Friday, September 23, 2011

India: a face for phones

Will Chetan Bhagat be a good brand ambassador?

Please see my comments on the above subject in article below (Appeared in today's Financial Times).

In a country where most adverts feature celebrities such as cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar or Bollywood stars, an overseas phonemaker and an author seem like an unlikely, if interesting, pairing.

India’s best-selling author, Chetan Bhagat (left), has been signed up by Chinese telecoms company Huawei to launch its latest tablets and smartphones on the subcontinent, the Economic Times reports.

India is Huawei’s second largest market after China, contributing between $840m and $1.4bn per year (3 to 5 per cent) – of overall revenues, which totaled $28bn last year. But the company isn’t widely recognised in the country, and also must combat prejudice against Chinese products.

Last year, the Indian home ministry expressed concern that there was a “danger of spyware being embedded in Chinese equipment”, which could compromise the country’s security, India Today reported. Huawei’s reputation, and that of other Chinese vendors and manufacturers, suffered.

Whether Bhagat’s celebrity as an author – and the $3m the company plans to spend on advertising and promotion through the end of the year – will change that is anyone’s guess.

“I’m not too sure about Chetan Bhagat, but one has to wait and watch,” said Ram Gudipati, of Brand Harvest, a communications firm. “While people read, I’m not sure that the fan following – particularly when it comes to brand endorsement – will go a long way.”

Bhagat’s inspirational novels about the Indian middle class are written in what the author calls “simple English”, and what the New York Times recently called “a distaste for the dictionary”. But he is hugely popular among young and small-town Indians, and “3 Idiots” the latest movie to be made from one of his books, is among the highest-grossing Bollywood blockbusters in history.

The star of that movie, Aamir Khan, is himself a spokesperson for countless brands – from Titan watches to Samsung – as are many Bollywood celebrities and Indian cricketers.

Huawei, for their part, is betting on Bhagat’s youth appeal to promote its MediaPad tablet and Ideos line of smartphones.

“Chetan Bhagat is a youth icon and he has changed the dynamics of the publishing industry. Our endeavour is to bring high-end technology at affordable prices. Our target audience and values are the same,” Huawei Devices India President Victor Shan told the Economic Times.

That appeal is what makes him unique among authors.

“Whilst he is an author, he’s also a celebrity in his own right – he writes columns in The Times of India [and] he’s been seen as some sort of icon for youth,” said Sridhar Ramanujam, head of brand-comm, a strategic branding firm. “So I would say he has a richer profile than a mere author.”

Even so, Ramanujam said the decision probably came down less to Bhagat’s appeal than to how much he charges. There have been reports of a fee of around 10m rupees ($200,000), but Huawei declined beyondbrics’ request to confirm the amount Bhagat will be paid.

“Most celebrity decisions are basically cost versus benefit, and when you find an unlikely celebrity … it basically means the brand doesn’t have the resources to take on a major person,” Ramanujam added.

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