If there is one celebrity who stands for everything the present government does, it has to be Amitabh Bachchan. He has helmed almost every major campaign that this government has released since coming to power: Swachh Bharat, Hepatitis B awareness, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, even a rebranded DD Kisan channel and now GST. The question that is being asked is: Does the GST campaign gain from his all-too-familiar face taking forward its message or will brand fatigue flatten the impact?
The jury is firmly divided on this one. While there is one set of marketing and brand experts that believes that by standing for everything, Bachchan stands for nothing at all, another set is of the view that his mass pull delivers the message to the maximum people with maximum impact. And then there are those who see no connection between the message and the messenger and term his appointment as GST ambassador as a typical case of celebrity-brand mismatch.
In the campaign, Bachchan does not dwell upon the nature of the tax or how the government plans to execute it. Instead he evokes the nationalistic spirit underlying the initiative. He is on familiar ground here, playing the role of a superstar with mass appeal. But the conviction with which he delivers the message is being questioned.
The argument is that Bachchan is used to sell everything—from rice, cement and premium men’s clothing to clean homes and better health. So is he believable any longer? There has to be some sort of collaboration between celebrity and brand, especially when it is an initiative of the scale of GST. Sandeep Goyal, founder Mogae Media says that using Bachchan for everything is an indication of a disturbing trend in advertising overall. “It seems that when brands and agencies run out of creative ideas, they rope in Bachchan,” he said.
To be fair the GST marketing campaign is more than Bachchan. The government has short videos explaining the tax on its site and a long list of FAQs. Besides it has also conducted a series of training workshops with taxmen across the country and there are several helplines that have been put in place too. Bachchan serves as the public face of the initiative, a way to bring mass approval for a move that will disrupt the lives of the electorate.
Bachchan is one of the few celebrities to cut across age, gender and geography; he is a superstar who speaks to the common man. He has rural and urban appeal say advertisers and given that the tax has multiple ramifications for people across the country, he is the best man to carry the message. One way to look at it would be to categorise GST as a brand and July 1 as the date of the launch of the brand says Jagdeep Kapoor of Samsika Advertising. “Look at GST (roll-out) as the launch of a new brand. What do corporates do at the launch of a new brand? They get in a brand endorser who is relevant to their TG, is trusted by the target audience and can communicate the intent of the brand to this audience. And who better to appeal to the entire nation than Amitabh Bachchan?”
There are many however who are not convinced by the comparison. GST needs a plain speaking expert, someone who can break down the implications of the tax for the people. It does not benefit from celebrities--be it PV Sindhu (who was appointed ambassador earlier) or Amitabh Bachchan.
Some experts believe that celebrities as endorsers are not a bad idea, but the government has consistently erred in its choice. “I think there is over exposure of Amitabh Bachchan when it comes to government ads. It’s not good for anyone. Endorsers are used to cut through the clutter. In this case, there is something like the ‘Amitabh Bachchan clutter’. Soon these ads may all look the same. So no one wins. The viewers may not recall what exactly he is advertising about now, the government’s communication is lost and eventually, Bachchan’s own brand will take a beating,” says Harish Bijoor of Harish Bijoor Consultants. Bijoor strongly believes it is lose-lose all around.
Bachchan’s association with the campaign has not gone down well politically either. Already members of the Opposition have asked him to step down in the larger interest of the country and if there are political protests in the aftermath of the tax being introduced, Brand Bachchan could take a hit. All this however does not change the fact that Amitabh Bachchan is among the most recognised, trusted and relevant brands today. “Yes, there is some amount of over-exposure of Brand Big B so to say. At the same time, it is the truth that Bachchan will get the job done, if you want someone who can appeal across the board,” says adman Prahlad Kakkar.
However being the most identifiable person around may not always be the best qualification for an ambassador. “I think it is high time we stop and think whether he cuts ice with each and every target audience group. At the end of the day, he is more the grandfather figure than the friend and just using him without a brand fit, does not make sense. It is important the brand endorser/ambassador be relevant and contemporary,” says Goyal. For the moment however, he is the one holding the GST flag.