The Celebrity Double Cross

I am old enough to remember when Coca Cola was not about happiness and Pepsi was still relevant to pop culture. The two cola giants went head to head in India and the weapon of choice was celebrities. If it was Shah Rukh Khan for Pepsi, it was Aamir Khan for Coca Cola. If it was Sachin Tendulkar for Pepsi, it was Hrithik Roshan for Coca Cola.

The world of advertising was busy pitching the next big celeb for the cola majors. It is then but obvious to be amused by recent reports of Virat Kohli turning down a Pepsi endorsement since he does not consume the product. It has little to do with him consuming the product.

If it really was about consuming the product, will Virat Kohli have us believe that while he does not use fairness creams and does not drink Pepsi, he lives in Nitesh Estates. He also uses something called as ‘ROYAL CHALLENGE’ sports drink?

Do we really believe Hrithik Roshan wears Macroman chaddis? or varun Dhawan lounges in his Lux Cozi. Does Amitabh Bachchan use Navratna Oil? Or Shahrukh khan Navratna talc?

The craft of carving your own celeb brand will claim some victims. Prominent among them, Cola drinks and Skin lightening brands such as Fair & Lovely.

Notice how in the last few months we had reports of everyone from Kangana Ranaut to Taapsee Pannu; From Anushka Sharma to Ileana D’Cruz refuse fairness cream endorsement.

Most recently Priyanka Chopra attributed her past endorsement of a fairness cream to immaturity and lack of a better judgment. Garnier should be pissed at this.

Deepika Padukone endorsed Neutrogena fine fairness. Of course now that she has the platform of mental health and an image of a thinking, talented super star, she wouldn’t be caught dead endorsing the product.

Interesting how Anushka Sharma went on record to say she will not endorse a fairness product.

Read Here:

But then she totally endorses the WHITENING body lotion.

Watch the ad here:

So how is a whitening product for the body better than it is for the face? If it was a matter of principles, shouldn’t she not have endorse the Whitening body lotion too? I am not vilifying her for her choice. This is to make a point that when it comes to celebrity brands, they are every bit as trustworthy or untrustworthy as any other brand.

The game of endorsement has just become much more competitive and intelligent. The new age PR machinery and the still emerging paparazzi culture has ensured that celebs now know that they are brands themselves and an endorsement is not them being a spokesperson for a brand but an association of two brands. An image is created to make consumers believe that the celebrity brand stands for certain values. The key word being IMAGE.

Which brings me to the point. Indian movie stars have always been the most powerful brands in the country. It is only recently though they have realized that how they can cultivate an image to boost their equity and get a premium. They will get more picky about their endorsement because the media money that every brand will spend will either further cultivate their image or tarnish it and hamper their equity.

Cola drinks and Fairness products are just the beginning. Years from now we will witness what the Western world already is witnessing, celebrities will refuse endorsements from brands that are not in sync with their social and political beliefs. This is just a beginning.






Brand Kangana v/s The Kangaroo Court

Just when you thought you had heard it all about the Kangana Ranaut and the nepotism debate, along came her latest rounds of interview blowing away the sleek satin covers of bollywood.

Brand Kangana has established itself firmly as the biggest badass of bollywood. Over decades of this film industry, men have traditionally been the brands with few women establishing themselves as one clearly.

There is Madhubala – the timeless beauty, Rekha – the enigma, Hema Malini- the dream girl, Madhuri Dixit – the dancing diva, Aishwarya Rai – the fairytale perfection and now Kangana Ranaut- the rebel with a cause.

Except the above, no female bollywood celeb has ever had a clear mind space positioning that one could crystal into a brand stature. What is exciting about Kangana is the fact that she is choosing to create her brand by destroying the set up of the industry that she belongs too. In a very twisted way, she is pulling off an Apple equivalent of the mobile phone industry in bollywood.

I remember a time about 25years ago where the biggest bollywood power centers were the trinity – not the Khans but Madhuri, Sridevi and Juhi. The 3 women together controlled much of bollywood. Look at late 80s to mid 90s, the phase during which Amitabh Bachchan was no longer the angry young man and Shahrukh khan was not the lover boy. The biggest brands of bollywood were 3 women!

Somewhere along the line, bollywood went extremely regressive. The progress made by Sridevi, Madhuri and Juhi in terms of establishing the female as an equivalent of a male star was lost. The 3 made more money than their male counterparts in many movies.

Until Kangana single handedly pointed out the double standards of the industry, every single female star was content playing an insignificant lead to a Khan in a 100cr+ movie. The era of everyone from Kareena Kapoor to Asin, Katrina Kaif to Sonakshi Sinha vying to be unnoticeable under the shadows of their male counterparts.

Brand Kangana is built without an association with any male influence. It is a brand which the youth of this country that voted Modi to power strongly identifies with.

Her latest interview in Aap ki Adalat very firmly establishes Hrithik as the pappu or Rahul Gandhi equivalent of Bollywood and herself as Modi.

Kangana is a rare example of a REBEL brand archetype in Indian industry. Long overdue and refreshing.

So while the nepotistic Kangaroo courts of bollywood heralded by the likes of Karan Johar judge her for everything from her accent to character in general, this Queen is too cool to care.

The New Blitz : Muscle Blaze

There comes a time in the evolution of every market when it witnesses a tectonic shift in its attitude towards categories that were traditionally never spoken about. One look at the supplement section of any newspaper and you know fitness and health is a permanent feature that just refuses to vanish from the sights of us comfortably lazy folks.

Some brands lure your with a promise and some by scaring you and then comes a brand that just insults you into action. The last one has seldom been seen in India. That is until a day or so ago when the brand “Muscle Blaze” stepped out of the closet to declare itself unabashedly as a supplement for body building. It dropped the pretense of nutrition and proteins and health to focus solely on what the job of the product is – Help build a better looking body.

Check out the campaign :

Laced with multiple obnoxiously good looking bodies, the brand attempts to name and shame the consumer into action and for this, one must give credit. An extremely bold move in a country where we insist on nodding our heads when we mean to say ‘NO’

Kudos to the marketing brains behind this campaign and more so to the organization and its vision to pull this category out and take the entire Chinese whispers phenomenon around it head on. Apparently, one of the best selling brands online, Muscle Blaze may just be responsible for accelerating the growth of this category to unimaginable levels.

There is very little information available on the organization brand or the creative agency behind the campaign. Either the PR is yet to begin or it is a missed opportunity given how impactful the campaign is.

For years now India has witnessed the mushrooming of gyms and health clubs and dieticians and yet no brand displayed the courage to call out what it was. Vanity is the single biggest driver of physical activity. Health is a close seconds. A subtle but crucial difference lies in the fact that “health” is something that we Indians gladly compromise on for our own selves. We only care about the health of our loved ones. Hence the scare mongering. From Saffola’s innumerable attempts to tell housewives that their husbands are about to choke on a Parantha to the concept of “shuddh aata” in India, health as a platform works only when you talk to a loved one of a consumer rather than a consumer.

Vanity, however, is a different story. It is linked to self esteem and at a deeper level to potential sexual conquests. Perhaps a reason most brands in India have been careful not to tread the path.

Muscle Blaze has very nonchalantly treated vanity as an acceptable trait. This in a county that is still in flux between a joint and nuclear family and people are just discovering the merits of living life according by a personal choice. The campaign is in-time to capitalize on an evolving change in the social fabric.

Looks like the stage is ready to set a blaze.


Back from the brink : Everyuth

You know how you never think of some brands and then suddenly you encounter something which makes you turn around and look again? Well that happened with Everyuth recently.

For the uninitiated, Everyuth is probably India’s first hard core home grown skin care brand which pitched the use of natural ingredients for skin care

The most vivid recollection from the 90s is probably with their Peel off masks. However, as competition heated up, one saw lesser and lesser from this brand which had the vision to come up with Peel Off masks, Face Scrubs, Foot scrubs and Face wash in the 90s. Brands like Garnier, Himalaya etc. were nowhere close to it and have far surpassed it backed by heavy investments and a strong on ground presence. One must wonder, why did the organization have such little faith in such a strong brand? It still is still very relevant in the niches that it operates in.

Coming back to what made me think of them – a recent commercial launching their new face wash. You can check it out on the link below

Now see, this particular commercial very subtly breaks down a lot of category codes; and breaking codes just gets me going like few things do! The protagonist is shown to have a pimple and yet she hasn’t lost her confidence. She is not seeking help from a friend or a sister. She is no damsel in distress. When was the last time that you had a protagonist in a beauty product commercial who refused to be bogged down by “log kya kahenge” ? One wonders if this route to challenge the hard core Indian phenomenon of “log kya kahenge” is conscious on the brand’s part. One also hopes it is!

The brand has put across a very well concealed feminist statement – that a girl does not have to lose confidence basis what she looks or hears about her. Done with a dash of humour, it bristles no feathers. The tagline of “Pure Skin, happy Har din” is a bit cryptic but works at a subliminal level. The attempt seems to be to pitch a happy girl as a role model and not necessarily a glamour doll.

I would have preferred if the protagonist was not so conventionally good looking though. An unusual and quirky face would have had a much bigger impact. But baby steps I guess; they are after all selling beauty.

A little background research shows there has been a new creative agency on board – JWT. A quick google also throws up a complete overhaul of the brand’s look and feel. From the dated transparent packs of 90s to the blue packs to the most recent ones. Clearly the brand is picking up the pieces and trying to move ahead with a firmer foot. The work in the recent year or so seems impressive. There is a synergy with the look of the products and the communication. While the creative agency has done a good job, differentiated too if I may add, my hunch is the brand has begun to carry the imprints of a bolder brain from the organization’s end as well.  People are the brands and the brand reflects its managers. There is clearly a younger and sharper mind in organization tinkering with the brand pushing an otherwise coma induced brand to become active and beat to the rhythm of popular trends & culture of evolving demographics.

There are a lot of strong points the brand has wrapped into this commercial. Will it bring the brand back into public consciousness? Well that depends on whether the organization will finally bet on the right horse. The market is cluttered, competitive, unforgiving and no miracle will happen without adequate eye-balls. It will take 3 to 5 years of intense exposure to make a dent and re-gain mind space that the brand has lost.

Given enough visibility, we may see a brand that can bridge the gap between Patanjali and all others. Now that would be one sweet spot to be in! Will have to keep an eye out for this one.


floating in a paper boat

Rarely does it happen that a brand gets it right from day 1. Even more rare is for that brand to be a beverage brand targetting adults. A few years ago, Hector Beverages launched paper boat drinks. A unique idea of completely Indian home-made flavours packaged in a ready to drink beverage format. What followed was a string of products from jaljeera to jamun, from aamras to golgappa pani. All positioned for adults who reflect back to simpler times and innocent childhood. Whether by design or by accident, the fact is the core working age group in India has seen a sea-change in its lifestyle. It is a generation that grew up in a pre-liberalization India. Where access to products and services was difficult and existence was much more family and community driven. Cut to today, their life is much more isolated. Has moved from spending vacations with cousins to solo back packing trips. In this massive transition, the innocence of their childhood is a fond memory and paper boat latched on to that nostalgia which no other brand even remotely thought of.

Of course the beverages aren’t just for rose tinted moments looking at the past. It is now a popular mixer in private parties and restaurants whipping up unique cocktails all over. What a way to re-mix your palette and update it to your modern needs. Everything from the basic product flavours to the packaging is unique about the brand. The “drawing” class creatives used across are so distinct it builds a highly differentiated brand presence every single time. By far one of the most thought through and intelligently handled brands in the country.

Of course, the basic theme of paper boat will continue to be relevant. The challenge is to keep updating the product offerings and communication themes to cater to the nostalgia. a 28 year old, 10 years down the line perhaps may not identify with the flavours or the Malgudi Days music used in communications recently that has a special place in the hearts of the entire 28yrs+ folks. There will be something else thought, what is hip and happening today will need to be adapted into flavours and communications 10 years down the line. If you think about it, it is a case of a brand updating itself with history rather than the present consumer trends.

Can’t wait to see how this brand evolves for the next generation that will suffer from quarter life crisis!

A Good Tease

As far as I remember, India’s first major prolific teaser campaign is something that the beverage brand Frooti undertook with Digen Verma. Though Everest communciations, the creator of the campaign apparently did not view it as one in the conventional sense. None the less, in times when there was little exposure to the concept of viral marketing, Digen Verma broke clutter and got people talking about it. The outcome was the repositioning of brand Frooti in an attempt to increase its association with young adults.

Alas, that was one of the few impactful teaser campaigns. Most brands now undertake a preview of their campaign deeming it a teaser. In reality, few of them have any teaser element to it at all. There may be a few twitter hasthags around it but very low genuine interest. I personally view teaser campaigns as a form of art that has seduction at its core. It is not about how you get people talking about your brand, it is how do you elicit an interest in the story you are keen to tell. In an era driven by impressions and market shares, the art element in marketing is certainly under threat.

The last attempt at a good teaser campaign was the launch of Durex denim condoms in India. People spoke about it, there was a lot of press activity to promote the idea and yet, there as so little organic noise. The tech promoted trend achieving marketing never delivers the results that an organic word of mouth does. Which brings me to one of the best and I am very sure an unintentional teaser campaigns I have come across – Baahubali2

The magnum opus movie Baahubali ended at a cliffhanger of a note- the death of the title character at the hands of his faithful aide Katappa. The year was 2015. This week witnessed the release of its concluding part Baahubali2. Between the two, an unending teaser campaign was under way titled “Katappa ne Baahubali ko kyun mara?” – “Why did Katappa kill Baahubali?”

Internet memes, built in jokes in multiple sitcoms, internet mailers, whatsapp jokes, the question became a part of everyday conversation in this nation of over a billion people. All at practically zero cost. If this isn’t a good teaser campaign I wonder what is! The makers unintentionally perhaps unleashed one of the biggest teaser campaigns in India.

So as the news trickles in that Baahubali2 has raked in over Rs.100 crore- (a billion) in a single day, it re-enforces my belief that a good old teaser campaign backed by an amazing content can create an impact like few other things can.

Kellogg Un-special K

It is so sad to see a brand with enormous potential being choked by the organization. Kelloggs never had a chance to begin with in India with an uphill battle of bringing cereals to a country where breakfast is hard to distinguish from a lunch or a dinner or dessert. From aaloo paranthas to poha. From Idlis to actually jalebis!


The journey has been interesting with launch of a plethora of products prime among them Chocos – which differentiated highly on the flavor and addressed the kids segment.


Then along came Special K – 2 week challenge to get thinner. Now that was a proposition! Who does not want to lose some weight? Breakfast has already been built up to have some connection to weight loss. It appealed to the modern sensibility of an evolving and more exposed urban class.


Which is why it was heartbreaking to see Special K go to #NoMoreExcuses and weight management. Weight management is inherently such a passive and status quo premise. It is like saying to consumers – we do nothing. Well congratulations, you don’t taste remotely as good as my breakfast of decades and to top it, you don’t give me any benefit either! Great going!


Nobody wants to manage weight. Everybody wants to lose it. The promise of dropping a size and a visible difference was what made Special K – SPECIAL. Now with management, it is no longer special. It is no longer appealing, interesting or calling for any action.

To put it in internet slang, it’s a Meh-K not Special-K anymore.


Best of luck trying to push this down people’s throat.

Raving and Ranting about Raga

How often do you encounter a brand that actually embodies the Indian womanhood completely? Rarely. Eons ago Titan Watches stumbled onto something so uniquely beautiful I wondered if it was years of hard work or one of those rare lucky moments. The absolutely unashamedly sensuous sensibilities of Raga – their female watches ‘sub brand’ for the lack of a better word. Raga was an embodiment of the desirable desi woman. Ethnic, Indian and down right sensual.


There is this stupid thing marketers do, we refuse to let our female consumers feel remotely sensual. Think about it, women in Indian advertising can be sexy – to cater to male fantasies but God forbid they limit themselves to being sensuous and in control of their sexuality. Raga tapped into the most basic Indian truth around women – an Indian woman who owns her curves and proudly drapes herself in a sari is so much more sensual than a confused urban Indian girl who apes everything she sees on the cover of a Cosmopolitan.


Marketers and brands have been making Indian women feel inadequate and ugly ever since those 2 exceptions called Aishwarya Rai and Sushmita Sen won the useless pageants. The fact is most Indian women are short and curvy. And they are freaking gorgeous. Raga was bang on with Indian sensuality.

So imagine my disappointment that now all I see is Lanky Bollywood 2nd grade heroines being signed up for the brands promotions. Just makes me wanna yell – Stay true to the core !!!

Create an ambassador if you can’t find one!


What I also do not get, a brand that is for women, about sensuality (at least I think so) about being feminine, Indian in ethos and has an iconinc Mozart tune as its identity – how come I have never seen Madhuri Dixit gracefully gyrate with her Indian thumkas to that tune?


Forget the fact that I very sure of – some marketer out there thinks she is old and the brand needs to get younger. The fact is across every single consumer research I have been a part of in the last 2 years, from ages 16 to 60 she is the definition of classical and graceful ethnic Indian beauty.


I see a missing campaign in Raga’s brand book. A campaign where Madhuri Dixit grooves to that tune with perhaps a Salman or Aamir in an Indian household set up. Where a romance is rekindled for one of India’s most iconic brands. And it ends with a sensual silhouette of a woman that goes on to become the logo for Raga as an independent brand.


Titan may have been a great endorser brand but with all its challenges, Today it’s a stone around Raga’s neck. Slowing it down. Of course Raga would not fly independently till it is unshackled.


Titan is following the done to death road map of getting younger Bollywood girls on board in a lame attempt thinking it would make the brand younger. It won’t. Raga was never about age and never will be. Its about an Indian woman preserving and owning her Indian sensuality. Stick to it.


To quote George RR Martin from his books, Dear Raga, “To go forward you must go back

Cinthol’s missing Sin

If you walked out on the road and asked men randomly to name a men’s brand of soap, chances are most of them would say Cinthol. It is tragic almost how a brand with such strong resonance in the minds of the consumers has had such little success in scaling up and building a bigger presence.


From deodorants to talcs, from Hrithik Roshan aptly jumping off the cliff to Alive is Awesome, Cinthol has had more than 9 lives that cats proverbially have. The more you think about it, the less sense it makes. On paper it has everything going for itself. How many strong male-only brands exist in the domestic space anyways? Park Avenue? What else? Fair & Handsome thanks to its cheap knock off name will never be in the masculine domain that Cinthol is placed in.


The most iconic Cinthol image is probably Vinod Khanna riding a horse and the Voice over pitching it as a “Body Confidence” soap. If only Godrej would have bothered to stick to it. It worked because it played out to men’s fantasy. How? Because at least in the 80s, no man in India ever imagined he could be sexually desirable to a woman. Vinod Khanna riding a horse was an image of virility and male sexuality that was never seen before. Notice how the other 80s campaign that people still remember is the Bombay Dyeing Dream-Man campaign?


The ad was spot on! It tapped into telling men that Cinthol gave them “body confidence” which loosely translated into an unabashed belief in their own masculinity and sex appeal.

The reason Cinthol doesn’t work anymore is because it is neither masculine nor has sex appeal any more.

Hrithik Roshan was probably the worst possible choice as an ambassador. The man is dumb as a post; has no core values except genetically good looks which he wastes on stupid endorsements from Acer laptops to Macroman chaddis. Contrast that with how Kareena Kapoor also known for her good looks goes about things. She is invariably the glam goddess. Whether it is Lux, Lakme or even Vaio laptops. “Good-Looking” is her core.


I am guessing Cinthol tried to get the sex-appeal via Hrithik, but that campaign killed whatever was left of it. Why was he ‘running’, ‘leaping’ ad ‘flying’ looking all tensed and thrilled instead of happy and content that Vinod Khanna looked? After a while you really wanted him to drop off that building and die.


Masculine and effortlessly sexy is what Cinthol was all about. Over decades Godrej seems to have killed the masculinity, the effortless and the sexy part. Wonder what is it about today !


I could see Cinthol extend in deodorant, hair gels and everything to do with male grooming. Hell I could even see Cinthol come up with its own version of an annual Kingfisher Calendar with images of Men showering and having fun. Build it into a most coveted reality show prize in fact. This is a country that has given Roadies and Splitsvilla 10 seasons. Need I say more?  It could make Cinthol younger as well.


Instead, I am witnessing a stupid deo-stick campaign that is trying to be tongue-in-cheek. When did Cinthol become a “FUN” brand anyway?

Annoyed as fuck. Such a Golden brand sacrificed at the altars of marketers who refuse to bite the bullet and make it into a unabashedly sexy brand that it actually is.