The main highlights of the last week was Salman Khan being convicted by a Jodhpur Court and the actor being sentenced to 5 years in prison for killing an endangered animal. However, after spending just two days in jail he was out on bail. The incident was enough to ruin a person’s professional career and cancel all his brand endorsement contracts.
Several media reports pointed that ‘Brand Salman’ was slated to take a hit and the share prices of brands associated with him could witness a drop. Trade analysts estimated that Rs 400-600 crore could be at stake with Khan.
However, none of the brands associated with Khan have even flinched. How is that possible? Is brand ‘Sallu Bhai’ (as he is popularly known as) so powerful that despite being found guilty in court, a brand such as Relaxo Footwears could release a new TVC featuring Khan just yesterday like nothing ever happened?
AdAge India team spoke with a few brand experts in the industry as to what makes brands stay with Khan despite his actions.
Fan Following Matters
It is no secret that Khan has a massive fan following. Fans make a beeline outside theatres when his films hit the screens no matter how good or bad those films are. He is the bad boy of Bollywood and has been a frequent visitor to court for several cases. However, youth still relate to him and it is this following that the brands that have hired him as the endorser look at.
Shubho Sengupta, Brand Consultant (Digital) says that everyone knew that Salman would spend one night in jail and get out. “Every year he seems to be spending two nights in jail. Brands have become very immoral. They will move only when there is some public outcry. They will never take a step on their own. Despite the man being clearly guilty, the brands have not moved. He is still a super hit, so why rock the boat,” he says.
Another brand expert also pointed out that many brands in India do not have strong conviction as majority of the people in India too don’t have a strong conviction regarding anything.
Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder and CEO, Brand-comm says, “If we see what happened with the Australian cricketers who were recently caught in the ball tampering issue, there was a huge outcry in Australia after which even their Prime Minister too had to intervene. I don’t see that sort of outcry from people in India. Khan has a huge fan following in the country. There are people like me on Twitter who are not influenced by Salman, but we are few and are not the target audience of the brands he is endorsing. So, it doesn’t impact him and brands continue to endorse him.”
There is also the fact that unlike large multinational brands that have strict guidelines for their brand ambassadors, many Indian brands do not. They care about how much mileage they can get from a brand ambassador regardless of how it is achieved. MNC brands that Khan endorsed such as Thums Up have gradually moved away from him. Now, what remains in his kitty are largely Indian brands such as Relaxo Footwear, Emami, Dixcy Scott innerwear, Appy Fizz, Astral Pipes, among others.
K V Sridhar, Founder and CCO, HyperCollective says that if he is physically not in jail and his films do well at the box office then brands will endorse him. “At the box office, he is doing well and he started Being Human organisation to try to redeem himself for things he did wrong. So, there is still demand for him in advertising, because he is still in the free world. Everything is only a question mark right now. Multinationals will have an issue. Only smaller brands will be willing to back him as they want to gain awareness and popularity despite anything he does. Most of these will be the Indian brands who are not answerable to anyone. But international brands have strict guidelines,” he says.
The Wait and Watch Approach
Many of the brand experts say that the brands that endorse him may have adopted a wait and watch approach as they know he would be appeal and get out of jail.
Lulu Raghavan, Managing Director, Landor says, “I think partly it is because no one knows what is happening. One day he is jail, the next day he is out. It has to do with the law of our land and how long it takes for these verdicts. He does seem to have a huge popularity. But the hesitation of brands is maybe nobody wants to be hasty, because it is not clear what is going to happen to him.”
However, it is this wait and watch approach by brands that has put into question the credibility of the Indian legal system, points out Saurabh Uboweja, CEO and Chief Brand Strategist, Brands of Desire.
“Despite the conviction, which basically means you are a criminal even if you are out on bail, it is quite amazing that brands have decided to stick around and take a wait and watch approach. Honestly speaking it is a tight slap on the Indian legal system. It shows how ineffective it is at trying hold people accountable for their crimes. And if brands are comfortable with endorsing him, it doesn’t speak very highly of the brands themselves. I think brands should have taken a slightly stronger action,” he says.