Buyers Beware: This celebrity endorsement is paid for!

There was a film industry with film stars, there were cricketers and, then, there were models. All three did their respective jobs and that was that.

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There was a film industry with film stars, there were cricketers and, then, there were models. All three did their respective jobs and that was that. None transgressed into others field. Gradually, stars and models changed places. Models were brought into films while a few consumer products used stars to promote their products.

HUL used female stars to model for their Lux brand of soap. The brand has used actresses who were very popular at that time which include a long list of Leela Chitnis, Nargis, Waheeda Rehman, Vyjayanthimala, Nirupa Roy, Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Suraiya, Saira Banu, Rakha, Hema Malini to Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai, Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and so many from the in-between generations. Lux endorsed beauty and glamour and that was reason enough for a star to accept the job. Since their peers had promoted Lux, it meant a lot to the following generations.

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Among products targeting men, Brylcreem preferred film stars and other celebrities, preferably, successful cricketers from Vinoo Mankad, Farokh Engineer to Kapil Dev. Sunil Gavaskar, Sandeep Patil, Eknath Solkar, MAK Pataudi, Ravi Shastri, Roger Binny also did some modelling during their peak period. Yes, once in a while, certain other products like garments and suiting-shirtings opted for strictly glamorous celebrities. It may sound strange to many, but several big stars considered it below their dignity to endorse products.

That was about all. The models were left to promote products and walk the ramp. All three mingled only at social dos. Now called Page 3 affairs. Then came a time when filmmakers and brands started doing business together. In films, brand promotion became a norm. Then, finally, the stars displaced professional models. The stars stepped into their space and today, there may not be a single star, big or small, who is not promoting a brand. Phrases were coined to land dignity to the job and they came to be known as Brand Ambassadors!

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Somehow, the brand promoters could sense the popularity of a star and, suddenly, you see a certain Ranveer Singh promoting scores of brands, appearing in just about every alternate ad you watched on television. But, these ad gurus and marketing guys are good at flattering you with smart sounding titles, they are also as heartless as they suddenly drop you from a campaign when they sense your popularity going down. Suddenly, you see a newcomer actor promoting a product that Salman Khan or Shah Rukh Khan did just a few weeks back! Smart stars know it is about making hay while the sun shines.

As the imagination and creativity of ad filmmakers waned, their dependence on celebrities to promote the products increased. The kind of ad promotions you see today have mediocre content and depend solely on the celebrities. Even, the image of the star does not matter whether it suits the product or not. Like, Sunny Deol is not a drinker but has promoted alcoholic drinks! One does not need to have natural hair to promote a hair oil because, even Amitabh Bachchan promotes a certain brand of hair oil! Or a Salman Khan can be talked into promoting a cola or an underwear! It is all the same to them. The same goes for other celebrities like cricketers.

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The modelling world was full of film aspirants. And, when it came to giving a break to a model in a film, surprisingly, glamour and looks were the only criteria, talent, if any, was incidental. The filmmakers were not looking for a Meena Kumari or Waheeda Rehman, nor, for that matter, a Sridevi or Madhuri Dixit. So we had, Zeenat Aman, Deepika Padukone, Aishwarya Rai, Lara Dutta, Sushmita Sen, Priyanka Chopra all picked from either films or beauty pageants. The list is endless. Similarly, among males, John Abraham, Arjun Rampal, Salman Khan, Jackie Shroff, Mithun Chakraborty, Prem Chopra, Shekhar Kapur, Deepak Parashar, Suresh Oberoi and many other actors came from the ad world.

This lot had the best of both worlds.

So far so good as the celebrities endorsed things and made extra money, actually, that is not extra money but often the main source of income for a top few. Stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan or Salman Khan do one film a year of two films in three years. One may wonder, how come their names figure among the top income tax payers? Because, a lot of the earnings, if not all, come from endorsing brands.

Somewhere, the brand ambassadors seemed to be taking people for granted promoting any product that came their way but some of those products were found to be having content harmful for consumption and questions were raised. A few such controversies led the stars to go into details to safeguard their interests. The netizens went roughshod on them and the wise ones managed to placate them while the others just let it be.

However, such episodes made the authorities conscious of this new challenge. Because, the advertising medium had moved on to the social media which started being used widely for endorsement activities. All that a star had to do was to promote a product on, say, Instrgram where some stars are known to have millions of followers. These followers were the captive prospective brand users, the kind who did not surf television channels during ad breaks. What a star was paid was unbelievable, three to five crore per endorsement, depending on status and how much faith his followers posed in him.

It sounds like madness. But, again, this amounted to taking the believers in a star’s word for granted. There was no way for the followers to tell a promotional massage.

There is a new word for celebrities who enjoy huge following and whose trends and tastes are imitated by the followers. They are described as Influencers and their word carries weight. We have some big time Influencers among celebrities in Virat Kohli, Priyanka Chopra, Alia Bhatt, Akshay Kumar, Varun Dhawan, Ranveer Singh, Sachin Tendulkar and many more with a certain level of influence.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), now mandates that all posts where an influencer benefits in some form or the other including cash, will need to be labelled as advertising, ad, sponsored and so on.

This move by the ASCI will certainly test the credibility of the influencers as they will need to be more careful about what they promote.

If a celebrity’s wealth is disclosed, as various media love to guesstimate lately, and it happens to be in multi-crore, don’t wonder where all it comes from. While their time and luck runs, it comes from whatever they touch.

From making extra money and cashing in on their celebrity status by attending strangers’ weddings, stage shows or dancing the jig to humour the Dubai darbar, they have come a long way!

–By Vinod Mirani

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