics so he qualifies as a celebrity on the back of his ex-celebrity status.
— S. Murlidharan is a CA by qualification and writes on economic issues, fiscal and commercial laws. The views expressed in the article are his own.
Read his other columns here
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