God’s own country was the apt setting for a rousing discussion on brand dharma with the shahenshah of Bollywood Amitabh Bachchan leading the way with some philosophical questioning on the righteous path for marketers.

“Brand is the wagon, dharm is the engine,” said Bachchan, delivering the opening keynote at the IAA World Congress, attended by 2,000-plus marketing and advertising folk.

The superstar, whose endorsements have seen many a brand flourish (local Kerala brand Kalyan jewellers which has gone global, for instance), felt that real brands are those that have a far-reaching impact on our lives. A brand that only looks at fueling economic activity is nothing but a profit engine, he stressed.

Celebrity endorsement

In his erudite address, that spanned nearly an hour and touched on various aspects of marketing, advertising and communication including social media and celebrity endorsements, Bachchan probed the purpose of brands, and the role of dharm (a stickler for semantics, he insisted it was not to be called dharma, but dharm as the meaning changed with the pronunciation).

“Dharm of a brand is an assurance that a product will perform as per its label. If it fails, it fails its dharm, he said.

The superstar also fleetingly introspected on the role of celebrity endorsement of brands. “As the voice and face of a brand, should I be held accountable for a brand’s performance?” he asked. “I don’t advertise alcohol and tobacco products. That is my dharm,” he said.

On brand Bachchan, he said it was a name that stood for dissent. “I am above all a poet’s son. My father was born Harivansh Rai Srivastava, but he dropped the last name and instead adopted Bachchan as his dharm was to revolt against casteism,” he said. The actor who began his address by paying tribute to the martyrs of Pulwama, also delved into a brand’s responsibility to its nation. “A brand should never betray a nation to which it belongs,” he said, pointing out how several iconic products have got associated with countries.

Big B finished his talk with some profound questions on the very meaning of dharm. Each one of us has a different dharm — mine is different from yours, so what exactly is dharm?

Bachchan’s philosophical musings on dharm were followed up by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar. For him brand dharma was largely about products that promoted the wellbeing of people.

Other themes explored on day one of the three-day conference was digitisation and its consequences. Srinivasan Swamy, President, IAA, pointed out that 43 per cent of total ad spend globally today is digital. “However, there are some issues; privacy has become a major issue and data protection too has become a concern for the industry today.”