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| Pantul Kothari

Brand Ambassadors: Playing the Part or Losing the Plot?

A Dictionary defines an actor as an individual who pretends to be someone else while performing in a film, play, television or radio programme. A famous example is Salman Khan. In one movie. he’s a Simple Simon. In another, he’s an action hero doing the impossible. But he also can dance, break hearts (or have his heart broken). We also have the versatile Shahrukh Khan, portraying a detective in Badshah and a stalker and psychopath in Darr. He’s also played a patriotic coach, a martyr, a patriot for a second time, a Don and a specially gifted Indian American with the same first name.

In a nutshell – actors can play a variety of roles. Good or bad is secondary. They can make you laugh, cry, curse or clap. They can be smashing villains, romancing, getting drunk or dancing. Sometimes, actors can be associated with a particular image, think Amitabh Bachchan’s roles as the “angry young man”, Dharmendra as the macho man of the 70s and 80s, Ranbir Kapoor playing the helpless romantic and Ayushmann as the unconventional artist.

Does such variety and range apply to brands? Specifically, do they have personalities? Can a product be endorsed by a brand ambassador, who was working with a competitor? For instance, several of Thums Up's TV ads featured Salman Khan till now, who next jumped ship and is now seen swagging it up in a Pepsi ad. If I said the word Pepsi and asked you to think of a face, what will you say? Would you imagine Salman with a Pepsi, Coke or Thums Up? The brand can now appear faceless, directionless with no clear positioning in the thoughts of consumers. Who would have imagined that carbonated soft drinks can have multiple personalities or rather multiple personality disorders?

The greater issue isn’t the changing of faces in celebrity endorsements. Far from it – the issue lies within our own industry. As agencies, are we so short of ideas that we have to piggyback on superstars, conceptualise a counter campaign (with a budget in crores) to convince clients? What do you feel about picking a brand ambassador, who has so far, stood for something that is the exact opposite to our clients’ brand personality? Where are the sharp ideas, the cutting insights that help build a campaign and can be executed without a famous face? What agencies do these days can be summarised like so: Celeb lo, brand ke saath chipkao and kaam ho jaye. Celeb is known for heartthrob roles – but so what – he will now endorse my brand, which stands for action. Chaltaa hai, par kyaa yeh Sahi hai?

End of the day, there is a complete brand chaos in the minds of the consumer. The actor is established but the ‘brand’ has gone for a toss. As this goes on, products disintegrate into sound bites and consumers are left confused.

Brands are neither actors nor characters that change their colours, their personalities and identities. They must have a permanence to them – such a quality takes decades to build.

In the quest for sales, we are settling for 15 minutes of fame

Let us take a leaf from the book of the Parle-G girl, the Maharaja of Air India, or the Quaker man: give a face to the brands we ideate for. More importantly, a relatable face. Otherwise, we risk creating a many-faced entity we do not understand. A Jekyll and Hyde situation and a monster in our hands.