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Brand Bachchan

Amitabh, 63, has begun shooting advertisements after his illness, but has the disruption slowed him down?

india Updated: Apr 19, 2006 03:30 IST

With the Big B back shooting for a Cadbury commercial, the biggest brand sought after for endorsements is back on the roll. After KBC, Amitabh Bachchan has never looked back as advertisers have queued up to get the mega-star to endorse their products. Some media watchers have been critical, saying that Bachchan is burning himself out with indiscriminate over-exposure. On the other hand, there does seem to be a slowdown in Big B airtime and ad space. What is the truth?

Data speaks volumes of the rise and rise of the Big Brand. In 2003, Amitabh Bachchan endorsed 21 brands every month and supported Rs 2.27 crore in advertising spends. By 2005, this had risen to 38 brands with Bachchan pushing Rs 9.12 crore in ad spend – a five-fold growth over two years! (TAM Media Research)

The brands he advertises range from high-end products like Cadbury chocolates and Reid & Taylor Suitings to a variety of mass brands like Dabur Hajmola, Rin and Himani Fast Relief. A couple of shady pen and real estate brands are also on his list. What is not so well known is the extensive social awareness endorsements Amitabh Bachchan is associated with. These include Pulse Polio immunisation, National Rural Health Mission and Aids awareness. Interestingly, his top brand in terms of airtime on TV is not Cadbury but ‘Pulse Polio Immunisation’!

The power of the Big B’s endorsement cannot be overstated. Cadbury first roped in Amitabh Bachchan after worms were found in some of their chocolate bars. His endorsement turned the negative tide and sales picked up dramatically after Bachchan was seen assuring the public that the chocolate was prepared under the hygienic conditions. An official at Cadbury’s said, “His appeal is universal and cuts across generations.”

Yet, is the Big B flagging after his illness? Are advertisers worried about associating with an ageing, not-so-well star? Post-illness, the number of Bachchan endorsements and airtime show a downward curve. In January 2006, the star figured in 8,713 TV advertisements hogging 52.2 hours of airtime. In February the figure fell to 47.5 hours of airtime distributed over 8,724 ads. The March 2006 fall was big with the number of TV ads declining to 2,910 equivalent to just 13.5 hours of airtime.

Bachchan’s spokesperson P Ramesh says there is no hint of a slowdown, and claimed the actor would be going full throttle as much as his health would allow. “Contracts with advertisers are typically for one year, and he may not be physically available to shoot after these expired,” said Ashutosh Srivastava, MD of Mindspace, as an explanation.

Sunil Doshi, director, (creative services) Protues, who handles Bachchan’s endorsements says, “His endorsements have not been affected. Some of the communications that we could not shoot because of his illness have been given fresh dates.” Negotiations are on for some new endorsements, and Bachchan will be shooting fresh commercials for existing clients like Rin, Eveready and Reid & Taylor, disclosed Doshi.

O&M’s creative director Piyush  Pandey believes that public interest in Bachchan endorsing a product has increased after his illness. “His successes are not dependent on a public sympathy wave. If he is going to be more selective about the campaigns he is doing, it is only because it is natural for anyone who is getting on in age.”

Ashutosh Srivastava of Mindspace has a different view. “Bachchan is indiscriminate about the brands he chooses for endorsement. Quite the opposite of Abhishek Bachchan.”

Ad filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar too felt that there had been a downslide with the Big B. “There has obviously been some effect on the advertising industry. Any fresh commercials that were scheduled for the winter months would have had to be shelved. Advertising products are seasonal. It does not make sense to sell soft drinks in the winter, for example.”

And as statistics prove these might be true. It is interesting to note that the number of times advertisements featuring Bachchan were aired increased during his illness. While some endorsements almost doubled, some disappeared almost completely.

Dabur Hajmola Anardana Churan (a digestive) was aired 221 times in a 10-day period before his illness. The number dropped to 64 times during his 19-day stay in hospital and was not aired even once in the 10-day period after he left the hospital. (TV AdEx: TAM Media Research)

Doshi says, “Our contract with comprehensive and extends to various products. A lot of things are seasonal. We have been with Dabur for a number of years and more should not be read into it than necessary.”

On the other hand, the Big B’s endorsement strength is still seen as unmatched. Shah Rukh Khan in 2005 had Rs 6 crore of TV ad revenue riding on him compared to Bachchan’s  over Rs 9 crore. The cricketers too were far behind. Sachin Tendulkar endorsed Rs 3 crore worth of commercials, while Virendra Sehwag and Rahul Dravid backed around Rs 2 crore each worth of TV advertisements.

His public relations team may paper over these problems, but it is obvious that health concerns and age will see Amitabh Bachchan avoiding the scorching pace of film and advertising shoots. Of course, scores of advertisers will have to go abegging and supply side economics will ensure that the Big B’s airtime rates will climb in the near future.