The pan masala industry may finally be forced to look beyond superstars as brand ambassadors for their products. Discussions about whether celebrities like Shahrukh Khan should endorse a pan masala brand have been around for a while now. Ajay Devgn has also been trolled for taking up these endorsement deals.
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Recently, Amitabh Bachchan cancelled an endorsement deal with Kamla Pasand Pan Masala. According to an official statement from the actor’s office, the actor has scrapped the deal because he was not aware that it falls under surrogate advertising. He was also questioned by many netizens for endorsing the product that is considered harmful for health in the first place.
Experts suggest the superstar and industry veteran’s decision could force other celebrities to say ‘no’ to these brands.
According to COTPA (Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003), tobacco advertising is not allowed. The ASCI ( Advertising Standards Council India) guidelines also state that celebrities must not endorse products that require health warnings on the packaging.
“The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 or COTPA, 2003 is an Act of Parliament of India enacted in 2003 to prohibit advertisement of, and to provide for the regulation of trade and commerce in, and production, supply and distribution of cigarettes and other tobacco products in India.”
“The ASCI code also has clear guidelines in place for advertising of brand extensions of products whose advertising is prohibited by law. ASCI’s guidelines also state that celebrities should not participate in advertisements of products which by law require a health warning in their ads or packaging,” said Manisha Kapoor, Secretary-General, ASCI.
According to sub-regulation 2.4.5 (3) of Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011, every package of pan masala and advertisement is required to carry the warning that chewing of pan masala is injurious to health.
Despite all these rules and guidelines in place, celebrities like Ajay Devgn, Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Ranveer Singh, Manoj Vajpayee and Saif Ali Khan have been the faces for these brands.
According to a study by the Indian Cancer Society, the advertisements of plain pan masala seen on Indian television are often a surrogate for tobacco products bearing the same name. Often the packaging for the pan masala and the tobacco products of these brands look identical.
Now, as the audiences are growing more conscious of what celebrities they admire endorse, celebrities could also stay away from such advertisements.
According to Sambit Mohanty, Creative Head at McCann Worldgroup, who created the controversial Pan Bahar ad featuring James Bond, “They (pan masala brands) may have to fall back on other forms of storytelling without necessarily using celebrities as a crutch. There is enough and more advertising that happens without celebrity endorsement. Also, if they are unable to sign up big stars (who are unwilling to endorse products like pan masala) maybe they could fall back on lesser-known actors e.g. those who appear in TV serials, etc., who are more flexible.”
“The cognisance of pan masala being injurious to health is something that’s gaining traction. In a more health-conscious world, celebs are increasingly conscious of what their choice of brand endorsement reflects societally. Like we saw Virat Kohli refusing to endorse a carbonated drink, a film star may refuse to do a pan masala ad on the same grounds,” he added.
Mukund Olety, Chief Creative Officer at VMLY&R, said these brands may want to look at the basics of brand-building rather than forcing celebrities into their ads.
“We live in a generation where social media is going to call you out. So, celebrities need to be a little more cognizant of what they endorse. I think if their values are aligned to the brand values that is fine but if you are a health freak endorsing a pan masala brand, of course, your personal values are in conflict with the brand value.”
“There is very little differentiation in terms of the way these brands are built. Everything is built upon aspirations with foreign locations, imagery etc. It is very shallow so keeping celebrities aside going from a classic brand building point of view, I would tell them to have a great strategy. Build an emotional connection with the different cohorts you want to talk to. Tell a great story and if it requires a celebrity that is fine but don’t force a celebrity,” he added.
“Amitabh Bachchan taking the lead scrapping an endorsement deal on moral grounds is a big step towards celebrities re-examining their brand endorsements. Across categories, well-known celebrities will now have to be more careful about the products and categories they endorse, that do not fit in with current social mores. Those who ignore this could face a strong backlash from vocal fans and followers on social media that would dent their popularity in the long term,” stated Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and Independent Director.
Apart from spending big on advertising, pan masala brands have long been associated with Bollywood award shows. Experts suggest such properties may also need to reconsider their associations with these brands.
“The pan-masala category which has been big spenders sponsors of large Bollywood award events, this is a significant setback, and their efforts to do surrogate advertising will face huge resistance from endorsers. Remember, we now have a ‘woke’ generation of consumers who want to hold the superstars that they look up to, accountable for their misdeeds. This is a positive trend for social and ethical businesses,” stated Mathias.
On the other hand, Olety suggested properties are not going to act that hastily as big money is involved. "It is going to be thought through measured response whether it is a right fit for a masala brand to sponsor an Award show because big money is involved. This will be different from the personal values of celebrities," he added.