Thursday, November 23, 2006


Are we as a nation staggering under the weight of celebrity-fatigue... or, is adland’s rollicking and roaring affair with the Bollywood brigade a part and parcel of today’s star-mad lifescape? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates.

Recently, Madison Avenue suffered a seismic shock when reports of the hot n’ glam superstar, Catherine Zeta Jones’ endorsement contract with a mobile phone company not being renewed screamed across media!

Similar shock waves followed when hi-voltage Hollywood hotties Angelina Jolie and Sarah Jessica Parker’s promos for a top-of-the-line designer outfit garnered more barbed and catty criticism than customers. While Jolie earned a whopping $12 million (reportedly) from St. John Knits, the clients appeared totally turned-off at the attempts to ‘re-invent the brand’. As for Parker’s slow-burn for GAP, the target group were ‘plain annoyed’. Hi-profile Louis Vittori’s ‘return to models’ move after sampling the services of sizzlers like Jennifer Lopez and Uma Thurman adds further fuel to the fire, generating massive heat and dust, debate and discussion within and outside the ad frat, clearly indicating that all is not well with Madison Avenue and Hollywood... “It’s no longer a novelty; it’s more of a bore” and “these so-called icons are no longer held in such high esteem and regard anymore” are only two of the laconic broadsides hurled at this genre of advertising.

Back home, however, our celebs (read: Bollywood) continue to rock, forcing normal ‘models’ to roll in vague and back-of-beyond, moth-balled spaces! Think of any product line or category (household appliances, cell phones, colas, snack food, detergents, batteries, cars, fashion wear, watches; even paint and hair-oil, for chrissake!) and the star-thobda is bang-on, in place! Over-used, over-extended and frequently over-cooked, isn’t this mindless, rampaging celeb-advertising triggering celebrity-fatigue? “You betcha, brother” drawls Bangalore-based Adman, Cyrus Patel. “The volume and range of TVC’s that the Big B, (for example) alone endorses is staggering! Colas, batteries, hair-oil, paint, tonics, watches, detergents, cars, suitings, townships... where is the credibility, man? Confusion is confounded and the connect – in most cases – is zilch.” Sympathisers and fans of this genre, however, are quick to counter this accusation. They say that, unlike the West, abounding in a host of popular art-forms like music, dance, theatre and ballet, here only Cricket and Bollywood are religion, and work as guaranteed common denominators with an assured pan India connect. Also, they add, that everybody is referencing Bollywood because it’s the only in-built myth in the land that connects the state and family, rational and emotional, urban and rural, folk culture and mass culture... it places our contradictions in a well-choreographed, holistic, cinematic geography where everyone resides in a feel-good, happily-ever-after mode. Why knock it?

Fine, fine, fine say the critics, but wait a minute! If celebrity advertising is about dramatically enhancing the degree and level of connect and credibility between the consumer and the brand, shouldn’t there be (to begin with) a profile and persona compatibility between the product and star?! They point to the brilliant examples of Tiger Woods and Andre Agassi for Nike, Michael Schumacher for Ferrari, Pierce Brosnan (when he was playing 007) for BMW and Anthony Hopkins for Barclays, and now compare it to (among a zillion gems) TVCs showing Ghazal-singer Jagjit Singh hanging around in a Marc Sanitaryware land or Hema Malini championing the cause of Bank of Rajasthan and a mineral water brand...
Shouldn’t (they ask) the advertisers sue their brains for non-support?! At a time when even the biggest Bollywood star – loaded offerings crash and burn due to a lack of freshness, novelty and interest-value, how can clients be so dumb to presume that just getting a big star and marquee director – with zero insight, concept or storyline – will automatically ensure a million mesmerised eyeballs and top-of-the-line memorability that will be converted to a definite purchase-intent? Remember, the consumer is not a moron, she is your wife! Further, (they point) some of the most hi-profile brands – Surf, Lifebuoy, Raymond, Nokia, Hutch, Hero Honda, Pepsodent, Perfetti, Asian Paints, Bank of India, SBI – have never used celebs and yet managed to create outstanding advertising by simply leveraging the most exciting resource of all – everyday life.

In conclusion, the real reason is, gentle reader seems to lie in our ‘stars’! Beyond the very obvious reasons of a bankruptcy of ideas, creative laziness and the desire to do the instant kill, in terms of audience-connect, lies the (secret and unspoken) ‘high’ of actually rubbing shoulders with the divine, glamorous and sublime creatures who have always seduced your imagination and ignited your fantasy (be it the Big B or SRK, Aamir, Kareena or Rani, Preity, Sush or Bipasha, Saif, Ajay, Ash or Kajol) on a one-to-one basis... this unbelievable but real opportunity to connect and interact with the universally hymned and celebrated screen hunks and divas seems to invite a paralysis of the critical faculties of the smartest, brightest & sharpest of marketing mavericks.

Suddenly, their hard-nosed, professional driven-insight and focus appears to be mud, clouded by the mesmeric power of star-allure and aura! So what we get, ladies and gentlemen, is a surfeit of celeb-driven advertising – be it the re-mixed, beaten-to-pulp dialogues of Sholay or revisits to the Ajit-specific ‘Raabert’ wisecracks, even flashbacking to the Devdas-Paro cornballs, the Shahrukh–Amitabh verbal duels or (the latest) milking the Munna-Circuit lingo... or sometimes it’s just plain, riding on star aura, which (the local wit insists) manages to do only one thing certainly: Ensure that everyone (no matter how vaguely) remembers the ad while (almost definitely) forgetting the product!


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