His persona of a “cool and relevant old man”, feel brand experts, is Bachchan’s biggest asset as a celebrity endorser.
Moreover, his ability to keep coming back even after failures adds to his trustworthiness, reports Sohini Das.
A septuagenarian Amitabh Bachchan engages in a puerile argument with a fellow passenger on a flight over a pack of an ethnic snack in a recent television commercial by Bikaner-based snack maker Bikaji.
The brand is looking to hook the millennials with traditional Indian snack foods, a category that faces stiff competition from more “contemporary” products from global brands.
Bikaji chose Bachchan to help expand its reach and also position itself as a “cool ethnic” brand.
So “Amitji likes Bikaji” is its tagline.
This persona of a “cool and relevant old man”, feel brand experts, is Bachchan’s biggest asset as a celebrity endorser.
“There is no one else in his league and in his age bracket.
"He has remained relevant over the decades and has developed a cool and funky persona.
"The fact that he has been around for years has added to his trustworthiness score,” explains Sandeep Goyal, founder of Mogae Media and an expert in human brands.
IMAGE: Amitabh Bachhan with former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh. Photograph: Sahil Salvi
In his 40-plus year career Bachchan has been a film actor, film producer, television host, occasional playback singer and former politician.
In the 1970s, his Angry Young Man persona on the big screen was held up as an embodiment of the “Angst is Good” decade.
Now he embodies the kindred soul.
Bachchan, experts feel, cultivates this image quite carefully.
In a recent post on photo and video sharing platform Instagram, he can be seen wearing a bright read windcheater.
“Colourful at work... too much colour happening...” says his post.
In another candid picture he is seen sporting a blue fringe in his hair paired with blue eyegear -- a look he sports in a recent Welspun home furnishings commercial.
After a health scare, a declining movie graph and failed political bid, many were prepared to write Bachchan off.
Then he repositioned Brand Amitabh.
The trigger was the popular telly show Kaun Banega Crorepati.
Brands quickly realised that Bachchan still had enough charm to glue entire Indian families to the television set on weekdays.
KV Sridhar, founder and chief creative officer (CCO), HyperCollective, recollects how there was skepticism amongst brands when Sridhar was planning to cast him for advertisements around that time: “Many felt he was not a crowd puller anymore.
"Post KBC, research showed that the young crowd of that time (the pre-teens and teens) did not relate to him as the angry Amitabh Bachchan, but as the “KBC uncle”.
"He jokes quite a lot on the show, he is witty -- people started relating to those qualities.”
IMAGE: Amitabh Bachchan received the National Award for his performance in Paa -- in which he played a child with progeria. Photograph: Pradeep Bandekar
Bachchan went on to do some unconventional roles in feature films -- R Balki’s Chini Kum (2007), Paa (2009), Shoojit Sircar's Piku (2015) and Pink (2016).
Sridhar recollects how his long-term associate (at Lowe Lintas) R Balki grew up watching Bachchan’s movies and always dreamt of writing a script with him as a central character.
“Several films happened with him as the central character which no one else could do. That completed the repositioning exercise,” Sridhar feels.
As times changed and age caught up with him, Bachchan repositioned himself as a television artiste, a doting father, a devoted husband and later as a champion of health causes.
In his fiftieth year as an actor, Bachchan received the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award last month.
How does that change Brand Amitabh?
Nothing much changes, say experts. “He is evergreen because he reinvents himself continuously,” says N Chandramouli, chief executive officer of brand intelligence and data insights company, TRA.
In the TRA Research’s Most Trusted Personality Report 2019, Bachchan is the most trusted Bollywood celebrity.
Chandramouli feels his ability to keep coming back even after failures adds to his trustworthiness.
IMAGE: Amitabh Bachchan gestures to fans outside his residence in Mumbai. Photograph: Sahil Salvi
The flip side is he is overused.
“For example, the JustDial campaign uses his face on every certificate that it gives.
"While trust does not reduce with exposure, this is definitely not a great way forward for a brand,” Chandramouli says.
Goyal agrees. “Indian celebrities have not learnt how to say no to endorsement offers.
"They need to be more selective.
"Roger Federer endorses a maximum of four to five brands and makes more money than Virat Kohli who probably endorses 25 products,” he says.
Such overexposure reduces the recall factor of the brand a celebrity endorses.
Some industry watchers also say Bachchan’s earnings per endorsement have slid to Rs 3 crore from about Rs 5 crore even until two years ago.
That may also be a function of the overall slowdown in the economy, but with “celebrity” endorsers now available for as little as Rs 50 lakh, the influence of their words on consumer purchase intentions might be getting blunted, say experts.