Rashme SehgalRashme Sehgal



Amitabh Bachchan has helped bring about a tectonic change in the way television is perceived by the industry. Today, the angry old man of Indian cinema is endorsing fifteen different products and has hundreds of crores of business riding on his shoulders. The brands riding on him include Emami, Pepsi, Eveready, Reid and Taylor and Parker pens. The question being asked is how has he become such a television colossus?
The answer is simple. Every time an industry needs to introduce a new product, who should they turn to but the Mr. Reliable of Indian advertisers. If the sales of a product run into trouble as happened with Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate or else plateau as was the case with Emami’s Navratna cool oil end Dabur Chyavanprash , who should they turn to but India’s one-brand industry. At 62, Bachchan succeeds in reaching out to all age groups and people from all socio-economic segments whether from rural or urban India.
The example of Reid & Taylor symbolizes this phenomenon. The brand was launched five-and-a-half years ago with Pierce Brosnan playing the role of James Bond. And of course, since Bond wore only the best, what else would he be seen suited in except the up market Reid & Taylor fabrics. A year into their launch, the MNC realized sales had plateaued. The public did not identify with the British secret agent. Three celebrities were short listed for this campaign- Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. Reid & Taylor chose Amitabh because they felt he possessed the physical frame to carry off their suits. Tarun Joshi, communications head of Reid & Taylor pointed out, ` Shahrukh and Aamir put together are no match for Amitabh. He is the most popular Indian in the world. He is as popular in Allahabad as he is in south Mumbai.’Joshi refuses to divulge how much they paid Amitabh but the figure is said to have crossed the Rs. 15 crores mark. A few weeks after their campaign started called `Bond with the Best’, sales jumped by 30 per cent and a company with an annual turnover of Rs. 100 crores saw sales touch Rs. 145 crores. During the last financial year, they crossed the Rs. 180 crores mark.
If Reid & Taylor is reaching out to the Elite segment, Eveready batteries are reaching out to the rural Indian. The battery has been in the market for 99 years and is planning to celebrate its hundredth years with a bang.
`We had a market research company do a survey on who the public would prefer to have as brand ambassador and the majority wanted Amitabh who enjoys iconic status,’ pointed out Jhumjhum Shirali, heading corporate communications for the Eveready group.

Cadbury’s Diary Milk chocolate received bad publicity after worms were found in some of their chocolate bars. Realizing they needed to tide over this wave of bad press, the company got in touch with Amitabh and asked him to apply his healing touch. He agreed to vouch for both their excellence as a product and the super hygienic manner in which it was manufactured.
The serial Kaun Banega Crorepati saw Amitabh reinvent himself as a television animal. Not only did the show prove a money guzzler. It also helped Star Plus emerges as the number one channel in India. During the shows heyday, a ten second ad spots was selling for Rs. two lakh. This lesson was not lost on the advertisers who realized Amitabh was one person who had a pan-Indian appeal. Sunil Doshi, CEO, Alliance Media and Entertainment, who handles Bachchan’s endorsement career says, `Bachchan’s personality has come to symbolise credibility, discipline, hard work, professionalism and sincerity. These are traits that appeal to the public.’
This could well explain why the Dabur brand did not bat an eyelid in reportedly paying up Rs. twelve crores to endorse their brand. Emami’s director Harsha Vardhan has also recently opted to get him to promote their Navratna oil as something which is classy and insures a stress-free life. Harsha Vardhan says, `Our Company has an annual turnover of Rs. 350 crores. Earlier, we had Madhuri Dixit endorse a whole range of products under the trade line of Beauty Secrets of Madhuri. Two months ago, we opted for the Bachchan name because we believed it would help pep up our sales.’
Celebrities around the world are being used to endorse products. But nowhere in the world is one celeb being used to promote fifteen different products. Most of these ads are being shown on prime time. The polio pulse ad is the only exception since Doordarshan is carrying the ad round-the-clock. Mahesh Bhatt talks about how celebrity endorsements act as a signpost to quality and certainly enhance the reputation of the brand by providing that lit extra in terms of imagery, aspiration and entertainment which can tip the balance in favour of the brand.
But advertisers admit that too much of a good thing can also create a huge hole in the pockets of the product owner. Look at the example of Nerolac paints ad where a friendly and approachable Amitabh is shown chatting up a young girl whose painting he happens to have spoilt. Several viewers have mistaken that ad for being a promo for the Asian Paints ad. And the reason for that is that just a couple of months ago, Asian Paints went the whole hog to show the difference between a home painted over by Asian Paint and a home which gets an ordinary paint job done. Pepsi has been using Amitabh to boost their sales for over six years. Rohit Ohri of Hindustan Thompson Associate (HTA) points out how a consumer good bought on an impulse, such as a soft drink, profits from an association with a person who represents an irrepressible and never- say- die spirit.
Pooja Jain, director of the Luxor ball pen empire says the reason why so much of television advertising gravitates to Bachchan is because he knows how to deliver.
`He has been endorsing Parker pens from 2001. The first year when he got him aboard, our sales went up 30 per cent. Now they are climbing at 25 per cent annually. We’ve become a company with a Rs. 125 crores turnover.’
Not bad. Amitabh is laughing all the way to the bank.