Pepsi is betting on Dabangg 3's box office success.
T E Narasimhan reports.
Salman Khan has swung a coup.
The 50-plus actor has been signed on as the face of cola brand Pepsi, ending his long stint in the cold on the endorsement track.
Khan's many off-screen controversies were a deterrent to big consumer goods brands and even Thums Up, the last cola brand he was associated with, turned to the more popular Akshay Kumar some three years ago.
Also, after being among the top paid celebrities on the Forbes list for three years in a row, Khan dropped off the charts this year while rival Kumar made his way up the ladder.
Currently he endorses 8 brands in categories such as home décor and inner wear to age-defying energy boosters.
What made PepsiCo India turn to Khan?
Swag or urban cool, says a spokesperson for PepsiCo India, swung the deal in Khan’s favour. Swag has been the underlying force behind Brand Pepsi's recent campaigns and Khan, according to the company, epitomises the attitude.
The big reason, however, as all experts point out is the coming release of Dabangg 3. The movie has been wildly popular in its earlier versions, making the main protagonist Chulbul Pandey a rustic icon.
Pepsi is betting on the box office success of the third in Pandey's series of comic capers.
The choice is surprising and controversial, said Sandeep Goyal, founder Mogae Media, a marketing and communication agency. But he thinks that the cola brand may be focusing on the irreverent streak that Brand Salman embodies, which dovetails neatly with the Pepsi anthem 'Nothing official about it' from 20 years ago when it ambushed Coca Cola, the official partner of the cricket World Cup 1996.
"Otherwise, there is no real reason to choose an ageing Salman to target a 'tweenager' generation of Pepsi drinkers," he adds.
More than strategic, the choice of Khan may be a tactical move.
The character he plays in the Dabangg movies has found wide appeal and Pepsi may well build the entire creative around that persona of Salman, Goyal conjectures.
Brand consultant Harish Bijoor, founder Bijoor Consults, said, "Salman Khan defies age. Pepsi to an extent has chosen the attitude of Salman as opposed to his age. And his attitude is a Dabangg fit!"
Khan has been signed on for an indeterminate amount as the company refused to divulge any numbers, but many said his fee is comparable with the top brand in the business, that of Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli.
Kohli was the face of Pepsi until 2017, until he announced that he would not endorse unhealthy fizzy drinks and fried snacks in a public interview, even as his contract was being renegotiated.
Since then the company has relied on young actors and micro influencers to take its story forward in the country.
Khan brings the big bang back to the brand said one expert, preferring anonymity. His persona has a fair share of humanism that appeals to millennial audiences and the controversy contributes to mass appeal, which will help Pepsi crack its way through the hinterland.
This is particularly true of the character he plays in Dabangg who commands a cult following in the country. As Bijoor points out, this is more about betting on Dabangg 3 rather than the star.
The spokesperson for PepsiCo India, however, said that Khan's inclusion into the endorser list is consistent with the company policy to partner with artists and new age icons.
"In 2020, we look forward to building the brand's Har Ghoont Mein Swag (Swag in every sip) proposition with Salman," he added.
The brand also has Tiger Shroff and Disha Patani as its ambassadors. While Khan's inclusion has created a buzz around the brand, it would be interesting to see how Pepsi tackles the backlash, if any, around its controversial choice.