THE LAST LEAR

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The verdict is clear, the Big B can sublimate even King Lear, as millions of fans will now hear...

A fabulous mythical bird, almost as large as an eagle with brilliant scarlet and gold plumage and a melodious cry – that’s the phoenix. It’s said, the phoenix used to appear at dawn every morning to sing a song so enchanting that even the sun god Apollo would stop to listen. And if mythology is to be believed then only one phoenix exists at one time. As the end of its life approaches it builds a pyre nest and sets it on fire – from the ashes of which rises a new phoenix. The bird is immortal. It’s similar to this man whom even mighty failures could not deter...

He made his debut in a movie in 1969, which failed miserably at the box office – and so did his next ten films! Any other actor would have been considered history with such a performance… but the man miraculously rose from the ashes in the avtaar of Indian cinema’s “angry young man”. Any movie he starred in, drove audiences crazy. The launch of his organisation ABCL spelled doom for him once more. The Bachchan magic that worked wonders on the big screen failed to work in the boardroom. An injury on the sets of Coolie in 1982 had brought the nation and Indians across the world to a halt as they prayed for his speedy recovery... the same man was now at risk of losing his house, as creditors lined up. He owed debts worth a staggering Rs.90 crores. The phoenix rose again as Bachchan agreed to host the TV show Kaun Banega Crorepati and became the most expensive endorser on television. Today, if Amitabh Bachchan as much as sneezes – it sends a chill down the spine of the whole industry – for he is the industry!

Loved & revered

The resounding success of KBC did make Amitabh the most expensive endorser – but he is also the most loved. He is the most saleable face of India – also the most dependable. Most importantly, he’s the most respected and believable celebrity that India has – the common man has blind faith in him. It is this hypnotic effect of the Big B that is drawing brands to him in droves. This 60+ man has all the top brands lined up for him, while some of the much younger celebrities are left high and dry. Bachchan’s high appeal cuts across gender, age and socio-economic groups. According to some studies, his effectiveness as a celebrity is nearly three and a half times more than the second most recalled celebrity Sachin Tendulkar.

The Midas touch

In the first two-and-a-half decades of his acting career of more than 100 films, he never endorsed any product. However, when he did do his first commercial in the 90s, it was for BPL washing machines. “BPL – Believe in the Best” was an interesting commercial and Amitabh charged a fee of Rs.8 crores – the highest anyone had ever been paid in Indian corporate branding scenario. The ad was so effective that it really worried BPL’s competitor IFB, who even went to the extent of finding out which washing machine he had. As luck would have it he had an IFB! So they came out with a cheeky ad that said, “Amitabh believes in the best. That is why he uses an IFB washing machine”. The ad created a storm and had to be pulled off – but the company had made its point.

Reid and Taylor too had a dream launch in India. Their strategy was flawless. They launched just before the World Cup in 1999, and roped in none other than 007 Bond to endorse their product. The market for luxury suiting was not yet developed and this seemed to be the right way to give popular brands like Raymond a run for their money. However, this side of the world there is only one Bond – Amitabh, and only when Amitabh featured in their ads did consumers respond. Customers walked into stores and asked for “Amitabh wali suiting.” Suddenly the brand saw its popularity growing in India. It did pay to “Bond” with the best.

He has a magic which cannot be denied. His unblemished personality makes him a real safe bet for advertisers. Nerolac improved its brand image by associating with him. “Yeh rang har kisi ko chhoota hai” helped Nerolac bridge the gap between itself and market leader Asian Paints. Dabur Chyawanprash, though a market leader, also needed the charisma and energy of Amitabh to continue keeping the brand relevant to consumers.

If advertising is about persuasion, then the guru of persuasion is Bachchan, and no one understands it better than Cadbury. In 2004, when the worm controversy hit Cadbury, the company’s reputation was in the pits. It did a lot to convince people about its high quality and safety standards, but nothing seemed to work. It took a Bachchan to salvage the company. His magic worked yet again and people forgot all about the worms – after all “Amitabh ji kuch khaas hai.” Marketers at Pepsi must’ve been wishing for his magical presence to bale them out of the recent pesticide controversy. Actually, KBC really started Amitabh on his second innings. After KBC, people started viewing Amitabh as a very genuine person – a fatherly figure. They started believing every word he said. The man did not betray his fans either. When Eveready approached him with a proposal to endorse their torchlight Jeevan Saathi, Amitabh refused the offer since the storyboard portrayed the product as a dowry item.

When a little boy innocently asked him why he endorsed Pepsi when it was full of pesticides – Amitabh did not renew his contract with them. Instead, he lent his persona to help the ‘Pulse Polio Programme’, to save lives of millions of children. Rural or urban, if Amitabh says it’s important, then the message must be serious, right?

The man has a conscience. Says he will not endorse tobacco, alcohol and gutkha. The star is hugely expensive (his fees are to the tune of Rs.5 crores to Rs.12 crores), but hugely effective. Not that he’s invincible, mind you. There have been cases where his magic has failed – the Maruti Versa flopped inspite of both Big B and Abhishek Bachchan. His ad for Uttar Pradesh hasn’t gone down well with the masses either. But then, as someone said: “It is the prerogative of great men only to have great defects.” We must overlook these instances.

King Lear is regarded as one of William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. The character of King Lear is most strenuous and demanding and very difficult to perform on stage. The part has been played by many great actors the world over. However, only one in India can play the part to perfection – Amitabh. He is iconic. From Sholay to Sarkar, from suit lengths to sweets – the man can sell it all. If you want your product to be, noticed, your brand to be remembered. If you want to break the clutter, if you want to beat competition - you know whom to turn to – Amitabh Bachchan, for he is India’s Last Lear!