By Rashmi Menon
Salman Khan has been churning out one hit film after another since 2009 thus becoming India’s most dependable superstar. By the irrefutable logic of success, he should be overwhelmingly the most popular brand endorser. Is he?
The recent success of Dabangg 2 has added another feather to Salman Khan’s already crowded cap. Over the last four years, the 46-year-old actor’s films have delivered consistently at the box office – far better, by a long shot, than any other top Hindi film star.
It all began with Wanted in 2009 which was a hit, if not a big one. That, however, opened the floodgates of success: Dabangg (2010), Ready and Bodyguard (both 2011), Ek Tha Tiger and now Dabangg 2 in 2012, all of these have been back-to-back hits with movie-goers. The other Khans – Shahrukh, Aamir and Saif – haven’t delivered anywhere close during this while.
Amod Mehra, film trade analyst, recalls that Salman Khan was completely written off by the industry after Mein aur Mrs Khanna, released during Diwali in 2009, tanked. Since Dabangg, however, “almost all his movies, except Veer, have been hits. He also marked his presence on the small screen with Big Boss. So, Salman Khan is currently much ahead of all the other actors including the other three Khans. In fact, there is no competition,” Mehra avers.
Based on this empirical evidence, it would seem pretty obvious that Salman is the biggest endorser there is, right?
Apparently not. According to TAM’s data on top 10 celebrities in terms of TV ad volume share data (January till September, 2012), Salman’s name figures in the fifth position of top 10 actors, behind two male – Shahrukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan – and two female actors, Kareena Kapoor and Katrina Kaif.
Of course, Salman has many brand flaunting his name but few of them are really big: Tiger biscuits, Thums Up (a recent acquisition), Wheel and Suzuki Hayate and Chlormint, among them. The rest are much smaller or certainly less prestigious: for example, Revital, Relaxo and Dixcy Scott.
Compare that with some of the brands in Shahrukh’s kitty: Nokia, Airtel, Hyundai, Nerolac, Emami, Dish TV and Tata Tea. Not only is his list much longer, the combined spend of these brands explains why, in the January-September period, Shahrukh’s TV ads accounted for 8 per cent of all the air time taken up by celebrity-based TV commercials (not including promos). In comparison, Salman was about a third as visible with a time share of just 3 per cent: and he shared that position with Priyanka Chopra, Kajol, Anushka Sharma and Amitabh Bachchan. In contrast, Kareena had a 6 per cent share of time among all ads featuring celebrities while Katrina and Saif had 5 per cent each.
The multiplexing of audiences means that most Hindi films are made for and watched by the relatively well to do in the cities and larger towns. The appeal of most actors is limited likewise. What makes Salman special is his ability to pull crowds of all kinds: rich and poor, in towns big and small. Why then doesn’t Salman stand out as an endorser the way he stands as a hit-cranking superstar?
A number of factors have gone into creating this situation.
Mehra digs into history to explain that being a bachelor works negatively in the endorsement game. Ventures Mehra, “Throughout history, we have seen that the bachelor superstar never has the same value or appeal as his married counterparts. The former is not perceived as ‘family man’ by the public and advertisers usually go for the ‘family man’ image.”
In addition to being a bachelor, Salman’s personal life has been fraught with controversy. These have included allegations of violence, an illegal hunting episode in Rajasthan and an accident in which several people were killed in Mumbai. “The negative publicity might not have gone down well in urban areas but Salman Khan’s appeal in rural and semi urban audience is huge. So, it would make sense for brands which are catering to people in these demographics to rope him in,” Says Samit Sinha, founder and managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting.
Jagdeep Kapoor, managing director, Samsika Marketing Consultants, believes Salman exudes what he calls ‘massige’ – a combination of mass and prestige. Whichever brand Salman has associated with, he says, has improved on six parameters: brand awareness, price, repeats, sales growth, market share growth and profits..
Although Salman’s on-screen characters are mostly uni-dimensional, his fan following is completely unquestioning. Hence, you have Thums Up and Suzuki Hayate ads, which showcase his on-screen persona, believes Anand Halve, co-founder, chlorophyll brand & communications. “But from the advertising standpoint, it (Salman’s onscreen persona) is a limitation,” he says.
Aamir Khan, for example, can become a character in a TV commercial. In contrast, Salman is always the superstar as he appears on the big screen – too large, perhaps, to fit comfortably on the small screen.