Dominating the Bollywood box office coffers for over three decades now, Salman Khan can be counted as the only star whose brand image has seen a complete turnaround. From a brash, spoilt, rugged ‘bad boy’, he has worked hard over the years to change perceptions. From playing those goody-two-shoes characters in movies to generating compassion through his clothing line Being Human, Khan transformed himself to become a popular brand endorser of the 2000s. Khan recently topped Forbes India’s Celebrity 100 list for the second consecutive year in 2017 with earnings of `232.83 crore backed by endorsements of several brands. The 52-year old actor’s earnings constituted 8.67% of the total earnings — Rs 2,683 crore — of the top 100 celebrities for the year. “With more than 75 million followers across major social media platforms, Salman ranked number one on our social media popularity index,” states Varun Gupta, MD and region leader for India, Japan and Southeast Asia at Duff & Phelps. “He has become the most bankable choice for lesser-known brands who want to gain nationwide visibility in a short span of time.”
However, as per Duff & Phelps, the brand value of Salman Khan declined by approximately 33% in 2017 primarily due to a downward revision of the estimated endorsement fees. According to Forbes, his earnings have dipped currently, from a high of Rs 270.33 crore in 2016. Once a star endorser for brands like Thums Up, Hero Honda bikes, etc, his endorsement kitty currently comprises more mass-y brands.
This is a result of the surging millennial segment which most brands are targeting, with younger endorsers that connect better.
Brand resilience and the ‘human’ element
Although Salman Khan was never as big as a Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan in the endorsement business, his rawness in films earned him endorsements of products like Mountain Dew, Britannia’s Tiger biscuits, Red Tape shoes and more, earlier in the current millennium. It was a time when his brand value was growing exponentially due to his ‘macho’ image. Fondly called ‘bhai’ in the industry, Khan managed to successfully blend his rawness with a dramatic innocence. But he soon got embroiled in various controversies that hurt his brand value substantially.
“Salman is popular but it is not turning into quality endorsements probably because of his chequered history. He is seen as temperamental and unpredictable, so brands shy away,” states Sandeep Goyal, president, Mogae Media. “While he has extremely good PR with Being Human which makes him a Robin Hood, he is seen as a controversial star by brands.”
Yogesh Dutta, COO, CP Plus highlights that when it signed Khan, it received a lot of negative feedback and raised quite a few eyebrows due to the actor’s history and tantrums. “But a single thing can’t define brand persona; it is his brand history and how he carries himself now. We shot three TVCs in eight hours and did not face any challenges. It has been just a few months since our association and the impact has been very encouraging in terms of recall.”
Not very surprisingly, Khan has managed to wipe off his ‘bad boy’ image over the last few years and has become ‘the man of the masses’ with roles like the loveable cop Chulbul Pandey in Dabangg to the good-hearted Pavan in Bajrangi Bhaijaan among others. With his brand fee going as high as Rs 4-5 crore a day, it only reflects his endorsement value despite younger stars slowly catching on.
His NGO Being Human Foundation has further been a catalyst, whose DNA constitutes six words — love, care, share, hope, help and joy which is displayed across touchpoints. Moreover, its ad campaigns are also based on heroes of the society reflecting the philosophy of the brand.
Being Human today sells apparel and accessories online, offline and overseas. Currently, the brand sells through The Mandhana Retail Ventures at around 600 points of sale and has plans to expand in the UK and Canada, and tier II and III cities in India.
Manish Mandhana, MD, The Mandhana Retail Ventures mentions, “We combined fashion, celebrity and charity to make it a unique business model. Salman is like a walking billboard for us. He is involved in the product and goes through every collection himself, rejecting what he does not like as he knows his brand and its pulse.”
The company registered sales of Rs 216 crore in the last financial year, and on applying the current royalty rates and projected merchandise sales, the Being Human brand is estimated to have a value in the range of Rs 150-200 crore.
Furthermore, Khan launched his own production company in 2011 called SKBH Productions (Salman Khan Being Human Productions), wherein the money generated is donated to the foundation. In 2014, he launched another production house called SKF (Salman Khan Films).
Vijay Subramaniam, co-founder, Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions believes that Khan has truly played the role of ‘bhai’ and built that narrative well. “He plays characters that reach out well to the masses,” he says.
Banking on ‘bhai’
Emami recently brought on board Khan as an endorser of its edible oil mass brand Himani Best Choice in addition to Amitabh Bachchan. “Associating with Salman brings in a lot of credibility,” says Aditya V Agarwal, director, Emami Group. “We are sure that this association will help us in the brand’s national launch.”
Sure, Khan has brand appeal that cuts across geographies and demographics, but brand experts question his relevance going ahead. Coca-Cola didn’t renew its contract for Thums Up with Salman Khan for the first time since 2012 and instead signed on Ranveer Singh who symbolises youth. Besides this, Khan was also earlier replaced as brand endorser of Revital by former Indian skipper MS Dhoni. What works for Khan is that he reaches out to the hinterland easily. The only chink in his armour will be his relevance to urban audiences and millennials.
“Age is also a factor which is posing a problem for all the three Khans,” states Goyal, adding, “whatever is aspirational to the millennial is no longer endorsed by the Khans. If they willingly play older characters on screen, their brand will get more enduring.”
But Rajeev Bhatia, AVP, marketing, Relaxo Footwear (Khan endorses the company’s youth-focussed brand Bahamas) asserts that although new youth icons are coming in, one cannot ignore Khan’s die-hard, loyal fan following. “In a competitive category like ours, Salman has helped the brand grab eyeballs and garner clear attention from the consumer,” he adds.
TV has added a further impetus to his image with Khan hosting reality shows like Bigg Boss and Dus ka Dum. “TV relies heavily on connectivity with audiences and Salman has an enduring connect through Bigg Boss. He makes one comfortable by being himself and not playing a charmer,” explains Subramaniam. Additionally, with CP Plus being a category appealing to an age group between 35-55 years, Khan is the perfect fit. The brand has further leveraged this by associating not only with Bigg Boss but also integrating the product in his films like Sultan, Tiger Zinda Hai and the upcoming Race 3.
Although every now and then a controversy continues to surround the star, Khan is more relaxed in dealing with them now, having cemented a relationship with the masses. Until the next one then, as Khan’s popular dialogue on Bigg Boss goes, “Do whatever you want to do, man, but don’t trouble your mother!”
Khan’s Rs 200 crore club
Bajrangi Bhaijaan – Rs 315.49 crore
Kick – Rs 211.63 crore
Sultan – Rs 300.67 crore
Tiger Zinda Hai – Rs 334 crore (at the time of going to press)
Watch out for
Dus ka Dum (on TV)