It takes courage to use a retired superstar to endorse a brand.

I used to live in Bombay, as that exciting city was called in the late Seventies in my bachelor days, and the star that people died for was Rajesh Khanna, whose famous hairstyle, ‘guru' shirts and trademark tilt of the head were forever etched in the minds and hearts of people. I remember an unsolicited tribute to his personality in a small hotel in Sion where, above the mirror, was a sticker that read, “We know you are Rajesh Khanna, but please don't comb your hair here.” Even in the city that spawned and led the “anti-Hindi agitation” Madras as Chennai was then called, his blockbuster movie Aradhana ran for 100 weeks in Little Anand! People like me who did not know a word of Hindi still hummed his songs hoping against hope that no one would ask us what we were singing. His fans were legion and would die for him. Well, newer, younger stars have taken his place and captured the imagination of today's youth just as much as Rajesh Khanna did three decades ago. One star has been replaced by several and Rajesh Khanna pretty much went into oblivion.

The star returns

After a long hiatus, Khanna makes an entry as the celebrity in the Havells fan commercial. Whenever I tune in, I seem to catch the commercial. Clearly, the star has aged. The film has images of his youth, his fan following and the background score is the music that we all grew up with. Yeh shaam mastani, shots from his huge fan following, reminiscences about his fans, the affection, the love, the high that fans can give stars. In an obvious way, the commercial leads to Havells fans that he is endorsing and repeats the line of Babu Moshai which was from his unforgettable performance in the movie Anand with Amitabh Bachaan. In a stoic way there is recognition of the fact that while his fans may have switched camps over the years, they are special and will be forever, for him, at least.

Love or hate but can't ignore

The trouble with most advertising is that it leaves one completely cold and does not merit a word much less a discussion or debate. This commercial, however, seems hard to ignore and is receiving strong reactions from individuals in private discussions and in media. A friend of my vintage was angry because he probably could not accept the aging star who was timeless, in his mind's eye at least. Well, everyone ages, including yours sincerely! But to me there were some interesting strategic sidelights to this commercial.

Celebrity endorsement choices and scripts are getting lazier by the moment. What great strategic difference will a brand get using Priyanka Chopra, Saif Ali Khan or Dhoni? They each endorse so many brands that even their managers probably do not know which brands they are endorsing. So imagine the plight of poor consumers like us. If my memory serves me right, this is the only commercial Rajesh Khanna has featured in, albeit long after his retirement. The script refers to fans, a strong reference to the product category. There is no confusion about the fact that this commercial is about fans.

The strong and frequent exposure in the IPL means that regular viewers get an opportunity to see the commercial quite a few times and this commercial, like some film tunes, grows on you. And I have always been a strong believer in the fact that every celebrity commercial has to make sense in a cost benefit analysis. I am sure the costs of signing on Rajesh Khanna will be a fraction of the cost of today's star celebrities. And what might be the benefit? I strongly believe that the star, aged though he is, has a strong connect with older audiences, who are still buying fans and with that generation of younger viewers who watched films with their parents, not to forget audiences in smaller towns, semi-urban and rural markets. I like the commercial because it shows that celebrity endorsements can be thought of as a means of differentiating the brand instead of merely increasing awareness. It takes courage to look at different strategies and executions and to me, these are the strong points of the TV commercial that we spoke about.

Why this Hindi-veri di?

Still on the subject of IPL and Extraaa Innings that precedes it. I have a basic doubt. Does not Sony Television want anyone from the South to watch these programmes? The experts seem to be conversing in Hindi or Punjabi most of the time and only rarely lapsing into English. I can understand Sidhu doing this but what is the problem with the likes of Harsha Bhogle who are troublesome enough in English but simply insufferable in Hindi. Cricket is an English game and lends itself to description in that language. In their desire to reach out to the Hindi belt, I think our great marketers are messing up big time. More on this later as Extraaa Innings is just over and the match has just started!

Ramanujam Sridhar is the CEO of brand-comm and a Director of Custommerce. http://www.ramanujamsridhar.blogspot.com

(This article was published on May 16, 2012)
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