Down, but not out

By: | Published: January 19, 2016 12:35 AM

From Madhuri Dixit-Nene to Genelia D’Souza, faded Bollywood stars are seen flocking TV screens as the face for household products. But in the battle for relevance, who is winning — actors or brands?

The ‘If you were born in the ’90s’ memes online are bound to evoke nostalgia. From utility items to movies to fashion, the era has a distinct characteristic which sets it apart from the rest. But alas, time doesn’t wait for anyone. One has to transform with time.

With newer generations of actors and actresses taking over Bollywood, the popular stars of the ’90s are ‘evolving’ to stay true to changing times and audiences. Thanks to the numerous television channels and reality shows, the ‘judging’ bug has bitten most of them, especially the actresses. The ‘it’ girls of the ’90s are busy being mummies, not just to their own children, but to reality show contestants, as well as preaching to other mothers through myriad endorsements on what is good for their children.

Leading ladies from yesteryears like Karisma Kapoor, Kajol and Sonali Bendre are seen placing their might behind making snacks healthier and kids stronger. Brands catering to children like Nestle’s Maggi, Real Fruit Juice, Bournvita, as well as kitchen products like oil and rice, use these actresses as endorsers, in what is becoming template-led or formulaic advertising. The question to be asked, really, is whether the stars of yesterday can still pack a punch in endorsements today. Relevance tops the advertising agenda — so how can stars that are no longer relevant, still help brands connect with audiences?

Or is it the other way around? Do actresses need to endorse such brands to stay in the limelight? In the battle of relevance today, with scores of new products and fresh faces bombarding our TV screens, what is the scope for brand
endorsements by faded celebrities?

Mars versus Venus

Interestingly, the boy gang from the ‘90s movies doesn’t seem to age, with male actors continuing to play college boys and endorsing ‘youth’ brands. With talks of women empowerment at their peak, it does make one question why are female actors who have reached a certain age and status in life, considered for endorsements only by a certain section of brands? Says Swati Bhattacharya, former head of Dentsu Mama Lab, “Unfortunately, the belief is that a man can remain as young as he wants to be, but a woman remains a woman until she becomes a mother.” Saddened to see Madhuri Dixit-Nene doing aerobics in the kitchen for Maggi, Bhattacharya feels that the yesteryear actresses help bring in the ‘mother’ card for brands.

In Indian films, an actor is expected to stay fit even when he is 50-plus. He romances women half his age and that is understood and accepted. Most Indian films which aim for box office commercial success, typecast the actress to play the glamourous role. It is no secret that once an actress gets married, her ‘market value’ as far as films are concerned, nosedives. And this then has a snowball effect on advertising. Therefore, actresses who are over 30 are expected to play the role of the mother, sister, sister-in-law etc. to bring authenticity to the story of the brand.

Ram Gudipati, founder & MD at Brand Harvest Consultancy suggests that having tasted stardom at some point, most former actresses feel the loss of being in the limelight. Therefore, while acting in movies in a character role is one option to stay relevant, the other is to appear on television via reality shows, soap operas or brand endorsements. “However, brands will consider former actresses in an objective manner. Therefore, for an endorser it is a plus on their visibility index, being in public memory, besides being remunerative,” he says.

Brands like Bournvita Li’l Champs, Danone, McCain Foods (India), Knorr and FunFoods (which released its first TVC with Sonali Bendre) have got on board such actresses (who are mothers in real life too) rather than the usual faces in advertising .“Kajol is an immensely popular star and her appeal works well for a progressive brand like ours,” states Amit Shah, associate director, marketing, beverages, Candy & Gum, Mondelez India Foods. Kajol endorses Cadbury Bournvita Li’l Champs. The brand’s focus remains on addressing a mother’s concern to get the right balance of nutrition for the physical and mental well-being of her child. As a mother of two children herself, Kajol is a representation of this focus and helps the brand communicate the importance of nutrition for young children in a fun and engaging way, in order to resonate with young moms. The brand has launched a new campaign this year with the actress.

Or take the example of Dr. Oetker India. Following the acquisition of FunFoods, Dr. Oetker India’s prime focus is to strengthen its position in the Indian market by extending the brand’s reach in retail through strong distribution. “The FunFoods brand ethos has been embodied perfectly by Sonali Bendre as she is a modern woman who is a new-age mother, is experimental, more aware, a trendsetter and a multitasker,” says Oliver Mirza, MD & CEO, Dr. Oetker India.

Dr. Oetker India’s mission for 2020  is to be a Rs 500  crore brand in terms of revenue and the top choice among consumers when it comes to sauces and spreads. The key insight for the campaign conducted by the company was that an urban Indian family wants to have a more western influence in their daily meals, but cannot afford to go out so often.

“Our aim therefore was to drive an emotional connect by showcasing a mother’s culinary success story with FunFoods mayonnaise, thus taking their position a notch higher within the family — from ‘mums’ to ‘master-mums’,” adds Mirza.

A familiar face

Brands feel that the biggest advantage of using a celebrity is that the brand awareness goes up, which leads to increased sales. A faded actress is still a very familiar face and name. Therefore, between an unknown model and a known, once-popular face, the latter will lend the brand more visibility and recall in a cluttered market.

McCain Foods (India) got Karisma Kapoor aboard two-and-a-half years back while the brand was still evolving. It had realised that it needed a brand ambassador to take the message to consumers. “We have been spreading our marketing mix across print, outdoor, TV and digital to ensure more visibility across the country. Our ambassador Karisma Kapoor has added her star aura to our brand campaign,” says Gunjan Pandey, general manager, marketing, McCain Foods (India). The company aims to have a double digit growth and mainly targets SEC A, top 50 towns.

As McCain ambassador and the face of its latest thought leadership initiative on ‘Tomorrow’s Mother, Tomorrow’s Kitchen’, Pandey feels Kapoor enables a connect with urban contemporary women in the age group 25-45, who are trying to juggle between work, family and many other different roles.

Now consider the incremental benefits of hiring a faded celebrity. A good model cost might be 75% lower in comparison, but a celebrity brings instant recall and creates a larger than life aura around the brand. Adds Bhattacharya, “One wouldn’t get Aishwarya to play the role of the mother in ads but a Sonali will be more apt and affordable. Furthermore, Sonali is a recognisable face, hence a better option than an unknown model.”

But what one needs to keep in mind is that there are only a few actresses who are in a healthy snack/food brand’s consideration set. Mostly, these are mainstream actresses who have been very successful in their film careers.

Examples include Kajol, Hema Malini, Juhi Chawla, Madhuri Dixit-Nene etc. Similarly, Bipasha Basu can endorse a fitness/health brand as she is very relevant in that context. For most marketers, bringing in a celebrity is a question of increasing visibility, sustaining positioning and building differentiation. In a celebrity-crazy nation, this
formula works well.

A win-win situation?

But in the battle of relevance who is winning? Experts say the brand is the first winner followed by the actress. When an advertising film has worked as per the defined matrix for a brand, it’s a win-win situation. And if the ad works well, the endorser benefits too by way of visibility and marketability. Having said that, Prathap Suthan, managing partner & chief creative officer, Bang in the Middle, believes that faded actresses are, well, faded — they bring no value to a product and hence, beat the purpose of having a face.

“Because brands believe they want to get in celebs, one way or the other, the strategy usually backfires,” Suthan says. “The day when we look at great acting talent (outside of films/serials) and use them in ads, and not just leverage celeb power, life will change for many brands.”

Brands and actors should break the norm and format, and do things that no one else is doing.

Being a judge on a reality show is a sure-shot way of getting the retirement cheque, but evolution is the key for survival. “Neither brands have evolved nor the actresses. As long as the faded celebrity is young looking, pretty and slim, she will do, since brands are too lazy,” points out Bhattacharya., Follow  @meghna0101

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