I don’t trust politicians in general. However, there is a segment I distrust even more than politicians – celebrities who endorse products. Give them a fee and they will endorse anything and everything. Some do with a modicum of sophistication to make the brand relatable to their “ethos” and “personality”. A few do it with a level of laziness that borders on stupidity – like Sania Mirza claiming on Twitter to use the OnePlus mobile phone but in reality, was using the iPhone. And getting caught.
While this trend was had been pervasive for consumer products like toothpaste, shampoos or even cars, in the last decade real estate developers have engaged with celebrities for creating appeal and awareness about their projects. Amitabh Bachchan is the face of Lodha Palava – a distant suburb beyond Thane. Akshay Kumar endorses the Lodha project in Thane. Anushka Sharma endorses the Ruparel Group of builders. Aishwarya Rai is on the billboards as the face of Lodha’s Park project at Parel. MS Dhoni was the face of Muruguppa real estate projects. Nitesh Estates roped in Virat Kohli.
Endorsements fail to work
With this growing trend backed by my suspicions about the genuineness of celebrity endorsements, I visited the Ruparel Orion project at Chembur in Mumbai almost 18 months ago – that has actor Anushka Sharma as its brand ambassador. Now Ruparel is an established player in the space and the location of its under-construction project at the Eastern Expressway makes the Orion a strategically located project. Unlike most other new projects, Orion is a standalone building. No swimming pool, squash court or tennis court. Given the distortion that has crept today where builders offer several amenities in the complex but pigeon-hole sized homes, Orion is a refreshing change. On that count itself – Orion deserves some praise. Its 2-bedroom-hall-kitchen flat comes in 790 square feet carpet size which is priced at around Rs 2.2 crore (after taxes, registration and stamp duty). Its price point is similar to some of the older constructions in the area done by unbranded builders.
Yet this is a project that has done dismally – especially sales of flats in the higher configurations. Only 35 percent of the flats have been booked when completion of the project is less than 3 months away.
Did having Anushka Sharma help? Clearly not. Similarly Amitabh Bachchan is the brand ambassador for Lodha’s massive township at Palava. That township is growing amidst a supply glut that has kept prices depressed. MS Dhoni was the face of Amrapali real estate projects before its downfall. Kangana Ranaut is the brand ambassador of Platinum Vogue. Perhaps the completion date is too far (Dec, 2024) or she is too busy fighting nepotism but her association hasn’t set the cash registers rolling for the developer. Bengaluru-based Nitesh Estates roped in the biggest star of India – Virat Kohli. But the company’s financial and stock performance have been miserable. Its stock price trades at less than Rs 2 as the company looks to pare its high debt burden. Celebrities like actor Shah Rukh Khan and tennis player Maria Sharapova endorsed projects in Delhi / Noida – only for the project to go nowhere. Kareena Kapoor was the ambassador for a project by Ekta World in Powai, Mumbai. It has done modest sales although it’s tough to pass a judgement on it given that it has been less than a year since its launch.
The one counter example is to see the performance of the Parel project of Lodha – Lodha Park. Aishwarya Rai has been widely associated with the project since 2013. The completion of the project sprawling 17.5 acres is expected to be by December, 2021 – yet almost 76 percent of the flats in the first 5 towers have been booked. By the benchmark of the decimated real estate market Lodha Park is a commendable success.
Waste of resources
Does that mean that Aishwarya Rai did the job for Lodha but Anushka Sharma failed for Ruparel? In the most tangible and measurable way – the answer to both the questions is Yes. But was the celebrity the driving force? The answer to that is even clearer: No. Buyers of real estate are smart enough to see through this game of endorsements. Their role is only to create awareness of a project. It is no coincidence that the top-rung developers like Shapoorji Pallonji, Hiranandani, Oberoi or Godrej don’t see the need for such campaigns given their own high brand equity.
Are celebrities relevant at all for real estate in India in particular? The evidence suggests it is not. At worst – they are a complete waste of an expense as can be seen by the performance of the projects they endorse. At best – they act as a hook for a few customers to consider a project in a market that is fragmented and cluttered. With the implementation of RERA the clutter of shady real estate companies will wither away and only the credible and reputed builders will live on. Bollywood’s best deals with real estate projects is behind them. Builders must junk the fake celebrity endorsements and instead use the budgets to make homes appealing for buyers.
When not busy with his newstoon platform Snapnews, Vishal Bhargava is a real estate enthusiast who views and reviews new projects. The views are personal.