Thursday, April 09, 2009

Has Youthquake struck Ad-Endorsement-Land?

Is ‘young’ the undisputed flavour of the day? Are yesterday’s sweethearts suddenly, dreaded victims of the don’t-call-us-we’ll call-you disease? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri surveys the scene...

 Recently, a screaming headline in a tabloid grabbed my attention. Out of work Sush loses ad deal to petite Asin. A gorgeous, glamorous, sophisticated diva like Sushmita Sen, given the heave-ho (for a product she’s been associated with for years – Pantene) and replaced by young, pretty [but nowhere as charismatic or enjoying pan-India popularity with the upmarket crowd] South Indian actress Asin, of Ghajini fame! Why, even the great King Khan – whose other name seemed to have been ‘Pepsi Khan’ – is, reportedly, dropped from Team Pepsi in their latest outing. Ditto for yesterday’s queens Ash Rai Bachchan, Rani Mukherjee and Preity Zinta, say adbiz and Bollywood insiders. On the cricket front too, similar tremors have been felt. Yesterday’s icons Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, V.V.S. Laxman, even the sensational Sachin Tendulkar, have suffered anything between a meltdown to a slowdown. It’s the T-20 kids – Dhoni, Yuvraj, Ishant, Raina, Zaheer and gang – that are zooming centre-stage and replacing them in the endorsement sweepstakes. In Bollywood, new dazzlers rocking it include Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Asin, Genelia, Jiah Khan, Katrina Kaif, Imran Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Kangana Ranaut, Deepika Padkone, even Farhan Akhtar! With half of our one billion population said to be under the age group of 25, marketers are indeed getting hot n’ heavy in the business of torpedoing this target base, all the way!

Is it working… and what drives it? Who better to kick-off this debate with the very person who founded and coined the ground-breaking term youngistan – which for Washington Post defines young India as also TV channels and political parties identifying the new India – Soumitra Karnik, Creative Head of JWT’s Pepsi team who says, “Much as I am tempted to say that I suddenly dreamt it all up one stormy night – like fake directors or smart plagiarists! – I didn’t! Its just that, while reading up something, the words ‘Young’ and ‘Hindustan’ struck me as interesting cues for coining something new, fresh, simple along street-speak lines that would resonate with the target base. That’s how it was really born. If it captured popular imagination instantly, I guess its largely because it was red-hot topical, had the required bindaas tone to it and reflected the mood, colour and voice of today’s most important segment-youth.” Karnik doesn’t munch his words and packs in a solid punch when he says that today’s marketers live in the here n’ now and grab only what they believe will rock their product. “They are pretty much like fair-weather friends – and why not? They have a job to do. If its not working, then its goodbye time! The new kids on the block, both in the Cricket and Bollywood arena, reflect this reality in dramatic fashion, right? The age of loyalty is over, boss. It is the age of Return on Investment (ROI)!”
Industry-watcher Ashish Kukreja however, chooses to rain on Karnik’s parade. He reckons all this is “a bimari and fad grabbing the new-age marketers, looking for a quick kill. It has no logic, focus or perspective. Its just a brainless follow-the-herd mentality. Where is the brand-fit? Does a Yusuf Pathan or Praveen Kumar go with the profile of a Pepsi?” Dentsu’s Gullu Sen believes that Kukreja must have both his head and eyes examined immediately because he seems to be living in another planet! “Soumitra is spot-on! Youth is definitely in and the role-models for big buck celeb deals are selected completely on the basis of who’s the flavour of the day. No question about that! It has to do with that segment the product is targeting and with the kids’ universe getting more impatient, adventurous and promiscuous towards brand usage than ever, shifts in role-models take on critical dimensions,” avers Sen. And L. K. Advani’s recent visuals of pumping iron to attract the young voter, is further indication of the might of youth power, right?!

At the end of the day, other aspects come into play too. For one, there is a definite fatigue-factor when one single celeb endorses a brand forever, especially in today’s impatient, novelty-driven times. Two, age does matter. Three, success is the key (Dhoni’s dynamic leadership and subsequent success strike-rate has, allegedly, got him endorsement to this staggering amount of Rs.300 crore!). You can’t have a poor run of scores – either in cricket or Bollywood – and expect the sponsors to keep pampering and batting for you! Nestle dropped Rani for South Indian actress, Trisha, who also – ironically – replaced Preity in the Scooty Pep Ads. The once-bubbly Zinta [now seen more in IPL do’s than the screen!] was also relieved of her endorsement with Perk, Lyril, BSNL and Santro. However, all is not lost for the likes of Ash – who was recently replaced by Katrina in the Nakshatra Diamond endorsement deal – and gang. The power of two (thanks to the humongous and insane curiosity, influence and impact that both Bollywood and cricket attract, ably-supported by a zillion mags, publications, tabloids, TV channels and Internet sites blitzing gossip, scandals, rumors, juicy, naughty and startling news bytes 24X7) is gaining huge momentum and so the John-Bips, Saif-Kareena, Ajay-Kajol, Ranbir-Deepika and Ash-Abhi combo can keep earning those big bucks – before another recession arrives, that is!


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