Nothing ever seems to be going right with him and yet everything somehow, does. Salman Khan, the oldest bad boy of Indian cinema has all decks loaded against him: he is embroiled in several court cases, has had a string of girlfriends but admits or commits to none and is brash with his tongue (or at least used to before he famously claimed that he was a virgin on national television). Yet, he never seems to run short of brands that seek his endorsement. And now with his latest hit Bajrangi Bhaijaan having made Rs 150 crore at the box office already, his brand value is set to rise even further.
Do bad boys (yes, Indian actors are boys even when they push 50) sell?
Not really say experts. Salman Khan is an exception. Despite a spate of legal tangles and allegations of misbehavior, he still finds takers for his services as a brand endorser. Experts believe that Khan is the last of the ‘bad boys of Bollywood’ who holds out any allure for the brands.
Frankly Indian advertisers have always shied away from the dark side. Unlike in the West where campaigns celebrating ‘bad’ and starring Hollywood villains has worked well, the examples in India are few and far between. Most recently Tata Motors’ Jaguar’s ‘Good to be Bad’ campaign that released internationally featured Ben Kingsley and Tom Hiddleston was hugely appreciated. Catch an Indian automobile company doing the same!
While Bollywood has seen many an iconic villain capture the fancy of audiences, brands have never been drawn to their charm. Mogambo (played by the late Amrish Puri) and Gabbar Singh (played by late Amjad Khan) were household names for a generation that grew up on their movies. Even today, some of the newer villains do find cult status, but when it comes to looking for brand ambassadors and endorsers, it’s the ones with clean and feel-good images that lead the race.
“Everyone now wants to project a good clean image. The most they venture is having an edgy image,” says Afsar Zaidi, founder and MD, Exceed Entertainment. He explains that the bad boy image has taken a back seat, and a new and improved version – the edgy, new age brat, has taken over. So it’s good to be wicked with a golden heart. Take a look at the new generation of celebrity endorsers like Varun Dhawan, Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor. They steer clear of controversies and in their endorsements and advertisements, they project an edgy/naughty image, but not even a shade of grey.
The same logic applies to celebrities beyond the silver screen too. Virat Kohli, among the highest paid brand endorsers from any sport in the country, is also seen as the aggressive and brash. He has been part of edgy campaigns from Fast Track and Pepsi, where he is seen poking fun at his co-endorser. He is seen as one who speaks his mind, or gives it back as good as he gets. Aggression is acceptable but in the end, companies want someone audiences can look up to.
Experts believe this is mainly because brands are not comfortable with controversial figures, unless it is a personality like Khan. For him the audience loyalty and his pull at the box office is unaffected by real life controversies.
Many believe that Khan has managed to keep his brands with him because of smart strategising. His sale-ability has been helped by his involvement with his charity ‘Being Human’. In fact, his image of a bratty boy with a heart of gold finds sustenance from his work with the underprivileged. Brands find it easier to capitalise on the ‘heart of gold’ aspect and add a dash of adventure and daredevilry to the mix for the edginess. Whether it is Thumsup with its Toofani campaign or the campaign for Astral Pipes the focus is always on his star power.
In India, the closest a brand came to embracing the dark side was Onida, the consumer electronic brand with the pointy-eared devil as its mascot. However, the iconic mascot was discontinued recently, even though it has become somewhat of an advertising legend. Compare this with other mascots that have lasted ages, the Amul Girl or the Maharaja for Air India and Indian industry’s reluctance to associate with anything but squeaky clean goodness is evident. “To have a sustained campaign or communication with a negative trait or persona is not easy. While in today’s day and age, a good yet fake persona will never work, people internationally are fine accepting controversial personalities as long as there is enough talent to balance it. Take Miley Cyrus. She is controversial no doubt, but is also seen as an immensely talented artist and has a niche to occupy, with a strong fan following,” says Anirban Das Blah, CEO and MD CAA KWAN, the celebrity and talent management company that handles Ranbir Kapoor.
A similar approach seems to work with the Jaguar campaign. A video that is part of the campaign and is titled “Art of villainy” features three British actors – Tom Hiddleston, Ben Kingsley and Mark Strong, all of whom have played strong villain characters in the recent past. The fleet of Jaguars is British, just as the best villains of cinema are, goes the message. Is there an Indian brand that will dare to flaunt the bad? That is a script still waiting to be written.