Amitabh Bachchan – the lord of endorsements

By Arpana, Indo-Asian News ServiceimageNew Delhi, Oct 14 (IANS) Many see Amitabh Bachchan as a materialistic and overexposed actor who is not ready to sit on his laurels but works relentlessly to build a larger-than-life media image never seen or heard before in Bollywood.

The actor, who rules both the small and the silver screens, has entrenched himself so deeply in the endorsement arena that he is giving the King Khans a run for their money.

According to media reports, Amitabh’s take home last year was around Rs.190 million ($4 million), which is far more than mega star Shah Rukh Khan’s who took home Rs.130 million (nearly $3 million). Khan’s earnings include his endorsement deals for Pepsi, Hyundai Santro and Lux.

What really sets Amitabh apart from other ageing big stars is while most have faded into oblivion or been reduced to doing father or uncle roles, Big B rules the roost even at 64.

The small screen played an important role in giving him a new lease of life. After a rough patch in the 90s, he barged into Indian homes with one of the most popular quiz shows of Indian television “Kaun Banega Crorepati” (KBC) and the famous BPL ad. Post-KBC there was no looking back for him.

“We want to reinforce his image of being a global brand and also as the most saleable face of India. He has about a dozen endorsement offers,” Sunil Doshi, CEO, Alliance Media and Entertainment, the company that manages Amitabh’s endorsements, was quoted as saying when the second season of KBC set rolling.

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Doshi has surpassed his own expectations with Amitabh becoming one of the most commonly seen faces on the small screen.

Amitabh is endorsing everything – from pens to cars to hair oils to chocolates. His reach can be estimated from the fact that he was signed as a brand ambassador for Reid and Taylor. Earlier, Hollywood actor Pierce Brosnan endorsed the product.

“Amitabh Bachchan is an icon with universal appeal and has helped us reach out to the real ‘Bharat’. While it is too early to quantify the results of our new campaign, our business associates are extremely excited about Mr. Bachchan’s association with Reid and Taylor.

“In fact, agents and retailers have told us that customers have started asking about the ‘Amitabh wali suiting’,” Tarun Joshi, of Reid and Taylor, told media when Amitabh was roped in.

An All-India 2005 Celebrity Track Survey conducted by Hansa Research amongst respondents aged 15-50 years ranked Amitabh at the top. Big B also topped a celebrity likeness poll for two consecutive years – 2003 and 2004.

Describing his phenomenal success post-KBC, well-known filmmaker Ravi Chopra, who signed Amitabh for his superhit “Baghban”, told IANS: “When he was doing KBC, I think the whole process helped him and people got a feeling that he is a very genuine person. People looked at him as a fatherly figure and believed that he will not give wrong suggestions. People started to respect him so much that they started believing what he said.

“And this image worked for the manufacturers. When I see an ad that has Amitji, I feel ‘he is saying it, then it must be true’. Because people look at him with so much respect.”

When Amitabh debuted on the small screen, the risk factor was very high because at that time he was perceived as a decaying actor, failed politician and businessman doubling under heavy debt. In spite of a three-decade long successful innings, when it came to his second innings he wasn’t getting his due in Bollywood.

With KBC’s phenomenal success, not only did Bollywood throw open its doors for Big B, the endorsement offers started pouring in as well. The manufacturers felt that his name will lend credibility to their brands and they went berserk to sign up the actor whose popularity defied age and norms.

His larger-than-life image made him one of the most expensive celebrities endorsing brands. His endorsements apparently cost between Rs.50 million and Rs.120 million. Despite the rate, Indian and multinational companies make a beeline for him.

The domestic brands usually opt for a short-term association with Big B. But for multinationals like Reid and Taylor or Pepsi, renewing the contract with Amitabh is not an issue.

According to a report, ICICI Bank did not renew its deal with Amitabh in 2002. Maruti, which roped in both Amitabh and his son Abhishek for Versa, is lying low for a while.

Many feel Amitabh is overexposed as he is endorsing too many products.

But Chopra disagrees. “I don’t think he is overexposed. And I don’t believe in over-exposure. He is a damn good actor and if he is doing it in style, then it doesn’t matter how often he appears.”

Chopra is right because Amitabh proves his versatility in ads too – if he comes across as a suave gentleman in Reid and Taylor, his lingo and mannerisms in the Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate ad where he proudly introduces his cow Radha as Miss Palampur is totally rustic. And he carries off both the personas convincingly.

For the manufacturers, using a sportsperson is risky because their performance has a direct effect on sales. With actors there is no risk, more so with Amitabh.

In short, Big B is the safest bet.

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