An adrenaline-pumping television commercial for beverage brand Thums Up sees the popular Bollywood actor Salman Khan being carted across the high seas, via a helicopter. The advert plays on during the telecast of popular club property, the Indian Premier League. Swagger in place, Khan says in the ad, Tum sab, is botal ki tarah ho. Tum mein toh toofan hain. Bas dhakkan hatahne ki deri hain. Roughly translated, the Dabangg star is urging the consumers of Thums Up to “uncork themselves” and to take risks and live up to life’s true potential. But it remains to be seen whether Coca-Cola India, the parent company, will continue its association with the star with the same kind of swagger, after a sessions court in Mumbai sentenced the actor to a five-year jail term in a 2002 hit-and-run case.
A statement from Coca-Cola India on Wednesday said, “We hold the court verdict in the highest regard. We are evaluating the next step.” Khan, who is the Hindi film industry’s proverbial bad boy, was charged with the infamous “Black Buck” case in 1998 and even after his many brush(es) with the law, has been endorsing a clutch of brands such as Thums Up, Wheel, Yatra and Suzuki Motorcycles.
Ambi Parameswaran, executive director, FCB-Ulka, said that some brands might pull out ads featuring Khan fearing a negative impact.
However, Rohit Gupta, president at Multi Screen Media (MSM) — the official broadcaster for the IPL — says that so far, he hasn’t received any calls from brands on pulling out ads starring Salman Khan. “I do not expect any knee-jerk reaction. But even if brands want to pull off such advertising, they will substitute it with alternate ads. There will be no impact on the network,” he said.
The same cannot be said about the Hindi movie industry, though. The star has completed two projects — the Sooraj Barjatiya film Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo and the Kabir Khan film Bajrangi Bhaijaan. “There are other films that the star has just signed which include Karan Johar’s Shuddhi, Boney Kapoor’s No Entry Mein Entry and Yash Raj’s Sultan. The really big release is Dabanng 3 slated for 2017. These films were looking to make anywhere between R100 crore and R150 crore at the box office,” said Shailendra Singh, joint managing director at Percept.
According to him, the three stars who earn the lion’s share of the moolah at the box office are the Khan trio — Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir. “If one of them were to not be part of the mix, you lose more than 30% of the box office earnings. Other film stars such as Ranbir Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan are not in the same league,” he said. In Singh’s words, Salman Khan at the very minimum has Rs 300-500 crore riding on him at the box office. “His overall brand worth (tangible and intangible) could be well over Rs 1,000 crore,” Singh said.
Rahul Puri, managing director, Mukta Arts, said that there is a lot of money invested in Salman’s films. “The quantum would be large as he is one of our biggest stars. It’s a tough break for the producers of those films.”
Piyush Pandey, executive creative director and creative director at Ogilvy & Mather India, said that brands were especially image conscious in the context of the volatility brought in by social media. “Credibility and integrity are prerequisites for brand ambassadors, he said. “Brands that have signed on Salman Khan as an ambassador could obviously face financial setbacks. Many of them will discontinue their ad campaigns.” Pandey added that stated that previously, others such as golfer Tiger Woods and film star Sanjay Dutt have had their brand valuations reduced because of a marred public image. The golfer Woods earned $55 million in 2014 — his lowest earnings since 2000 — after a sex scandal rocked his public image.